MHT Day 23: Nice Fall Day . . . in August
Many pleasant things about the Magical History Tour deserve mention, but let me start with this: Other than a brief two-minute shower in Dillon, Montana, this trip has been rain free for more than three weeks. I don’t believe I’ve ever done a long motorcycle ride where I had 23 straight days of dry weather. And today the temperature in Astoria never reached above 70°. People in most places consider that Fall, but here it’s just another summer day.
Speaking of weather, when the Expedition finally decided, by a vote that included Sacagawea and York (Clark’s slave), to make a permanent camp on the south side of the Columbia River a few miles up a small creek, they started a habitation of 106 days, only 12 of which it didn’t rain. And of those 12 days, they only saw the sun six times.
The Corps wintered for slightly more than three months at Fort Clatsop in two small log structures of seven rooms enclosed by pickets and a gate. All 33 members of the expedition lived in this small fort in addition to the occasional natives who stayed overnight by invitation only. Construction on the fort began December 10, 1805, and was mostly completed by Christmas Day. Private Whitehouse recorded events of the 25th this way:
We had hard rain & Cloudy weather as usual. We all moved into our new Garrison or Fort, which our Officers named after a nation of Indians who resided near us, called the ClatsopNation; Fort Clatsop.— We found our huts comfortable, excepting smoaking a little.—
From December until they packed up and left, the men of the expedition repaired equipment, traded with the Clatsop and Chinook for goods needed for the return trip, scraped and tanned hides, made clothing, and sewed more than 300 pairs of moccasins from the 130 elk and 20 deer the hunters killed during their soggy stay at the Pacific coast camp. The life span of a pair of moccasins in the desert or on the river rocks was often only a week and multiple pairs would be required to get the Corps back to St. Louis. In addition to eating elk and deer meat that wet winter, the expedition also traded with natives for dried salmon, dogs, and wapato roots, which Indian women dug from marsh bottoms with their bare feet.
The winter the Corps spent at Ft. Mandan in 1804-1805 was brutally cold. The winter at Ft. Clatsop in 1805-1806 was miserably wet. I’m not sure which overwinter the men would vote as the worst. At any rate, despite having set their departure date as April 1, by the third week of March they had had enough of Fort Clatsop, so they left their humble abode on March 23, 1806, in three of their remaining canoes, plus one they bought from the Clatsops and one they stole from them. That evening, Captain Clark wrote, perhaps a little sarcastically,
at this place we had wintered and remained from the 7th of Decr. 1805 to this day and have lived as well as we had any right to expect, and we can Say that we were never one day without 3 meals of Some kind a day either pore Elk meat or roots, not withstanding the repeeted fall of rain which has fallen almost Constantly
If their canoes had been equipped with rear-view mirrors, they would have declared they were glad to see Ft. Clatsop in them.
During their time at Ft. Clatsop, a contingent of three to five men were tasked with making salt for the return trip by constantly boiling sea water on the beach at a location 15 miles from the fort that required a hike over a small mountain range and across two small rivers. By the end of their salt-making activities, they had collected enough to fill three casks. Today there’s a pitiful structure in the middle of a nondescript neighborhood in Seaside, Oregon, marking the location of their work. Unfortunately, the site wasn’t even significant enough for me to find a parking place and get off the bike. A little disappointing.
In January 1806, they received word from a Clatsop leader that a whale had washed ashore about 15 miles south of the salt-making operation, so Clark and a handful of others, including Sacagawea, journeyed to the site in hopes of obtaining some blubber and oil. When they arrived, all they found was a skeleton, which Clark measured at more than 100 feet. Local Indians had stripped the carcass to the bones, and Clark was forced to buy about 300 pounds of blubber (which he said tasted like dog or beaver) and a cask of rendered whale oil to supplement their diet and flavor their elk meat.
I rode to Cannon Beach where the whale had washed ashore to look around and get a few pictures of the area. While walking on the beach, to my great luck, I met Alonna Woodward, a professional photographer, who took several pictures for me with my camera and one with her Nikon, which she forwarded to me to use in today’s post. Thanks, Alonna!
Tonight, I started early on the blog and sat outside my hotel in Astoria above the expansive Columbia River writing and watching the sun set on the Pacific Ocean. Although that doesn’t have anything to do with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it is a huge part of making the Magical History Tour magical. Tomorrow I ride east on my return trip home, continuing to make Lewis and Clark stops when they present themselves, especially on those parts of the return that deviated from their westward trek.