Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

On a cold, rainy Sunday in December 1805, William Clark was dealing with sick men, hard-bargaining Indians, and spoiled elk.  However, he was quick to note in his journal that a welcome bit of novelty had crept into the dreary routine at Fort Clatsop. “We were informed day before yesterday that a whale had foundered on the coast to the S. W. near the Kil a mox [Tillamook] N. and that the greater part of the Clat Sops were gorn for the oile & blubber,” Clark wrote. “The wind proves too high for us to proceed by water to See this monster, Capt Lewis has been in readiness Since we first heard of the whale to go and see it and collect Some of its Oil, the wind has proved too high as yet for him to proceed.”

Beached blue whale carcass

Beached blue whale carcass

The sight of a whale would indeed have been a novelty. In 1805, the ascent of the New England whaling industry was still 15 years away, and Lewis and Clark would have known whales mostly as a source for lamp oil and candle wax.

One week after first hearing about the whale, Lewis and Clark got their first taste of the big fish from a couple of their own men who were employed at the Salt Camp. On January 5, 1806, Clark noted, “At 5 p. m. Willard and Wiser returned, they had not been lost as we expected.    they informd us that it was not untill the 5th day after leaveing the fort, that they Could find a Convenient place for makeing Salt; that they had at length established themselves on the Sea Coast about 15 miles S. W. from this, near the houses of Some Clat Sop & Kil a mox families; that the Indians were very friendly and had given them a considerable quantity of the blubber of the whale which perished on the Coast Some distance S. E. of them.”

Willard and Wiser had brought some of the whale blubber to Fort Clatsop. Ever the epicurean, Lewis was anxious to sample the whale meat. “It was white & not unlike the fat of Poark, tho’ the texture was more spongey and somewhat coarser,” he wrote. “I had a part of it cooked and found it very pallitable and tender, it resembled the beaver or the dog in flavor.”


“the Indian woman was very impotunate to be permited to go”

His curiosity piqued, Clark determined “to Set out early tomorrow with two canoes & 12 men in quest of the whale or at all events to purchase from the indians a parcel of the blubber.” The next day, he picked up one additional passenger. Sacagawea had heard about the whale and was not about to be left behind. Lewis recorded, “Capt Clark set out after an early breakfast with the party in two canoes as had been concerted the last evening; Charbono and his Indian woman were also of the party; the Indian woman was very impotunate to be permited to go, and was therefore indulged; she observed that she had traveled a long way with us to see the great waters, and that now that monstrous fish was also to be seen, she thought it very hard she could not be permitted to see either (she had never yet been to the Ocean).”

By Tuesday, January 7, Clark’s party had reached the sea coast, about 35 miles from Fort Clatsop. Clark hired an Indian guide to pilot them to the location of the beached whale. On the way, he noted that “we met 14 Indians loaded with blubber.” Unfortunately, the Corps of Discovery was a johnny-come-lately to the party. When they reached the Tillamook Nation on Wednesday the 8th, the Indians were busily boiling blubber and siphoning the whale oil into a canoe. The whale itself, called E cu-la by the natives, was lying on “a very large Rock” and had been dead for more than a week. It was “nothing but a Sceleton.”

Clark estimated the skeleton’s length to be 105 feet. According to Private Whitehouse, the head was shaped “like the bow of a Vessell nearly.” Based on that description, it could have been a blue whale, the largest mammal on the planet.

Makah Indians cutting up a whale, 1910

Makah Indians cutting up a whale, 1910

Finding no blubber left on the carcass, Clark’s next task was to try to strike a bargain. “We tok out a few bones and returned to the Cabins at the mouth of the Creek, and attempted to trade with thos people who I found Close and Capricious, would not trade the Smallest piece except they thought they got an advantage of the bargain,” Clark complained. Clark and the men were finally able to purchase about 300 pounds of blubber and a few gallons of whale oil. Clark wrote testily, “Finding they would not trade I Deturmined to return home with what we have.”

The next day, Clark divided the load among the men in his party and set out on the return trip to Fort Clatsop. They found it tough going until they chanced upon a party of Indians, also transporting a heavy load of blubber.  “On the Steep decent of the Mountain I overtook five men and Six womin with emence loads of the Oil and blubber of the Whale,” Clark recorded. “One of the women in the act of getting down a Steep part of the mountain her load by Some means had Sliped off her back, and She was holding the load by a Strap which was fastened to the mat bag in which it was in, in one hand and holding a bush by the other, as I was in front of my party, I endeavored to relieve this woman by takeing her load untill She Could get to a better place a little below, & to my estonishment found the load as much as I Could lift and must exceed 100 wt.” He added, “Estonishing what custom will do.”

Jonah and the whale

Jonah and the whale

Clark’s weary party returned home to Fort Clatsop on Friday, January 10 with their precious oil and whale meat. Clark reflected in his journal, “Small as this Stock is I prise it highly; and thank providence for directing the whale to us; and think him much more kind to us than he was to jonah, having Sent this monster to be Swallowed by us in Sted of Swallowing of us as jonah’s did.”

Read Full Post »

Among the many geographical features that Lewis and Clark were on the lookout for during their transcontinental trip was evidence of volcanic activity. Based on burned-out pieces of lignite coal that floated down the Missouri River, rumors of volcanoes in the Louisiana Purchase territory had reached Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was intrigued enough to purchase a copy of Claude Nicholas Ordinare’s Histoire naturelle des volcans in preparation for Lewis and Clark’s journey.

Illustration of a 19th century volcano eruption

Illustration of a 19th century volcano eruption

Still, the science of volcanology was still in its infancy, and Lewis and Clark were uncertain what to look for. On August 24, 1804, the Corps of Discovery was passing through present-day Dixon County, Nebraska, when Clark noted the “Great appearance of Coal” in the area  and investigated a burning bluff:

Some rain last night, a Continuation this morning; we Set out at the usial time and proceeded on the Course of last night to the (1) Commencement of a blue Clay Bluff of 180 or 190 feet high on the L. S. Those Bluffs appear to have been laterly on fire, and at this time is too hot for a man to bear his hand in the earth at any debth, gret appearance of Coal. An emence quantity of Cabalt or a Cristolised Substance which answers its discription is on the face of the Bluff—

The area Clark visited was later known as the “Ionia volcano,” after the now defunct town of Ionia, Nebraska. The burning bluff was not, however, due to volcanic activity, but rather to the heat released by oxidizing minerals on the rapidly eroding river bluff.

A few weeks later, on September 14, 1804, Clark again set out to investigate a possible volcano that had been referred to in the papers of fur trader and explorer Alexander MacKay. “I walked on Shore with a view to find an old Volcano Said to be in this neghbourhood by Mr. McKey,” Clark wrote. “I was Some distance out    Could not See any Signs of a Volcanoe, I killed a Goat, which is peculier to this Countrey about the hite of a Grown Deer Shorter, its horns Coms out immediately abov its eyes.” As there is no volcanic activity in this part of South Dakota, the phenomenon observed by Mackay (and not by Clark) was likely similar to the burning lignite bluff Clark had seen earlier.

Though they did not know it, Lewis and Clark were destined to see some of the most spectacular volcanoes in North America.

On November 3, 1805, Sergeant Patrick Gass wrote in his journal:

The morning was foggy: one of the men went out and killed a fine buck. At 9 we proceeded on, but could not see the country we were passing, on account of the fog, which was very thick till noon when it disappeared, and we had a beautiful day. We at that time came to the mouth of a river on the south side, a quarter of a mile broad, but not more than 6 or 8 inches deep, running over a bar of quicksand. At this place we dined on venison and goose; and from which we can see the high point of a mountain covered with snow, in about a southeast direction from us. Our Commanding Officers are of opinion that it is Mount Hood, discovered by a Lieutenant of Vancoover, who was up this river 75 miles.

Mount Hood

Mount Hood

It was indeed Mount Hood, one of the volcanoes in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, which includes more than 20 volcanoes in present-day Canada, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.  Formed due to one tectonic plate sliding under another on the western edge of the continent, the Cascade volcanoes are among the most potentially dangerous in the world.

Lewis and Clark’s party observed five of these, including Mount Hood, Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Jefferson, named by the Corps in honor of their presidential patron. The last major eruption of Mount Hood occurred in 1781-1782, but a more recent eruptive episode had occurred shortly before Lewis and Clark’s arrival in 1805. At the downstream end of the Columbia River gorge, Lewis and Clark noted the rich bottomlands that had been partially formed by Mount Hood’s eruption less than twenty-five years earlier. But they did not realize that the bottomlands had been formed by Mount Hood, an active volcano.

Nor did they know that Mount St. Helens had recently undergone a significant eruption. An explosion at Mt. St. Helens around the year 1800 probably rivaled the 1980 eruption in size, spreading ash over central and eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana.

Mount St. Helens erupting, May 1980

Mount St. Helens erupting, May 1980

Lewis and Clark did know something of what to expect geographically when they got to the Cascade Range due to the explorations of George Vancouver, though they initially mistook a newly-sighted peak, Mount Adams, for Mount St. Helens, and mistook Mount St. Helens for Mount Rainier. By the time they had made winter camp at Fort Clatsop, however, Clark had sorted out his map and assigned the right names to the right peaks. Lewis and Clark noted the conical nature of some of the mountains, but they apparently did not draw the connection that they were in the midst of a chain of volcanoes. Minor eruptions in the 19th century filled in the gaps as explorers and settlers realized they were living in the midst of potentially explosive geologic giants.

Lewis and Clark’s last near-miss with volcanic activity came in the summer of 1806, when they passed to the north of the amazing thermal features of present-day Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone National Park is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. Like the Cascade volcanoes, the Yellowstone Caldera is considered an active volcano.

Boiling pots in "Colter's Hell"

Boiling pots in "Colter's Hell," Yellowstone National Park

In 1806, John Colter, a member of the Corps of Discovery, left the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Lewis’s consent to join a group of fur trappers. After splitting up with the other trappers, Colter passed through a portion of what later became Yellowstone National park during the winter of 1807–1808. He observed at least one geothermal area in the northeastern section of the park, near Tower Fall. After surviving wounds he suffered in a battle with members of the Crow and Blackfoot tribes in 1809, he gave a description of a place of “hidden fires, smoking pits, noxious steams, and smell of brimstone” that was dismissed by many people as delirium or exaggeration. Later, Colter’s observations were borne out by the reports of other mountain men who visited the area. The place he described was nicknamed “Colter’s Hell.”

Read Full Post »

Thanks to our reader John Orthmann, who was kind enough to comment on additional Lewis & Clark sculptures in his neck of the woods, we have more sculptures to add to our blogs about statuary featuring Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the whole Corps of Discovery gang.

First of all, some sad news:

Lewis and Clark monument along Washington Highway 101 near the Oregon state line

This terrific chainsaw statue is no more. Wah. But some great news:

I missed a terrific statue by the great Stanley Wanlass. Located in Long Beach, Washington, this statue commemorates the day when William Clark recorded on a sturdy tree what must have been a deeply satisfying moment: William Clark. Nov. 19, 1805. By land from the U. States.

In our novel, To the Ends of the Earth, we described Clark’s memory of that day:

He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and, taking care not to stumble in the darkness, went down to the sand spit and found a place to sit near the water. He looked at the blanket of gray mist covering the river, but he wasn’t really seeing it. In his mind’s eye, he saw instead the fog hovering in the giant, tangled trees along the Columbia River as the Expedition took their canoes through the river channels, coming ever closer to the Pacific Ocean they were so anxious to see. He could almost feel their heavy dugouts quiver in awe of the rough tidewater.

When they’d finally reached the great Pacific, he and Lewis had walked alone a short distance, leaving the men behind to whoop out their pleasure in the achievement. From a towering basalt cliff, they’d stood together in their ragged buckskins, drizzle dripping off their beards, watching enormous waves crash against the rocky shoreline. Clark’s heart was so full he couldn’t even speak. He would never forget the way Lewis faced down the great ocean with a challenging stare, as if to say I made it, you sonofabitch. Then he’d given Clark that defiant, crinkle-eyed smile, and a slow, satisfied nod.

Sacagawea and Jean-Baptist by Alice Cooper (1905)

Sacagawea is said to have been immortalized in statue more than any other American woman. Portland is home to one of the earliest monuments, a tremendous bronze by Alice Cooper. The sculpture was dedicated for the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, a ceremony that was attended by feminist dignitaries including as Susan B. Anthony, and by Eve Emery Dye, feminist and author of The Conquest (1902), the historical novel that gave rise to many of the myths about Sacagawea that are still cherished today.

Sacagawea and Jean-Baptiste, by Glenna Goodacre (2004)

Not content with one statue of Sacagawea and little Pomp, in 2003, Portland added another, this time at Lewis & Clark College. Glenna Goodacre, who also designed the Sacagawea dollar, created the work, which was donated to the school by college trustee Richard Bertea and his wife Hyla.

Bronze artist Heather Heather Söderberg with her Sacagawea (2011)

One of the newest sculptures can be found at the Cascade Locks Visitor Center in Oregon, where a sultry Sacagawea is now on hand with the Expedition’s faithful dog Seaman. Heather Söderberg was commissioned to create the bronzes as a permanent memorial to the struggle faced by the Corps in navigating the rapids and the events of April 13, 1806, when Sacagawea and Seaman accompanied Captain Lewis on a mission to trade deer and elk skins for canoes and dogs (for eating) with the local people.

This video shows the casting of Sacagawea’s head:

Meriwether Lewis and Seaman by John Jewell (2005)

Sergeant John Ordway, by John Jewell (2006)

Located near Tacoma, Fort Lewis (now named Joint Base Lewis-McChord due to an operations merger with the adjacent Air Force base), was named after Meriwether Lewis in 1917. Home of the Army I Corps, it is a huge and vital base. In a landmark choice, Major General John Hemphill, who spearheaded the project to bring these oversized bronzes to the base, commissioned a bronze of Sergeant John Ordway along with that of Lewis and his dog. Ordway’s statue is one of the few statues in the United States of a non-commissioned officer and the only one honoring one of the non-coms of the Corps of Discovery.

We wrote more about Ordway and his critical role in leading the Corps in our blog The Four Sergeants of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Lewis & Clark at Patit Creek, by George Touchette (2005)

Near Dayton, Washington, an impressive collection of more than 80 — count ’em, 80 — life-sized steel silhouettes give visitors a sweeping impression of the scene at Patit Creek, where the Corps of Discovery camped on May 2, 1806, during the Expedition’s return journey. The full-scale scene was conceptualized and designed by local history buff and funeral director George Touchette, and the town of Dayton obtained a $108,000 grant from the Washington State Historical Society to complete the project. The sculptures were cut by Northwest Art Casting in Umapine, Oregon.

Thanks again, John, for all the great additions! Readers, let us know about other Lewis & Clark sculptures in your neck of the woods!

Previous installments:

Lewis and Clark in Sculpture (Part 1) – Virginia to Missouri

Lewis and Clark in Sculpture (Part 2) – Great Plains

Lewis and Clark in Sculpture (Part 3) – Rocky Mountains to the Sea

Read Full Post »

To conclude our tour through the Lewis & Clark Expedition in public art, let’s take a look at the sculptures of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark that adorn the trail from the Rocky Mountains to the sea. As with earlier installments, please let us know if we missed any. This is a part of the trail we have traveled very lightly and I am dying to go back.

Hospitality of the Nez Perce, by Douglas Hyde (1993), is on the campus of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho

This beautiful bronze by Doug Hyde, a Santa Fe-based sculptor of Native American descent, was commissioned for the centennial of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, a pretty town at the confluence of the Snake River and the Clearwater River. It depicts Lewis and Clark meeting with Twisted Hair of the Nez Perce as his young son Lawyer, later to play a major role in the conflict between the Nez Perce and American settlers, plays at their feet.

Hospitality of the Nez Perce by Doug Hyde (2006) on the grounds of the Idaho State Capitol

Look familiar? If not, consult your doctor about short-term memory loss. In 2006, historian Carol MacGregor commissioned a replica of Hyde’s Lewiston statue to be placed on the campus of the Idaho state capitol in Boise.

An Indian guide joins William Clark and York on the bluff at the University of Portland

I have not been able to discover much about this statue and would love to hear any further information about it.

Lewis and Clark monument along Washington Highway 101 near the Oregon state line

Talk about a terrific old statue! This is another one about which I have been able to learn next to nothing. I am not even sure of its exact location, but it appears to be in the Cape Disappointment area, where Meriwether Lewis explored before he and Clark settled the Corps of Discovery at Fort Clatsop near Astoria in the winter of 1805-06. Please post in the comments if you know anything about this gem.

Lewis and Clark monument by Stanley Wanlass (1980). This statue stands inside the Visitors' Center at Fort Clatsop near Astoria, Oregon.

For the most part I have skipped some indoor statuary for this series of blog posts, but Stanley Wanlass’s bronze is the show-stopper at the Fort Clatsop Visitors’ Center. It is indoors due to the extreme rainfall in the area, which is so much a part of the Lewis & Clark story at Fort Clatsop. Clark and Seaman take a look at a fish being offered by a Native American, while Lewis, the gourmet of the group, is busy being visionary.

Clark's Sturgeon, by Jim Demetro (2005) in Long Beach, Washington

What a fun statue. This sculpture by Jim Demetro depicts a real-life incident from the journals in which Clark records finding a 10-foot sturgeon on the beach. The statue adorns the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail, which I have not yet gotten to visit. It sounds like an amazing project which features other Lewis & Clark interpretive displays including a whale skeleton and a 19-foot bronze tree by Stanley Wanlass that marks the spot where Clark carved the historic inscription “William Clark. Nov. 19, 1805. By land from the U. States.”

"End of the Trail" by Stanley Wanlass (1990) in Seaside, Oregon

This beautiful bronze by Stanley Wanlass marks the official end of the Lewis & Clark trail, the westernmost point reached by the intrepid pair. For more about Wanlass, check out his very interesting website, which includes photos of his fascinating automotive sculptures.

Again, please leave information in the comments about other Lewis and Clark sculptures or further information about these fascinating memorials to the leaders of the Corps of Discovery.

For more reading:

Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce
Lewis and Clark Among the Clatsops

Read Full Post »

William Clark's drawing of the manitou spirit, a Missouri River petroglyph, June 5, 1804. Courtesy American Philosophical Society.

passed a Projecting Rock called the Manitou a Painting   from this Deavel to the Pt. on the Lbd Side N 23° W 7½ Ms. — William Clark, June 5, 1804

With this casual notation very early in the Lewis & Clark Expedition, somewhere in present-day Moniteau County, Missouri, William Clark made note of a rock painting which he termed a “deavel” (devil) or manitou, a French version of an Algonquian Indian word meaning “spirit.” Undoubtedly, it was only the first of many encounters the Corps of Discovery would have with Indian rock art; in fact, it seems likely that rock art was so common in the regions traversed by Meriwether Lewis and and William Clark that it was seldom thought worthy of special note.

There are actually two types of rock art: petroglyphs, or carvings made in rock; and pictographs, or paintings made on rock. Over the years, erosion has weathered away many of the rock art images that Lewis and Clark would have seen, but remarkably sites survive in Kansas, Montana, and the Columbia River Basin.

Kansas petroglyph on the Lewis & Clark trail. Courtesy Kansas History Society.

Kansas is rich in petroglyphs, especially on the sandstone bluffs and cliffs in the central part of the state. Examples can still be found depicting men on horseback and people wearing headdresses and carrying spears and shields. Animal tracks are another common theme. More rare is a monster, spirit, or “deavel” such as the one Clark described. Very little is known about the cultures that made these images, and many of them have never been documented or studied, making them a mysterious and intriguing subject for hikers and modern-day explorers.

An Elk pictograph near The Dalles. Courtesy Marysville Pictograph Project.

On the other end of the trail, the Columbia River Gorge is the site of hundreds and hundreds of ancient petroglyphs, made by tribes like the Warm Springs, Yakima, Umatilla, and Nez Perce and their ancestors. One area with thousands of drawings was named Petroglyph Canyon. Unfortunately, Lewis and Clark did very little ethnographic work while in this region (they were racing the calendar to make it to the Pacific Coast before winter set in.) And unlike in Kansas, these ancient expressions are obscured today by more than erosion. Though some can still be seen high on the cliff faces, most of them were buried under millions of gallons of water when the area was flooded by the construction of massive dams in the 1950s.

She Who Watches

A few drawings were hacked out of the rock before the floodings and stored near the fish ladder of the John Day Dam until 2004, when an amazing outdoor trail display was built for them at Columbia Hills State Park in Oregon. In addition to the 43 petroglyphs on the trail, the park is home to Tsagaglalal, “She Who Watches,” one of the most famous rock images in North America.

Further down river at The Dalles, both petroglyphs and pictographs were made by the Chinook, Clackamas, Watlala, Multnomah, Wasco, and Wishram peoples and their ancestors. A number of these rock art pieces were rescued and can be seen at The Dalles Visitor Center, the Maryhill Museum, and Roosevelt Petroglyph State Park in Washington. In addition, rubbings of many petroglyphs can be seen at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington.

Image found in Pictograph Cave State Park, Montana

Finally, a site rich in rock art is also one of the few sites remaining that has incontrovertible evidence that the Corps of Discovery passed that way. And all because William Clark decided to make some rock art of his own. At Pompey’s Pillar near present-day Billings, Montana, and nearby Pictograph Cave State Park, hundreds of red, white, and black pictographs exist from cultures dating back some 10,000 years. In his own matter-of-fact way, Clark gives a clue as to the inspiration for a petroglyph of his own:

the wind Contined high untill 2 P M. I proceeded on after the [rain] lay a little and at 4 P M arived at a remarkable rock Situated in an extensive bottom on the Stard. Side of the river & 250 paces from it.    this rock I ascended and from it’s top had a most extensive view in every direction. This rock which I shall Call Pompy’s Tower is 200 feet high and 400 paces in secumphrance and only axcessable on one Side which is from the N. E the other parts of it being a perpendicular Clift of lightish Coloured gritty rock on the top there is a tolerable Soil of about 5 or 6 feet thick Covered with Short grass. The Indians have made 2 piles of Stone on the top of this Tower. The nativs have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year. — William Clark, July 25, 1806

Clark's signature carved on Pompey's Pillar near Billings, Montana

I have not visited any of these sites except Pompey’s Pillar, and that was back in 1996 before I was into Lewis & Clark. I look forward to another trip to Lewis & Clark country to see these interesting and mysterious messages from the past.

Read Full Post »

A collapsed burial shed on the Columbia River. Illustration from Cosmopolitan magazine, November 1898

On October 31, 1805, even while he was scouting out the best way to navigate the Cascades of the Columbia, William Clark found time to explore and wonder about a very ancient tradition:

½ a mile lower I saw 8 Vaults for the Dead which was nearly Square 8 feet Closely Covered with broad boads Curiously engraved, the bones in Some of those vaults wer 4 feet thick, in others the Dead was yet layed Side of each other nearly East & west, raped up & bound Securley in robes, great numbers of trinkets Brass Kittle, Sea Shells, Iron, Pan Hare &c. &c. was hung about the vaults and great many wooden gods, or Images of men Cut in wood, Set up round the vaults, Some of those So old and worn by time that they were nearly worn out of Shape, and Some of those vaults So old that they were roted entirely to the ground—    not withstanding they wood is of Pine & [one word illegible] or Seder as also the wooden gods

All of the early explorers on the Columbia River were fascinated by the burial sheds on this portion of the Columbia, which were located near the powerhouse of the present-day Bonneville Dam. Some of the vaults contained so many skeletons that it was obvious that they had been in use for many generations. Later observers noted that infants and children who died were often submerged in quiet, still ponds of water instead. Others reported that the custom included a specialized undertaker who prepared the bodies and carefully wrapped them for interment.

Wishram bride in 1911, by Edward S. Curtis

Fall was a season for remembering the dead and maintaining the dead houses. At that time, family members would inspect the tombs, clean things up, and re-dress and re-wrap the bodies as necessary. The undertakers would sometimes speak with the dead. They explained that the voices of the recent dead were the easiest to hear. After sometime, the voices become fainter, eventually dwindling to nothing as the body crumbled to dust.

But in the century following Lewis & Clark’s visit, disease took a ravaging toll on the people of the Dalles area, and the burial vaults fell into disrepair. Many of them were heavily looted by white settlers, not only of the artifacts that Clark described but even of the bones themselves, which were carted off wholesale to museums.

Missionaries and early explorers did leave some accounts of the funeral practices of the people, which included a ceremonial wake that lasted a week or more. Gifts from the mourners were attached to the bundle in which the deceased was wrapped. After the loved one was placed in the family charnel house, mourning continued for several days more days. The survivors cut their hair short (one reason that many of the Indians assumed that the Corps of Discovery was in mourning) and then underwent a purifying sweat bath before moving on with the business of living.

Missionaries also reported a more grisly aspect of the culture. At times, a favorite slave would be bound hand and foot and place in the charnel house with the deceased, in order to wait on him or her in the next world. Any other slave who died was not accorded any burial privileges, but simply dumped outside of camp and left for wild animals to devour.

The remaining bodies in the areas were gathered up by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930s and buried in a single grave on the north shore about five miles east of the dam.

Read Full Post »

Beacon Rock

Location: Near Skamania, Washington, about 35 miles east of Vancouver

a remarkable high detached rock Stands in a bottom on the Stard Side near the lower point of this Island on the Stard. Side about 800 feet high and 400 paces around, we call the Beaten Rock. – William Clark, October 31, 1805  

Sunset on the Columbia. Beacon Rock is on the right.

One of the most memorable sites I ever beheld on the Lewis & Clark trail was watching the sunset over Beacon Rock as we sailed through the Columbia River Gorge. In a region of stunning beauty, Beacon Rock–actually the plug of a long-dormant volcano–is a spectacle in itself. The second-largest free-standing monolith in the world (just behind the Rock of Gibraltar), the rock is now a state park that offers amazing hiking and views over a heavily-switchback trail first constructed in 1915.

For Clark, the rock’s singular beauty must have taken a back seat to practical considerations, for it was one of the great landmarks of the “great shute,” later called the Cascades of the Columbia. Though Clark couldn’t have known it, the Cascades were the last of the major obstructions on the Columbia barring river passage to the Pacific Ocean. All he knew was that five days after their death-defying shooting of the rapids at the Dalles, he was confronted with another equally hazardous run, a place where:

the water of this great river [are] Compressed within the Space of 150 paces in which there is great numbers of both large and Small rocks, water passing with great velocity forming & boiling in a most horriable manner…

Cascades Rapids on the Columbia River in 1899

Always an astute observer of geography and terrain, Clark also took the time to theorize that the large obstructions in the Shute “must be the Cause of the rivers daming up to Such a distance above, where it Shows Such evidant marks of the Common current of the river being much lower than at the present day.” Later geologists would prove Clark right. The Cascade Mountain range turns out to be comprised of soft volcanic material, overlain with harder basalt lava (such as Beacon Rock itself). As the Columbia River cut a path through the mountains, the lava was undermined and eventually collapsed into the river about 1250 A.D. The evidence of the collapse, including drowned forests in the river, was still visible to early explorers.  

The following day, the non-swimmers among the Corps portaged the Expedition’s supplies around the Great Shute, while Clark and the other watermen undertook another hazardous and thrilling ride through the rapids, bringing the canoes safely through to the other side. Shortly thereafter, Clark made his first observation of the tide rising on the Columbia, the Expedition’s first indication that their long-dreamed-of arrival at the Pacific Ocean was not far away.

Henry J. Biddle leading an automobile expedition in eastern Oregon in the 1920s. Courtesy University of Oregon, Historic Photographs Collection.

By 1850, a portage road had been built around the Cascades on the Washington side, and travelers could pass Beacon Rock in style via a mule-drawn train (later replaced by a locomotive). In 1896, the Cascade Locks and Canal opened, allowing river traffic to bypass the Cascades. The Cascades were inundated in 1938 by the construction of Bonneville Dam, and the stupendous and treacherous rapids were relegated forever to memory.

Beacon Rock itself was lucky to escape the same fate. In 1904, a group of developers decided to blow Beacon Rock to bits in order to use the stone for jetty material, and there is evidence that explosives may actually have been placed. Henry J. Biddle, a geologist who was related to Nicholas Biddle (the original editor of the Lewis & Clark Journals), bought the rock along with several other Columbia Gorge landmarks in order to preserve them for future generations. It was Biddle who oversaw the construction of the hiking trail still in use today. In 1932, Biddle’s children gave Beacon Rock to the state of Washington, and it stands today as Beacon Rock State Park.

For further reading and more great pictures: The Columbia River: A Photographic Journey

Read Full Post »

Shooting the Rapids, by Arthur Heming (1906)

Class V (from the U.S. Scale of River Difficulty): Extremely difficult. Long and violent rapids that follow each other almost without interruption. River filled with obstructions. Big drops and violent currents. Extremely steep gradient. Even reconnoitering may be difficult. Rescue preparations mandatory. Can be run only by top experts in specially equipped whitewater canoes, decked craft, and kayaks.

Even people who know little else about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark have often heard that the explorers shot Class V rapids in their dugout canoes. Whitewater rapids are rated according to difficulty from Class I (easy flow and small waves) to Class VI (virtually unrunnable). Even in today’s era of fiberglass kayaks and self-bailing rafts, Class V rapids are not included on most commercial river trips. Negotiating the large rocks, colossal waves, treacherous currents, and steep drops of Class V rapids requires careful scouting, expert-level paddling skills, and nerves of steel. The adrenaline rush is huge, and the risk of death is real.

The greatest rapids of the entire Lewis & Clark journey were found at the site where the Columbia River contracts from one-half mile wide to a narrow chute of basalt slabs, confining the entire flow of the river into only 240 feet. What erupted from this chute was three miles of horrifying violence. Clark writes:

in those narrows the water was agitated in a most Shocking manner boils Swell & whorl pools, we passed with great risque It being impossible to make a portage of the Canoes, about 2 miles lower passed a verry Bad place between 2 rocks one large & in the middle of the river    here our Canoes took in Some water, I put all the men who Could not Swim on Shore; & Sent a fiew articles Such as guns & papers, and landed at a village of 20 houses on the Stard Side in a Deep bason where the river apprd. to be blocked up with emence rocks 

I walked down and examined the pass found it narrow, and one verry bad place a little in the narrows    I pursued this Chanel which is from 50 to 100 yards wide and Swels and boils with a most Tremendeous manner. – October 25, 1805

The Short Narrows or Petite Dalles of the Columbia in 1950

This set of two rapids, known to Lewis and Clark as “the Long Narrows” and “the Short Narrows” of the Columbia, would later be dubbed by French fur trappers as “Le Dalles de la Columbia.” Dalles (rhymes with “pals”) means flagstones; the town of The Dalles, Oregon, gets its name from the rapids.

The Dalles was also the dividing point between two great Indian cultures, and thus the center of a trading operation that had lasted for at least 10,000 years. A few days before getting to the Narrows, Lewis and Clark had begun to encounter Indians with European clothing, beads, and ironware. They were obtaining these, along with vast quantities of dried salmon, from the Pacific Coast people who traded with British and Russian ships plying the coastal waters. From the Indians of the Rockies, horses, buffalo robes, hide clothing, and even bear grasses (good for making baskets) flowed the other way. Controlling all of this trade were the Wishram and Wasco tribes, who occupied either side of The Dalles.

Wishram Girl, by Edward S. Curtis

Lewis and Clark arrived too late to get the full flavor of the fall trading days at the Dalles, though they certainly noticed the evidence of the massive trade in fish. They also noticed something else about the shrewd and aggressive trading people of the region — they stole. While petty theft had been an occasional problem when the Corps of Discovery had stayed among various Indian tribes in the past, at the Dalles it reached epidemic proportions.

As the men undertook a grueling portage around the Short Narrows at Celilo Falls, they were forced to strip naked due to the thousands of biting fleas that infested the discarded salmon skins littering the entire area of the recent fair-like campground of the Indians. As if that wasn’t enough, they found themselves accompanied by a large crowd of Indians, who literally rifled through the Corps’ belongings at will, helping themselves to axes, blankets, and knives. Native American historians believe that the Indians considered the “liberation” of Lewis & Clarks goods a kind of tax or tribute to which they were entitled.

Celilo Falls in 1899

The steep and rugged ground did not permit the portage of the heavy, unwieldy canoes. They had to go through the Short Narrows. Clark writes:

as the portage of our canoes over this high rock would be impossible with our Strength, and the only danger in passing thro those narrows was the whorls and Swills arriseing from the Compression of the water, and which I thought (as also our principal watermen Peter Crusat) by good Stearing we could pass down Safe, accordingly I deturmined to pass through this place notwithstanding the horrid appearance of this agitated gut Swelling, boiling & whorling in every direction (which from the top of the rock did not appear as bad as when I was in it. however we passed Safe to the astonishment of all the Inds: of the last Lodges who viewed us from the top of the rock.   

Wasco man

Though Lewis and Clark armed their party in case the Indians decided to attack, they were able to preserve relative calm. After all, they were vastly outnumbered by the Indians, and had nowhere to run. They were not even in American territory anymore, and they were there to make peace, not war. Clark and Lewis both went visiting, met some chiefs, and invited them to visit their camp for a smoke and some music. As Clark writes in his usual delightful manner:

one of our Party Pete Crusat played on the violin which pleased the Savage, the men danced, Great numbers of Sea Orter Pole Cats about those fishories.

The next morning Clark and Lewis scouted the Long Narrows. What happened next is best told by Clark:

We found difficuelt of passing without great danger, but as the portage was impractiable with our large Canoes, we Concluded to Make a portage of our most valuable articles and run the canoes thro    accordingly on our return divided the party Some to take over the Canoes, and others to take our Stores across a portage of a mile to a place on the Chanel below this bad whorl & Suck, with Some others I had fixed on the Chanel with roapes to throw out to any who Should unfortunately meet with difficuelty in passing through; great number of Indians viewing us from the high rocks under which we had to pass, the 3 first Canoes passed thro very well, the 4th nearly filled with water, the last passed through by takeing in a little water, thus Safely below what I conceved to be the worst part of this Chanel, felt my Self extreamly gratified and pleased.   

The Long Narrows or Grand Dalles in 1951

He should have been. The Long Narrows was the graveyard of the Columbia, a place where untold numbers of Indians, trappers, and voyageurs would meet their Maker. As much as any other incident, the shooting of the Dalles rapids illustrates the character of William Clark, as well as the qualities that draw people to whitewater sports today: a calculating focus and intensity; a strong sense of personal responsibility and willingness to accept the consequences of his actions; a deep and hard-won confidence in his equipment, skills, and conditioning; and the ability to deal intelligently and courageously with danger.

Today, The Dalles remains a beautiful place, but the incredible beauty and risk of Celilo Falls and the Narrows are just memories. They were inundated by The Dalles Dam in 1957.


Great pictures of The Dalles from The Columbia River: A Photographic Journey
The Long Narrows – Native American perspective by Pat Courtney Gold

Read Full Post »

Location: La Crosse, Washington, about 46 miles west of Pullman

Palouse Falls

I haven’t seen nearly as much as I would like of Lewis & Clark country in Washington and Oregon. But a couple of years back we got to do something really unique, traveling with a National Geographic tour along the Columbia and Snake rivers on their expedition boat Sea Lion. So while I still have a lot of ground to cover in that region, I treasure the memory of experiencing the land from Lewis & Clark’s river perspective.

One of the most memorable days, we made our way to the Palouse River, a tributary of the Snake River. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed this way on October 16, 1805. At this point in the journey, the Corps of Discovery was shooting dangerous river rapids almost every day in their dugouts, often hiring local Indians to serve as pilots. This day was no exception, as Clark recorded in his journal:

little river in a Stard. bend, imediately below a long bad rapid in which the water is Confined in a Chanel of about 20 yards between rugid rocks for the distance of a mile and a half and a rapid rockey Chanel for 2 miles above. This must be a verry bad place in high water, here is great fishing place, the timbers of Several houses piled up, and a number of wholes of fish, and the bottom appears to have been made use of as a place of deposit for their fish for ages past, here two Indians from the upper foks over took us and continued on down on horse back.

The captains found a large stream at the end of the rapids that they named Drewyer’s River after their indispensable hunter, George Drouillard (they invariably called him Drewyer). The name did not stick, and today it is known as the Palouse River after the Palus Indians who inhabited this area for thousands of years. They also gave their tribal name to the fast, agile horses they bred here, the Appaloosa.

For us, the big event of the morning was kayaking! We rode up the river in Zodiacs to a weedy launching spot splendid with purple wildflowers. We claimed a two-person kayak and soon we were paddling calm and glassy waters through a beautiful canyon. (Because of damming the river is no longer wild and the rapids are submerged).

The incredible canyon of the Palouse River

We paddled beneath amazing tall cliffs, where we discovered some mud swallow nests on the cliff walls and saw a blue heron and a buck mule deer. The silence and serenity were something I will never forget. Of course we got tired, being more scholars than athletes, but I still wish this experience could have gone on forever.

We made our way back to the launching spot at the appointed time and made a short trip back to the Sea Lion to change into dry clothes and grab our cameras. Then we Zodiac’d to shore again, this time to board a schoolbus to Palouse Falls State Park.

Palouse Falls is a beautiful 200-foot cascade that thunders over a towering, castle-like cliff face. Very nice–but the truly astonishing thing about the falls and the craggy canyons that surround it is how they were formed. Most of us are used to thinking of these kinds of formations being created over many millennia by the natural process of water acting on rock. But these falls stand instead as a remnant of unimaginable cataclysms that roared over this land in a matter of mere hours.

Bretz's Flood, by John Soennichsen (2008)

It may seem impossible that a flood, no matter how massive, could shape the land for all time. But that’s exactly what happened during the event(s) known as the Bretz or Missoula floods. During the last Ice Age, ice blocked what is today the Clark Fork River in Idaho, creating a 2000-foot dam of ice. Just by way of contrast, the dam in the 1889 disaster in Johnstown, Pennsylvania was 72 feet; the Hoover Dam is 727 feet high. The river’s flow built up behind this dam, forming a gigantic lake that scientists refer to as Lake Missoula. Every so often, the ice dam would fail, unleashing the entire contents of the lake through the Columbia River Basin.

These floods were of a force and scale never seen in modern times (fortunately) and not seen on such a scale anywhere else on the planet. A towering tsunami of water thundered out of the lake at some 65 miles per hour, scouring the land, stripping away everything in its path, and carving out spectacular canyons and coulees as it roared to the ocean. These events lasted about 48 hours, not thousands of years. And over the course of about 2500 years, they happened again and again and again, leaving behind a landscape of surreal and incredibly rugged beauty.

J Harlen Bretz, the rough-around-the-edges geologist who wouldn't take no for an answer

The floods ended about 13,000 years ago. The Native Americans of the region have stories that indicate an ancestral memory or at least an understanding of what happened here, but it took a lot longer for modern geologists to accept it. In 1923, after studying this area for years, geologist J Harlen Bretz published a paper arguing that the formations he called “the channeled scablands” had been formed by cataclysmic flooding. For his efforts, Bretz was almost universally laughed out town by the geological establishment, most of whom had never visited this remote area. At this distance, it’s hard to determine whether Bretz’s greater sin was challenging prevailing orthodoxy, or his unconventional path to academe; the former schoolteacher could be blunt and abrasive, had worked his way through the University of Chicago, and was not a member of the Ivy League establishment.

In 1927, Bretz was even invited to a conference in Washington, D.C. to present his ideas, then forced to sit there while speaker after speaker rose to debunk his claims. Apparently undaunted, he continued his research until his retirement in his late 70s; gradually, his ideas were not only accepted but enlarged upon by the work of other geologists. In 1965, a group of leading geologists touring the scablands during an irrigation project cabled the elderly professor: “Greetings and Salutations. We are all now catastrophists!” A few years later, pictures taken of the earth from space proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the area was riven with channels that could only have been caused by massive flooding.

In 1979, at age 96, Bretz was honored with the Penrose Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Geological Society of America, for his immeasurable contributions to earth sciences. He quipped after the ceremony that his only regret was that “all my enemies are dead, so I have no one to gloat over.” I was interested to notice when I was looking around the internet for information about Bretz that he is a favorite of creationists. I’d love to know what he would have said about that!

After visiting Palouse Falls, we went on an amazing (if very dry and dusty) hike and saw great views of the Falls, the Palouse River, and the stupendous canyons beyond. Here in this remote spot is something that rivals the Grand Canyon in magnificence. We also saw some B-52 fighter jets training overhead–also quite a thrill.

Back on the Sea Lion, we enjoyed a fun BBQ lunch and then napped in our cabin for a while. Took in a Lewis and Clark history lecture and then just relaxed on deck, enjoying the fresh air, some interesting locking through the river’s dams, and a beautiful sunset.

More reading: The Ice Age Floods Institute
Discover the Ice Age Floods (great pictures)
The Carving of the Scablands (great online book from the U.S. Geological Survey)

Read Full Post »