Rush Job

Topical Summary: The School Near the Seaside—Choose a Spot—Building Fort Clatsop: Day by Day—Floor Plan—Tree of Life—Mind the Meat!—Salt Solution—Making Leather—Personal Hygiene—Deep Depression—Puncheon or Punchin: A Wiggly Word—Froe, Frow, or Frower—Sheer Misery—Multiple Homesteads—Private Property—Carpenters & Joiners—Christmas Gifts—Bench Plains—Smoke Alarm—Indian Houses—A Gentle Giant—New Year—School's Out

The School Near the Seaside

It was the end of the road. The Corps of Volunters for North Western Discovery had fulfilled the principal objective that President Thomas Jefferson had laid before Captain Lewis: "to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it, as, by it's course and communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean . . . may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce." On the surprisingly "Clear and butifull" morning of 16 November 1805, they stood on the summit of Cape Disappointment, absorbed by the awesome view of the Columbia River's meeting with the not-always-pacific western ocean. By Clark's estimate they had traveled in boats and on horseback 4,132 miles from the mouth of the Missouri River.1 But that wasn't the end of the story. The two officers and their retinue had much to learn about living on the North Western edge of the continent.

On the fifth of December Captain Lewis, pushing ahead with several enlisted men as aides, finally found a suitable site for the Corps of Discovery's winter encampment. The main attraction of the place was that several of the Corps' hunters had seen great numbers of elk thereabouts, an advantage that would too soon introduce them all to a major course of study: how to keep their fresh meat from spoiling. Also, the site was on the south side of the Columbia River estuary a short distance north of the mouth of the Netul River, from which they figured they would be able to see any traders' ships that crossed the bar as spring approached. They were seriously in need of more trade goods with which to purchase necessities from natives to support their long journey home.2 Finally, it was fifteen miles—a little less than a day's brisk walk—from the ocean where they could boil seawater to make salt.

Later that day Lewis hurried back up the estuary to Point William (today's Tongue Point) where Clark and the main party were anxiously awaiting him. "A 1000 conjectures has crouded into my mind," muttered the Kentuckian, "respecting his probable Situation & Safety." The next day, high winds and waves kept them all from moving downriver, but the 7th dawned under a fair sky, so they started early and breasted the incoming tide for the nine miles down to "Meriwethers Bay"3 as fast as they could paddle, and set up a temporary bivouac "in a thick groth of pine4 about 200 yards from the river, . . . on a rise about 30 feet higher than the high tides." Clark approved. This, he agreed, was "certainly the most eligable Situation for our purposes of any in its neighbourhood." Best of all, there was a freshwater spring near the place where the rear exit of the parade enclosure would be. That exit was called—what else?—the "water gate."

Figure 1

Choose a Spot

virgin forest

Forest and Ground Cover,

vicinity of Fort Clatsop replica today.

Undoubtedly the captains had observed that in the moist climate west of the Cascades, woods and undergrowth often covered the land to the river's edge, and had discussed the slim prospects of finding a suitable place for what they needed to build. They had sketched out a plan for their fort (Fig. 2), but it seemed that finding a level spot at least fifty feet square would be next to impossible. But after days of deliberate searching, a potential site was located.

Then the real labor had to begin without delay. First, there was the felling and limbing of trees that could be used for the walls of the structure. The useable logs had to be cut to length and stacked into "decks" handy to the site's boundaries. Trees that were too small or too large for building had to be bucked up and split into firewood, then stacked in orderly ranks and somehow sheltered from the daily and nightly showers until they were dry enough to burn. Finally, all of the litter from those initial steps, plus the non-woody undergrowth such as the superabundant ferns, had to be cut and carried away from the structure's eventual site before construction could begin.

The scene above was photographed from near the top of the rise where the original garrison is believed to have stood. It shows what is at least the third general forest regrowth after successive clearings for farming and commercial operations such as logging and brick making, which were established there and successively declined during the generations since Lewis and Clark wintered there. Those disturbances, combined with the processes of natural decay and rejuvenation that are accelerated by the perennially moist and temperate coastal climate, left little or no material evidence of the original structure's existence. Furthermore, the anecdotal evidence gathered from personal recollections, often secondhand at best, and sometimes conflicting, have been of limited help in answering the question. All of this has made precise archaeological identification of the original fort's location highly unlikely. Nevertheless, the placement of the garrison's present replica is believed to be "on or near" the site of the original fort.5

Exactly how their winter cantonement of 1803-04, called Camp Dubois, was laid out, is unknown. The captains left no sketch of a floor plan, so replication had to be based on verbal clues in the journals and examples of earlier fortifications along the Mississippi.6 We do know, however, that the 1804-05 winter camp, Fort Mandan, was built over a triangle, and that the floor plan of Fort Clatsop was a square (Fig. 2). Clark and his men apparently cobbled together the huts comprising Camp Dubois in about 18 days, whereas they spent 54 days building Fort Mandan, partly because of the need to create the next best thing to a Mandan earth lodge, partly to shelter themselves against what has long since been politely referred to as a "North Dakota Winter," and partly out of an apparent need for battle readiness to repel assaults by Sioux and Arikara warriors. But here, on the south side of the Columbia River estuary, seven overland miles from the Pacific Ocean, where they were to wait out the winter of 1805-06, they consumed 22 workdays just sheltering themselves from the persistent rain, and coping with a number of new and unforeseen challenges. Discoveries, if you will.

Building Fort Clatsop

Figure 2

Floor Plan of Fort Clatsop

Pass cursor over image to read details.

sketch from elkskin covered journal

Above is a copy of the floor plan for Fort Clatsop that was drawn on the outside back cover of Clark's field journal, which he had covered with elk skin to keep its contents clean and dry. He drew another, slightly different layout elsewhere, but evidence clearly shows that this is the one that was used.

Day 1—December 10 marked the beginning of work on the Corps' third winter garrison. That was the day Clark returned from supervising the placement of the salt-makers' camp on the beach, to find all hands–those who weren't too sick to work–clearing the ground and staking out the plan of the structure. They worked as fast as they could, and the daily, mostly intermittent rain showers punctuated by gale-lashed torrents, strengthened their resolve.

Day 2—On the 11th they raised the log walls of one line of huts. There was no need to take time to peel the logs. In fact, the mud daubing they were to apply to keep out the wind would adhere better to rough bark than to bare wood.

Day 3—December 12 brought satisfying progress, and their first major challenge: "In the forenoon we finished 3 rooms of our cabins," Sgt. Gass reported, "all but the covering; which I expect will be a difficult part of the business, as we have not yet found any timber which splits well; two men went out to make some boards, if possible, for our roofs."

Day 4—On December 13, everyone's spirits got a boost. Their two unnamed loggers found exactly what was needed—western redcedar (Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don). Now they could rive (split) boards from those tree trunks to roof their huts in order to keep out wind and rain, and the wood would exude its clean, stimulating balsamic aroma to comfort the occupants and allay some of the stress of living in close quarters during the endless days of semi-confinement.

Tree of Life

Surely they had all noticed those trees whose split tops towered above the rest of the forest, as the Salish trail led them among the sources and upper reaches of the Lochsa River, beginning but a day or two after they descended from Packer Meadows on the Bitterroot Divide. They would have found them in small, widely separated groves covering two or three acres at most, or as isolated giants lifting their crowns above the tops of less imposing trees. They may have seen the Somewhat surprisingly, it was not the captains but Sergeant Ordway and Private Whitehouse who, on 15 September 1805, were the first of the journalists to record those "tall Strait Siprass [cypress], or white ceeder" trees, that they saw downstream from Killed Colt Camp, and soon farther along in "swampey places." Up on the main stem of K'useyneiskit, a six-man advance party of hunters led by Capt. Clark camped on the 19th, in a grove of western redcedar and western white pine to which history has since given the name "Lewis and Clark Grove."7 Whitehouse was a member of Lewis's party, which camped in that grove the next day, observed "considerable of Strait handsome timber . . . which resembles [northern] white ceeder but is called Arbervity."8 We cannot say whether the private took his cue from Lewis, or vice versa, or whether he recognized the similarity from his own experience. In any case, everyone in the company must have been awestruck by those majestic trees. But Lewis used the same nickname in his journal entry for the day: "the Arborvitae," he wrote,—undoubtedly with the pronunciation AR-ber-VY-tee in mind—"grows to an immence size, being from 2 to 6 feet in diameter."

Whitehouse's likening of western redcedar to northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis L. 1753)—ironically, the specific epithet occidentalis is Latin for "western"—was appropriate inasmuch as both the foliage and the sapwood of each species are almost identical. Also, both have the same small, plaited or scale-like, evergreen leaves in flat sprays—except that those of the eastern species turn to yellowish green in winter. Moreover, both are easily split for boards, shingles and shakes, although the eastern species is considerably smaller in diameter than T, plicata. From his ground-level perspective, however, Whitehouse could easily have missed the two species' main distinction: the eastern species rarely grows more than half as tall as the western.9 However, no one could have overlooked the exhilarating aroma emanating from the tree, but it was Clark who first and fittingly called it "balsom pine."10

Day 5—December 14 was a benchmark day. "We completed the building of our huts, 7 in number," Sgt. Gass reported hopefully, "all but the covering, which I now find will not be so difficult as I expected; as we have found a kind of timber in plenty, which splits freely, and makes the finest puncheons [planks] I have ever seen. They can be split 10 feet long and two broad, not more than an inch and an half thick." It is not clear whether the sergeant's remark should be read as evidence that the Corps did indeed have a froe (Fig. 3) with them, and that its head was a little over two feet long.

That day also brought a discovery that boded ill for them, although it took them another week or more to come to the full realization of it. "[A]ll our last Supply of Elk," Clark lamented, "has Spoiled in the repeeted rains which has been fallen ever Since our arrival at this place, and for a long time before." Throughout November and December there were several days when the sun shone through for a few hours, but seldom long enough to draw much moisture from anything beneath it.

Mind the Meat!

Most of the winter, the weather would prove surprisingly mild compared with winters at similar latitudes from the Rockies eastward. That was both a blessing and a curse. At the human level, the temperature would at last be tolerable, even downright comfortable for everyone as soon as they had a warm, dry shelter to return to day or night. On the other hand, the temperature seldom dropped into the low 30s Fahrenheit, and didn't stay there long when it did. Thus it was essential to get the meat processed and into the smokehouse within 5 or 6 hours of being bled out, skinned, boned and butchered. The butchered cuts had to be trimmed of ligaments and fat, all bloody spots or other discoloration cut out, and all "off-odors" as well as slime that signified bacterial growth, as well as visible evidence of parasites and other insects, had to be cut away. Next, it was necessary to cut the leanest large portions of the meat into slabs or "flitches" about 10 inches long and 1 inch thick. The slabs would then be "fleeced"—cut into ⅛" to ¼" slices—to insure fast, thorough drying of each slice evenly from the outside in. Let the slightest bit of moisture remain anywhere, and bacteria will begin to grow right there, and the whole slice will soon be contaminated. And if one slice goes, they will all likely go—a result the Corps experienced numerous times during their Fort Clatsop residence. Today, hunters age their venison until moisture near the surface has evaporated, or else put it in a freezer it until it begins to firm up before slicing it thin. Obviously the Corps' hunters had no choice but to slice their meat raw, which would have been both tedious and dangerous, even with a very sharp knife. Specifically, it would have been difficult to slice it evenly, so it would dry evenly.

Considering all these factors, and the unsanitary conditions under which they had to be carried out, it is no wonder that their meat was often foul-smelling, bad-tasting, nutritionally unsatisfying, and basically sickening. Of course, they soon learned to balance all the factors involved in securing, handling and preserving meat to the point that occasionally, when circumstances conjoined, they could fill their bellies with good viands. But even then, the captains faced another problem, which they quickly resolved:

We have heretofore usually divided the meat when first killed among the four messes into which we have divided our party leaving to each the care of preserving and the discretion of using it, but we find that they make such prodigal use of it when they hapen to have a tolerable stock on hand that we have determined to adapt a different system with our present stock of seven Elk; this is to jerk it & issue it to them in small quantities.–

He never said how well that plan worked, but at least his description of it strongly suggests that the "we" and "us" in his and Clark's journal records usually referred to himself and his co-captain as well as the civilians in the party, Drewyer, Charbonneau, plus Sacagawea and baby Jean Baptiste, whose quarters here adjoined the officers' (Fig. 2).

Salt Solution

One more way of dehydrating the meat was available once it was in the smokehouse: Rubbing the flitches and fleeces with salt would quickly draw moisture to the surface where it could evaporate. On January 5 the salt makers, Joe Fields, Bratton and Gibson, having found that "they could obtain from 3 quarts to a gallon a day," proudly brought to the fort about a gallon of salt, "excellent, fine, strong, & white," which was, said Lewis, "a great treat to myself and most of the party," not having had any since the 20th of December.

Beyond the daily dietary needs of 33 persons, salt served functions that were equally as important as drying meat—namely, tanning hides for clothing and moccasins. At that rate, a gallon would not last very long, and the first significant if still marginally sufficient supply didn't arrive from the seaside salt works until the third of February. Lewis summarized the situation:

late in the evening the four men who had been sent to assist the salt makers in transporting meat which they had killed to their camp, . . . returned, and brought with them all the salt which had been made, consisting of about one busshel only.    with the means we have of boiling the salt water we find it a very tedious opperation . . . notwithstanding we keep the kettles boiling day and night.    we calculate on three bushels lasting us from hence to our deposits of that article on the Missouri.11

Ultimately, that calculation wouldn't work out, partly because of the unexpected month-long delay in starting across the snowpacked Bitterroot Mountains. For as long as they expected to remain at Fort Clatsop, they could only hope that, smokey or not, hot air would carry the humidity toward the ceiling and out. But for optimum drying speed the humidity in the smokehouse needed to be below 30%, whereas the average relative humidity outdoors during the months of November and December was probably close to 70 or 80% or higher.12 It seemed as if the men of the Corps, as well as Sacagawea and little Jean Baptiste, would have to choke down rancid elk meat during the coming holidays, and on through the dreary weeks of January, February and March before they could depart for drier climes.

They had teetered at the brink of despond before, as in those hungry days toward the end of their treck through the Bitterroots. But then, while their bodies grew "pore" from lack of food, their hopes were nourished by the fact that as the days went by they could see new signs of an end to their misery. At least they were moving downhill toward good hunting, nourishment, and rest. But here at latitude 46°11'20"N, only about one degree (69 miles) south of Fort Mandan's wintry snow, ice, and frigid winds at Latitude 47°17'29"N, they were trapped in almost incessant rain and high humidity, within a narrow range of comparatively moderate temperatures. While the captains had urgent work to do—reports to write and maps to draw—their men were either hunting, rushing dead meat back to camp before it got too rotten to eat, cutting and splitting firewood, or curing deer and elk hides and fashioning desperately needed leather clothing and moccasins. They began tackling that last problem immediately after their rooms were roofed and the log walls chinked to keep out the chilling wind.

Making Leather

On January 23 Lewis reported: "The men of the garison are still busily employed in dessing Elk's skins for cloathing." Regrettably, he was compelled to add that "they find great difficulty for the want of branes [brains]     we have not soap to supply the deficiency, nor can we procure ashes to make the lye; none of the pines which we use for fuel affords any ashes; extrawdinary as it may seem, the greene wood is consoomed without leaving the residium of a particle of ashes.–"

There are a number of different ways of tanning or preparing hides for use in making clothing. The one that traditionally had been used by a majority of North American Indians for countless generations was the one the Corps' leaders had in mind, judging from Captain Lewis's plaint. It involved "bucking" and "wet scraping," followed by "brain tanning." The first step in tanning the integument, or hide of a large quadruped such as a deer or an elk, was—and still is—to soak it in a caustic solution of lye (potassium hydroxide), which would normally be concocted of water and wood-ash. That process is called "bucking"—hence "bucked skin" or "buckskin."13 It sterilizes the hide, preventing bacteria from producing an obnoxious odor. Next, three layers of the hide had to be scraped off while they were still wet. They were, 1) the outermost layer, called the epidermis; 2) the papillary or "grain layer," which holds the hairs' follicles; and 3) the very thin inner membrane that separates the fibrous layer from the animal's flesh. After the scraping was finished, the remaining fibrous layer had to be rinsed to remove all traces of the caustic bucking. It was a painfully taxing, tedious process.

Then that clean layer had to be soaked for several hours in a thick, soupy mixture of the animal's brain tissues in water, then wrung out and stretched by hand to allow the naturally emulsified brain oils to separate and soften the fibers, thus assuring permanent pliability of the leather. Braining might have to be repeated two or more times in order to make certain that every part of the fiber network has received all the brain solution it can hold. The historic recipe was based on the premise that a deer or an elk has enough brains to tan its own hide, so the men's frustration over insufficient brains can only be explained by the necessity to butcher their kills so far from the Fort that if extracted from the skull and carried back along with the meat, brain tissues, which are more susceptible to decay than meat, would be useless on arrival. But if they were left in the skull, the weight of the head would be more than the hunters could handle, given the urgency of getting the best meat to the smokehouse. Soap mixed with an emulsified oil could have been used in place of brains, but as Lewis said, their soap supply was exhausted. Brain tanned leather is not waterproof, but if the fibers of the leather were not thoroughly treated with brain oil, and were subjected to an intensive soaking such as Clark experienced on his six-day hunting trip in mid-February, especially that night when circumstances compelled him to stay out all night in a violent rainstorm clad only in his leather shirt and overalls (see his journal entry for 11 February 1806), the insufficiently oiled fibers would assume the stiff texture of rawhide when they dried out.

None of the journalists revealed whether they ever found a firewood that would leave ashes that could be used to make lye. Douglas-fir would have served their needs better than most other available species in terms of heat, smoke, and ash residue. It is possible, even likely, that their good friend Coboway, a headman of the Clatsops, or someone from his village, provided them with either material assistance or helpful advice, for he and many of his tribesmen would have learned their own foolproof way of tanning their families' clothing.

It is conceivable that the Americans could have made pearl ash soap by mixing lye with potassium bitartrate (see "Cream of Tartar" in the "Interactive Index" to the list of medicines Lewis ordered in Philadelphia.) But they only had two pounds of it, which wouldn't have made enough to cure all the hides they needed. In their medicine kit they carried some Castile soap, but the exact amount is unknown. In Philadelphia Lewis bought 17½ pounds of it from Israel Whelen on May 28, 1803, but the ultimate "Recapitulation of Purchases by the Purveyor for Capt. Lewis" lists only 12 pounds. Since the price, $1.68, was the same in both lists, one of the poundage figures must have been incorrect. Castile soap was an expensive "vegetable" soap imported from the vicinity of Castile, Spain, that had become popular for its supposed medicinal values.  It would have been unthinkable to waste it on curing leather.14 (On March 7, Lewis relieved Private Bratton's severe back pain with a liniment he concocted of wine, camphor, castile soap and laudanum.) Castile was a "vegetable" soap made of lye (sodium hydroxide), which most likely would have been imported from the vicinity of Castile, Spain.15 At any rate, by March 13, Sgt. Gass was able to report, as they began packing to leave Fort Clatsop, that they had managed to make 338 pairs of "mockasons" for their homeward journey. "This stock," he pointed out, "was not provided without great labour," as most of them are made of the skins of elk. Each man has also a sufficient quantity of patch-leather," presumably to trim to size and place or stitch inside a moccasin as it began to wear thin in spots. What undoubtedly made the cutting and sewing of the leather "great labor" is that elk skin is thicker and stronger than deer hide. For that reason it is also less prone to stretching—which is the main reason it was used to braid ropes for lining their boats and canoes after the fiber ropes wore out.

Personal Hygiene

The book of Regulations that Baron von Steuben prepared for the American army at the beginning of the War for Independence contained the direction that officers were to see that their men's hands and faces were daily "washed clean" and their hair combed. It was an element of personal pride and self-respect: "field officers must pay attention to this object," the baron continued, "taking proper notice of those companies where a visible neglect appears, and publickly applauding those who are remarkable for their good appearance."16 Soap was not mentioned in the baron's directive, although it may have been implied by his "washed clean." Nor were towels mentioned at any time in any context. Most of the enlisted men would have been familiar with that routine. The truth is that soap was relatively expensive for many people, and if individuals or families couldn't manage to make their own with fat from their butchered animals and lye with the ashes from their stoves, they just went without. Moreover, the invention of the shower had to await the introduction of "running water" piped in from elevated tanks much later in the 19th century, and bathing one's body in a tub was a luxury of the wealthiest urban homeowners. The last resort, at least for rural families, was to bathe in the nearest stream or river, when outdoor temperatures didn't prevent it.

As we have pointed out elsewhere (see "Outfitting the Corps"), the Corps of Discovery started out with a supply of presumably hard soap (bar soap); liquid soap would have been cheaper than bar soap, but harder to ration equitably, day after day, while on the road. But there is nary a clue as to precisely when or where they ran out of it. At Camp Dubois on 16 January 1804, Clerk "settled with the Contractor for what has been furnished to this day, and find him Due the Party 30 gills of whiskey which he payd,–and 750 rats. [rations] of Soap," etc. We can suppose that those rations were in the form of "hard" or bar soap, but we don't know the size or each bar, nor how much each weighed, so we have no bases for judging how long that quantity would have lasted. But if one bar would be sufficient for even one day's use by 32 persons, it should have lasted at least through the Fort Clatsop residence, so they must have used it to wash their fabric clothing weekly until late 1804, at least. And on April 16, less than a month before their departure, Clark listed eleven items, with soap included cryptically in this context:

2 Boxes of candles
one part of Soap
44 Kegs of Pork packed w[t] 3115

Thus we are left wondering how much soap they had on hand when the expedition officially began.

As to other personal hygiene equipage, a few brief remarks will suffice to indicate that at the opening of the 21st century we are not very far beyond the state of domestic technology that was commonplace to Lewis and Clark and their men. To begin with, it appears that at least some of their straight razors had become useless well before they reached the Pacific, so not all the men could shave beards and mustaches, but only trim them with scissors, like head hair, when they grew long enough. (See the story of Robert Frazer and the worn-out razor he traded for two Spanish coins on the Snake River in May of 1806.) But even for anyone with a still useable straight razor, shaving daily without soap would have been too painful to bear.

Toilet paper did not displace expensive rags or rag-based paper in high-class domestic "water closets," or green leaves in rural outhouses, or on wilderness treks, until the mid 1850s, when wood pulp was introduced to produce affordable toilet paper. However, it was not free of occasional splinters until 1930. As to the now ubiquitous toothbrush, "twig brushes" or "chew sticks," were in use worldwide for several millennia before the Christian era began, and for many generations thereafter, until mass production of nylon toothbrushes began in 1938. Systematic use of them didn't begin until the soldiers returning from World War II brought with them the military routine of daily brushing. Up to that time, most anyone who felt a need for oral comfort used chew sticks, which were short tree twigs—the tastier the better, of course—with the bark peeled back and one end frayed or splintered sufficiently to produce a gentle abrasive effect. (Wikipedia articles and other websites and timelines will conveniently supply additional details about these amenities.

Deep Depression

The crisis over the lack of basic materials to carry out a routine bucking, wet scraping, and brain tanning of hides for clothes, combined with the fact that they had all been more or less sick since before day one, must have deepened their depression. Captain Lewis was disposed to conceal his own symptoms, but Clark was more inclined to tell all. On January 6, a week after the fort was finished, Clark set out with 12 men, Sacagawea, and her 11-month-old baby to go and see the beached whale. It involved climbing up and over "Clark's Point of View," now known as Tillamook Head, which he considered "the Steepest worst & highest mountain I ever assended." In the steepest stretches they pulled themselves up hand-over-hand by the bushes—bushwacking. It felt like a 1,500-foot climb to him, although it was only a 1,000-foot drop over the sheer face of it into the Pacific surf. After collecting some whale oil and blubber they were ready to retrace their steps, but Clark had to admit to himself, "I am very pore & weak for want of Sufficient food and fear much that I shall require more assistance to get back than I had to get to this place." But never mind, he consoled himself, "a deturmined [persistance?] will as it has done carry me through." It did. Besides, he rhapsodized, "the nitches and points of high land which forms this Corse for a long ways aded to the inoumerable rocks of emence Sise out at a great distance from the Shore and against which the Seas brak with great force gives this Coast a most romantic appearance." Remember, of course, "romantic" was an 18th-century euphemism for "wild, irregular." Unimaginable.17

Two months after they finished the fort, Lewis measured their predicament in simple arithmetic: "[W]e have not had as ma[n]y sick at any one time since we left Wood River." The general complaint seemed to be "bad colds and fevers, something I beleive of the influenza," as Clark put it. In fact, malnutrition must have been chiefly to blame, notwithstanding the symapathy of their Clatsop neighbors.

Lewis and Clark and all their contemporaries were totally unaware of the true identities, causes, symptoms and effects of most of their illnesses. Their digestive systems would have been assailed by a variety combative toxins such as Staphylococcus aureus (not discovered until 1880) and botulism (Clostridium botulinum, first recognized in 1895), as well as bacterial infections such as salmonellosis (formally identified in 1900), which is zoonotic (carried by animals, whence it can be transferred to humans through contaminated foods). Most cases of "food poisoning" have similar symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, but health care providers such as Lewis and Clark who, according to military orders, were responsible for the care of their men, were instructed by authorities such as Benjamin Rush, M.D., to treat them with purgatives compounded with some form of mercury such as calomel—itself a potentially fatal poison—and various extremes of blood-letting that compromised normal resistance to infection. The ancient principle, Primum non nocere, "first, do no harm," was known but still lacked the underpinnings of scientific research, discovery and application that would begin to emerge by the end of the 19th century.

Three months later, on the sixth of March, Clark would acknowledge that the convalescents still were "recovering Slowly in consequence of the want of proper diet, which we have it not in our power to precure." Five days later, however, fortune smiled on them all when Sgt. Pryor bought from the Cathlamets—"for a very Small part of the [trade] articles he had taken with him," according to Clark—"a Small Canoe loaded with relatively fresh fish." Captain Lewis was elated. "[W]e once more live in clover," he beamed with a sigh. "Anchovies, fresh Sturgeon and Wappetoe."

Day 6—December 15 was spent by Gass and two others in "fixing and finishing the quarters of the Commanding Officers," while two other men were "preparing puncheons for covering the huts."

Puncheon or punchin? Puncheon has been a wiggly word all its long life. From the mid-14th century on, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it denoted a tool for 1) punching holes, 2) making dies for coins, or 3) casting printers' type. Three hundred years passed, and somehow it turned into the name for a small split log laid with the flat side up as paving material for a road or walkway. For Patrick Gass it was either a split log or a thin plank split from a larger log. But Noah Webster, in his first dictionary (New Haven, Connecticut, 1806), retained the old definition, simplified: "a tool to make a hole" and also, incongruously, as "a large cask." Meanwhile, "a short timber for supporting weights" was termed a "punchin." One suspects that Webster's own pet peeves—regional, local or even household speech and spelling habits, and provincial neologisms—were responsible for the lexical mess.

Figure 3

A Froe (Frow, Frower)

Pass cursor over image to read details.

photograph of a frow

The etymology of this unusual word is too vague to recount here, but one form or another—frower, frow, fromward, frommard, etc.—has been in the woodworker's lexicon since at least the latter half of the 16th century. It was especially common in the U.S. throughout the 19th century, and is still known to most professional carpenters. Basically, it denotes a tool consisting of a blade about 2" to 3" wide, 7" to 12" or more in length, and from ¼" to ⅜" in thickness. One end is bent into an eye to receive a 48" wooden haft (handle); the upper corner of the opposite end is bevelled. The frow is used for cleaving or riving planks, shingles, and slats or laths from clear, solid logs, for use in the construction of dwellings and furniture.

A froe is used first to square up a log by removing four successive segments of the circumference. The blade is carefully placed across the end of the standing log and tapped with light, evenly spaced strokes of a wooden mallet until the blade is fully embedded in the log. The riving continues with mallet strokes against the exposed, beveled end of the blade, accompanied by twisting pressure with the hand holding the haft. When planks are needed, successively larger wooden wedges may be inserted into the rift to facilitate continued splitting as the blade is driven down the log.

From the fact that Israel Whelan, the U.S. Army's Purveyor of Public Supplies in Philadelphia, purchased two "shingling hatchets" for the expedition, it is clear that Lewis anticipated the construction of log fortifications for their winter garrisons, but there is no evidence that he ordered any froes. Nevertheless, they must have carried at least one, for we know they made a futile attempt to rive cottonwood logs for puncheons (boards) to roof their huts at Fort Mandan. Sgt. Ordway wrote, on 8 November 1804: "[W]e found that the C. W. [cottonwood] will rive well So that we are in hopes to make enofe to cover our buildings    but afterwards found it difficult and Gave up the idea." Their dilemma was inevitable; cottonwood splits poorly because of its uneven, stringy, sometimes curly grain. Nevertheless, they must have taken at least one froe along when they headed west in the spring, since a list of supplies in the Elkskin-bound journal for December 7—the day Clark and his party paddled from Tongue Point to "Lewis's Bay"—lists 1 "Frow" and 1 "malet," without further remarks.

The native people who had lived along the Pacific Coast for thousands of years had evolved a technology that enabled the construction of "plank houses" without the need of metal tools such as froes. Lewis encountered the evidence of that, having noticed the very hard wood of the Oregon crab apple tree, Malus fusca (Rafinesque), and observed how the natives used it:

[T]he natives make great uce of it to form their wedges with which they split their boards of [western redcedar] for the purpose of building houses.    these wedges they also employ in spliting their firewood and in hollowing out their canoes. I have seen the natives drive the wedges of this wood into solid dry [redcedar] which it cleft without fracturing or injuring the wedge in the smallest degree.

He continued: "[W]e have also found this wood usefull to us for ax handles as well as glutts [gluts] or wedges."

Day 7—December 16, Clark: "[W]e had a house Covered with Punchen & our meat hung up."

Sheer misery

That was the best that could be said about December 16. Con-ditions were almost beyond tolerance. They had been without any night-time shelter to speak of since last July 7, at least, when they were still at the upper portage camp above the Falls of the Missouri. That was the day Lewis had reported: "[W]e have no tents; the men are therefore obliged to have recourse to the sails for shelter from the weather and we have not more skins than are sufficient to cover our baggage when stoed away in bulk on land." And what were those pieces of canvas like after six more months of wear and tear? Did they shed any of the precipitation that fell day and night? The situation was no less depressing with regard to clothing. "[T]heir leather cloathes soon become rotton as they are much exposed to the water and frequently wet." As we read of all the surprising and often exciting discoveries the journalists recorded in the Corps' general behalf, it is easy to overlook those dismal deprivations. Who among us could have endured them with optimism and good cheer?

They were still sleeping under tattered pieces of sail, and it would be another week before all the rest of the huts could be roofed. Somehow, Clark managed to shelter himself from the rain long enough to document last night's deluge: "I as also the party with me experienced a most dreadfull night rain and wet without any Couvering, indeed we Set up the greater part of the Night, when we lay down the water Soon Came under us and obliged us to rise." So, he wrote, "we Covered our Selves as well as we Could with Elk Skins, & Set up the greater part of the night, all wet     I lay in the water verry Cold." The next morning, the storm took a turn for the worse. While the wind lashed them with torrential rain, Clark and a few of the men doggedly endured both adversities and slogged through the dense, thoroughly drenched undergrowth to retrieve the meat of several elk that had been shot the day before. Worst of all, mortal danger was literally in the air: "Trees falling in every derection, whorl winds, with gusts of rain Hail & Thunder." The captain was almost at a loss for words. September 16 was "Certainly one of the worst days that ever was!" Still, he wrapped up his memories of the day with a ho-hum postscript: "Several men Complaining of hurting themselves Carry meet, &c."

Day 8—December 17. It must have been frustrating to have to chop down a tall tree, the identity of which couldn't be confirmed until the crown foliage was on the ground. Clark noted that "the trees which our men have fallen latterly Split verry badly into boards." So much for that plan. Moreover, sleeping conditions kept worsening: "our Leather Lodge has become So rotten that the Smallest thing tares it into holes and it is now Scrcely Sufficent to keep . . . the rain off a Spot Sufficiently large for our bead [i.e., bed, which Clark may have pronounced as a two-syllable word, bay-ud]." Think of young Sacagawea, and of ten-month-old Jean Baptiste.

Day 9—December 18. Weatherwise, this morning wasn't any better. In fact, it was much worse. It snowed, but they had to keep at it, and they were nearing the end of their endurance. "The men being thinly Dressed," Clark sympathized, "and mockersons without Socks is the reason that but little can be done at the Houses to day." At noon, however, "the Hail & Snow Seased and rain Suckceeded for the latter part of the day." Thanks for small blessings.

Day 10—December 19. Early this morning—under clear skies, for a change—Clark "despatched Sjt. Pryer with 8 men in 2 Canoes across Meriwethers Bay for the boads18 of an Indian house which is vacant."

Multiple Homesteads

Pryor and his companions returned that afternoon with a load of "old boards," but after all they were found to be "verry indifferent." We are left to wonder what that verbal shrug meant. In Noah Webster's 1806 Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, the word "indifferent" could mean either "poor" or "tolerable." In any case, the odds are that the structure they pillaged, like many other seemingly useless dwellings they had seen along the lower Columbia, had not been permanently abandoned, but had been built to serve as temporary residences for one of two reasons: Coastal tribes often lived near the ocean in winter, and moved to alternate homes on nearby rivers during salmon runs, and since the dwelling in question was said to be located near the Netul river, it might have been occupied only during a run that had taken place before the expedition arrived in early December, and would be reoccupied in late March. On the other hand, the house just might have been temporarily vacated by a native family for whom it had been made uninhabitable by a overwhelming infestation of fleas, and its owners would be returning to it within a few weeks or months.

Questions of Private Property

Nowhere is there any indication that the Clatsops complained about the thefts, but they may have learned of it somehow, and discreetly brought the matter to the attention of one of the captains, for ten days later Clark explained, as if it was news to him, that "[t]he 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." In any case, no claims were made and no apologies were tendered. Not even, as far as we can tell, did the Americans consider putting their booty back where they found it before they left for home.

In mid-March the men stole a Clatsop canoe as recompense for Indians' theft of 6 elk carcasses the men had shot, even though the tribe's chief had already made restitution for the elk by giving the captains three free dogs.19 It was a lopsided deal both ways. If the elk meat hadn't spoiled yet, three Indian dogs wasn't fair payment for it. But the canoe was much more valuable than three elk in any case; a Clatsop watercraft was equal to a wife. Moreover, there is abundant evidence that the captains and their men were quick to respond to natives' thefts of Corps property with demands for return or recompense, or at least with sinister threats. Yet across the estuary, back on November 15, Clark had brazenly admitted that his men were "all Comfortable in the . . . Camps they have made of the boards they found at the Town above." At that point, they simply didn't get the picture.

Day 11—December 20 found Sgt. Gass reporting, "We collected all the puncheons or slabs we had made, and some which we got from some Indian huts up the bay, but found we had not enough to cover all our huts." The sergeant neglected to mention that they needed puncheons and planks not only for roofing but also for floors and bunks in all the rooms,20 perhaps except the smokehouse, and for walkways in the parade enclosure to cut down on the mud that would unavoidably be tracked indoors.

Day 12—December 21 saw steady progress in daubing the chinks between logs in the four huts that were roofed, and finishing their puncheon flooring and bunks. On the personal side, Clark "dispatched two men to the open lands near the Ocian for Sackacome, which we make use of to mix with our tobacco to Smoke which has an agreeable flavour." Frustrations were inevitable. On the twelfth day a couple of the men felled "Several trees which would not Split into punchins." The crowns of most of the best trees were so far up the boles that confirming identification from foliage was impossible before they were on the ground.

Day 13—December 22. This day brought another unwelcome lesson: "We discover that part of our last Supply of meat is Spoiling from the womph [warmth] of the weather not withstanding a constant Smoke kept under it day and night." Evidently the wisdom of the day suggested that smoke would counteract any tendency toward spoilage.

Day 14—December 23. The captains moved into their hut today, even though it was not quite finished. Ordway hinted that boredom was setting in. "[N]othing extraordinary hapened more than common this day."

Day 15—December 24. It was Christmas Eve, and the first night in many weeks that all the men could share shelter from the wind and rain, and build fires in an effort to dry out their soggy leather clothes and bedding. Two weeks later, however, (on January 6) Lewis would declare his frustration over that persistent issue: "[W]e have not been able to keep anything dry for many days together since we arrived in this neighbourhood, the humidity of the air has been so excessively great." His commander in chief would have been delighted with that tidbit of climatological information (the only occurrence of the word "humidity" in the journals), but Nicholas Biddle omitted it from his abridgement of the captains' diaries and reports.

Carpenters & Joiners

By the middle of the 18th century the varied disciplines of woodworking, long kept separate by the power of the guilds of artisans or craftsmen guilds that had arisen in the 12th century, were reorganized into two main types of general work, carpentry and joinery. A house carpenter worked on-site outdoors, with hammers, saws and axes; he framed-in houses and shops, and completed exterior work. A joiner was skilled in the shaping of pieces of wood with bench-planes, chisels and augers, and joining them together without metal fasteners to make fittings and furniture of all sorts. A house joiner would have been experienced in interior finish work, including stairways, doorways, and window frames, as well as decorative panelings, moldings, and wainscottings.21

Figure 4

Joe Field's Gifts to the Captains

joe fields' contributions

Lewis's desk is in front of the window at left; Clark's is at right; the table Fields made for them both is in left foreground. The photo was taken in the replica of the fort that was built in 1955, which accidentally burned to the ground in 2006. Within months it was fully rebuilt on the same site, with all interior exhibits essentially as before.

Joe Field might have begun but never successfully completed an apprenticeship as a joiner. Otherwise, perhaps he had enough natural ability and latent interest in the craft that he just felt like playing around with it, using one or more of the small tools in the company's kit—hand saw and a set of planes—and some odds and ends of the planks they had rived from western redcedar logs. He may also have had a hand in building a tall sturdy cabinet for each board to rest on, since handwriting was a standup job for gentlemen and officers in those days, and space was at a premium even in the captains' quarters. Lewis's desk as well as the table and benches, which have been recreated by historic anthropologists for the National Park Service's modern replica of the fort, is pictured here beneath the window at left; Clark's desk was under the window to the right of the fireplace.

Day 16—Christmas Day. "All our party moved into their huts," Lewis wrote. Clark was obviously pleased for them. "All the party Snugly fixed in their huts," he wrote with satisfaction. But there was still more truth to be discovered about life on the northwest Pacific Coast, and much work to be done.

From the very beginning of the expedition, Joe Field and his brother Reubin had distinguished themselves as hunters, and that reputation was still unsullied. On 5 February Reubin would shoot six elk all by himself somewhere up the Netul River, reloading after each shot, apparently without ever spooking the herd. But today everyone discovered something about Joe that they might not have known before (assuming he had not done the same deed at Fort Mandan, where none of the journalists mentions any aspect of the job). He presented each of the captains with "a wide Slab hued [hewed] to write on." On the day after Christmas he finished a large table and two benches (foreground in Fig. 4) where Lewis could study and write up his natural history specimens, or Clark could spread out his maps. Clark must have been especially pleased. His portable desk had been demolished when the pack horse bearing it tumbled down a steep mountainside as the company descended into the Lochsa River canyon on 15 September 1805. Lewis had purposely left his in the cache at the portage camp below the Falls of the Missouri. No doubt Joe Fields's presents were a surprise then (and still are), for nothing else we know about him, either from the expedition's journals or any biographical facts otherwise available, gives us any hint that he had possessed those basic skills all along.

Figure 5

A Set of Bench Planes

set of bench planes

Essentially, a bench plane is a chisel locked into a holder or "stock" of a hard wood such as beech. The chisel, or blade, is called the iron. The beveled and sharpened bottom edge of the iron, called the bezel or basil, may be straight, simply curved, or in two linked convex and concave curves for use in shaping moldings around doorways and windows.22

There are six planes in a joiner's basic kit, often used in the following order. 1. Fore plane or jack plane: Its blade, with flattened thumbnail curve (look at your own thumbs), cuts deeply to remove rough and uneven surface material; 2. Jointer plane: Flattens the surface; 3. Strike-block plane: Used for cross-grain cuts; 4. & 7. Smoothing plane: Prepares the surface for finishing; 5. Rabbet plane: Cuts a groove of controlled width and depth on the edge of a board; 6. Plow plane: Cuts a narrow channel on the edge of a board, to admit the narrowed edge of another board that has been trimmed with a rabbet plane.23 A full set of planes may consist of as many as 14 different instruments.

Smoke alarm

It was Sgt. Gass who reported on a situation that seriously threatened to put a damper on their Christmas jollity: "We found our huts smoked; there being no chimneys in them except in the officers' rooms. The men were therefore employed, except some hunters who went out, in making chimnies to the huts." Perhaps chimneys had been omitted because the Indians from the Great Falls all the way to the coast didn't use them, and didn't appear to be seriously troubled by smoke, so the easterners may have concluded that hereabouts a hole in the roof above the fire would be enough to keep the inside air breathable. But the coastal Indians had learned long ago how to cope with the physics of fire management and fresh air circulation in their houses. For one thing, the soldiers strove to make their huts snug and, as Clark proudly witnessed, they succeeded. They daubed mud in the chinks between the logs to keep out the wind. The Indians, for their part, allowed their houses to breathe.

Figure 6

Venting smoke from a coastal Indian plank house

chinook house ventilation

Detail from "Interior of a Chinook House"

by Alfred T. Agate (1812–1846)
Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition
(6 vols, 1844-45), Vol. 4, p. 341
View full image

American artist Alfred Agate (1812-1846) was the official portrait and botanical illustrator for the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842, commanded by the naval officer Charles Wilkes (1798-1877). Agate created 172 of the 342 drawings and paintings that were reproduced as lithographs in Wilkes's six-volume report. It is known that he used an optical tracing aid called a camera lucida, which was similar to the camera obscura in effect, but more easily portable. Both instruments reflected an image or view on a drawing surface such as a piece of paper, where it could be copied with a pencil.

The first version of the camera lucida was patented by the English physicist William Wollaston in 1807, but new models based on the same principles are still in use for certain types of illustration. In fact, a digital Camera Lucida application for the iPhone appeared on the market in 2011. As of the present date, version 4 of the iPhone App supports landscape mode and can be used to capture panoramic scenes. Whether Agate could have used his instrument to capture the interior of this large Pacific Coast plank house is questionable.

The opening in the highest part of the gable roof admits light (along with some rain), and draws the smoke from the fire pit. Two sturdy log beams span the length of the house, supporting the wooden grid from which are suspended the haunch of an elk plus several fish of various sizes in the flavoring effect of the rising smoke. The lofty grid also enabled persons to reach the roof planks to rearrange them so as to increase or decrease the fire's draft. A single pole suspended from the two beams serves as a crank (without a handle) with which the cooking pot could be raised or lowered relative to the fire's heat.

Figure 7

Friendly Village

klikitat lodge by paul kane

Klickitat Lodge

by Paul Kane (1810–1871)
Watercolor on paper (1847)

Whereas, aside from the haphazard arrangement of planks in the gable and roof, Alfred Agate's impression of a Chinook plank house (Fig. 4) appears very neat and orderly–"classy," one might say, especially in the full view–the Klikitat house depicted by Paul Kane looks more casual, even haphazard, to put it kindly, at least from the outside.

In his journal, the artist described the abodes of the Chinook people as follows:

During the season the Chinooks are engaged in gathering camas and fishing, they live in lodges constructed by means of a few poles covered with mats made of rushes, which can be easily moved from place to place, but in the villages they build permanent huts of spit cedar boards. Having selected a dry place for the hut, a hole is dug about three feet deep, and about twenty feet square. Round the sides of square cedar boards are sunk and fastened together with cords and twisted roots, rising about four feet above the outer level; two posts are sunk at the middle of each end with a crotch at the top, on which the lodge pole is laid, and boards are laid from thence to the top of the upright boards fastened in the same manner. Round the interior are erected sleeping places, one above another, something like the berths in a vessel, but larger. In the centre of this lodge the fire is made, and the smoke escapes through a hole left in the roof for that purpose.24

The Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies (1754–1842), who accompanied Captain George Vancouver on his voyage around the world in 1791–1795, wrote a more laconic word-picture of a scene that caught his attention in the Gulf of Georgia, in mid-June of 1792:

[T]he appearance of smoke issuing from a part of the wood on an Island before us induced us to land at a place where we found four or five families of the Natives variously occupied in a few temporary huts formd in the slightest & most careless manner by fastening together some rough sticks & throwing over them some pieces of Mats of Bark of Trees so partially as to form but a very indifferent shelter from the inclemency of the weather.25

Over a period of many generations, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years, coastal Natives had devised simple, reliable ways of manipulating the balance of atmospheric pressure, temperature and air flow in what is now called the "stack effect." In terms of the Indians' practices, that meant that as the warming or cooking fire heats the room above the outside temperature, the warm air rises, decreasing the atmospheric pressure toward the floor, and raising it toward the ceiling. The horizontal zone in which the atmospheric pressure inside is equal to that outdoors, is a neutral pressure plane that holds the smoke indoors, close to the fire. In thee, with 8 men in each of the two 15 by 16-foot rooms and 10 in the 18 x 15-foot room, the frequent opening of doors would have created strong downdrafts and increased the concentration of smoke in the rooms, especially when the wind was blowing hard. Heating and ventilating are much easier to control with a properly designed chimney and flue. Indeed, as one authority has declared, "The chimney is the engine that drives a wood heat system."26

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 8

Gentle Giant

crane fly

Tipula abdominalis Say

Crane Fly

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 9


crane fly larva

T. abdominalis Say

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.27

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.28

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."29 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. 8).

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," and signed off with a 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 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.

Another New Year

The next morning, the captains were "awoke at an early hour by the discharge of a Volley of Small arms, which were fired by our party in front of our quarters to usher in the new year, this was the only mark of respect which we had it in our power to pay this Selibrated day." But the captains had to get down to business without delay. With information from "the Indians," Clark made a list of traders who had previously entered the estuary to trade with the natives, 13 in all, including the captain's names, the "quallity of their Vessels," and how long it might be before they appeared again. Inexplicably, neither Robert Gray nor his good ship Columbia were mentioned, which might simply mean that Gray's visit was ancient history to the natives.

Meanwhile, Lewis issued new detachment orders "for the more exact and uniform dicipline and government of the garrison." Each of the captains supped that evening on a marrow bone and tongue from the two freshly killed elk. Then, as New Year's Day came to a close, Clark allowed himself a rare moment of homesickness: "[O]ur repast of this day tho' better than that of Christmas Consisted principally in the anticipation of the 1st day of January 1807, when in the bosum of our friends we hope to participate in the mirth and hilarity of the day, and when with the relish given by the recollection of the present, we Shall Completely, both mentally and Corporally, [relish?] the repast which the hand of Civilization has produced for us."

Sergeant Gass's journal for the day centered on a salutary postscript to their three-month postgraduate seminar on survival: "We gave our Fortification the name of Fort Clatsop."

  • 1. The quotation from "Jefferson's Instructions to Lewis" is in Jackson, Letters, 1:61. The total mileage figure is from the "Fort Clatsop Miscellany," Moulton, Journals, 6:458.
  • 2. They missed by only a few days seeing the first trading vessel enter the estuary for the 1806 season of commerce with the native people.
  • 3. Clark called it "Meriwethers Bay" in the mistaken belief that Lewis was the first white man ever to see it. In fact, the first was Lieutenant William Robert Broughton, of Captain George Vancouver's expedition, who in May of 1792 named the principal river that feeds it Young's River, in honor of his uncle, Admiral Sir George Young of the Royal Navy. The other river that empties into the bay is the Netul–accent on the second syllable, /nit'ul/–which was renamed "Lewis and Clark River" in 1925.
  • 4. Well into the early 19th century in England and the U.S., naturalists persisted in referring to all evergreen conifers informally as "pines."
  • 5. Julie K. Stein and others, "A Geoarcheological Analysis of Fort Clatsop, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park," University of Washington Department of Anthropology, November 2006. (retrieved 5 October 2013).
  • 6. See photographs of a logical solution at the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site near Hartford, Illinois (
  • 7. Ralph Space, The Lolo Trail: A History and a Guide to the Trail of Lewis and Clark (2nd ed., Missoula, Montana: Historic Montana Publishing, 2001), 35-36. One of the best known historic cedar groves in the Northwest is the Bernard DeVoto Memorial Cedar Grove, which is on U.S. Highway 12. It is a little over 2 miles up Crooked Fork Creek from the expedition's "Killed Colt Camp" site, so none of the Corps of Discovery got to see its exceptionally large, buttressed trees. Professor DeVoto (1897-1955) was among the most prominent historians of the American West during his career, his reputation built largely on his popular histories of the West: The Year of Decision: 1846 (1943), the Pulitzer Prize winning Across the Wide Missouri (1947), and The Course of Empire (1952) His one-volume abridgement of The journals of Lewis and Clark (1953), remains one of the most readable books of its kind.
  • 8. Also commonly known as northern white cedar or eastern arborvitae, its native range is from southeastern Canada and northeastern U.S., south to North Carolina and as far west as Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was introduced into Europe by French explorers beginning in 1536. The ethnobotany of the northern white cedar is similar to that of the western species. In Ojibwe Indian culture of the northeast it is known as the "Grandmother Cedar."
  • 9. In contrast to the western redcedar, the maximum height of a mature (50-year-old) northern redcedar (Thuja occidentalis L.) is 55 to 60 feet, with a maximum dbh–diameter at breast height–of about 48 inches. George B. Sudworth, "Miscellaneous Conifers of the Rocky Mountain Region," United States Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 680 (Washington, D.C.: Professional Paper, August 14, 1918), "Eastern Redcedar: An American Wood," United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 260 eredc.pdf. USDA Plants Profile, Thuja occidentalis L; USFS Silvics of North America.
  • 10. Noah Webster, in his 1806 Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, defined balsam as "an oily, arom[at]ic substance flowing from trees[;] that which gives ease." He defined the adjective balsamic as "healing, mitigating, unctuous, soft," and the nominative case of the same word as "a healing softening medicine." Indeed it was medicinal as an inhalant if not as a topical. Lewis included two forms of balsamic oil among the medicaments he purchased in Philadelphia for the expedition's medicine chest: Bals[amic] Copaiboe and Bals[amic] Traumaticum. Clark's "balsom pine" is properly called balsam fir (Abies balsamea), which was first officially described in 1768, and has long since become the archetypal Christmas tree. It may reach 66 ft (20 m) or more in height at maturity.
  • 11. Conceivably they had bought more salt in Saint Louis (Moulton, Journals, May 4, 1804), and had chosen to deposit some in a cache (they spelled the French term as they heard it pronounced: "cash") that they dug at the mouth of the Marias River, and at one of the other caches where they had deposited excess baggage, above and below the Falls of the Missouri and at "Camp Fortunate."
  • 12. A cold spell began on January 25 with a half-inch overnight snowfall, and lasted until February 7, descending well below freezing twice. On the morning of January 27 the snow was six inches deep, and 18-inch icicles hung from the eaves. The third and last of their thermometers having been broken back on September 4, Lewis could only estimate the temperature on the morning of the 28th. He guessed it was about 15° above zero. After a temporary break in the weather the spell peaked again on February 6, when Lewis figured it was the coldest yet. By the morning of the 8th, however, he felt that "the rigor of the winter" had passed. In fact, it was so warm that he was afraid all their meat would spoil, so they hurried to cut it into smaller pieces and hang them separately on sticks in the smokehouse.
  • 13. The definition of the compound noun "buckskin" in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) erroneously states that buckskin is "leather made from the skin of a buck," obviously on the false supposition that the initial component of the compound noun refers to "the male of several animals." Here the OED errs by exclusion: a male deer, antelope, or rabbit is called a buck, whereas a male elk or bison is called a bull, although the hide of either of the latter two can also be made into "buckskin." In fact, the "buck" in buckskin properly refers to the object defined in both elements of the third of the OED's eleven different meanings of the nominative case of that noun. A "buck" in that sense is defined as a solution of "[l]ye in which linen, yarn, or cloth"—or the skin of a large quadruped, either male or female—"is steeped or boiled as a first step in the process of buck-washing." An explanation of the processes of buck-washing and brain-tanning will be found in Matt Richards, "Traditional Tanners," at (accessed February 22, 2014), in "Tan Your Own"/"Wet Scrape vs. Dry Scrape."
  • 14. Pursuant to Army regulations requiring soldiers to keep themselves clean, they had begun their journey with what was no doubt expected to be a sufficient supply of soap to last the entire trip: "50 lb of soap" (see "Outfitting the Corps," Fig. 2), plus 12 pounds of Castile soap (Jackson, Letters, 1:95). We don't know when they ran out of it, or perhaps lost part of their supply when a canoe was overturned or one of the pirogues was swamped. However, Lewis's initial purchases of supplies in Philadelphia were based on the original plan for an expedition of 15 men, and if they neglected to buy more soap in Saint Louis before they headed up the Missouri River, their 15-man supply would have been severely attenuated, so that having enough surplus to use in hide tanning would have been unlikely.
  • 15. The recipe for Castile soap, which uses olive oil rather than animal fat as its base, enhanced with palliative laurel-berry oil (from the bay tree, Laurus nobilis), originated in the city of Aleppo, Syria, on the eastern Mediterranean coast. It was carried to Spain and Italy during the 12th century by immigrant Muslim soap makers. But the laurel tree is not native to continental Europe, so in order to succeed in the competitive marketplace, soap manufacturers in the region of Castile-La Mancha concentrated on improving the quality of their olive oil soap. Widely known for its mild, curative effect, Castile soap came to be used by American physicians and "first responders" to cleanse flesh wounds.
  • 16. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States (Boston: Thomas & Andrews, 1794), 49.
  • 17. Noah Webster (1758-1843), A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (Boston, 1806), s.v. "romantic."
  • 18. In parts of 18th-century Britain, and among American Colonists and later immigrants who came from certain places in the British Isles, speakers typically elided the rhotic sound when it occurred before a consonant. In his phonetic spelling of "boards" (boads), William Clark clearly wrote an /a/ in place of an /r/, and probably uttered it as the unstressed neutral vowel now called a schwa (printed as ə; for pronunciation of the symbol see Wikipedia, s.v. Schwa). The substitution of the schwa for an /r/ is still characteristic of the speech of New Englanders from southern Massachusetts to New Hampshire. Dictionary of American Regional English, s.v. "board."
  • 19. On September 24, 2011, belatedly but nonetheless sincerely, descendants of Captain Clark and numerous other volunteer contributors presented the people of the Chinook Tribe a 36-foot symbolic replica of the ocean-going canoe the Corps of Discovery commandeered 205 years before. Seattle Times, September 11, 2011, online.
  • 20. Peter C. Welsh, "Woodworking Tools, 1600-1900," in Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, Smithsonian Institution, Paper 51. Project Gutenberg EBook #27238; release date, November 12, 2008.
  • 21. Elizabeth A. Davison, The Furniture of John Shearer, 1790-1820: A True North Britain in the Southern Backcountry (Lanham, Maryland: AltaMira Press, 2011), 10-11.
  • 22. James Smith, The Panorama of Science and Art: Embracing . . . the Methods of Working in Wood and Metal. . . . , 2 vols. (Liverpool: Nuttall, fisher and Co., 1815), 1:109-10, 112.
  • 23. Joseph Moxson, Mechanick Exercises, 3rd ed., London, 1703; via Peter C. Welsh, Woodworking Tools 1600-1900, Smithsonian Institution, Contributions from The Museum of History and Technology, Paper 51.
  • 24. Paul Kane, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America (London: Longman, Brown Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1859), 187.
  • 25. E. V. Newcombe, ed., Menzies' Journal of Vancouver's Voyage, April to October, 1792 (Victoria, BC: William J. Cullin, 1923), 58. Internet Archive.
  • 26. The Wood Heat Organization Inc., (Retrieved 21 March 2013).
  • 27. Ross H. Arnett, Jr., American Insects: A handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 2000), 850.
  • 28. 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).
  • 29. 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.