PAT NEAL: The voyage of the Lydia

In last week’s episode, we discovered the unhappy coincidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition spending a hard winter at Fort Clatsop, surviving on lean elk meat and whale oil while just across the Columbia River, and the brig Lydia was anchored up trading furs with the Indians.

This causes questions to be asked, such as, with over 100 American ships trading on the Northwest coast between 1788 and 1803, why didn’t President Jefferson send a ship to rescue or resupply the Corps of Discovery after their harrowing journey across the continent?

It could be because Jefferson had no way of knowing when or where on the coast the Corps of Discovery would emerge or if the expedition had even survived.

Why didn’t the Indians tell Lewis and Clark about the Lydia?

This had a lot to do with the antagonistic relationship the explorers had with the Chinook, a tribe with years of experience in dealing with the fur traders who ventured over the bar and into the Columbia River.

For Lewis and Clark, trade was a matter of survival. For the Chinook, it was part business, part entertainment and all profit. Lewis and Clark had little to trade with the Chinook.

Misunderstandings arose. Despite spending the winter in peaceful proximity, Lewis branded the Chinook as treacherous “close dealers,” for their trading skills.

The Chinook thought the explorers were poverty-stricken vagabonds. Visiting Chinook chiefs were not allowed to stay overnight at Fort Clatsop. They were evicted at nightfall. This did not make friends among the Chinook, who neglected to mention the Lydia sitting with plenty of provisions just across the river.

Curiously, John Jewitt was aboard the Lydia. He had been rescued by the Lydia after being held captive for two years by Maquinna, Chief of the Nootka on Vancouver Island.

Maquinna had a long history of dealing with Europeans. Beginning in 1785, when John Hanna opened the sea otter trade by inviting Maquinna aboard his ship, The Sea Otter.

Maquinna was given a chair above a pile of gun powder and told this was an honor the English gave chiefs. Thinking it was dark sand, Maquinna sat in the chair while a sailor lit the charge, blowing the chief up into the air and burning his back side.

When someone stole a chisel from the Sea Otter, Hanna opened fire with a cannon on canoes full of Indians, killing 20 — including several chiefs.

Another trader entered Maquinna’s house, scared his nine wives and stole 40 sea otter skins. The Spanish Commander Martinez killed Maquinna’s friend, and fellow Nootka chief, Callicum. All of which convinced Maquinna to get his revenge on the next European ship he encountered.

That was in 1804, when a Captain Salter of the trading ship Boston insulted Maquinna over a broken shotgun. Maquinna took the ship, killing everyone aboard but a sail maker and the blacksmith Jewitt, who eventually got a written message to Yutramaki, a Makah Chief who gave it to Captain Hill of the Lydia, who took Maquinna hostage to gain Jewitt’s release.

The story of the Lydia and Yutramaki does not end there.

They rescued the survivors of the Russian ship, Sv. Nikolai. It had shipwrecked just North of LaPush in November 1806. The 22 survivors fled south in a running battle with the Quileute.

While crossing the Hoh River, Anna Petrovna, wife of the Captain of the Nikolai, was captured. The other survivors spent the winter on the upper Hoh until their eventual capture.

Once again, Yutramaki negotiated the ransom and release of 13 survivors to the Lydia.

We must own our history to evolve.

_________

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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