Pioneers of the Pacific Coast - A Chronicle of Sea Rovers and Fur Hunters
by Agnes C. Laut
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[Frontispiece: The descent of the Fraser River, 1808. From a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys.]


A Chronicle of Sea Rovers and Fur Hunters






Copyright in all Countries subscribing to the Berne Convention




I. THE VOYAGE OF THE 'GOLDEN HIND' . . . . . . . . 1 II. VITUS BERING ON THE PACIFIC . . . . . . . . . . 11 III. THE OUTLAW HUNTERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 IV. COOK AND VANCOUVER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 V. 'ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, FROM CANADA, BY LAND' . . 71 VI. THE DESCENT OF THE FRASER RIVER . . . . . . . . 86 VII. THOMPSON AND THE ASTORIANS . . . . . . . . . . . 99 VIII. THE PASSING OF THE FUR LORDS . . . . . . . . . . 115 BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132 INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135



THE DESCENT OF THE FRASER RIVER, 1808 Frontispiece From a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys.

ROUTES OF EXPLORERS ON THE PACIFIC COAST . . . . . Facing page 44 Map by Bartholomew.

JAMES COOK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " " 46 From the portrait by Dance in the Gallery of Greenwich Hospital.

THE LAUNCH OF THE 'NORTH-WEST AMERICA' AT NOOTKA SOUND, 1788 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " " 58 From Meares's 'Voyages.'


GEORGE VANCOUVER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " " 70 From a painting in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

SIMON FRASER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " " 90 After the portrait in the Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C.


JOHN M'LOUGHLIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " " 116 Photographed by Savannah from an original painting.

FORT VANCOUVER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " " 118 From a print in the John Ross Robertson Collection, Toronto Public Library.

THE FORT OF THE HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY, VICTORIA, B.C. " " 128 From a photograph by Savannah.




All through the sixteenth century the South Seas were regarded as a mysterious wonderworld, whence Spain drew unlimited wealth of gold and silver bullion, of pearls and precious stones. Spain had declared the Pacific 'a closed sea' to the rest of the world. But in 1567 it happened that Sir John Hawkins, an English mariner, was cruising in the Gulf of Mexico, when a terrific squall, as he said, drove his ships landward to Vera Cruz, and he sent a messenger to the Spanish viceroy there asking permission to dock and repair his battered vessels. Now on one of the English ships was a young officer, not yet twenty-five years of age, named Francis Drake. Twelve Spanish merchantmen rigged as frigates lay in the harbour, and Drake observed that cargo of small bulk but ponderous weight, and evidently precious, was being stowed in their capacious holds. Was this the gold and silver {2} bullion that was enriching Spain beyond men's dreams? Whence did it come? Could English privateers intercept it on the high seas?

Perhaps the English adventurers evinced too great interest in that precious cargo; for though the Spanish governor had granted them permission to repair their ships, the English had barely dismantled when Spanish fire-ships came drifting down on their moorings. A cannon-shot knocked a mug of beer from Hawkins's hand, and head over heels he fell into the sea, while a thousand Spaniards began sabring the English crew ashore. Some friendly hand threw out a rope to Hawkins, who was clad in complete armour. In the dark, unseen by the enemy, he pulled himself up the side of a smaller ship, and, cutting hawsers, scudded for the open sea. There escaped, also, of Hawkins's fleet another small ship, which was commanded by Francis Drake; and after much suffering both vessels reached England.

One can imagine the effect on young Drake of the treacherous act and of the glimpse of that cargo of gold and silver treasure. The English captains had but asked a night's lodging from a power supposed to be friendly. {3} They had been met by a pirate raid. Good! Young Francis Drake eagerly took up Spain's challenge; he would meet the raid with counter-raid. Three years later he was cruising the Spanish Main, capturing and plundering ships and forts and towns. In 1572 he led his men across the Isthmus of Panama, and intercepted and captured a Spanish convoy of treasure coming overland. Near the south side of the isthmus he climbed a tree and had his first glimpse of the Pacific. It set his blood on the leap. On bended knee he prayed aloud to the Almighty to be permitted to sail the first English ship on that 'faire sea.' And, having recrossed the isthmus and loaded his ships with plunder, he bore away for England and reached Plymouth in August 1573.

The raid on Panama had brought Drake enormous wealth. At his own cost he built three frigates and two sloops to explore the South Seas, his purpose being to enter the Pacific through the Strait of Magellan, which no Englishman had yet ventured to pass. These ships he equipped as if for royal tournament. Players of the violin and the harp discoursed music at each meal. Rarest wines filled the lockers. Drake, clad in rich velvet, {4} dined on plates of pure gold served by ten young noblemen, who never sat or donned hat in his presence; and on his own ship, the Pelican—afterwards called the Golden Hind—he had a hundred picked marines, men eager for battle and skilful in wielding the cutlass. His men loved him as a dauntless leader; they feared him, too, with a fear that commanded obedience on the instant.

Queen Elizabeth was in a quandary how to treat her gallant buccaneer and rover of the high seas. England and Spain were at peace, and she could not give Drake an open royal commission to raid the commerce of a friendly power; but she did present him with a magnificent sword, to signify that she would have no objection if he should cut his way through the portals leading to the 'closed sea.' The fleet set sail in December 1577, and steered by the west coast of Morocco and the Cape Verde Islands. The coast of Brazil was reached in April. Two of the ships were abandoned near the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, after having been stripped of provisions. In August the remaining three ships entered the tempestuous seas around Cape Horn. Drake drove before the gales with sails close-reefed and hatches battened, and came {5} out with only one of his three ships left, the first English keel to cleave the waters of the Pacific. In honour of the feat Drake renamed his ship the Golden Hind. Perhaps there was jocose irony in the suggestion of gold and speed. Certain it is, the crew of the Golden Hind were well content with the possession of both gold and speed before advancing far up the west coast of South America.

Quite by chance, which seems always to favour the daring, somewhere off the coast of Chile Drake picked up an Indian fisherman. The natives of South America, for the best of reasons, hated their Spanish masters, who enslaved them, treated them brutally, and forced them to work in the pearl fisheries and the mines. Drake persuaded the Indian to pilot his ship into the harbour of Valparaiso. Never dreaming that any foreign vessel had entered the Pacific, Spanish treasure-ships lay rocking to the tide in fancied security, and actually dipped colours to Drake. Drake laughed, waved his plumed hat back in salute, dealt out wine to give courage to 'his merrie boys,' and sailed straight amid the anchored treasure-ships. Barely had the Golden Hind taken a position in the midst of the enemy's fleet, when, selecting one of the staunchest {6} vessels of the enemy, Drake had grappling-irons thrown out, clamping his ship to her victim. In a trice the English sailors were on the Spanish deck with swords out and the rallying-cry of 'God and St George! Down with Spanish dogs!' Dumbfounded and unarmed, down the hatches, over the bulwarks into the sea, reeled the surprised Spaniards. Drake clapped hatches down upon those trapped inside, and turned his cannon on the rest of the unguarded Spanish fleet. Literally, not a drop of blood was shed. The treasure-ships were looted of their cargoes and sent drifting out to sea.

All the other harbours of the Pacific were raided and looted in similar summary fashion; and, somewhere seaward from Lima, Drake learned of a treasure-ship bearing untold riches—the Glory of the South Seas—the huge caravel in which the Spaniards sent home to Spain the yearly tribute of bullion. The Golden Hind, with her sails spread to the wind, sought for the Glory like a harrier for its quarry. One crew of Spaniards on a small ship that was scuttled saved their throats by telling Drake that the great ship was only two days ahead, and loaded to the water-line with wealth untold. Drake crowded sail, had muskets {7} and swords furbished and thirty cannon loaded, and called on his crew to quit themselves like men. And when the wind went down he ordered small boats out to tow the Golden Hind. For five days the hunt lasted, never slackening by day or by night; and when, at three in the afternoon of a day in March, Drake's brother shouted from the cross-trees, 'Sail ho!' every man aboard went mad with impatience to crowd on the last inch of canvas and overtake the rich prize. The Englishmen saw that the Spanish ship was so heavily laden that she was making but slow progress; and so unconscious was the Spanish captain of danger, that when he discerned a ship approaching he actually lowered canvas and awaited what he thought might be fresh orders from the viceroy. The Golden Hind sped on till she was almost alongside the Spaniard; then Drake let go full blast all thirty cannon, as fast as he could shift and veer for the cannoneers to take aim. Yards, sails, masts fell shattered and torn from the splendid Spanish ship. The English clapped their grappling-hooks to her sides, and naked swords did the rest. To save their lives, the Spanish crew, after a feeble resistance, surrendered, and bullion to the value in {8} modern money of almost a million dollars fell into the hands of the men of the Golden Hind.

Drake's vessel was now loaded deep with treasure, and preparations were made to sail homeward, but her commander realized that it would be dangerous to attempt to return to England by way of the Spanish Main with a ship so heavily laden that she must sail slowly. It was then that legends of a North-East Passage came into his mind. He would sail northward in search of the strait that was supposed to lead through the continent to the Atlantic—the mythical strait of Anian. As the world knows, there was no such passage; but how far north did Drake sail seeking it? Some accounts say as far as Oregon; others, as far as the northern coast of California; but, at all events, as he advanced farther north he found that the coast sheered farther and farther west. So he gave over his attempt to find the strait of the legends, and turned back and anchored in 'a faire and good bay,' which is now known as Drake's Bay, a short distance north of San Francisco; and, naming the region New Albion, he claimed it for Queen Elizabeth. In July 1579 he weighed anchor and steered south-west. {9} He reached the Molucca Islands in November, and arrived at Java in March. In June he rounded the Cape of Good Hope and then beat his way up the Atlantic to England. In September 1580 the Golden Hind entered the harbour of Plymouth. How Drake became the lion of the hour when he reached England, after having circumnavigated the globe, need not be told. Ballads were recited in his honour. Queen Elizabeth dined in state on the Golden Hind, and, after the dinner, with the sword which she had given him when he set out, she conferred on Drake the honour of knighthood, as the seal of his country's acclaim.

Drake's conclusions regarding the supposed passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic were correct, though for two hundred years they were rejected by geographers. His words are worth setting down: 'The Asian and American continents, if they be not fully joined, yet seem they to come very neere, from whose high and snow-covered mountains, the north and north-west winds send abroad their frozen nimphes to the infecting of the whole air—hence comes it that in the middest of their summer, the snow hardly departeth from these hills at all; hence come those thicke mists and {10} most stinking fogges, ... for these reasons we coniecture that either there is no passage at all through these Northerne coasts, which is most likely, or if there be, that it is unnavigable.'




Since Drake's day more than a century had rolled on. Russia was awakening from ages of sleep, as Japan has awakened in our time, and Peter the Great was endeavouring to pilot the ship of state out to the wide seas of a world destiny. Peter, like the German Kaiser of to-day, was ambitious to make his country a world-power. He had seen enough of Europe to learn that neighbouring nations were increasing their strength in three ways—by conquest, by discovery, and by foreign commerce—and that foreign commerce meant, not only buying and selling, but carrying the traffic of other nations. The East India Company, in whose dockyards he had worked as a carpenter, was a striking instance of the strength that could be built up by foreign commerce. Its ships cruised from Nova Zembia to Persia and East India, carrying forth the products of English workshops and {12} farms, and bringing back the treasures of all lands.

By conquest, Peter had extended the bounds of his empire from the Ural Mountains to the seas of China. By discovery, what remained to be done? France and England had acquired most of the North American continent. Spain and Portugal claimed South America; and Spain had actually warned the rest of the world that the Pacific was 'a closed sea.' But there were legends of a vast domain yet undiscovered. Juan de Fuca, a Greek pilot, employed, as alleged, by Spanish explorers between 1587 and 1592, was reported to have told of a passage from the Pacific to the Arctic through a mountainous forested land up in the region of what is now British Columbia. Whether Juan lied, or mistook his own fancies for facts, or whether the whole story was invented by his chronicler Michael Lok, does not much matter. The fact was that Spanish charts showed extensive unexplored land north of Drake's New Albion or California. At this time geographers had placed on their maps a vast continent called Gamaland between America and Asia; and, as if in corroboration of this fiction, when Peter's Cossacks struggled doggedly across {13} Asia, through Siberia, to the Pacific, people on these far shores told tales of drift-wood coming from America, of islands leading like steps through the sea to America, of a nation like themselves, whose walrus-hide boats sometimes drifted to Siberia and Kamchatka. If any new and wealthy region of the world remained to be discovered, Peter felt that it must be in the North Pacific. When it is recalled that Spain was supposed to have found in Peru temples lined with gold, floors paved with silver, and pearls readily exchanged in bucketfuls for glass beads, it can be realized that the motive for discovery was not merely scientific. It was one that actuated princes and merchants alike. And Peter the Great had an additional motive—the development of his country's merchant shipping. It was this that had induced him to establish the capital of his kingdom on the Baltic. So, in 1725, five weeks before his death—one of the most terrible deaths in history, when remorse and ghosts of terrible memories came to plague his dying hours till his screams could be heard through the palace halls—he issued a commission for one of the greatest expeditions of discovery that ever set out for America—a commission to Vitus {14} Bering, the Dane, to explore the Pacific for Russia.

Like Peter the Great, Vitus Bering had served an apprenticeship with the East India Company. It is more than probable that he first met his royal patron while he was in this service. While other expeditions to explore America had but to cross the sea before beginning their quest, Bering's expedition had to cross the width of Europe, and then the width of Asia, before it could reach even the sea. Between St Petersburg and the Pacific lay six thousand miles of mountain and tundra. Caravans, flat-boats, and dog-trains must be provided to transport supplies; and the vessels to be used at the end of the land journey must be built on the Pacific. The explorers were commissioned to levy tribute for food and fur on Tartar tribes as their caravans worked slowly eastward. Bering's first voyage does not concern America. He set out from Kamchatka on July 9, 1728, with forty-four men, and sailed far enough north to prove that Asia and America were not united by any Gamaland, and that the strait now bearing his name separated the two continents; but, like the tribes of Siberia, he saw signs of a great land area on {15} the other side of the rain-hidden sea. Out of the blanketing fog drifted trees, seaweed, bits of broken boats. And though Bering, like the English navigator Drake, was convinced that no Gamaland existed, he was confronted by the learned geographers, who had a Gamaland on their maps and demanded truculently, whence came the signs of land?

In March 1730, within one month of the time he returned to St Petersburg, Bering was again ordered to prepare to carry out the dead emperor's command—'to find and set down reliably what was in the Pacific.' The explorer had now to take his orders from the authorities of the Academy of Sciences, whose bookish inexperience and visionary theories were to hamper him at every turn. Botanists, artists, seven monks, twelve physicians, Cossack soldiers—in all, nearly six hundred men—were to accompany him; and to transport this small army of explorers, four thousand pack-horses were sent winding across the desert wastes of Siberia, with one thousand exiles as guides and boatmen to work the boats and rafts on the rivers and streams. Great blaring of trumpets marked the arrival and departure of the caravans at the Russian forts on the way; and if the savants, whose {16} presence pestered the soul of poor Bering, had been half as keen in overcoming the difficulties of the daily trail as they were in drinking pottle-deep to future successes, there would have been less bickering and delay in reaching the Pacific. Dead horses marked the trail across two continents. The Cossack soldiers deserted and joined the banditti that scoured the Tartar plains; and for three winters the travellers were storm-bound in the mountains of Siberia. But at length they reached Avacha Bay on the eastern shore of Kamchatka, and the waters of the Pacific gladdened the eyes of the weary travellers. At Petropavlovsk on the bay they built a fort, houses, barracks, a chapel, and two vessels, named the St Peter and the St Paul.

Early on the morning of June 4, 1741, the chapel bells were set ringing. At dawn prayers were chanted to invoke the blessing of Heaven on the success of the voyage. Monks in solemn procession paraded to the water's edge, singing. The big, bearded men, who had doggedly, drunkenly, profanely, religiously, marched across deserts and mountains to reach the sea, gave comrades a last fond embrace, ran down the sand, jumped into the jolly-boats, rowed out, and clambered up {17} the ships' ladders. And when the reverberating roll of the fort cannon signalled the hour of departure, anchors were weighed, and sails, loosened from the creaking yard-arms, fluttered and filled to the wind. While the landsmen were still cheering and waving a farewell, Bering and his followers watched the shores slip away, the waters widen, the mountains swim past and back. Then the St Peter and the St Paul headed out proudly to the lazy roll of the ocean.

Now the savants, of whom Bering carried too many with him for his own peace of mind, had averred that he had found no Gamaland on his first voyage because he had sailed too far north. This time he was to voyage southward for that passage named after Juan de Fuca. This would lead him north of Drake's New Albion in California, and north of the Spanish cruisings about modern Vancouver Island. This was to bring him to the mythical Gamaland. Bering knew there was no Gamaland; but in the captain's cabin, where the savants bent all day over charts, was the map of Delisle, the geographer of French Canada, showing vast unnamed lands north of the Spanish possessions; and in the expedition was a member of the Delisle family. So {18} Bering must have known or guessed that an empire half the size of Russia lay undiscovered north of Juan de Fuca's passage.

So confident were the members of the expedition of reaching land to the east at an early date that provisions and water for only a few weeks were carried along. Bering had a crew of seventy-seven on the St Peter, and among the other men of science with him was the famous naturalist, George W. Steller. Lieutenant Chirikoff sailed the St Paul with seventy-six men, and Delisle de la Croyere was his most distinguished passenger. As is usual during early June in that latitude, driving rains and dense fogs came rolling down from the north over a choppy sea. The fog turned to snow, and the St Paul, far in the lead, came about to signal if they should not keep together to avoid losing each other in the thick weather; but the St Peter was careening dangerously, and shipping thunderous seas astern. Bering's laconic signal in answer was to keep on south 'to Gamaland'; but when the fog lifted the St Peter was in latitude 46 deg., far below the supposed location of the strait of Juan de Fuca, and there was in sight neither Gamaland nor the sister ship. The scientists with Bering were in such a peevish mood {19} over the utter disproof of their mythical continent that they insisted on the commander wasting a whole month pottering back and forth looking for Chirikoff's ship. By this time the weather had become very warm, the drinking water very rank, and the provisions stale. Finally, the learned men gave decision that as the other ship could not be found the St Peter might as well turn north.

Bering had become very depressed, and so irritable that he could not tolerate approach. If the men of learning had been but wise in the dangers of ocean travel, they would have recognized in their commander the symptoms of the common sea-scourge of the age—scurvy. Presently, he was too ill to leave his bed, and Waxel, who hated all interference and threatened to put the scientists in irons or throw them overboard, took command. By the middle of July passengers and crew were reduced to half allowance of bad water. Still, there were signs that afforded hope. As the ship worked through the fog-blanket northward, drift-wood and land birds, evidently from a land other than Asia, were seen.

At last came a land wind from the south-east, lifting the fog and driving it back to the north. And early one morning there were {20} confused cries from the deck hands—then silence—then shouts of exultant joy! Everybody rushed above-decks, even the sick in their night-robes, among them Bering, wan and weak, answering scarce a word to the happy clamour about him. Before the sailors' astonished gaze, in the very early light of that northern latitude, lay a turquoise sea—a shining sheet of water, milky and metallic like a mountain tarn, with the bright greens and blues of glacial silt; and looming through the primrose clouds of the horizon hung a huge opal dome in mid-heaven. At first they hardly realized what it meant. Then shouts went up—'Land!' 'Mountains!' 'Snow-peaks!' The St Peter glided forward noiseless as a bird on the wing. Inlets and harbours, turquoise-green and silent, opened along a jagged, green and alabaster shore. As the vessel approached the land the explorers saw that the white wall of the inner harbour was a rampart of solid ice; but where the shore line extended out between ice and sea was a meadow of ferns and flowers abloom knee-deep, and grasses waist-high. The spectators shouted and laughed and cried and embraced one another. Russia, too, had found a new empire. St Elias they named the {21} great peak that hung like a temple dome of marble above the lesser ridges; but Bering only sighed. 'We think we have done great things, eh? Well, who knows where this is? We're almost out of provisions, and not a man of us knows which way to sail home.'

Steller was down the ship's ladder with the glee of a schoolboy, and off for the shore with fifteen men in one of the row-boats to explore. They found the dead ashes of a camp-fire on the sands, and some remnants of smoked fish; but any hope that the lost ship's crew had camped here was at once dispelled by the print of moccasined feet in the fine sand. Steller found some rude huts covered with sea-moss, but no human presence. Water-casks were filled; and that relieved a pressing need. On July 21, when the wind began to blow freshly seaward, Bering appeared unexpectedly on deck, ashen of hue and staggering from weakness, and peremptorily ordered anchors up. Bells were rung and gongs beaten to call those ashore back to the ship. Steller stormed and swore. Was it for this hurried race ashore that he had spent years toiling across two continents? He wanted to botanize, to explore, to gather data for science; but the commander had had {22} enough of science. He was sick unto death, in body and in soul, sick with the knowledge that they were two thousand miles from any known port, in a tempestuous sea, on a rickety ship manned for the most part by land-lubbers.

As they scudded before the wind, Bering found that the shore was trending south towards the home harbour. They were following that long line of reefed islands, the Aleutians, which project out from Alaska towards Asia. A roar of reefs through the fog warned them off the land; but one midnight of August the lead recorded less than three feet of water under the keel. Before there was time for panic, a current that rushed between rocks threw the vessel into a deep pool of backwash; and there she lay till morning. By this time many of the sailors were down with scurvy. It became necessary to land for fresh water. One man died as he was lifted from the decks to the shore. Bering could not stand unaided. Twenty emaciated sailors were taken out of their berths and propped up on the sand. And the water they took from this rocky island was brackish, and only increased the ravages of the malady.

From the date of this ill-fated landing, a {23} pall—a state of paralysis, of inaction and fear—seemed to hang over the ship. The tide-rip was mistaken for earthquake; and when the lurid glare of volcanic smoke came through the fog, the sailors huddled panic-stricken below-decks and refused to obey orders. Every man became his own master; and if that ever works well on land, it means disaster at sea. Thus it has almost always been with the inefficient and the misfits who have gone out in ships—land-lubbers trying to be navigators. Just when Bering's crew should have braced themselves to resist the greatest stress, they collapsed and huddled together with bowed heads, inviting the worst that fate could do to them. When the tide-rip came through the reefs from the north along the line of the Aleutian Islands with the swiftness of a mill-race, the men had literally to be held to the rudder at pistol point and beaten up the masts with the flat of the officers' swords. But while they skulked, a hurricane rolled up the fog; and the ship could but scud under bare poles before the wind. Rations were now down to mouldy sea-biscuits, and only fifteen casks of water remained for three-score men.

Out of the turmoil of waters and wind along {24} the wave-lashed rocks came the hoarse, shrill, strident cry of the sea-lion, the boom and snort of the great walrus, the roar of the seal rookeries, where millions of cubs wallowed, and where bulls lashed themselves in their rage and fought for mastery of the herd. By November, Waxel alone was holding the vessel up to the wind. No more solemn conferences of self-important, self-willed scientists filled the commander's cabin! No more solemn conclaves and arguments and counter-arguments to induce the commander to sail this way and that! Bedlam reigned above and below decks. No man had any thought but how to reach home alive. Prayers and vows and offerings went up from the decks of the St Peter like smoke. The Russians vowed themselves to holy lives and stopped swearing.

To the inexpressible delight of all hands the prayers seemed to be heard. On November 4 the storm abated, and land loomed up on the horizon, dim at first, but taking shape as the vessel approached it and showing a well-defined, rock-bound harbour. Was this the home harbour? The sick crawled on hands and knees above the hatchway to mumble out their thanks to God for escape from doom. A cask of brandy was opened, {25} and tears gave place to gruff, hilarious laughter. Every man was ready to swear that he recognized this headland, that he had known they were following the right course after all, and that he had never felt any fear at all.

Barely had the grief become joy, when a chill silence fell over the ship. The only sounds were the rattling of the rigging against the masts, the groaning of the timbers of the vessel, and the swish of the waves cut by the prow. These were not Kamchatka shores. This was only another of the endless island reefs they had been chasing since July. The tattered sails flapped and beat dismally against the cordage. Night fell. There was a retributive glee in the whistle of the mocking wind through the rotten rigging, and the ship's timbers groaned to the boom of the heavy tide.

Bering was past caring whether he lived or died. Morning revealed a shore of black basalt, reef upon reef, like sentinels of death saying, 'Come in! come in! We are here to see that you never go out'; and there was a nasty clutch to the backwash of the billows smashing down from those rocks.

Waxel called a last council of all hands in {26} the captain's cabin. 'We should go on home,' said Bering, rising on his elbow in his berth. 'It matters not to me. I am past mending; but even if we have only the foremast left and one keg of water, let us try for the home harbour. A few days must make it. Having risked so much, let us risk all to win!' As they afterwards found, they were only one week from Kamchatka; but they were terrified at the prospect of any more deep-sea wanderings, and when one of the officers dared to support Bering's view, they fell on him like wild beasts and threw him from the cabin. To a man they voted to land. That vote was fate's seal to the penalty men must pay for their mistakes.

Above the white fret of reefs precipices towered in pinnacles two thousand feet high. Through the reefs the doomed ship stole like a hunted thing. Only one man kept his head clear and his hand to the helm—the lieutenant whom all the rest had thrown out of the cabin. The island seemed absolutely treeless, covered only with sedge and shingle and grass. The tide began to toss the ship about so that the sick were rolled from their berths. Night came with a ghostly moonlight silvering the fret of a seething sea that seemed to be {27} reaching up white arms for its puny victims. The lieutenant threw out an anchor. It raked bottom and the cable snapped. The crazed crew began throwing the dead overboard as an offering to appease the anger of the sea. The St Peter swept stern foremost full on a reef. Quickly the lieutenant and Steller threw out the last anchor. It gripped between rocks and—held. The tide at midnight had thrown the vessel into a sheltered cove. Steller and the lieutenant at once rowed ashore to examine their surroundings and to take steps to make provision for the morrow. They were on what is now known as Bering Island. Fortunately, it was literally swarming with animal life—the great manatee or sea-cow in herds on the kelp-beds, blue foxes in thousands, the seal rookeries that were to make the islands famous; but there was no timber to build houses for wintering in. It was a barren island. They could make floors of sand, walls of peat, roofs of sea-moss; but what shelter was this against northern gales?

By November 8 a rude pit-shelter had been constructed to house the invalided crew; but the sudden transition from the putrid hold to the open, frosty air caused the death of many as they were lowered on stretchers. Amid a {28} heavy snow Bering was wrapped in furs and carried ashore. The dauntless Steller faced the situation with judgment and courage. He acted as doctor, nurse, and hunter, and daily brought in meat for the hungry and furs to cover the dying. Five pits sheltered the castaways. When examined in 1885 the walls of the pits were still intact—three feet of solid peat. Clothing of sea-otter skins of priceless value, which afterwards proved a fortune to those who survived, and food of the flesh of the great sea-cow, saved a remnant of the wretched crew. During most of the month of November the St Peter rode safely at anchor while storms thundered around her retreat; but on the 28th her cable snapped beneath a hurricane, and she was driven high and dry on the shore, a broken wreck. In all thirty-one men had perished of scurvy by January 1742. Among these was the poor old commander. On the morning of December 8, as the wind went moaning round their shelter, Steller heard the Dane praying in a low voice. And just at daybreak he passed into that great, quiet Unknown World whence no traveller has returned.

How the consort ship, the St Paul, found {29} her way back to Kamchatka, and how Bering's castaways in the spring built themselves a raft and mustered their courage to essay the voyage home which they ought to have attempted in the autumn, are matters for more detailed history. But just as Cartier's discovery of the St Lawrence led to the pursuit of the little beaver across a continent, so the Russians' discovery of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands led to the pursuit of the sea-otter up and down the North Pacific; led the way, indeed, to that contest for world supremacy on the Pacific in which the great powers of three continents are to-day engaged.




Chirikoff's crew on the St Paul had long since returned in safety to Kamchatka, and the garrison of the fort on Avacha Bay had given up Bering's men as lost for ever, when one August morning the sentinel on guard along the shore front of Petropavlovsk descried a strange apparition approaching across the silver surface of an unruffled sea. It was like a huge whale, racing, galloping, coming in leaps and bounds of flying fins over the water towards the fort. The soldier telescoped his eyes with his hands and looked again. This was no whale. There was a mast pole with a limp skin-thing for sail. It was a big, clumsy, raft-shaped flat-boat. The oarsmen were rowing like pursued maniacs, rising and falling bodily as they pulled. It was this that gave the craft the appearance of galloping over the water. The soldier called down others to look. Some one ran for the commander of the {31} fort. What puzzled the onlookers was the appearance of the rowers. They did not look like human beings; their hair was long; their beards were unkempt. They were literally naked except for breech-clouts and shoulder-pieces of fur. Then somebody shouted the unexpected tidings that they were the castaways of Bering's crew.

Bugles rang; the fort drum rumbled a muster; the chapel bells pealed forth; and the whole population of the fort rushed to the water-side—shouting, gesticulating, laughing, crying—and welcomed with wild embraces the returning castaways. And while men looked for this one and that among the two-score coming ashore from the raft, and women wept for those they did not find, on the outskirts of the crowd stood silent observers—Chinese traders and pedlars from Manchuria, who yearly visited Kamchatka to gather pelts for the annual great fur fairs held in China. The Chinese merchants looked hard; then nodded knowingly to each other, and came furtively down amid the groups along the shore front and timidly fingered the matted pelts worn by the half-naked men. It was incredible. Each penniless castaway was wearing the fur of the sea-otter, or what the Russians called {32} the sea-beaver, more valuable than seal, and, even at that day, rarer than silver fox. Never suspecting their value, the castaways had brought back a great number of the pelts of these animals; and when the Chinese merchants paid over the value of these furs in gold, the Russians awakened to a realization that while Bering had not found a Gamaland, he might have stumbled on as great a source of wealth as the furs of French Canada or the gold-lined temples of Peru.

The story Bering's men told was that, while searching ravenously for food on the barren island where they had been cast, they had found vast kelp-beds and seaweed marshes, where pastured the great manatee known as the sea-cow. Its flesh had saved their lives. While hunting the sea-cow in the kelp-beds and sea-marshes the men had noticed that whenever a swashing sea or tide drove the shattering spray up the rocks, there would come riding in on the storm whole herds of another sea denizen—thousands upon thousands of them, so tame that they did not know the fear of man, burying their heads in the sea-kelp while the storm raged, lifting them only to breathe at intervals. This creature was six feet long from the tip of its round, {33} cat-shaped nose to the end of its stumpy, beaver-shaped tail, with fur the colour of ebony on the surface, soft seal-colour and grey below, and deep as sable. Quite unconscious of the worth of the fur, the castaway sailors fell on these visitors to the kelp-beds and clubbed right and left, for skins to protect their nakedness from the biting winter winds.

It was the news of the sea wealth brought to Kamchatka by Bering's men that sent traders scurrying to the Aleutian Islands and Alaskan shores. Henceforth Siberian merchants were to vie with each other in outfitting hunters—criminals, political exiles, refugees, destitute sailors—to scour the coasts of America for sea-otter. Throughout the long line of the Aleutian Islands and the neighbouring coasts of North America, for over a century, hunters' boats—little cockle-shell skiffs made of oiled walrus-skin stretched on whalebone frames, narrow as a canoe, light as cork—rode the wildest seas in the wildest storms in pursuit of the sea-otter. Sea-otter became to the Pacific coast what beaver was to the Atlantic—the magnet that drew traders to the north-west seas, and ultimately led to the settlement of the north-west coast.

It was, to be sure, dangerous work hunting {34} in wild northern gales on rocks slippery with ice and through spray that wiped out every outline of precipice edge or reef; but it offered variety to exiles in Siberia; and it offered more—a chance of wealth if they survived. Iron for bolts of boats must be brought all the way from Europe; so the outlaw hunters did without iron, and fastened planks together as best they could with deer thongs in place of nails, and moss and tallow in place of tar. In the crazy vessels so constructed they ventured out from Kamchatka two thousand miles across unknown boisterous seas. Once they had reached the Aleutians, natives were engaged to do the actual hunting under their direction. Exiles and criminals could not be expected to use gentle methods to attain their ends. 'God is high in the heavens and the Czar is far away,' they said. The object was quick profit, and plundering was the easiest way to attain it. How were the Aleutian Indians paid? At first they were not paid at all. They were drugged into service with vodka, a liquor that put them in a frenzy; and bayoneted and bludgeoned into obedience. These methods failing, wives and children were seized by the Russians and held in camp as hostages to guarantee a big hunt. The {35} Aleuts' one object in meeting the Russian hunter at all was to get possession of firearms. From the time Bering's crew and Chirikoff's men had first fired rifles in the presence of these poor savages of the North, the Indians had realized that 'the stick that thundered' was a weapon they must possess, or see their tribe exterminated.

The brigades of sea-otter hunters far exceeded in size and wild daring the platoons of beaver hunters, who ranged by pack-horse and canoe from Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains. The Russian ship, provisioned for two or three years, would moor and draw up ashore for the winter on one of the eleven hundred Aleutian Islands. Huts would be constructed of drift-wood, roofed with sea-moss; and as time went on even rude forts were erected on two or three of the islands—like Oonalaska or Kadiak—where the kelp-beds were extensive and the hunting was good enough to last for several years. The Indians would then be attracted to the camp by presents of brandy and glass beads and gay trinkets and firearms. Perhaps one thousand Aleut hunters would be assembled. Two types of hunting boats were used—the big 'bidarkie,' carrying twenty or thirty men, and the little kayak, a {36} mere cockle-shell. Oiled walrus-skin, stretched taut as a drum-head, served as a covering for the kayak against the seas, a manhole being left in the centre for the paddler to ensconce himself waist-deep, with oilskin round his waist to keep the water out. Clothing was worn fur side in, oiled side out; and the soles of all moccasins were padded with moss to protect the feet from the sharp rocks. Armed with clubs, spears, steel gaffs and rifles, the hunters would paddle out into the storm.

There were three types of hunting—long distance rifle-shooting, which the Russians taught the Aleuts; still hunting in a calm sea; storm hunting on the kelp-beds and rocks as the wild tide rode in with its myriad swimmers. Rifles could be used only when the wind was away from the sea-otter beds and the rocks offered good hiding above the sea-swamps. This method was sea-otter hunting de luxe. Still hunting could only be followed when the sea was smooth as glass. The Russian schooner would launch out a brigade of cockle-shell kayaks on an unruffled stretch of sea, which the sea-otter traversed going to and from the kelp-beds. While the sea-otter is a marine denizen, it must come up to breathe; and if it does not come up frequently of its {37} own volition, the gases forming in its body bring it to the surface. The little kayaks would circle out silent as shadows over the silver surface of the sea. A round head would bob up, or a bubble show where a swimmer was moving below the surface. The kayaks would narrow their surrounding circle. Presently a head would appear. The hunter nearest would deal the death-stroke with his steel gaff, and the quarry would be drawn in. But it was in the storm hunt over the kelp-beds that the wildest work went on. Through the fiercest storm scudded bidarkies and kayaks, meeting the herds of sea-otter as they drove before the gale. To be sure, the bidarkies filled and foundered; the kayaks were ripped on the teeth of the rock reefs. But the sea took no account of its dead; neither did the Russians. Only the Aleut women and children wept for the loss of the hunters who never returned; and sea-otter hunting decreased the population of the Aleutian Islands by thousands. It was as fatal to the Indian as to the sea-otter. Two hundred thousand sea-otters were taken by the Russians in half a century. Kadiak yielded as many as 6000 pelts in a single year; Oonalaska, 3000; the Pribylovs, 5000; Sitka used to yield 15,000 a {38} year. To-day there are barely 200 a year found from the Commander Islands to Sitka.

It may be imagined that Russian criminals were not easy masters to the simple Aleut women and children who were held as hostages in camp to guarantee a good hunt. Brandy flowed like water, the Czar was far away, and it was a land with no law but force. The Russian hunters cast conscience and fear to the winds. Who could know? God did not seem to see; and it was two thousand miles to the home fort in Kamchatka. When the hunt was poor, children were brained with clubbed rifles, women knouted to death before the eyes of husbands and fathers. In 1745 a whole village of Aleuts had poison put in their food by the Russians. The men were to eat first, and when they perished the women and children would be left as slaves to the Russians. A Cossack, Pushkareff, brought a ship out for the merchant Betshevin in 1762, and, in punishment for the murder of several brutal members of the crew by the Aleuts, he kidnapped twenty-five of their women. Then, as storm drove him towards Kamchatka, he feared to enter the home port with such a damning human cargo. So he promptly marooned fourteen victims on a rocky coast, {39} and binding the others hand and foot, threw them into the sea. The merchant and the Cossack were both finally punished by the Russian government for the crimes of this voyage; but this did not silence the blood of the murdered women crying to Heaven for vengeance. In September 1762 the criminal ship came back to Avacha Bay. In complete ignorance of the Cossack's diabolical conduct, four Russian ships sailed that very month for the Aleutian Islands. Since 1741, when Bering's sailors had found the kelp-beds, Aleuts had hunted the sea-otter and Russians had hunted the Aleuts. For three years fate reversed the wheel. It was to be a man-hunt of fugitive Russians.

Just before the snow fell in the autumn of 1763 Alexis Drusenin anchored his ship on the north-east corner of Oonalaska, where the rocks sprawl out in the sea in five great spurs like the fingers of a hand. The spurs are separated by tempestuous reef-ribbed seas. The Indians were so very friendly that they voluntarily placed hostages of good conduct in the Russians' hands. Two or three thousand Aleut hunters came flocking over the sea in their kayaks to join the sea-otter brigades. On the spur opposite to Drusenin's {40} anchorage stood an Aleut village of forty houses; on the next spur, ten miles away across the sea, was another village of seventy people. The Russian captain divided his crew, and placed from nine to twelve men in each of the villages. With ample firearms and enough brandy half a dozen Russians could control a thousand Aleuts. Swaggering and bullying and loud-voiced and pot-valiant, Drusenin and two Cossacks stooped to enter a low-thatched Aleut hut. The entrance step pitched down into a sort of pit; and as Drusenin stumbled in face foremost a cudgel clubbed down on his skull. The Cossack behind stumbled headlong over the prostrate form of his officer; and in the dark there was a flash of long knives—such knives as the hunters used in skinning their prey. Both bodies were cut to fragments. The third man seized an axe as the murderers crowded round him and beat them back; he then sought safety in flight. There was a hiss of hurtling spears thrown after him with terrible deftness. With his back pierced in a dozen places, drenched in his own blood, the Cossack almost tumbled over the prostrate body of a sentinel who had been on guard at a house down by the ship, and had been wounded by the flying {41} spears. A sailor dashed out, a yard-long bear-knife in his grasp, and dragged the two men inside. Of the dozen Russians stationed here only four survived; and their hut was beset by a rabble of Aleuts drunk with vodka, drunk with blood, drunk with a frenzy of revenge.

Cooped up in the hut, the Russians kept guard by twos till nightfall, when, dragging a bidarkie down to the water, they loaded it with provisions and firearms, and pushed out in the dark to the moan and heave of an unquiet sea. Though weakened from loss of blood, the fugitives rowed with fury for the next spur of rock, ten miles away, where they hoped to find help. The tide-rip came out of the north with angry threat and broke against the rocks, but no blink of light shone through the dark from the Russian huts ashore. The men were afraid to land, and afraid not to land. Wind and sea would presently crush their frail craft to kindling-wood against the rocky shore.

The Russians sprang out, waded ashore, uttered a shout! Instantly lances and spears fell about them like rain. They joined hands and ran for the cove where the big schooner had been moored. Breathlessly they waited for the dawn to discover where their ship lay; {42} but daylight revealed only the broken wreckage of the vessel along the shore, while all about were blood-stains and pieces of clothing and mutilated bodies, which told but too plainly that the crew had been hacked to pieces. There was not a moment to be lost. Before the mist could lift, the fugitives gathered up some provisions scattered on the shore and ran for their lives to the high mountains farther inland. And when daylight came they scooped a hole in the sand, drew a piece of sail-cloth over this, and lay in hiding till night.

From early December to early February the Russians hid in the caves of the Oonalaska mountains. Clams, shell-fish, sea-birds stayed their hunger. It is supposed that they must have found shelter in one of the caves where there are medicinal hot springs; otherwise, they would have perished of cold. In February they succeeded in making a rude boat, and in this they set out by night to seek the ships of other Russian hunters. For a week they rowed out only at night. Then they began to row by day. They were seen by Indians, and once more sought safety in the caves of the mountains, where they remained in hiding for five weeks, venturing {43} out only at night in search of food. Here, snow-water and shell-fish were all they had to sustain them; and again they must build a rude raft to escape. Towards the end of March they descried a Russian vessel in the offing, and at last succeeded in reaching friends.

Almost the same story could be told of the crews of each of the ships that had sailed from Avacha Bay in September 1762. One ship foundered. The castaways were stabbed where they lay in exhausted sleep. Every member of the crew on a third ship had been slain round a bath-house, such as Russian hunters built in that climate to enable them to ward off rheumatism by vapour plunges. One ship only escaped the general butchery and carried the refugees home.

Of course, Cossack and hunter exacted terrible vengeance for this massacre. Whole villages were burned to the ground and every inhabitant sabred. On one occasion, as many as three hundred victims were tied in line and shot. The result was that the Cossacks' outrages and the Aleuts' vengeance drew the attention of the Russian government to this lucrative fur trade in the far new land. The disorders put an end to free, unrestricted trade. {44} Henceforth a hunter must have a licence; and a licence implied the favour of the court. The court saw to it that a governor took up his residence in the region to enforce justice and to compel the hunters to make honest returns. Like the Hudson's Bay men, the Russian fur traders had to report direct to the crown. Thus was inaugurated on the west coast of America the Russian regime, which ended only in 1867, when Alaska was ceded to the United States.




It was the quest for a passage to the Atlantic that brought Captain James Cook to the Pacific. Before joining the Royal Navy, Cook had been engaged as a captain in the Baltic trade; and from Russian merchantmen he had learned all about Bering's voyage in the North Pacific, which was being quoted by the geographers in proof of an open passage north of Alaska. In the Baltic, too, Cook had heard about the strait of Juan de Fuca, which was supposed to lead through the continent to the Atlantic. At this time all England was agog with demands that the Hudson's Bay Company should find a North-West Passage or surrender its charter. Parliament had offered a reward of L20,000 to any one discovering a passage-way to the Pacific, and Samuel Hearne had been sent tramping inland to explore the north by land. Curiously enough, Cook had been born in 1728, the very {46} year that Bering had set out on his first expedition; and he was in the Baltic when news came back to St Petersburg of Bering's death. The year 1759 found him at Quebec with Wolfe. During the next ten years he explored and charted northern and southern seas; and when the British parliament determined to set at rest for ever the myth of a passage, Cook was chosen to conduct the expedition. He was granted two ships—the Resolution and the Discovery; and among the crews was a young midshipman named Vancouver. The vessels left England in the summer of 1776, and sailed from the Sandwich Islands in 1778 for Drake's New Albion. The orders were to proceed from New Albion up to 65 deg. north latitude and search for a passage to Hudson Bay.

On March 7, 1778—two hundred years after Drake's famous voyage—Cook's ships descried thin, sharp lines of land in the offing. As the vessels drew nearer the coast towering mountains met the gaze of the explorers. Cook had orders to keep a sharp look-out in this region for the strait of Juan de Fuca; but storm drove him off-shore, and, although he discovered and named Cape Flattery at the entrance to the strait that now bears the name {47} of the old Greek pilot, he did not catch as much as a glimpse of the great bay opening inland. In fact, he set down that in this latitude there was no possibility of Juan de Fuca's strait existing. Landing was made on Vancouver Island at the famous harbour now known as Nootka; and Indians swarmed the sea in gaily painted dug-outs with prows carved like totem-poles. Women and children were in the canoes. That signified peace; and though cannon were manned in readiness, an active and friendly trade at once opened between the crews and the natives. Fifteen hundred beaver and sea-otter pelts were exchanged for a handful of old nails. At least two thousand natives gathered round the two ships. Some of the men wore masks and had evidently just returned from a raid, for they offered Cook human skulls from which the flesh had not been removed, and pointed to slave captives.

Any one who knows Vancouver Island in spring needs no description of the inspiring scene surveyed by the sea-weary crews. Snow rested on the coastal mountains. The huge opal dome now known as Mount Baker loomed up through the clouds of dawn and dusk on the southern sky-line. In fair {48} weather the long pink ridge of the Olympics could be seen towards Puget Sound. Inland from Nootka were vast mountain ridges heavily forested to the very clouds with fir trees and spruce of incredible size. Lower down grew cypress, with gnarled red roots entangling the rocks to the very water's edge, Spanish moss swinging from branch to branch, and partridge drumming in the underbrush. For a month the deep-sea travellers enjoyed a welcome furlough on shore. One night the underbrush surrounding the encampment was found to be literally alive with painted warriors. Cook demanded an explanation of the grand 'tyee' or chief. The Indian explained that these were guards to protect the encampment. However that might be, Cook deemed it well to be off.

On May 1 the ships were skirting the Sitka coast, which Chirikoff and Bering had explored a quarter of a century previously. St Elias, Bering's landfall, was sighted. So was the spider-shaped bay now known as Prince William Sound. The Indians here resembled the Eskimos of Greenland so strongly that the hopes of the explorers began to rise. So keen were they to prove the existence of a passage to the Atlantic that when swords, {49} beads, powder, evidently obtained from white traders, were observed among the Indians, the Englishmen tried to persuade themselves that these Indians must be in communication with the Indians of the domain of the Hudson's Bay Company, forgetting that Russians had been on the ground for forty years. Cook sailed round the coast, past Cape Prince of Wales and through Bering Strait, keeping his prows northward until an impassable wall of ice barred his way. Having now thoroughly explored the coast, Cook was satisfied that Drake and Bering had been right. There was no passage east. He then crossed to Siberia, sailed down the Asiatic coast, and visited the Aleutian Islands. The Russians of Oonalaska and Kamchatka resented the English intrusion on their hunting-ground, while the English refused to acknowledge that they were invading Russian territory.

It was planned to winter and repair the ships at the Sandwich Islands. This part of Cook's voyage does not concern Canada. It was something like a repetition of the transgressions of the Russian outlaw hunters, and was followed by the penalty that transgressors pay. The islanders had welcomed the white men as demi-gods, but the gods {50} proved to have feet of clay. To the islanders a sacred 'taboo' always existed round the burial-graves. Cook permitted his sailors to violate this 'taboo' in order to take timber for the repair of his ships. Perhaps it was a reaction from almost three years of navy discipline; perhaps it was the influence of those seductive southern seas; however that may be, the sailors apparently gave themselves up to riotous debauch. The best of the islanders withdrew disillusioned, sad, sullen, resentful over the violation of their sacred burial-places. Only the riff-raff of the natives forgathered with the riotous crew. When the ships at length set sail with a crew sore-headed from dissipation, by way of a climax to the debauch, a number of women and children were carried along.

Retribution came swift as sword-stroke. The women set up such a wailing that Cook stopped the ships to set them ashore. In the delay of rowing the boats to land a fierce gale sprang up. The wind snapped off the foremast of the Resolution clean to the decks. The two ships had to put back to the harbour for repairs. Not a canoe, not a man, not a voice, welcomed them. The sailors were sullen; Cook was angry; and when the white {51} men wanted to trade for fresh food, the islanders would take only daggers and knives in barter. The white men had stolen from their burial-graves. The savages now tried to steal from the ships, and on Sunday, February 14, they succeeded in carrying off the large row-boat of the Discovery.

Cook landed with a strong bodyguard to demand hostages for the return of the lost boat. The islanders remembered the kidnapping of the women, and refused. Cook was foolhardy enough to order his men to fire on any canoe trying to escape from the harbour. The rest of the episode is so familiar that it scarcely needs telling. A chief crossing the harbour in a skiff was shot. The women were at once hurried off to the hills. The men donned their spears and war-mats. A stone hurled from the rabble running down to the shore struck Cook. Enraged out of all self-control, he shot the culprit dead. In defence of their commander some marines rowing ashore at once fired a musketry volley into the horde of islanders. Cook turned his back to the thronging savages, now frenzied to a delirium, and signalled the marines to cease firing. As he did so, a dagger was plunged beneath his shoulder-blade. He was {52} hacked to pieces under the eyes of his powerless men; and four soldiers also fell beneath the furious onslaught.

What need to tell of the wild scramble for the sea; of the war-horns blowing all night in the dark; of the camp-fires glimmering from the women's retreat in the hills? By dint of threat and show of arms and promises, Captain Charles Clerke, who was now in command, induced the islanders to deliver the remnants of Cook's body. In an impressive silence, on Sunday the 21st of February 1779, the coffin containing the great commander's bones was committed to the deep.

The sensational nature of Cook's death, within half a century of Bering's equally tragic fate, while exploring the same unknown seas, spread round the world the fame of the exploits of both. It was recalled that Drake had claimed New Albion for England two centuries before. Then rumours came that the Spanish viceroy in Mexico had been following up the discoveries of both Drake and Bering. One Bruno Heceta from Monterey made report that there were signs of a great turbid river cutting the coast-line north of Drake's New Albion. In spite of Cook's {53} adverse report, the questions were again mooted: Where was Juan de Fuca's strait? Did it lead to Hudson Bay? Where was this Great River of which both the inland savages and the Spanish explorers spoke? Quebec had fallen. Scottish fur merchants of Montreal had formed the North-West Company in opposition to the Hudson's Bay Company, and were pushing their traders far west towards the Rockies, far north towards the Arctic Circle. Who would be first to find the great unknown river, to fathom the mysteries of Juan de Fuca's strait? Dreaming of these things up in the Athabaska country, Alexander Mackenzie, a trader for the Nor'westers, was preparing to push his canoes down to the Arctic as a preliminary to his greater journey to the Pacific. If Bering's crew, if Cook's crew, both sold half-rotted cargoes of furs for thousands of pounds, how much more easily could trading vessels properly equipped reap fortune from the new El Dorado!

Inland by canoe from Montreal, overland by flat-boat and pack-horse from the Missouri, across the continent from Hudson Bay, round the world by the Cape and the Horn, across the ocean from China—it now became a race to the Pacific. Greater wealth seemed there {54} in furs than had been found in gold in the temples of Peru, or in silver in the mines of Mexico. The struggle for control of the Pacific, which has culminated in our own day, now began. Spain, Russia, England, Canada, and the new-born United States were the contestants in the arena. What has reached its climax in the sluicing of two oceans together at Panama began in the pursuit of sea-otter and seal after the voyages of Bering and of Cook.

The United States had an added motive. On the principle of protecting native shipping, American ports discriminated against British ships, and British ports discriminated against American ships. It was absolutely necessary to their existence as a nation that the United States should build up a merchant fleet. Under fostering laws, with the advantages of cheap labour and abundant timber, a wonderful clipper fleet had been constructed in Massachusetts and Maryland and Virginia ship-yards, consisting of swift sailing-vessels suitable for belting the seas in promoting commerce and in war. The ship-yards built on shares with the merchants, who outfitted the cargo. Builders and merchants would then divide the profits. Under these conditions American traders were penetrating {55} almost every sea in the world; and the cargoes brought back built up the substantial fortunes of many old Boston families. 'Bostonnais' these swift new traders were called from the Baltic to China. It can be readily believed that what they heard of Cook and Bering interested the Boston men mightily. At all events, they fitted out two ships for the Pacific trade—ships that were to range the seas for the United States as Drake's and Cook's had drawn a circle round the world for England. Captain John Kendrick commanded the Columbia, Captain Robert Gray the Lady Washington, and on one of the vessels was a sailor who had been to the North-West coast with Cook. In order to secure Spain's goodwill, letters were obtained to the viceroy of Mexico; and when, in the course of the voyage, these letters were presented to the viceroy of Mexico at San Blas, he honoured them by at once issuing orders to the presidios of Monterey and Santa Barbara and San Francisco to arrest both officers and crew if the Americans touched at any Spanish port. Spain was still dreaming of the Pacific being 'a closed sea.' She took cognizance of Bering's exploits to the north, but she at once strove to checkmate an advance south from {56} the north, by herself advancing north from the south. It was in 1775 that Heceta had observed the turbid entrance to a great river and the opening to a strait that might be that of Juan de Fuca. However, on Monday, October 1, 1787, the two American vessels sailed away from Boston. It was August of 1788 before they were off Drake's New Albion; and in the stormy weather encountered all the way up the Pacific, the little sloop Lady Washington had proved a faster, better sailer than the heavier cargo vessel, the Columbia. Signs of a river were observed; and a pause was made at one of the harbours on the coast—either Tillamook or Gray's Harbour. Here the Indians, indignant at a recent outrage committed against them by whites, attacked the Americans and drove them off before they could search for an entrance to the Great River. It now became apparent that the small sloop had the advantage, not only in speed, but because it could go in closer to the coast. Towards the end of August Gray's crew distinctly observed the Olympic mountains and set down record of Cape Flattery. 'I am of opinion,' notes the mate, 'that the Straits of Juan de Fuca do exist; for the coast takes a great bend here.'


At Nootka surprise awaited the Americans. John Meares and William Douglas, English captains, were there in a palisaded fort and with two vessels; a little trading schooner of thirty tons named the North-West America had just been built—the first ship built on the North-West coast—and was being launched amid thunder of cannon and clinking of glasses, and September 19 was observed as a holiday—the first public holiday in what is now British Columbia. Meares and Douglas entertained Gray at dinner, and over brimming wine-glasses gave him the news of recent happenings on the coast. Captain Barkley, another English trader, had looked into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and placed it on his chart. Meares had sought in vain for the River of the West, and did not believe that it existed. In fact, he had named the headland that hid it Cape Disappointment. And, of course, no furs existed on the Pacific coast. When did a fur trader ever acknowledge to a rival that there were furs? Meares reported that he, too, had been down at Tillamook Bay; and Gray guessed that it had been Meares's injustice to the Indians that provoked the raid on himself. Meares was short of provisions, and the Lady Washington needed {58} repairs. The American gave the Englishman provisions to reach China, and the Englishman repaired the American's ship. Meares declared that he had bought all Nootka from the Indians. He did not relate that he had paid only two pocket-pistols and some copper for it. Towards the end of September came Kendrick on the belated Columbia. Both Americans were surprised to learn that half a dozen navigators had already gone as far north as Nootka Sound. Perez, Heceta, Quadra—all had coasted Vancouver Island for Spain from 1774 to 1779, and so had La Perouse, the French explorer, in 1787. Hanna had come out from China for furs in 1785. In 1787 Portlock and Dixon had secured almost two thousand sea-otter skins as far north as the Queen Charlotte Islands. These were things Meares did not tell the Americans. It would have been to acknowledge that an abundance of furs was there to draw so many trading-ships. But during the winter at Nootka the men from Boston learned these facts from the Indians.

The winter was passed in trading with the Indians, and spring saw Gray far up the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By May 1 the ships were loaded with furs and were about to sail. {59} Meanwhile, what had the Spanish viceroy been doing? Strange that the Spaniards should look on complaisantly while English traders from China—Meares and Hanna and Barkley and Douglas—were taking possession of Nootka. The answer came unexpectedly. Just as the 'Bostonnais' were sailing out for a last run up the coast, there glided into Nootka Sound a proud ship—all sails set, twenty cannon pointed, Spanish colours spread to the breeze. The captain of this vessel, Don Joseph Martinez, took a look at the English fortifications and another at the Americans. The Americans were enemies of England. Therefore the pompous don treated them royally, presented them with spices and wines, and allowed them to depart unmolested. When the Americans returned from the run up coast, they found the English fort dismantled, a Spanish fort erected on Hog Island at the entrance of the sound, and Douglas's ship—the companion of Meares's vessel—held captive by the Spaniard. Gray and Kendrick now exchanged ships, and sailed for China to dispose of their cargoes of furs and receive in exchange cargoes of tea for Boston. The whole city of Boston welcomed the Columbia home in the autumn of 1790. Fifty thousand {60} miles she had ploughed through the seas in three years.

In June 1791 Gray was out again on the Columbia. This time he went as far north as the Portland Canal, past the Queen Charlotte Islands, where he met Kendrick on the Lady Washington. The quarrel at Nootka between the English and the Spaniards was still going on; so this autumn the two 'Bostonnais' anchored for the winter in Clayoquot Sound—a place later to be made famous by tragedy—south of Nootka. Here they built a stockaded fur-post for themselves, which they named Fort Defence. During the winter they built and launched a little coasting schooner, the Adventure.

Up at Nootka the Spaniard Gonzales de Haro had replaced Martinez; and his countrymen Quimper and Elisa were daily exploring on the east side of Vancouver Island, where to this day Spanish names tell of their charting. Some of the names, however, were afterwards changed. What is to-day known as Esquimalt, Quimper called Valdes, and Victoria he named Cordoba. Amid much firing of muskets and drinking of wine Quimper took solemn possession of all this territory for Spain. Then, early in August {61} of 1791, he sailed away for Monterey, while Elisa remained at Nootka.

Gray knew that three English vessels which had come from China for furs—Colnett's Argonaut, Douglas's Iphigenia, and the Princess Royal—had been seized by the Spanish at Nootka. Though the fact had not been trumpeted to the world, the Spanish said that their pilots had explored these coasts as early as 1775—at least three years before Cook's landing at Nootka; so that if first exploration counted for possession, Spain had first claim. Whether the Spaniards instigated the raid that now threatened the rival American fort at Clayoquot, the two 'Bostonnais' never knew. The Columbia had been beached and dismantled. Loop-holes punctured the palisades of the fort, and cannon were above the gates. Sentinels kept constant guard; but what was Gray's horror to learn in February 1792 that Indians to the number of two thousand were in ambush round the fort and had bribed a Hawaiian boy to wet the priming of the 'Bostonnais' guns. The fort could not be defended against such a number of enemies, for there were not twenty men within the walls. Gray hastily got the Columbia ready for sea. Having stowed in the hold {62} enough provisions to carry them home if flight should become necessary, the sailors worked in the dark to their necks in water scraping the hull free of barnacles, and when the high tide came in, she was floated out with all on board. On the morning of the 20th the woods were seen to be alive with Indians. The Indians had not counted on their prey escaping by sea, and an old chief came suavely aboard offering Gray sea-otter skins if the 'Bostonnais' would go ashore to trade. Gray slapped the old rascal across the face; the Indian was over the side at a plunge, and the marauders were seen no more.

In spite of the difficulties and dangers it presented, Gray determined to make another effort to find the river which old Bruno Heceta had sighted in 1775. And early in April, after sending his mate north on the little vessel Adventure to trade, Gray sailed away south on the Columbia. Let us leave him for the present stealing furtively along the coast from Cape Flattery to Cape Disappointment.

It was the spring of 1792. The Spaniard Elisa of Nootka had for a year kept his pilot Narvaez, in a crazy little schooner crowded {63} with thirty sailors, charting north-east past the harbour of Victoria, through Haro Strait, following very much the same channel that steamers follow to-day as they ply between Victoria and Vancouver. East of a high island, where holiday folk now have their summer camps, Pilot Narvaez came on the estuary of a great river, which he called Boca de Florida Blanca. This could not be Bruno Heceta's river, for this was farther north and inland. It was a new river, with wonderful purple water—the purple of river silt blending with ocean blue. The banks were wooded to the very water's edge with huge-girthed and mossed trees, such as we to-day see in Stanley Park, Vancouver. The river swept down behind a deep harbour, with forested heights between river-mouth and roadstead, as if nature had purposely interposed to guard this harbour against the deposit of silt borne down by the mighty stream. To-day a boulevard rises from the land-locked harbour and goes over the heights to the river-mouth like the arc of a bow; the finest residences of the Canadian Pacific coast stand there; and the river is lined with mile upon mile of lumber-yards and saw-mills. Where the rock projects like a hand into the turbid waters stands {64} a crowded city, built like New York on what is almost an island. Where the opposite shores slope down in a natural park are rising the buildings of a great university. The ragged starveling crew of Pilot Narvaez had found what are now known as Burrard Inlet, Vancouver City, Point Grey, Shaughnessy Heights, and the Fraser River. The crew were presently all ill of scurvy, possibly because of the unsanitary crowding, and the schooner, almost falling to pieces, came crawling back to Nootka. The poor Mexicans were utterly unaware that they had discovered a gateway for northern empire. Narvaez himself lay almost unconscious in his berth. Elisa sent them all home to Mexico on furlough; and, on hearing their report, the viceroy of Mexico ordered out two ships, the Sutil and the Mexicana, Don Galiano and Don Valdes in command, to follow up the charting of the coast northward from Vancouver Island to the Russian settlements.

Small ringing of bells, no blaring of trumpets at all, prayers a-plenty, but little ammunition and less food, accompanied the deep-sea voyagings of these poor Spanish pilots. When Bering set out, he had the power of the whole Russian empire behind him. When Cook set {65} out, he had the power of the whole British Navy behind him. But when the poor Mexican peons set out, they had nothing behind them but the branding iron, or slavery in the mines, if they failed. Yet they sang as they sailed their rickety death-traps, and they laughed as they rowed; and when the tide-rip caught them, they sank without a cry to any but the Virgin. Look at a map of the west coast of the Pacific from the Horn to Sitka. First were the Spaniards at every harbour gate; and yet to-day, of all their deep-sea findings on that coast, not a rod, not a foot, does Spain own. It was, of course, Spain's insane policy of keeping the Pacific 'a closed sea' that concealed the achievements of the Mexican pilots and buried them in oblivion. But if actual accomplishments count, these pilots with their ragged peon crews, half-bloods of Aztec woman and Spanish adventurer, deserve higher rank in the roll of Pacific coast exploration than history has yet accorded them.

England, it may be believed, did not calmly submit to seeing the ships and forts of her traders seized at Nootka. It was not that England cared for the value of three vessels engaged in foreign trade. Still less did she {66} care for the log-huts dignified by the name of a fort. But she was mistress of the seas, and had been since the destruction of the Armada. And as mistress of the seas, she could not tolerate as much as the seizure of a fishing-smack. For some time there were mutterings of war, but at length diplomacy prevailed. England demanded, among other things, the restoration of the buildings and the land, and full reparation for all losses. Spain decided to submit, and accordingly the Nootka Convention was signed by the two powers in October 1790. Two ships, the Discovery and the Chatham, were then fitted out by the British Admiralty for an expedition to the Pacific to receive formal surrender of the property from Spain, and also to chart the whole coast of the Pacific from Drake's New Albion to the Russian possessions at Sitka. This expedition was commanded by Captain George Vancouver, who had been on the Pacific with Cook. It was April 1792 when Vancouver came up abreast of Cape Disappointment. Was it chance, or fate, that a gale drove him off-shore just two weeks before a rival explorer entered the mouth of the great unknown river that lay on his vessel's starboard bow? But for this mishap Vancouver might have discovered {67} the Columbia, and England might have made good her claim to the territory which is now Oregon and Washington and Idaho. Vancouver's ships were gliding into the Strait of Juan de Fuca when they met a square-hulled, trim little trader under the flag of the United States. It was the Columbia, commanded by Robert Gray. The American told an astounding story. He had found Bruno Heceta's River of the West. Vancouver refused to credit the news; yet there was the ship's log; there were the details—landmarks, soundings, anchorages for twenty miles up the Columbia from its mouth. Gray had, indeed, been up the river, and had crossed the bar and come out on the Pacific again.

Vancouver now headed his ships inland and proceeded to explore Puget Sound. Never before had white men's boats cruised the waters of that spider-shaped sea. Every inlet of the tortuous coasts was penetrated and surveyed, to make certain that no passage to the north-east lay through these waters. In June the explorers passed up the Strait of Georgia. A thick fog hid from them what would have proved an important discovery—the mouth of the Fraser river. Some distance north of Burrard Inlet the explorers met the two {68} Spanish ships which the viceroy of Mexico had sent out, the Sutil and the Mexicana, commanded respectively by Don Galiano and Don Valdes. From them Vancouver learned that Don Quadra, the Spanish representative, was awaiting him at Nootka, prepared to restore the forts and property as agreed in the Nootka Convention. The vessels continued their journey northward and entered Queen Charlotte Sound in August. Then, steering into the open sea, Vancouver sailed for Nootka to meet Spain's official messenger. He had circumnavigated Vancouver Island.

The Nootka controversy had almost caused a European war. Now it ended in what has a resemblance to a comic opera. Vancouver found the Spaniards occupying a fort on an island at the mouth of the harbour. On the main shore stood the Indian village of Chief Maquinna. A Spanish pilot guided the English ship to mooring. The Spanish frigates fairly bristled with cannon. An English officer dressed in regimentals marched to the Spanish fort and presented Captain Vancouver's compliments to Don Quadra. Spanish cannon thundered a welcome that shook the hills, and English guns made answer. A curious fashion, to waste good powder {69} without taking aim at each other, thought Chief Maquinna. Don Quadra breakfasted Captain Vancouver. Captain Vancouver wined and dined Don Quadra; and Maquinna, lord of the wilds, attended the feast dressed Indian fashion. But when the Spanish don and the English officer took breath from flow of compliments and wine, they did not seem to arrive anywhere in their negotiations. Vancouver held that Spain must relinquish the site of Meares's fort and the territory surrounding it and Port Cox. Don Quadra held that he had been instructed to relinquish only the land on which the fort stood—according to Vancouver, 'but little more than one hundred yards in extent any way.' No understanding could be arrived at, and Quadra at the end of September took his departure for Monterey, leaving Vancouver to follow a few days later.

Vancouver was anxious to be off on further exploration. He was eager to verify the existence of the river which Gray had reported. He spent most of October exploring this river. Explorers in that day, as in this, were not fair judges of each other's feats. Vancouver took possession of the Columbia river region for England, setting down in his narrative that {70} 'no other civilized nation or state had ever entered this river before ... it does not appear that Mr Gray either saw or was ever within five leagues of the entrance.'

Vancouver then visited the presidio at San Francisco, and thence proceeded to Monterey, where Quadra awaited him. His lieutenant, Broughton, who had been in charge of the boats that explored the Columbia, here left him and accompanied Quadra to San Blas, whence he went overland to the Atlantic and sailed for England, bearing dispatches to the government. Vancouver spent yet another year on the North Pacific, corroborating his first year's charting and proving that no north-east passage through the continent existed. Portland Canal, Jervis Inlet, Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, Lynn Canal—all were traced to head-waters by Vancouver.

The curtain then drops on the exploration of the North Pacific, with Spain jealously holding all south of the Columbia, Russia jealously holding all north of Sitka, and England and the United States advancing counter-claims for all the territory between.




The movement of the fur traders towards the Pacific now became a fevered race for the wealth of a new El Dorado. Astor's traders in New York, the Scottish and English merchants of the North-West Company in Montreal, the Spanish traders of the South-West, even the directors of the sleepy old Hudson's Bay Company—all turned longing eyes to that Pacific north-west coast whence came sea-otter skins in trade, each for a few pennies' worth of beads, powder, or old iron. Rumours, too, were rife of the great wealth of the seal rookeries, and the seal proved as powerful a magnet to draw the fur traders as the little beaver, the pursuit of which had led them into frozen wilds.

Up in the Athabaska country, eating his heart out with chagrin because his associates in the North-West Company of Montreal had {72} ignored his voyage of discovery down the Mackenzie river to the Arctic in 1789,[1] the young trader Alexander Mackenzie heard these rumours of new wealth in furs on the Pacific. Who would be the first overland to that western sea? If Spaniard and Russian had tapped the source of wealth from the ocean side, why could not the Nor'westers cross the mountains and secure the furs from the land side? Mackenzie had heard, too, of the fabled great River of the West. Could he but catch the swish of its upper current, what would hinder him floating down it to the sea? Mackenzie thought and thought, and paced his quarters up at Fort Chipewyan, on Lake Athabaska, till his mind became so filled with the idea of an overland journey to the Pacific that he could not sleep or rest. He had felt himself handicapped by lack of knowledge of astronomy and surveying when on the voyage to the Arctic, so he asked leave of absence from his company, came down by canoe to Montreal, and sailed for England to spend the winter studying in London. Here, everything was in a ferment over the voyages of Cook and Hanna and Meares, over the {73} seizure of British trading-ships by the viceroy of Mexico, over the Admiralty's plans to send Vancouver out to complete Cook's explorations. The rumours were as fuel to the flame that burned in Mackenzie. The spring of 1792 saw him hurrying back to Fort Chipewyan to prepare for the expedition on which he had set his heart. When October came he launched his canoes, fully manned and provisioned, on Lake Athabaska, and, ascending the Peace river to a point about six miles above the forks formed by its junction with the Smoky, he built a rude palisaded fur-post and spent the winter there.

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