The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 5

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

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

 

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CHAPTER V.

OTHER ATTEMPTS TO PENETRATE "THE NORTHERN MYSTERY."

"A wild and occult land, and strangely peopled, good Antonio."

The term Northwest cost, which covers the territory lying between the latitudes of 42 to 54 north, includes Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. It was, however, with Washington alone that our present story has to do; the neighboring regions interest us only as their history is entwined with or affects that of the State of which we are writing. Yet until these interest become separate and specific, we are obliged to recognize and treat out subject generically under the common heading of Northwest coast.

That it should have been approached, discovered, and explored in the first instance from the sea was natural enough--its eastern borders being let to those inland travelers whose adventurous steps first traversed its wildernesses and penetrated its mountain canyons.

It is generally, and very properly, supposed that truth is preferable to fiction, and more fruitful of good, even though it be no bigger than the mustard-seed. Nevertheless, paradoxical as it may appear, this western world of ours owes not a little to falsehood, to the mythical stories of explorers who opened the door to real discoveries by the announcement of those based only on their own vivid imaginations or shameless mendacity. As the fabled fountain of youth led Ponce de Peon to the finding of a real Florida, and the exaggerated tales of untold riches beguiled Balboa to the discovery of the Pacific, so this, our own Northwest coast, was sought, surveyed, and geographically mapped out rather for what it did not have than for that which it really possessed. The fabled Strait of Anian, which should have opened somewhere upon our shores into the Pacific, but failed to materialize, is a case in point. It was the very mystery that veiled the possibilities of what might be that gave zest to the pursuit. Like the yet unexplored valleys of the Olympian

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Range, this aurora with which fancy decks and desire enlarges the possibilities of the unseen, will lever offer the subtlest temptation to the adventurer and prospector, let the clouds of difficulty and danger darken as they may.

It is patent to every intelligent student of our early American history that international complications were produced and great confusion of rights and boundaries resulted from the rivalries of nations claiming the right of first discovery upon our coasts, and thenceforth attempting to hold and possess those lands, having no better title than a cross, cut by some voyager upon having no better title than a cross, cut by some voyager upon the shore, a banner waved over the sea, or some stone heaps on a mountain-top; of all which Balboa's melodramatic proclamation, standing, knee deep in the Pacific, is no bad illustration. The New World at the time of which we write seemed a prey to be disrupted by the vultures of national greed which flocked from every civilized land to seize and dismember the new-found spoil. Russia, descending from her northern snows, added, in the course of time, by slow but sure approaches, Alaska to her already overgrown empire. The haughty Spaniard, displaying the emblazoned banner of Castile and Leon, was first in the field, planting the symbol of his faith beside his national standard, claiming the Californias for his own. Later on we find the English-speaking race, Great Britain and American contending for their division of metes and bounds, and building a wall of higher civilization between the Tartar and the Don.

But though interested individuals sought from time to time to utilize the possibilities of what Bancroft forcibly styles "the Northern mystery," the spirit of enterprise seemed to have died out, and save for a few weak and fruitless efforts, it was not until late in the eighteenth century that any determined attempt was made to obtain adequate results; and even then it was probably die, so far as Spain was concerned, to a fear of Russian encroachment upon the Northwest. Had the hidden wealth of Upper California been known, or the rich return one day to be reaped from the furs and peltries of the Northwest, it would have been different. As it was, our sterile shores were a menace, the gloom of our pine-clad mountain sides a threat. We were the exemplification of the old Latin line which tell us that "the empty traveller may sin in the presence of the robber." The Northwest coast was not worth robbing, for it had nothing

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to loss. So it came about that dread of the Muscovite rather than any hope of fresh gain induced Spain once more to give her ships to the sea, to insure the security of that which he had already taken. As if her activity were contagious, English and American explorers also make their appearance on the coast--the Russians were already there--and ere long, through their united efforts, the shadows were swept away. The light of discovery penetrated every nook and cranny of our coast and lifted every veil. Little by little the fog was dissipated, till every cape and headland, every sound, bay, harbor, and estuary of the Northwest coast had been more or less visited, explored, and claimed by one party or the other. The misty dawn of romance had given place to the full-orbed day of cold reality. The "Northern mystery" was dissolved, and speculative fancy lay cold and dead.

It now becomes our task, as briefly as we may, to follow, or at least lightly outline, some of the voyages that more particularly settled the geography of our sea-beaten western border.

The wave of northwestern discovery, so to speak, advanced like a tide, with frequent and irregular intervals, yet nevertheless going steadily, as it were, inch by inch, still sweeping upward on its northern path, till from its starting point under Balboa at the Isthmus, it lost itself among the bergs of the frozen Arctic sea.

Up to the middle of the sixteenth century this tidal wave of northern exploration had rather languished, only reaching 60 on the Atlantic, and barely touching the pacific coast at 44, while inland, a single explorer--one Coronado--had advanced into what is the Kansas of our day. In 1584 Francisco de Gali, coming from the west, reaches our coast in 37 30' (possibly, says Bancroft, 57 30'), observes its appearance, but does not land, sailing southward. Another navigator, Cermenon, also from the west, is wrecked, in 1595, at Drake's Bay, just above the present site of San Francisco. Then comes a representative of the Lion of England, ever greedy for spoil, of whom we shall have more to say in another chapter. He too is looking for that mythical northern strait; and good cause he has to do so, for his ship is laden with the spoil rent by piracy from the galleons and villages of the southern seas, and he would fain escape the Spanish cruisers who are watching for his return, to regain their

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plundered treasure. He finds not the strait, yet through his means the wave of discovery has now reached 43, and therefore begins to interest us. Not finding his northern passage, he returns to Drake's Bay, and so sails homeward via the Cape of Good Hope, thereby avoiding his enemies, who might have interfered with the grand reception that awaits him, which, had he been judged by the common law, would have conducted him to Tyburn Hill and left him there with the decoration of a halter. But after all, he only spoiled the spoilers.

This voyage of Drake's, nefarious as it seems, was nevertheless destined to exert a far-reaching influence, becoming, as well be seen, an important factor in the protracted discussions between Great Britain and the United States as to their respective claims to Oregon Territory, when these, of course, included Washington. For this reason, and because it is just possible that Drake's "fair and good bay" may have been the Bay of San Francisco, we will outline his voyage, and then quote from the "Coast Pilot" and other authorities much relied on at the time of the boundary controversy; finally settled in our favor by the treaty of June 15th, 1846, which recognized our right to the territory south of 49 north latitude. Evans says that "if the expression of opinion was necessary, it would be that the weight of probability and authority establishes that Sir Francis Drake never saw the coast of Northwest America north of 43 north latitude." The same author sketches Drake's voyage quite graphically; and we shall endeavor to reduce it to quotable limits as the first English visit to the Northwest coast. We may premise, however, that England's "Virgin Queen," Elizabeth, as shrewd and far-seeing a princess as ever sat upon a throne (full of the people whom she governed), was growing restive and envious under the known discoveries and yet larger assumptions of her enemy and rival, Spain, to hold and colonize the territory on both continents of America. Rome had ceased to rule England. Elizabeth sternly denied the right of "the Bishop of Rome" to bestow upon his ally, the Spaniard, what did not belong to him, nor could she understand why either her subjects of those in any other European prince should be debarred from traffic in the Indies. It was while in this favorable mood that Francis Drake, a young man, who had already distinguished

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himself on predatory voyages to the West Indies, approached his sovereign with the proposition that he should make a voyage into the South Sea through the Strait of Magellan, no Englishman having yet done so. Elizabeth, foreseeing its advantages, gave her royal assent, and, what was still more to the purpose, furnished the outfit. We now quote from Evans as follows:

"Drake's own vessel, the Pelican, of one hundred tons, the Elizabeth, of eighty, and the little Marigold, of but thirty, with two punnaces, manned by one hundred and sixty men in all--such was the force of the expedition which sailed December 13th, 1577, from Plymouth. The two pinnaces were broken up before reaching the Strait of Magellan, which was entered on the 20th of August, 1578. Before passing through, he changed the name of his vessel to the Golden Hind. On the 6th of September the Marigold parted company and was never heard of afterward. The Elizabeth did not pass through the strait, but deserted Drake and returned to England."

And here we interrupt Evans' narrative to remark upon the singular resemblance between Magellan's and Drake's experiences in this latitude both lose a vessel, both suffer from the desertion of a consort, yet both are equally undismayed by these incidents. To return:

"Alone on the Golden Hind, Drake, on the 25th of September, sailed pout of the strait into the pen Pacific, and heading northward, pursued his voyage, skirting the Spanish-American coasts from Chili to Mexico, seizing and sacking defenseless ships and towns. To avoid encountering Spanish cruisers, liable to be met should he return by the Strait of Magellan, Drake sought a northern passage into the Atlantic Ocean, where, as detailed in the narratives of the voyage, 'the men, being thus speedily come out of the extreme heat, found the air so cold that, being pinched with the same, they complained of the extremity thereof.'" It is a pleasant thing to read, even at this early day, that the air of our northwestern coats was too bracing to favor piracy, and nipped the rascals shrewdly. "He then stood east, made the coast, and sailed southward in search of a harbor, until the 7th of June, when it pleased God,' says Drake, ' to send him into a fair and good bay within thirty degrees toward the line.' In this bay he remained five weeks, refitting his vessel, and took possession of the country in the name of

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Queen Elizabeth, calling it New Albion. He then sailed for England by way of the Cape of Good Hope, "escaping by this convenient back door with his rich booty, and arrived at Plymouth, September 27th, 1560. "And now," says the "Coast Pilot," "comes the question, Was this the Bay of San Francisco? Humboldt places Drake's Bay in 38 59' 5". The adjacent cliffs being white, resembling the coats of England in the vicinity of Dover, suggested the name 'New Albion.' The latitude of San Francisco Bay is 37 59'. Drake's continuing in this bay thirty-six days, and the white appearance of the land, warrants the opinion that Drake found that fair and good bay inside of the Golden Gate. Its entrance was first seen by Ferello, March 3d, 1543, who, running down the coast before a strong wind, saw what he supposed to be the mouth of a great river. Governor Gaspar de Portola, in 1769, made land discovery of the bay. Professor Davidson, of the U. S. Coast Survey, the bet authority, says Drake's Bay is the Port Francisco of the Spaniards of about 1595. It was certainly known before the time of Vizcaino, who, having separated from his tender, sought her in Port Francisco, and, according to Vizcaino's account, to see if anything was to be found of the San Augustine, which, in 1595, had been sent from the Philippine Islands to survey he coast of California, under the directions of Cermenon, a pilot of known abilities, but was wrecked in this harbor. Among others on board the San Augustine was the chief pilot of the squadron, Velunos, who recognized the bay as being that where he was wrecked.

Two narratives were published of Drake's voyage, "The Famous voyage of Sir Francis Drake," by Francis Pretty, on the crew of Drake's vessel, written at the request of, and published by Haklayt, and "The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake, Collected out of the Notes of Mr. Francis Fletcher, Preacher in his Employment, and Compared with Divers other Notes, who went on the same Voyage." How quaint the titles! The first of these histories makes the forty-third degree north the extreme limit of Drake's voyage; the latter claims the forty-eighth degree. Little did the actors and recorders of this buccaneering cruise ever imagine that their sayings and doings would one day furnish matter for grave

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diplomatic discussion, settling boundaries for a people yet unborn, and nearly bring about a war between two great nations.

What a glamour of romance surrounds these early voyages, whether of England or Spain! Going out in their little poorly equipped vessels, often mere shells, rotten hulks; for a writer of his time speaks of Magellan's ships as being "old, worn, and tender as butter in the ribs, so that he would not even wish to voyage to the Canaries in them." Yet they dare the same stormy seas to which wee commit our iron-clads and "ocean greyhounds," seas then unknown, with no chart to guide and no certain port of destination--sometimes to succeed, yet again to be swallowed up by the deep, leaving no trace upon the untraversed waters, or, perchance, returning with crews eaten up by scurvy and reduced to rags. Taking the vessels in which they embarked and the dangers to be encountered, as compared with our own time, into consideration, the world has never seen and never again will see such mariners. Yet they had their rewards. Their names go down the ages entwined with the story of the lands they sought and found, and even in their own day met with he reception so easily accorded to successful adventure--as in the case of Cavendish, who returns from his cruise to astonish the port from whence he sailed with sailors landing in all the bravery of silk attire from a ship whose sails were of damask and her topmasts covered with cloth-of-gold.

By way of postscript to the story of Drake's voyage, history tells us that Elizabeth, with her customary political caution, hesitated to endorse his acts of rapine on the South American costs, fearing that her recognition might lead to complications with Spain. She did so finally, however, honoring him with knighthood, and heartily approving his every act. She, moreover, directed the preservation of his cruiser, the Golden Hind, "that it might remain a monument of his own and his country's glory."

Encouraged by the success of Drake, another English freebooter, Thomas Cavendish, with three small vessels, followed in his footsteps. He appears as he goes no less than nineteen ships, and returns in triumph, yet with nothing of discovery to interest us.

We now find the increasing commerce between Mexico and

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the Philippines demanding a port of refuge on the California coast ina higher northern latitude. Correct maps and a greater knowledge of our Northwest shores became a nautical necessity not only to these navigators, but those engaged in traffic with the West Indies. In 1595, therefore, we learn that Philip the Second ordered County de Monterey, the Viceroy of Mexico, to explore and seize California, and accurately survey its coasts from Acapulco to Cape Mendocino. Sebastian Vizcaino was selected for the service. In the spring of 1596 three vessels under his command sailed from Acapulco, crossed the Gulf of California, and attempted to establish a settlement, to which Vizcaino gave the name of La Paz, in compliment to the natives for their peaceful reception of him. Within a year La Paz was abandoned and the little fleet returned to Acapulco.

"When Philip, the Third, who ascended the throne of Spain," says Evans, " in 1598 learned of this result, he issued peremptory orders on the 27th of September, 1599, for the survey of the coast and ocean side of the peninsula of California. His viceroy entered zealously upon this duty. The preparations were upon the grandest scale of any ever attempted in Mexico. All the requisites for its successful accomplishment were liberally supplied. Pilots, priests, draughtsmen, and soldiers were engaged, in addition to full crews of selected seamen. Friar Antonio, chaplain to the admiral and journalist of the expedition, pronounced it the most enlightened corps ever raised in New Spain. To Vizcaino was assigned the command, and upon him was conferred in addition to the title and office of Captain-General of California. The fleet consisted of three large ships, the San Diego, San Tomas, and Tres Reyes. To Admiral de Corvan was assigned the navigation. The fleet, which set sail from Acapulco June 2d, 160, commenced the survey of the coast of Cape San Lucas. On the 16th of December was discovered and named the Bay of Monterey, in honor of the viceroy. From Monterey one of the ships was sent back to Acapulco; eighteen days later the other two vessels sailed north. Twelve days after leaving Monterey the San Diego passed San Francisco; but the smaller vessel having separated, the ship returned to that port to await the arrival of her consort. On the 12th of January, 1603, the ships reached Mendocino. Scurvy had made sad havoc

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with the crews. There were but six able to be on deck. On the 19th a high headland and snow-capped mountains in latitude 42 north were discovered. It being the eve of St. Sebastian, Vizcaino gave to this cape the name of Blanco de San Sebastian (the Cape Orford of Vancouver), being the highest point reached by his ship. He then turned southward, coasting inshore, observing the land, and arrived at Acapulco, March 21st. 1603. The smaller vessel, commanded by Antonio Flores, with Martin de Aguilar as pilot, doubled Cape Mendacino, and continued north to the mouth of a river forty-three degrees south--farther north than Monterey's instructions had warranted' then with a crew hopelessly disabled by that bane of all ancient mariners, the scurvy, Flores turned southward to Acapulco.

Disappointment of some sort seems to have accompanied almost every expedition of these old-times explorers. We find Vizcaino, on his return to Mexico, vainly endeavoring to induce the viceroy to establish colonies. Failing here, he goes to Spain, and obtains from Philip the third a grant of those regions, with privilege to establish colonies; but his death in 1609 defeats his project.

With this expedition, Spanish exploration in the Pacific was for the time discontinued--not from any change of policy, but as a natural result of the conditions of affairs. New Spain was in direct communication with the Spanish East Indies. By the isolation of Mexico, Spain was more likely to retain her East Indian trade without interruption. The opening of a north-eastern passage, should such a one be discovered, would but open a door to the entrance of piratical cruisers--the Drakes and Cavandishes--to pray upon Spanish commerce in the Pacific. It was against her best interest to open amore direct path for the ingress of her enemies to Spain; therefore the discovery of the northwest passage ceased to be a desideratum as a promoter of Pacific commerce. But, nevertheless, we see the tidal wave of exploration, urged on by various and oftimes conflicting influences, gradually gaining both in power and nearness, and already touching the coasts on which we dwell.

 

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