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 Cape Flattery, WA    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.A hike of some distance required.Lighthouse appeared in movie.
Description: In March 1778, Captain James Cook visited the waters off the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, where an opening along the coast flattered him into briefly thinking he had located an important harbor or passage. Cook named the place Cape Flattery and noted the following in his logbook: In this very latitude geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca. But nothing of that kind presented itself to our view, nor is it probable that any such thing ever existed.

In 1788, Captain John Meares, one of several explorers who managed to confirm the existence of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, visited a small island a half mile off Cape Flattery where he encountered the surly and forbidding Tatooche, chief of the Makah Indians. Meares named the island after the chief who had been using the island as a summer base for hunting whales, and catching and drying salmon for years.

Crew that built new fog signal building in 1872
In 1849-50, William McArthur led an expedition surveying sites for lighthouses along the west coast and gave the following report after visiting Cape Flattery.

A lighthouse is much needed also at Cape Flattery and I would recommend that it be situated on Tatoochi Island, a small island almost touching the Northwest extremity of Cape Flattery  to vessels bound from seaward a lighthouse on this island would be of much assistance. It would enable them to enter the straits, when the absence of a light would frequently compel them to stay at sea until daylight.

Congress allocated $39,000 in 1854 to construct lighthouses on Tatoosh Island and on New Dungeness Spit. These two lights were part of the second batch of eight lighthouses authorized for the west coast.

Although the government had paid $30,000 for all of the Makahs traditional lands except a small reservation at Neah Bay, the construction crew did not receive a warm reception upon their arrival. An outbreak of smallpox had killed several hundred of the Makah Indians in 1853, and the Makah were understandably reluctant to have more disease bearing Bostons around. The Indians continued to use the island during the summer, prompting the construction workers to build a blockhouse of rough-hewn timbers for protection before beginning work on the lighthouse. One member of the work crew was always on guard duty, but other than a few missing supplies and tools, there were no problems with the Indians.

Like most of the early west coast lighthouses, the construction plans called for a one-and-a-half-story, stone dwelling with a circular brick tower protruding through the roof. This design permitted the keepers to access the tower without having to be exposed to the possibly harsh weather that might exist outdoors. With a height of sixty-six feet, the tower of Cape Flattery lighthouse was taller than most of the Cape-Cod-style lighthouses, and it was also large enough to house a first-order Fresnel lens. The Louis Sautter lens, found to be too large for the Point Loma Lighthouse for which it was ordered, was first illuminated in the tower on December 28, 1857, two weeks after the New Dungeness Lighthouse. Cape Flatterys fixed white light had a focal plane of 162 feet above the sea and was the fourteenth light established on the west coast.

During the first years at the lighthouse, several keepers resigned due to poor pay and the miserable conditions they encountered on the island. A visitor to the island in 1861 noted the dilapidated state of the lighthouse. The roof leaked, moss grew on the interior walls, and winds blowing across the top of the chimney caused smoke to back up in the dwelling. The keepers were given an extra amount of fuel to help dry the house out, and the district engineer was asked to devise a permanent remedy to the problem.

Station in 1914 with duplex, lighthouse, and fog signal
In an act of nepotism, Victor Smith, the new customs collector for the Puget Sound District, appointed his father George K. Smith principal keeper in 1862. During Smiths tenure, the District Inspector reported: the light is in deplorable condition. He (Smith) has with him two assistants who are as ignorant as he is. They have got the light out of order and are unable to repair it. The inspector suggested the station should be opened to families so it would be no longer at the mercy of the rollicking bachelors who have had possession since its establishment. The station would not receive its first family until 1885. In 1865, Victor Smith transferred his father to the new Ediz Hook Lighthouse, located closer to the younger Smiths residence in Port Angeles.

A fog signal building with a twelve-inch steam whistle was completed on the island during the summer of 1872, along with a 33,000-gallon cistern fed by a water shed of 3,000 square feet to supply the necessary water. Due to lack of water, the whistle could not be placed in operation until November 1, 1872, after the rainy season had begun. In October 1895, the keepers were forced to sound the fog signal once every five minutes instead of each minute as their water supply was nearly exhausted due to lack of rain that year.

In 1873, the lighthouse dwelling was described as not fit to be occupied, as the walls are damp and moldy nearly all the year, and it is totally inadequate for the accommodation of the four keepers at this station. After Congress provided $18,000, a new duplex, with six rooms in each side, was built on the island in 1874, and the rooms in the lighthouse were used for storage. When families arrived at the station, more living space was required, and the dwelling in the lighthouse was made habitable once again in 1894. The islands population increased when the United States Signal Service built a four-room cottage on the island in 1883 and erected a flagstaff for displaying storm signals.

Repairs to the fog signal were delayed for several years with the expectation that a new signal would be built on Middle or West Island where it could be more distinctly heard by passing vessels. The planned relocation was apparently abandoned as a new brick fog signal was built on Tatoosh Island in 1897. Around 1910, the fog signal was changed to an air siren, and then in 1917, it was changed to an air diaphone.

Though living conditions on the island improved over the years, it was still an isolated place. To supplement the lighthouse tender deliveries, the keepers hired local Indians to transport people, supplies, and mail to the island. The Indians received $1 per trip in calm conditions, and that sum was doubled if the seas were rough. One fearless Indian named Old Doctor lost three dugouts on the islands rocks while trying to deliver supplies. It is claimed that a piano and even a cow made it to the island thanks to the Indians delivery service.

Tatoosh Island with a full complement of buildings
The lives of the keepers on the island produced some memorable stories. Francis James, the first principal keeper, became enraged with an assistant and threw hot coffee in his face. The two men decided to settle the dispute with a gunfight, and out on the station grounds they took three shots at each other before calling it a draw and shaking hands. Another assistant keeper later confessed to having removed the bullets from the shells.

The next story might be a bunch of , well youll see. A seventy-mile-per-hour gale that swept across the island in 1921 sent Keeper John M. Cowan tumbling across the island for some 300 feet. By tenaciously clinging to vegetation growing on the island, Cowan avoided being swept off the island and was eventually able to crawl to safety. The Cowans bull, equipped with only its hoofs, was not as fortunate and was blown off the island. The bull was listed in the stations log as lost at sea, but to everyones surprise it managed to swim ashore and was rewarded with extra rations.

Keeper Cowan arrived at Cape Flattery Lighthouse in 1900 with his wife and seven children, and another child was born to the couple four years later. For ten years, the Cowans sent their children to live with relatives in Portland so they could attend school, but the family was always together on the island during the summer months. The Cowans never left the island during that period, as they had to save every penny to support their children. A school was eventually established on the island, when the families serving at the light, radio, and weather stations had enough children to merit one.

Keeper Cowan is credited with saving the lives of five people while serving at Cape Flattery. One of Cowans rescues involved a boat that was traveling between Tatoosh Island and Neah Bay on February 18, 1911. When Cowan saw that the vessel was foundering in heavy seas, he set off in the storm to offer assistance. He managed to rescue two navy radio men, but was unable to save the three other individuals aboard the vessel including his own twenty-one-year-old son Forrest, who was serving as his assistant.

Forrest Cowan wasnt the only keeper to lose his life while leaving or returning to the station. On October 27, 1900, Assistant Keeper Nels Nelson and Frank Reif attempted to leave the island in a small boat during a storm, and their bodies were found over a week later on a Vancouver Island beach. Thirty-five-year-old Keeper Nelson left behind a wife and a one-year-old daughter.

On September 18, 1934, Second Assistant Keeper Ole Rasmussen rowed two men who had completed repair work on the islands radiobeacon station out to meet the Neah Bay mail boat. While returning to the island, heavy swells capsized the small boat, and Rasmussen was struck in the head by the craft. After much effort, Rasmussens floating body was recovered, but attempts to revive him failed.

Keeper John Cowan served at Cape Flattery Lighthouse for thirty-two years, leaving the station only because he reached the mandatory retirement age of seventy on October 12, 1932. Less arduous assignments had been offered to Cowan during his tenure on Tatoosh Island, but he turned them down preferring to remain on the island. The forty inhabitants of the island were in tears when the Cowans, beloved by all, left the island on October 18.

A fourth-order lens with three flash panels replaced the first-order Fresnel lens in June 1932. A power plant consisting of three 2- kW, gasoline-engine-driven generators was also installed on the island that year allowing the station to be electrified. The use of a 750-watt electric incandescent lamp in the new flashing lens increased the lights candlepower from 13,000 to 300,000. A new double-dwelling for the keepers was completed in 1934.

The weather station on Tatoosh Island was closed in 1966, and its buildings were demolished. The light station was automated in 1977, and the island lost its last year-round inhabitants. A modern beacon replaced the towers fourth-order Fresnel lens in 1996.

In 1999, substantial maintenance and repair work was performed on the islands remaining structures. Windows and rotten beams were replaced, walls were plastered, smoke detectors were installed, and the fog signal was repaired. A fence was rebuilt around the cemetery, which contains the graves of two children, a reminder of the many people who once called Tatoosh Island home.

In September 2009, a three-phase clean-up of Cape Flattery was completed by the Coast Guard. A thirty-foot skeletal light tower topped by a solar-powered LED light was installed on the island in 2008, allowing old generators and fuel tanks to be removed. The decommissioned Cape Flattery Lighthouse has been turned over to the Makah Indian Tribe, who controls the island.


  • Head: Francis W. James (1857  1858), George W. Gerrish (1858  1860), William W. Winsor (1860  1861), D. Wallace (1861  1862), George K. Smith (1862  1864), Jeremiah C. Floyd (1864  1868), Alexander Sampson (1868  1872), J.C. Floyd (1872  1879), Alexander Sampson (1879  1893), Charles W. Sheldon (1893), George H. Stillwell (1893  1895), Edmund Bailey (1895  1898), George G. Crawford (1898  1900), John M. Cowan (1900  1932), Arthur J. Woods (1932  1937), Arthur F. Frey (1937  1939), Richmond E. Umdenstock (1939  1942).
  • First Assistant: James Barry (1858  1859), William Campbell (1859  1863), John Lee (1863), John Sullivan (1863  1868), Charles N. Leavitt (1868  1873), Charles P. Dyer (1873  1874), Alexander Sampson (1874  1879), Alfred W. Martin (1879  1881), George Draper (1881  1884), Franklin Tucker (1884  1885), Henry K.W. Ayers (1885  1889), Andrew P.C. Hald (1889  1890), James W. Doyle (1890  1891), Charles W. Sheldon (1891  1893), Oscar V. Brown (1893), Eugene M. Walters (1893  1894), Edmund Bailey (1894  1895), George H. Stillwell (1895  1896), Albert F. Allen (1896  1899), Thomas J. Stitt (1899), Thomas M. McBride (1899  1900), John Q. Latta (1900  1907), Clifford B. Hermann (1907  1911), Mort Galvin (1911  at least 1917), Shirley Cowan (at least 1919  at least 1922), Arthur J. Woods (1923  1929), Phillip W. Hansen (at least 1930), Albert H. Johnson (1935  1936), Charles Mykol (1936  1938), Richmond E. Umdenstock (1938  1939).
  • Second Assistant: George H. Fitzgerald (1858  1859), John S. Muggs (1859  1863), George W. Howard (1863), Henry Williams (1863  1864), Doyle Sweeney (1864  1866), Alexander Sampson (1866  1868), George S. Boswell (1868  1869), John Dunn (1869  1872), John Martin (1872  1873), Charles Dyer (1873), Alfred W. Martin (1873  1879), Charles M. Hammond (1879  1881), George Draper (1881), George T. Fonda (1881  1883), William J. Riley (1883), Charles H. Hammond (1883  1884), Norman G. Sweeny (1884  1885), Henry K.W. Ayres (1885), Isaac Cornick (1885), George Hunt (1885  1887), Thomas Campbell (1887  1889), James W. Doyle (1889  1890), Charles W. Sheldon (1890  1891), Oscar V. Brown (1891  1893), Eugene M. Walters (1893), Nels V. Nelson (1893  1896), Bernard B. Meagher (1896), Thomas C. Cullen (1896  1899), Nels V. Nelson (1899  1900), Jesse E. Thomas (1900  1903), Charles E. Baker (1903  1905), Henry J. Williams (1905  1907), W. Mackenzie (1907  1908), Forrest S. Cowan (1908  1911), Harold B. Hobbs (1911  1912), Shirley Cowan (1912  at least 1917), Owen H. Wayson (at least 1919), Arthur J. Woods (1919  1921), Owen H. Wayson (1921  ), Orlo E. Hayward (1922  1926), Gilbert H. Fulkerson (1926  1927), Charles D. Whitney (  1930), Fred W. Sargant (1930  1932), Frederick W. Worack (1933), William Gadsby (1933), Ole Rasmussen (1933  1934), Edward C. Stith (1937), Eugene L. Hopper (1938  1940).
  • Third Assistant: William H. Webster (1858  1859), J. Richardson (1859  1863), Charles Moore (1863  1865), Peter J. Larsen (1865  1866), Hugh Sproatt (1866), William G. Conklin (1866  1867), A.N. Jones (1867  1869), S.B. Thompson (1869  1870), John Martin (1870  1871), A.N. Jones (1871), Kirk C. Ward (1873  1875), George W. Harris (1875  1876), John T.A. Bullfinch (1876), Charles K. Scammon (1876  1878), Charles M. Hammond (1878  1879), Reuben L. Doyle (1879), George Draper (1879  1881), Archibald W. Prushaw (1881), Robert Cooper (1881  1882), John W. Hancock (1882), Andrew P.C. Hald (1888  1889), Charles W. Sheldon (1889  1890), Oscar V. Brown (1890  1891), Eugene M. Walters (1891  1893), Nels V. Nelson (1893), Bernard B. Meagher (1893  1896), Thomas C. Cullen (1896), Albert A. Morgan (1896  1897), Nels V. Nelson (1897  1899), Joseph B. Wilson (1899), Thomas M. McBride (1899), William Oscar King (1900), Jesse E. Thomas (1900), John C. Fields (1900  1903), Absalom B. Bailey (1903  1905), Henry J. Williams (1905), Gustav A. Ellingson (1905  1907), Forrest S. Cowan (1907  1908), Cyrus J. Karr (1908  1909), Harold B. Hobbs (1909  1911), Shirley Cowan (1911  1912), George R. Wilson (1913), James E. Shaw (at least 1913), Albert M. Roemer (1914  1917), John Wilson (1917  ), Arthur J. Woods (1918  1919), Harvey E. Woods (at least 1920  at least 1921), Leonard W. Gabriel (1922  1923), Gilbert H. Fulkerson (1924  1926), Fred W. Sargant (1929  1930), Arthur Solverson (1930), Charles Mykol (1931  1932).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7


  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Lighthouses, various years.
  3. Cape Flattery Light Station, Wayne Wheeler, The Keeper's Log, Summer 2001.
  4. Bodies Recovered, The San Francisco Call, November 9, 1900.
  5. Umbrella Guide to Washington Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1990.
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Location: Located on Tatoosh Island just over a half mile off Cape Flattery, the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula.
Latitude: 48.391609
Longitude: -124.736479

For a larger map of Cape Flattery Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.

Travel Instructions: From Highway 101 in the northwestern part of the Olympic Peninsula, take Highway 113 north to Highway 112. Follow Highway 112 west to Neah Bay home of the Makah Indian Reservation. Proceed west out of Neah Bay to the Cape Flattery Trail which is located approximately five miles west of Neah Bay. The Cape Flattery Trail leads 0.75 miles to the tip of the cape, where there are multiple observation platforms from which you can view Tatoosh Island and the lighthouse. Note that you need to purchase a Recreation Permit upon entering the reservation.

The fourth-order Fresnel lens used in the Cape Flattery Lighthouse is on display at the Museum at the Carnegie in Port Angeles. The museum is open open Wednesday through Saturday, from 1 to 4 p.m., and is located at 207 South Lincoln Street.

The lighthouse is owned by the Makah Indian Tribe. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Cape Flattery Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Don't ask me how, but in our attempt to find the Cape Flattery Trail, we somehow ended up in the reservation's dump! Instead of wisely turning around, our driver chose to explore the dump a little, a decision we regretted the next morning when we awoke to discover a flat tire on our rental car. The views from the lookouts at the end of the trail are incredible and worth any adventure in getting there.

Cape Flattery Lighthouse can be seen in the 2010 movie "Charlie St. Cloud."

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Russell Barber, used by permission.