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[photo] View of Chinook Point from across the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon
Photo by Charles L. Peter, from National Historic Landmarks collection

On November 15, 1805, after months of journeying west, the Corps of Discovery finally viewed the Pacific Ocean near Chinook Point. There had been "great joy in camp" (DeVoto 1997, 279) earlier on November 7 when at Pillar Rock they mistook the open-horizoned estuary of the Columbia River for the "great Pacific Octean which we been so long anxious to See" (279). Intense thunderstorms that had been raging for days finally stopped on the 15th, which allowed the men to move four miles westward and set up camp on a beautiful sandy beach a half mile from Chinook Point where "the Ocian is imedeately in front and gives us an extensive view" (DeVoto 1997, 285). Boards from a temporarily deserted Chinook Indian village nearby were used to erect shelters for the party. For the next 10 days the men used this as a base camp to explore the surrounding area in an attempt to locate a favorable site for a winter encampment. Lewis and Clark made separate exploratory trips around Cape Disappointment. Clark and his group of 11 men stopped at Chinook Point, which Clark described in his journal as "a point of rocks about 40 feet high, from the top of which hill Side is open and assend[s] with a Steep assent to the tops of the mountains, a Deep nitch and two Small Streams [are] above the Point." (Thwaites 1904, 223-250)

Unfortunately, the explorers could not locate a suitable campsite because game in the area was scarce. Discussions with the Chinook revealed that game, particularly elk, and edible roots were more plentiful on the south bank of the Columbia River. A second alternative was to return upstream some distance on the Columbia; however, salt was scarce in that area and the climate was colder. Lewis and Clark decided to let the entire party, including York and Sacagawea, vote on the location of the winter camp. Most African Americans and women could not vote in the United States in 1805, but the decision would affect everyone and, therefore, Lewis and Clark felt York and Sacagawea also deserved a vote. The Corps decided to investigate the south side of the river and, if the game was plentiful, camp there. Clark gave an account of the vote in his journal for November 24, 1805:

Chinook Point, view from beach of Fort Columbia Historic State Park
Photo by Charles L. Peter, from National Historic Landmarks collection

. . . we have every reason to believe that the nativs have not provisions Suffient for our Consumption, and if they had, their price's are So high that it would take ten times as much to purchase their roots & Dried fish as we have in our possession, ... They generaly agree that the most Elk is on the opposit Shore, and that the greatest numbers of Deer is up the river at some distance above. added to-, a convenient Situation to the Sea coast where we Could make Salt, and a probibility of vessels Comeing into the mouth of columbia ("which the Indians inform us would return to trade with them in 3 months["]) from whome we might precure a fresh Supply of Indian trinkets to purchase provisions on our return home: together with the Solicitations of every individual, except one of our party induced us Conclude to Cross the river and examine the opposit Side.the Climate which must be from every appearance [must be] much milder than that above the 1st range of Mountains, The Indians are Slightly Clothed and give an account of but little Snow, and the weather which we have experienced Since we arrived in the neighbourhood of the Sea coast has been verry warm, and maney of the fiew days past disagreeably So. if this Should be the Case it will most Certainly be the best Situation of our naked party dressed as they are altogether in leather. (Moulton 1990, 6: 85-88)

On November 25, 1805, the Corps of Discovery left their base camp near Chinook Point and traveled to the more favorable location of Fort Clatsop.

Chinook Point, a National Historic Landmark, is in the Fort Columbia State Park, located two miles west of the Astoria Bridge on Hwy. 101 in Chinook, Washington. The park is open from 6:30am to 9:30pm in the summer and from 8:00am to 5:00pm in the winter. You can also download (in pdf) the Chinook Point National Historic Landmark nomination.

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