Life at Cape Flattery Lighthouse

In March of 1778 Captain James Cook sailed the waters of the North Washington Coast where there was an opening along the coastline. He named the place Cape Flattery because he thought he had been flattered into thinking it was a passage into The Strait of Juan de Fuca. In his logbook he wrote “In this very latitude geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca. But nothing of that kind presented itself to our view, nor is it probable that any such thing ever existed.”

Ten years later Captain John Meares managed to confirm the existence of the Strait of Juan de Fuca when he visited a small island that sits about a half mile off Cape Flattery. There he met Tatooche, chief of the Makah Indians. He named the island after Chief Tatooche. The chief used the island as his base during summers when he hunted whales and caught salmon.

In 1850 William McArthur had just finished surveying the west coast and recommended a lighthouse be established on Tatooche Island. In this way the vessels could enter the strait at night and not have to wait until daylight. In 1854 Congress was convinced to allocate $39,000 to build lighthouses on Tatoosh Island and on New Dungeness Spit. The government had paid $30,000 for all of the Makah’s traditional lands except for a small reservation at Neah Bay.

The Makah Indians were quite angry with the white people who purchased their land and gave the construction crew a hostile reception. This was because several hundred of the Indians had been killed by an outbreak of smallpox in 1853 brought on by the disease bearing “Bostons”. During the summer the Indians continued to use the island for fishing and whale hunting. In order to protect themselves the construction crew built a blockhouse of rough-hewn timbers before they started construction on the lighthouse. There was always one member of the crew on guard duty but there were no more issues with the Indians other than a few missing tools and supplies.

On December 28, 1857 the first-order Louis Sauter Fresnel lens light was first illuminated in the sixty-six foot tower of Cape Flattery lighthouse. This tower was taller than most of the Cape-Cod-Style lighthouses. Its white light had a focal plane 162 feet above the sea. Cape Flattery lighthouse was the fourteenth established on the west coast.

The pay for a lighthouse keeper was poor and the weather conditions were miserable.causing many keepers to resign. In 1861 there was a visitor to the island who saw the rundown condition of the lighthouse. He saw the leaky roof and the moss growing on inside walls. Wind even blew across the chimney causing smoke to invade the living quarters. The keepers were provided with extra fuel and the district engineer was commanded to find a permanent solution.

In 1873, after several years of deplorable conditions and inept keepers, the lighthouse dwelling was declared “not fit to be occupied” as the walls were moldy all year long. Congress appropriated $18,000 to build a new duplex with six rooms on each side. The rooms in the lighthouse which were formerly keepers quarters were now being used for storage.

Some very interesting things happened on this island. Francis James was the first principal keeper. One day he became angry with an assistant and threw coffee in his face. The two men decided to settle the argument with a gunfight. They took three shots at each other, called it a draw and shook hands. Later, another assistant confessed to removing the bullets.

Due to the “frollicking” nature of the bachelor keepers it was decided that keepers with families were more dependable and in 1894, with families coming onto the island, it was determined that more living space was needed. and the lighthouse was once again made livable.

October 27,1900 assistant keeper Nels Nelson and Frank Reif lost their lives in a small boat during a storm. Their bodies were found over a week later on Vancouver Island.

In 1900 John W Cowan and his wife and seven children arrived at the lighthouse and stayed on for 32 years experiencing many exciting times. The children attended school in Portland while staying with relatives. They spent the summers at home on the island with their parents. Eventually there were enough children on the island to warrant a school.

On February 18, 1911 Cowan saw a vessel struggling in angry seas between Tatoosh Island and Neah Bay. He was able to rescue two navy radio men, but was unable to save three others including his own son Forrest.

There is a story, not verified, that a seventy-mile-per-hour gale hit the island in 1921. It blew Mr. Cowan across the island for about 300 ft while he clung to vegetation before crawling to safety. The family’s bull was listed as “lost at sea”. Everyone was very surprised and plied him with extra rations when he swam ashore.

The Cowan family was evidently much beloved. When they left the island after retiring in September of 1932 their fellow islanders were in tears.

Second Assistant Keeper Ole Rasmussen was another casualty while returning to the island in a small boat. Heavy swells capsized his craft and he was struck in the head.

The weather station was closed in 1966. 1977 brought automation of the light station. A modern beacon was installed to replace the tower’s Fresnel lens in 1996

The Makah Indian Tribe now controls the decommissioned Cape Flattery Lighthouse and the island.

It is well worth the trip to drive to Neah Bay, get out of the car and hike the o.75 miles to the tip of the cape where you can view Tatoosh Island and the lighthouse. This happens to be the western most point in the continental US.

In Port Angeles you can visit the Museum at 207 South Lincoln Street where you can see the fourth-order Fresnel lens that was used at Cape Flattery. The museum hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Walking With the Maasai and Other Adventures

As they bumped along the road to the Maasai Mara, they heard a helicopter flying low. This was the first day of Di and Leonie’s safari and a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) chopper was ushering an elephant back into the park. What an exciting way to begin their week in Kenya! This post tells of their June safari through Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Amboseli.

On their arrival they spent the first night at Wildebeest Eco Camp nestled in the quiet, green suburb of Karen in Nairobi’s south-west. Rested and refreshed, they headed to the Maasai Mara the next day. It was on this drive to Kenya’s premier game reserve that they watched the KWS helicopter herding a stray elephant back to within the park boundaries. Human-wildlife conflict is a constant challenge for conservationists in Kenya and elephants can be particularly destructive in a field of crops, which can result in retaliation from the community whose crops have been destroyed. So it’s imperative to keep the elephants in the safety of the park to avoid such conflict.

They entered the park and enjoyed a game drive as they made their way to Aruba Camp where they would spend the next two nights. During their time in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve they saw a leopard with its dinner – a Thomson’s gazelle – that it had dragged up into the tree. They also saw a leopard tortoise, a Marshall Eagle, buffalo herds, Lilac-breasted Roller (Kenya’s national bird), giraffes, elephants, topis, hyena, lions, ostrich and a puff adder. On their full day game drive, they enjoyed a picnic lunch in the middle of the savannah. Before leaving the Maasai Mara, they visited a Maasai village, which was a longer walk than anticipated, demonstrating that the Maasai definition of “not far” might be a bit different to an Australian definition!

Lake Nakuru National Park
The next stop was Lake Nakuru National Park. They stayed two nights a few kilometres outside the park at a camp called Punda Milias (“Zebra” in KiSwahili). More buffalos here and also rhinos! Makalia Falls at the south end of the park was gushing down as June brings an end to the rainy season.

A short drive took them to Lake Naivasha where they spent a night at Camp Carnelleys. The excitement here was a break in! Monkeys got in their room while they were out.

Finally, they went to Kibo Camp, for two nights at Amboseli National Park. Flamingoes were plenty in Lake Amboseli – which doesn’t look much like a lake in the dry season so seeing flamingoes here is quite special.

Being the admin gal, I don’t often get to meet our guests, despite usually spending many months emailing each other planning their safari. So if there’s an excuse to do an airport pick up or drop off or something similar then I don’t mind. This time it was a camera case and battery left behind in the vehicle. Di and Leonie had gone on to Tanzania and were flying back to Nairobi and then on home. So during their transit, I went to the airport to try to deliver the items. It was a bit of a mission and it was good that they had several hours to kill. I was passed from pillar to post until one immigration official told me that Di and Leonie would have to talk nicely to the immigration officers inside to allow them to come out to meet me. I almost gave up hope, but then Leonie found me wandering outside the terminal! Amazingly it had worked. Battery delivered, we made our ways home… one journey significantly different to the other, no doubt reflecting the significant differences in adventure each had just had.