Frequently Asked Questions

Fort Clatsop/Fort Exhibit:

1. Why did the expedition camp here? Why did they choose this spot?

They had to camp somewhere west of the Rocky Mountains until the snow melted enough for their return trip, and they decided that this was the best spot. After camping nearly two weeks on the north (Washington) shore of the Columbia River, the party voted to look for a campsite on the south side of the river as some visiting Clatsop people had advised. Lewis led a scouting party west of Tongue Point to explore Youngs Bay and continued about 2 miles up the Skipanon River before backtracking to Youngs Bay and then up the Netul River (Lewis and Clark River). The location of the Fort Exhibit is the site on the Netul River where Lewis found everything they needed for a good campsite: trees for building and for firewood, high ground up above the high tides, flat ground, elk for hunting, a fresh water spring, easy river access, away from the ocean and its winter storms, yet near to the Clatsop villages at the beach, near to the ocean for making salt (which they ran out of on January 13th) and near to the mouth of the Columbia in case a trade ship came by they could have bought (with a letter of credit) more trade goods (they were almost out).

2. How long did it take the explorers to build their Fort Clatsop?

It took about 3½ weeks. They started felling trees on December 9 and had it finished enough to move into on Christmas Day 1805. The pickets and gates completed the fort on New Years Day.

3. How long did the expedition stay here?

They were here for 106 days or about 3 ½ months. They arrived here December 7, 1805 and stayed until March 23, 1806 when they started their trip back to the U.S.A.

4. Why did they name it Fort Clatsop?

They named it for the local American Indians, the Clatsops. Clatsop means “dried salmon people.”

5. How much of the fort today is original?

None of it. The Fort Exhibit is a replica of the original structure.

6. When was the exhibit built? And Who built it?

The replica is built on, or near, the original site by area citizens and civic groups celebrating the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the expedition in 1955. The current fort exhibit is the second replica built in this location. The first exhibit was built in 1955-58 and was destroyed by fire on October 3, 2005. The current exhibit was erected during the spring & summer of 2006

7. What happened to the original fort?

It rotted away by the mid-1800s. The average annual rainfall in the area is about 70” so untreated, unmaintained wood rots quickly. Then in the early 1850s the site was homesteaded and the last remnants of the fort were burned.

8. Is the fort an exact replica?

It is the same dimension and layout as Clark’s floor plan sketched in (& on) one of his journals. Many of the details of the replica are based on other military camps of the time, or are best educated guesses. Some details are “incorrect” to help the fort endure and for visitor safety e.g. it has a cement foundation, the bark has been peeled off of the logs, there are subdued electric lights in the fort, etc.

9. How much of the stuff in the fort is real?

Everything, except for the meat, is real, but not from the expedition or that time.

10. How much of the stuff in the fort is original?

None of it; all of the items are newer items or replicas.

11. Where did they go to the bathroom?

Latrines (they called them sinks), pits or trenches, were dug outside the fort (probably somewhere out the watergate).

12. What’s the small structure outside the orderly room?

It is a sentry box. There was always a soldier on guard duty and the sentry box provided shelter from the rain.

13. What are the candles make of?

Tallow: the oil of animal fat. Ours are made from beef tallow and paraffin (paraffin is a derivative of the petroleum industry). The paraffin is used to make the beef tallow harder. When the explorers were camped here, they made candles from elk tallow. Elk tallow is harder than beef tallow, so they wouldn’t have needed anything to make them hard. They were also here in the winter so anything made of fat wouldn’t have melted.

14. If the natives were friendly, why did the explorers need to build a fort?

The party was in an unknown wilderness and did not know who or what they would run into. The walls of the fort helped them protect their tools and supplies from theft. The fort reinforced the explorers’ sense of military order and helped with morale.

15. How could this fort be defended?

There was always a sentry on guard duty. The inward sloping roofs put the highest wall on the outside to hinder anyone sneaking over undetected. The stockade of the original fort might have been higher.

16. Why are the roofs slanted in?

See the previous answer—it is for defense.

17. What does “rives” mean?

It means to split.

18. What did they cover the windows with?

They didn’t write about this in their journals, but they probably used rawhide to cover the windows.

19. Did the fort really have a wooden floor?

Yes, William Clark’s journal mentions a puncheon (rough plank) floor. We really don’t know if there was a complete wooden floor in every room.

20. What did they line the fireplace with?

They didn’t write about this, but the soil here has a lot of clay in it, there are clay deposits throughout the area. Clay was even mined on the site after the Expedition. So, the Expedition probably lined their fireplaces with clay mud.

21. What’s that bench thing?

It is a carpentry vise for clamping a project to free the users hands for carving. It is called a “shaving horse” or a “wood vise” and is typical of the time period. The explorers may have built one to use while making their furniture.

22. Who had the room with the double bed?

The Charbonneau family: Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea and their baby son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

23. Why does the fort have doorsills?

Leaving the bottom log intact keeps the walls of the fort strong. The bottom logs are the foundation of the fort.

24. How old are the trees by the fort?

The huge Sitka spruce near the Fort Exhibit were not present when the Oregon Historical Society acquired the site in 1901. Most have grown up since the turn of the century.

25. How close is the replica to the original site?

It overlaps the original site or is within a few dozen yards.

26. How do you know this is the original site?

Clark’s maps are so detailed that with only his map, the site could be easily determined to within a mile. Five years after the explorers’ winter here, Astoria was started as a fur trading post and one of the early fur trappers wrote of seeing the dilapidated campsite in 1813. Carlos Shane got the Donation Land Claim that included the fort ruins about 1850 and was able to later describe the layout of the rotten rooms. In 1901 the Oregon Historical Society put up a marker on the site based on the oral histories of people who had seen the remains.

27. Has there been any archeology here?

Some archeological work, with backhoes, was done in the late 1950s. They were looking for artifacts such as remnants of the fort or items left behind by the Expedition. Nothing conclusive was found. The total amount of work done during this era amounted to approximately 3 weeks.

Since 1995 the archeological work at the site has included magnatometry to map the magnetic fields of the site and archeological excavations. Excavations were conducted in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The magnatometry shows ground disturbances which may be of interest and help guide the archeologists search. So far, a few items that may be from the expedition, have been found: a sharpened stick, a brass bead, a glass bead, and a lead rifle ball. Though the ages of the items are consistent with the explorers’ winter here, we cannot yet conclusively state that they are from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Work will continue as funding permits.


28. How many people camped here?

33: the 2 captains, 3 sergeants, 23 privates, Clark’s slave York, 2 interpreters: George Droulliard and Toussaint Charbonneau, Charbonneau’s wife: Sacagawea, and their baby son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Lewis’ Newfoundland dog, Seaman, was here, too.

29. I thought about 45 men were on this trip?

Yes, 45 men left Camp Wood (Wood River, Illinois). This 45 included a detachment of soldiers and some voyagers (rivermen) that were hired to help move the boats up the Missouri River in 1804. Only one man died during the entire expedition. Sergeant Floyd died from a burst appendix near present day Sioux City, Iowa early in the journey.

After winter 1804-05 at Fort Mandan, the permanent party of 33 included 29 of the men who left Camp Wood, plus Baptiste LePage and the Charbonneau family (Touissaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea and Jean Baptiste Charbonneau) which joined during the 1804-05 winter camp at Fort Mandan in North Dakota, continued on to the Pacific Ocean. The rest of the men returned to the United States with the keel boat and specimens collected up until Fort Mandan.

Here at Fort Clatsop, Lewis and Clark National & State Historical Parks we commemorate the 33 members of the permanent party and Seaman, Lewis’ large Newfoundland dog. Each member of the Expedition was equally important.

30. How tall were the men? The doors and beds seem so short.

The average American man in the early 1800s was 5’5” or 5’6”. Both Clark and Lewis were six feet tall though. Under most circumstances military recruits had to be at least 5’4” to join the army. The fort and its furnishings reflect the lifestyle of a temporary military outpost. The beds don’t need to be long, because at that time most Americans and Europeans slept sitting partly up (for healthier breathing). The short doors helped keep heat inside the room, as well as provide additional security. You not only have to step over the doorsill if you are tall, you have to duck as well.

33. How old were the captains?

Lewis was born August 18, 1774 and was 29 at the beginning of the trip; Clark was 33, born August 1, 1770.

34. What was Clark’s first name? Was he related to George Rogers Clark?

William. Yes, Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark was his older brother.

35. What did the explorers eat?

At Fort Clatsop, they ate mostly elk meat (often somewhat spoiled) plus occasional wapato roots, dried berries, whale blubber and fish that they bought from the American Indians.

36. Why didn’t they eat more fish?

In the winter there are no salmon in the Columbia River and its’ tributaries—salmon move into freshwater rivers early spring through fall. The rest of the year they are out in the ocean mostly in Alaskan waters. As the Expedition was here only in winter there was no opportunity for them to catch salmon. In addition, the explorers had gotten sick when eating salmon back in Idaho and had not regained their appetite for it. They did eat some fish that they purchased from the American Indians. The 33 people could eat one elk and one deer each day and it was easier for the hunters to kill one elk than to catch hundreds of pounds of fish. The elk also provided skins for bedding and clothing, plus some fat for making candles.

37. Why were the explorers such poor spellers?

Noah Webster's Spelling Book (1782-1783) was the forerunner of his Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806). But English spelling had long been standardized in Samuel Johnson's famous Dictionary(1755). That's why Jefferson, Benj. Franklin, John Adams, Benj. Rush and all the other educated contemporaries of Lewis and Clark spelled the same way and well. English spelling was definitely standardized. Shakespeare and his contemporaries spelled more or less the same 200 years earlier.

Captains Lewis and Clark were hired for their frontier skills and leadership ability. They had no access to a dictionary while recording their journals. Since none of the Indian languages they encountered had writing, they wrote Indian words phonetically.

38. Who was Sacagawea married to? Or Who was the baby’s father?

Her husband and her baby’s father was a French-Canadian named Toussaint Charbonneau who was hired by the Captains as an interpreter. He brought his wife Sacagawea to interpret the Shoshone language, and their infant son along on the trip.

39. How do you pronounce the Indian woman’s name?

Lewis’ rendition of it as “Sah ca gah we a” is fine. The accent is on the second syllable as in “Chicago.” The spelling “Sacajawea” came about when the first printed paraphrased versions of the Captains’ journals were completed in 1814. In these journals her name is spelled with a “j”, but in the handwritten journals of Lewis and Clark her name is spelled with a “g”. In addition, Sacagawea was stolen as a young girl from the Shoshone by the Minnetare/Hidatsa people. In the journals Sacagawea is called “Bird Woman” and in the Minnetare/Hidatsa language Sacagawea means “Bird Woman.” In the Shoshone language there is no letter “g” and Sacajawea means “Boat Launcher.” It is possible that her name was changed by any one of the groups, but as Lewis and Clark spelled it consistently with a letter “g” we pronounce and spell her name: Sacagawea.

40. Where and when did Sacagawea die?

She died on December 20, 1812 at Fort Manuel in present-day South Dakota of a “putrid fever” (possibly diphtheria). Her death was recorded in the clerk’s journal of Fort Manuel.

41. What happened to Meriwether Lewis after the trip?

Jefferson appointed him governor of the upper Louisiana Territory. In October 1809 he died under mysterious circumstances at an inn on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee. He may have died by suicide or murder. There is evidence for both.

42. I see you have Clark’s family tree, why don’t you have Lewis’ family tree?

He was never married. See previous answer. There are people related through Meriwether’s siblings, but a complete family tree has never been published.

43. What became of William Clark?

He 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. After Julia’s death, he married her cousin, Harriet Kennerly Radford and had three more children. He was 68 years old when he died. He also was the guardian of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau and his sister Lizzette (after their mother’s death in 1812 at Ft. Manuel).

44. What happened to the Clatsop Indians?

The tribal population was already in decline (from a small pox epidemic 20-30 years before the L&C Expedition) at the time of the explorers’ arrival. After Astoria began as a fur trading post, the Clatsops married into the arriving American and European population. Today they are not recognized as a separate American Indian Nation and there is no one who is 100% Clatsop, but there are many descendants of the Clatsops who live in the area and elsewhere. Today the Clatsops are included with the Chinook Tribal Council (Chinook, WA) who are seeking federal recognition.

Lewis and Clark Expedition:

45. Why was the expedition sent?

An overland exploration of the west was long desired by Thomas Jefferson. As president, with congressional authorization, the planning commenced. The Mission of the Corps of Volunteers for North Western Discovery was to see if the Missouri met the Columbia - the dream of the Northwest Passage; to collect information on the people, animals, plants, soil, climate, etc. of the west; and to be ambassadors of the United States to the American Indian nations.

56. Where did the expedition begin?

The starting point was Camp Wood on Wood River (River Dubois) in Illinois, a short distance from St. Louis. This served as the gathering and shakedown area for the Corps of Volunteers for North Western Discovery (the L&C Expedition). Some people feel that the Expedition didn’t begin until they were at St. Charles, as Lewis caught up with the group near St. Charles (he had been in St. Loius conducting final business before the group left the United States).

47. Why did Jefferson fail to send a ship to meet them?

There was no plan to send a ship (what date would they plan to meet?J) The explorers hoped to replenish their depleted trade goods by meeting one of many trade ships that did business with the American Indians at the mouth of the Columbia (Lewis had a letter of credit from President Jefferson). The trade ships avoided the area during the winter, though, because of the dangerous storms and the treacherous Columbia River Bar (sandbars).

It turns out that the explorers just missed the first ship of the spring (an American brig: the Lydia) as they began their return trip up the Columbia.

48. How much gunpowder did they bring and how did they carry it?

Much of their gunpowder (over 200 lb.) was carried in 52 sealed lead canisters, which were in turn recycled to make bullets. They also brought 625 gun flints for their weapons.

49. How much did the expedition cost?

$38,722. The original estimate was for $2,500!

50. How did they return home?

By a river route similar to the one they used to get here. In Montana they split into five parties to explore the Yellowstone and Marias Rivers and to pick up boats and supplies cached on the way out. Near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers they all met up and traveled the rest of the way down the Missouri to St. Louis together (except for the Charbonneau family who stayed in N. Dakota and Private John Colter who received special permission to leave the party in N. Dakota and join some trappers heading up the Yellowstone).

51. How long did the whole expedition last?

From May 14, 1804 to September 23, 1806. Two years, four months, ten days - from their departure from Camp Wood to their return to St. Louis at journey’s end.

52. How many miles did the expedition travel?

About 8000 miles from Camp Wood to mouth of the Columbia and back to St. Louis.

53. Where are the original items from the expedition?

Some of them are as follows:

  • Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia has over 200 plant specimens.
  • American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia has most of the journals.
  • Fort Canby State Park, Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center near Ilwaco, Washington has some items which were owned by Patrick Gass.
  • Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. has some documents including Jefferson’s letter of instructions to Lewis.
  • Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis has some documents including the Field Book of Clark bound in folded elk skin.
  • Monticello at Charlottesville, Virginia has some antlers and bones.
  • National Archives in Washington, D.C. has more related documents including the summary of purchases.
  • Nez Perce National Historical Park at Spalding, Idaho has a Jefferson peace medal.
  • Oregon Historical Society in Portland has a Jefferson peace medal, Lewis’ branding iron, and George Shannon’s sewing kit.
  • Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts has several items including baskets.
  • Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. has a few items including Clark’s compass.
  • Virginia Military Institute near Lexington, Virginia has the air gun that may have been Lewis’.
  • Yale University, Beinecke Library, New Haven, Connecticut has most of Clark’s maps.

Fort Clatsop, Lewis and Clark National & State Historical Parks

54. When did this become a National Park Service site?

In 1958 Fort Clatsop was authorized to commemorate the culmination and winter quarters of the expedition as a National Memorial. In 2004, Fort Clatsop became a part of Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks.

55. What is this place?

This is the winter encampment of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of December 7, 1805-March 23, 1806. It is a unit of the National Park Service along with the Salt Works site in Seaside, Oregon.

56. Where are the restrooms?

They are off the front entrance of the visitor center.

57. Has the weather changed? Does it still rain that much?

Although weather patterns cycle, the winter of 1805-06 does not seem to have been much “worse” than a typical winter in this area. Sergeant Patrick Gass wrote that of the 106 days they were here it rained all but 12, and of the 12 dry days, 6 were sunny. Today, during the same time period as the Expedition was here, this area averages 55-65 days of precipitation, an average of 3 clear days each winter month and the rest of the time clouds. That winter did have more snow than usual: one morning there was 8”.

58. Why was the Salt Works so far away?

The area where they had the salt camp, in present-day Seaside 14-15 miles away, was the first place which provided firewood, rocks, fresh water, game animals and good neighbors. The men sent out to make salt actually started near the mouth of the Columbia River, but it wasn’t until they were 14 or 15 miles south that they found a suitable location. In addition, the fresh water carried by the Columbia dilutes the ocean water - it is saltier a few miles away. Today the Salt Works site is part of Fort Clatsop, Lewis and Clark National & State Historical Parks and can be visited in Seaside, Oregon.

59. How many visitors visit Fort Clatsop? I bet you don’t get visitors in the winter.

Approximately 250,000 visitors per year. The slowest days of the year are in December, but we haven’t had any days of no visitors.

60. Do you sell postcards?

Yes, the Fort Clatsop Historical Association operates a bookstore in the visitor center that sells postcards, books, videos, and other theme-related items (but no film or snacks). A mail order brochure is available upon request.

61. What are the pilings or logs I see in the river at the Canoe Landing?

They are used by the timeber industry to build the log booms, or log rafts, to haul the logs to their destinations (e.g., mills or ships). The logs are dropped into the river then floated into the raft shape, the outer logs are cabled together and then cables are worked through all the logs. A boom boat is used to move these logs around. Then the log boom, or raft, is tugged to its location.

62. What books and videos would you recommend?


· Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition edited by Gary Moulton, 13 volumes

· Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition condensed by Frank Bergon

· Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition condensed by Bernard DeVoto

· A Charbonneau Family Portrait by Irving Anderson

· Fort Clatsop: The Story Behind the Scenery by Daniel Dattilio

· Lewis & Clark: Historic Places Associated with their Transcontinental Exploration by Roy Appleman

· Lewis & Clark Among the Indians by James Ronda

· Lewis & Clark: Partners in Discovery by John Bakeless

· Lewis & Clark Pioneering Naturalists by Paul Russell Cutright

· Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns

· Lewis & Clark: Voyage of Discovery by Dan Murphy

· Meriwether Lewis by Richard Dillon

· The Way to the Western Sea by David Lavender

· Those Tremendous Mountains by David Freeman Hawke

· Thomas Jefferson and the Stony Mountains by Donald Jackson

· Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

· Traveling the Lewis & Clark Trail by Julie Fanselow

· The Incredible Journey of Lewis & Clark by Rhoda Blumberg

· Along the Trail with Lewis and Clark by Barbara Fifer and Vicky Soderberg with maps by Joseph Mussulman


· “We Proceeded On…” 32 minutes, by Kaw Valley Productions

· Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery 4 hours, by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan

63. What are some good websites I can learn more from?

PBS and Ken Burns:

Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation:

Discovering Lewis and Clark (Joe Mussulman)

Fort Clatsop, Lewis and Clark National & State Historical Parks homepage:

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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Mailing Address:

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
92343 Fort Clatsop Road

Astoria, OR 97103


503 861-2471
Rangers are available to answer your calls between the hours of 9 - 5 PST.

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