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.
Continuing through the 1800s, we encounter more conflicted individuals who shaped the future of the Olympic Peninsula. In 1853, President Millard Fillmore appointed Isaac Stevens as Washington’s territorial governor. Stevens saw the Native Americans as an impediment to statehood, pioneer settlement and the coming of the transcontinental railroad.
Some believe that Stevens’ harsh terms of the 1855 Point No Point Treaty may have been an attempt to start a war with the Indians. The fact that there was no Indian war on the Olympic Peninsula is largely due to the earlier European-introduced epidemics and the efforts of one man, Chetzemoka, who Stevens had designated Chief of the S’Klallam.
This meant he was to sign the treaty and be held personally responsible for the good behavior of his people. Chetzemoka was called the Duke of York by white men who had trouble pronouncing his name and was referred to as “the Paul Revere of Port Townsend.”
In 1857 a war party of western S’Klallam descended on Port Townsend. During a nine-day conference, Chetzemoka dissuaded them from exterminating the new town by telling them if the S’Klallam killed the whites, others would come and wipe them out. On the 10th day, Chetzemoka sent a message from Signal Rock, “Danger is passed.”
These peacemaking efforts did not stop attempts to remove the S’Klallam from their ancestral lands. On Aug. 31, 1871, Chetzemoka was ordered to move from Port Townsend to Skokomish. The S’Klallam moved all their possessions into canoes, which were to be towed by a side-wheeler to their new reservation on the Hood Canal. Their village was burned before the S’Klallam were out of sight.
Chetzemoka visited San Francisco in 1851, and he was greatly impressed by the large numbers of white people. This is where he met James Swan and invited him to Port Townsend. Swan journeyed north at this suggestion, settling in Shoalwater Bay in the 1850s and was a teacher at Neah Bay in 1862 before settling in Port Townsend.
Swan had a varied career as a teacher, newspaper man, ethnologist and railroad promoter. His writing describes harrowing canoe journeys with his Makah and S’Klallam friends where he reveals his secret for getting along with the, at times, hostile Native Americans — he ate their food and never carried a gun.
Swan was a true hero, as opposed to Victor Smith. He came to Port Angeles in 1861 as the customs agent and had it declared a “Second National City” so that if something happened to Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital could simply move 3,000 miles west to Port Angeles where, coincidentally, Smith and his cronies owned waterfront property.
Port Townsend was the official Port of Entry for all vessels entering Puget Sound until Smith parked the cutter Shubrick in front of the Customs House and threatened to open fire if the Customs Records were not surrendered in 15 minutes. The Port of Entry was moved to Port Angeles.
Meanwhile a Grand Jury in Olympia indicted Smith for embezzling $15,000 from the Port Townsend Custom House, fraud, resisting arrest and assault on the entire population of Port Townsend. For these and other outrages, the people of Port Townsend described Smith as a “Federal-fed parasite who has been foisted upon us.”
In Port Angeles, a town that to this day is still recognized as America’s “Second National City,” Smith was applauded as the “city father.”
Washington, D.C., was not destroyed. But since Port Angeles had been declared a Second National City and could not be homesteaded, there was little incentive to come here for the next quarter century.
Meanwhile, as a treasury agent, Smith was shipwrecked while transferring $3 million to the San Francisco treasury. The money was never found. Before Smith could be charged with stealing the money, he died in another shipwreck.
Port Angeles, being a Federal Reserve that could not be homesteaded, became a virtual ghost town until 1887, when another Smith came along. George Venable Smith was a Seattle city attorney involved with the anti-Chinese riots, during which mobs forcibly expelled the Chinese from Seattle and Tacoma over cheap labor and trade.
This new Smith had his own vision for a model city, a utopia with no Chinese which became the Puget Sound Cooperative colony. Their motto was: “Let the many combine in cooperation as the few have done in corporations.” They built a sawmill, shipyard, opera house, church and brought the first flush toilet to the Peninsula. Despite such progress, the colony went broke by 1889.
Meanwhile, Victor Smith’s 3,000-acre Federal Reserve was still closed to settlement. That was, until John Murphy came to town in 1890. Murphy organized “Reserve Jumpers,” who went into the Reserve to stake claims. Congress conceded ownership to the squatters three years later.
The year 1890 was when railroad fever hit Port Angeles. Norman Smith, Victor’s son, proved he was an apple that did not fall far from the tree when he built the world’s shortest railroad to “hold the pass” at Lake Crescent — in anticipation of about 14 different transcontinental railroads that were supposedly eager to build their terminus in Port Angeles, a town isolated on three sides by treacherous bodies of water. The Panic of 1893 cooled the railroad fever.
The only bright spot was the arrival of Admiral Beardslee and the U.S. Navy Pacific Squadron for summer maneuvers. Beardslee spent so much time fishing in Lake Crescent that they named the Beardslee trout after him. The seasonal influx of thousands of lonely, thirsty sailors into town provided an economic stimulus to the Peninsula moonshiners.
Meanwhile, Tom Aldwell had come to Port Angeles in 1890, determined to bring electricity with him. For that, he was considered a modern-day hero even though there was no fish ladder on his dam on the Elwha River.
Only the Native Americans seemed to care about the destruction of the Elwha fisheries, but they had no voice since they did not become U.S. citizens until 1924. With the building of the Elwha Dam, Michael Earles built the largest sawmill in Washington on the site of the S’Klallam village Tse-whit-sen. Charles Erickson brought the railroad to town, ending the last frontier.
Were these people heroes or villains? You decide.