The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1971, Volume 17, Number 4
James E Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Noticias de Nutka: An Account of Nootka Sound in 1792. By Jose Mariano Moziño. Translated and edited by Iris Higbie Wilson. Foreword by Philip Drucker. (Seattle and London, University of Washington Press, 1970). Appendices. Bibliography. Illustration,. Index. Maps. Notes. 142 pages. $8.50.

Reviewed by Dr. Lionel U. Ridout who received his A.B. from San Diego State College in 1937, his M.A. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1940, and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern California in 1953. From 1942 to 1946 he was assistant to the Director at the International House at Berkeley, and since 1946 he has been professor of history at San Diego State College.

Dr. Iris Higbie Wilson deserves congratulations for a task well performed. She has, with skill and great thoughtfulness, translated and edited a work little-known to present-day historians and anthropologists. José Mariano Moziño, a late 18th century highly trained and respected scientist, was not unknown to his contemporaries, but this work, among others, gathered the proverbial dust in archives until one manuscript version of it was published in 1913 by the Mexican historian Alberto M. Carreno. Dr. Wilson has used this published version as the basis of her translation, and has diligently compared and contrasted it with four other extant Moziño manuscripts.

Moziño was born in Mexico, was graduated from an important botanical institute and became well-known as a scientist. The Viceroy of Mexico, Revilla Gigedo, knowing of Moziño’s abilities, chose him to accompany Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra on the 1792 expedition designed to resolve Anglo-Spanish difficulties in the Nootka Sound area. Specifically, Moziño was designated “Botanist-naturalist”; he turned out also to be an excellent ethnographer. As assistants he had Jose Maldonado, an anat omist-botanist, and Atanasio Echevarria, a botanical artist. Together these three produced a minor masterpiece. As the outstanding anthropologist-ethnologist, Philip Drucker, says in the foreword, “it is … the fullest and best account of any Northwest Coast group before Jewitt’s florid . . . “Narrative,” and in point of fact contains much material not mentioned by the captive.”

Dr. Wilson’s introduction is valuable not only for its outlining of the background to Moziño’s four month visit to Nootka, but also for certain insights into the Nootka Sound controversy. The activities of other explorers are moderately discussed in relation to the area. Of real significance are the footnotes, explanatory and bibliographical in nature. No pains were spared to provide complete and accurate citations.

Frankly, this reviewer feels that the translation leaves nothing to be desired. It is smooth-flowing and in good readable English. I, of course, have not seen the manuscripts used, but I am satisfied that the translation is accurate. Where words or phrases differ from manuscript to manuscript, Dr. Wilson so indicates in the footnotes. Her facility with the Spanish and English languages results in a laudable production.

The larger part of Mozifio’s Noticias is concerned with the ethnology of the Nootka Indians. It is fascinating, and it is evident he was most observant. Moziño details such matters as housing, food, drink, government, social castes, place of the nobles, religion and sacrifices, occupations, chronology and the like. A most sympathetic character is Maquinna, Chief of the Nootka Indians, who developed a friendship with Alexander Malaspina which was helpful to later Spanish visitors. Still later a misunderstanding caused a rift between Indians and Spanish, but fortunately reconciliation was finally achieved.

The latter part of the work includes observations on the Anglo-Spanish difficulties over land claims in the Nootka area, difficulties which could not be solved by Bodega y Quadra and George Vancouver despite the friendship that developed between the two. The Britisher, John Meares, a protagonist of sorts in the drama, does not fare well with Moziño, who happily impales the “liar” on the point of his pen.

The book has other advantages. Foot notes, as I have hinted, are profuse, helpful, most interesting, and placed where they should be! The twenty-four illustrations, found only after the 1913 edition was published, add immeasurably to the work and show decided talent on the part of the artist. I was intrigued by the two appendices, one is Moziiio’s brief dictionary of the Nootkan language (in Spanish, English, and Nootkan), and the other is a catalogue of animals and plants compiled by Moziño and Maldonado. Of major significance is Dr. Wilson’s bibliography. It indicates that she culled a multitude of manuscripts and printed sources, as well as other reference materials, to come up with an excellent and select number of items which have enhanced her editing as well as her translation. The bibliography will be a help to other scholars.

I commend Dr. Wilson for her scholarly production which, while it is a contribution to history and ethnology, should also become titillating to a wide reading public.