Nature Notes

Vol. XV June - 1937 No. 2

Chapter One


The history of any region begins, not with events upon the threshold of its development but more properly with the years which preceeded the crossing of this figurative portal. Episodes that have, apparently, little bearing upon a region's past must first be considered for it is in them that we find the nucleii of what will later come to pass; in them we will discover the motive power or the happenstance that has shaped the course of destiny to its present end.

Thus in the case of the history of Mt. Rainier National Park let us ignore, for a moment, the happenings of more recent years and consider the factors that first aroused interest in the Pacific Northwest. In these we find the reasons for discovery and exploration which brings us down to events of the present day.

Columbus sought, not to discover America, but a short route to the Indies. It remained for Balboa (1503) to discover that a great ocean lay between these new lands and the goal of the original quest. Thus, with this first sight of the Pacific, began the thirst for discovery, exploration, conquest and settlement on the west coast of North America; with this and subsequent adventurous maritime episodes began the search for the mythical "Straits of Anian" which was believed to be an easy water route through the barrier of the western hemisphere to the rich regions of the Orient. Spain, having gained an early advantage in the middle Americas because of the courage and fortitude of her maritime policies, pressed this advantage to the utmost in her conquest and subjugation of these lands which proved so rich and fruitful to her soldiers of fortune. So dominant was Spain's position in the New World at that time that she gave little thought to the possibility of exploration and discovery to the northward. Those lands could await her leisure. Yet Balboa's discovery of the Pacific planted the seed of adventure which grew into a gradual advance of the Spanish flag north along the Pacific Coast, an advance that was not to be checked for over 250 years. Today we have in the Pacific Northwest, as momentoes of the courage of these fearless men of old Spain, numerous place names which commemorate their visits to these shores. (*)


(*) Fidalgo Island is named for Lieut. Salvador Fidalgo who was present in the waters off the shore of Vancouver Island and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1790; Camano Island bears the name of Lieut. Jacinto Camano, who was present in northwest waters about the same time. Neither Fidalgo nor Camano saw the islands that today bear their names. Alferez Manuel Quimper's name is applied to a portion of the peninsula upon which Port Townsend is located. Rosario Strait, a contraction of Gran Canal de Nuestra Senora del Rosario la Marinera - a name applied to the present Gulf of Georgia by Eliza in 1791, has lost its original significance. The name Port Angeles is a contraction of Porto de Nuestro Senora de los Angeles - originally applied to the place by Eliza.


The legarthy that characterized Spain's interest in the north and her heretofore unquestioned rights in this part of the world - Spain claimed sovereign rights over all lands in the new world that were washed by the waters of the great Pacific - were rudely interrupted when Francis Drake, in his ship the "Golden Hind", circled Cape Horn and entered the Pacific in 1579. A bold, daring and adventurous man was Drake. Under the English flag he questioned Spanish security by plundering and buccaneering her treasure ships along the Pacific Coast. Then, seeking a safe return to his native England with his loot, Drake sailed north in search of trade winds that would carry him westward across the Pacific.

The most northerly extent of Drake's voyage is in doubt though he claimed to have reached latitude 48 degrees. If such be true he was the first white man to sail into waters that washed the shore of the State of Washington, for this latitude is about that of the City of Everett, Washington. It is highly probable that he was in error in this regard although he did penetrate farther into the north than any previously recorded journey. Before proceeding across the Pacific, however, Drake retraced his route south along the California coast and made a landing in a small harbor just north of the present city of San Francisco, which is known today as Drake's Bay. Here he refitted his ship and made preparations for the balance of his adventurous journey that was eventually to result in the circumnavigation of the globe. Among other things Drake named the new land that he had seen New Albion and claimed it for England.

Drake's exploits in the Pacific might have aroused intense competition between the new nations along the Pacific Coast had not England and Spain become embroiled in a war that was to be famous in history for the defeat of the Spanish "Invincible Armada" by the English fleet which was in command of this same Francis Drake. In consequence of this struggle nearer hone neither Spain nor England had much time to bother with lands on the shores of the distant Pacific, so exploration was to lag for many years in that region north of Mexico.

But withall the previous conquests in the Pacific and regardless of wars in Europe and the interest in the wealth and plunder that existed in Mexico, Peru and regions of similar latitude in the Americas there never was lost sight of the possibility of a short, safe and easy water route through the new continent to the Indies. The discovery of such a route served as a beacon of hope for mariners for many years. Falsification of the discovery of the "Straits of Anian", as this supposed. route was known, was frequent, but needless to say all claims were sooner or later proven to be untrue. One of these tales, though, is of particular interest in the northwest history, for true or false, it has given us the name of an important geographical feature - the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

In 1596 an Englishman named Micheal Lok met a Greek mariner named Juan de Fuca in Venice. Juan de Fuca's proper name was Apostolos Valerianos and in his conversation with Lok he claimed to have sailed north along the Pacific Coast in the service of Spain, at the order of the Viceroy of Mexico, in 1592 with the express purpose of fortifying the "Straits of Anian" against the English. Juan de Fuca is credited by Lok with saying that after sailing north he finnaly came "to the Latitude of fortie seven degrees, and that there finding that the Land trended North and North-east with a broad inlet of sea, between 47. and 48. degrees of latitude; hee entered thereinto, sayling therein more than twentie days, and found the land trending still sometime North-west and North-east, and north and also East and South-eastward, and very much broader sea than was at said entrance, and that hee passed by divers Ilands in that sayling. And that at the entrance of this said Strait, there is on the North-west coast thereof, a great Hedland or Iland, with an exceeding high Pinnacle or spired Roche, like a pillar thereupon." (*)


(*) Meany's "History of the State of Washington". page 15—16.


Thus Juan de Fuca claimed to have discovered the western end of the supposed "Straits of Anian", but upon returning to Mexico he became disgruntled at the treatment accorded him by the Spanish authorities and in consequence left the service of Spain.

Investigations in later years brought out the fact that no such journey was recorded, nor had any man by the name of Juan de Fuca or Apostolos Valerianos existed. Thus this tale, like all the others of its kind might have been a hoax though it does not seem impossible that in that early time, in a region that was far removed from central authority of the mother country and which was largely unknown and unexplored, that proper records might have been neglected, destroyed or lost. The errors in the story given Lok (**) might also be at tributed to the differences in languages of the two men. At any rate the name Juan de Fuca exists today as applied to the waterway that connects the Pacific with Puget Sound. (***)


(**) The Strait of Juan de Fuca are to be found between latitude 48 and 49 degrees instead of between 47 and 48 degrees.

(***) The name was applied by Capt. John Meares in 1787. Mears believed in the truth of Juan de Fuca's voyage.


Thus with the exception of Drake's bold thrust into the Pacific and Juan de Fuca's apparently mythical journey and discovery of the straits that today bear his name, the north Pacific remained an unknown and unexplored land.

The incentive for renewed activity in this region came for an entirely different source - Russia. Under Czar Peter the Russian Empire had expanded eastward across the frozen wastes of Siberia until, early in the 18th century the subjects of the Russian soverign had reached the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk, lying between the mainland and the Kamchatchan peninsula. Russia was reaching out to the eastward in contrast to the westward growth of many other European nations. In 1724 two Russian ships were ordered outfitted at Kamchatcha (*) and in 1728, under command of Vitus Bering (**), a Dane in the service of the Csar sailed north along the coast through the straits that now bear Bering's name into the Arctic.


(*) Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, gave Bering these concise orders which were written in his own hand. "I. At Kamchatcha or somewhere else two decked boats are to be built. II. With these you are to sail northward along the coast and as the end of the coast is not known this land is undoubtedly America. III. For this reason you are to inquire where the American coast begins, and go to some European colony; and when European ships are seen you are to ask what the coast is called, note it down, make a landing, obtain reliable information and then, having charted the coast, return." (Peter Lauridsen, "Vitus Bering, the Discoverer of Bering Strait", translation from the Danis by Julius E. Olson, Chicago - S. C. Griggs & Co., 1889, pp 13).

(**) Vitus Bering was born at Horsus, Denmark in 1681. He entered the Russian Navy as a Second Lieutenent under the name of Ivan Ivanovech Bering in 1703. ("The Story of Alaska" by C. L. Andrews - Lowman Hanford Co., Seattle 1931.)


The Asia and America were shown to be separated by the sea. Bering returned again to Kamchatcha and eventually to St. Petersburg after an absence of five years - only to find that jealousy in the Russian court sought to discredit him and his discoveries. In 1741 a second expedition was outfitted on the Kamchatchan peninsula with the purposes of exploring the mainland of the northern section of North American and Bering, having been placed in command, was given his chance to refute the jealous mutterings of his political enemies. Bering sailed from Kamchatcha in the "St. Peter" while his lieutenant, Cherikoff, accompanied him in the "St. Paul". The two ships separated in a storm and did not re-unite again and in consequence Bering and Cherikoff proceeded on separate ways. Cherikoff finally reached a point in the vicinity of Sitka but after attempting an unsuccessful landing turned back to Kamchatcha. Bering sailed along the Alaskan coast also, seeing and naming the Elias Range and then with many of his crew suffering from scurvy turned about and made haste for Kamchatcha. Bering himself took sick and the crew was in a deplorable condition when they reached a small island where it was decided to land and spend the winter. Many of the crew died on being taken from the ship's hold and Bering himself was soon to share a common grave with many of his men. This island is today known as Bering Island. Even today it is not a very hospitable place and the crew of the "St. Peter" suffered terrible hardships that winter in the bleak northland. To make matters worse the ship was wrecked by a violent storm as it lay at anchor and had it not been for George Wilhelm Stellar, the expedition's surgeon and naturalist, who procurred food from the sparse native vegetation and animal life during the winter and took charge of the survivors who, later, launched a crude craft made from the wreckage of their ill fated ship, it is likely that the fate of these men would have remained unknown. However the survivors landed at Avacha Bay in Kamchatcha on Aug. 27, 1742. Thus began the exploration of the North American coast by the Russians. Thus was planted the seed for Russian influence in this part of the world for the scraps of furs that were brought back by the survivors of the "St. Peter" fired the imaginations of adventurous men who sought the wealth that awaited the taking in the North Pacific. (*)


(*) See "The Story of Alaska" by C. L. Andrews. It is said that these scraps of furs brought back by the Bering survivors were valued at Kamchatcha at $30,000.


Other expeditions by the Russian government were those in command of Krenitzin, Snyd and Lavaschef in 1766 to 1769. Priblof discovered the seal rookeries on the islands that today bear his name and in 1790 Alexander Andreievich Baronof became the manager of a monopoly company which in 1799 established headquarters and a capital at Sitka (City on a Channel) from which the Russians extended their influence in the North Pacific. At one time they even had a post near the present city of San Francisco (1854) which was known as Fort Ross.

It was this activity on the part of the Russians that spurred both Spain and England to greater endeavor. England had, meantime, come victorious from a war with France and now a greater part of North America lay under her influence. Flushed with this victory England adopted a policy of exploration in the northwest.

Spain, fearing English domination, also pushed into the north in an attempt to establish her rights more firmly in this region and Russia, as we have seen was slowly extending her power southward from her established bases along the Alaskan Coast. Thus we find three great powers sparring for supremacy in the North Pacific. Later - a fourth -- the United States was to enter the contest.

On June 11, 1774, when the thirteen colonies were embroiled in the causes of the Revolutionary War, a Spaniard named Juan Perez sailed north from Monterey in the ship "Santiago". This was one of the first Spanish efforts to offset inroads of the English and Russians in the North Pacific. Perez sailed north to a latitude of 55 degrees reaching a point in the vicinity of Queen Charlotte Sound. After achieving that latitude he turned south, and, although he made no known landings, he discovered a small harbor on Vancouver Island which he named San Lorenzo - later to become known as Nootka - and he also saw and named, on August 10, 1774, a high mountain. The name he gave to this mountain was "Santa Rosalia". Today we knew this peak as Mount Olympus. Thus Perez was the first white man to give a name to a geographical feature in what is now the state of Washington, and he was also, as far as records go, the first white man to sail in waters that wash the shores of this commonwealth.

The following year, on May 22, 1775, two ships, the "Santiago" and the "Sonora" - this latter being a schooner 36 feet long, 12 feet wide and 8 feet deep - were dispatched from Monterey. They were commanded by Bruno Heceta and Bodega y Quadra. Heceta and several others landed at latitude 47 degrees and 30 minutes end planted a cross and a bottle bearing records of possession. This was the first time that a white man had set foot on soil now embraced by the boundaries of our state.

At the time Heceta was so engaged Quadra had put out a boat from his ship presumably for the purpose of getting water. Indians had previously given indication that they wished to barter, but as the boat landed it is said that a group of these natives rushed upon the occupants, killed them, and tore the boat to pieces for the iron it contained.

In commemoration of this unfortunate incident, which seriously crippled the crew of the diminutive "Sonora", the place was called "Isla de Dolores". Today we know it as Destruction Island. (*)


(*) According to Mr. W. P. Bonney, Secretary of the Washington Historical Society, the Indian's version of this episode differs from that given by the Spanairds. The Indians claim that the white men were well received, taken into the storage house and a feast of dried salmon was enjoyed. The white men, after partaking of the food, wished to buy some for their comrades on the ship but it was contrary to the custom of the Indians to take food from a storehouse and, besides, the money offered by the white men was of no value to them. The white men then began loading the fish, as one would load wood, into their canoes. This is when the fight began. Five of the white men were killed and two ran into the water, their bodies being washed up on the beach the next day.


Shortly after Quadra and Heceta made this first landing on what is today Washington soil an Englishman named Capt. James Cook (*) made his appearance off the coast of North America (1778). He was following up the discoveries of Sir Francis Drake who was the first Englishman to venture into the Pacific (1579), and so Cook considered the north coast as a portion of New Albion, for such had Drake named the land along whose shores he had sailed. It was because of Drake's voyage and landing, already discussed in previous pages, that England laid claim to these North Pacific shores. Although Capt. Cook spent some time in the area he failed to discover the Straits. Ho even named Cape Flattery, (March 22, 1776) at the entrance of these straits, after he sought and failed to find a harbor at that point. George Vancouver, serving as a lieutenant under Cook on this voyage was later, as Captain George Vancouver, to make another memorable journey to this region and have profound influence on the history of this great volcano near the shores of Puget Sound.


(*) Captain James Cook (1728 - 1779) was one of the first white men to visit the northwest. He was one of the outstanding mariners of England and is famous for his voyages of discovery in the Pacific Ocean. He was killed in 1779 by the natives of the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands where he wintered after his visit to the Pacific Northwest.


The Straits of Juan de Fuca remained unknown to white men until 1737 when Captain Barclay, in the "Imperial Eagle" under the auspices of the Austrian East India Company, sailed into them. He explored the shores of the straits and his young wife who accompanied him kept the log of the vessel and recorded events of this memorable journey.(*) Later in the same year Capt. John Meares, a retired English naval officer in an effort to realize wealth in the rapidly developing fur trade arrived in northwest waters, sighted and sailed into these straits (June 29, 1788) naming them the Straits of Juan de Fuca after their supposed discoverer. Neither Barclay nor Meares are known to have entered the waters of what we know now as Puget Sound. (**)


(*) Barclay later sailed south and found a river opposite Quadra's Isla de Dolores. Six men sent ashore for water met a fate similar to those from Quadra's "Sonora" in 1775. He named the river Destruction River. The terms given by Quadra and Barclay were later mixed in naming the island on the official maps as it was located as Destruction Island and the river Barclay saw retained its original name of Hoh.

(**) For notes on other English sea captains in the northwest see Meany's "History of the State of Washington" pp. 17 - 39.


Spain had insisted all through these years that she had rightful sovereignty over all lands washed by the Pacific but these broad assertions were ignored by other nations. She had sought to strengthen her rights in this area by the voyages of Perez, Heceta, Quadra and also by later explorations on the part of Francisco Eliza, Salvador Fidalgo, Manuel Quimper and others who explored along the shore of the Straits and even, in the case of Fidalgo, attempted to establish a settlement at Neah Bay.

Thus interest in the Pacific Northwest was now thoroughly aroused, particularly on the part of Spain and England. The activities of mariners of both of these nations had brought the white men into the Straits of Juan de Fuca and within sight of Mt. Rainier though strangely enough none reported this great volcano.(*) These activities on the part of the two great nations of the world at that time threatened to embroil the entire civilized world in a great conflict over the dispute as to ownership of this part of the northwest. Finally, however, Spain yielded and England was enriched by a diplomatic solution of the trouble in 1795. Thus ended the era of Spanish conquest on the North Pacific Coast.


(*) Spaniards had occupied the harbor which Vancouver later called Port Discovery and from which he first saw "The Mountain" while making charts of the Straits in 1791.


During the negotiations between Spain and England at Nootka, the most important harbor on the Pacific at that time, an American sea captain - Capt. Robert Gray of Boston - sailed, explored, traded and made discoveries which were to figure in the final solution of sovereignty in the northwest between America and England. In his ship "Columbia", while on his second voyage to the northwest in 1783, he sailed over the bar of the Columbia and entered that great stream. The date was May 11, 1788 and he named the river after the ship upon whose decks he strode as he observed for the first time by white men the region along its banks. He also discovered Gray's Harbor on the same voyage.

All these things preceeded actual contact of the mountain by white men, but while not directly related to this volcano they had an important bearing upon its history. The interest in the region brought mariners of many nations to these shores, and their journeys and discoveries opened the way for later explorations that would, eventually, crystallize interest in "The Mountain" itself.

The first record of a white man seeing "The Mountain" is found in the log of Capt. George Vancouver of the Royal English Navy.(*) The date was May 8, 1792 after Vancouver, who was on a journey of exploration and discovery for his government, had anchored near the eastern end of the Straits of Juan de Fuca in what is now known as Discovery Bay. On that day he records -

"The weather was serene and pleasant, and the country continued to exhibit between us and the eastern snowy range, the same luxurient appearance. At its northern extremity, Mount Baker bore by compass N. 22 E.; the round snowy mountain, now forming its southern extremity and which, after my friend Rear Admiral Rainier, I distinguished by the name of Mt. Rainier, bore N.(S) 42 E."


(*) CAPTAIN GEORGE VANCOUVER - Entered the British Navy in 1771 under the command of Capt. Cook, famous English navigator. He died in 1798 and is buried in a modest cemetary in his native England.


Thus was the name Mount Rainier given to the world. Thus is the first sight of this ice clad volcano recorded by a white man.

Vancouver sailed south and made his headquarters opposite the site of the present City of Seattle on May 19, 1792. From this point the work of charting Puget Sound was continued by the use of small boats.

Many geographical features were named by Vancouver in and about Puget Sound at that time. Puget Sound - originally applied only to the area of this arm of the Pacific below the City of Tacoma - was named for Peter Puget who explored and charted the lower sound area. Mount Baker was named for one of Vancouver's lieutenants who called Vancouver's attention to the peak. Vashon Island was named for Capt. Vashon. Port Orchard was named for the clerk of the Discovery who commanded a minor expedition to that point. Whidby Island was named for Joseph Whidby, one of Vancouver's officers, who explored the narrow passage to the east of that island. Bellingham Bay was named for Sir William Bellingham of the English Navy. All these and many other more minor geographical features were named by Vancouver and bear the mark of his visit to these shores in 1792.

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