The winter camp. Peculiarities of the Clatsop Indians. A scarcity of supplies. Turning homeward. Surmounting the cascades. Journeying by land. Troublesome Indians. Living on dog flesh. A search for their horses. Indian cooking. Suffering of the explorers.

The sea gave them an inhospitable welcome. As they neared a camping place which they selected on Gray’s Bay, in Wahkiakum County, Washington, the waves were so high that some of the men became seasick. Next day they were beaten back to camp by the rough water, which their canoes, mere dugouts, could not withstand. They were flooded by incessant rain and harassed by heavy winds, thievish Indians, and the fleas which were the Indians’ constant companions.

At their next camp, on Baker’s Bay. they suffered even more from the merciless rain. They found game, and explored to some extent the mouth of the Columbia. They hoped to encounter a trading ship from which they could replenish their stores, but none appeared. It was necessary to find a place for a winter camp and Lewis finally discovered one, on the south side of the Columbia, not far from their present camp. Before leaving the latter this inscription was carved on the trunk of a lofty pine:

"Wm. Clark December 3D 1805
By Land from the U. States
in 1804 & 5"

Some three miles up the Netul River, which empties into a bay named Meriwether’s (for Captain Meriwether Lewis), they made their camp on a bluff in a grove of lofty pines. There they built seven log cabins, roofed with rude shingles, or more properly slabs, called "shakes," which were split from pine logs. Their meat house was replenished by hunting elk and deer. In the course of the winter they killed one hundred and thirty-one of the former and twenty of the latter.

Mouth of the Columbia River

They saw much of the Clatsop Indians, who lived in houses of split pine boards half above and half below the ground. The explorers noted that these Indians were cleanly and frequently washed their faces and hands, something which they had rarely seen among other tribes. In their most common game "one of the party had a piece of bone about the size of a large bean, and having agreed with any individual as to the value of the stake, he would pass the bone from one hand to the other with great dexterity, singing at the same time to divert the attention of his adversary; then holding it in his closed hands, his antagonist was challenged to guess in which of them the bone was." This seems to have been a variety of the game, " Button, Button, who has the Button?"

These Clatsops are described as wearing hats "made of cedar-bark and bear-grass, interwoven together in the form of a European hat, with a small brim of about two inches, and a high crown widening upward. They are light, ornamented with various colors, and being nearly waterproof, are much more durable than either chip or straw hats. ...But the most curious workmanship is that of the basket. It is formed of cedarbark and bear-grass, so closely interwoven that it is water-tight, without the aid of either gum or resin."

These Indians were much more attractive than the dwarfish and ugly Chinooks, whom they also observed, but with great caution on account of their thievish habits.

The winter was not eventful. They hunted, studied the Indians, and made salt by evaporating sea water. There was little snow, but the rain was persistent.

In March they prepared for their long journey homeward. On examining their stores they found a sufficient supply of powder. This was in leaden canisters, which, when they had been emptied, were melted to make bullets. Their goods, however, were nearly exhausted. "All the small merchandise we possess might be tied up in a couple of handkerchiefs. The rest of our stock in trade consists of six blue robes, one scarlet robe, five robes which we made of our United States flag, a few old clothes trimmed with ribbons, and one artillerist’s coat and hat, which probably Captain Clark will never wear again. We have to depend entirely upon this meagre outfit for the purchase of such horses and provisions as it will be in our power to obtain — a scant dependence indeed, for such a journey as is before us."

Before they started they made several copies of a list of the party, a map of their route, and a memorandum regarding their travels. These they left with the Clatsops, who were to give them to any white man. One list was given the next summer to Captain Hill of the brig Lydia, who came to the coast to trade. He took it to China and then sent it to the United States, where it arrived safely.

At this point in the journal there is a long and careful account of all the plants, animals, birds, and fish which they had seen, showing how thoroughly they had studied the natural history of the country during the winter.


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© 2001, Lynn Waterman