Fort Clatsop
Lewis and Clark Trail from Fort Clatsop to the Clatsop Plains
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On December 7, 1805, the main body of the Lewis and Clark company went into camp at a spot chosen several days earlier by Captain Meriwether Lewis as a suitable location for winter quarters. The almost certain identity of this place with the spot presently known as the "Fort Clatsop Site," on the west bank of the Lewis and Clark River, has already been discussed in detail. [1]

The next day Captain William Clark took five men and set out for the seacoast, which at this point lies 3.6 miles directly west. His purpose was to find a place to make salt and to blaze a trail which could be used by hunters from the camp and which could be easily found by them should they become lost while hunting in that direction.

Captain Clark's description of this day's route, as given in the rough first draft of his journal is as follows:

"I took 5 men and set out to the See to find the nearest place & make a way to prevent our men getting lost and find a place to make salt, steered S. 62° W. at 2 miles passed the head of a Brook runing to the right, the lands good roleing much falling timber, lofty Pine of the Spruce kind, & some fur, passed over a high hill & to a creek which we kept down 1-1/2 miles and left it to our right, saw fish in this creek & Elk Bear tracks on it, passed over a ridge to a low marshey bottom which we crossed thro water & thick brush for 1/2 a mile to the commencement of a Prarie which wavers, covered with grass & Sackay commis, at 1/2 crossed a marsh 200 yds wide, boggey and arrived at a creek which runs to the right. Saw a gange of Elk on the opposit side below, rafted the creek, with much dificulty & followed the Elk thro emence bogs, & over 4 small knobs in the bogs about 4 miles to the South & killed an Elk, and formed a camp, covered our selves with the Elk skins, the left of us Bogs & a lake or pond those bogs shake, much cranberry growing amongst the moss. Some rain this evening we made a harty supper of the Elk & hung up the bale." [2]

The revised version of this account, as it appears in Clark's finished journal, differs in several important respects:

"We haveing fixed on this Situation as the one best Calculated for our Winter quarters I deturmin'd to go as direct a Course as I could to the Sea Coast which we could here roar and appeared to be at no great distance from us, my principal object is to look out a place to make Salt, blaze the road or rout that they men out hunting might find the direction to the fort if they Should get lost in cloudy weather--and See the probibility of game in that direction, for the Support of the Men, we Shall Send to make Salt, I took with me five men and Set out on a Course S 60 W proceeded on a dividing ridge through lofty piney land much falling timber. passed the heads of 2 brooks one of them had wide bottoms which was over flown & we waded to our knees crossed 2 Slashes (Swamps) and arrived at a Creek in a open ridgey prarie covered with Sackacomma (Sac de Commis) this Creek we were obliged to raft, which is about 60 yards over and runs in a direction to Point adams, we discovered a large gange of Elk in the open lands, and we prosued them through verry bad Slashes and Small ponds about 3 miles, Killed one and camped on a spot Scercely large enough to lie Clear of the Water. it is almost incredeable to assurt the bogs which those animals can pass through, I prosue'd this gang of Elk through bogs which the wate of a man would Shake for 1/2 an Acre, and maney places I Sunk into the Mud. and water up to my hips without finding any bottom on the trale of those Elk. Those bogs are covered with a kind of Moss among' which I observe an ebundance of Cramberries. in those Slashes Small Knobs are promisquisly scattered about which are Steep and thickly Covered with pine Common to the Countrey & Lorel. we made a camp of the Elk skin to keep off the rain which continued to fall, the Small Knob on which we camped did not afford a Sufficiency of dry wood for our fire, we collected what dry wood we could and what Sticks we could Cut down with the Tomahawks, which made us a tolerable fire." [3]

The next day, December 9, Captain Clark sent two men to pursue the elk and, taking the other three men with him, set out to continue his route to the ocean. Finding his way westward blocked by swamps and streams, he went back to the creek he had crossed by raft on the previous day. Recrossing, he went down it (north) one or two miles and met three Indians. The natives agreed to take him to their village on the coast. Clark's description of this trip, from the rough journal, is as follows:

"I determ'd to accompany them to their vilg & we set out crossed the stream, and 2 of the Indians took the canoe over the wavering open rich plains for 1/2 a mile and we crossed the same stream which run to the left, we then left the canoe and proceeded to the same stream which runs to the right and empties its self into the see here I found their vilg 4 Lodges on the west bank of this little river which is here 70 yards wide." [4]

His description of the journey from the "smooth" journal differs in some important details:

"those indians made Signs that they had a town on the Seacoast at no great distance, and envited me to go to their town which envitation I axcepted and accompan'd them, they had a Canoe hid in the Creek which I had just before rafted which I had not observed, we crossed in this little Canoe just large enough to carry 3 men an[d] their loads after Crossing 2 of the Indians took the Canoe on theire Sholders and Carried it across to the other Creek 1/4 about of a mile, we Crossed the 2d Creek and proceeded on to the mouth of the creek which makes a great bend above the mouth of this Creek or to the S. is 3 houses and about 12 families of the Clatsop Nation, we crossed to those houses, which were built on the S. exposur of the hill," [5]

On December 10, Clark returned to the Fort Clatsop site "by the same road I had went out." [6]

These excerpts contain, essentially, all the information to be found in the Lewis and Clark journals concerning the location of the trail between Fort Clatsop and the coast . However, a little additional description is found in the journal kept by Patrick Gass. Under the date of December 10, Gass noted the return of Captain Clark and three of his men from their journey to the sea. Gass states:

"They found the ocean to be about 7 miles from our camp; for 4 miles the land. high and closely timbered: the remainder prairie cut with some streams of water." [7]

Evidently this information supplied by Gass, supplemented by other accounts, was used by Nicholas Biddle, the editor of the first published version of the Lewis and Clark journals, to fill out the description of the trail as found in the original manuscript journals . In the entry of the Lewis and Clark journals as published in History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark . . .. appear the following words apropos of the departure of 5 men on December 28 with kettles for the seacoast to begin the manufacture of salt:

"The route to the seacoast is about seven miles in length, in a direction nearly west. Five miles of the distance is through thick woods varied with hills, ravines and swamps, though the land in general possesses a rich black mold. The remaining two miles is formed of open waving prairies of sand[-dunes] with ridges running parallel to the river and covered with green grass." [8]

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Last Updated: 04-May-2004