Mount Multnomah

By Steve Lent, Museum Historian

This mythical mountain supposedly occupied the site of the Three Sisters and was believed to have been a super volcano. Edwin T. Hodge, professor of economic geology at the University of Oregon had spent a significant time exploring the Central Oregon Cascade Mountains in 1924. In 1925 he proposed that the name Mount Multnomah be applied to what he called Oregon’s highest prehistoric mountain. Hodge presented evidence that the large caldera in the vicinity of the Three Sisters once formed a gigantic mountain. He claimed that the peak rose almost a mile higher than the present top of the Three Sisters and that a gigantic explosion left one of the largest calderas in the world. His theory was the basis for his book Mount Multnomah, Ancient Ancestor of the Three Sisters.

He claimed that the broad area of peaks that runs from Broken Top through Devil’s Hill, the Wife, Sphinx, Husband, Little Brother and North Sister seemed to outline an ancient caldera. His book was a useful addition to general geology of the Central Oregon Cascade region but his Mount Multnomah theory was not widely accepted.

Renowned geologist Howell Williams examined the Three Sisters and associated peaks in the 1940's. He was known as the dean of Cascade vulcanology. He concluded that each of the edifices maintained totally separate volcanoes while several cones may be parasitic to the larger peaks none represents survivors of a demolished older structure. His report claimed that Mount Multnomah never existed.

Although Hodge’s theory was disproved he is credited with assigning many names to geographic features in the Three Sisters vicinity. He was at the University of Oregon from 1920-1933. He worked at the British Museum of Mines and served as a consultant to the Army Corps of Engineers from 1932-1942. During that time he located the site of Bonneville Dam, gave it its name and supervised the foundation work. He also was the consulting geologist for the Round Butte Dam near Madras and held many executive positions on the staff of municipalities, state highway commissions and mining companies. He was requested for several geological investigations throughout the world. He also had several articles published on geologic topics. He helped create the Geological Society of the Oregon Country in 1935 and served as its first president. Professor Hodge died on November 7, 1970.