The Coveted Pacific Coast
Garrison Life at Nootka
Improved Relations Between Spanish and Locals
Caption: Spanish fort at Nootka in 1793
While these events were taking place in Europe, life in Nootka was relatively peaceful, although difficult. The garrison, accustomed to the Mexican climate, was suffering greatly because of cold and illness, even though it was provided with warm clothing and medication. Several soldiers died, a few deserted, and others were sent to California for treatment. The garrison had between 73 and 76 soldiers in 1791, between 64 and 73 in 1792, and only 59 by 1793.
Pedro de Alberni, commander of the Nootka garrison, did everything possible to regain the friendship of the Amerindians after their withdrawal following the death of Callicum. They responded to the Spanish overtures and returned to Nootka. Alberni, a diplomat, even wrote a poem in their language, which his soldiers sang as a choir in honour of their chief, Muquinna: "Muquinna, Muquinna, Muquinna is a great prince, our friend; Spain, Spain, Spain is the friend of Muquinna and Nootka." 53 The chief was delighted and an era of harmony between the Spanish garrison and the Natives ensued. The very industrious Alberni studied botany, had gardens planted and raised cattle and poultry in this remote presidio to see to the needs of the garrison soldiers and seamen who stayed there during the summer. Alberni also compiled a Nootka vocabulary with the equivalent words in Spanish. In addition, he studied meteorology, and his detailed reports for the years 1790 and 1791 are the first to have been effected systematically on the northwest coast. Alberni left Nootka in 1792, but the Amerindians remembered him for a long time. The name of this talented Catalan volunteer officer is immortalized in Port Alberni, British Columbia.
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