Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 1

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From the year 1513, when Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean at Panama, the navigators of Spain, and of every rival naval power which arose for the following two hundred and seventy-nine years, were searching for some strait, or river, which would furnish water communication between the two great oceans that border the American continent. The Strait of Magellan, discovered soon after the Pacific, afforded a way by which vessels could enter this ocean from the western side of the Atlantic; but it was far to the south, crooked and dangerous. After the discovery by the English buccaneer, Drake, of the passage around Cape Horn, the search was continued with redoubled interest. Not only the Spanish and Portuguese entered into it, but the English, who had found the great inland sea of Hudson's Bay penetrating the continent towards the west, endeavored, by offering prizes, to stimulate the zeal of navigators in looking for the Northwest Passage.

A rumor continued to circulate through the world, vague, mystical, and romantic, of half discoveries by one and another power; and tales, wilder than anything but pure fiction, were soberly listened to by crowned heads,—all of which went to confirm the belief in the hoped-for straits, which one pretender to discovery even went so far as to name, and give latitude and longitude. The Straits of Anian he called them; and so, all the world was looking for Fretum Anian.

All this agitation could not go for nothing. By dint of sailing up and down the west coast of the continent some actual discoveries of importance were made, and other hints of things not yet discovered were received. There even appeared upon the Spanish charts the name of a river somewhere between the fortieth and fiftieth parallels,—the San Roque,—supposed to be a large stream, possibly the long-sought channel of communication with the Atlantic; but no account of having entered it was ever given. Then vague mention began to be made of the "River of the West," whose latitude and longitude nobody knew.

Just before the War of the Revolution, a colonial captain, one Jonathan Carver, being inspired with a desire to know more of the interior of the continent, travelled as far west as the head-waters of the Mississippi. While on this tour, he heard, from the Indians with whom he conversed, some mention of other Indians to the west, who told tales of a range of mountains called Stony Mountains, and of a great river rising in them, and flowing westward to the sea, which they callled Oregon, or Origan.

After the War of the Revolution, Great Britain resumed her voyages of discovery. A fleet was fitted out to survey the northwest coast of America, which it was thought might be claimed by her on account of the voyage to it by Captain Cook, some years previous. The surveys conducted by Captain Vancouver were elaborate and scientific. He, too, like those who had gone before him, was looking for the "River of the West," or the Northwest Passage.

But that obtuseness of perception which sometimes overtakes the most sharp-sighted overtook Captain Vancouver when his vessel passed the legendary river; for it was broad daylight and clear weather, so that he saw the headlands, and still he declared that there was no river there,—only a sort of bay.

Fortunately, a sharper eye than his had scanned the same opening not long before: the eye of one of that proverbially sharp nation, the Yankee. Captain Robert Gray, sailing a vessel in the employ of a firm of Boston traders, in taking a look at the inlet, and noticing the color of the water, did think there was a river there, and so told the English captain when his vessel was spoken. Finding that his impressions were treated with superior scepticism, the Yankee captain turned back to take another look. This second observation was conclusive. He sailed in on the 11th of May, 1792.

From the log-book of the "Columbia," Captain Gray's ship, we take the following extracts: At four o'clock, on the morning of the 11th, "beheld our desired port, bearing east-southeast, distant six leagues. At eight a.m., being a little to the windward of the entrance of the harbor, bore away, and ran in east-northeast, between the breakers, having from five to seven fathoms of water. When we were over the bar, we found this to be a large river of fresh water, up which we steered. Many canoes came alongside. At one p.m. came to, with the small bower, in ten fathoms; black and white sand. The entrance between the bars bore west-southwest, distant ten miles; the north side of the river, distant a half mile from the ship; the south side of the same, two and a half miles distant; a village on the north side of the river, west by north, distant three-quarters of a mile. Vast numbers of the natives came alongside: people employed pumping the salt water out of our water-casks, in order to fill with fresh, while the ship floated in. So ends."

No, not so ends, O modest Captain Gray, of the ship "Columbia!" The end is not yet, nor will be until all the vast territory, rich with every production of the earth, which is drained by the waters of the new-found river shall have yielded up its illimitable wealth to distant generations.

The "Columbia's" log-book certainly does not betray any great elation of mind in her officers on reaching the "desired port." Everything is recorded calmly and simply,—quite in the way of business. Only from chance expressions, and the determination to make the "desired port," does it appear that Gray's heart was set on discovering the San Roque of the Spanish navigators,—the "River of the West" of the rest of mankind. No explorer he, talking grandly of "minute inspections" and of "unalterable opinions!" Only an adventurous and, withal, a prudent trader, looking out for the main chance, and, perhaps, emulous of a little glory.

Ho doubt his stout heart quaked a little with excitement as he ran in for the "opening." We could pardon him if it shrank somewhat at sight of the hungry breakers; but it must have been a poor and pulseless affair of a heart that did not give a throb of exultation as his good ship, dashing the foam from her prow, sailed between the white lines of surf safely—through the proper channel, thank God!—out upon the broad bosom of the most magnificent of rivers.

We trust the morning was fine, and that Captain Gray had a perfect view of the noble scenery surrounding him: of a golden sunrise from a horizon fretted by the peaks of lofty hills, bearing thick unbroken forests of giant trees; of low shores embowered in flowering shrubbery; of numerous mountain spurs putting out into the wide bay, extending miles east and west, and north and south, forming numerous other bays and coves, where boats might lie in safety from any storm outside; of other streams dividing the mountains into ridges, and pouring their tributary waters into the great river, through narrow gaps that half revealed and half concealed the fertile valleys nestled away from inquisitive eyes; and that, as he tried in vain to look beyond the dark ridge of Tongue Point, around whose foot flowed the broad, deep current whose origin was still a mystery, he realized by a prophetic sense the importance of that morning's transaction. No other reward had he in his lifetime, and we trust he had that.

From the ship's log-book, we learn that he did not leave the river for ten days, during which time the men were employed calking the pinnace, paying the ship's side with tar, painting the same, and doing such carpenter-work as was needed to put the vessel in repair after her long voyage out from Boston. All this time "vast numbers" of natives were alongside continually, and the captain must have driven a thriving trade in furs, salmon, and the like. On the 14th he sailed up the river about fifteen miles, getting aground just above Tongue Point, where he mistook the channel among the many islands; but the ship "coming off without any assistance," he dropped down to a better anchoring-place.

On the 15th, in the afternoon, Captain Gray and Mr. Hoskins, the first officer, "went on shore in the jolly-boat, to take a short view of the country." On the 16th the ship returned to her first position off the Chinook village, and was again surrounded by the canoes of that people. The Chinook village remains to-day, but its people are no longer numerous.

Captain Gray was thinking of getting to sea again by the 18th; but on standing down the river towards the bar, the wind came light and fluttering, and again the anchor was dropped. He must now decide upon a name for this great stream, which from its volume he knew must come from the heart of the continent. The log of the 19th says, "Fresh and clear weather. Early a number of canoes came alongside: seamen and tradesmen employed in their various departments. Captain Gray gave the river the name of Columbia's River; and the north side of the entrance, Cape Hancock; that on the south side, Point Adams."

On the 20th of May the ship lifted anchor, made sail, and stood down the river, coming, as the following extract will show, near being wrecked: "At two the wind left us, we being on the bar with a very strong tide, which set on the breakers. It was now not possible to get out without a breeze to shoot her across the tide; so we were obliged to bring up in three and a half fathoms, the tide running five knots. At three-quarters past two a fresh wind came in from seaward; we immediately came to sail and beat over the bar, having from five to seven fathoms water in the channel. At five p.m. we were out, clear of all the bars, and in twenty fathoms water."

Captain Gray proceeded from Columbia's River to Nootka Sound, a favorite harbor for trading vessels, but in dispute at that time between Spain and Great Britain. Here he reported his discovery to the Spanish comandante, Quadra, and gave him a copy of his charts. In the controversy which afterwards happened between Great Britain and the United States concerning the title to the Oregon territory, the value of this precaution became apparent: for in that controversy the comandante's evidence destroyed the pretensions of Vancouver's lieutenant, Broughton, who, on having heard of Gray's discovery, returned to the Columbia River, and made a survey of it up as far as the mouth of the Wallamet, founding upon this survey the claim of Great Britain to a discovery-title. The subterfuge was resorted to of denying that the Columbia was a river below Tongue Point: it was claimed that it was an inlet or sound. Were it not a fact patent to every one that a river must extend as far as the force of its current is felt, the pretence would still be perfectly transparent, since Gray must have passed Tongue Point, and been in what Broughton claimed to be the actual river before he grounded. Years afterwards, the log-book of the obscure Yankee trader, and the evidence of Comandante Quadra, overbore all strained pretences, and manifest destiny made Oregon and its great river a portion of the American republic.

Captain Robert Gray was the first man to carry the flag of the United States around the world, having, in the spring of 1792, just returned from a voyage from Nootka to Canton, and from Canton to Boston, by way of the Cape of Good Hope. He continued to command a trading vessel up to the time of his death, in 1809. Gray's Harbor, on the coast of Washington Territory, was discovered and named by him, the name remaining as a memorial. Ought he not to have some other?

In October, 1792, Vancouver having finished the survey of Puget Sound, in which the Spanish fleet was also engaged, Broughton was despatched to the Columbia River with the "Chatham," which grounded just inside Cape Hancock; was got off and anchored in a small bay on the north side of the river, known as Baker's Bay. In this cove he found, to his surprise, another vessel, the brig "Jenny," from Bristol, England, commanded by Captain Baker, from whom he had parted in Nootka Sound. The cove was thence named Baker's Bay. From this time the Columbia continued to be visited by trading vessels up to the war of 1812, which interrupted this sort of traffic for the time.