The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History

By Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Encounters with a
Distant Land

Nothing can be more iniquitous than the rule which Civilized Governments have established, of taking Possession of the Countries of every People, who may be more rude and barbarous than themselves.--Alexander Walker in An Account of a Voyage to the North West Coast of America in
1785 and 1786 ( 1982)

Almost every placename on a map of the Pacific Northwest has a story behind it. Some of the stories are biographical; some are capsule histories. Names like Snoqualmie Pass and Moses Lake; the counties of Snohomish, Skagit, Yakima, Walla Walla, Tillamook, Clackamas, Nez Perce, and Shoshone, and the communities of Spokane, Yakima, Coos Bay, Klamath Falls, and Pocatello recall the first Pacific Northwesterners. Another set of names, those of Puget Sound, Vancouver Island, Mounts Rainier and Saint Helens, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands, and the Columbia River, remind of still another aspect of Pacific Northwest history: the era of the North Pacific maritime frontier.

During the span of a generation or two--from the 1740s to the 1790s-- seafarers from Europe and the United States dispelled the fog of geographic ignorance that had previously shielded the North Pacific coast from outsiders. This was the world's last temperate zone coastline to yield its secrets to Euro-Americans. By the end of the 1790s, explorers had effectively consigned a practicable Northwest Passage to the dustbin of theoretical geography. At the same time, those voyages provided cartographers with detailed

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