Document 19: Archibald Menzies Explores the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 1792
Archibald Menzies, Menzies' Journal of Vancouver's Voyage, April to October, 1792
(Victoria, B.C.: W. H. Cullin Printers, Archives of British Columbia Memoirs, vol. 5, 1923), p. 16-23.
Having now enterd on our interior examination of Juan de Fuca's Streights, we, on the morning of the 30th of April , weighd Anchor & after making Sail steerd to the Eastward along the Southern shore on a firm supposition that it was the Continental shore which we had tracd. We were favord with a fine Westerly breeze which soon dispersd the Fog & brought with it fair & clear weather. In the forenoon [morning] as we went along, Canoes came up to us here & there from the Shore with Sea Otter Skins for which they askd Copper or Cloth, but they were able to keep with us a very short time as we had a fair fresh breeze. The Columbia [an American trading ship; for a description of the Columbia's voyage, see document 17 and document 18] was seen again working out of the Streights, & it would now seem as if the Commander of her did not put much confidence in what we told him of our goals [Captain Vancouver and his crew were primarily explorers, not traders] but had probably taken us for rivals in trade and followd us into the Streights to have his share in the gleanings of those Villages at the entrance, & this is conformable to the general practice among traders on this Coast, which is always to mislead competitors as far as they can even at the expence of truth.
Towards noon we . . . [measured] our Latitude as 48° 18´ about 12 leagues [a league is three miles] to the Eastward of the South point of entrance.
The Streights appear in general to be about 3 or 4 leagues wide, the Southern Shore is nearly streight without forming any very striking points or bays—it rises steep into Mountains [now called the Olympic Mountains] near the entrance of a very moderate height, but as we advancd to the Eastward to very high mountains coverd with impenetrable forests of Pines till near their summits, where they were capped with snow in abundance. There were also some Mountains in our view on the North side [of the strait].
We were not above 18 leagues from the Entrance, when the Streights widend out to 9 or 10 leagues across; we however continud our course along the southern shore & in the evening went round the point of a low sandy spit [now called Dungeness Spit] which jutted out from it in very shallow water. . . . We were now about 20 leagues inland in an East by South direction from Cape Clanset [now called Cape Flattery]. The Country assumd a very different appearance, the land near the water side was low mostly coverd with Pines to the very verge of a fine stony & sandy Beach, but in the North East quarter a very high solid ridge of Mountains was observd, one of which was seen wholly coverd with Stow & with a lofty summit overtopping all the others around it upwards of twenty leagues off nearly in a North East direction—This obtaind the name of Mount Baker after the Gentleman who first observd it.
Next morning being the first of May, I accompanied Capt. Vancouver & some of the Officers of both Vessels who set out pretty early, in two Boats from us, to examine the shore to the Eastward of us for a Harbour.
When we left the Vessels it was a little foggy & calm, but clearing up soon after it became exceeding pleasant & serene, which added not a little to our enjoyment in this day's excursion. We kept along shore to the Southeastward, seeing in our way vast flights of water fowl such as Auks, diverse Ducks & Wild Geese, which were so exceeding shy that the sportsmen had very little opportunity of showing their dexterity. After a row of about four leagues we came to an Island, the rural appearance of which strongly invited us to stretch our limbs after our long confined situation on board & the dreary sameness of a tedious voyage. Its northwest side was guarded by a high perpendicular cliff of reddish earth & sand, quite inaccessable, but the South side presented a sloping bank coverd with green turf so even & regular as if it had been artificially formed.
We found on landing that Vegetation had already made great progress, the shore was skirted with long grass & a variety of wild flowers in full bloom, but what chiefly dazzled our eyes on this occasion was a small species of wild Valerian with reddish colord flowers growing behind the beach in large thick patches.
On ascending the Bank to the summit of the Island, a rich lawn beautified with nature's luxuriant bounties burst at once on our view & impressd us with no less pleasure than novelty—It was abundantly croppd with a variety of grass clover & wild flowers, here & there adornd by aged pines with wide spreading horizontal boughs stretching along the summit of the steep sandy cliff, the whole seeming as if it had been laid out from the premeditated plan of a judicious designer.
To the Northward & Northwestward the eye roved over a wide expanse of water which seemd to penetrate the distant land through various openings & windings, but a little to the South East of us appeard an Inlet [now called Port Discovery] which promind fair for affording good shelter for the Vessels—Its entrance presents a prospect truly inviting with gentle rising banks on both sides coverd with fine verdure & tufted with tall trees loosely scatterd; we therefore embarkd to examine it & went up about 4 miles, some walkd along shore on a fair Pebbly beach, others were employd sounding in the Boats till we came to a low sandy point on which we found a run of fresh water sufficient to answer all our purposes with good anchorage close to it & the whole well shelterd by an island . . . which obtaind the name of Protection Island. Here we kindled a fire & gave ourselves some refreshment, after which we returnd on board where we arrivd about midnight each well satisfied with the success & pleasure of this day's excursion.
In going into the Harbour one of the Gentlemen shot a small animal which diffusd through the air a most disagreeable & offensive smell. I was anxious to take it on board for examination & made it fast to the bow of the Cutter [a small boat designed for exploring in shallow water], but the stink it emitted was so intolerable that I was obligd to relinquish my prize. I took it to be the Skunk or Polecat.
In the absence of the Boats this day the Vessels were visited by several of the Natives from a small Village abreast of them who brought some fish to barter for trinkets.
At daylight on the 2nd [of May] both Vessels weighd [lifted anchor] & with a light air of wind from the Westward proceeded towards the Harbour we had visited on the preceeding day, which we enterd about 9 [o'clock] & with the assistance of the Boats towing ahead soon after came to off the low Sandy point in 34 fathoms [a fathom is six feet] of water over a black stiff Clayey bottom. In passing Protection Island & entring the Harbour, the right hand shore was kept close aboard which was found pretty steep & the most eligible Channel.
In the afternoon I accompanied Capt. Vancouver to the head of the Harbour which we found to terminate in a muddy bank of shallow water on which the Pinnace [a longboat made for exploring in shallow waters] grounded—This led to the discovery of a species of small Oyster with which the bottom was plentifully strewd but being now out of season they were poor & ill flavord & consequently not worth collecting. We then landed on the East Side where we saw the remains of a deserted village of a few houses, one of which had been pretty large & in make resembled the Nootka habitations as described by Capt. Cook, but neither of the villages seemd to have been inhabited for same time [possibly because a smallpox epidemic had killed most of their residents]. On a Tree close to it we found the skeleton of a child which was carefully wrapped up in some of the Cloth of the Country made from the Bark of a Tree & some Matts, but at this time it afforded tenement [housing] to a brood of young mice which ran out of it as soon as we touchd it—A wooden Cup was found close to it on the same tree & a bunch of small yew Boughs fastend together, which were probably the remains of some superstitious ceremony.
Besides a variety of Pines we here saw the Sycamore Maple—the American Aldar—a species of wild Crab & the Oriental Strawberry Tree [probably the Pacific madrona], this last grows to a small Tree at this time a peculiar ornament to the Forest by its large clusters of whitish flowers & evergreen leaves, but its smooth bark of a reddish brown colour will at all times attract the Notice of the most superficial observer. We met with some other Plants which were new to me & which shall be the subject of particular description bereafter [see document 21].
Next day [May 3] being remarkably serene pleasant weather, part of our gunpowder was landed on another low point at a little distance to be aired under the care of the Gunner & this duty was daily attended to till the whole stock was perfectly dried. The Seamen began to repair the rigging & the Mechanics were severally occupied in their different employments, while my botanical pursuits kept me sufficiently engaged in arranging & examining the collections I had already made.
On the 4th [of May] I landed opposite to the Ship to take an excursion back into the Woods which I had hardly enterd when I met with vast abundance of that rare plant the Cypropedium bulbosom [lady slipper] which was now in full bloom & grew about the roots of the Pine Trees in very Spongy soil & dry situations. I likewise met here with a beautiful shrub the Rhododendrum ponticum [large-flowered rhodedendron] & a new species of Arbutus [manzanita] with leaves that grew bushy & 8 or 10 feet high, besides a number of other plants which would be too tedious here to enumerate.
In this days route I saw a number of the largest trees hollowd by fire into cavities fit to admit a person into; this I conjecturd might be clone by the Natives either to screen them from the sight of those animals they meant to ensnare or afford them a safe retreat from others in case of being pursued, or it may be the means they have of felling large trees for making their Canoes, by which they are thus partly scoopd out.
Next day [May 5] in the forenoon came Natives along side in a Canoe with Fish & a few pieces of Venison for which they found a ready Market & soon after left us having nothing else to dispose of & seemingly little curiosity to gratify; our appearance affording them no degree of novelty led us to suppose that ours was not the first European Vessel with which they had had [contact], tho' from the few European commodities we saw amongst them the [trade] did not appear to be very extensive. From the affinity of their dress Canoe & language they appeard to be of the same nation with the Nootka Tribe & were like them fondest of Copper & Brass Trinkets for their Ears; they also took Iron with which Metal many of their arrows were barbed. [Menzies was probably mistaken; these were most likely Clallam peoples, who spoke a Salish—rather than a Nootkan—language.]
In strolling about the verge of the wood with some of the officers, we saw several stumps of small trees as if they had been cut down with an Axe not many months ago, from this it was thought probable that same other Vessel might have been here before us, as I never observd the Natives on any part of this Coast make use of an Axe in felling of Timber of any kind, preferring always an Instrument of their own construction somewhat in the form of a small adze which hackd it in a very different manner from an Axe. [It is also possible that native peoples had acquired axes from European traders.]
The Carpenters were now employd in Caulking & on the various necessary repairs—the Blacksmiths had their Forge going on shore—a party were cutting down fire wood—Another brewing Beer from a species of Spruce—in short the weather being so favorable & vivifying every thing was set in motion to forward our refitting.
The 6th being a day of relaxation, parties were formd to take the recreation of the shore & strolling through the words in various directions saw in one place a number of human bones deposited in a thicket & coverd carefully over with Planks; others were found suspended in an old Canoe coverd with the bark of Trees & with Moss, but what much surprizd the party in one place of the wood they came to was a clear Area where there had been a large fire round which they found a number of incinerated homes & about half a dozen human skulls scattered about the Area. This led to various conjectures, some supposing it to be a place allotted for human sacrifices made to banquet the unnatural appetites of the Inhabitants who in a recent publication [probably by Captain John Meares] are all alledged to be Cannibals but without any rational proof that brings the least conviction to my mind. The number of human bones seen in different parts of the Harbour almost equally advancd in decay would rather lead us to suppose that a Battle had been fought here at a period not very remote & that the vanquishd on that occasion sufferd by the cruelties of their Conquerors on the above spot, for it is the known practice of the American Tribes on the opposite Coast to bum their vanquishd enemies & it is not improbable that the same horrid custom prevails here.
The Seine [a large fishing net] was daily hauled near the Tents & with some degree of success though we seldom obtaind a sufficient supply for all hands, the fish generally caught were Bream of two or three kinds, Salmon & Trout & two kind of flat fish, with Crabs which were found very good & palatable & we seldom faild in hauling on shore a number of Elephant Fish (Chimaera Callorhynchus) & Scolpings (Cottus scorpius) but the very appearance of these was sufficient to deter the use of them, they therefore generally remaind on the Beach.
Early on the morning of the 7th I set out with Capt. Vancouver & some of the Officers in three Boats manned & armed & provided with five days provision, our object was to examine & explore the country to the eastward of us. We proceeded out of the Port with foggy weather & little wind & keeping the right hand shore close, we rowed for about two leagues to the North East ward, where we enterd a large opening which took a Southerly direction & which afterwards obtaind the name of Admiralty Inlet, but as the weather continued still very foggy we landed on the point [Point Wilson, near present Port Townsend] till it should clear up a little, & took several hauls of a small Seine we had in the Boat but without the least success.
A little before won the Fog dispersd when we saw the opening we had enterd go to the South Eastward a considerable extent & a little distance from us another arm branching off to the Southward, we walkd along shore to the point of this arm which we reachd by noon when [we measured] our Latitude as 48° 7´ 30´´ North. In this walk I found growing in the Crevices of a small rock about midway between the two points a new Species of Claytonia [a small flowering herb] & as I met with it no where else in my journeys, it must be considerd as a rare plant in this country. I namd it Claytonia furcata & took a rough sketch of it which may be seen in my collections of Drawings.
The shores here are sandy & pebbly—the point [Point Hudson] we came to was low & flat with some Marshy ground behind it & a pond of water surrounded with willows & tall bulrushes, behind this a green bank stretchd to the Southward a little distance from the shore which was markd with the beaten paths of Deer & other Animals. While dinner was getting ready on the point I ascended this Bank with one of the Gentlemen & strolled over an extensive lawn, where solitude rich pasture & rural prospects prevaild.—It presented an uneven surface with slight hollows & gentle risings interspersd with a few straddling pine trees & edged behind with a thick forest of them that coverd over a flat country of very moderate height & renderd the Western side of this arm a pleasant & desirable tract of both pasture & arable land where the Plough might enter at once without the least obstruction, & where the Soil, though light & gravelly, appeard capable of yielding in this temperate climate luxuriant Crops of the European Grains or of rearing herds of Cattle who might here wander at their ease over extensive fields of fine pasture, though the only posessors of it we saw at this time were a few gigantic Cranes of between three & four feet high who strided over the Lawn with a lordly step.