Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 21
There is a club-shaped piece of territory north of the Chehalis River and Gray's Harbor, fifty miles broad at its base and probably eighty at its northern end, which has the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Fuca Strait on the north, and Hood's Canal on the east, and is known as the Olympic Peninsula. It consists of a mass of mountains, highest and most broken on the north and east, the range following the strait and Hood's Canal, and sloping off in a chaos of lesser mountains towards the west and south.
It was a happy thought of the Englishman Meares, on July 4, 1788, to name the highest peak of the main range Mount Olympus, for sacred to the gods it has remained from the creation until the present year, 1890. All that was known of it during forty-five years of settlement on Puget Sound was confined to a few miles of border land on the three sides bounded by water. No government surveys were made except at a few points along the strait and a single one on the sea-coast, where a light-house was erected to warn off, not to attract, the curious. Two Indian reservations were located on the sea-side, but nobody on them knew anything about the interior,—not even the Indians. No "darkest Africa" could be more unknown. Imagination peopled it with giants or pigmies, according to the taste of the dreamer. Through it roamed the fiercest wild beasts, and in the solemn gloom of its forest-hidden caves was concealed treasure incalculable.
History tells us of numerous native tribes who a hundred years ago indulged in stratagems to board the unwary shipmaster's vessel and massacre the crew, and who entertained dusky royalty with the exhibition of sawing off the heads of a dozen or two of slaves to show kingly prodigality. They gave the early settlers on Puget Sound a good deal of trouble, being very active pirates, and the opportunities for the invasion of settlements, or capture and murder of small parties in boats, being too convenient to be resisted.
The Makahs were perhaps the worst of these, whose reservation is on the extreme northwest corner of the peninsula. They are brave fellows, and dare to chase whales in their sea-canoes. When a whale is seen spouting the fact is reported to a medicine-man, who allots to each canoe to be engaged in the chase the requisite number of skilled oarsmen and a harpoon-thrower. This instrument is made of pieces of elkhorn, ornamented with carving, joined together in the shape of a V, and having a sharp steel like an awl at the point, to which is fastened a long and strong rope made from the sinews of a whale. When about to be thrown the harpoon is inserted in a slender shaft of tough yew wood, which drives it deep into the body of leviathan, where the barbs hold it.
The chase is never undertaken without the performance of religious ceremonies or necromancy, intended to give the harpooner the victory in the coming struggle. The medicine-man and the harpooner, blessed by him, occupy the leading canoe; then come the other members of the whaling fleet, followed by a reserve of two canoes. They cross out over the breakers with great skill, and put to sea to watch for the reappearance of their game.
A whale usually plays along near the surface for some little time, blowing at intervals, then throws himself out of the water and dives deep down, remaining below for a corresponding time, which the Indians from observation can calculate, as well as the place where he will again come to the surface. They take a position near this place and watch for the auspicious moment, which is when the whale "humps himself" to make a dive.
The harpooner, his terra-cotta-colored figure nicely poised in the bow of the canoe and harpoon raised above his head, waits
for the command to throw. It comes, "latah!" and the instrument descends with cruel force and precision into the whale's body, followed by others, and the oarsmen quickly back away to escape the commotion which the creature's huge tail creates in the water when it is wounded. Other lines are attached to the harpoon-lines, to which are fastened "floats" made of the stomachs of the hair-seal, filled with air, to prevent the canoes from being drawn Under water.
In his agony the whale at first lashes the sea furiously, then starts off on a run, and drags the canoes. But with half a dozen harpoons in him he is doomed. Should night come on, or the sea be rough, the canoes are detached, and the whale left to die at his leisure, prevented from going to the bottom by the lines of floats attached to him. He may travel all night and all the following day, but not straight ahead, and is usually found in the morning, when if be shows game the boats are again fastened to the lines, and away they go once more, moving about in a circle of fifteen or twenty miles. When at last the whale succumbs, the carcass is towed ashore, the tide assisting to beach it. When this happens there is a race to be the first to touch the body, as thereby one becomes eligible to the office of chief harpooner, or hoa-chin-i-ca-ha.*
The medicine-man removes the whale's eyes, which he uses in his incantations; runners are sent out to collect the tribe, and the whale's blubber is cut up and divided among them. As much as one thousand or fifteen hundred gallons of oil are obtained from one whale. When all are present a "potlatch," or feast, is held, presided over by the "medicine," and the festivities close with libations of fire-water, poured, if not to the gods of Olympus, down the thirsty throats of these savages.
- This account of whale-chasing is merely a synopsis of a very interesting description by an eye-witness,—H. D. C.,—published in the Oregonian. On the occasion of his observations at Neah Bay, one of the pursuing boats containing seven Indians became separated from the fleet and was lost. There is a life-saving station at Neah Bay, which could, however, be of no use to a canoe in distress in the open sea. The neighborhood of Cape Flattery is the centre frequently of wild storms, and is often overhung with thick fogs. A long list of vessels lost about this part of the coast might be given, and yet the life-saving station there is very ill equipped and inefficient.
Whether by the dangers of whale-chasing, the decimation of wars, or the importation of foreign diseases, most of the Makahs have died otf, and the places that knew them shall know them no more.
On the Quinault (pronounced Keen-nut) reservation are about four hundred and fifty men, women, and children, who occupy about one hundred and forty thousand acres. They are a degraded tribe, whom the agents appointed to instruct them have been unable to elevate to a comprehension of the ideas entertained by civilized people. Their houses are more comfortable than those of the tribes of the interior, being constructed of planks hewn from cedar or spruce, set up on end, and roofed with like material. The floor is of earth, and is a foot below the level of the ground. A raised platform, which serves for seat or bed, runs along the sides. Mats are used to sleep on. Several families occupy one house, and cook at a common fire in the centre, the smoke escaping from an opening in the roof. The women are simply slaves. They provide everything the family requires except game and fish, and make all the clothing for both sexes. Chastity is not in favor, the absence of it being more profitable. The food of the tribe consists, after game and fish, of roots, berries, water-fowl, eggs of wild fowl, and shell-fish. Meat is not much eaten, and at their feasts they drink bear-, seal-, and whale-oil, and are not particular about the condition of the whale-blubber, which they consume in every state of putridity.
When an attempt was made to establish a salmon-cannery at Quinault, it failed on account of the high price demanded by the natives for fish, they shrewdly deciding, no doubt, that it was not good policy to encourage the too rapid destruction of their food supply.
Whether from indolence or superstitious dread, these people were as wholly ignorant of the interior of the peninsula as the white intruders.
The names of the streams coming down from the mountains on the coast side are Menotelops, Moclips, Chepalis, Quinault, Baft, Queets, Ohalat, Bagachiel Killiwah, Solduck, Dicky, Quillayute, Osette, and Waach. On the north, falling into the Strait of Fuca, are Oleho, Clallam, Lyre, Elwha, and Dungeness.
The most of these names, as w ill be seen, are aboriginal, while Lieutenant Meares is responsible for Dungeness. On the east, flowing into Hood's Canal, are the Quilcene, Leland, Sylopish, and Skokomish, and many smaller ones without names. Several of these rivers could be navigated with small steamers by simply removing accumulations of drift.
The laying out of towns on Gray's Harbor and exploration of its tributary rivers by "timber cruisers" awakened so great an interest in the Olympic Peninsula that, if any prospector or party of adventurers penetrated even a few miles beyond the heretofore known limits of exploration, the fact was quickly given to the public with as much eclat as if it had been indeed Darkest Africa, and these pathfinders all Livingstones and Stanleys.
Up to this time the most generally accepted theory of the country in the interior, according to one writer, was that it consisted of valleys sloping inward from the mountains to a great central basin. In support of this belief it was pointed out that, notwithstanding the country round about had abundant rain, and that clouds constantly hung over the mountain-tops, all the streams flowing towards the four points of the compass were too insignificant to drain the great area shut in by the mountains. (This was not true, as I have shown, concerning the south side.) This writer fancied a great interior lake, but could not account for its drainage except by imagining a subterranean outlet. He urged some adventurous persons to "acquire fame by unveiling the mystery which wraps the land encircled by the snow-capped range."
" Superstition," remarked Governor Semple, in his official report for 1888, lends its aid to the natural obstacles in preserving the integrity of this grand wilderness. The Indians have traditions in regard to happenings therein, ages ago, which were so terrible that the memory of them has endured until this day with a vividness that controls the actions of men. In those remote times, say the aborigines, an open valley existed on the upper Wynooskie, above the canon, in the Heart of the Olympic Eange. This valley was wide and level, and the mountains hedged it in on every side. Its main extent was open land, matted with grass and sweet with flowers, while the
edge of the river and the foot of the hills were fringed with deciduous trees. Here peace was enshrined and the warriors of the different tribes congregated once a year, to engage in friendly rivalry in the games that were known to them, and to traffic with each other in such articles of commerce as they possessed. Ho account exists of any violation of the neutrality, but a great catastrophe occurred during the continuance of one of their festivals from which only a few of the assembled Indians escaped. According to the accounts of the Indians, the great Seatco, chief of all evil spirits, a giant who could trample whole war parties under his feet, and who could traverse the air, the water, and the land at will, whose stature was above the tallest fir-trees, whose voice was louder than the roar of the ocean, and whose aspect was more terrible than that of the fiercest wild beast, who came and went upon the wings of the wind, who could tear up the forest by the roots, heap the rocks into mountains, and change the course of rivers with his breath, became offended at them and caused the earth and waters to swallow them up—all but a few, who were spared that they might carry the story of his wrath to their tribes, and warn them that they were banished from the happy valley forever."
" The next person," says Semple, "to stand upon the scene of the ancient convulsion will be the all-conquering ' average manof the Anglo-Saxon race, who will tear up the matted grass and the sweet flowers with his plow, and deprecate the proximity of the snow-clad peaks because they threaten his crops with early frosts and harbor the coyote that tears his sheep."
Such were the ideas entertained even by intelligent people as late as 1888, and hence "Olympic" and "Olympian" were words very appropriately applied to these mountains. The trader Meares knew as little of these mysterious heights as the Greeks of the summits of their Olympus. The loftiest one is eight thousand one hundred and fifty feet, while Mount Constance, the second highest, is seven thousand seven hundred and seventy feet above the sea.
A few prospectors had penetrated a little distance into the mountains from the settlements along the Strait, who gave glowing accounts of the possibilities of this region,—its im
mense forests of fir, cedar, spruce, and hemlock, its numerous small but rich valleys, and its minerals, including coal, gold, iron, tin, valuable stone, and a variety of clays. The streams were swarming with speckled trout, and the forests with game. These rumors still further stimulated public curiosity and interest. I met at Gray's Harbor the first ladies to undertake a journey into the Olympics,—Mrs. John Soule and Mrs. John G. McMillan,—who, with their husbands, went up the coast by a trail as far as the government warehouse at Owyhut, and thence to the Quinault Reservation along the beach, crossing the rivers at their mouths, where they were most shallow. On the Chepalis one settler was found who had lived there for nine years. At the reservation they were entertained by the family of the agent, Captain Willoughby, who, with Mrs. Willoughby, related to them many Indian legends. But in these legends I see little to admire; they are exceedingly puerile and pointless, and not worth preserving.
From the reservation the party ascended the Quinault River by canoe having Indian boatmen. The time occupied in getting to the lake of that name, a distance of forty miles, was three days, many portages around "jams" having to be made. At their first camp, made at an Indian rancherie, there was set up before the house of the chief a figure-head of a wrecked vessel as a totem. At the lake they found strawberries—time, last of May, 1888—on the banks, and delicious trout in the waters. The valley of the lake was described to me as romantically beautiful. They found the lake to be of an oval shape, lying northeast by southwest, and about five by two and a half miles in extent, with a depth of from seventy to two hundred and twenty feet. The theory of its formation held by this party was that an avalanche had dammed the waters of the Quinault, which finally found their outlet by a depression to the southwest, through which they cut a channel toward the sea. The mountains on the sea-side are steep, and a ridge runs along the north, but the valley lies on the east side. If the theory of an avalanche were true, the story of the Indians' happy valley of long ago might have a shadow of foundation.
Having heard on the reservation that by going up the river beyond the lake, which could be done by the help of Indians, a walk of seven miles from the head of canal navigation would bring them to the head of a river flowing into Hood's Canal, the party determined to win fame by crossing the Olympics by this route. It turned out, however, that the current of the upper river was too rapid to admit of being navigated, at least by its present mouth, and the old mouth into the lake half a mile to the south was found to be dammed by drifts. Small, delicious salmon were found in the lake, and the party remained for several days enjoying the mountains, the lake, the splendid forest, salmon, strawberries, and freedom. This visit to the Olympics was the occasion of the formation of Lake City Town Company, which proceeded to plot six hundred and forty acres on the south shore of' the lake, where a summer-resort might very appropriately be located. It was even said that a railroad from the Strait to Gray's Harbor would be constructed at an early day, which would bring Lake City within an hour and a half of the Harbor,—namely, the Port Townsend and Quillayute. Quinault City, at the head of navigation on the Hamptulips Kiver, was also projected about this time, "on a beautiful elevation, with half a mile of river front and a mill-site." So easy is it to project enterprises and to dream of future fulfilment in this wilderness!
I also met at Hoquiam Ex-Lieutenant-Governor Gilman, of Minnesota, and his son, S. C. Gilman, who had passed a winter in quietly exploring the Olympics. They found three hundred and fifty square miles of rich bottom-land along the streams, and described the soil between the mountains and the ocean as well adapted when cleared to grazing, fruit-raising, or general farming. There were few prairies, and those small ones, but they found float-coal, croppings of iron, and quartz containing gold, silver, copper, and tin. They entered the mountains from the south and experienced little difficulty, while, by report, those who attempted to enter from the north or east were met by many and severe obstacles. That this is true is confirmed by the report of an exploration conducted under the auspices of the army, as well as by the failure of several parties from the Sound to effect a crossing from the east side. The Gilmans encountered dangers and performed feats of daring which to an ordinary tourist like myself seemed extraordinary, but which were as coldly recited as if it had been a usual thing to climb perpendicular walls, clinging like a limpet to its rock, or to promenade on a shelf six inches wide above a frightful abyss.
There was also another party which wintered in the Olympics and had not yet come out when I was at Hoquiam. This was an expedition organized by the Seattle Press, consisting of five men and an Indian guide, who deserted when he discovered the purpose of the explorers to penetrate to the interior of the peninsula. They started from Port Angeles, on the north, with mules, boats, provisions, and a thorough outfit, proceeding up the Elwha River. To recount their experiences would require more space than can be allowed to it in this volume. They were in the mountains from December 7 to May 21, and came out at Aberdeen in a disreputable plight, plus hair and beard, but minus those articles of clothing considered indispensable to propriety. Their report concerning the nature of the country arid the minerals to be found in it agreed with that of the Gilmans, and they made many additions to the map of the country, naming peaks and lakes which hitherto had not been observed or named. Lake Crescent and Lake Sutherland are both near the Elwha River. Mount Brown is in that vicinity, Mount Seattle near the head of the Quinault River, while Mount Ferry, named after the first governor of the State, Mount Childs, Barnes, and Grady are elevations no longer without a "local habitation and a name."
Following the return of the Press expedition were half a dozen lesser efforts to learn the character of the Olympic Peninsula in all its parts, most of these being directed to the discovery of minerals, and all bringing in some specimens. A copper-mine discovered in Kitsap County east of and at the foot of the Olympic Range seemed to confirm the existence of copper higher up.
I have spoken of the Peninsula as unknown and unexplored. But it would ill become me to pass over other attempts made at a comparatively recent date to unveil the Olympian mystery. In 1881-82 Colonel Chambers, commanding at Fort Townsend, endeavored to construct a road from the fort into the mountains, the result of six months of toil being a trail to and across both branches of the Dungeness River, which was then abandon as impracticable, from the density of the forest and underbrush, and the equally great obstacle^ of windfalls, canons, and precipices.
In 1885, Lieutenant J P. O'Neil, being stationed at Fort Vancouver, was detailed by General Miles to make a reconnoissance of the "Jupiter Hills," and entered upon this duty with enthusiasm. After a month of rather perilous adventures in its execution, and losing one man, who strayed from the trail and perished, O'Neil was ordered to Fort Leavenworth, and the expedition returned to Vancouver. Concerning his part in it O'Neil remarked that "the travel was difficult, but the adventures, the beauty of the scenery, the magnificent hunting and fishing, amply repaid all hardships, and it was with regret that I left them before I had completed the work." He also said, "There must be great mineral wealth here, for gold has been found in the foot-hills, as has also coal. There are now two claims which have first class coal located near Hood's Canal. Iron ore is in some places most abundant and very pure. I also carried a specimen out which was pronounced by a learned man to be copper. The formation of these mountains seems to speak plainly of mineral wealth. . . . The day will come when the State of Washington will glory in their wealth and beauty."
In the month of July, 1890, General Gibbons sent out an expedition to make a thorough exploration of the Olympic Range, and again Lieutenant O'Neil was placed in command. Accompanying it were members of the Portland and the Washington Alpine clubs, and the expedition, which consisted of fifteen rank and file, started early in July from Union City, at the mouth of the Skokomish River, on Hood's Canal. They carried a box similar to those placed on the tops of the Oregon snow-peaks, containing a record book, to be deposited on the highest peak of the Olympics, the summit of Mount Olympus.
The trail lay by Lake Cushman, which is described as a paradise for anglers. Nestled among the foot-hills at an elevation of four hundred feet, it reflects in its placid bosom the overhanging crags and snow-peaks. The Skokomish River runs into and out of it, as the Quinault does on the other side of its lake. A trail led to some copper deposits several miles from the river, and from that point the only roads open to the explorers were the
elk-trails. In short, they had the same experience that all previous explorers had met with, travelling over "a succession of fine bottoms and pi*ecipitous mountain-sides, which in places approach the grandeur of a canon, until they arrived at a real and impassable canon where the stream rushed out between rocky walls one hundred feet in height." This experience was repeated on an ever-increasing scale of grandeur, the incidents of which the reader would find it wearisome to follow, until the summit of the range was attained, and the party descended the Quinault to the coast, and finally to Gray's Harbor, where they were welcomed with enthusiasm. I had the pleasure afterwards of hearing Lieutenant O'Neil deliver a lecture descriptive of his expedition, at the close of which he made the interesting statement that Mount Olympus has forty glaciers, and the surprising one that the Olympic Peninsula was good for nothing but a National Park. Whether the people of Washington will agree with him I know not, but I think it will take the strong arm of the government to keep them from the timber, minerals, and fish which it contains.
The last explorer of note who proposed to make the acquaintance of the Olj'mpics is Lord Lonsdale, who was going to take the route via Port Townsend, when Mr. J. T. Duncan, of Gray's Harbor, met him at that place to persuade him to take the safer and easier route from the south. It cannot be said hereafter that the Olympics are terra incognita, but only that they are, for the most part, an inhospitable country which, having once seen, few would care to see again except at a distance, and at a distance they are the most beautiful of all the ranges in the Northwest,—a joy forever to the resident on either side of the Strait or the Sound.
As a country in which to hunt game there is nothing more formidable than black bear, wolves, deer, and elk, the latter of which are numerous and not at all shy.