Fort Clatsop
Administrative History
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The Corps of Discovery

When the Corps of Discovery arrived at the Pacific, the expedition consisted of thirty-three people and one dog. Of the thirty-three, most were American frontiersmen or furtraders. A few were French-Canadian or other European descent. Toussaint Charbonneau and his American Indian wife, Sacagawea, were hired as interpreters for the expedition and were accompanied by their infant child. William Clark's African-American slave York was also a member of the expedition.

After reaching the Pacific Ocean, the Corps voted to move up the Netul River (the present day Lewis and Clark River) to a camp site selected by Captain Lewis in early December, 1805. Work clearing the site for a fort began immediately. By December 10, the foundations for their rooms were laid and by December 14, they had finished the room walls and had begun roofing the meat house room. All roofing was completed by December 24 and the walls were daubed with mud. The captains moved into their room on December 23, the rest of the expedition moving in on Christmas Eve and Day. The rooms had bunks and puncheon5 ] floors. After Christmas, they installed interior chimneys in the living quarters and installed pickets and gates. On December 31, they built a sentinel box and dug two "sinks."6]

The journals do not give a detailed description of the fort. Expedition journals offer two floor plans, one drawn by Sergeant John Ordway and one by Captain William Clark. The two floor plans differ. Precedence has traditionally been given to Clark's documentation due to his rank and role in directing construction. By Clark's description, the fort was fifty feet square with two parallel cabins. One cabin contained 3 rooms, each with a central firepit, which were the enlisted men's quarters. The opposite cabin contained four rooms, two with firepits and one with a fireplace and exterior chimney. The orderly room, which had a firepit; the store room, which had a locking door; the room shared by the captains, which had a fireplace and exterior chimney; and the Charbonneau family room were all located on this side. Two gates were installed, one at each end of the parade ground. One was the main gate, which was locked at night. At the opposite end, the second gate was used to access the spring for water or other necessary trips outside the fort.

The expedition party stayed at Fort Clatsop until March 23, 1806, when they set out on their return journey. During their stay, hunting was a major occupation for the Expedition members, and hunting parties were often away from the fort overnight or even for a few days. It was a continual process providing food for so many people. The party lived primarily off elk, consuming also deer and fish, wapato roots, some water fowl and beaver, dog, and the rare treat of whale blubber. Well before they had selected the site of Fort Clatsop and built their quarters, the damp climate had rotted their clothing, tents, and other hide based goods. The animal hides brought in from hunting were used to make new clothing, moccasins, bags, and covers for their luggage. Members also spent time preparing game meat, rendering candles, and repairing weapons. A group from the expedition party was sent to the coast to extract salt from sea water, leaving Fort Clatsop on December 28, 1805. They established a camp site near a Clatsop village at present day Seaside and made salt continuously until their return to Fort Clatsop on February 21, 1806.

A system of guard duty was established which constantly occupied a sergeant and three enlisted men. The guard was in charge of announcing approaching groups of Indians, opening and closing the gates, tending the meat house fires and wood supply, periodically checking the condition of the canoes at the landing site, and bringing in wood for the fireplace in the captains' quarters.

Chinook and Clatsops interacted extensively with the Expedition, exchanging goods, services, and information on a regular basis. The captains occupied their time preparing their journals and maps. Lewis' journal from Fort Clatsop ended a three month hiatus from journal keeping and provides some of his best ethnographic and botanical information recorded during the expedition. Both captains made separate trips out to the coast, one of these being a trip led by Captain Clark to procure some blubber and oil from a beached whale.

Generally speaking, the expedition party was miserable while at Fort Clatsop. Fleas tormented them and it rained on all but twelve days of their stay. The weather was usually grey and wet, which made them disagreeable. Illness and injuries abounded during their stay, ranging from colds, fevers, and muscle strains, which the men contracted while tracking, hunting, and carrying game long distances in rough, damp terrain often miles away from the fort, to venereal disease. Their diet was usually less than desirable owing to the dampness which quickly spoiled their meat. Their general discomfort and the movement of elk herds to the mountains persuaded the expedition to leave on March 23, 1806, rather than the April 1 departure date established earlier.

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Last Updated: 20-Jan-2004