Before Puget Sound was Found

I was recently down in Astoria, Oregon, where I visited the fabulous Columbia River Maritime Museum. In addition, to great displays on the mouth of the Columbia, the legendary “Graveyard of the Pacific,” the museum has a fine collection of early maps of the Pacific Coast, showing the river and further north. Several were quite fascinating, particularly one from 1794, which depicts James Cook’s third and final voyage along the coast. It was drawn by William Faden.

Chart of the N. W. Coast of America and the N. E. Coast of Asia. (1794)
Chart of the N. W. Coast of America and the N. E. Coast of Asia. (1794)

Not only does it show the dates of when Cook sailed but it also illustrates some of the great stories associated with early exploration.
1. Puget Sound does not exist as no European had yet to sail into the inland sea, though by the time of the publication of the map George Vancouver had made it down into what he called Puget’s Sound.
2. The North Sea of Valerianos Apostolos – He is the Greek pilot who may or may not have sailed into what became known as the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1592. In 1596, Valerianos (most historians switch the order of his names) told English entrepreneur Michael Lok about sailing for many days into a strait at about 47 degrees north latitude. Ever since then, people have debated whether the Greek did so.
3. Fucas Pillar – One key feature that Valerianos mentioned was a pillar at the mouth of the strait. In 1788, British fur trader Charles Duncan described the pillar, which was then put onto maps.

Alexander Dalrymple map of 1790, showing the pillar seen by Duncan
Alexander Dalrymple map of 1790, showing the pillar seen by Duncan

4. No Vancouver Island – Spanish explorers were the first to sail around the island, which was initially known as Quadra and Vancouver’s Island. Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra sailed into what is now Nootka Sound in 1792.
5. What isn’t shown is that when Cook sailed by the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1778, he wrote in his journal “It is in the very latitude we were now in where geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca but we saw nothing like it; nor is there the least probability that iver any such thing exhisted.” Obviously, this map reflects the findings of Duncan.

My beginnings as an Historian

One of the great mysteries many of us address in life is how we ended up where we are. What decisions did we make that set us down a certain path? Was it nature or nurture, luck or planning? My path toward my present life focusing on human and natural history in Seattle was one that I started very early in life.third grade report

The other day, friends hosted a baby shower and requested that we bring our own baby picture. Looking through a scrap book my parents put together, I quickly found the picture I wanted but then got stuck reading through old report cards. I was able to confirm what my mom had told me when I graduated from college: “David, you never stopped talking in school.” Apparently I disturbed the other children, did not always pay attention, could be a bit too enthusiastic, and didn’t always read tests carefully. Oh well.

But then I came to my third grade report card, written by Ms. Bangs, who I remember as a gray haired, elegant and nice, older woman. I don’t remember much from the class, though I can still picture the room on the second floor of Isaac I. Stevens Elementary School.

At the time my father worked at the University of Washington and his boss was Brewster Denny, Arthur Denny’s great grandson. (I mentioned an interview with Brewster in my book, Too High and Too Steep.) According to Ms. Bangs, Brewster also wrote a letter for, or to, me. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy. Nor is there a copy of it in his papers in Special Collections at the University of Washington.

arthur denny's dreamShe also noted that we read Arthur Denny’s Dream, which of course I have no recollection of doing but with the power of the internet, I found a copy and bought it. The book was written in 1953 by Mrs. Marie Hatten, a fourth grade teacher at Fairview School, and illustrated by ten of her students. Using Four Wagon’s West, a book written by Arthur Denny’s granddaughter, Roberta Frye Watt, as a guide, Hatten’s students drew pictures with crayons, which they later modified with colored paper. Hatten then typed a story to go with the pictures.

Denny's Dream CoverThe book tells the story of Arthur, his wife Mary, and their two children, and how they traveled west by wagon. Joined by Arthur’s four bachelor brothers and several other family members, they killed a buffalo, carved their names at Independence Rock, caught fish, and had some issues with the Native inhabitants along the way. As one might imagine for a book of its era, it is racist toward the Indians that the Denny’s met enroute and in Seattle. What also stands out is the creative artwork. The illustrations depict the four brothers and the Mercer Girls.

IMG_0668 (1)denny brothersMercer WomenBut back to my report card, where Ms. Bangs added that amazing line. “I’m glad David shows such an interest in Seattle history.” Wow, who knew that the path I now trod started so early in life. Unfortunately, Ms. Bangs died before I wrote my first book about Seattle history but I like to think she would have been proud of what her somewhat rambunctious, often distracted and distracting student became.