Lewis and Clark on the Columbia River


This page describes Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery on the Columbia River


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Lewis and Clark

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Related Historical Events

Louisiana Purchase
Westward Expansion

The Epic Journey

Summer 1804 – Into the Wild
Late 1804 – Teton Sioux Territory
Winter 1804-1805 – the Mandans
April 1805 – Grizzly Country
Summer 1805 – Great Falls of the Missouri River
August 1805 – Shoshone Country
Fall 1805 – the Bitterroot
November 1805 – Columbia River
Winter 1805-1806 – Fort Clatsop
1806 – Return Trip

Lewis and Clark map of the Columbia River

Columbia River Map According to Lewis and Clark

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.

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.

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.

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.


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