It was daylight on the river. We were fishing for the summer Chinook, steelhead and cutthroat trout in the crystal clear waters of the Sol Duc river.
I noticed there was something wrong with the water that day. A small tributary was running mud brown sludge into the crystal blue water of the main river. I wondered what sort of industrial criminal would muck up a creek in this enlightened age of strict environmental legislation so I walked upstream to find out.
What I saw was a textbook example of environmental degradation.
Trees were being cut right on the shore of the creek. Whoever was doing the cutting must have been a real greenhorn. You could tell from the high ragged stumps that looked like something from the bad old days of logging when we didn’t care how much timber we wasted.
The trees were dropped right in the water so it was no wonder the creek was running pure mud. Even worse, whoever cut this timber didn’t even bother to truck it to town. The wood just was dumped in the creek and covered with mud. It was an ugly mess that choked off the stream so tight that not even a Bull trout could wiggle through.
What was once a virgin stream in the pristine wilderness, had been transformed into a stagnant pond full of even more unsightly brush piles.
“Beavers,” my fancy friend said. I knew that.
The exploration of America was personally financed by the beaver. Their fur was used to make felt hats. The Hudson’s Bay Company was formed in 1670. They said it was to find The Northwest Passage, a water route across North America, but all they really found was an “inexhaustible” supply of beaver.
The explorations by the HBC, aka “here before Christ,” fur brigades gave Britain a claim to 670,000 square miles of what we now call the Pacific Northwest. The United States claimed much of the same area based on the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray in 1792.
While he was there Captain Gray traded some iron chisels for 300 beaver hides. This set off the treachery and slaughter of the fur trade where metal, gunpowder, alcohol and diseases were introduced to indigenous stone-age cultures. This was seen as a civilizing influence at the time.
Competing fur companies tried to kill every beaver in a given area to discourage anyone else from exploring or settling. For a while it seemed that whoever skinned the most beavers could claim the most land.
The Hudson Bay Company was a powerful British monopoly that was a force for law and order on the frontier. The HBC stopped the cutthroat competition in the fur trade by banning the sale of liquor to the Indians. Hudson Bay fur brigades routinely lived with the Natives.
It was often the only way to survive in a dangerous wilderness. The company was in business for profit. It had no interest in taking Indian land or wrecking their culture. That would come later.
Trapping was a hard and dangerous life. Either alone or as a member of a fur brigade, you worked in winter when the fur was prime. Wading in freezing water by day and hiding from the Indians at night with no fire.
One fur brigade leader described the lot of his trappers as “worse than a slave’s.” At least a slave had a roof over his head at night. The only job benefit a trapper had was in seeing the country before it was ruined.
This country was discovered, named and settled by trappers.
Hudson Bay trappers John Everett and John Sutherland became the first permanent European residents on the Olympic Peninsula. In 1849 they paddled their canoe from Victoria to Crescent Beach where they were adopted by the Clallam tribe.
The trappers worked inland they discovered two lakes.
The Indians said the lakes were haunted by the evil spirit Seatco. He was a bad tempered cannibal giant with a habit of knocking down trees on his victims. Once when the Clallam and Quileute tribes were having a battle, Seatco started a landslide that buried them.
It took more than an evil spirit to stop the HBC trapper when there were beaver hides involved.
As the story goes one lake was larger than the other and since John Everett was bigger than John Sutherland they named the smaller lake Sutherland and the big lake Everett. It was later changed to Lake Crescent.
Luckily for the beaver, the felt hat made from beaver fur has fallen from fashion. The beaver have recovered much of their former range. If you’re lucky you can still find a beaver pond and watch them work. Beavers build canals, dams and houses with nothing more than sticks and mud and a lot of hard work.
Beaver ponds slow flood waters in the rainy season and conserve water when it’s dry. Many species of fish and wildlife depend on beavers for a part of their life cycle. The coho (silver) and chum (dog) salmon like to wait until high water and swim as far up a creek as they possibly can. If they can get into a beaver pond these fish have it made. Beaver ponds are fish hatcheries. They offer a refuge from winter floods and summer low water.
Compare this to the human's bungling, corrupt excuses for salmon recovery.
Beavers are not only smarter than people, they work for free.
I can think of no better time than our nation’s birthday to thank the beavers for everything they have done to make this country what it is today.