Friday, October 30, 2009
Pirates In Our Islands
Ever since I moved to The San Juans, a group of islands which are closer to the Canadian border than they are to mainland Washington State, I've been collecting local Pirate stories.
I just heard a doosey this week, more on that coming up, but first some background;
There is mounting evidence that the West Coast was explored and populated by Chinese sailors from as early as 2000 B.C.
Pirate stories abound; when I was a kid my friends family owned an old cabin in Oregon, at the mouth of The Salmon River where it meets the ocean north of Lincoln City. When the coast highway was expanded, they uncovered a ship that had been attacked by local Indians. On board was the remains of a "Kanaka", or South-Sea Islander, and another man who was clutching a sword, his head bashed in. Every year, treasure hunters begged to dig on my friends property, believing it the most likely location for hidden goods.
In northern Washington State, the San Juan Islands were allegedly first explored by the Spanish and English. One legend is that Sir Francis Drake sank a Spanish ship in a deep channel, killing everyone on board except the navigator, who was spared for his knowledge. As the legend goes, they salvaged a fortune in gold from the ship, took it to a sandy beach and recast the ingots with English stamps. High above the waterfront, strange rock cairns (one in the shape of an anchor) add to the legend of clues to treasure.
Much later, these islands, with their hidden coves and dark waterways became one of the key smuggling routes for everything from illegal alcohol to Chinese immigrants from Canada. To this day, the waterways between the islands are a favored transit point for the famed "BC Bud" Marijuana, and other mysterious things such as eight severed human feet have washed ashore in our area since 2007.
When she was young, one woman I know here knew a family that pulled a ladder up into the bedroom loft of their cabin every night to prevent them from being harmed by rogues and bandits. Near the shore, there are huge and ancient middens, or Indian trash dumps. Occasionally, the bones of a discarded Indian slave are uncovered, and from the vista of Turtleback mountain we know the location of dozens of Indian graves.
Which brings me to my latest Pirate story:
When the first settlers arrived, some of them worked for the Hudson's Bay Trading Company and lived in small log cabins. One family was living near Massacre Bay, aptly named due to a slaughter of Lummi Indians by a Heida tribe from Canada.
One day, three Frenchmen came ashore in a boat. The youngest was a huge bear of a man, one was middle-aged, and the other was very old and spoke only French.
They told the family to get in their cabin and stay there, or they would kill them. To prove their intent, they showed them their guns and knives. The family retreated to the cabin, and peered out through small windows.
Outside, the three Frenchmen indentified a large boulder, a huge landmark that had been deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago. The oldest Frenchman did all the pointing and calculations, estimating the location they sought on the rocky face of Turtleback Mountain above. The family watched as the men left to scale the hillside. The family scurried back into the cabin when the men returned, and took visual estimates of the mountain from the boulder again, unable to find the location on their first attempt.
Again they headed back up the hillside, and that's the last time the family saw the Frenchmen. No one knows who those men were, or why they would have killed to find what was hidden on Turtleback Mountain, but stories like this keep the legends alive...