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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

1775 ❖ DESTRUCTION IS.❖

DESTRUCTION ISLAND, 
Washington Coast, 1949.
From the archives of the S. P. H. S.
Destruction Island, a few miles off the mouth of the Hoh River, has two claims to distinction. It is the first spot where [non-native] men trod the soil of Washington and it is the site of the State's loneliest lighthouse.
     This storied bit of land got its name by a mapmaking fluke. Actually the river, not the island, was christened Destruction.
     The white men who first came to the place were the Spanish explorer, Brun Hecetqa, who commanded the ship SANTIAGO, out of San Blas, Mexico; his second pilot, Cristobal Reveilla; Doctor Davales, the ship's surgeon, and the chaplain, Padre Junipero Serra. On 14 July 1775, they landed, erected a cross, and planted at it's foot a wax-sealed bottle containing a record of the event.
     While this ceremony was in progress the schooner SONORA, which had accompanied the SANTIAGO on an expedition up the coast and anchored a few miles to the south, sent a shore party to fetch water. Indians, holding up bits of iron and copper, presumably obtained at Nootka, met the boat crew and in unmistakable sign language insisted that the strangers give them similar metal articles. When Pedro Santa Ana, the boatswain in charge of the six seamen, did not respond, more savages descended upon the group, killed the Spaniards, tossed their bodies into the Pacific and broke up the boat to obtain its  fastenings. Don Juan de la Bodega y Quadra, in command of the schooner, wanted to dispatch 30 men to avenge the deaths, but other officers overruled him. The angry and saddened explorers, sailing away, named the place Isla de Dolores (Island of Sorrows).
     Twelve years later, Capt. Charles William Barkley, who is credited with the official discovery of Puget Sound, anchored off the HOH in the IMPERIAL EAGLE and dispatched five men to fill the water casks. They met a fate similar to that of the Spaniards and all were killed. Barkley memorialized the event by calling the stream Destruction River, but eventually the name was associated with the island.

     Paradoxically, at the latter place there has been little to suggest destruction. No shipwrecks are recorded there and it is one of the quietest and most tranquil spots on the entire coast. Lying near ship lanes leading to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the island was a suitable location for a Lighthouse as a guide to vessels. The original tower, constructed in 1891, still in use, its 90,000-candlepower light visible 18 miles at sea in clear weather. During the war the Navy maintained a direction-finder station there, but it has been abandoned and some of the buildings have been removed.
    


      A diaphone fog signal is an important part of the equipment at Destruction Island. C. E. Sherman, nautical scientist for the Aids to Navigation Division of the USCG, and a veteran of the now-defunct Lighthouse Service, tells of changing the installation from the old steam fog signal in 1910.
     "Some of the keepers grazed cattle on the island, he relates, "and when we started the new air signal the bull did not recognize the sound. It was so different from the former one. He mistook it for a rival and you should have seen him tear around. We did two or three days of testing before he made up his mind that he had no competition."
     There are no cattle now on the island, but plenty of marine life abounds there. Seals, sea lions, and birds visit its many sheltered beaches. Fishing is good and shell heaps along the north shore are reminders of camp sites where Indians came to smoke their salmon long ago.

Text by author, historian Lucile McDonald, The Seattle Times 10 July 1949


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