Thursday, January 17, 2013

Where Did Those Guys Come From?

My understanding is that the first European/American credited with visiting the Pacific Northwest was the Brit Francis Drake in 1579, followed by the Spaniard Juan de Fuca in 1592. One-hundred-and-fifty years later, Vitus Bering, a Swede working for the Russians, came down the coast (1740s). In another fifty years, 1792, on behalf of the Americans, Robert Gray became the official discoverer of the Columbia River. He would do that in May of that year.

In October of that year, William Broughton captained a ship that explored the Columbia. In a small boat, he and a party of crew members traveled a hundred miles upstream, checking out the countryside. At the very outset, while still at anchor near the mouth of the Columbia, Broughton noticed that the natives were already, not only ready to trade, but knew the value of what they were trading. The women, in particular, knew what they had of value to trade.

Heading upriver—it took them a week—they were accompanied by a fleet of canoes full of Indians who would camp nearby each night. Other large flotillas of canoes greeted them often as they went upriver, and were also ready to trade. Although they did note that the further upstream they traveled, the more unintelligible became the languages they encountered—which were unlike any other they had heard—and that the further upstream they traveled, the friendlier the natives became and the less they were interested in barter.

It’s a story oft repeated: the Italian John Cabot sailing for the British, who “discovered” Newfoundland in 1497 (five years after Columbus’s first voyage), discovered that he had been accompanied by hundreds of fishing boats. Not that they had traveled with him, but that he found them already there when he arrived. How did they do that?

I’ve always thought that Newfoundland was named by the fishermen who found it, otherwise it would have been named after a king or the like. It was already named by the time Cabot arrived. I’ll bet.

So, was Sir Francis the first European to visit the Pacific Northwest? I wouldn’t bet on that.

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