Nature Notes

Vol. XII January - 1934 No. 1

Historical Highlights of Mount Rainier Nat'l
Park: Part II

- Part II -

With this exception of Drake's bold thrust into the north Pacific, a few weak attempts overland on the part of Spain and Juan de Fuca's apparently mythical voyage, the north Pacific remained an unknown and explored land, mysterious because of the supposed existence of the "Straits of Anian" which was supposed to give easy passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific and a short route through the Americas to the Indies.

The incentive to explorations in this region came from an unexpected source - Russia. In 1724 two Russian ships were outfitted at Kamchatcha and in 1728, under Vitus Bering - a Dane - sailed north and discovered the straits between Asia and America that today bear his name. They returned again to Kamchatcha and in 1741 a second expedition under command of Bering and Cherikoff sailed along the present coast of Alaska. Bering's ship was wrecked in a violent storm and after many harrowing experiences, which finally caused the death of Bering, a portion of the crew was led back to Kamchatcha by Stellar, the expedition's naturalist and surgeon who saved the results of the journey from oblivion. Though disastrous this voyage brought to light the riches that awaited hardy seamen along the Alaskan Coast in the form of furs, oil and skins of sea animals. The reports spurred Russian activity in these waters and a number of settlements were later established.

This activity on the part of Russia spurred both Spain and England to greater endeavor. England, after her victory over France in the new world, adopted a vigorous policy of exploration in the northwest. Spain, fearing English domination, also pushed into the north in an attempt to establish her rights in this region. Thus we find three powers sparring for supremacy in the North Pacific. Later, a fourth, the United States, was to enter the contest.

sailing ship
sailing ship

In 1774, when the thirteen colonies were embroiled in the Revolutionary War, a Spaniard named Juan Perez sailed north from Monterey to a latitude of 55 degrees. On his return he sighted and named a high mountain "Santa Rosalia". Today we know it as Mount Olympus. So Perez was the first known white man to sail into waters that wash the shores of the State of Washington and he was the first to apply a geographic name to a feature in this state. The following year two ships were dispatched from Monterey under the command of Bruno Heceta and Bodega y Quadra. Heceta landed a small boat and a group of men and they were immediately attacked and killed by a group of natives who rushed from the deep woods nearby. So, in commemoration of this unfortunate incident, the spot was named Isle de Dolores, which we know today as Destruction Island. This was the first time white men had touched foot on the soil of the State of Washington.

Shortly after Quadra and Heceta visited the north Pacific an English mariner - Capt. James Cook - made his appearance off the coast of Washington and nearby regions. With Capt. Cook was Vancouver who was later to figure prominently in the history of the Puget Sound region. But though Cook sought the "Straits of Anian" and combed the coast in the region of the Strait of Juan de Fuca he failed to find it and it was not until 1787 when Capt. Barclay, sailing in the Imperial Eagle under the auspices of the Austrian East India Company, discovered this arm of salt water that connects the Pacific with Puget Sound. Later in the same year Capt. John Meares also sailed into the Straits, explored its shores and named them the Straits of Juan de Fuca after their supposed discoverer. Meares did not penetrate eastward to Puget Sound, however. That discovery was to come later and it was to be coincident with a white man's first sight of Mount Rainier.


Note: This is the second of a series of short articles relative to the history of Mt. Rainier National Park, the Pacific Northwest and events concerned with its discovery, exploration and development. The information here is gleaned from the historical section of the Mt. Rainier National Park Encyclopedia - a compilation of all known historical material relative to this region. (C.F.B.)

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