The Legend of the Newberry Dolphins

The Legend of the Newberry Dolphins

By T. Myers

In the land before time, volcanoes erupted across the region. Lava flowed and began to build up the three hundred buttes from the many underground lava tubes. Where the mountains blew up, the craters that formed began to cool. There was so much volcanic activity that the Cascade Mountains met up with the ocean to the west and the rivers of the region because of the many underground rivers that formed with all of the volcanic activity.

The rivers, once fast flowing and deep began to lazily move through the region creating a network of cooling water that covered the plateaus of the high desert. What was happening underground was another matter.

River water filled the many tubes that ran from the volcanoes’ cores and cooled them. Soon there was a network of underground rivers that became a highway for aquatic creatures, fish, and even sea life.

One of the buttes was singularly unique. It stood alone, unconnected to continuing volcanic activity, and inside the Newberry Caldera, two lakes formed. They were deep and blue and once they became fit for supporting life, they became the home for some legendary creatures that were to spark many stories and Indian myths through the ages!

And the story goes….


In the days when human beings began to explore the lands around them, it was then that a group of Indian traders in arrow and spear points discovered the treasure trove of obsidian in the large butte 15 days travel time south of the big river. They situated themselves in a large crater where there was an abundant supply of flaking rock, shelter and water from a river and two lakes. There was never hunger for there was a never ending supply of wild game to support their endeavors.

The amazing craftsmen that they were had developed a huge trading area among the many different peoples of the Cascades and they were keen on using the new material to further their range and product offerings. The greenish hues of the new obsidian source were considered a prize and the strength of the new points seemed unequaled.

The men set up their working summer camp where they could hone their points, make arrows for their own use and create spears they could hunt with. Over the first summer they explored the crater and took pleasure from the two beautiful lakes and the streams full of ‘Fish people’ and the forests full of ‘deer and elk people’ and even ‘bear people’. The men were able to meet their needs while they piled up their goods for their next trading foray.

Towards the end of the first year they were at their Caldera camp, and two of the younger men finished a new a dugout from a large pine tree and were ready to put it into the smaller of the two lakes. They were hoping to paddle across the lake to the hot springs that had been discovered, to soak and bathe before they returned to camp.

 That day the winds were already blowing from the north and it seemed that fall was about to arrive early. As they paddled, they felt a distinct chill. The temperature was dropping quickly. Clouds gathered and the two men paddled as fast as they could in order to get to the other side. The hot springs would feel very good to the cold men!

Pulling their dugout up on beach they went over the hill to enjoy soaking up the heat of the hot springs. It was wonderfully relaxing and they both fell asleep. When they woke up, day was disappearing and they had to make haste to return to the opposite shore.

The choppy water soon proved to be too much for the two men and when a huge wave hit the side of the dugout, the two went overboard and the boat overturned. They struggled to get the boat turned upright, but the cold water, the wind and the waves took away their strength and first one, and then the other drifted away from the boat in a cold stupor.

By evening, when the men did not return to the main camp as predicted, a search party was sent to the lake in the east but it was very late and they could see nothing in the dark. They set up camp close to the water’s edge and started a bright fire, hoping it would be a beacon.

As dawn broke the next morning, the men in the search party were just waking up when they heard a shout from one of their party to hurry to the shore.

There, lying face down on the shore, were the two young men. They were icy cold, but alive. There was no sign of their new dugout, but next to the men there were some deep drag marks on the beach that led back into the lake.

The two men were carried close to the fire and wrapped with skins after being rubbed down with bear grease. As they came back from their sleepy state, they began to tell of a strange occurrence that none of the men could understand.

“Something grabbed me by the skins and held me up,” one reported.

“It felt like a fish, but the one who held me fast had brown eyes,” the other related. “No fishes have brown eyes. It must have been the chief of the Fish People.”

The men were so alarmed by the tale that they sat in silence until the leader said they should take some food to regain their strength. By the time both of them has eaten some meat, another of their party who went to the shore for more water saw that the missing dugout was speeding towards the shore where they found the two men. The long boat was still upside down and moving straight into the shore.

“Hey!” shouted the man on the shore. “Look!”

The others turned in time to see two large gray creatures that looked like giant fishes pushing the boat toward shore.

As soon as the dugout was being dragged into shore, the gray creatures turned and swam away quickly adding a few high jumps as they crossed back and forth to reach the center of the lake.

The men stood in silence and finally one, stumbling through his words, spoke, “Wahtonkah has sent big fish people to save our men and now He has saved our dugout.”

The rest of them agreed that the Spirit Father had intervened, by nodding their heads and making guttural affirmations. They stood, together, never taking their eyes off of the creatures, watching until they could not see the big smooth gray colored fishes any longer.

The search party leader decided that they should stay another night to try to get a glimpse of the creatures one more time. No one wanted to get into the dugout, though, or venture out into the lake proper and they kept their vigil from shore.

Training their many eyes over the lake, they were sure that they saw the creatures playing on the other side of the lake below the hot springs. Another of the party was sure that he saw the creatures come close to shore by the men’s camp, like they were watching the men. A third felt, not saw, the creatures and said he thought the creatures were waiting for an opportunity to communicate with all of them. By the time they had packed up to go back to the main camp, every one of the men felt that the two men and the dugout had been saved by the big gray fishes and that these fishes were agents of the spirit, Wahtonkah Wah.

Through the years there were many reoccurrences of gray fish people who saved other men and the stories grew in intensity until the source of the fishes was discovered by adventurous men who dove deep into the lake to see the entrance of a large lava tube that must have been the creatures’ home- and because of the many lava tubes in the region, not only was it proclaimed to be the creatures’ home, but the source of the underground rivers that brought all of the many kinds of fishes to the Caldera in the first place.

On a clear day, in the summertime, a person walking on the south shore of East Lake looking north occasionally will catch a glimpse of what looks to be a large gray creature jumping out of the water. It will seem big for a lake fish, and, because of its size, it will be probably be discounted as an imaginary sight.

But, for those of us who know about the legends of the ancient peoples who first saw these creatures, the big gray creatures are as real as real can be.

Just look at the town that sits on the base of the Crater. The City of La Pine proudly displays the dolphins (the big gray fishes) that jump over the Newberry Caldera on the signs welcoming guests to town. And while people wonder why there are jumping dolphins displayed on the City logo, those of us who live here know for certain!

Posted in Original Stories by with no comments yet.