Friday, June 1, 2007

Otters, Martyrs, Russians and Californians

St Peter the Aleut

Protecting the Otters, Early Conservancy

I was perusing my uncle's copy of Santa Cruz, the Early Years, by Leon Rowland, and I found a strange little incident (now that I want to blog about it, I can't seem to find the exact page) involving Russian otter hunters clashing with the Santa Cruz Mission soldiers during the early 19th century. Rowland devoted an entire paragraph (five telegramatic sentences) relating the story of Rusos Indios and Russians trying to poach otters in the Monterey Bay. The Padres said "nay" and evidently that didn't stop them and one Ruso Indio was shot in the argument. He indicated that the Russians "landed in canoes." During this time various French and British pirates harried the area, so its understandable why the Padres and the mission soldados were touchy. Incidentally, quite a few of the early, um, privateers, jumped ship and started ranching.

The Magic of Hagiography

El Caballero thought that the unfortunate Indio might be the basis for the story and canonization of St Peter the Aleut, an innocent otter-hunter, tortured to death by evil Catholic priests when he refused to give up his Orthodox faith. I find the Rowland account (culled from Mission records) to be somewhat more believable than the fantastic story of "fierce looks," "holding on to the true Faith," "cruel dismemberments" and "gory disemboweling." I wonder if the Russians, on returning home, and having the embarrassing job of explaining Peter's demise found it easier to blame those evil Catholic Spaniards rather than on their own trespassing and poaching activities.


John B. said...

It's interesting, isn't it--the idea that what really happened isn't in the extant texts but in the inconsistencies between/among them, as I noted in that post on my blog about the inconsistencies regarding when and why the Wichita were removed from this area after the Civil War.

Thank you for sharing this. Despite having read Two Years Before the Mast--which in part covers the seal trade you mention here, though a couple of decades later--I'm pretty ignorant of early California history.

chiefbiscuit said...

That's fascinating - film material imho. I love the picture of Pete - I wonder what he REALLY looked like? A dishy pic all the same! ;)

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