The School by the Seaside
t 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."1 On the surprisingly "Clear and butifull" morning of 16 November 1805, they stood on the summit of Cape Disappointment—by Clark's estimate 4,142 miles from the mouth of the Missouri River—absorbed by the awesome view of the Columbia River's meeting with the not-always-pacific western ocean. 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 verge of the continent.
Their matriculation began on December 5, 1805. That was the day Captain Lewis, pushing ahead with several enlisted men as aides, at last 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 pay for amenities from natives to support their long journey home.2 Finally, it was fifteen miles—half 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 respecting his probable Situation & Safety," muttered the Kentuckian. The next day, high winds and waves kept them all from moving downriver, but the 7th dawned under a fair sky too, 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."
Choose a Spot
Forest and ground cover,
vicinity of Fort Clatsop replica today.
ndoubtedly the captains had observed that in the climate of the coastal area west of the Cascades, woods and undergrowth often covered the land to the water's edge of river, lake and sea, and had discussed the slim prospects of finding a suitable place for what they needed to build. They had even sketched out a plan for their fort. Finding a level spot at least fifty feet square was hard enough, and once it was found, 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 moderate-temperatured coastal climate, left little or no material evidence of the original structure's existence. All of this has made archaeological identification of the original fort's location extremely difficult. Furthermore, the anecdotal evidence gathered from personal recollections, often secondhand at best, and sometimes conflicting, have been of limited help in answering the question.
We don't know exactly how their winter cantonement of 1803-04, called Camp Dubois, was laid out, but we do know 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
Floor plan of Fort Clatsop
Pass cursor over image to read details.
bove 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 – 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 – This day 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." But luck soon favored them.
Day 4 – December 13, gave everyone's spirits a lift. Their two timber cruisers found exactly what was needed—western redcedar (Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don), known to natives of the northwest coast as "The Tree of Life." Now they could rive (split) boards from the tree trunks to roof their huts and 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. (Remember the Nez Perces' complaint that those Americans, those sooyáapoo, smelled bad.)5 —
Tree of Life
urely they had all noticed those grand specimens of western redcedar as the Nez Perces' side trail led them among the sources and upper reaches of the Lochsa River canyon, 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. 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 creek bottoms and "swampey places." 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."6 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."7 It is not known whether the private took his cue from Lewis, or 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, "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.8 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."9
Sgt. Gass reported enthusiastically, "we have found a kind of timber in plenty, which splits freely, and makes the finest puncheons I have ever seen." Furthermore, he added, the stems "can be split 10 feet long and two broad, not more than an inch and a 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.
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.”
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 reported today, "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 a few days when the sun shone through, but never long enough to draw the moisture from anything under it.
A Losing Game
ost of the winter, the weather would prove surprisingly warm compared with winters 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-out and butchered. The butchered cuts had to be trimmed of ligaments, connective tissues and fat. In the trimmed meat, all bloody spots or other discoloration, and all "off-odors" as well as slime that signified bacterial growth, and 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 about 10 inches long and 1 inch thick. The slabs would then be fleeced—cut into ¼-inch slices—to insure fast, thorough drying of each slice evenly from the inside out. Let the slightest bit of moisture remain anywhere, and bacteria would begin to grow right there, and the whole slice would soon be contaminated. And if one slice goes, they'll all likely go. Modern hunters freeze their venison first, and wait until it's partially thawed before slicing it thin, whereas the Corps' hunters had no choice but to slice the meat raw, which is both tedious and dangerous, even with a very sharp knife.
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, and nutritionally worthless.
ehydrating the meat—drawing out all of the natural moisture in the fibers—is the next step. Good ventilation and efficient circulation of warm air in the smokehouse would hasten the drying if the fire's temperature was carefully controlled, night and day. Rubbing the trimmed and sliced flitches with salt, whenever they got some, would quickly draw moisture to the surface where it could evaporate. On January 5 the salt makers, Joseph 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: curing hides for clothing and moccasins. At that rate, a gallon would not last very long, and the first significant if still marginally sufficient supply wouldn't arrive from the seaside salt works until the third of February, when Lewis could write:
|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.|
That prediction was several weeks short of the mark, probably because no one had expected to be delayed for a month, waiting for the winter's snow to melt high in the Bitterroot Mountains. Meanwhile, 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 80% or higher there on the western margin of the continent.10 No wonder the men of the Corps, as well as Sacagawea and little Jean-Baptiste, would have to choke down rotting elk meat all through the holidays, and on through the dreary days of January and February, before they could depart for drier climes.
hey had teetered over the brink of despond before, as in those hungry days toward the end of their treck through the Bitterroot Mountains. But then, while their bodies grew "pore" from lack of food, their hopes were nourished by the fact that every few days they could see signs that there was an end to it. At least they were moving downhill toward good hunting, nourishment, and rest. But here on the verge of the continent, in the rainy season that inland precipitation at that latitude was called snow, there was little they could do for distraction except hunt wild game that was likely to spoil before they could get it to their mouths. Otherwise, while the captains had reports to write and maps to draw, their men were either hunting, lugging dead meat back to camp, or just sitting and waiting in their huts, or at best making moccasins and clothing of leather in anticipation of their homeward journey.11
Actually, they had all been more or less ill since before day one. Captain Lewis was able to conceal his own symptoms, but Clark was more inclined to tell all. 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—overland bushwacking. It felt like a 1,500-foot climb to him, although it's only a 1,000-foot fall over the sheer face of it into the Pacific surf. After collecting some whale oil and blubber they were ready to retrace their steps. 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 thought to himself. "[A] deturmined [persistance?] will as it has done carry me through." It did. "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," he rhapsodized." Remember, of course, "romantic" was an 18th-century euphemism for "wild, irregular, improbable, false."12
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. On the sixth of March, Clark admitted that the convalescents 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 – of construction, 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 punch in?
uncheon 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 punching holes, making dies for coins, or 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 (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.13
A Froe (Frow, Frower)
Pass cursor over image to read details.
he 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 wood-worker's vocabulary 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 carpenters. Basically, it denotes a tool consisting of a thick straight blade about 2 to 3 inches wide, from ¼" to ⅜" in thickness, sometimes wedge-shaped, and about 12" long, with one end wrapped around a wooden haft (handle). It 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.14
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. As the blade is driven down the log, successively larger wooden wedges may be inserted into the rift to facilitate continued splitting.
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:
He continued: "[W]e have also found this wood usefull to us for ax handles as well as glutts [gluts] or wedges."
|[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.|
Day 7 – Clark: “[W]e had a house Covered with Punchen & our meat hung up."
hat was the best that could be said about December 16. Weatherwise it was almost beyond belief. They had been without any 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 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 depriva-tions. 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. Some-how, Clark man-aged 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!" He wrapped up his memories of the day with a ho-hum postscript: "Several men Complaining of hurting themselves Carry meet, &c.”
Day 8 – 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]."
Day 9 – Weatherwise, the 18th wasn't any better. In fact, it was much worse. That was the first day they had to work in snow, 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 – As a last resort, early on 19 December—at least the morning skies were clear—Clark "despatched Sjt. Pryer with 8 men in 2 Canoes across Meriwethers Bay for the boads15 of an Indian house which is vacant."
hey 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. Odds are that the structure they pillaged, like many other seemingly useless domiciles they had seen along the lower Columbia, might not have been permanently abandoned, but were built to serve as temporary residences for one of two reasons. For one thing, coastal tribes often lived near the ocean in winter, and moved to alternate homes on nearby rivers during salmon runs. Since the dwelling in question was said to be located near the Netul river, it might have been occupied only during run that had taken place before the expedition arrived in early December, and would be reoccupied after they left 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 huge infestation of fleas.
owhere 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 mentioned. Not even, as far as we can tell, did the Americans consider putting their booty back before they left for home.
The captains' expropriation of lumber from that structure—like their theft of a native canoe because it looked like it had been abandoned—was a deed that today would be prosecuted as larceny, which the current statutes of the State of Oregon define as "feloniously and unlawfully taking the property of another against their will or without their consent, with the intention of defrauding and depriving them of its use." Moreover, there is abundant evidence that the captains and their men were quick to respond to natives' thefts of Corps property with demands for recompense, or at least with sinister threats. Yet across the estuary, back on November 15, Clark had blandly acknowledged that "our men all Comfortable in the . . . Camps they have made of the boards they found at the Town above."
It all adds up to one of the most shameful episodes in the Americans' dealings with Native peoples.Day 11 – December 20th 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,16 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 – The next 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 – Today, December 23, the captains moved into their hut, 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 – It was Christmas Eve, and the first time in many weeks that all the men could share shelter from the wind and rain, and build fires to dry out their soggy leather clothes and bedding. Two weeks later (on January 6) Lewis was to declare his frustration over that very 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, but Nicholas Biddle omitted it from his paraphrase of the journals.
Carpenters & Joiners
rom 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 somewhere up the Netul River, all by himself, reloading after each shot, apparently without ever spooking the herd. But today everyone discovered something about Joe that they might not have known before. 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.
y 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 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 wainscoting.17
ewis'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, 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.
ssentially, a 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.18
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.19 A full set of planes may consist of as many as 14 different instruments.
Day 16 – was 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.
t 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.
Venting smoke from a coastal Indian plank house
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
merican 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.
by Paul Kane (1810–1871)
Watercolor on paper (1847)
hereas, 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.20
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.21
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."22
Day 17 – 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."
Tipula abdominalis Say
his 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 64 genera, numerous subgenera, and a total of 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 gratitude for services rendered. But it seems the best that can be said of any of the adults is that even though they look somewhat like overgrown mosquitoes, they don't act like them.
T. abdominalis Say
any 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.23
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 heatherjackets' 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.24
Day 18 – In his journal entry for December 27, Captain Clark tried to sound nonchalant—"the men Complete Chimneys & Bunks to day"—whereas Ordway was slightly 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, he ordered "1½ dozen Bed Laces,"18 [18 Jackson, Letters, 1:93-99.] but they are not mentioned anywhere in the journals, so Lewis may have left them behind in Philadelphia, perhaps to save money. However, it is conceivable that they had carried them along, but circumstances had required that they be cut apart to provide ropes to tie up the manties of baggage and lash them onto their pack horses. In any case, at Fort Clatsop it seems likely they were all obliged to sleep on unyielding puncheons.
Then Clark added, perhaps with a shudder of recognition, "Musquetors troublesom." However, in the next draft 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 may 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 inflict that old familiar trespass, and therefore didn't steal any of his blood. And it didn't scream in his ears. But it was still a convincing mosquito-look- . . . almost . . . never . . . -alike.
Day 19 Clark "Sent out the hunters and Salt makers, & employed the balance of the men Carrying pickets &C."
Day 20 – Clark breathed six words of triumph, "our fortification is Completed this evening," plus an aside that compounded his satisfaction: "this day proved to be the fairest and best which we have had since our arrival at this place," and signed off with a chuckle—"only three Showers dureing this whole day."
Day 21, December 31: Clark ordered two "Sinks" or pit toilets to be dug. enclosure, and a shelter "for the centinel to Stand in out of the rain" next to the orderly room entrance.
The next morning, the captains were "awoke at an early hour by the discharge, must have broken to the muted whispers of 33 sighs of relief from the Corps, The captains, however, had to get down to business without delay. Clark wrote up 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.) Lewis issued detailed 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 fresh-killed elk.
Sergeant Gass's journal entry centered on a salutary postscript to their three-week graduate seminar on survival: "We gave our Fortification the name of Fort Clatsop."
—Joseph Mussulman, 11/2013
1. "Jefferson's Instructions to Lewis," in Jackson, Letters, 1:61. That achievement would be capped off by Lewis's exploration of the "Road to the Buffalo" to the headwaters of the Blackfoot River, the crossing of the divide, and the descent of the Medicine (Sun) River to the upper portage camp above the Falls of the Missouri.
2. It seems that they missed, by only a few days, seeing the first trading vessel to 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. Allen V. Pinkham and Steven R. Evans, Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce: Strangers in the Land of the Nimiipuu (Washburn, North Dakota: Dakota Institute Press, 2013), 34.
6. 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.
7. 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 to Europe by French explorers 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."
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Average temperature and humidity at nearby Astoria are taken from http://www.climate-zone.com/climate/united-states/oregon/astoria/. Meat-drying procedures and standards are from The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 79, a Manual on simple methods of meat preservation.
11. They began tackling that problem as soon as their rooms were roofed and the log walls chinked to keep out the chilly wind. By March 13, Sgt. Gass could report, as they began packing to leave, 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 the most of them are made of [the toughest parts 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 various places.
12. Noah Webster (1758-1843), A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (Boston, 1806), s.v. "romantic."
13. Noah Webster's lifelong motivation for writing dictionaries was to unify culturally fractured American communities with standardized spelling and pronunciation, partly to ease and reinforce the spread of the Gospel as the moral mainstay of American nationhood. See "Clark's Education. Harlow Giles Unger, Noah Webster: The Life and Times of an American Patriot (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998), 55.
14. Peter C. Welsh, "Woodworking Tools, 1600-1900," in Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, Smithsonian Institution, Paper 51.
15. In parts of 18th-century Britain, and among American Colonists who had come from certain places in the British Isles, speakers persisted in eliding the rhotic sound when it occurred before a consonant. That might account for the missing /r/ in Clark's phonetic spelling of "board"—if it wasn't merely a slip of Clark's pen. The sound of it is still characteristic of New Englanders from southern Massachusetts to New Hampshire. Dictionary of American Regional English, s.v. "board."
16. Among the 54 items the Purveyor of Public Supplies, Israel Wheelan, listed in his invoice of June 6, 1803, from the merchants Harvey & Worth of Philadelphia, were "1¼ dozen Bed Laces," evidently intended for the 15-man force that had originally been authorized. Bed laces were nets made of hemp or sisal rope, which could be fastened to holes or pegs in bunk frames and "tuned" or stretched taut with a "bed key" that resembled a wooden clothespin. The result was considerably more comfortable than a wooden slab. It is not known whether the captains bought more bed laces, but in any case, if they had any, one suspects the men would have taken them apart to get ropes to secure manties to pack saddles when they left the Lemhi Valley in late August of 1805. Jackson, Letters, 1:83. Similar laces were designed for use in stagecoaches to relieve passengers from bodily discomfort on rough roads. Laces made of tape instead of rope were more comfortable, which justified a higher price.
17. Patrick Gass (1771-1870) may have been the "House joiner" that Lewis told Clark was among the recruits that had been sent to him from South West Point in Tennessee. In his early twenties Gass briefly fought Indians in the Old West, then worked as a deck hand on a flatboat bound for New Orleans, and in the late 1790s enlisted in the Army. He was 32 years old when Lewis recruited him from Captain Russell Bissell's command at Fort Kaskaskia in the Illinois country. His military record indicated that his preinduction occupation was listed as "carpenter," and Lewis's difficulty in acceding to Gass's wish to take part in the expedition may have reflected Capt. Bissell's reluctance to let his only enlisted carpenter go. It seems unlikely that he was a journeyman carpenter, since that would have meant that he had spent from four to seven years as an apprentice, and that would have been prominent among his recollections. The evidence that he was somewhat qualified as a carpenter appears in his involvement in overseeing the building of each of the three winter bastions, and the carving of dugout canoes. During the War of 1812 he worked under Daniel Boone in the construction of a small temporary fort on the Mississippi, known as Fort Independence or "Cap-au-Gris." (Jackson, Letters, 2:647, also 1:144; Larry E. Morris, The Fate of the Corps (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 182-83.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. Paul Kane, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1859), 187-88.
21. E. V. Newcome, ed., Menzies' Journal of Vancouver's Voyage. April to October, 1792 (Victoria, BC: William J. Cullin, 1923), 58. Internet Archive. The Gulf of Georgia consists of the Strait of Georgia plus all of the waters and shores around the Strait's boundaries.
22. The Wood Heat Organization Inc., http://www.woodheat.org/all-about-chimneys.html (Retrieved 21 March 2013).
23. Ross H. Arnett, Jr., American Insects: A handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1985), 29.2.1.
24. 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).