Lewis & Clark's Encampment

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Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


by Richard L. Hill

March 20, 1999. The Oregon anthropologist was surprised when he spotted the old map. Scott Byram wasnít looking for documents related to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as he waded through thousands of papers earlier this month at the National Archives in Greenbelt, Md. But the map he stumbled across is thrilling researchers who want to know more about the explorersí stay in Oregon.

The map shows the location of Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark party encamped for the winter of 1805-06 after reaching the Pacific Ocean. Prepared in 1851 by an unknown member of the U.S. Coast Survey, it shows the site on a bluff where the remnants of the fort - labeled "Log Hut" - could still be found 45 years after the Corps of Discovery headed back East.

The map is another clue to the exact whereabouts of Fort Clatsop, which archaeologists have never been able to pinpoint. The National Park Service is in the middle of an effort to find the first scientific evidence of the camp.

When he came across the document, Byram suspected that it was significant. "I was pleased when I saw the map, but I didnít want to jump to the conclusion that the researchers had never seen it yet," said Byram, who is working on his doctorate at the University of Oregon. "I had a hunch that this was a map that no one was aware of, because I knew the National Park Service had been conducting a project trying to find out for certain where the fort was."

Researchers are confident the fort was built within the 125-acre Fort Clatsop National Monument near Warrenton, possibly where a fort replica, built in 1955, stands today. But no direct scientific evidence linking the site with Lewis and Clark had ever been found. Byram found no notes or other documents associated with the map, but he plans to return to the National Archives to continue the research.

The journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition are consistent with locating the fort on a rise about 30 feet above the high-tide line and about 200 yards from the west bank of the Netul River, now the Lewis & Clark River. But the journal entries vary about how far the site was from the riverís mouth, and the explorers made no maps with its location. Logging and farming had obliterated all signs of the fort by 1900. The Oregon Historical Society approximated the location at the turn of the century primarily from the memories of former homesteaders.

"Thereís a different mentality between the homesteaders who came and burned the ruins of the fort and the Coast Survey people," Byram said. "These were professional mappers who were mapping the harbors and waterways for commerce. But they went through the extra detail to map the river and show where the fort was located, recognizing the significance of the fort. They were just recording it for posterity, I assume. I donít know what other reason they would have done that for."

Byram, 35, found the map in conjunction with a coordinated project between the UO anthropology department and the Coquille Indian Tribe. The program involves bringing back archival material from the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives and other sources, that provide information about Native American history in Western Oregon. "I was going into the Coast Survey records," Byram said, "because those were some of the earliest accounts of the coastal people here that give place names and information about native communities along the Oregon coast. Thatís what I was doing when I came across this map."

The map is printed on blue paper and is in a notebook of mapping station descriptions located in the vicinity of the Columbia River. "Itís in a bound volume with several other maps and is in great shape," Byram said.

To view the map, visit its University of Oregon Website http://www.darkwing.uoregon.edu/~uocomm/newsreleases/latest/mar99/map.jpg.

-from The Oregonian, Saturday March 20, 1999

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