Pacific Ocean: November 1805 to March 1806

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Winter at Fort Clatsop [1]

Fort Clatsop

Captain Lewis carried with him a letter of credit signed by Jefferson, guaranteeing payment for the explorers' return by sea via any American or foreign merchant ship encountered in the Columbia River estuary. They saw no ships upon reaching the ocean, nor as their records reveal, would any enter the turbulent river entrance during their four-month stay at the coast. In truth, the captains never seriously intended to return by sea, preferring instead to establish a camp close to the coast. There they hoped to obtain from trading ships "a fresh Supply of Indian trinkets to purchase provisions on our return home."

Due to the absence of game and their unprotected exposure to fierce winter storms on the north shore of the Columbia (Washington State) the party elected to cross the river to the south side (Oregon) where, Indians informed them, elk and deer were numerous. An actual vote of the members was recorded, representing the first American democratically held election west of the Rockies that included the vote of a woman, Sacagawea, and an Afro-American man, York.

Crossing the river, they built their 1805-06 winter quarters on a protected site five miles south of modern Astoria, Oregon, naming it Fort Clatsop for their neighbors, the Clatsop Indians. The men spent the winter hunting elk for food and for making elk skin clothing and moccasins to replace their worn buckskins.

Lewis filled his journal with descriptions of plants, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, weather data, and much detailed information on Indian cultures. Clark drew illustrations of many of the animals and plants, and brought his maps of the journey up to date. Sacagawea joined Clark and a few of the men on a trip to the coast to procure oil and blubber from a "monstrous fish," a whale that had washed up on the beach. En route, they visited the Expedition's salt-making camp at present-day Seaside, Oregon, where several of the men kept a continuous fire burning for nearly a month boiling sea water, to produce twenty gallons of salt.

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  1. Adapted from an article by Irving W. Anderson
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