All That Glitters . . .
Myths and rumors about gold on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula have sparked the imaginations of curious treasure hunters for centuries. The search for gilded treasures hidden in its primeval forests and coastal coves began with the lore of British pirates and Spanish Conquistadors.
Many a campfire has flickered with tales of gold-laden galleons, knuckle-size nuggets, sunken safes and 24-carat beaches. The glint of the precious prize still spins its spell.
Does the abandoned Ruby gold mine near Kalaloch hide secrets to tell? Does gold still sluice in the beach sands at Shi Shi, Ozette and Yellow Banks? When the S.S. Governor sank off Port Townsend, how much gold was in her safe? Did Juan de Fuca really discover "gold, silver and pearls" as he claimed in the strait that bears his name?
Gold stories started in the late 1500s, when King Phillip II of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of England at war with each other sent explorers, the other would say "pirates," to find and claim a Northwest Passage across the New World. The most renowned of the Queen's seamen, whom she granted a "privateering commission" was Francis Drake. With his license to plunder in hand, he set off in 1577 "to do maximum damage to the Spanish king's lands."
Francis Drake's Golden Hind replica
In 1578 Drake crossed the Strait of Magellan and entered the Pacific to harass the Spanish from the deck of Her Majesty's Golden Hind with her 22 guns and displacement of 300 tons. El Draque (The Dragon), as Drake was to be known to his Spanish victims, captured near Lima a Spanish ship laden with Peruvian gold valued at $10,000,000 by modern standards and captured off Ecuador Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, a Spanish galleon with the colorful nickname Cacafuego. Her 26 tons of silver and 80 pounds of gold, valued at $12,000,000 at modern rates, took six days to transship and would be Drake's greatest prize.
Oil painting of Drake's Golden Hind by John Batchelor, commissioned by BC Ferries for International Marine Transport meeting in Vancouver 1996.
With his plunder aboard Drake sailed north to the coastlines of present day Washington and British Columbia. The facts of Drake's voyage are sketchy at best, because Queen Elizabeth demanded secrecy of his bountiful quests. What happened to the ship logs? Many were lost and in 1698 a fire in Whitehall Palace burned the rest. Did Drake bury gold and silver along northwest beaches to lighten his load while charting straits and coves in search of the elusive passage?
In 1592 a Greek captain who called himself Juan de Fuca sailed under the flag of the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico and claimed to find "gold, silver and pearls" in his voyage on a northwest strait. Confronted with a threatening storm, Captain de Fuca's caravel, speculators think, had need to oft precious weight before it might sink. The strait that bears his name might still conceal de Fuca's buried gain.
Referred to in legend as a "most plausible liar," Juan de Fuca had other "peers as prevaricators" who sailed the peninsula's coast for the Spanish crown. Captain Lorenzo de Maldonado for one, and the "deep-sea liar" of even higher rank, Admiral Bartolome de Fone, who claimed to discover a great city on the strait, which he called the River of the Kings. The exploits of two pirates invite speculation about digging up treasures. The real hunt though becomes digging up the truth. But isn't that the nature of a treasure hunt?
Two hundred years later the Spanish sent Captain Juan Perez to the northwest in 1774, where he sighted a "glittering mountain" rising from the dark mainland of what is now the Olympic Peninsula and named it Sierra de Santa Rosalia, a name that gave way to Mt. Olympus.
In the next two years Bruno Heceta made landfall at Destruction Island in view of the peninsula coast and claimed it for the King of Spain. A party of men was sent ashore to fetch fresh water but was ambushed and killed or captured by Indians. Were they rowing ashore to bury gold? The battered crew returned to Mexico.
In 1787 the Strait of Santa Rosalia was renamed the Strait of Juan de Fuca, named by the English Captain Charles William Barkley for the colorful Greek Captain who sailed its waters two centuries prior.
Gifts of the Gods
Captain John Meares, aboard Felice, is credited with igniting the "Olympic" torch in the Northwest. In 1788, inspired by the grandeur of the peninsula's majestic mountains, Meares wrote his following famous words in the ship's log.
"If that not be the home where dwell the gods, it is certainly beautiful enough to be, and I therefore will call it Mt. Olympus".
The anointing of the Olympic Peninsula as "The Home of The Gods," ascribed a divine presense to the region and created a new treasure born from Greece's Golden Age, with its Olympic parthenon spawning Olympic games.
Captain Vancouver sealed the Olympic name for the peninsula three years after Meares, when he jotted "Olympic Peninsula" on the geographic region on one of his charts.
The richness of the Olympic treasure has grown to include a parthenon of twenty-five mountain peaks on Mount Olympus, named for Greek, Roman and Norse gods. Local native Americans believed that the glacier-covered peak was the home of Thunderbird, their highest ranked totem.
The search for gold on the Olympic Peninsula is documented in reports from the 1850s to 1980s.
As early as 1859 settlers reported traces of gold in the rivers draining out of the Olympic Mountains both to the north and to the south. By 1877 fairly reliable reports were published on the likelihood that gold would be found on the North Fork of the Skokomish River in Mason County.
Mine Cabin in Olympic Mts.
In the 1890s a report spread that pay sand could be found almost anywhere along the Olympic Coast from Cape Flattery to Grays Harbor. Successful claims were made at a number of beaches along the Pacific Coast of the Olympic Peninsula.
Kalaloch beach gold mine
In the 1920s a geologist described the gold on the Olympic Pacific coast as forming in a layer of heavy sand and gravel, concentrated by the waves on the beach at the foot of the sea cliff.
A mineralogist in the 1980s sites beaches that have produced considerable gold, usually a very fine gold, through beach erosion and reconcentration by storm wave action that replenish the source of gold periodically.
A report in the 1950s lists gold-bearing beaches and brief notes on eleven of the western beaches along the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula.
The summary of the reports is contained in the book Olympic Peninsula Gold, edited and published by Dan Youra.
Olympic Peninsula Gold
To pan for gold and mine ore in Washington State, a prospector must know the rules governing mineral extraction. For answers about the laws download "Gold and Fish: Rules and Regulations for Mineral Prospecting and Placer Mining" published on April 2, 2009 by Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.
Stories of sunken treasures aboard sunken ships abound around the Olympic Peninsula and Puget Sound.
The gold filled safe of S.S.Governor sunk off Port Townsend has yet to be recovered
From the S.S. Pacific sunk off Neah Bay to the S.S.Governor sunk off Port Townsend, hauling gold in her safe as part of her payload, glints of gold from their watery tombs spark flights of fancy to fill a treasure hunter's chest.
Where do tall tales end and facts begin? What would you expect to find on Gold Creek trail near Sequim? Is the gold dust on peninsula beaches from nearby gold mines or from pirates who buried Spanish doubloons? Is the gold from a sunken ship's safe? Or, is it simply fools gold reflecting the lure of riches in the eye of the beholder?
Written by Dan Youra, Travel Writer
OLYMPIC PENINSULA TREASURE HUNTERS, 160 E SHADY VALLEY LN, ALLYN, WA 98524. (360) 830-4709. Meets first Wednesday of each month at 7:30pm at Pinewood Manor Apt Rec Room, 280 Sylvan Way, Bremerton.
HOOD CANAL DETECTORISTS CLUB, 161 N.E. MAHONIA, BELFAIR, WA; (360) 275-3856. Sunday of each month at 2pm at the Belfair Fire Hall, 460 Old Belfair Hwy, Belfair.