Pacific destiny : the three-century journey to the Oregon country /
Dale L. Walker.
1st ed.
New York : Forge, 2000.
478 p. : maps ; 24 cm.
0312869339 (alk. paper)
More Details
New York : Forge, 2000.
0312869339 (alk. paper)
general note
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. [454]-462) and index.
A Look Inside
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Spur Awards, USA, 2001 : Won
First Chapter
Pacific Destiny
Part One
The first trails to Oregon were sea-lanes, the wakes left by Spanish caravels andfragatoswith lateen sails bulging in ferocious winds and masts bent perilously as they blundered along the Pacific coast of North America in pursuit of obscure missions approved by the viceroy of Mexico.
A Portuguese soldier in the service of Mexico, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, led a two-ship expedition from the Pacific port of Natividad in June 1542, searching for fables: the "Coast of Cathay," believed to be a large island somewhere in the north; the seaport of Quivira and its Seven Cities of Gold; and the Strait of Anián, a northwest passage across North America to the Atlantic. Cabrillo's flagshipVictoria,a stout and sizable vessel, and the smallerSan Salvador, a frigate, sighted the California coast in July and in the same month sailed into a "closed and very good harbor" he named San Miguel, subsequently known as San Diego.
The bold soldier-sailor sailed on in October, threading through the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. He avoided the terrifying seasoff Big Sur and led his ships north past the Farralon Islands and past the great headlands, shrouded in fog, that hid inside them a magnificent bay, to an anchorage at 38 degrees north latitude, just above the entrance to the Golden Gate. He named this cove Los Pinos for the great green mantle of pines that surrounded it, and spent some days there before sailing a short distance north to Bodega Bay.
Cabrillo hoped to proceed north along the coast but battering seas off Bodega forced him to direct his ships south to a winter anchorage at San Miguel Island in the Santa Barbara Channel. In January 1543 the former crossbowman in Hernan Cortes's conquest of Mexico died after a shipboard accident, and it fell to his handpicked successor, an Italian Levantine named Bartolome Ferrelo, to continue the voyage.
Ferrelo led theVictoriaand theSan Salvadorpast Cape Mendocino--the westernmost point on the California coast--and north at least as far as latitude 41 degrees 30 minutes off Klamath, California. He may have sighted the Oregon coast above 42 degrees before gales drove him back, to return to Natividad in April.
Insofar as finding gold and silver, the Seven Cities, or the Strait of Anian, the expedition was a failure, but Cabrillo and Ferrelo had charted a real seacoast as fabulous as any Quivira of the imagination.
Francis Drake, the bold son of Devonshire and corsair of the Spanish Main, may have exceeded theVictoriaandSan Salvador's northernmost mark when he brought hisGolden Hindalong the California coast thirty-six years after Ferrelo returned to Mexico.
Drake sailed from Plymouth in December 1577, with a syndicate sponsoring him as captain-general of a six-ship expedition. His backers expected him to sail through the Strait of Magellan into the Pacific and seek the Northwest Passage, the all-water route connecting the two great oceans, a lodestone that lured mariners and trade-minded politicians for more than four centuries.
Exploration, however, was incidental to Drake's work as a privateer, a pirate with governmental sanction, so he plundered Spanish ports at Valparaiso, Chile, and Callao, Peru, as he made his way up the Pacific coast. By his own account, theHindapproached land between 42 and 48 degrees north latitude before retreating downcoast. InHakluyt's Voyages, published in 1589, Drake is credited with a northern limit of 42 degrees (the latitude of the California-Oregon boundary), which he reached on June 5, 1579. Historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, who studied the sources on Drake's voyage, concluded that the privateer "was probably, though not certainly, the first discoverer of the western coast from Cape Mendocino to the region of Cape Blanco, including fifty or sixty miles of the Oregon coast."
Drake spent five weeks in June and July on the western coast and, like Cabrillo, missed sighting the foggy entrance to San Francisco Bay as he proceeded to an anchorage north of the Golden Gate--Cabrillo's Los Pinos--subsequently named Drake's Bay.
Somewhere, at Drake's Bay, Bodega Bay, or farther north, perhaps near Cape Mendocino, theHindwas beached and careened, and in the process the captain-general and his men were visited by a number of Miwok Indians. The naked "sauvages" were presented with gifts of trinkets and in return brought broiled fish; a supply of a lily root they dried, ground into a meal, and ate; and such gifts as shells, sea-otter and gopher skins, and bird feathers.
Drake named the country New Albion (Albion being the Greek name for England) after passing an area of white cliffs that reminded him of the south coast of his home country.
On July 23, Reverend Francis Fletcher, a member of the expedition, said the Miwoks "tooke a sorrowfull farewell of us" and theHindsailed west to Mindanao, the Indian Ocean, and home to Plymouth, arriving there, after nearly three years' absence, in September 1580, completing the first English circumnavigation of the world.
In 1596, a letter was published in Europe purportedly written by a Greek explorer in the service of Spain. Apostolos Valerianos, who adopted the name Juan de Fuca, claimed to have sailed a small caravel into the Pacific for the viceroy of Mexico in 1592 and to have found the western opening of the Northwest Passage, a broad inlet on the northern coast between 47 and 48 degrees north latitude. He told of "sailing inland" for more than twenty days and of finding a people who wore the skins of beasts and a land rich in silver, gold, and pearls.
His story was probably a fiction, common enough in the day, but mapmakers put his "opening" in the latitude he described. Two hundred years later, the Juan de Fuca Strait, separating Vancouver Island from the Washington mainland and leading into Puget Sound, was discovered not many sea miles distant from de Fuca's 48 degrees north.
Visions of the Northwest Passage continued to draw mariners along the Oregon coast of America. In 1602, the Spaniard Sebastian Vizcaino led theSan Diegoand theTres Reyesout of Monterey on the California coast as far north as the 43rd parallel, searching for Quivira and the Strait of Anian.
Nor were all the explorers Spaniards and Englishmen. Peter the Great of Russia had conquered Siberia by 1639 and reached the Pacific, and in 1741 Vitus Bering, a Dane, sailed in theSt. Peterfrom Kamchatka to the coast of North America near Sitka. In the 1765--68 era, the Russians were on the move south along the coast, slaughtering sea otters and coastal Indians with equal rapacity.
In 1774, at the time when the First Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia, Spain sent an expedition to the Oregon coast. Among other accomplishments, it discovered Nootka Sound, on the west coast of what became Vancouver Island.
By 1812, with the consent of Spain, Russian hunters out ofSitka founded Fort Ross on Bodega Bay in California and later another fort in the Sandwich Islands. American politicians considered these outposts dangerous in their implications, especially due to their proximity to San Francisco Bay, and in 1816 James Monroe proposed a treaty of amity in North America with the 49th parallel as the boundary between the interests of the two countries. Monroe did not mention England in his proposal, but in any event the idea was not pushed to fruition.
The Spaniards interpreted the Russian incursions as threats to her claims in the Pacific and sent new expeditions out to expand explorations of the coast of Alta California and establish missions and presidios from San Diego to Sonoma, north of the Golden Gate.
But Spain did not pursue its discoveries and, after it seemed clear that the Russians were more interested in the fur trade than in permanent settlement, it was the British who rose to challenge Spain's claims.
In 1778, in his third and final voyage to the Antipodes, Captain James Cook, England's greatest navigator, came to the Oregon coast with his flagshipResolutionand the sloopDiscovery. His mission was to conduct a thorough search for the Northwest Passage (for which Parliament was offering a £20,000 prize) by sailing above the northernmost latitude of Ferrelo and Vizcaino, and above the latitude of Drake's New Albion exploration 200 years before. His cautionary instructions from the Admiralty were to avoid any encounters with foreigners and to respect Spanish dominions on the American coast. His orders stated, "You are also, with the consent of the natives, to take possession in the name of the king of Great Britain, of convenient situations in such countries as you may discover, that have not already been discovered or visited by any other European power, and to distribute among the inhabitants such things as will remain as traces and testimonies of your having been there."
The world had no more experienced explorer than James Cook. He had helped chart the Saint Lawrence River, surveyed the Newfoundland coast, made two previous epic voyages, that of 1772-- 1775 his greatest legacy: In three years he had sailed over 20,000 leagues on the southern seas--three times the circumference of the globe--with a loss of only four men (defeating scurvy with sauerkraut and meat broths), and charted the coasts of Antarctica and Australia.
In 1776, when Cook sailed from England for the last time on his square-rigged flagshipResolution(his sailing master was a twenty-one-year-old navigator from Plymouth named William Bligh), his orders were almost too specific. He was to proceed around the Cape of Good Hope into the Pacific, cross from Tahiti in the Windward Group of the Society Islands to the coast of North America, and proceed northward to determine the value, if any, of the theory that in arctic waters would be found the western entrance to the Northwest Passage. Failing to find it there, he was to continue through the Bering Strait and search for an open-water polar passage. Such confidence was placed in his success that the Admiralty dispatched naval vessels to meet him in Baffin Bay on the Atlantic side of the continent.
He reached and rediscovered Hawaii (which he named the Sandwich Islands after the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich), and on March 7, 1778, sighted the coast of Drake's New Albion at the 43rd parallel and charted and named such features as Capes Arago, Foulweather, and Perpetua as he sailed upcoast. He missed seeing the tumultuous mouth of the Columbia River, but on March 22 theResolutionand theDiscoverystood at a cape on the edge of a strait Cook denied existed. He named the promontory Cape Flattery and wrote in his journal, "There appeared to be a small opening, which flattered us with the hopes of finding a harbor ... . It is in this very latitude where we now were, that geographers have placed the pretended strait of Juan de Fuca ... . But we saw nothing like it; nor is there the least probability that ever any such thing existed."
Cook's ships made their first landing at Nootka Sound, and the explorer wrote about the desolate, windblown place in his journals, which were eagerly published in England and the United States and widely read. He wrote about the furs secured from Indians at Nootka, which fetched handsome prices in the China trade (sea otter pelts, purchased for a handful of beads, sold in Canton for as much as $200 each); of savages paddling canoes, some of them forty feet long and seven wide, made from a single cedar trunk, and throwing feathers and red dust in their wake. He saw men dressed in fur-edged blankets of dog hair mixed with cedar bark and decorated with scenes of whale hunts, over which were draped capes of sea otter skins; people whose bodies were smeared with red clay mixed with whale oil, their hair long and soaked in fish oil sprinkled with bird down, their earlobes and noses decorated with bone and bits of metal, wearing wooden masks painted into grotesque visages. These amazing people had articles of iron and copper, leftovers from Spanish landings, and one native wore two silver spoons as ear ornaments. Their houses, "filthy as hogsties, everything in and about them stinking of fish," Cook said, were surrounded by racks of drying fish, piles of excrement, and strange totems.
In spring of 1779, soon after he returned to the Sandwich Islands from the northwest coast, Captain Cook, age fifty, was killed by natives at Kealakekua Bay. One of six marines from theDiscoveryand theResolutionfighting hand-to-hand the natives who stabbed Cook to death was an American named John Ledyard.
The lure of the Pacific Northwest in the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first of the nineteenth had nothing to do with its potential for settlement, or with its vast timber and fishery potential--which were obvious from the starboard rail of any ship headed north--or even with that ancient, chimerical idea of a Northwest Passage. The great enticement in those two decades wasLutra enhydris marina, which the Russians knew asBobri morski,"sea beaver," and which American and English sailors called the sea otter.
These gregarious, aquatic animals lived and bore their pups in their favorite habitats, the reefs and rocks and floating kelp beds of coastal California, British Columbia, and Alaska. The animal was prized for its thick, fine underfur, perfect for sewing into royal robes, and for the tails, which were used for decorating hats and gown borders. Like the beaver, next on the list for extermination, sea otters were "harvested" recklessly. Between 1790 and 1812 an average of 12,000 a year were clubbed to death. In fact, the animal was all but extinct on the northern coast by 1800.
English mariners to the Northwest knew the value of the sea otter from Drake's time, and the Russians were slaughtering them on Alaskan shores even before they began their poaching sorties out of Sitka down to Fort Ross. Coastal Indians had known the animals' worth from time immemorial: Two sea otter pelts would buy a slave, and when the first white explorers came, the furs could be traded for any number of iron tools, beads, and gewgaws.
In 1785 the French sent an expedition to the Oregon coast and, not surprisingly, one of its objectives was to obtain reliable information on the fur trade there. Since 1600 France had worked to establish a fur monopoly in the New World, and by 1750 itscoureurs de bois(runners of the woods) and brigades of trappers had penetrated the continent as far west as the Mandan villages of the Missouri River and south to Santa Fe in Spanish New Mexico.
Louis XVI personally had a hand in planning the 1785 Pacific expedition. Like other European monarchs, he was interested in the China trade and therefore captivated by the idea of "some river or narrow gulf" that might communicate between the two great oceans--a Northwest Passage. He also wrote of "the possibility of a colony or at least a factory [trading post] in a region not yet occupied" on the Pacific coast of America.
A nobleman and celebrated navigator named Jean de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse, led the expedition, commanding two vessels, theBoussoleand theAstrolabe. At age forty-four he had alreadyspent thirty years at sea, starting his career as a midshipman during the Seven Years' War. In addition to a full complement of officers and seamen, La Perouse had aboard his ships a remarkable assortment of scientists, interpreters, and "observers" who were to gather data on the country, its people and "products," the extent of Spanish establishments ashore, and the latitude at which furs might be obtained without giving offense to Spain.
La Perouse's ships found the northwest coast on June 23, 1786, and spent six weeks in Alaskan waters as far north as latitude 59 degrees 37 minutes, then sailed down past Nootka and the Oregon coast to California. TheBoussoleandAstrolabemade frequent anchorages and lowered boats, the shore parties conducting a brisk trade with Indians. The fur-shrewd Frenchmen had bartered for over a thousand sea otter "pieces" before crossing the Pacific to Macao, the Portuguese port on the China coast. There the scraps, tails, and hides were sold and the profits divided among the crews of the two ships.
"I believe there is no country in the world where the sea-otter is more common than in this part of America," La Perouse wrote in his log, "and I should be little surprised if a factory extending its operations only forty or fifty leagues along the sea-shore might collect each year ten thousand skins of this animal." He cautioned, however, that a French factory on the northwest coast of America might cause problems with the courts at Madrid and Saint Petersburg.
In September 1787 the navigator put his Russian interpreter ashore at Kamchatka to make his way to Paris with reports and maps, then sailed south. In January 1788, now two and one half years out of Brest, the French ships battered their way into Botany Bay, the harbor on the eastern shore of Australia discovered eight years earlier by Captain Cook. There was a historical coincidence in La Perouse's appearance there. Watching him maneuver his vessels into the bay were the crews of two British warships and nine merchant transports, which had just landed over 700 British convicts ashore after a voyage of 15,000 miles from Plymouth. This was the "first fleet" of the criminal population of Australia.
The French explorers spent six weeks at Botany Bay among the Englishmen and their prisoner-colonists before setting sail and disappearing into the maw of the Pacific. Thirty years would pass before it was determined that La Perouse and all hands had perished when theBoussoleand theAstrolabewent down among the Coral Sea reefs of the New Hebrides, 1,200 miles east of the Australian coast.
In the same year as the La Perouse expedition, Captain Charles Barkley (or Barclay or Berkeley), an Englishman, sailing from Ostende in the merchant vesselImperial Eagleunder the flag of a fictitious "Austrian East India Company," entered Nootka Sound, and began a trade with the Indians of Vancouver Island. His notable contribution to the history of the American Northwest occurred in July 1787, when he found the "lost" Strait of Juan de Fuca. Barkley did not venture far into it; instead, he continued south to trade with the natives.
The sailors of theImperial Eaglewere among the first to learn that native naivete and docility could not always be depended upon. Four of Barkley's crew were killed after going ashore with "too much confidence and unarm'd," and the captain's report established that the attack took place at 47 degrees 46 minutes north, at a place he appropriately named Destruction Island. He ordered the burning of a village in retribution and established a pattern of violence that would last a half century.
Despite the conflict with the natives, the origin of which was not reported, Barkley's expedition made a trade bonanza among the coastal tribes, departing the coast with 4,000 sea otter pelts, which were taken to Macao in the winter of 1787 and sold at an immense profit.
Copyright © 2000 by Dale L. Walker
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2000-07-31:
In this melancholy, engrossing narrative, historian Walker (Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California, 1846) tells the story of early emigration to the Pacific Northwest (from the 1810s to 1848, when America acquired most of the Western territories). "My ambition," Walker writes, was "to answer the questions I imagined the Platte River natives asking: Where were all these people going and why?" Proceeding chronologically, Walker looks for answers in pioneers' biographies. Drawing from the writings of well-known figures (like Washington Irving and Francis Parkman) and the letters of common travelers (mountain men seeking their fortune west of St. Louis, missionaries who aimed to convert reluctant Blackfeet and civilians traveling in overloaded caravans), he recounts not only the harrowing conditions on the Oregon Trail but the economic, geopolitical and personal reasons for westward migration. John Jacob Astor sent traders to the Columbia River basin in hopes of establishing a fur-trading empire; countless numbers went in search of gold; a few eccentrics went to find spiritual meaning. But they all got more than they bargained for in the way of Indian raids, mountain climbs, flooding rapids, desert heat, drifting snow and difficult terrain. Their journeys, he argues, did shape international politics, however. Not only did settlers' conflicts with (and betrayals of) Indians determine the future of the domestic frontier, the Oregon Trail eventually lured enough settlers to force Britain into an accommodation on boundaries with Canada. Walker constructs a compelling narrative that is a string of unusual profiles rather than an analytic account of a major event in American history. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-08-01:
The story of the European settlement of the Oregon Country (modern-day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and western Wyoming) probably starts as early as 1543, when a Spanish explorer is supposed to have reached as far north as Klamath, CA. Walker, however, pays attention primarily to post-1800 efforts, briefly noting that, by the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, fur trappers had been visiting the area for two centuries. This popular history covers the role of the Hudson Bay Company, John Jacob Astor, and a raft of missionaries, adventurers, lunatics, visionaries, explorers, thieves, and conquerors. Walker is the author of the more satisfactory The Boys of '98, which is considerably more accessible than this rather confusingly organized history of a much more complex subject. For public libraries with regional history collections or seeking tie-ins to the upcoming Lewis and Clark bicentennial.DEdwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Publishers Weekly, July 2000
Library Journal, August 2000
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Main Description
This book chronicles the discovery, exploration, and settlement of America's Pacific Northwest, the area that was known in the first half of the nineteenth century as "Oregon Country."It tells the story of an expanding America, an America whose history would also include eccentrics like Hall Jackson Kelley, who followed his vision by walking across Mexico and Mexican California to get to Oregon, the land of his dreams.He returned home to Cambridge Massachusetts quite mad writing about Oregon Country for the rest of his life
Main Description
In a saga of the exploration and settlement of America's Pacific Northwest, the author of "The Boys of '98" and "Bear Flag Rising" retells the history of what once was Oregon County, which now comprises the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Western Wyoming, and Montana.
Table of Contents
Mapsp. 10
Introductionp. 17
Prologuep. 23
The Pacific Littoralp. 27
The River of the Westp. 37
Nootka Soundp. 50
Pro Pelle Cutemp. 73
The Voyage of the Tonquinp. 89
The Phial of Wrathp. 105
The Overlandersp. 121
Wilderness Crossings
To the Tetonsp. 139
South Passp. 156
Fort Vancouverp. 176
Captain Smithp. 191
Kelley's Odysseyp. 207
The Icemanp. 227
Out to Arcadia
The Macedonian Cryp. 249
Spiesp. 271
Champoegp. 292
Sapling Grovep. 302
Jumping Offp. 319
Medicine Road
Toward the Elephantp. 337
The Great Migrationp. 359
The Parallelp. 373
The Bostonianp. 392
Waiilatpup. 406
Last Trailsp. 424
Epiloguep. 445
Sourcesp. 451
Bibliographyp. 454
Indexp. 463
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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