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215 Years Ago: Lewis 'n Clark This Week on Oregon, Washington Coast

Published 11/13/20 at 4:25 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

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(Astoria, Oregon) – It’s right about now – November 13, 1805 – that Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery had made it to what is essentially the Oregon coast / Washington coast region. Yet not quite the beaches. That history was still about to be made. On this day, they were pinned down by massive river waves and weather at a place they christened Dismal Nitch.

It was, however, on November 7 that William Clark made the declaration of “Ocian in view! O! The joy” as the Corps were ambling through the waters of the Columbia River and noticing that the waves and tides were getting much bigger. The river opened up to a wide area and the group apparently thought they saw the ocean horizon well ahead. They were in actuality near Pillar Rock and at Gray’s Bay – some 20 miles from the ocean.

That night they camped near Pillar Rock, and Clark even wrote that there was “great joy” in the camp as they could see the ocean. However, the next day yielded the unpleasant discovery that they were still quite a ways away. It was only Gray’s Bay, they realized.

On November 8 they set out in canoes to cross the bay but found the conditions so rough that many of the party – including Sacegawea – were getting sick. So that night they camped on the west side of the bay, then inched closer and closer to the Pacific atop these wild river conditions for the next two days, camping at different locales on the Washington side of the river two nights and then just about where Astoria is now on November 10 (at Dismal Nitch). There they were stuck until November 15.

November 11 and 12 saw them completely soaked and miserable but they had made the acquaintance of the Cathlamet tribe (calling them Calt-har-ma in Clark’s journals). On the 13th Clark made a journey up a small mountain, barely reaching the top because of its steepness. That ended in disappointment as he could not see a thing through the thick cloud cover.

On the 14th they dealt with heavy winds (big surprise for the Oregon / Washington coast, right?). In fact, they write they cannot tell from which directions the winds are coming.

Finally, on the 15th they’re able to set out and drift down the river three miles to near where Chinook, Washington is and set up camp on a sandy beach. They’ve finally, actually seen the Pacific Ocean – and they’re happy as a clam.

It’s here they set up Station Camp, in full view and earshot of the waves. The Oregon coast often likes to claim it was the first spot where Lewis & Clark spotted the ocean, but it’s the Washington coast.

Middle Village Station Camp commemorates all this and the native village that was here as well. They spent 10 days somewhere around this spot (the actual locale isn’t known because the shoreline has moved in 200 years). The group occupied what they thought was an abandoned tribal village, but it was simply their summer fishing headquarters and they were elsewhere.

They met and traded with the Chinook and Clatsop Indians in this spot, and some made a trip to Cape Disappointment (which had been named decades earlier by John Meares and not by Lewis & Clark).

An incredibly significant moment in history occurred at Station Camp on November 24, when the first time a vote was counted by a black man, a Native American and a woman. Lewis and Clark asked everyone to vote on where to set up winter quarters, and this included the black slave York and Sacagewea. The majority voted to head south, and thus Fort Clatsop on the north Oregon coast came into being.

They headed for that area on the 25th.

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