Saturday, May 17, 2014

Astoria, OR - Cape Disappointment, 'Dismal Nitich' and Station Camp

There is a wealth of information in this area about Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific, their wintering in Fort Clatsop and their ramblings around this area. The Lewis and Clark Corps of Volunteers for Northwestern Discovery made an amazing journey, discovered amazing things and added so much to our knowledge of the west, and with this knowledge, many pioneers headed that way. One of the best books on this journey is Steven Ambrose’s ‘Undaunted Courage’. Extremely readable and comprehensive. You can feel as if you are with L&C on their journey. In fact, I might read it again.

It began in 1803 - 1804 in St Louis where L&C bought supplies for their journey. How many of you could shop for 30 - 50 men for a 4-year expedition? There were no Safeways in the wilderness, no Casey’s convenience stores. It was only them, their supplies and the game they could shoot and fish they could catch. Hole in your moccasins? Shoot a deer and make some more. No salt? Boil ocean water and save the salt. Food? Hunt or fish. Quite a shopping list they needed.
The men on this journey were well chosen for abilities, strengths and endurance and, most important, attitude. In fact, only 1 out of 100 applicants were chosen. Luckily the Corps was able to trade with the Indians along the way and learn from them about living in this wilderness and where the best routes were.

When they left Missouri in 1804, they proceeded up the Missouri River to the Mandan villages in present day central North Dakota where they spent the winter of 1804 - 1805. Here they also hired Touissant Charbonneau as an interpreter. Their best hire since they got (for free - since she was never paid by the US Government) Sacajawea, a Shoshoni Indian woman with her newborn son. ‘The wife of Shabono our interpetr we find reconsiles all the Indians, as to our friendly intentions a woman with a party of men is a token of peace.’ William Clark 10/13/1805.

On October 10, 1805, the 33-member Expedition entered what is now the state of Washington. As they paddled down the Columbia River, right about at Beacon Rock, they noticed that the water had salt in it and they knew they were close to the Pacific Ocean, their goal. They spent a horrible two weeks in Dismal Nitch, a better time in Station Camp and finally wintered in Fort Clatsop across the Columbia in Oregon.

We have visited several of the places related to L&C and today we explored the Cape Disappointment State Park and its museum devoted to Lewis and Clark’s Journey. I found it a really neat museum, using maps, art work, and journals to paint a picture of the joys and the hardships of the whole journey. We began at the top of a ramp with the beginning of their journey in St. Louis. As we would down the ramp, we read quotes from their journals, saw paintings about their journey and found their locations on maps. Throughout the exhibits, there were sections called ‘Try This.’ Now these are probably for the many school kids who tour this museum (we had a large group with us today) but I tried most of them myself.

In one case, I learned some of the rudiments of using a sextant to determine latitude.
In another I failed miserably in loading a tippy canoe (not part of a political slogan) with all the goods and supplies that Lewis and Clark had to load their canoes before they themselves got in. I couldn’t get more than 6 bundles into the canoe before it tipped, spilling my carefully packed bundles onto the table below. I think they’ve greased the plastic on the ends of the canoe to make it more tippy.
Lewis and Clark made copious notes on all the animals, birds, flowers, insects that they saw on their journey. In many cases they were the first to describe many of these. Here are two lists: one listing all the mammals they ‘discovered’ and the other listing all the birds. Not only did they travel through rough unknown terrain without losing a man (except Sgt. Floyd to appendicitis), they were botanists, geographers, biologists, geologists, they also learned rudimentary Indian languages, they doctored their men and many Indians along the way and had many other skills.
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But their most important attribute was they they were leaders. They had a vision and a goal and could imbue this into others. Even when all the men in the Corps disagreed, they went along with Lewis & Clark. They also worked as hard as the others in the Corps and set the example.

When Lewis and Clark were in this area, they took a canoe from the Chinook. Recently, when Chairman Ray Gardner of the Chinook tribe was touring America and stopped in Missouri at Clark’s ancestral home, he quipped to Lotsie Holton, a descendant of Clark about the stolen canoe. She did some research and learned that a canoe is almost a part of a Northwestern Indian family. Having a canoe meant that the family could fish, could trade and could move to their winter or summer homes. She consulted with her immediate family and they decided to present a canoe to the Chinook nation and in 2011, in an elaborate ceremony, they presented a canoe to the Chinooks. Cute story and highlighted by the museum.

Very good museum for the coverage of the Lewis and Clark journey of discovery. I would recommend this museum. The top floor of the museum had information about Coast Guard rescues, climate in this area and it housed the Fresnel lens that had been in the North Lighthouse just a few miles away. I especially liked the section about ships and boats arriving in the Columbia River. Here was a diagram of different types of ships that entered the mouth of the river.
Here also was a set of headphones that was broadcasting continually, a description of each ship that was entering the harbor, when it was to enter, what it was carrying and where it was going. While I was listening, I looked out and found this ship,
compared it to the chart and I think it was a car carrier. Now, if I had been listening carefully to the broadcast, I could have learned if its cargo, the name of the ship, and its destination, how long it was staying to unload and where it was going next.

Very good museum and I’ve only covered a small bit of it. Next we’re heading down the shore to see some of their camps: ‘Dismal Nitich’ and Station Camp, both about 8 miles away from the museum.

Oh, How Horriable is the Day!’

Lewis and Clark were such wordsmiths. They had an apt description for everything they saw. My favorite is ‘Dismal Nitich’ which is Clarks’ description for where the Corps was pinned between December 10 - December 15, so near their destination yet pinned down and unable to move on. They were pinned (about 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean) to the shoreline in their canoes, trying to shelter themselves against the storm that was raging around them: gales, high waves and unusually high tides. They were wet and cold, their clothes were rotting from the incessent dampness, many were seasick from the rolling of their canoes on the river swells, food was difficult to eat and find and they were all miserable. Clark wrote: ‘this dismal nitich where we have been confined for 6 days passed, without the possibility of proceeding on, returning to a better Situation, or getting out to hunt. Scerce of Porvisions, and torents of rain poreing on us all the time.’ Interestingly enough, those who were recording the trip in their journals, managed to write even under these conditions.
We drove to the rest stop which has been established at this spot and walked down a short trail to get a better glimpse of where they might have spent their time. Obviously, there have been a lot of changed geographically but we could see the high cliff and the inlet in which they were pinned.

‘Butifull Sand Beech.’

Finally, they made it around Point Ellice (or ‘Point Distress’ as they called it.) Here they found a ‘butifull Sand beech’ from which they explored the surrounding territory. Here we found a wayside devoted to Lewis and Clarks’ stay and the Chinook Indians who had lived and settled this territory long before. This spot was much more hospitable since it was near the beach (you can see the ocean in this picture - right over the rocks on the right), flat, green and was fairly large. Much better than the ‘Dismal Nitich.’
Here Clark wrote: ‘I landed and formed a camp on the highest spot I could find between the hight of the tides, and the Slashers in a Small bottom this I could plainly See would be the extent of our journey by water’ and ‘Great joy in camp as we are in View of the Ocian, this great Pacific Octean which we been So long anxious to See. And the roreing or noise made by the waves brakeing on the rockey Shores (as I Suppose) may be heard distinctly.’

Here they also examined where they wanted to make a winter camp and, when they learned from the natives that there was plentiful game on the south of the river, a vote was taken. Even Sacajawea, an Indian woman, and York, an African American slave got to vote. They then moved across the river and established Fort Clatsop as their winter quarters.

Next, our day’s journey takes over the Columbia River to the town of Astoria where we wanted to visit the Columbia Maritime Museum, the old abandoned Bumble Bee plant with its museum and the docks of Astoria.

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