Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Home Regions Campsites Penny Postcards My Corps of Discovery Image Index Links About This Site Main Menu
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Miller Sands, Washington"
Includes ... Miller Sands ... Miller's Sands ... Horse Seining ...
Image, 2013, Miller Sands, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Miller Sands (brushy area in distance) as seen from west of Altoona, Washington. Image taken October 15, 2013.

Miller Sands ...
Miller Sands is a shallows in the Columbia River located upstream from Astoria, Oregon and offshore from Altoona, Washington. In the early 1890s Miller Sands provided good salmon seining grounds. William Hume, long-time fish entepreneur opened a fish-receiving station.

Early Miller Sands ...
At one time Miller Sands was called "Snag Island Spit".

In 1959 the U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "Miller Sands" the official name.

In 1892 ...

"The principal value of the tide lands on the Columbia river lies in their desirability as seining grounds for taking the Columbia river or Chinook salmon. Formerly most of the fishing was by the gillnet method, the fishermen going out in their boats to a favorable place in the river, then putting out their nets, and making what is called a drift, that is floating or drifting with the current for a certain distance, but of late years, taking the salmon with seines has been found to be very profitable and tide lands where favorably situated are in demand for this purpose.

In 1888 I surveyed a tract of tide land in this county on the upper end of what is known as Wallace's island, lying in the Columbia river, for F.M. Warren, one of the cannery men of the river. The greater part of this land had been formed during the June freshets of a few years previous. The state board executed a deed to him for the land; the next spring he put his seines to work on it, and his profits that year from the salmon caught were $20,000.

Farther down the river are what are known as the "Tenesillahee" sands, about three miles in length and about 350 to 400 feet in width, owned by Fitzpatrick. Six years ago his seines gathered in 240 tons of salmon worth $80 per ton on the ground; three years ago on the same place he got nearly 400 tons. A short distance below are the "Miller's" sands, a strip of tide land about three miles in length, and nearly opposite are the "Middle" sands, all tide lands and valuable for salmon fishing."

Source:    A.B. Little, Surveyor, St. Helens, Oregon, 1882, "Tide Lands", IN: Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Convention of the Iowa Society of Civil Engineers and Surveyors, held at Burlington, Iowa, December 29 and 30, 1891, published by the Daily Republican Printing and Binding House, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Views ...

Image, 2013, Miller Sands, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Altoona, Washington, with brushy area of Miller Sands visible on the right. Image taken October 15, 2013.
Image, 2013, Miller Sands, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Miller Sands (brushy area in distance) as seen from west of Altoona, Washington. Image taken October 15, 2013.

Miller Sands, etc.

  • Horse Seining ...
  • Miller Sands Bird Research ...

Horse seining ...

"In 1895, R.D. Hume refined the technique by using horses to haul the seines. At the time, eighty-four seines were in use on the Columbia. The number increased to one hundred in the late 1920s. During their peak in the 1930s, seines took about 15 percent of the Columbia River salmon catch. A horse seine crew could employ from two to forty people and use up to seven teams of horses. ...

Seine-caught salmon were cheaper for the canneries than fish caught using other methods, and most seining sites were owned or leased by the salmon-canning companies. Seines operated from sunup to sunset, with catches usually best near daybreak; afternoon was the poorest time. On the Columbia River, seining took place on beaches and islands, where seine sites were named (for example, Sand Island and Desdemona Sands). ...

In 1948, horse and hand seines were outlawed by initiative petition in Oregon. The seines had been outlawed in Washington in 1934 because of corporate competition with independent fishing families."

Source:    Courtland L. Smith, "Seine Fishing", online at The Oregon Encyclopedia, accessed 2013.

"Many shallow areas between Puget Island and Astoria had horse seining operations dating back to the 1860's. Some of the sand bars had horse barns, canneries and cookhouses built on pilings, to avoid high tides. West Sand Island had four or five canning or seining companies operating there, and horses were grazed on the island. This activity peaked in 1926 and was banned in Washington in 1935."

Source:    Christy and Putera, 1993, Oregon State University Archives website, 2006.

Miller Sands Spit Bird Research ...

"Miller Sands, an island complex in the upper Columbia River estuary, up-stream from the City of Astoria (OR), is largely derived from dredged material. Three distinct habitat types are recognized: a large vegetated upland island formed prior to 1940; an elongated barren sand spit formed primarily since 1970; and a protected cove between the island and the spit. Currently, over 100 pairs of glaucous-winged/western gulls nest at the western tip of Miller Sands Spit. Several hundred pairs of ring-billed gulls formerly nested on Miller Sands Spit, but this species has not nested on the island in recent years. The first documented nesting by Caspian terns on Miller Sands Spit occurred in 1998 (17 breeding pairs), following efforts to attract terns to nest there using decoys and sound systems; Caspian tern attraction efforts were discontinued in 1999 and terns have not nested at the site since. Experimental attempts to attract double-crested cormorants to nest on Miller Sands Spit resulted in formation of a small cormorant nesting colony at the western tip of Miller Sands Spit during 2005-2007; about 90 breeding pairs successfully nested at the site in 2007. These social attraction experiments were completed in 2007 and cormroants have not nested at this site since."

Source:    "Bird Research Northwest" website, 2019.

"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. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.

Penny Postcard, Seining on the Columbia, ca.1910
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard, Postmarked 1910, "Seining for Salmon, Columbia River, Oregon". Published by Mitchell. Card is postmarked September 14, 1910. Card #2287. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Seining on the Columbia
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard, "Horse-seining, Columbia River, Oregon.". Caption on back reads: "Early day horse-seining for salmon. One end of the fish net was anchored on the sand bar. A skiff towed the net in an arc into the fish in the river, bringing the end back to the horses which pulled the full net of fish on to the sand bar to be harvested. This practice is discontinued." Anderson Scenic Post Cards, Portland, Oregon. Chrome card. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 8, 1805 ...
A Cloudy morning Some rain, we did not Set out untill 9 oClock [from their campsite near Pillar Rock], haveing Changed our Clothing- proceeded on Close under the Stard. Side, the hills high with Steep assent, Shore boald and rockey Several low Islands [islands of the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge] in a Deep bend or Bay to the Lard Side [Cathlamet Bay], river about 5 or 7 miles wide. three Indians in a Canoe overtook us, with Salmon to Sell, passed 2 old villages on the Stard. Side [passing Altoona] and at 3 miles entered a nitch [Grays Bay. Harrington Point and Pigeon Bluff are the eastern end of Grays Bay where the explorers would first spot the Bay.] of about 6 miles wide and 5 miles deep with Several Creeks [Grays River, Deep River] makeing into the Stard Hills, this nitch [Grays Bay] we found verry Shallow water and Call it the Shallow <nitch> [Grays Bay] we came too at the remains of an old village at the bottom of this nitch and dined [Miller Point], here we Saw great numbers of fowl, Sent out 2 men and they killed a Goose and two Canves back Ducks here we found great numbers of flees which we treated with the greatest caution and distance; after Diner the Indians left us and we took the advantage of a returning tide and proceeded on to the Second point [Portuguese Point, just east of Grays Point, the first point being Rocky Point] on the Std. here we found the Swells or waves So high that we thought it imprudent to proceed; we landed unloaded and drew up our Canoes. Some rain all day at intervales; we are all wet and disagreeable, as we have been for Several days past, and our present Situation a verry disagreeable one in as much; as we have not leavel land Sufficient for an encampment and for our baggage to lie Cleare of the tide, the High hills jutting in So Close and Steep that we cannot retreat back, and the water of the river too Salt to be used, added to this the waves are increasing to Such a hight that we cannot move from this place, in this Situation we are compelled to form our Camp between the hite of the Ebb and flood tides, and rase our baggage on logs- We are not certain as yet if the whites people who trade with those people or from whome they precure ther goods are Stationary at the mouth, or visit this quarter at Stated times for the purpose of trafick &c. I believe the latter to be the most probable conjucture- The Seas roled and tossed the Canoes in Such a manner this evening that Several of our party were Sea Sick.

Journey to the PacificReturn 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

  • "Bird Research Northwest" website, 2019, "Miller Sand Spit", Oregon State University and the USGS-Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit;
  • Christy and Putera, 1993, Oregon State University Archives website, 2006;
  • Little, A.B., Surveyor, St. Helens, Oregon, 1882, "Tide Lands", IN: Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Convention of the Iowa Society of Civil Engineers and Surveyors, held at Burlington, Iowa, December 29 and 30, 1891, published by the Daily Republican Printing and Binding House, Cedar Rapids, Iowa;
  • U.S. Geological Survey's Geographic Names Information System database, 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.
© 2019, Lyn Topinka, "ColumbiaRiverImages.com", All rights reserved.
Images are NOT to be downloaded from this website.
April 2019