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Place Names in
Revillagigedo and Gravina Islands

Spanish and Irish heritage of Southeast Alaska

by Dr. Arsenio Rey-Tejerina


1 Revillagigedo Channel. Way before arriving, Alaska extends you the deep blue carpet of its pristine waters, welcoming you with this Spanish name. It is the long water passage where the Alaska Marine Highway begins at the southeastern corner of the state and takes you almost all the way to Ketchikan, the first town of any size. Regular ships use this channel as one of the numerous water passages forming the system of the marine highways along the coast for their calmer waters. The name was bestowed upon the channel by the Jacinto Caamaño's expedition of 1792. George Vancouver's map not only respected this Spanish name, but added a few more of his own, as we will see.

2 Revillagigedo Island - The island on which Ketchikan is located is 55 miles long by 35 miles wide and situated between the mainland and Prince of Wales Island. The name comes from the Count of Revillagigedo, Don Juan Vicente de Güemes Pacheco de Padilla y Horcasitas, who was the Viceroy of New Spain in the late 18th century. Nueva España was the name for Spain's northern possessions on the Western Hemisphere, which at one time included Alaska and down to South America as far as modern day Colombia, Central America, Mexico, the West Indies, Florida and the lands west of the Mississippi River. The so called Spanish Illinois was then a no man's land and under discussion.

    Juan Vicente was born in Havana, Cuba and reared in Spain. His father, the first count of Revillagigedo and Viceroy of Mexico, had paved his way to a brilliant career. Don Juan was General of the Royal Army, general director of the Royal Artillery, and Knight of Calatrava and when Don Manuel Flores resigned in 1789, Revillagigedo became the 52nd Viceroy of New Spain holding the office until he died in 1794. His tenure was full of success: developing both the agricultural and industry of New Spain, and improving public education, communications and the postal service. He ordered the first thorough census of the vice royalty which counted a total of 4,483,569 people (mostly in Mexico). Revillagigedo was particularly supportive of the exploration of Alaska, sending several well-organized expeditions. He had to deal with the Nootka Sound Controversy, in which Spaniards and British differences regarding the control of the Pacific Northwest were more or less settled. Because of his energy and intelligence, he won the admiration of all who knew him. Mexican, historians have judged him as one of the best of the viceroys. The spacious palace of Revillagigedo still stands facing the seaport in the city of Gijon of northern Spain.

3 Lázaro, Mount. Sailing north through Revillagigedo Channel in the Columbia ferry in my first voyage to Alaska in 1981, I could see in the far distance to the west this 1,710 foot mountain topping Duke Island in the south.

4 Vegas Is. (Banks). Is a small land area on the western corner of Duke Island.

5 Quadra, Boca de. (Mouth of Quadra) This is a deep main inlet, penetrating the land for more than 50 miles on the right hand side of Revillagigedo Channel. A few miles inside the Boca branches out into 5 other shorter inlets carving into the Misty Fiords National Monument.

6 South Quadra Mountain refers to the imposing 2,258-feet tooth on the lower side of the so named mouth.

7 North Quadra Mountain is the no less imposing 2,826-feet tooth at the topside, as if the land would want to take a bite of the ocean or any of the numerous salmon throngs coming in every summer from the sea.

8 Quadra Bay has been another name given to the estuary formed at the entrance of the Boca inlet.

9 Quadra Channel has been a name used by cartographers for the water portion leading into the inlet.

10 Quadra Cannery is the name of the site of an abandoned fish cannery on the right hand side as we go further up into the mouth.

11 Quadra Creek. As we go inside the inlet we encounter this 0.5 mile creek draining into the Boca the overflowing waters of

12 Quadra Lake, which is a 3.5 mile long lake also known of late as Hugh Smith Lake. Mr. Smith was a Commissioner of Fisheries in mid twentieth century.

13 Quadra Lakes. Further up and a few miles inland we find these two small bodies of water perched on the western side of the Boca de Quadra inlet.

14 Quadra Point. On exiting the inlet to continue our way north on Revillagigedo Channel we turn around this point.

15 Quadra Island. Before continuing north through the same channel we have must note that way out west there is this island which was named Quadra until the cartographic expedition of 1879 changed it to Dall Island for William H Dall. Fifteen years later another expedition must have objected to the change and, while they conceded to Dall as the name for the southern part, they kept Quadra for the north of the island. Today the whole is simply known as Dall.

    This Alaskan toponym of Quadra remains in the state on account of its notable Spanish explorer: Don Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. Who was this guy? Peruvian by birth and a Spaniard by heritage, he was born in Lima in 1743, the second scion of Tomas de la Bodega y de las Llanas and Francisca de Mollinedo y Losada, a well known Basque family from the Bilbao area of Spain. The patronymic Quadra, a much more prominent family, belonged to his paternal great-grandmother Isabel de la Quadra, and was attached to Juan Francisco by arrangement with his relative and patron, Antonio de la Quadra, who was living in Lima. The British and others, including Francisco himself, (due perhaps to his famous relative) referred to Bodega y Quadra as Quadra alone, which is not technically correct. After receiving a basic education in Peru, he joined the Spanish Naval Academy in Cádiz at 19 and four years later was commissioned as an officer. In March, 1775, less than 10 years later, he was en route to Alaska as commander of the 36-foot schooner Sonora, consort vessel of the flagship Santiago with Capt. Bruno de Heceta as the leader. Bodega y Quadra took part in all Spanish expeditions to Alaska from then on until his premature death in 1794 in Mexico, earning for himself the greatest name among Spanish explorers of the Pacific Northwest. His name gained more acclaim still in Vancouver Island because, with the main base of his activity as high Commissioner of the Northern Spanish territories, being centered in Nootka, the whole island was named Quadra and Vancouver Island. Although that is the official name, it is now generally shortened to Vancouver.

16 Eva, Point. (Eve). Sailing north for a very few miles on Revillagigedo Channel we will enter the Behm Canal, and climbing as far as the middle of Revillagido Island we encounter this point located on our right hand.

17 Manzanita Island (Little Apple). Turning around and almost right across on the opposite side of the canal there is this little island snuggling against the back of Revillagigedo. It is just over a mile long. We go south.

18 Manzanita Bay is close to the island of this name and it forms a quiet cove with a sandy beach, where the

19 Manzanita Creek flows in, draining the excess waters of the lake that comes next on the east coast of Revillagigedo Island.

20 Manzanita Lake is a six-mile long in the course of the Manzanita Creek. It is a good fishing place and it has two public cabins at each extreme of its inverted L shape.

21 Manzanita Lake Trail. For good exercise you can take the path along the south side of the creek into the lake and there is a public shelter in case of bad weather. It is time to turn back looking for another Spanish name.

22 Manzanita Peak. Although this 2,481 foot peak is not in this area, I would like to record it here as homonymous. It is not too much farther north on the east coast of Mitkof Island.

    The name Manzanita bedecked at the turn of the century the sides of a 152-foot steamer, serving remote areas of Alaska as a lighthouse tender. With her red brilliant colors she was a popular sight to children living near the navigational passages, as they were welcomed aboard and given little presents. The boat ended her days as a tug in the Seattle sound. She might have been named this way by someone who was fond of Spanish names, and her memory is preserved on this area she visited.

23 Ella Lake - (She), sometimes called Manzanita Lake (Little Apple Lake), is a five-mile long lake on Revillagigedo that drains through

24 Ella Creek, a five mile stream off the eastern coast of Revillagigedo Island going on to the

25 Ella Bay, an estuary nestled on the eastern coast on Revillagigedo Island.

26 Ella Point is the land sticking out just below Ella Bay and into the Behm Canal on the eastern coast of Revillagigedo.

27 Ella Lake Trail. For the hardy walkers there is a pathway connecting the bay with the lake

28 Mesa Lake (Table) is a small lake, almost two miles long and straight out south of Ella Lake. It is perched on top of the ridge and drains into Thorne Arm.

29 Alava Bay. We descend for a while, and just before reaching the mouth of Behm Canal we pass through this spacious bay.

30 Alava Ridge runs north through the eastern side of the island toward Mesa Lake.

31 Point Alava. is the most southern tip of Revillagigedo Island.

    Don José Manuel de Alava, a Spanish army brigadier general, replaced Francisco Eliza as Governor of Nootka in 1793 and upon the death of Bodega y Quadra he became the commandant of the Department of San Blas, headquarters for exploring and administering Spanish territories of the Pacific Northwest. He represented Spain in the signing of the settlement of Nootka with Thomas Pierce, lieutenant of the Royal Marines of England who had also succeeded George Vancouver as the British delegate. This eventful ceremony, ending the Spanish official presence in these territories, took place in March 1795.

32 California Head. On our right there is this land where after a narrow neck the Revillagigedo Island sticks southward and in between the waters of Carrol and George Inlets an elongated head. This feature was thus named in 1880 after the steamer California.

33 California Cove. Navigators applied this name to a small harbor at the end of the above head.

34 California Creek. It is a short part rivulet part estuary of only one mile emptying its waters into the above cove.

35 California Rock. Retracing our way a bit south to continue on circling the coast of Revillagigedo and two miles before Saxman, we find this rock sticking up on the east side of the narrows.

36 Gravina Point. South of the above feature marking the gate of the Tongass Narrows we encounter this point, as the eastern corner of

37 Gravina Island. This is the land across the narrows from Ketchikan extending 21 miles in length and about 9.5 in width. It boasts a busy airport serving the Alaskan Panhandle as the Ketchikan International Airport.

38 Gravina Islands. Present day Gravina, Annette, Duke and Mary Islands were all named as such by Jacinto Caamano, who explored the area in the summer of 1792.

    These last four features derive their name from Don Federico Carlos Gravina, a friend of Caamaño, had a brilliant career in the Spanish Navy, in which he rose from a simple ship's boy to admiral. Born in 1756 in Sicily, at that time under Spanish rule, he enrolled in the Royal Navy at Cádiz in 1775. He was involved in the ongoing Spanish-French struggle with England for control of the seas, fighting British fleets from Gibraltar to Brazil and Argentina. By 1787, he had risen to assistant to Admiral Juan Francisco Lángara, the chief of the Spanish Navy, and eventually took his place. In the lulls between wars, he served Spain as ambassador to Constantinople and Paris. When war broke out in 1797, he was put in charge of the Oceanic Fleet. At the battle of Trafalgar, like Admiral Nelson, he was badly wounded and died a few months later. There are four more Gravina toponyms in Alaska, but being farther up north, I will deal with them when we get there.

39 California Ridge. The northern fifteen mile long ridge of Gravina Island is thus called since 1883 when Lieutenant Commander Nichols charted this area.

    As I indicated in my Spanish Place Names for Prince of Wales Island, the name is copied and repeated from the state of California, which was thus 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. California is a very popular name in Alaska as it is used to designate 41 features, 28 of which are just for California Creeks all over the state.

40 Vallenar Point is the name of the northern cape in Gravina Island. The cape received the name from Captain George Vancouver on August 13, 1793 at the time he came to the area to sign the Nootka treaty.

41 Vallenar Rock, which sometimes is called Rocks, is a small promontory not very far from the tip of the above point.

42 Vallenar Bay forms a well sheltered cove south of there after going around the cape. This feature received its name from Lieutenant Commander Henry E. Nichols of the U. S. Navy in 1883

43 Vallenar Creek is a short stream of about four miles which flows into the above described bay.

44 South Vallenar Point is another cape that encircles the said bay on its south side.

45 Higgins, Point. We now retrocede skirting the Gravina coast to cross the Tongass Narrows and we reach this cape formed on Revillagigedo Island right across from Vallenar Point. The point was given this name by George Vancouver, a day after he had named the opposite point on Gravina.

46 Higgins, Point/Port. is a relatively new growing settlement eight miles north of Ketchikan on the side of the highway that goes half way around the small peninsula. Its small town is scatered on the northwest point of Revillagigedo Island at the beginning of the north end of Tongass Narrows. Last year there were 256 students in its primary school.

    The final six names, believe it or not, represent an Irish legacy stemming from the same person, who acquired the title of Marqués de Vallenar, Ambrosio O'Higgins, a somewhat shady figure in Spanish American history. About his origin and early years, we have only his word. Born around 1720 in Ireland, he first appeared in the Hispanic world in Cádiz in 1755 and was known to be a merchant in Argentina. Through Irish connections in Spain, he was made captain in the Spanish Army by the Governor of Chile and was sent to control the Araucanian Indians. He rose rapidly to brigadier general and then to general of a division. Feeling the need for a pedigreed background, in 1788 he dispatched a nephew to Dublin to research his ancestry. The nephew obligingly returned with genealogical papers establishing the O'Higgins' as descendants of the noble house of Ballinary (whence the hispanized Vallenar) connected with the Irish royal family of Ballintober. On the basis of these antecedents, the King of Spain by royal decree authorized him to use the title of Marqués de Vallenar and in 1789 appointed him governor of Chile. Six years later, he became the Viceroy of Peru dying in Lima in 1801 while still in office. Not many years later, his son Bernardo O' Higgins would be acclaimed as the liberator of Chile from the Spanish rule.


Arsenio Rey-Tejerina, Ph.D.
South Dakota State University (SDSU)
January 2004

This is a revision of an earlier study published by the Southeastern Log, Ketchikan, Alaska, February 1987



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