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Spanish Place Names on the Face of Alaska

Prince of Wales Island

by Dr. Arsenio Rey-Tejerina

To Introduction

To Names - Part 2

      Prince of Wales Island, the third largest under the US flag, is 130 miles (209 kilometers) long by 30 (48) wide, for a total of 2,731 square miles (7101 square kilometers), heavily forested and with mountains rising to 4,000 feet (1,219 meters). It has a relatively mild climate and it rains frequently. It is said that for the breathtaking beauty of its coasts and landscape this island is "one of the best-kept tourist secrets in all Alaska". Its total present population reaches 6000, with Craig (1640) as its largest concentration. The village of Klawock has nearly a thousand and Thorne Bay hovers around 600. Lumber and fishing industries are its major assets but its copper, gold, lead zinc, uranium, marble deposits make it a storehouse of bountiful riches.
      The first Europeans who arrived into the southern area of the island were Juan Pérez and his crew of 86 in the Santiago on July, 20, 1774. The following year Francisco Bodega y Quadra and Francisco Mourelle came into Bucareli Bay where they were anchored for a month while exploring the surrounding area up and down Klawock and Craig. These two Franciscos were there again four years later. They named some of the island's features but not knowing it was an island they did not name it. In 1792 Jacinto Caamaño explored the southern half of the island which had been overlooked before and named several of its most salient features. Its present name stems from George Vancouver who in 1793 named the whole area Prince of Wales Archipelago. But the island was not designated as such until February 16-28, 1825, during the treaty discussions between Russia and Great Britain.
      The Spanish toponymes hugging the island are a lesson in onomastic geography. The place-name pattern of Prince of Wales is typical for a land whose discovery lies in the historical period of the late 18th century. There are 172 saints' names but only one devil in the Spanish charts of Alaska. The number of specifics on Prince of Wales exemplify all nine heads accepted by the Board on Geographic Names: Descriptive, Incidental, Possesive, Commemorative, but no manufactured names.

1. Núñez Rocks is the first Alaskan name we encountered sailing from the south. A few islets off the southern point of Prince of Wales Island. This name was given by Jacinto Caamaño in honor of Mariano Núñez de Esquivel. He was the surgeon of the ship La Favorita (The Favorite) during the exploration of Alaska in 1779. Dr. Núñez probably built the first hospital in Alaska when he and Bernardo Quirós erected, on May 20, 1779, some barracks in the Port of Santa Cruz in Suemez Island to cure on land the crew of La Favorita who were suffering from an an epidemic. His intelligent care stopped the disease and only two of the sailors died.

2. Cape Chacón is the southeastern point of Prince of Wales Island. The Russians kept the name as Mys Shakon. Jacinto Caamaño called it Cabo de Chacón in memory of José María Chacón, a descendant of a well known Spanish family stemming from Roman times, Chaconius, which is now widespread throughout Spain and the Americas. José María was Governor-General of the island of Trinidad at the end of the 18th century. A man of enlightenment, he objected to the implantation of the Inquisition and religious monasteries on that island.
      When the British garrison of nearby Grenada was attacked by a native rebellion on March 1795, the island was ransacked and many, including its Lieutenant-Governor, were killed. Appeals were made to other British colonies nearby, but the only one who came to their rescue, sending a detachment of Spanish troops, was D. José María Chacón. In return, two years later, a British fleet of 6,800 men under General Ralph Abercrombie, invaded his island and Chacón was forced to surrender on February 18, 1797. Chacón was condemned by the Madrid government for having given up too easily and sentenced to prison. From then on Trinidad and Tobago was a British colony until they gained their independence in 1962.

3. Canal de Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Channel of Our Lady of the Carmel), which is now called Clarence Strait. It was named by Jacinto Caamaño in 1792 after his sloop Sutil, whose real name was Nuestra Señora del Carmen. This ship was used that same year in the exploration of Fuca Strait under the command of Cayetano Valdés.

4. Punta de Evia (Evia Point) was the name given by Jacinto Caamaño to the southern point presently called Approach at the end of the Kasaan peninsula,.just above Moira Sound. José de Evia, alternatively spelled Hevia, was a colleague of his exploring the Gulf of Mexico at the time. Evia and Caamaño Points marked the gate to Canal de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, an area of "extremely strong currents" according to Jacinto Caamaño.

5. Caamaño Point is not on Prince of Wales Island but on the southern tip of Cleveland Peninsula, at the right hand of the Channel. It was recorded as Cabo Caamaño by Jacinto Caamaño in 1792, and accepted as such by George Vancouver the following year. It also appears as Punta Caamaño in some maps. Jacinto Caamaño Moraleja (1759-1825?) was the leader of the last great Hispanic exploration of Alaska. He was a Knight of the Military Order of Calatrava. Born in Madrid, he came from an aristocratic Galician family, whose homestead was near Santiago de Compostela. His father was Juan Fernández de Caamaño, and his mother, Mariana Moraleja Alocen. He entered the Navy (Armada) as an adventurer at 18, and two years later he was an Ensign (Alférez de navio).
      A few years later he formed part of a politico-commercial expedition to Constantinople to establish business relations with Turkey, Poland, and Russia. After a quick trip to Cuba in 1787, he was sent to the Pacific Coast of Mexico, based in San Blas, the headquarters for the exploration of the Pacific Northwest. Alongside went his brother-in-law, Francisco de Eliza, who would distinguish himself as Governor of Nootka in Vancouver Island. On their ship to Mexico was the recently named Viceroy of New Spain, Don. Juan Vicente de Güemes, Count of Revillagigedo. On February 3, 1790, Caamaño took part on an expedition to the Pacific Northwest. He was commanding the Nuestra Señora del Rosario (also known as the Princesa), a 189-ton frigate built in San Blas for the exploration of the North. He did not go beyond Nootka on this voyage, but on his next one, (1792), came as far as Bucareli Bay commanding the frigate Aránzazu, a ship built at Cavite in the Philippines. This expedition did a thorough study of the coast from Bucareli to Nootka, marking the map of Alaska and British Columbia with many names which are there today.
      Having successfully completed his trip to Alaska, Caamaño was sent, after a brief stay in San Blas, across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines. From 1794 to 1807 he served at various posts between México and Perú, having married on one of those trips the Ecuadorian, Francisca de Arteta Santistevan, who gave him eight children. In 1820 he was still living in Guayaquil, the birthplace of his youngest daughter, but nothing is known of the date and place of his death. Some of his descendants (the Staggs Caamaño) live nowadays in Arizona.

6. Kendrick Bay is an estuary at 54° 51' 15" N., extending 4 miles southeast from its west arm into Clarence Strait. The name is not Spanish but this Bostonian trader, John Kendrick, Columbia's captain, was a close friend of the Spaniards at Nootka. The friendship was so strong that his son "Juanito", was accepted as an officer of the Spanish Navy. The name was bestowed by William H. Dall of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS) to this estuary in 1879.

7. Kendrick Island is a shift name used since 1904 for what in reality is a group of islands located at the mouth of Kendrick Bay.

8, 9. Bocas de Apodaca. This example of possesive nomenclature designated the two mouths which are now called Moira and Cholmondeley Sounds, a pair of deep inlets on the midwest coast of Prince of Wales Island. The name Apodaca belonged to an illustrious family which has given several senators and governors to the state of New Mexico. Jacinto Caamaño named the two sounds after Sebastián Ruiz de Apodaca (1747-1818), one of Spain's most eminent naval officers at the time. He started in the Coast Guard in Cádiz in 1760 and served in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and in the Americas. He became Teniente de Navio in the packetboat Garnizo and, under the command of General Casa Tilly, carried to Argentina the army of General Ceballos. As Captain of the Firme he joined the fleet of Luis de Córdova in the campaign of the English Channel in 1780. Soon after, he was made general in the fleet of Admiral Juan de Lángara.
      In 1796, with a small squadron of four sail-of-the-line ships and three frigates, he was sent to defend the island Trinidad where he heard of the declaration of war with England. Apodaca's squadron was blockaded by a British fleet of 29 ships with a total of 1292 cannons. He held various meetings with his captains and heard everyone's opinion. The British circle was getting closer and tighter; there was no way to escape and the Spanish General executed what the Ordinance required for such cases: The crew set fire to their ships and took refuge offshore. All the ships were completely destroyed except one ship-of-the-line which was captured by the British. A military tribunal made up of other generals brought Apodaca to justice on May 26, 1798, and his action was judged appropriate and worthy of the King's favor. When everything was going well, new evidence was presented and Apodaca was considered guilty. He was deprived of his rank and imprisoned until Napoleon's invasion of the peninsula, when he was set free. His past salaries were reimbursed and he regained his rank. Ferdinand VII named him Teniente General, the highest military rank at the time, in 1814.

10. Rio Beaver Valley Road is a small road, eleven miles from Thorne Bay, extending ten miles in a network of logging roads and clear cuts in this heavily forested area. Rio Beaver and Rio Roberts creeks are a name-cluster for two short creeks found in the same general area, crossed by Thorne Bay Road Log.

11. Galea Lake. Galea is an antiquated Spanish term for a galley. This is the name used by the USGS in 1949 for a three mile long lake in central Prince of Wales Island.

12. Sal Creek (Salt) is a local name derived from the numerous salt deposits of the area and reported in 1961 for the first time by the United States Forest Service personnel. (USFS). It is a short stream (six miles long) flowing eastward and emptying into Clarence Strait, north of Thorne Bay.

13. California Bay is a bight, two mile across, on the north coast of Prince of Wales Island, named in 1883 by William H. Dall after the Coast Survey steamer California. This name was bestowed on at least 10 geographical features, mostly in Spanish America. The state of California was named by the soldiers of Hernán Cortés in celebration of a mythical land referred to in Las Sergas de Esplandián, a popular Spanish chivalry novel of the late Middle Ages.

14. Mariposa Reef (Butterfly) was a local euphemistic name recorded in 1948 by USGS for a reef three miles off Point Baker.

Turning south along the west coast of Prince of Wales, the first Spanish name we encounter is:

15. El Capitán Peak (The Captain) is a 2566 foot peak on the northwest side of Prince of Wales Island, at the north end of El Capitán Passage.

16. El Capitán Passage is a narrow, 27 mile long waterway dividing Prince of Wales and Kosciusko Islands.

17. El Capitán Lake is a small lake not far from El Capitán Passage.

18. El Capitán Island is located at the South end of the passage.This toponyme cluster is a shift from the so-named quarry and mill which at the beginning of the 20th century produced marble for several public buildings such as the McCormick Hotel in Seattle, the Tacoma and the Bellingham Post Offices in Washington State, and other famous buildings in Oregon, California, Utah and Idaho.

19. Culebra Islands (Snake). This represents the ordinary popular meaning but it can also be one of the seven sailing ways of boat lacing. This descriptive name has been frequently used, especially in Spanish America for designating rivers, capes, islands, mountain chains, creeks, including a system range crossing from Colorado into New Mexico. They zigzag and undulate like a snake. The Culebra Islands are several snake-like islands found continuing south along the west coast of Prince of Wales Island.

20. St. Philip Island (translation of Isla de San Felipe). The Russians called it Ostrov San Filip. It is located south of Culebra Islands, and was named in honor of Saint Felipe Neri. who was born in Florence, Italy, in 1515, and founded the congregation of the Oratory in Rome. He died on May 26, 1595. He was a very popular saint in Spain during the 17th and 18th centuries as his name was used to distinguish numerous towns, rivers and other geographical points throughout the Americas. Punta de San Felipe was a cape on the same island.

21. Phillips Rock is named after the previous island.

22. Blanquizal Island (whitish area) This and the next land feature form a name cluster because sharing a characteristic whitish clay, they were given this descriptive toponym.

23. Blanquizal Point, is south of St. Philip Island.

24. San Christoval Channel (St. Christopher) is the water passage between San Fernando and Prince of Wales Islands. It was named Canal de San Christoval or Cristoval by Mourelle on May 24, 1779. This name is based on the Greek etymology: Xristos-ballos meaning Christ-bearer. Hagiography tells us that he was of Canaanite lineage and suffered a horrendous martyrdom under emperor Decius According to a Greek legend started on the 10th century, a little boy wanted to cross a rushing river and Christopher who was a gigantic man saw him and offered to carry him across on his shoulders. Once they were on the other side he laid down the boy, who instantly disappeared and the legends says he was the boy Jesus. For this gesture he is honored as the patron of travellers, and his name is therefore one of the most popular for places discovered by the Spaniards. His name is probably the most widely used in Spanish toponomy. The Espasa Encyclopedia lists over 250 names throughout the Philippines, Spain and the Americas. His legendary feat was immortalized by painters and sculptors, such as Rubens, Tizian and Berruguete. His holiday is celebrated July 25.

25. San Christoval Rock is located east of Cruz Islands and named after the channel in 1917 by the USC&GS.

26. Larzatita Island, a mistake name from a misreading of Isla La Ratita, a 1400 feet long island at 55° 34' 50" N.in San Christoval Channel. This was the name given by Mourelle in his 1779 exploration.

27. Larzatita Island Reef. Named by the USC&GS after the previous mistake, it is located north of the island.

28. Rosary Island, translated from Isla del Rosario, is the name given by Mourelle to a 0.7 mile long island in San Christoval Channel. The Russians called it "Ostrov del Rozario". The reason of the name is commemorative as it honored the flagship Princesa, also known as Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary) commanded by Don Ignacio de Arteaga during the 1779 expedition.

29. Hermanos Islands (The Brothers). Sometimes spelled Hermagos, which is obviously a mistake. Inside San Christoval Channel and southeast of Rosary Island is this group of islands named by Mourelle in 1775. M. Baker / J. McCormick in their survey published in 1906 referred to the islands as The Brothers but two years later it was changed to the Spanish original to avoid duplication with a group thus named 50 miles northeast of Sitka.

30. Ildefonso, Point was called Punta de San Yldefonso by Mourelle. It is the tip of a small island in San Alberto Bay and near the coast. At the time of its naming, San Ildefonso or La Granja was one of the most talked about spots in Spain as the Spanish Bourbons were trying to reproduce there, in the mountains of Guadarrama, the grandeur of Versailles. Ildephonsus was a Visigothic saint, "one of the greatest glories of the Spanish church" according to Butler's Lives of the Saints. 8th ed. New York, 1968. His feast is celebrated on January 23.

31. Sombrero Island (Hat). This 750 square feet island with its crown of reefs gave the Mourelle expedition of 1779 the impression of a big Mexican hat dropped on the water and so they called it El Sombrero. In other maps it has been called Sobrero which has no meaning in Spanish and Sombrero Islet.

32. San Alberto Bay (St. Albert) It is the bay in front of Klawock and Craig. Also called Seno de San Alberto (St. Albert's Inlet) by Mourelle and "Guba San Alverto" by the Russians. There are 15 Saint and 8 Blessed Alberts listed in the Martyrology but none assigned to the 24th of May when Mourelle says they entered this bay of so many islands. Blessed Albert of Bologna's feast is on May 20th and Saint Albert of Csanad's on May 28th. The most venerated by the Spaniards is Saint Albert Magnus but his day falls on November 15. Perhaps the naming was for the patron saint of one of the sailors who accompanied Mourelle's expedition.

33. Alberto Islands is the de-sanctified name for a group of small islands in the same bay. It was given by Lt. Cmdr. Jefferson. F. Moser of the United States Navy (USN) in 1897.

34. Alberto Reef. It is actually a rock in San Alberto Bay and west of the islands bearing this name. It was reported as such for the first time by Edmund F. Dickins in 1907.

35. Parida Island (Born). This elongated island of 1250 feet seems cut in two and therefore it was called Isla Partida (Divided) by Mourelle but a misreading has given it the name it now carries.

36. Parida Island Reef. Half a mile south of Parida Island is this reef which received its name from the USC&GS in 1925 most probably for its closeness to the previous name.


Continue to Spanish Place Names, Part 2

Return to Spanish Place Names, Index

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