Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic named after Kendall Vanhook Bumpass

Bumpass Hell is a hydrothermal area in Lassen Volcanic, short for Lassen Volcanic National Park. This steaming, smelling, white-yellow crustscape of hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles and sulfur precipitations is named after ill-fated cowboy-prospector Kendall Vanhook Bumpass (1809-1885), who lost a leg here, while guiding a visitor to what he and his partner Pierson Reading had claimed on September 10, 1864, for mining purposes [1-3]. An on-site interpretive panel describes that event, originally published in the Red Bluff Independent newspaper:

Our guide [Mr. K. V. Bumpass], after cautioning us to be careful where we stepped, that the surface was treacherous, suddenly concluded with Virgil that the “descent to Hell was easy” for stepping upon a slight inequality in the ground he broke through the crust and plunged his leg into the boiling mud beneath, which clinging to his limb burned him severely. If our guide had been a profane man I think he would have cursed a little; as it was, I think his silence was owing to his inability to do the subject justice....
Editor, Red Bluff Independent, 1865

Tim I. Purdy has this version of the mishap [1]:

In September 1865, Bumpass acted as a tour guide for Watson Chalmers, publisher of the Red Bluff Independent. Upon arriving at Bumpass' mining claim, Chalmers wrote, “On turning the ridge all the wonders of hell were suddenly before us and the descent into hell was easy.” Bumpass warned Chalmers to be cautious while walking around the boiling mud pots, for the ground was not as stable as it appeared. Alas, that was exactly what happened to Bumpass on this visit, as one leg broke through the crust into the boiling mud. For relief, there was a nearby snowbank wherein Bumpass, using a handkerchief, wrapped his leg with the snow.

Bumpass Hell became a tourist attraction. Today, visitors of this hazard zone are guided over its thin, brittle and slippery ground via boardwalks to and between the bubbling pools and roaring holes. Warning signs such as the one below try to raise sightseers' awareness—so they will avoid Bumpass' fate and, instead, stay well in hell.

Mr. Bumpass, by the way, never came back to the fateful field to develop his mining claim.

Note: K. V. Bumpass' name is occasionally written with an uppercase H: Kendall VanHook Bumpass

Keywords: eponym, place name, geography, curiosity, incautiousness, accident, unfortunate experience, leg amputation.

References and more to explore
[1] Tim I. Purdy: Lassen Volcanic. Lahontan Images, Susanville, California, 2009; pages 48 and 53-54.
[2] Dottie Smith: Travelin' in Time: The scary wonder of Bumpass'. June 13, 2013 [].
[3] Wild Ink Press: {bumpass hell.} October 17, 2011 [].

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