Slide Show

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Nikolai Memorial

Site of the wreck of the Nikolai at Mora Beach.

Roaring Hell Rapids on the upper Hoh River

The Nikolai Memorial

Camping in the Hoh Rain Forest in winter has always been a challenge. Storms can transform the Hoh River into a raging slurry of mud, rock and massive trees that flood down out of the Olympics with more force than a train of bulldozers a half-mile wide.With the rain comes the wind that can knock over trees that may have survived a thousand other gales.The roar of the flooding river with the crash of falling trees can make sleeping difficult. That’s when you know it’s time to load up the camp and head for home while the road is still open.

The first tourist campers in the Hoh Rain Forest did not have this option. They were the shipwrecked crew of the Russian ship Sv. Nikolai that washed ashore just north of LaPush in a November gale in 1808.The ship had been under orders from the Russian American Co. to look for a place to build a fur trading post and agricultural colony somewhere south of Vancouver Island.What follows is a tale of treachery, violence and madness that ultimately revealed the humane and decent qualities of the parties involved.

All of these events must be viewed in their historical context.It was a time of European imperialism, when Russia, Spain and England — and the United States — had claims to the Pacific Northwest.The Quileute at LaPush lived in a constant state of vigilance. They were continually raided by the Haida, Tlingit and Makah from the north, the Klallam from the east and the Columbia River tribes to the south.So when a shipload of strangers washed up on shore, the Quileute are ready to defend their lands.

After an initial conflict, the shipwreck survivors headed south to meet up with another ship believed to be in Grays Harbor.The party included Anna Petrovna, wife of Nikolai Bulygin, captain of the Nikolai. She was captured by the Hoh tribe during an attempted crossing of the Hoh River.

The rest of the party hiked upriver about 13 miles to spend the winter in a hastily constructed blockhouse.During the winter, Bulygin tried to ransom his wife with some of the crew’s remaining firearms.Anna Petrovna refused to join her husband’s rude camp in the wilderness, saying she was being treated very well by her captors. She advised the others to surrender to the Indians, who would ransom them back to a passing European ship.This drove the captain mad.He surrendered his command to Timofei Tarakanov, a Russian mountain man whose skill in the wilderness and dealings with the Indians kept the shipwrecked survivors together and alive through the winter.The castaways survived on salmon obtained from the same Indians they were fighting.

Eventually, the entire expedition was captured. Most of them were later ransomed by an American captain.This year marks the 200th anniversary of this epic tale.There are now plans to build a Russian Shipwreck Memorial at the site of the winter camp on property donated by the Peterson family on the upper Hoh River.The American Generals, a philanthropic organization that built the Spanish Memorial at Neah Bay, is currently designing the Russian Memorial.It would include a replica of the blockhouse, flags of the nations involved and a number of interpretive plaques that would tell the tale of this little-known page of our history.Plans also call for a replica of a Wedding Rock petroglyph carved by an Ozette Indian that represents a sailing ship.Those who ignore history are doomed to watch television.________

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