Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Washougal River, Washington"
Includes ... Washougal River ... "Seal River" ... "Sea Calf River" ... "Evarts Bay" ...
Image, 2004, Washougal River, downstream, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Washougal River, looking upstream. Image taken November 21, 2004.


Washougal River ...
The Washougal River lies downstream of the community of Washougal. The river joins the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 121 at Camas, Washington, with its mouth hidden behind Lady Island. Camas and Washougal are located on the floodplain of the the Washougal River. Before the introduction of railways crossing the river, the mouth of the Washougal River was an important steamboat stop called Parker's Landing. Another landing, Steamboat Landing, lies a few miles upstream, and Fishers Landing lies downstream.

Image, 2004, Washougal River, downstream, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Washougal River, looking downstream. Image taken November 21, 2004.


Lewis and Clark and the Washougal River ...
Captain Clark's journal entry for November 3, 1805, refers to the Washougal River as "a Large Creek". Clark was writing about the Sandy River, on the Oregon side of the Columbia, at the time. The "Small prarie" is today's Cottonwood Beach, a spot Lewis and Clark spent six days on their return in 1806.
"... on the Opposit Side of the Columbia a <large Creek> falls in     above this Creek on the Same Side is a Small prarie. extensive low country on each Side thickly timbered. ..." [Clark, November 3, 1805]

During the winter months the "Creek" acquired the name of "Seal River", after the Harbor seals which were plentiful near its mouth. Captain Clark's summation during the winter of 1805-6, uses "Seal River", as does the route map [Moulton, vol.1, map #79]. The draft map [map#88] uses "Sea Calf River".

On the return journey Lewis and Clark's journal entries refer to the Washougal River as "Seal River".

"... Seal river discharges itself on the N. side.     it is about 80 yards wide, and at present discharges a large body of water.     the water is very clear.     the banks are low and near the Columbia overflow and form several large ponds.     the natives inform us that it is of no great extent and heads in the mountains just above us.     at the distance of one mile from the entrance of this stream it forks, the two branches being nearly of the same size.     they are both obstructed with falls and innumerable rappids, insomuch that it cannot be navigated.     as we could not learn any name of the natives for this stream we called it Seal river from the great abundance of those animals which we saw about it's entrance. ..." [Lewis, March 31, 1806]

The two branches of the Washougal River are the Little Washougal (left branch) and the main stem Washougal River (right branch).


Image, 2005, Washougal River from Washington Highway 14, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mouth of the Washougal River as seen from Washington State Highway 14. Image taken May 1, 2005.
Image, 2005, Washougal River from Washington Highway 14, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Washougal River as seen from Washington State Highway 14. Image taken May 1, 2005.


Early History ...
In 1805 and 1806 Lewis and Clark call the river "Seal River" (see above).

According to the Washington State Historical Society, the name Washougal first appeared in 1811 when three young explorers from Astoria made a trip upriver to the Cascades and camped at the Washougal River. One of them, Alexander Ross, wrote in his journal that they had passed Johnston's Island and stayed the night at "Washougally Camp". "Washougal" was an Indian word believed to mean small rocks or gravel.

"... During this day, we passed the Namowit Village, Bellevue Point, Johnson's Island, and stayed for the night as Wasough-ally Camp, near Quicksand River, which enters the Columbia on the left. ..." [Alexander Ross, July 24, 1811]

In 1841, Charles Wilkes, of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, used the name "Evarts Bay" for the mouth of the Washougal River. "Frost Island" is today's Lady Island.

"... To the north of the east end of Frost Island is Evert's Bay, nearly circular, a mile in diameter ..." [Wilkes, 1841]

In 1843, J.C. Fremont, of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, used "Tea Prairie" for the lowlands of the Camas/Washougal to Steigerwald area, and he showed a river entering the Columbia just behind an unnamed island. In his text he mentions "Tea Prairie river", presumably the Washougal River.

"... As we advanced, the hills on both sides grew constantly lower; on the right, retreating from the shore, and forming a somewhat extensive bottom of intermingled prairie and wooded land. In the course of a few hours, and opposite to small stream coming in from the north, called the Tea Prairie river ..." [Fremont, November 7, 1843]

The 1857 made by James Tilton, "Map of that part of Washington Territory lying west of the Cascade Mounts.: to accompany the report of Surveyor General", has the Washougal River labeled "Washookal Cr.", while a simliar 1861 map (also by James Tilton) has it labeled "Washookal R.". The 1865 "Map of public surveys in the Territory of Washington to accompany report of Surveyor General" (no creator given) has "Washougal R.".

Another interpretation for the name "Washougal" is that it is an Anglicized version of the native word for "rushing water."



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—.





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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

Sources: Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website, 2004; "Columbian.com" website, 2004, "Clark County History"; Mountain Men and the Fur Trade website, 2006; Washington State Historical Society website, 2004, "Lasting Legacy"; Washington State University, Early Washington Maps: "A Digital Collection" website, 2007.

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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November 2011