Having reached the Pacific Ocean over a year and a half after
departing from Camp Wood, the Corps of Discovery realized that
the rough and miserable winter of 1805 to 1806 would have to be
spent thousands of miles from the warmth and comfort of their
homes back east. Resigned to this reality, the crew quickly set
to building a suitable shelter that would provide protection for
the upcoming months. The result of their efforts was the creation
of Fort Clatsop, a reconstruction of which is found at its original
site, located in Astoria, Oregon. The expedition's presence in
this area strengthened the United States's claim to the Northwest,
and paved the way for the first American settlement--the Pacific
Fur Company Post, established at the mouth of the Columbia River
in 1811 by John Jacob Astor.
Aerial view of Fort Clatsop
Photo from National Park Service digital archive
When complete, Fort Clatsop consisted of two parallel rows of huts, separated
by a 20 foot by 48 foot parade ground. Due to the complement of
firepits and bunkbeds, it is thought that the three huts on the
south side of the fort housed all of the enlisted men. In contrast,
on the north side of the complex, lay a series of four rooms,
only two of which actually opened onto the central promenade.
The room to the farthest right was most likely used for meat storage,
while the other three huts served as interconnected private rooms
for the leaders of the expedition and possibly for the family
of Sacagawea as well. In furnishing the reconstructed fort, historians
have made sure to handcraft all items using the same types of
tools originally used by the expedition. Adding to the interpretive
quality of the site, special displays are showcased during the
summer months. From animal skins to dried plants to bullet-making
equipment, each room provides a tangible way to interact with
the history of the Corps of Discovery.
One of the reconstructed Fort
Courtesy of the Oregon Tourism Commission
Not inclined to waste away their time, the Lewis and Clark
pioneers remained busy throughout the winter season. Whether
they were distilling salt at the nearby cairn, compiling scientific
observations or trading and communicating with neighboring indigenous
groups such as the Clatsop or Chinook, the members of the Corps
of Discovery did not lose sight of the exploratory nature of
their mission. Nevertheless, the expedition was more than ready
to begin the return trip home on March 23, 1806, setting out
at the first sign of spring.
Fort Clatsop National Memorial, administered by the National
Park Service, is located four and one half miles southwest of
Astoria, Oregon. The Visitor Center is open from 8:00am to 6:00pm
during the summer, 8:00am to 5:00pm the remainder of the year.
Please call 503-861-2471 ext. 214, or visit the park's website
for further information.
Fort Clatsop National Memorial
is the subject of an online-lesson
plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National
Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on
properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit
the Teaching with Historic
Places home page.