Finishing Touches

Page 8 of 9

Day 17, December 26.Today Joseph Fields "finish[ed] a Table & 2 Seats" for the captains. Life at the fort was somewhat more comfortable today, except for one daily complaint that had remained unspoken until now. Clark: "The flees are So troublesome that I have Slept but little for 2 nights past and we have regularly to kill them out of our blankets everyday for Several past."

Figure 10

Crane Fly, Tipula abdominalis Say

Gentle Giant

crane fly

© 2007 by Jo Ann Poe-McGavin

This species is classified in the family Tipulidae, a Latin word meaning "water spider," which happens to be one of this fly's common names. And that is no wonder, since Tipulidae constitute the largest family of Diptera (two-wingers) in the world, numbering roughly 1,517 different species in the U.S. and Canada alone. Given a family that large one might expect to learn that there must be a few that deserve some acknowledgement for services rendered or damages done. But it seems the best that can be said of any of them is that even though they may look somewhat like overgrown mosquitoes—adult body length, 1"; wingspan up to 3"—they don't act like them.

This wasn't the expedition's first encounter with a "water spider." Way back on 27 March 1804, Lewis posted in the day's "Remarks" that he had seen some large insects resembling mosquitoes, but that didn't seem right. "They attempted to bit[e] my horse," he wrote, "but I could not observe that they made any impression with their Beaks."

Figure 11

"Leatherjacket"

Larva, T. abdominalis Say

crane fly larva

© 2009 by Daniel Neal, via BugGuide, Iowa State University

Many of the larvae of T. abdominalis—known as "leatherjackets" on account of their thick integuments (casings)—which represent the worm stage of the metamorphosis that produces the fragile, gangling mini-monster we know as the crane fly, are not as guiltless as their parents. Subterranean larvae feed on the roots of many grasses, as well as on decomposing grass cuttings. Although some are small—in length about equal to half the diameter of a penny,—other T. abdominalis larvae may attain a length of over two inches, and a diameter of up to 10 mm (nearly ½ in). Between and beside the large, wide-set eyes are pointed bristles called setae (SET-eye), which serve to protect the larva's face.1

A large community of them can visibly damage a well manicured lawn or putting green. However, that's only because we mow our yards and golf courses regularly throughout the growing season, and water them methodically, creating a subterranean supermarket of leatherjackets' comestibles. Aquatic larvae belong to the feeding group called "shredders," because they break fallen leaves into smaller pieces, and thereby provide accessible forage to other organisms. Also, they help to clean up their living space by feeding on decaying water plants.2

Day 18, December 27. In today's journal entry, Captain Clark tried to sound nonchalant—"the men Complete Chimneys & Bunks to day"—whereas Ordway was somewhat more specific: "[W]e built backs and enside chimneys in our huts which made them much more comfortable than before." It may be that they built stone hearths and chimneys, but since there is no indication that they had any cement or lime with them to make mortar, and given that they were to dwell in their bastion only three more months, it seems more likely that they arranged some stones carefully against the outer log wall, and a few more on the floor, chinked them all with mud, and erected some plank or elk-hide baffles to funnel smoke straight to the holes in the roof.

The design of those bunks is another matter worthy of speculation. Back in Philadelphia, as he gathered supplies for the expedition, Lewis purchased "1½ dozen Bed Laces."3 An everyday sign of sleeping comfort in those days, bed laces were nets made of hemp or sisal rope which could be fastened to holes or pegs in bed frames and "tuned" or stretched taut with a "bed key" to one's personal measure of comfort. They were never referred to in the journals, so either they were too commonplace to be worth mentioning, or Lewis left them behind to cut costs. But if indeed they did carry them along, circumstances may have required that they be cut apart to provide strong ropes to tie up the manties of baggage and lash them to their pack saddles. And if not, at Fort Clatsop it seems likely they were all obliged to sleep on unyielding puncheons.

On December 27 Clark signed off on his field note, perhaps with a shudder of recognition, "Musquetors troublesom." However, in the fair copy of this day's journal he managed to suppress his anxiety. "Musquetors to day, or an insect So much the Size Shape and appearance of a Musquetor that we Could observe no kind of difference." We can forgive him for not noticing that the little monster had neither scales on its body, nor a long, piercing proboscis. But he must have noticed that it didn't rush to inflict that old familiar trespass, and therefore didn't expropriate any of his blood. And it didn't scream in his ear. But it sure was a convincing mosquito look-alike—one of Ma Nature's biggest little jokes (see Fig. 10).

Unquestionably, the best part of this day was centered on the visit of the Clatsops' Chief Coboway and four other men who, Clark recalled, "presented us" with a quantity of roots and berries which were "timely and extreamly greatfull to our Stomachs, as we have nothing to eate but Spoiled Elk meat." We are left to wonder how inclusive that objective plural pronoun "us" was. The whole company of 33 hungry mouths? Or just the captains'?

Day 19, December 28. Clark "Sent out the hunters and Salt makers." The rest of the sentence tips us off to an important detail on concept and construction: "& employed the balance of the men Carrying pickets &C." In this case, the word 'pickets' was a military term denoting pointed logs driven or dug into the ground with the pointed end up, to make a stockade that would prevent or discourage unauthorized persons from climbing over it.

Day 20, December 29. Chief Coboway and his companions departed from the vicinity of the Fort this morning. Clark sent him off with the gift of an old and evidently useless razor, which suggests that the men of the Corps were amply bearded by this time.

Today the Corps evidently got their first look at the waterproof hat of the Nootka Sound type, made of cedar bark and beargrass leaves. Also, Clark was able to definitively summarize the local flea situation:

The flees are So noumerous in this Countrey and difficult to get Cleare of that the Indians have difft. houses & villages to which they remove frequently to get rid of them, and not withstanding all their precautions, they never Step into our hut without leaveing Sworms of those troublesome insects. Indeed I scercely get to Sleep half the night Clear of the torments of those flees, with the precaution of haveing my blankets Serched and the flees killed every day. The 1s[t] of those insects we Saw on the Collumbia River was at the 1s[t] Great falls–

Day 21, December 30. This evening Clark sighed four words of triumph: "our fortification is Completed," adding a cheerful aside: "this day proved to be the fairest and best which we have had since our arrival at this place." He signed off with a satisfied Clarkian chuckle: "only three Showers dureing this whole day."

Day 22, December 31. But there was still a little more important work to do for the men's comfort and convenience. Sgt. Ordway reported, "we built a box for the centinel to Stand in out of the rain    dug 2 Sinques" or latrines, which would have been out beyond the "water gate." Some Wahkiakums arrived today from upriver, from whom Clark bought some wapato, a couple of mats, and "about 3 pipes of their tobacco in a neet little bag made of rushes." Finally, he added a footnote to their residency in Fort Clatsop:

With the party of Clât Sops who visited us last was a man of much lighter Coloured than the natives are generally, he was freckled with long duskey red hair, about 25 years of age, and most Certainly be half white at least, this man appeared to understand more of the English language than the others of his party, but did not Speak a word of English, he possessed all the habits of the indians.

If Clark's estimate of the man's age was accurate, it would appear that there were English-speaking fur traders on this part of the Pacific coast around 1780, twelve years before the American Robert Gray became the first man ever to enter the Columbia River estuary. It appears that no one has yet successfully explained this historical paradox.

  • 1. Ross H. Arnett, Jr., American Insects: A handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 2000), 850.
  • 2. R. W. Bouchard, Jr., "Guide to aquatic macroinvertebrates of the Upper Midwest." Water Resources Center, University of Minnesota, St. Paul. p. 183. Charles Paul Alexander, "The Crane-Flies of New York," Part II. Biology and phylogeny." Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, Memoir 38 (June, 1920).
  • 3. Jackson, Letters, 1:83. More expensive laces made of tape instead of rope were sometimes used as seats in stagecoaches to relieve passengers from painful jostling on rough roads.