Tremendious Day

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As the Corps rounded Tongue Point the wind rose hard from the east, and heavy seas with torrential rain forced them back to the west shore of the narrow isthmus, where they huddled for ten miserable days. "The Sea which is imedeately in front," Clark wrote on December first,

roars like a repeeted roling thunder and have rored in that way ever Since our arrival in its borders which is now 24 Days Since we arrived in Sight of the Great Western Ocian, I cant Say Pasific as Since I have Seen it, it has been the reverse.

Not only were they pinned down by the weather, but also they found the woods on the mainland to the south to be impenetrable. Their leather clothing and their tents were rotting and falling apart from being continually wet. It was hard enough to keep fires going in the wind and rain, and if they tried to get any benefit from them, the smoke drove them back.

Hunger made the discomforts harder to bear. Some of the men, including Clark, were ill from eating pounded salmon boiled in seawater. At last, on December 2, six miles from camp, Joe Field shot the first elk to be bagged west of the Rockies. He saw two other elk herds, but it was raining so hard he couldn't keep his powder dry, and so couldn't fire his gun. Geese and ducks were plentiful, but they were "too wild to be killed," which Clark attributed to the Indians' pursuit of them.

The following day they ate the marrow from the thigh bones of the elk, after which Sacagawea chopped up the bones and boiled out a pint of grease that Clark found "Superior to the tallow of the animal."

On the fifth of December Lewis returned with "verry Satisfactory information to all the party." He had found a good place for their winter encampment, and his own party had killed 6 elk and 5 deer on their way back to Point William.

The Corps' last encounter with Tongue Point was shorter and pleasanter than the first. On March 23, 1806, they left Fort Clatsop at 1:00 p.m. By 2:45 they had crossed Meriwether's (Young's) Bay and "commenced coasting1 the difficult shore." At 5:30, Lewis recorded, "we doubled [sailed around] point William, and at 7 arrived in the mouth of a small creek where we found our hunters." It was a good start on a homeward journey that would last 185 days.


1. In this instance, "coasting" means to stay in the shallow water near the seacoast – or in this case the Columbi's shore, where the river's current is slower and occasional eddies will ease upstream progress. Coasting upriver in the Columbia's estuary would require close observance of tides and winds, as well as river currents, in order to avoid submerged hazards in shallow water, and to keep from losing forward momentum by being caught in faster currents that may sweep in close to shore. The pilot experienced in coasting will also pay close attention to changes in the topography and the qualities of the ground ashore. Admiral W. H. Smyth, The Sailor's Word-Book (London: Blackie and Son, 1867), s.v. "coasting."