The oldest postglacial lapilli–ash tephra recognized in sedimentary records surrounding Mount Rainier (Washington State, USA) is R tephra, a very early Holocene deposit that acts as an important stratigraphic and geochronologic marker bed. This multidisciplinary study incorporates tephrostratigraphy, radiocarbon dating, petrography, and electron microprobe analysis to characterize R tephra. Tephra samples were collected from Tipsoo Lake and a stream-cut exposure in the Cowlitz Divide area of Mount Rainier National Park. Field evidence from 25 new sites suggests that R tephra locally contains internal bedding and has a wider distribution than previously reported. Herein, we provide the first robust suite of geochemical data that characterize the tephra. Glass compositions are heterogeneous, predominantly ranging from andesite to rhyolite in ash- to lapilli-sized clasts. The mineral assemblage consists of plagioclase, orthopyroxene, clinopyroxene, and magnetite with trace apatite and ilmenite. Subaerial R tephra deposits appear more weathered in hand sample than subaqueous deposits, but weathering indices suggest negligible chemical weathering in both deposits. Statistical analysis of radiocarbon ages provides a median age for R tephra of ∼10 050 cal years BP, and a 2σ error range between 9960 and 10 130 cal years BP.