PAT NEAL: Olympic Peninsula heroes

ON JULY 3, President Donald Trump proposed a “National Garden of American Heroes.” The proposed national monument would feature the greatest Americans to ever live. This, despite the fact that Americans can no longer decide who is a hero and who is a villain, since — in the divisive times in which we live — one person’s hero is another’s villain.

Our national historic heroes are a reflection of ourselves, and we are not a perfect people in a perfect union.

America has been a mess of competing heroes and villains since the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791.

George Washington was seen as a despot by the Pennsylvania moonshiners, but he put down the revolt and is still revered as the father of our country.

Similarly, significant figures in the history of the Olympic Peninsula were seldom perfect people when viewed through the modern lens of historical hindsight.

That does not diminish their accomplishments.

In fact, monuments to awful people who did terrible things keeps our history relevant when contrasted to noble individuals who influenced our history in a positive way.

So here goes, a list of individuals who would belong in any proposed monument to Olympic Peninsula heroes:

Kwati, or Q’waati, also known as “The Great Changer,” was a heroic figure to many tribes of the Northwest who believed he brought balance to the world by using his power to transform people, animals and landscapes into what we see today.

His accomplishments were many and varied.

Kwati turned wolves into the Quileute people, caused the trees to spring up out of the ground and killed the Thunderbird.

He also had an eye for the ladies. This was back before the #MeToo movement, when Kwati was known to turn women who had rejected him into rocks on the bottom of the Hoh River.

While some may claim these Native stories are only legend, they are no less plausible than the tall tales told by Apostolus Valerionos. He was an Italian working for Spain under the name Juan de Fuca when he claimed in 1592 that he found gold, silver and pearls in the Straits that bear his name to this day.

All we know for sure was that Apostolus, or Juan, was flat broke by the time he got back to Venice.

Explorers spent the next two centuries looking for the Strait of Juan de Fuca at a tremendous human cost in shipwrecks and human lives.

Anna Petrovna, the first European woman to visit the Olympic Peninsula, was shipwrecked north of La Push in the winter of 1809, then kidnapped during the course of a running battle south while crossing the Hoh River.

Petrovna’s husband, Navigator Nikolai Isaakovich Bulygin, went mad with grief.

At a parley, Petrovna advised her husband to surrender, saying she had been treated well with kindness, and that Chief Yutramaki would send them to the two European ships then sailing the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Hearing this, Bulygin tried to shoot his wife.

His expedition was eventually captured. Thirteen of the 22 shipwreck survivors were ransomed to an American ship. Petrovna was not among them.

If you found yourself shipwrecked on the Northwest coast during the years of the fur trade, you would be indeed fortunate to meet Yutramaki.

Also known as Machee or Ulatilla, he was a Makah Chief noted for his kindness to foreigners. He tried to rescue the survivors of the S.V. Nikolai shipwreck and was instrumental in the rescue of John Jewett, an English sailor who had been captured on Nootka Sound in 1805.

Next week we’ll visit more Olympic Peninsula heroes — or villains. You decide.

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Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday. He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected].

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