The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 4

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!

 

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CHAPTER IV.

THE OPENING OF THE THIRD DOOR THROUGH THE DISCOVERY
OF THE STRAIT OF MAGELLAN.

"What modern mind may judge the care
That furrowed brow and whitened hair
Of him who trod that narrow deck,
Menaced by mutiny and wreck,
Yet fearless made his doubtful way
Through straits that bear his name today?"

He who attempts to write history resembles the mariner who launches upon an unknown and practically limitless sea. Fogs and mists hang about him; events, seen through the haze of centuries, dwindle or enlarge, according to the medium through which they are beheld; shallowness is mistaken for depth, depth for shallowness; sirens wave and beckon their misty hands, entreating him to delay and listen to their story; doubt and glamour beset him on every hand; and even when the fog of error clears away and all is truth and certainty, he doubts the trend and limitations of the coast on which he has fallen. It is even so with the writer. Fain would he tarry with the caravel of old Vincent Pinion as he skirts the coast of the Brazils and draws favorable deductions from the volume of the Amazon, returning to excite the astonishment of the Spanish court by the exhibition of the first importer opossum; the Bastidas, through the sinking and subsequent salvage of his treasure ships in the port of Jaraqua; with Solis, to the La Plata, where, we trust, he agreed with the natives who attacked, killed, and devoured him; to peruse the life story of the navigator Hojeda, mouldering forgotten in the national archives of Spain; to traverse the seas with Ponce de Leon, as he seeks in vain for the fabled fountain of youth, whose waters, alas! full many a gray-beard of our own day were fain to discover--yet though he searches in vain for that rejuvenating spring, he locates our land of "sun and flowers," to which, being discovered on Easter Day, he gave the name of Florida--Easter Day bearing the name

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In Spanish of Paseua florida1. And accompany the voyages of Garay, Cordoba, and Allion.

But we must leave then all and pass to the subject of our present chapter, the expedition of Fernando Magalhaens, or, as he is commonly called, Magellan, which eventuated in the finding of the strait that still bears the name of their discoverer--a highway--or perhaps we should rather call it a byway--of the sea that served and still serves its purpose as a maritime door to the Pacific, as well as the more ordinary passage round Cape Horn.

We have no time to trace the personal history of this somewhat remarkable man. Serving with distinction under the Portuguese flag, and being secretly disgusted with the neglect of his own country, where he is received with open arms and entrusted with the command of a fleet of five vessels, their destination being the Moluccas.

It is a mooted point whether Magellan did or did not know that such a strait existed before sailing on this his last and most eventful voyage. Authorities differ on this point. He may or may not have suspected it; certain it is that he departed with a firm determination to find it, and his efforts were crowned with success.

The five ships which he was to command were the Trinidad, which Magellan selected as the flagship; the San Antonio, commanded by Luis de Mendoza; the Vittoria, by Gaspar de del Cano, in the quality of lieutenant, who had the honor of bringing back the Vittoria, after making the complete circle of the globe, thus becoming the first circumnavigator. Lastly, there was the ship Santiago, a small vessel commanded by Rodriquez Serrano. The total tonnage of this little fleet was but 480 tons. Their preparations being completed, the small squadron sailed from San Lucan on September 20th, 1519, arriving without accident on the coast of Brazil. Pursuing his way slowly to the south, Magellan reached in April a safe and commodious harbor in nearly fifty degrees of south latitude, to which e gave the name of Port St. Julien. Here he resolved to pass the winter, which, in this part of the world, where the seasons are the reverse of ours, is exceedingly rigorous. But the strict economy

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Observed by him in the distribution of provisions, together with the hardships of a raw and tempestuous climate, gave rise to discontentment among the officer of the expedition, who were otherwise little disposed to submit to the authority of a foreigner. They murmured at the privations and dangers to which they were exposed while remaining inactive on a strange and barren coast. They demanded to be conducted back to Spain, and on Magellan's positive refusal to comply with their wishes, broke out into open mutiny. In this trying conjuncture Magellan behaved with a promptitude and courage worthy of the grand enterprise he was so unwillingly to abandon, "but unhappily sullied by such an act of treachery and criminal violence as no danger can excuse." He sent to Luis de Mendoza, the leader of the malcontents, a messenger instructed to stab that captain while conferring with him. This cruel order was punctually executed, and the crew of Mendoza's ship immediately submitted. The execution of Quesada followed the next day, and Juan de Cartagena was sent on shore and deserted, with the expectation, perhaps, of suffering a more cruel fate.

There is a singular resemblance, in some respects, between this and a portion of Columbus's voyage. Mutiny menaced the success of both, and the answer of both commanders to the disaffected is very much the same; though Magellan was enabled, through a wider nautical knowledge, to predict results and argue the certainty of ultimate success, while Columbus had but his own theories to sustain his expectations. We have quoted the opinion of an English writer as to the cruelty of Magellan's' course, but are inclined to believe that any naval court would have sustained him. His consorts were in open revolt, and Mendoza was cut down or stabbed in the very act of disobedience. Mendoza's body was carried onshore publicly, cried as a traitor, drawn and quarters, and the members spitted on poles. Forty men were found guilty and condemned to death, but pardoned, partly as a wise act of clemency and partly because their services were needed to man the fleet. The captain, Quesada, doubly guilty as a traitor and murderer of the poor contramaestre whom he stabbed to death for faithfulness to his admiral, was found guilty and condemned to death. On Saturday, April 7th, he was taken ashore, and executed accordingly, his head being struck off by his own body servant, and his body quartered, as in the

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case of Mendoza. "No more justifiable sentence could have been inflicted." So says the late lecturer on geography at the University (English) of Cambridge; and he is right. But one cannot expect a civilian to regard acts demanded by the exigencies of the time with the eyes of the commander, whose painful duty it sometimes becomes to punish promptly and with apparent severity.

This mutiny, thus happily disposed of, proved the turning point of Magellan's career. He had no reason to repeat his lesson--they had learned to fear him as one not to be trifled with. But till the day of his departure from the strait, when he ordered their release, the mutineers in chains were kept working at the pumps till their services were no longer required.

To keep his men inaction, and consequently, out of mischief, the captain-general makes an examination of the coast in his vicinity. The Santiago is chosen for the work, from the lightness of her draught, and the captain-general's entire confidence in Serrano, her commander, an intimate friend of his chief's. The winter had not set in with severity. Fearing to continue his explorations by sea, Magellan determines to explore inland to a distance of thirty leagues, plant a cross, and open friendly negotiations with the natives. Four men only are sent, well armed. Neither food nor water is to be had, and the expedition is a failure. One high mountain is ascended, where they plant a cross, and giving it the name of Mount of Christ, they return to their ships to report the country untraversable and apparently without inhabitants. This at last is soon disproved. One morning the sailors are astonished by the appearance of man of gigantic stature upon the beach, who sang and danced, pouring sand upon his head in token of amity. Magellan sent an man onshore with orders to imitate the actions of the savage, and, if possible, to make friends with him. This he succeeded in doing, and the new-comer was brought before the admiral, to the mutual surprise of both--the native being amazed at the huge ships and such little men. He points to the sky, believing them gods who had ascended from heave; and the Spaniards, wondering at the great stature of their visitor, believe they have come upon a race of giants. Pigafetta writes: "So tall was this man that we came up to the level of his waistband; he was well made, with abroad face painted red, with yellow circles round

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his eyes and two heart-shaped spots upon his cheeks. His hair was short and colored white, and he was dressed in the skins of animals cleverly sewn together." The description of this animal leaves no doubt that it was a guanaco. The hide of the same creature served to make boots for these people, and it was the unwieldy appearance thus given to the feet which led Magellan to apply to the race the pant of Patagao, or, as we read it, Patagonians. The man, who seems in many respects to have been an enlarged copy of our own North American Indians, is further described as peaceably disposed, though not laying aside his arms--a short, thick bow and a bundle of cane arrows tipped with white and black stones. Magellan treated him kindly, and ordered that he should be given food. He was shown a large steel mirror. "So overcome was he at catching eight of himself,' says Pigafetta, "that he jumped backward with an unexpectedness and impetuosity which overset four of the men who were standing behind him. He was, nevertheless, induced to accept a small mirror as a present, to which some bears and bells were added, and he was then put ashore under the care of our armed men."

The natives, assured of the friendliness of their strange visitors, now began to visit the ships, bringing their wives with them, whom they treated like beats of burden (not unlike the Puget Sound "Siwash" of to-day); they were not so tall as the men, but fatter, with breasts half as long as a man's arm. Many visits were made, and one of them is taught his "pater" and "ave," and baptized under the name of Juan Gigante (Big John). He disappeared, and is supposed to have been murdered by his fellows. These natives continued to astonish the Spaniards. They caught the ships' rats and ate them without skinning; they thrust arrows down their throats with injury, which Pigafetta regards as a species of medial treatment for indigestion, possibly to counteract the evil influences of over indulgence in rodents. But all this friendliness, baptizing, and converting ended as usual. Magellan desiring a giant specimen to exhibit in Spain, attempted to capture him, as an East Indian might treat a rogue elephant, and in so doing, brought about the flight of the natives, preceded by skirmish and death, a man-at-arms of the Trinidad being struck with an arrow and killed. So ended the captain-general's attempt to obtain curiosities for their

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majesties of Spain. The two captured were placed on different vessels, though only one is said to have arrived in Spain, and even this is uncertain. The actual height of these so-called giants has been a matter of dispute. Lieutenant Musters, the best authority upon Patagonia, gives their average height at six feet--some even reaching six feet four--but their muscular development is excessive; their dress of guanaco skins making it apparently greater. What would Magellan's followers have thought of the men of the "blue grass region of Kentucky"?

Weary of inaction, and anxious to leave the scene of the mutiny, Magellan determines to pass the remainder of the winter at Rio de Santa Cruz, discovered by the captain of the wreck Santiago. He refits his ships with that intention, but before departing a sentence is to be carried into effect--that of the marooning (that is to say, abandonment on shore--a common naval punishment in those days and for many years afterwards) of Juan de Cartegena and his fellow-mutineer Pedro Sanchez de Reina. For some unknown reason--possibly to increase their sufferings by the sight of their comrades still in port--they were put onshore nearly a fortnight before the sailing of the fleet, on Saturday, August 11th. they were provided with "an abundance of bread and wine,' Herrera says; but it must have been a bitter punishment for them to watch the departure of their comrades and to reflect how small was their change of life, a change still further diminished by the recent difficulties with the natives.

They were "judged to be worse off, considering the country in which hey were left, than the others who were drawn and quartered." Such an opinion seems to have been held many years later by another culprit, who, curiously enough, in the very same locality found himself condemned to a like alternative. In June, 1578, when Drake's little squadron lay at anchor in Port St. Julien, Mr. Thomas Doughtie was found guilty of a plot against the life of his admiral. He was offered the choice of death "or to be set on the main, or to return to be tried in England." He chose the first, gibing as his reason that the shame of his return as a traitor would be worse then death, and that he would not endanger his soul by consenting to be left among savages and infidels.

On August 24th, every member of the expedition having confessed and received the sacrament, the fleet left the bay. Though

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nearly lost ina squall, they reached their new winter harbor in safety. Its latitude is fixed with tolerable accuracy at 50 degrees. In this post, of the utter desolation of which Darwin gives a graphic account, they passed two months, making visits to the wreck of the Santiago, still farther to the southward, and securing such articles as had been washed ashore. The only incident described by Herrera--a delusion due to some atmospheric cause--an annular eclipse actually taking place on that day, but not visible in Patagonia.

On October 18th, judging the spring to be now sufficiently advanced, Magellan gets his fleet under way, this time for the strait. The wind is unfavorable, and for ten days they fight their way southward, gaining inch by inch. At length it shifts to the north, and they run before it on a south-southwest course for two days more. On October 21st, 1520, they sight land, "and there,' says the pilot Alvo, " we saw an opening like unto a bay." They were off Cabo de los Virgenes, and Magellan had found his long-hoped for strait at last!

And now comes the question, did Magellan know before-hand of this channel for which he so confidently sailed? If Pigafetta were a more reliable author, the following remarkable passage from his account of the voyage would settle it: "We all believed," it runs, speaking of the strait, "that it was a cul de sac ; but the captain knew that he had to navigate through a very well-concealed strait, having seen it in a chart preserved in the treasury of the King of Portugal, and made by Martin of Bohemia, a man of great parts." To this Gomara alludes, but doubts it, saying the chart showed no strait whatsoever. Herrera argues on the same side of Pigafetta, and refers to martins' chart mentioned above. Oviedo, writing in 1546, denies any pre-knowledge on Magellan's part of is discovery, saying, "none had remembrances till he showed it to us;" but again he adds that even if he had, "more is owing to his (Magellan's) capacity than to the science of the Bohemian." But we must avoid this tanglewood of argument, full of labyrinths and by-paths, many of which lead to nothing.

The strait is reached, the order given for the fleet to enter. Strangely enough, as in the case of Columbus, Theret tells us that Magellan was the first to observe it. "it is not improbable,"

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says a recent English writer, "that the great desire of his life should lend the leader of the expedition a preternatural keenness of vision and reward him as it did Columbus." But much of this, we fancy, is to be taken cum grano salis. The muse of History, ever cold and calm, is supposed to avoid all that is merely dramatic and eschew the sensational; but, nevertheless, not unfrequently rounds her majestic period with matter which, while it gives point and vivacity, pertains to both. To return: As the ships enter, the Vittoria leading, and therefore giving her name, in one narrative at least, to the new discovery, they pass a cape on the starboard hand, to which, it being St. Ursula's Day, they call the Cape of the eleven thousand Virgins. The bay is spacious and affords good shelter; they make its latitude 52 3' south. The admiral orders the Conception and San Antonio to continue the reconnaissance. Meanwhile the flagship anchors with the Vittoria to await their return, their absence being limited to five days. During the night one of the storms peculiar to those regions breaks upon them. They are forced to weight, standing off and on till it abates. Their detached consorts suffer equally--attempt to rejoin the admiral, are unable to weather the separating cape, probably the eastern horn of the Great Orange Bank--and are obliged to put about, seeing nothing but destruction before them; for the bay, as they thought then, appeared to have no visible opening at its head. As they give themselves up for lost they round Anegada Point, and the entrance of the "First Narrows' revealed itself. Up there they run, thankful for their escape, and emerge from them to find themselves ina great bay beyond (St. Philip or Boucant Bay, the Lago de los Estrechos of Oviedo). They prosecute their explorations to the entrance of Broad Reach, and then return, having rapidly surveyed the neighboring waters and assured themselves that the strait led onward an immense distance to the south.

Magellan meanwhile awaits them with infinite anxiety, fearing they are lost; the more so as he notices several smokes on the shore--signals, as he afterwards ascertained, lit by two men from the missing ships to notify him of their presence, but in the time presumed to indicate their shipwreck. While thus doubting,, the San Antonio and conception suddenly heave in slight, crowing all sail and gay with flags. As they approach

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They discharge their large bombards and shout for joy; "upon which," says Pigafetta, "we united our shouts with theirs and thanked God and the Blessed Virgin Mary as we resumed our journey."

The captains of the two ships--probably separated during their search, for their accounts differ--make their report to the admiral that, in their opinion, the inlet led onward into the Pacific; for not only had they ascended it for three days without finding any sign of its termination, but the soundings were of great depth, and in many cases they could get no bottom. The flood, moreover, appeared stronger then the ebb. It was impossible, they said, that the strait should not continue.

After penetrating three or four miles within the First Narrows, the admiral signals his fleet to anchor, and send a boat on shore to explore the country--most likely attracted by the appearance of inhabitations; for Herrera tells us that at the distance of a mile inland the men came upon a building containing more than two hundred native graves. On the coast, also, a dead whale of gigantic size, with many bones of these animals, were discovered, whence they concluded that the storms of that region were both frequent and severe.

"It is impossible,' says Guilleman, from whose excellent condensation of Magellan's life we have largely quoted, "from the sketchy and confused accounts that have come down to us, to reconstruct an exact itinerary of the passage of the strait or to present events in any certain chronological order." Some few facts are not to be controverted. We know that the fleet emerged from the strait on November 28th; that it was on the 21st. that Magellan issued his order for a council of officers as to continuing his voyage (evidently with the determination to disregard it should it be unfavorable). which resulted in an agreement to proceed; the only dissentient being the pilot of the San Antonio, a countryman and relative, but nevertheless enemy, of the admiral, to whom Magellan replies in his forcible fashion: "That if he had to eat the leather of his ship's yards he would still go on and discover what he had promised to the emperor, and that he trusted that God would aid them and give them good fortune"--an extremity to which he was actually subjected, since, in the scarcity and privation of the long passage across the Pacific, they were obliged to eat the leather from the yards.

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Next day, making sail down Broad Point, they approached a point on their port hand. Beyond they came to three channels. Magellan anchored to explore them, selecting the south-eastern arm, meanwhile following the main channel himself, in company with the Vittoria. Rounding Cape Froward, the admiral continues on for fifteen leagues and anchors on a river to which he gives the name of the River of Sardines, from the abundance of those fish obtained there. The crew also water and cut wood, which they found so fragrant in the burning that, as we are quaintly told, "it afforded them much consolation." Shortly after their arrival in this port they sent on a boat well manned and provisioned to explore the channel farther. In three days it returned with the joyful intelligence that they had open sea beyond. So delighted were the explorers with this happy termination to their anxieties that salvos of artillery were discharged, and Magellan and those with him wept for joy.

And so the three doors (the first being the voyage of Columbus, or main entrance, so to speak; the second, or side door, the discovery of the Pacific by Balboa; and the third, the finding of the strait of Magellan) stand open for the exploration and settlement of our own Northwest Pacific coasts.

And now a word or two ere we part with these, the preliminary and, perhaps, most fascinating steps of our historic journey. Let us linger by the way while we consider the enormous difficulties and many elements of failure which menaced the success of these initial efforts to penetrate and reveal the unknown.

Columbus had to combat the elements of doubt, superstition, fear, and a consensus of opinion which, even among he learned, regarded his theories as chimerical, and himself but a crack-brained enthusiast or scheming adventurer. He succeeded, like his followers, through a strong, brave, and incisive individuality, which, next to his trust in God, taught him to rely upon himself, and thereby mould and influence others. Who shall doubt that the purifying influences of the crucible of mental pain, born of the many rebuffs and repeated disappointments through which he was called to pass, prepared him, though all unconsciously to himself, to succeed in his final trial?

With Balboa, the discoverer by land, it was somewhat different. His men, strongly devoted and entirely confiding in his

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genius, would have followed him to the death. But read Lieutenant Strain's narrative of the Darien expedition of our own times, with its lamentable results of death, suffering, and final failure; where, as Strain himself told the narrator, he took but on credit to himself; no act of cannibalism disgraced the manhood of those who slowly starved to death; adding the serio-comic incident that two officers of the expedition found a live toad, which, having bitten off its head, they proceeded to devour raw, leaving the "poison part on the ground till the hungrier of the two, with the remark, "Tom, you are growing mighty particular about your eating," added the member with its fabled jewel to his repast. Read this attempt, with all the advantages of our modern times, to piece the vast solitude's of the tropic wilderness, and then remember that, unlike Strain, Balboa had battles to fight with the natives, while his men were clad in armor and encumbered by the weighty weapons of their day. Yet, thanks in great measure, it is true, to their Indian allies, they succeeded when success seemed impossible.

In the case of Magellan, he had to encounter gales in what is perhaps still the dread of all mariners, the tempest-swept regions of the stormy Cape Horn. Mutiny, as in the case of Columbus, threatened, and actual desertion and shipwreck attended his difficult progress. His ships, too, as compared with those which brave the South Seas to-day, were but as paper. His whole armament cost but 5032 6s. 3d., or about $25,000 of our money, and even this was reduced by stores left behind $2600. Of this sum the ships themselves with their armament cost but $11,245. Even then the vessels selected were old, leaky, and unfit for the severe service for which they were designed. But in those days, we fancy, explorers were looked upon as, after all (unless fitting out their expeditions at their won cost and charges), little better than mendicants; and it passes as a proverb the world over that "beggars must not be choosers."

The number of articles for barter were, however, very large, their total cost being $4825, and (delicate compliment to female vanity), consisted of "looking glasses for women, great and fayre," five hundred pounds of "crystals" which are diamonds (?) of all colors; knives, fish-hooks, stuffs, and velvets, ivory, quick-silver (2240 lbs), and brass bracelets (a full line of cheap jewelry, we fancy)--all figure largely in the list. But it appears

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that bells were considered the most useful articles for trade, of which no less than twenty thousand were taken.

 

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