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Home > History > Part 9: Lewis and Clark In Depth Tour - The Columbia River

Part 9: Lewis and Clark In Depth Tour - The Columbia River

This page contains the account of the Lewis and Clark expedition reaching the Columbia River.

Lewis and Clark map of the Columbia River

Columbia River Map According to Lewis and Clark

The Columbia River

The Columbia River and Cascades Range

On October 7, 1805, the Corps of Discovery, with newly built canoes, emerged from the towering Bitterroots and set sail with a westward current along the Clearwater River. On October 10, the Corps reached the Snake River, before reaching the Columbia River on October 16th. The Corps then sailed with the Columbia, stopping to portage around treacherous portions of the Cascades Range, the last of the mountains between them and the Pacific Ocean.

Trapped in the Estuary

On November 7, 1805, Meriwether Lewis thought he saw the Pacific Ocean. In reality, it was the estuary of the Columbia. By the time they realized their actual location, the weather had turned. Bad weather and high waters trapped the Corps at Point Ellice. Overhanging rocks made it impossible for them to travel anywhere, including to hunt. Luckily, they were able to trade for food with the local Clatsop Indians, who were able to cross the estuary in their heavy coastal canoes.

At Last, the Pacific!

Finally, on November 15, 1805, Lewis and Clark saw the Pacific Ocean. This observation confirmed that the Northwest Passage, the discovery of which was one of the central points of the entire journey, did not exist. Nevertheless, Lewis and Clark established a "station camp" situated near a Chinook fishing village that had been abandoned for the winter. The Corps spent ten days at the station camp fishing, hunting, and trading with Chinook and Clatsop peoples. At nearby, Cape Disappointment, one of the members of the Corps killed a "remarkably large buzzard" feeding on a whale carcass. This buzzard was undoubtedly a California Condor, one of America's most endangered animals. The California Condor, once common along the entirety of the west coast, is only found today in a small portion of eastern California and Arizona.

Trading with the Sickly Chinook

On November 20th, the camp was visited by a pair of important Chinook chiefs, who traded otter-fur robes for a belt of blue beads worn by Sacagawea. The Chinook were used to trading with Whites and had become skilled negotiators. Lewis remarked in his journal that many Chinook seemed afflicted with "European-introduced" diseases such as Smallpox. Nearly 75% of the Chinook nation would be dead in the next two decades of Smallpox and other European diseases.

 

Lewis and Clark and the Columbia River

 

Did you know?

California Condor

The California Condor is the largest bird found in North America. With a wingspan that can stretch to ten feet in length, the condor is highly endangered and has avoided extinction only because of captive breeding programs undertaken in Arizona and California.

Part 10: Fort Clatsop

Lewis and Clark Adventure:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Into the Wild
Part 3: Teton Sioux Territory
Part 4: The Mandans
Part 5: Grizzly Country
Part 6: Great Falls of the Missouri River
Part 7: Shoshone Country
Part 8: The Bitterroots
Part 9: The Columbia River
Part 10: Fort Clatsop
Part 11: Return Trip

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