Historical Context and American Policy
• Outsiders Arrive
In early 1775, Spain's Captain Bruno Heceta came ashore on the Pacific side of the Olympic Peninsula. It's not certain but he likely landed near the Hoh River where he and crew his claimed the country for the king of Spain before rowing back to their ship and sailing away. As brief as it was, this visit probably marks the first arrival of Europeans on the northwestern coast of Washington and may have signaled the first encounter between the Natives on the region and white men. That encounter was confirmed, violently, later when another Spanish vessel, the schooner Sonora, arrived off the coast near Destruction Island and was greeted by Indians in canoes who were interested in trading skins and fish for European goods. The next day sailors dispatched to get water were attacked, overwhelmed, and killed by Indians when they landed on the beach. It is not clear why the sailors were attacked-although it's possibly that the sailors entered a safe haven for women-but the Indians removed the iron from their boat and then paddled out to schooner and acted in a way that the remaining Spanish sailors believed was threatening. The Spanish opened fire, killing or wounding six or seven Indians, and then fled. A dozen years later, in a remarkably similar incident at the mouth of the Hoh River, six crewmen of the British Imperial Eagle were killed. Just who were the Indians the Europeans meet along this stretch of coast is still unclear: Although the Hoh seem a likely choice, anthropologists and historians suggest that the Natives could also have been Quileute, Quinault, or Queets. Regardless, those first encounters gave the Natives of the coast a reputation for fierceness and independence.
Further north, of the earliest recorded encounters between the Makah on the northwestern edge of the Olympic Peninsula and Europeans occurred in June 1788 when Captain John Meares, a British sailor and merchant sailing under the Portuguese flag, arrived off the coast of Cape Flattery near Tatoosh Island to trade. Met by boatloads of Makah men, including the leader Tatootche, Meares found the Indians unwilling to trade and, after several futile attempts to negotiate, Meares sailed on down the coast. In the ensuing years, other traders had more luck with the Makah and, when the Spanish arrived at Neah Bay in 1790, they found the Makah ready to do business. Two years later, while seeking to establish territorial claims to an area that was attracting European competition in the fur trade and therefore seemed to threaten Spain's control of California, the Spanish returned to Neah Bay to build a military settlement. (For a synopsis of the Nootka Sound Controversy, see the CSPN's online curriculum packet Indians and Europeans on the Northwest Coast, 1774-1812: Historical Context.) The expedition of 83 men, led by Salvador Fidalgo, arrived at the end of May with orders to choose a good site for a fort.
While Fidalgo was ordered to take possession of the land through the customary ceremonies (which usually included erecting a cross and burying a bottle containing documents claiming the land for the king), he was also instructed to establish good relations with the Indians, avoid conflicts with them, and, possibly, enlist them as laborers for the settlement's farm. The Spanish occupation did not last long: Within months worries about the site's defensibility, changes in Spain's policy, and a lack of cooperation from the Natives persuaded the Spanish to abandon Neah Bay. Although the Makah and the other Natives in the northwestern corner of the peninsula continued to have intermittent contact with European traders, explorers, or shipwrecked sailors, more than 50 years would pass before other outsiders would arrive to lay claim to the Indians' land.