On to Oregon
Even with the help of the Clatsop Native Indian tribe, the expedition found themselves fairly exhausted and bedraggled. The winter months were coming up fast, and they had to gather everyone together to help to build a shelter.
The expedition may have reached the Pacific Coast, but they were far from safe. The team took a vote for the location of what they would call “Fort Clatsop,” and they included the votes of the African American slave as well as Sacagawea, their Native Indian translator and guide.
- They built Fort Clatsop, but they weren’t prepared for so much rain. The journals indicated that it rained all by twelve days from Dec. 1805 through March of 1806. They were forced to be indoors most of the time and they had to eat elk meat and be in cramped quarters. A majority of the people ended up being sick and weak from stomach problems. It’s thought that they had bacterial infections, and many had flu-like symptoms.
- The fort was a 50’x50’ building that was created from the local tree timber. While the Clatsop tribe didn’t seem hostile, the expedition wasn’t sure about any others, so they reinforced the fort and limited the amount of contact between the members and the native tribes. The lower Columbia River tribe didn’t seem interested in being friendly or in trade.
- Both Lewis and Clark devoted their winter months to organizing their maps and notes. They included all of their drawings of the local landscapes, plant, and animal life. The also put together what they called the “Estimate of Western Indians.” Their journals included information as well as critical comments about the people and the conditions that they had to face. They didn’t have very many positive things to say about either the local tribes or the weather in the area.
- Just as they had done the previous winter, the expedition spent a lot of their indoor time preparing their clothing and gear for the return journey home. Stuck eating a lot of elk that roamed this coastal area, they created a salt-boiling station.
- Most of the elk had retreated to warmer areas, and Lewis and Clark inquired with the local Chinook tribe regarding any of the maritime fur traders that sometimes crossed into the area. Although it seemed that there was a Captain Samuel Hill that had arrived in 1805, a miscommunication led to neither group being in contact with each other, although the Chinook did inform Hill about Lewis and Clark.
- By this time, the members of the expedition were eager to see winter leave and begin their trip home. They knew that if they left too early that they would face harsh spring weather, so they stayed at Fort Clatsop for as long as they had to. The joy that they had previously felt about finally reaching the Pacific Coast had long gone. Now they had their sites set on the long journey back.
- The expedition needed newer and sturdier canoes, and the Clatsop tribe refused to sell them any. In desperation, the expedition was forced to steal one of their canoes, and this broke one of their main rules of not causing harm to any of the local natives.
Lewis wanted to stay at the fort until April 1, but the weather that had previously been horrible and stormy finally let up in March, and they made the decision to head home on March 23, 1806.
They knew that they would be required to use both canoes and walk overland for part of their journey.