Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Cottonwood Point, Washougal, Washington"
Includes ... Cottonwood Point ... "Pt. Broughton" ... Cottonwood Beach ...
Image, 2006, View downstream from Vista House, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
View downstream from Vista House, Crown Point, Oregon. View shows the Columbia River, Reed Island, and Cottonwood Point is behind Reed Island. Lighting fixtures are from the Historic Columbia River Highway. Image taken October 21, 2006.

Cottonwood Point ...
Cottonwood Point is the upstream tip of Cottonwood Beach and is located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 124.5. It marks the lower end of Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Reed Island lies just offshore and upstream three miles lies today's Point Vancouver, the upstream tip of the Steigerwald Refuge.

"Cottonwood Point" and "Point Vancouver" ...
In 1841 Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, called today's Cottonwood Point "Pt. Broughton, and today's Point Vancouver is shown but not labeled.

E.S. Meany in his 1923 "Origin of Washington Geographic Names" describes "Cottonwood Point" and "Point Vancouver" as being the same point, based on research in 1916 by T.C. Elliott.

Cottonwood Point:   "The Wilkes Expedition, 1841, gave this name to the eastern extremity of Puget Island in the Columbia River. The name does not appear on recent charts, but river-men have been using the name for a point southeast of Washougal and southwest of Cape Horn in the Columbia River, Clarke County. It has recently been shown that this is probably the true Point Vancouver named by Broughton in 1792. (T.C. Elliott, in "Oregon Historical Quarterly, Volume XVIII., pages 73-82")." ... [Meany, 1923]

Point Vancouver:   "on the Columbia River in the southeastern corner of Clarke County, named by Lieutenant W.R. Broughton, October 30, 1792, in honor of Captain George Vancouver, under whom he was then serving. (Vancouver's "Voyage of Discovery Round the World", second edition, Volume III, page 107.") Local confusion of locality was cleared up on October 30, 1916, by T.C. Elliott, who identified this point with the locally known Cottonwood Point. ("The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society", Volume XVIII, pages 73-82.)" ... [Meany, 1923]

Based on T.C. Elliott's research, in 1916 the U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "Vancouver Point" the official name for today's "Cottonwood Point". Then, in 1932, based on research done by J.Neilson Barry, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "Cottonwood Point" the official name for today's "Cottonwood Point", and made "Point Vancouver" the official name for the point three miles upriver.

Lieutenant Broughton, October 30, 1792 ...
Lieutenant Broughton viewed today's Cottonwood Point on October 30, 1792, and named it after Captain George Vancouver.

"The west point of Baring's River [Sandy River] is situated in latitude 45o 28', longitude 237o 41'; from whence the main branch takes rather an irregular course about N.82E.; it is nearly half a mile wide, and in crossing it the depth was from six to three fathoms. The southern shore [Oregon side] is low and woody and contacts the river by means of a low, sandy flat that extends from it, on which were ledged several large dead trees [Sandy River Delta]. The best passage is close to Johnstone's Island [Lady Island]; this has a rocky, bold shore, but Mr. Broughton pursued the channel on the opposite side [Oregon shore] where he met with some scattered rocks [Ough Reef, opposite Washougal, Washington]; these, however, admitted of a good passage between them and the main land; along which he continued until toward evening, making little progress against the stream. "Having now passed the sand bank," [mouth of the Sandy River] says Mr. Broughton, "I landed [today the high bluff above the eastern shore of the Sandy River is called Broughton Bluff] for the purpose of taking our last bearings; a sandy point on the opposite shore [Cottonwood Point, upstream of Washougal, Washington] bore S.80E., distant about 2 miles [Cottonwood Point, today's Point Vancouver is too far upriver]; this point terminating our view of the river [Columbia River], I named it after Captain Vancouver; it is situated in latitude 45o 27', longitude 237o 50'. [The name "Point Vancouver" has since moved to a point approximately 3 miles further upstream.]

Views ...

Image, 2015, Steigerwald Lake NWR, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Steigerwald Lake NWR, Washington, as seen from the Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon. View from HCRH west of Vista House. Image taken March 30, 2015.
Image, 2015, Steigerwald Lake NWR, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Steigerwald Lake NWR, Washington, as seen from the Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon. Reed Island, Cottonwood Point, Steigerwald Lake NWR, and Point Vancouver. View from HCRH west of Vista House. Image taken March 30, 2015.

View from Airliner ...

Image, 2010, Reed Island, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River with Reed Island, as seen from airliner landing at PDX. Day overcast and drizzly. Cottonwood Point is directly behind the western (left) end of Reed Island. Image taken October 10, 2010.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 3, 1805 ...
The Fog So thick [typical of the Pacific Northwest in the fall and spring] this morning that we could not See a man 50 Steps off, this fog detained us untill 10 oClock at which time we Set out [from their camp at Rooster Rock], ...    I walked on the Sand beech Lard. Side, opposit the canoes as they passed allong. The under groth rushes, vines &c. in the bottoms too thick to pass through, at 3 miles I arrived at the enterance of a river [Sandy River] which appeared to Scatter over a Sand bar, the bottom of which I could See quite across and did not appear to be 4 Inches deep in any part; I attempted to wade this Stream and to my astonishment found the bottom a quick Sand, and impassable- I called to the Canoes to put to Shore, I got into the Canoe and landed below the mouth, & Capt Lewis and my Self walked up this river about 1½ miles to examine this river which we found to be a verry Considerable Stream Dischargeing its waters through 2 Chanels which forms an Island [Sandy River Delta, which has had various names throughout history] of about 3 miles in length on the river and 1½ miles wide, composed of Corse Sand which is thrown out of this quick Sand river Compressing the waters of the Columbia and throwing the whole Current of its waters against its Northern banks, within a Chanel of ½ a mile wide, Several Small Islands 1 mile up this river, This Stream has much the appearance of the River Platt: roleing its quick Sands into the bottoms with great velocity after which it is divided into 2 Chanels by a large Sand bar before mentioned, the narrowest part of this River is 120 yards-on the Opposit Side of the Columbia a <large Creek> falls in [Washougal River]     above this Creek on the Same Side is a Small prarie [location of Washougal, Washington, Cottonwood Beach, now the home of Captain William Clark Park, and the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge]. extensive low country on each Side thickly timbered [low area upstream of Cottonwood Beach and Captain William Clark Park is the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge].

The Quick Sand river [Sandy River] appears to pass through the low countrey at the foot of those high range of mountains in a Southerly direction,- The large Creeks which fall into the Columbia on the Stard. Side [Washougal River] rise in the Same range of mountains to the N. N. E. and pass through Some ridgey land- A Mountain which we Suppose to be Mt. Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon] is S. 85° E about 47 miles distant from the mouth of quick sand river [Sandy River]     This mtn. is Covered with Snow and in the range of mountains which we have passed through and is of a Conical form but rugid- after takeing dinner at the mouth of this river [Sandy River]  we proceeded on passed the head of a Island [Lady Island] near the lard Side [???] back of which on the Same Side and near the head a large Creek falls in [Washougal River, today the town of Camas, Washington, lies between Lady Island and the Washougal River], and nearly opposit & 3 miles below the upper mouth of quick Sand river is the lower mouth, [for?] This Island [Lady Island] is 3 1/2 miles long, has rocks at the upper point, Some timber on the borders of this Island in the middle open and ponney. Some rugid rocks in the middle of the Stream opposit this Island.   <proceeded in> to Center of a large Island in the middle of the river which we call Dimond Isld. [Government Island] from its appearance, here we met 15 Indn men in 2 canoes from below, they informed us they Saw 3 vestles below &c. &c. we landed on the North Side of this Dimond Island and Encamped [on the north side of Government Island, perhaps opposite Fishers Landing],     Capt. L walked out with his gun on the Island, Sent out hunters & fowlers- below quick Sand River [Sandy River] the Countrey is low rich and thickly timbered on each Side of the river  [on the Oregon side this area is the eastern end of the Columbia Slough, located on the floodplain of the Willamette River with the Columbia River],   the Islands open & Some ponds river wide and emence numbers of fowls flying in every direction Such as Swan, geese, Brants, Cranes, Stalks, white guls, comerants & plevers &c. also great numbers of Sea Otter in the river [Harbor Seals] -     a Canoe arrived from the village below the last rapid ...     Capt Lewis borrowed a Small Canoe of those Indians & 4 men took her across to a Small lake in the Isld. [Government Island] ...    ...  :  note the mountain we Saw from near the forks proves to be Mount Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon]

Clark, March 31, 1806 ...
we Set out this morning [from their camp at "Jolie Prairie", today the location of Fort Vancouver and Pearson Airpark ... also in this area are Wintler Park and Ryan Point] and proceeded untill 8 oClock when we landed on the N. Side opposit one large House of the Shah-ha-la Nation near this house at the time we passed on the 4th of November last was Situated 25 houses, 24 of them were built of Straw & Covered with bark as before mentioned. those [of] that description are all distroyed, the one built of wood only remains and is inhabited [vicinity of today's Portland International Airport]. ...     at 10 A. M we proceeded on accompanied by one Canoe and three men, one of them appeared to be a man of Some note, ...     passed up on the N. Side of White brant Island [Lady Island] near the upper point of Which a Small river falls in about 80 yards wide and at this time discharges a great quantity of water [Washougal River]. the nativs inform us that this river is very Short and heads in the range of mountains to the N E of its enterance into the Columbia the nativs haveing no name which we could learn for this little river we Call it Seal river [Washougal River] from the great number of those Animals which frequents its mouth. this river forks into two nearly equal branches about 1 mile up and each branch is crouded with rapids & falls. we proceeded on about 2 miles above the enterance of this Seacalf river [Washougal River] and imedeately opposit the upper mouth of the quick Sand river [Sandy River] we formed a Camp in a Small Prarie on the North Side of the Columbia [Cottonwood Beach] where we intend to delay one or two days to make Some Selestial observations, to examine quick sand river [Sandy River], and kill Some meat to last us through the Western Mountains which Commences a fiew miles above us [Cascade Mountain Range] and runs in a N. N. W. & S. S. E. derection. The three Indians encamped near us and visited our fire we entered into a kind of a Conversation by signs, of the Country and Situation of the rivers. they informed us that Seal river [Washougal River] headed in the mountains at no great distance. quick Sand river [Sandy River] was Short only headed in Mt. Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon] which is in view and to which he pointed. this is a circumstance we did not expect as we had heretofore deemed a comsiderable river. Mount Hood bears East from this place and is distant from this place about 40 miles. this information if true will render it necessary to examine the river below on the South Side behind the image canoe [Hayden Island] and Wappato islands [Sauvie Island] for some river which must water the Country [Willamette River] weste of the western mountains to the Waters of California. The Columbia is at present on a Stand and we with dificuelty made 25 miles to day—.

Lewis, April 2, 1806 ...
Fir is the common growth of the uplands, as is the cottonwood, ash; large leafed ash and sweet willow that of the bottom lands. the huckleburry, shallon, and the several evergreen shrubs of that speceis which bear burries have seased to appear except that speceis which has the leaf with a prickly margin.     among the plants of this prarie in which we are encamped I observe the passhequo, Shannetahque, and compound firn the roots of which the natives eat; also the water cress, strawburry, flowering pea not yet in blume, the sinquefoil, narrow dock, sand rush which are luxuriant and abundant in the river bottoms; a speceis of the bearsclaw of which I preserved a specemine it is in blume.     the large leafed thorn has also disappeared. the red flowering currant is found here in considerable quantities of the uplands.    the hunters inform me that there are extensive praries on the highlands a few miles back from the river on this side.     the land is very fertile.—

Vancouver PlainsReturn to




*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

  • City of Washougal website, 2004, 2005;
  • Meany, E.S., 1923, "Origin of Washington Geographic Names", University of Washington Press;
  • U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) website, 2006, 2019;

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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April 2019