HEZETA, Bruno de




Author Tags: 1700-1800, Spanish

“The Spaniards were obsessed by this idea that they
didn’t want to give away state secrets.”

—GLYNDWR WILLIAMS, HISTORIAN, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

Bruno de Hezeta y Dudagoitia was the second European captain to make contact with First Nations people within the boundaries of present-day British Columbia. He met First Nations people off the southern end of Vancouver Island in 1775. He also made the first recorded landfall on the mainland of the Pacific Northwest and he made the first map of the Washington state coastline, taking formal possession of the area for Spain. As well, he became the first European to record evidence of the mouth of the Columbia River. On August 17, 1775, Hezeta wrote, “These currents and seething of the waters have led me to believe that it may be the mouth of some great river or some passage to another sea.” Spain chose not to publish information about his voyage and his accomplishments are little-known.

Among some scholars, Hezeta has also gained the dubious distinction of leading the first expedition that could have brought smallpox to the Pacific Northwest, thereby eradicating approximately 30 percent of the population of Puget Sound tribes during the 1770s. Historian Robert Boyd has estimated In The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence that smallpox in the 1770s killed more than 11,000 Western Washington Indians, reducing population from about 37,000 to 26,000.

An “aged informant” from the Squamish tribe told Charles Hill-Tout in the 1890s about another plague. Hill-Tout then wrote, “[A] dreadful misfortune befell them.... One salmon season the fish were found to be covered with running sores and blotches, which rendered them unfit for food. But as the people depended very largely upon these salmon for their winter’s food supply, they were obliged to catch and cure them as best they could, and store them away for food. They put off eating them till no other food was available, and then began a terrible time of sickness and distress. A dreadful skin disease, loathsome to look upon, broke out upon all alike. None were spared. Men, women, and children sickened, took the disease and died in agony by hundreds, so that when the spring arrived and fresh food was procurable, there was scarcely a person left of all their numbers to get it. Camp after camp, village after village, was left desolate. The remains of which, said the old man, in answer by my queries on this, are found today in the old camp sites or midden-heaps over which the forest has been growing for so many generations.”

Hezeta had been sent, along with Juan Franscisco de la Bodega y Quadra in the Sonora, to reach 65º north in order to investigate possible Russian incursions. Viceroy Bucareli had placed Hezeta in command of the Santiago because Juan Pérez had failed precisely to follow instructions—but Hezeta did not fully complete his assignment either. Using Jacques Nicolas Bellin’s 1766 map, Hezeta’s crew reached the Olympic Peninsula in July, stopping near present-day Point Grenville, where some of Quadra’s men were killed by Indians when they went ashore for water.

Beset by scurvy or some unknown disease aboard the Santiago, Hezeta sailed north to 50º but he became separated from the Sonora in rough seas—and so he headed south. Before doing so he encountered some Indians off the coast of Vancouver Island at approximately 50º. Encountering swirling tides near the mouth of the Columbia River, Hezeta wondered if he had found the strait that Juan de Fuca had reported, the one that could lead the Spanish to the hoped-for Sea of the West. Most of his crew were so ill that Hezeta was unable to drop anchor and investigate but he made the first map of the Columbia River estuary. The area near the Columbia River estuary appeared on some Spanish maps as Entrada de Hezeta but Robert Gray is usually credited with finding the river. The journal of the priest with Hezeta, Miguel de la Campos Cos, was published in 1964 as A Journal of Explorations Northward Along the Coast from Monterey in the Year 1775, edited by John Galvin (San Francisco: John Howell Books, 1964).

BOOKS

For Honor & Country: The Diary of Bruno de Hezeta, translation and annotation by Herbert K. Beals (Portland: Western Imprints, 1985; reprinted by Oregon Historical Society Press, 2000, with a foreword by Thomas Vaugham.)

ALSO:

'The Hezeta Expedition to the Northwest Coast in 1775' (California Historical Society Quarterly 9: 201-242 pp.) Journal of Benito de la Sierra.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2004] "1700-1800" "Spanish"