Although various tribes made seasonal fishing, hunting, and berry-picking forays into the foothills around Mt. Rainier, they apparently avoided the mountain itself, either in reverence for the great mountain, or because of its severe weather. The Klickitat who lived near present-day Ashford called the peak “Ta-ho-ma” (The Mountain, or Snowiest Peak). The city of Tacoma gained its name from the mountain that rises so tall behind it.
Unfortunately, the Native American name for the peak itself was supplanted by an English name. As he was wont to do, Capt. George Vancouver named it after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, in 1792. Thus Rainier—a minor character in British naval history—lives on in an American mountain that he never even saw.
In 1883, James Longmire—who had guided climbers to the base of Mt. Rainier for many years—discovered a mineral springs near the Nisqually River and staked a mining claim on the site. Longmire recognized the land for its true value—as a place to enjoy the wild beauty and grand mountain views. His Longmire Springs Resort was built in 1906 on what is now national park land in the park’s oldest developed area: Longmire.
Mount Rainier became the nation’s fifth national park in 1899, due in large part to pressure from a prominent group of Northern Pacific Railroad stockholders who not only appreciated the beauty of the mountain, but also saw money to be made in the proposition. The railroad had earlier been given alternating square-mile chunks of land in a checkerboard pattern as part of the federal government’s incentive to promote building a transcontinental railroad.
To allow the park to be created, the company exchanged land around Mt. Rainier—most of which lacked trees—for federal government parcels that just happened to contain commercially valuable timber. The Northern Pacific Railroad then proceeded to log its new land while simultaneously hauling visitors to the new park that it helped create. Not a bad business deal!
The awesome beauty of this sleeping volcano has been drawing visitors ever since.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition