The Salt Works
Much of the Corps' stay on the North Coast was spent securing sustenance for the winter and provisions for the trip home.
By the time they reached the lower Columbia River region, the Corps had run out of valuable salt for seasoning food, and, perhaps more important, preserving meat. Capt. Clark didn't care if his food was salty, but many other Corps members did. Good food meant good spirits, and keeping morale up during the rainy winter of 1805 was key. On the other hand, meat preservation was a matter of life or death for the Corps. Spoiled elk meat could make the Corps sick, and without meat for the return home, weakened with hunger.
To make salt, the Corps had to find rocks to build a furnace, wood to burn, ocean water to boil, fresh water to drink and game animals. Nearby rivers weren't salty enough, but a site 15 miles southwest of Fort Clatsop proved perfect. What's more, there were homes of local Clatsop and Tillamook Indians nearby, local experts who could help the Corps members.
Five men traveled to the beach site, built the camp and set five kettles to boiling, 24 hours a day, to produce salt. According to their records, they set out from Fort Clatsop on Dec. 28, 1805, and left the camp Feb. 20, 1806, with 3 ½ bushels or about 28 gallons of "Excellent, fine, strong & white" salt.
To get a real sense of the saltmaking process, a visit to the Salt Makers Living History reenactment is not to be missed. The reenactment takes place on the third weekend of August and is an excellent opportunity to see the salt-making process, as well as to visit with costumed reenactors who set up camp for 48 hours and make salt round-the-clock, just as the Corps' members did. Bring along goods the members might need - the Corps members are usually willing to trade for items such as small foodstuff or camp supplies. Just don't be surprised when they fail to recognize a watermelon slice or call a hot dog "an elk sausage" - remember, it's 1805!
IF YOU GO: At the intersection of US Highway 101 and Avenue G, turn west to Beach Drive, then turn left to Lewis and Clark Way. Park where available without blocking private driveways. Walk west on Lewis and Clark Way to the Salt Cairn off of the Prom. The Living History reenactments held each summer are on the beach, off of Avenue U.
Did You Know?
After returning to the United States, William Clark was appointed brigadier general of the Missouri Militia and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the western territories , and later became governor of Missouri. He married Julia Hancock and had five children. He was 68 years old when he died.