By the time they reached the coast in November 1805, the Corps had already been on short salt rations for some time. Back in October, Sergeant Gass had complained that fish was "poor and insipid" provender without salt. When the captains had asked the company their suggestions in choosing a winter campsite, Private Whitehouse summarized the consensus in his journal: "It would be of an advantage to us, for to stay near the Sea shore, on account of making Salt, which we are nearly out of at this time & the want of it in preserving our Provisions for the Winter, would be an object well worth our attention." Salt was also essential in processing hides for clothing and moccasins.
The tidewater river at their campsite was not salty enough for their purposes, so on 28 December the captains sent five men to the ocean to set up a salt works. To get past the dilution of the freshwater outflow, the salt makers had to go more than fifteen miles south of the Columbia's mouth to find a suitable spot, on the beach north of Tillamook Head (the peninsula at upper right in the picture). Here they built an oven of stones and, day and night for a month and a half, scooped perhaps 1,400 gallons of water from the surf, boiling it down to about twenty-eight gallons of salt. The product, Clark confirmed, was "excellent white & fine" and "not So Strong as the rock Salt . . . made in Kentucky."
Today's Seaside, Oregon, is a world-famous summer resort. The area had been Indian wintering grounds for a thousand years or more before the Corps of Discovery came here.
From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark
Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press