Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Coffin Rock, Oregon"
Includes ... Coffin Rock ... Coffin Rock Light ...
Image, 2013, Coffin Rock from the Kalama shore, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Coffin Rock, Oregon, as seen from the Kalama shore, Washington. View from the Kalama Sportsman's Club. Image taken April 14, 2013.

Coffin Rock ...
Coffin Rock is on the Oregon side of the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 73, approximately one mile downstream of Goble and upstream of the Trojan Nuclear Facility. On the Washington side of the Columbia River downstream lies Mount Coffin, often confused with Coffin Rock. Lewis and Clark make no mention of Coffin Rock.

Early Coffin Rock ...
In 1792 Lieutenant Broughton of the Captain George Vancouver Expedition, mentions Coffin Rock, calling it a "small rocky islet".

"... About six o'clock on Sunday morning, (October 28) Mr. Broughton continued to proceed against the stream, and soon passed a small rocky islet, about twenty feet above the surface of the water. Several canoes covered the top of this islet, in which dead bodies were deposited ..." [Broughton/Vancouver, October 28, 1792]

In 1805 and 1806 Lewis and Clark pass the area of Coffin Rock but make no mention of it.

According to McArthur and McArthur in Oregon Geographic Names (2003) the first use of the name "Coffin Rock" was January 11, 1814, by Coues in the Henry-Thompson Journals.

The 1825 map of the Hudson's Bay Company called "Columbia River, Surveyed 1825" (printed 1826), called the rock "Corpse Rock".

In 1841 Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Exploring Expedition uses the "Coffin Rock" name.

"... On the 20th, we anchored again off Coffin Rock, near which we found a depth of twenty-five rathoms, which is the deepest water within the capes. This place is sixty miles from the mouth of the river, and eight miles above the confluence of the Cowlitz. The shores here are composed of trap and a conglomerate, the last of which is the same rock as that which occurs below, and has already been spoken of. The Coffin Rock, which is not more than sixty feet in diameter, and twelve feet above the water, appears to have been excluseively reserved for the burial of chiefs. ..." [Wilkes, September 20, 1841]

Alexander Ross in 1849 writes about Mount Coffin and Coffin Rock from a journey in 1811. While he calls Mount Coffin both Mount Coffin and Coffin Rock, he leaves todays Coffin Rock unnamed.

"... [July 23, 1811] ... On the 23rd, after a restlss night, we started, stemming a strong and almost irresistible current by daylight. Crossing to the north side, not far from our encampment, we passed a small rocky height, called Coffin Rock, or Mount Coffin, a receptacle for the dead: all over this rock --- top, sides, and bottom --- were placed canoes of all sorts and sizes, containing relics of the dead, the congregated dust of many ages.

Not far from Mount Coffin, on the same side, was the mouth of a small river, called by the natives Cowlitz, near which was an isolated rock, covered also with canoes and dead bodies. This sepulchral rock has a ghastly appearance, in the middle of the stream, and we rowed by it in silence; then passing Deer's Island, we encamped at the mouth of the Wallamitte. ..."

The 1856 cadastral survey (tax survey) for T6N R2W, filed at the Surveyor's Office of Oregon, has the "Gobal" homestead labeled. Upstream off the Oregon shore is "Coffin Rock" and downstream towards the middle of the Columbia River is "Sandy Isd.".

Coffin Rock Light ...
On December 27, 1889, a collision between the British ship Clan Mackenzie and the steamer Oregon occurred near "Coffin Rock Light", when the steamer mistook the light from the Clan Mackenzie to be the Coffin Rock Light. The collision occured a mile upstream of the Coffin Rock Light and resulted in the sinking of the Clan Mackenzie and the loss of two of her crew. A suit was filed against the Oregon on December 31, 1889. Then, on April 5, 1890, the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern Railway Company, charterer of the Oregon, filed a cross-suit against the Clan Mackenzie, charging that the collision was the fault of the British ship for "failing to display a proper anchor light, to keep a proper anchor watch, or to call the steamer's attention by shouting, ringing the ship's bell, or showing a lantern or torch, as required by Rev. St. 4234". The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lawsuit's description of Coffin Rock Light:

"... immediately below said Coffin Rock, and a short distance inside of it, on the face of a wooded promontory, and at a height of about thirty feet from the water, there is and was at said time maintained a government light, described as a tubular-lens lantern of a one hundred candle power, with a radiating power of four miles, and easily visible on a dark, clear night from three to four miles. ..."

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, March 27, 1806 ...
a rainey disagreeable night     rained the greater part of the night     we Set out this morning verry early [from their camp on Walker Island] and proceeded on to two houses of the Skil-lute Indians on the South Side [downstream of Rainier, Oregon] here we found our hunters who had Seperated from us last evening.     the wind rose and the rain became very hard Soon after we landed here we were very friendly receved by the natives who gave all our party as much fish as they Could eate, ...     resumed our voyage at 12 oClock. The principal village of the Skil-lutes is Situated on the lower Side of the Cow-e-lis kee river [Cowlitz River] a fiew miles from it's enterance into the Columbia. ...     The Cow e lis kee river [Cowlitz River] is 150 yards wide, is deep and from Indian information navigable a very conslderable distance for canoes. it discharges itself into the Columbia about 3 miles above a remarkable knob [Mount Coffin] which is high and rocky and Situated on the North Side of the Columbia, and Seperated from the Northern hills of the river by a Wide bottom of Several Miles, to which it united [today the cities of Longview and Kelso, Washington]. I Suspect that this river Waters the Country lying west of a range of Mountains which passes the Columbia between the Great falls and rapids, and North of the Same nearly to the low country which Commences on the N W. Coast about Latitude 4o [blank] North. ...     at the distance of 2 miles above the village at which we brackfast we passed the enterance of this river [Cowlitz River]; we Saw Several fishing camps of the Skillutes on both Sides of the Columbia, and also on both Sides of this river. ...     late in the evening we passed the place we Camped the 5th of Novr. [Prescott Beach] and Encamped about 4 miles above at the Commencement of the Columbian Vally on the Stard. Side [near Goble, Oregon] below Deer Island [Deer Island, Oregon]. ...

[between Prescott Beach and Goble lies Coffin Rock, a basalt feature on the south side of the Columbia, now located on property owned by the Trojan Nuclear Facility]

Saw Cotton wood, Sweet Willow, w[hite] oake, ash and the broad leafed ash the Growth which resembles the bark &c. these form the groth of the bottom lands, whilst the Hills are almost exclusively Covered with the various Species of fir heretofore discribed. the black alder appears on Maney parts of the hills Sides as on the bottoms. before we Set out from the 2 houses where we brackfast we Sent on two Canoes with the best hunters, with orders to pro ceed as fast as they Could to Deer island [Deer Island, Oregon] and there to hunt and wait our arrival. we wish to halt at that place and repare 2 of our Canoes if possible. the Indians that visited us this evining remained but a Short time, they passed over to an Island [Sandy Island ???] and encamped. the night as well as the day proved Cold wet and excessively disagreeable. we Came 20 miles in the Course of this day.

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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

  • McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland, Oregon;
  • NOAA Office of Coast Surveys website, 2004, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Chart#641, "Columbia River Sheet No.4, Grim's Island to Kalama, 1888, Scale 1:40,000;
  • U.S. Supreme Court Center website, 2005;
  • Washington State Historical Society website, 2013, "Maps";

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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August 2013