Student Activities

Flood, Fire, and Fury!

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies


This activity provides information about how some of the earliest human inhabitants in the Pacific Northwest witnessed geologic activity at Mount Rainier. Native Americans used oral, rather than written, communication to pass down historical information, heritage, and traditions (see sidebar on "Story Telling as a Talent", posted below under Materials).

Native Americans settle near the Cascade Volcanoes 
The first humans to live in the vicinity of the Cascade volcanoes arrived during a period of climatic warming at the end of the last great Ice Age approximately 10,000 years ago. Early inhabitants west of the Cascades encountered a landscape undergoing a vast transformation from glacial to vegetative cover. Gigantic glacial floods abated east of the Cascades, which permitted re-vegetation of freshly scoured land surfaces and river channels. These first inhabitants consisted of foragers who ranged widely across the landscape and had the skills to utilize a variety of plants and animals from their local environments. Approximately 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, most people settled into villages along the waterways where they had easy access to their canoes and nearby food sources, especially salmon. Villagers became expert at seasonal harvesting and preserving.

Native Americans witness volcanic eruptions
Volcanic activity at Cascade Range volcanoes has been frequent and dramatic throughout the last 10,000 years. Most volcanoes in the Cascades have lit the skies with eruptions during the period between the beginning of settlements and the present. Mount Rainier experienced remarkable changes during this period. Hundreds of eruptions produced volcanic rock and ash that enlarged the volcano. At one point, a large piece of the volcano disappeared during a massive landslide, but the mountain rebuilt itself. Rock debris from lahars (volcanic mudflows) buried valley floors repeatedly, sometimes as far away as 100 km (60 miles) from their source on Mount Rainier.

The ancestors of people now affiliated with tribes such as the Cowlitz, Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Puyallup, Muckleshoot and Yakama observed many volcanic events and depicted them through stories in an attempt to understand the world. People on the west side of the Cascades told their stories in various dialects of the Salishan language, while those on the east side spoke in dialects of the Sahaptin language. The name of the mountain varied with the dialect—Tacobed, Taqo’men, Takhoma, and Tahoma. These words are interpreted most often as “the mountain,” but have also been expressed as “snow peak” or “water/young person.” The stories provided in this activity are selected from broader collections available in local bookstores and libraries. From the descriptions, we can understand the kinds of geologic events that happened in the past, though the timing is less well known. These stories provide early human narratives about volcanic impacts in the Pacific Northwest— the same hazards facing people today.


Additional Resources

Blukis Onat, Astrida R., 1999, Tahoma legends–history in two voices: BOAS Research

 Report 9300.2b for National Park Service Pacific Northwest Region, 126 p.


Carpenter, Cecelia Svinth, 1989, They walked before us–the Indians of Washington state:

 A Tahoma Research Publication, Tacoma, WA., 69 p.


Carpenter, Cecelia Svinth, 1994, Where the waters begin: Northwest Interpretive

 Association, Seattle, WA., 108 p.


Clark, Ella, 1953, Indian legends of the Pacific Northwest: University of California Press,

 Berkeley, CA., 225 p.


Guralnik, David B., 1980, Webster’s new world dictionary: Williams Collins Publishers,

 Cleveland, OH., p. 893.


Wilson, Roy I., 2001, Legends of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe: Cowlitz Indian Tribe,

 Bremerton, WA., 401 p.


Download Fire, Flood, and Fury! Materials

Last updated: August 25, 2015