Mar 062016

Note: This story first appeared in the November-December, 2013 issue of the Gypsy Journal.

Located off the coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Destruction Island is a low, flat piece of land with an interesting history, much of it tragic.

In 1775, the Spanish schooner Sonora was anchored in the lee of the island when the ship’s commander, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, sent a small boat to the mainland to collect firewood and fresh water. The unfortunate crew of seven were attacked by Indians as soon as they landed and all were killed.

A few years later, in 1787, the British ship Imperial Eagle stopped at the small island and her captain, Charles W. Barkley, ordered a crew to take a boat to the mainland to explore and they rowed up what is now known as the Hoh River. In a repeat of the earlier incident, the local Indians promptly massacred them. This prompted Barkley to name the place Destruction Island.

As the country expanded and maritime traffic grew in the area, the need for a method to warn ships of the hazards hiding just under the water’s surface became apparent, and in 1885, the United States Congress allocated funds for the construction of a lighthouse on Destruction Island. Construction problems and a lack of additional funding caused long delays and it was not until 1891 that the lighthouse was completed and put into service. It was a 92 foot tall brick tower, sheathed in a protective cast-iron casing to protect it from the harsh elements along the coast.

Destruction Island light

Two six room houses were built to provide housing for the lightkeeper and three assistants who were assigned to the 33 acre island, along with their families. The small community held classes in a makeshift school for the younger children and raised chickens, cows, and vegetables to supplement the government-provided rations, which were delivered to the island when weather allowed.

In spite of the weather, which could be gray and cold much of the time, life was good at the lighthouse, and Destruction Island was seen as one of the better assignments among the Lighthouse Service.

While the lighthouse’s beacon served its purpose in clear weather, it soon became apparent that more was needed to safely guide ships in the fog that often shrouded the coast, and in 1893, a steam-powered foghorn was installed in a small building on the island. Author Elinore De Wire, in her excellent book Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers describes what happened next, which has to be one of the strangest tales to ever come out of the annals of lighthouses.

It seems that in addition to the cows, the lightkeepers also had a bull on the island, and since there was no place for them to go, the animals were allowed to roam free. De Wire writes that when the foghorn was tested, its low, throaty howl enraged the bull, who apparently thought it was the bellow of another bull come to challenge him for his harem.

The bull charged the small building that housed the new horn, crashing through the picket fence surrounding it and right through the door, scattering lightkeepers, tools, and equipment in his path. Nothing was safe from the bull’s savage attack as it smashed boxes and crates, slashing with its sharp horns and throwing its massive bulk against this strange new enemy. It was several hours before the bull’s rampage ended and the lightkepers could lure it away and tie it up until they could build a pen strong enough to hold it.

Apparently, over time the bull became accustomed to the strange machine and its noise, and life returned to normal at Destruction Island Lighthouse, which remains in operation today, though it was automated and the last lightkeepers left in 1968. The two lightkeepers’ houses and most of the other buildings are gone, except for the lighthouse itself, the fog signal building, and a couple of other small structures which have been remodeled to serve as temporary housing for maintenance crews when they work on the island.

Today the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens, which was built in France in 1888 by Henry Le Paute and is considered to be the finest example of its kind, is on display at the Westport Maritime Museum in Westport, Washington. There is no record of whatever became of the bull that caused so much excitement that day on Destruction Island.

Destruction Island lens

Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Big Lake Blizzard, the fourth book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.


Thought For The Day The average human body includes enough bones to make a complete skeleton.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

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