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Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

historic site Camp Wood

Location (approximate): St. Charles County, along the west bank of the Mississippi River, about 2-1/4 miles north of the present north bank of the Missouri River at its mouth. No road leads to the site; the nearest one is Mo. 99-140, about 5 miles to the west.

During some 170 years of changing river channels in the vicinity, the site of Camp Wood has shifted from the south bank of the Wood River at its junction with the Mississippi River, in Madison County, Ill., to the opposite bank of the Mississippi (see "Location of Camp Wood (Dubois)" map). The Missouri at its mouth has pushed southward; the Mississippi has moved eastward; and a new channel has been dredged for the Wood River.

Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi
Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi, looking upstream to the northeast. The former enters from left center. The original site of Camp Wood is apparently across from the city of Hartford, Ill., visible on the east bank of the Mississippi's big bend, and somewhere on the northeastern corner of the point of land between the two streams that is known locally as Missouri Point. At the time of Lewis and Clark, the Missouri emptied into the Mississippi about 4 miles upstream from its present mouth. (Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (Blair, 1964).)

Camp Wood was the expedition's base camp and its home for slightly more than 5 months—between December 12, 1803, and May 14, 1804. Clark established it and directed operations there during the winter while Lewis procured supplies and gathered intelligence data in the St. Louis area—though he paid occasional visits to the camp, as did Clark to St. Louis and Cahokia. But for most of the winter, despite his frequent sickness, the latter labored at selecting, organizing, training, and disciplining the complement; receiving and packing supplies; modifying the keelboat; and providing it and the two pirogues with armament. Lighter moments were provided by shooting matches with local settlers and visits with passing Indians and traders.

On the return trip from the Pacific, on September 23, 1806, just a short time before it arrived in St. Louis, the expedition revisited the Camp Wood site.

Location of Camp Wood (Dubois), Winter Camp 1803-1804
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The complexities created by the gross changes in the channels of the three rivers render identification of the Camp Wood site extremely difficult, and it is only possible to achieve through a careful examination of historical sources and maps. Since the time of Lewis and Clark, the bed of the Missouri, where it debouches into the Mississippi, has moved about 3-1/2 air miles, or some 4-1/2 river miles, along the bend of the Mississippi channel, to the southeast. During the same period, the Mississippi has moved eastward about three-quarters of a mile, eroding away the outside of a great sweeping curve on the Illinois side; as a result, what was river channel in 1804 is now Missouri soil and what was dry land on the Illinois side is inundated by the Mississippi or in Missouri.

Wood River
Upstream view along the north bank of the 1804 channel of the Wood River, in Illinois. Its mouth, which an oil company keeps dredged for a short distance to provide its operations with a water supply from Mississippi backup, is about 100 feet to the right out of the picture where it joins the Mississippi; some ways upstream, the 1804 channel is a dry bed. The present Wood River, running in a newly dredged channel, empties into the Mississippi upstream from the 1804 course. Because of a major change in the channel of the Mississippi, the site of Camp Wood is now on its west side in the State of Missouri. (National Park Service (Appleman, 1965).)

This change in the course of the Mississippi has cut off the lower three-quarters of a mile of the Wood River. The lower part of the river channel that remains, which meanders widely and is today a dry bed except for stagnant pools of water in wet weather, can be traced on the ground between the cities of East Alton and Wood River and the Mississippi. Because of the meandering and in the interest of improving its property in the vicinity, about 1917 the Standard Oil Company of Indiana dredged a new channel for the lower extremity of the Wood River that cuts off about 3 miles of the 1804 channel and empties into the Mississippi about three-fifths of a mile north of the remaining old channel. The Standard Oil Company keeps its lower end dredged to accommodate backup waters of the Mississippi that provide a water supply for its operations.

The State of Illinois has erected a monument commemorating the site of Camp Wood, but it is opposite the present mouth of the Missouri, or about 3 miles southeast of the actual campsite. The monument is situated in a small park on the east bank of the Mississippi just south of the point where the Cahokia Diversion Channel empties into the Mississippi about three-quarters of a mile northwest of the village of Oldenburg. U.S. Alternate 67 runs along the river bottom land about three-quarters of a mile east of the monument.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004