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Letter from Elk City

By Staff | Jun 23, 2009

This memorial to the Lewis and Clark expedition at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, the site of the original Fort Clatsop, commemorates their overland journey. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

ELK CITY, Ore. – It’s impossible to separate Lewis and Clark from the Northwest. The captains led a journey that would have been incredible even by today’s standards. The Voyage of Discovery started in Ohio, then after wintering over in preparation, they started from St. Louis, Mo., April 1804.

It took two winters to reach the Northwest Coast, the end of their journey. After spending the first winter with the Mandan and enlisting the services of Sacajawea, a 15-year-old Shoshone girl, they resumed their journey, finally reaching the coast as winter approached.

On at least three occasions, Sacajawea personally saved the expedition. The first time was when she dove into the water to save Captain Clark’s precious scientific instruments that had fallen overboard. The second was when she helped make contact with the Shoshone, her own people from whom she had been kidnapped. The third was when she was instrumental in making peace with the Nez Perce.

And this was all done by a 15-year-old Shoshone girl with a baby on her back and one on the way. Those are probably enough reasons to make her one of the greatest heroes in American history.

Lewis and Clark first saw the Pacific from the Washington side of the river but decided to winter over in what is now Oregon. They named their winter camp Fort Clatsop for the Clatsop Indians living in the area.

While the mood of the expedition was generally upbeat, two reoccurring complaints were evident – mosquitoes and rain. And there were plenty of both at their winter quarters.

The current Fort Clatsop, one of the highlights of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, is the third iteration of the actual fort. The first was built by the Corps of Discovery expedition under command of Lewis and Clark. The second was built in the 1960s then burned a few years ago. The third was built to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Located just south of Warrenton, Ore., Fort Clatsop is probably the best value in the national park system. For just $3 admission, you get to see the rebuilt Fort Clatsop, films and historical exhibits from the era of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

While relatively luxurious for the members of the Corps of Discovery, if one studies the replica of Fort Clatsop, you realize how hardy and tough the explorers of over 200 years ago really were. The stockade door opens to reveal a series of individual cabins that had storage above for the explorers’ items. Rough, log-hewn beds covered with hides make you wonder how they even had a good night’s rest.

While the exact location of the original Fort Clatsop is unknown, the recreated fort does justice to show today’s visitors to the Northwest the courage of those explorers of more than 200 years before.

And understanding that is alone worth the visit.