Fort Clatsop Site in 1900

Site of Fort Clatsop

Photo by George M. Weister[?] for Olin D. Wheeler (1899)

In 1900 the house pictured was occupied by Franklin Shane, whose brother, Carlos Shane, had traveled west via the Oregon Trail and filed a claim on the site in 1848, clearing the land and starting his farm a short time later.

Olin Wheeler, author of the first illustrated guide to the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition,1 was led here in 1899 by several persons, including three men with extensive knowledge of its history. One was Silas B. Smith, a grandson of the Clatsop leader Comowool—more correctly, Cóboway—to whom Lewis and Clark had given Fort Clatsop when they left in late March of 1806. Another was George H. Himes, curator for the recently established (1898) Oregon Historical Society. A third was George M. Weister, a landscape photograph from Portland, Oregon.

Silas Smith wrote a brief history of the site expressly for Wheeler, who quoted it in part:

Concerning the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition at the mouth of the Columbia river in November, 1805, and their sojourn at fort Clatsop the succeeding winter, as usual, more or less tradition was handed down by the Indians to their descendants, of the doings and characteristics of the people who had come among them.

At that time Cóboway . . . was the principal chief of the Clatsop tribe of Indians, within whose territory Fort Clatsop was established. Lewis and Clark erroneously gave the name of the chief as Comowool—that arose no doubt from the indistinct manner in which the Indians pronounced the name; according to their pronunciation the "b" in the name is but faintly sounded.

The chief had three daughters that arrived at womanhood, and all married white men for husbands. the eldest, Kilakotah, finally became Mrs. Louis Labontie, and the two were among the first settlers of the Willamette Valley,2 Labontie crossing the continent in 1811 with Wilson P. Hunt.3

The second, Celiast, became Mrs. Solomon H. Smith. Her Christian name was Helen. with her husband they were among the earlier settlers in the Willamette, finally becoming the first agricultural settlers west of the Coast range of mountains, settling and opening up a farm on Clatsop Plains, Clatsop County, Ore., in August, 1840. Her husband crossed the continent in 1832 with Captain Nathaniel Wyeth,4 and taught the first schools on the northwest coast, teaching at Fort Vancouver and in the Willamette country in 1833 and 1834.

The third daughter, Yaimast, became Mrs. Joseph Gervais. Gervais also came with Hunt in 1811, and was, I think, the first settler on the French prairie in the Willamette.

Cóboway's descendants now live in four States—California, Oregon, Montana, and Canada—are too numerous to mention, and all are drifting away from his race.

My mother, Celiast Cóboway, the chief's second daughter, lived until June, 1891, and always maintained that she remembered the time of Lewis and Clark's arrival, and also seeing the men. Mother said that in one of the houses they used was the large stump of a tree, which had been cut smooth, and which was used as a table. The tree had been cut down and then the house built, enclosing the stump.

The Indians here used to tell of the remarkable marksmanship of Captains Lewis and Clark with firearms, and of the surprises they used to give the savages by the wonderful accuracy of their shots.

An Indian youth, Twiltch by name, used to assist at fort Clatsop in the hunting of elk and other game, and was there taught the use of firearms, in the handling of which he became proficient. I knew him in his later years, and in my earlier acquaintance with him he stood at the head of the hunters of his tribe, and more particularly in the art of elk hunting. It was always his boast that he was taught the art by Lewis and Clark.

The Indians inhabiting the upper part of young's river Valley and the upper Nehalem Valley were known as the Klatskanin people. It was claimed by Chief Cóboway that these people were disposed to attack the encampment at fort Clatsop, and it was only through his influence and constant dissuasion that they were restrained, and no violence committed.

Wheeler also quoted from the journal of Alexander Henry the Younger (d. 1814), a prominent Canadian fur trader and explorer who visited the site of Fort Clatsop in 1813. Henry found that the remains of the fort were still visible, although most of the structure had been cut up and carried off by the Indians. Moreover, Nature had begun its reclamation process: willow trees growing among the debris were already 25 feet high. Nevertheless, wrote Henry, "the situation is the most pleasant I have seen hereabouts, and by far the most eligible, both as to security from the Natives, and for hunting."5 Clearly, Lewis and his five companions, who in early December of 1805 had spent six days searching for a place to winter over, had made a good choice.

1. Olin D. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark 1804-1904. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904.

2. The Willamette River, which Lewis and Clark heard Indians near Fort Clatsop call the Multnomah, had escaped their notice on the way down the Columbia, being hidden from their view by a large island. They missed it again on their way east in the spring of 1806, but asked directions of local Indians and quickly found it. On 2-3 April 1806, Clark explored the lower ten miles of the river with seven men and an Indian guide.

3. Wilson Price Hunt was the leader of the overland contingent of the Astor Fur Company, which deviated from Lewis and Clark's route at the mouth of the Grand River, cut through the Big Horn Mountains and crossed Union Pass into the Green River Valley, proceeded north through today's Grant Teton National Park, then followed the Snake River, genereally, to the Columbia, thence to the Columbia River, arriving at Fort Astoria—on 18 January 1812. Their whole journey is described and illustrated at

4. Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth (1802-1856) was an explorer, naturalist, and fur trader who made two trips to the Northwest, in 1832 and 1834, leaving the Missouri River near Kansas City and following the overland route which was soon to become known as the Oregon Trail. With him on the second trip were botanist Thomas Nuttall and ornithologist John Kirk Townsend.

5. Quoted in Wheeler, 2:198. The above photograph of the site of Fort Clatsop is at 2:195.