Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is located near the mouth of the Columbia River where the Lewis and Clark Expedition wintered from December 1805 through March 1806. During their stay, the explorers documented only twelve days out of 106 where it didn’t rain. It still rains frequently in this area.
The expedition built a modest wooden structure, Fort Clatsop, named after the local tribe. The original Fort Clatsop is long gone. A second replica, based on a Lewis drawing, currently stands on the original site.
The expedition had 31 people in it. They lived in this tiny little fort during a winter where it rained 89% of the time.
The visitor center does a good job on the who, what, where, when, why and hows of the expedition. Some of the major points learned from the exhibits are:
- Only one guy died on the expedition.
- They travelled 4,000 miles from the starting point to Fort Clatsop.
- They surveyed their route carefully and were only 40 miles off when they arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River. Given their surveying tools, this is a remarkable feat and says a lot about their attention to detail and dedication to their mission.
- The geopolitical climate of the day was such that a number of European colonial powers had already made claims on what would ultimately become the Continental United States. Clearly, the USA government wanted to secure their claim. One means to securing that claim was to accurately map the lands between the USA and the Pacific Ocean.
Geopolitical View Showing European Colonial Expansionist Interests
- Little was known about the First Peoples (or natives or Indians) already living on lands east of the USA. Who were they? Were they friendly or not? The expedition was supposed to find out everything they could about the peoples they encountered along their trip.
- Without substantial, substantive and material First Peoples help, the expedition would have failed. Nearly all the peoples the expedition encountered were generous and accommodating.
Command Structure and List of Expedition Members
- The expedition was primarily a military expedition. The command and control structure was military. They maintained a high level of security around their encampments and their fort. Sentries were always on duty. Visitors had to leave before dark and couldn’t arrive before light.
- Sacajawea was taken from her Shoshone family as a child during a war with another tribe. As was the custom, she was taken as a slave. She ended up as the wife of French-Canadian trader Toussaint Charbonneau (they don’t say but Charbonneau probably had to pay for her). During the expedition, she carried her newborn child, Jean Baptiste, with her. It seems fair to speculate that the expedition gaining the trust and cooperation of First Peoples along the route was due, in large part, to Sacajawea. At a critical point in the trip, in dire need of horses and with their backs against the wall, the expedition leaders were meeting with tribal leaders. Sacajawea, acting as interpreter, recognizes her brother, now a chief. they got the horses they needed.
The trails through the park were well marked wide forest trails. We didn’t encounter any particularly steep sections. The cold rain kept exploration at a minimum. In better weather, the views would have been more satisfying.
A Naturalization Ceremony coincided with our visit to the visitor center. The center’s conference room was overflowing where the ceremony was being held. It would have been nice to see the ceremony. I couldn’t justify taking a seat from friends and family of citizens to be just to satisfy my curiosity. I couldn’t help thinking “Welcome to this crazy experiment we are all part of called Democracy.”
In this park, we gained a better understanding of and appreciation for the historical significance of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!