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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Forts (Blockhouses) of the Cascade Rapids"
Includes ... The Forts or Blockhouses of the Cascade Rapids ... Cascade Rapids ... Fort Gilliam ... Fort Cascades ... "Lower Blockhouse" ... Fort Rains ... "Middle Blockhouse" ... Fort Lugenbeel ... "Upper Blockhouse" ... Fort Borst ... The Golden Age of Postcards ...
Image, 2005, Fort Rains and the North Bank Railroad information signs, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Information signs for Fort Lugenbeel, Fort Rains, and Fort Cascades, and for the North Bank Railroad. Image taken February 26, 2005.

The Forts (or Blockhouses) of the Cascades Rapids ...
Throughout history four different forts or blockhouses existed along a rough stretch of the Columbia River Gorge between Hamilton Island and Cascade Locks, known as the "Cascade Rapids".

The Cascade Rapids were four and one-half miles long, with early history dividing the reach was into two sections, the "Upper Cascades" and the "Lower Cascades". Later years included a "Middle Cascades". The total fall of the river from the head of Upper Cascades to the bottom of Lower Cascades was 45 feet at high water and 36 feet at low water.

The first fort was Fort Gilliam, established in 1848 and located at the upper end of the portage as a supply depot for the Cayuse Indian Wars. Next came Fort Cascades, built in 1855 at the lower end of the rapids, and built to defend the portage. Fort Rains was located at the lower end of the portage around the "Upper Cascades". The last fort built was Fort Lugenbeel, located at the upper end of the section. Today, Fort Rains and Fort Lugenbeel, and the earlier Fort Gilliam, exist only as archaeological sites on present U.S. Army Corp of Engineer land. The location of Fort Cascades is a National Historic Site.

Models of Fort Cascades, Fort Rains, and Fort Lugenbeel can be seen at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center in Stevenson, Washington.

Withdrawal of the Military ...
"The Army evacuated Fort Cascades on June 11, 1861. The post was reoccupied on August 25 but again evacuated on November 6 (Anonymous 1878). These moves were the logical outcome of the exigencies facing the federal forces with the firing on Fort Sumpter on April 12, 1861, by the Confederates. The sobering debacle of Bull Run in July convinced the Union leaders that the war was to be of long duration. Critical to mounting the anticipated assault on the rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia, or of attempting to split the Confederacy by driving down the Mississippi was bringing experienced troops into action. In the fall of 1861, the Union generals began wholesale withdrawal of officers and enlisted men at garrisons scattered across the American West. Fort Umpqua, Fort Yamhill, and Fort Hoskins in Oregon were among those abandoned; so, too, were the three blockhouses at the Cascades evacuated."

Source:    Beckham, Dr., "This Place is Romantic and Wild", An Historic Overview of the Cascades Area, Fort Cascades, and the Cascades townsite, Washington Territory, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Forts (Blockhouses) of the Columbia River ...

Forts of the Cascade Rapids

  • Fort Gilliam ...
  • Fort Cascades or "Lower Blockhouse" ...
  • Fort Rains or "Middle Blockhouse" ...
  • Fort Lugenbeel or "Upper Blockhouse" ...

Fort Gilliam ...
Fort Gilliam was established as a supply depot for the Army in 1848 and was located at the upper end of the Cascade Rapids portage, near today's Ashes Lake.

Fort Cascades or "Lower Blockhouse" ...
The first true "fort" established at the "Cascades" was Fort Cascades, built in 1855 by the U.S. Army. Fort Cascades took five weeks to build and was established on September 30, 1855. It was located on the north bank of the Columbia below the present site of today's Bonneville Dam.

Image, 2011, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Model, Fort Cascades, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, Stevenson, Washington. Note: sign leaning on model is not correct sign. Image taken July 15, 2011.

Image, 2011, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Information sign,
Click image to enlarge

Fort Rains or "Middle Blockhouse" ...
The Army next established Fort Rains (also seen spelled "Raines"), a blockhouse built in October 1855 to defend the Middle Cascades. The location of this structure was on the north bank of the Columbia above the present site of the Bonneville Dam. Lewis and Clark's "Great Shoot" was at the head of a portage located on the Washington side of the Columbia, at Ashes Lake, which ended at the location of Fort Rains. Fort Rains was named for Major Gabriel Rains, under whose orders the fort was built.

Image, 2011, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Model, Fort Rains, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, Stevenson, Washington. Note: sign leaning on model is not correct sign. Image taken July 15, 2011.

Image, 2011, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Information sign,
Click image to enlarge

Fort Lugenbeel or "Upper Blockhouse" ...
On March 26, 1856, Indians attacked the white settlements at the Cascades. Settlers took refuge at Fort Rains and Bradford's Store. The Fort Cascades was burned to the ground. The settlers were rescued by Lt. Sheridan who arrived March 27, 1856. Gunfire was exchanged the rest of the 27th and 28th, with the Indians surrendering late in the evening on March 28, 1856. After this battle, Fort Cascades was rebuilt and another blockhouse, Fort Lugenbeel, was added to protect the Upper Cascades. Fort Lugenbeel was located on the north bank of the Columbia, on a hill, across from Little Ashes Lake. Presumably Fort Lugenbeel was named after Major Pinckney Lugenbeel, who, in 1856 was a captain in the 9th Infantry and was engaged in the defense of Fort Cascades. In 1862 Major Lugenbeel became Commander at the Army Post, Vancouver Barracks.

Image, 2011, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Model, Fort Lugenbeel, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, Stevenson, Washington. Image taken July 15, 2011.

Image, 2011, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Information sign,
Click image to enlarge

"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. The postcards now have become a image of history.

Penny Postcard, Fort Rains Block House Memorial, ca.1920
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Fort Rains Block House Memorial, ca.1920.
Photo Postcard, ca.1920. Caption on front reads:"Fort Rains Block House Memorial, Evergreen Highway, Wash.". Wesley Andrews Card #48. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Famous Block House on the Columbia River, ca.1910
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Fort Lugenbeel, "Famous Block House on the Columbia River", ca.1910.
Penny Postcard, ca.1910. Caption on front reads: "Famous Block House on the Columbia River." No other indication of which Block House or where it might be located on card. An article in the Spokesman Review (November 29, 1814) showed this blockhouse image and called it "Fort Lugenbeel, facing north". In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Fort Borst Block House, Chehalis River, ca.1910
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Fort Borst Block House located at the mouth of the Skookumchuck River near Centralia, Washington, ca.1899.
Penny Postcard, Image ca.1899, Postcard ca.1910, "Fort Borst Block House built 1845, Washington". This exact image found in the University of Washington Photo Archives (#WAS0351) states the image was shot ca.1899, photographer unknown, and notes on back of image saying "Blockhouse near the mouth of Skookum Chuck" (Skookumchuck River near Centralia). Postcard published by Sprouse & Sons, Tacoma, Washington. Made in Germany. Divided back. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

While this Blockhouse is not located on the Columbia River, it gives the viewer another idea of what the mid 1800s blockhouses looked like. As to the age of Fort Borst, according to the postcard, Fort Borst was built in 1845. According to a similar image found on the University of Washington's Photo Archives Website (2006), Fort Borst was built to protect the whites during the Indian Wars of 1855 to 1856. Another website states the blockhouse was built in 1852, and yet another website says the "late 1850s". Whatever the date, Fort Borst was built at the confluence of the Skookumchuck and Chehalis Rivers (north of the Columbia) by Joseph Borst as a defence and later used as a storage depot. Today Fort Borst Park is located in Centralia, Washington, and features a restored Fort Borst and the Joseph Borst home.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 30, 1805 ...
A cool morning, a moderate rain all the last night, after eating a partial brackfast of venison we Set out [from their camp near Drano Lake and the Little White Salmon River]     passed Several places where the rocks projected into the river & have the appearance of haveing Seperated from the mountains and fallen promiscuisly into the river, Small nitches are formed in the banks below those projecting rocks which is comon in this part of the river, Saw 4 Cascades caused by Small Streams falling from the mountains on the Lard. Side,

[The possiblities in a two-mile area are - upstream to downstream - Starvation Creek and Falls, the seasonal Cabin Creek and Falls, Warren Creek and Falls, Wonder Creek and Lancaster Falls, Lindsey Creek and Falls, and Summit Creek and Falls.]

a remarkable circumstance in this part of the river is, the Stumps of pine trees [Submerged Forest]

[The Submerged Forest existed along the reach from above Dog Mountain/Viento Creek on the upstream edge and Wind Mountain/Shellrock Mountain on the downstream edge.]

are in maney places are at Some distance in the river, and gives every appearance of the rivers being damed up below from Some cause which I am not at this time acquainted with [Bonneville Landslide],     the Current of the river is also verry jentle not exceeding 1 1/2 mile pr. hour and about 3/4 of a mile in width. Some rain, we landed above the mouth of a Small river on the Stard. Side [Wind River] and Dined ...   :  here the river widens to about one mile large Sand bar in the middle, a Great [rock] both in and out of the water, large <round> Stones, or rocks are also permiscuisly Scattered about in the river, ...     this day we Saw Some fiew of the large Buzzard    Capt. Lewis Shot at one, those Buzzards are much larger than any other of ther Spece or the largest Eagle white under part of their wings &c. [California Condor] ...     The bottoms above the mouth of this little river [Wind River] <which we Call> is rich covered with grass & firn & is about 3/4 of a mile wide rich and rises gradually, below the river (which is 60 yards wide above its mouth) the Countery rises with Steep assent. we call this little river <fr Ash> New Timbered river from a Speces of Ash <that wood> which grows on its banks of a verry large and different from any we had before Seen, and a timber resembling the beech in bark <& groth> but different in its leaf which is Smaller and the tree smaller. passed maney large rocks in the river and a large creek on the Stard. Side in the mouth of which is an Island [Rock Creek near Stevenson, Washington], passed on the right of 3 Islands <on> near the Stard. Side, and landed on an Island close under the Stard. Side at the head of the great Shute [head of the Cascades Rapids], and a little below a village of 8 large houses on a Deep bend on the Stard. Side, and opposit 2 Small Islands imediately in the head of the Shute, which Islands are covered with Pine, maney large rocks also, in the head of the Shute. Ponds back of the houses, and Countrey low for a Short distance. The day proved Cloudy dark and disagreeable with Some rain all day which kept us wet. The Countary a high mountain on each Side thickly Covered with timber, Such as Spruc, Pine, Cedar, Oake Cotton &c. &c.     I took two men and walked down three miles to examine the Shute and river below proceeded along an old Indian path, passd. an old village at 1 mile [vicinity of Ice House Lake] ...     I found by examonation that we must make a portage of the greater perpotion of our Stores 2 1/2 miles, and the Canoes we Could haul over the rocks, I returned at Dark ...     a wet disagreeable evening, the only wood we could get to burn on this little Island on which we have encamped [near Ashes Lake, the island is now under the waters of the Bonneville Reservoir. Ashes Lake was near the head of the Cascade Rapids. Across from Ashes Lake is Cascade Locks, Oregon.] is the newly discovered Ash, which makes a tolerable fire. we made fifteen miles to daye

Clark, October 31, 1805 ...
A Cloudy rainey disagreeable morning I proceeded down the river to view with more attention [Cascade Locks area] we had to pass on the river below, the two men with me Jo. Fields & Peter Crusat proceeded down to examine the rapids the Great Shute [Cascade Rapids] which commenced at the Island on which we encamped [Ashes Lake, now under the waters of the Bonneville Reservoir] Continud with great rapidity and force thro a narrow chanel much compressd. and interspersed with large rocks for a mile, at a mile lower is a verry Considerable rapid at which place the waves are remarkably high, and proceeded on in a old Indian parth 2 miles by land thro a thick wood & hill Side, to the river where the Indians make a portage, from this place I dispatched Peter Crusat (our principal waterman) back to follow the river and examine the practibility of the Canoes passing, as the rapids appeared to continue down below as far as I could See, I with Jo. Fields proceeded on, at a mile below the end of the portage [Fort Rains] ...     at 2 miles lower & 5 below our Camp I passed a village of 4 large houses abandend by the nativs, with their dores bared up, ...     from a Short distance below the vaults the mountain which is but low on the Stard. Side leave the river, and a leavel Stoney open bottom Suckceeds on the Said Std. Side for a great Distance down, the mountains high and rugid on the Lard Side this open bottom is about 2 miles a Short distance below this village is a bad Stoney rapid and appears to be the last in view I observed at this lower rapid the remains of a large and antient Village which I could plainly trace by the Sinks in which they had formed their houses, as also those in which they had buried their fish- from this rapid to the lower end of the portage [vicinity of Fort Cascades at the lower end of Hamilton Island] the river is Crouded with rocks of various Sizes between which the water passes with great velociety createing in many places large Waves, an Island which is Situated near the Lard. Side [Bradford Island] occupies about half the distance the lower point of which is at this rapid. immediately below this rapid the high water passes through a narrow Chanel through the Stard. Bottom forming an Island of 3 miles <wide> Long & one wide, I walked through this Island [Hamilton Island] which I found to be verry rich land, and had every appearance of haveing been at Some distant period Cultivated. at this time it is Covered with grass intersperced with Strawberry vines. I observed Several places on this Island where the nativs had dug for roots and from its lower point I observed 5 Indians in a Canoe below the upper point of an Island near the middle of the river Covered with tall timber [???],    which indued me to believe that a village was at no great distanc below, I could not See any rapids below <for> in the extent of my view which was for a long distance down the river, which from the last rapids [Middle Cascades] widened and had everry appearance of being effected by the tide,- I deturmind to return to Camp 10 miles distant [on an island by Ashes Lake, across from Cascade Locks, Oregon], a remarkable high detached rock Stands in a bottom on the Stard Side [Beacon Rock] near the lower point of this Island on the Stard. Side about 800 feet high and 400 paces around, we call the Beaten rock.     a Brook [Hamilton Creek] falls into the narrow Chanel [Hamilton Slough, today's Greenleaf Slough] which forms the Strawberry Island [Hamilton Island], which at this time has no running water, but has every appearance of dischargeing emence torrents &c. &c. Jo. Fields Shot a Sand hill Crane. I returned by the Same rout on an Indian parth passing up on the N W. Side of the river to our Camp at the Great Shute [an island near Ashes Lake, across from Cascade Locks, now under the waters of Bonneville Reservoir]. found Several Indians from the village, I Smoked with them; Soon after my return two Canoes loaded with fish & Bear grass for the trade below, came down from the village at the mouth of the Catterack River [Klickitat River], they unloaded and turned their Canoes up Side down on the beech, & camped under a Shelveing rock below our Camp ...

This Great Shute or falls [Upper Cascade Rapids] is about a mile with the water of this great river Compressed within the Space of 150 paces in which there is great numbers of both large and Small rocks, water passing with great velocity forming & boiling in a most horriable manner, with a fall of about 20 feet, below it widens to about 200 paces and current gentle for a Short distance. a Short distance above is three Small rockey Islands, and at the head of those falls, three Small rockey Islands are Situated Crosswise the river, Several rocks above in the river & 4 large rocks in the head of the Shute; those obstructions together with the high Stones which are continually brakeing loose from the mountain on the Stard Side and roleing down into the Shute aded to those which brake loose from those Islands above and lodge in the Shute, must be the Cause of the rivers daming up to Such a distance above, <and Show> where it Shows Such evidant marks of the Common current of the river being much lower than at the present day

Clark, November 1, 1805 ...
A verry Cool morning wind hard from the N. E. [Lewis and Clark's camp of October 31, 1805, was across from Cascade Locks, on an island off the Washington shore near Ashes Lake, now under the waters of the Bonneville Reservoir.] The Indians who arrived last evining took their Canoes on ther Sholders and Carried them below the Great Shute ["Lower Falls of the Columbia", the "Cascade Rapids"], we Set about takeing our Small Canoe and all the baggage by land 940 yards of bad Slippery and rockey way [this rocky location later became the location of the Bridge of the Gods]     The Indians we discoverd took ther loading the whole length of the portage 2 miles, to avoid a Second Shute [Lower Cascades, by Bonneville Dam] which appears verry bad to pass, and thro' which they passed with their empty canoes. Great numbers of Sea Otters [Harbor Seals], they are So cautious that I with dificuelty got a Shot at one to day, which I must have killed, but could not get him as he Sunk

we got all our baggage over the Portage of 940 yards, after which we got the 4 large Canoes over by Slipping them over the rocks on poles placed across from one rock to another, and at Some places along partial Streams of the river. in passing those canoes over the rocks &c. three of them recived injuries which obliged us to delay to have them repared. [the lower end of the portage at Fort Rains] ...

Clark, November 2, 1805 ...
Examined the rapid below us [from their camp at Fort Rains, looking at the Cascade Rapids] more pertcelarly the danger appearing too great to Hazzard our Canoes loaded, dispatched all the men who could not Swim with loads to the end of the portage below, I also walked to the end of the portage with the carriers where I delayed untill everry articles was brought over and canoes arrived Safe. here we brackfast and took a Meridn. altitude 59 45' 45" about the time we were Setting out 7 Squars came over loaded with Dried fish, and bear grass neetly bundled up, Soon after 4 Indian men came down over the rapid in a large canoe.     passed a rapid at 2 miles & 1 at 4 miles opposite the lower point of a high Island on the Lard Side [Bradford Island], and a little below 4 Houses on the Stard. Bank, a Small Creek on the Lard Side [Tanner Creek] opposit Straw berry Island [Hamilton Island], which heads below the last rapid, opposit the lower point of this Island [Hamilton Island] passed three Islands covered with tall timber [today there are two, Ives and Pierce] opposit the Beatin rock [Beacon Rock]    Those Islands are nearest the Starboard Side, imediately below on the Stard. Side passed a village of nine houses [indentified on Atlas map#79 as the "Wah-clallah Tribe of Shahala Nation", location near today's Skamania and Skamania Landing], which is Situated between 2 Small Creeks [Woodard Creek and Duncan Creek], and are of the Same construction of those above; here the river widens to near a mile, and the bottoms are more extensive and thickly timbered, as also the high mountains on each Side, with Pine, Spruce pine, Cotton wood, a Species of ash, and alder.     at 17 miles passed a rock near the middle of the river [Phoca Rock], about 100 feet high and 80 feet Diamuter,     proceed on down a Smoth gentle Stream of about 2 miles wide, in which the tide has its effect as high as the Beaten rock [Beacon Rock] or the Last rapids at Strawberry Island [Hamilton Island],- Saw great numbers of waterfowl of Different kinds, Such as Swan, Geese, white & grey brants, ducks of various kinds, Guls, & Pleaver [today just below Beacon Rock is Franz National Wildlife Refuge]. ...     we encamped under a high projecting rock on the Lard. Side [Rooster Rock, with Crown Point rising above it],     here the mountains leave the river on each Side [leaving the Columbia River Gorge, Steigerwald Land NWR is on the north and the Sandy River delta is on the south], which from the great Shute to this place is high and rugid [Columbia River Gorge]; thickly Covered with timber principalley of the Pine Species. The bottoms below appear extensive and thickly Covered with wood.     river here about 2 miles wide.     Seven Indians in a Canoe on their way down to trade with the nativs below, encamp with us, those we left at the portage passed us this evening and proceeded on down The ebb tide rose here about 9 Inches, the flood tide must rise here much higher- we made 29 miles to day from the Great Shute [Cascade Locks]-

Columbia River GorgeReturn 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

Sources:    See Cascade Rapids;   

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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July 2011