Lewis and Clark's Columbia River

"Fremont Expedition, 1843-44"
Fremont's Second Expedition, 1843-1844 ...
"Columbia River from Walla Walla to Vancouver"

Excerpts from:
Brevet Captain J.C. Fremont, 1845, Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-'44. --

Under Construction ...

October 25, 1843

The weather was pleasant, with a sunrise temperature of 36o. Our road to-day had in it nothing of interest; and the country offered to the eye only a sandy, undulating plain, through which a scantily timbered river [Walla Walla River] takes its course. We halted about three miles above the mouth, on account of grass;

October 26, 1843

and the next morning arrived at the Nez Perce fort ["Old" Fort Walla Walla], one of the trading establishments of the Hudson Bay Company, a few hundred yards above the junction of the Walahwalah [Walla Walla River] with the Columbia river. Here we had the first view of this river, and found it about 1,200 yards wide, and presenting the appearance of a fine navigable stream. We made our camp in a little grove of willows on the Walahwalah [Walla Walla River], which are the only trees to be seen in the neighborhood; but were obliged to send the animals back to the encampment we had left, as there was scarcely a blade of grass to be found. The post is on the bank of the Columbia, on a plain of bare sands, from which the air was literally filled with clouds of dust and sand, during one of the few days we remained here; this place being one of the several points on the river which are distinguished for prevailing high winds, which come from the sea. The appearance of the post and country was without interest, except that we here saw, for the first time, the great river on which the course of events for the last half century has been directing attention and conferring historical fame. The river is, indeed, a noble object, and has here attained its full magnitude. About nine miles above, and in sight from the hieghts about the post, is the junction of the two great forks which constitute the main stream -- that on which we had been travelling from Fort hall, and known by the names of Lewis's for, Shoshonee, and Snake river [Snake River]; and the North fork, which has retained the name of Columbia, as being the main stream. ...

October 29, 1843

The road continued along the river, and in the course of the day Mount St. Helens, another snowy peak of the Cascade range, was visible [most likely Mount Adams], another snowy peak of the Cascade range, was visible. We crossed the Umatilah river [Umatilla River] at a fall near its mouth. This stream is of the same class as the Walahwalah river [Walla Walla River], with a bed of volcanic rock, in places split into fissures. Our encampment was similar to that of yesterday; there was very little grass, and no wood.

October 30, 1843

By observation, our camp is in latitude 45° 50' 05", and longitude 119° 22' 18".

October 31, 1843

The night has been cold, and we have white frost this morning .... The early morning was very clear, and the stars bright; but, as usual, since we are on the Columbia, clouds formed immediately with the rising sun. The day continued fine, the east being covered with scattered clouds, but the west remaining clear, showing the remarkable cone-like peak of Mount Hood brightly drawn against the sky. This was in view all day in the southwest, but no other peaks of the range were visible. Our road was a bad one, of very loose, deep sand. ...

We continued to travel along the river, the stream being interspersed with many sand-bars (it being the season of low water) and with many isalnds, and an apparently good navigation. Small willows were the only wood; rock and sand the prominent geological feature. The rock of this section is a very compact and tough basalt, occurring in strata which have the appearance of being broken into fragments, assuming the form of columnar hills, and appearing always in escarpments, with the broken fragments strewed at the base and over the adjoining country.

We made a late encampment on the river, ... Latitude 45° 44' 23", longitude 119° 45' 09".

November 1, 1843

Mount Hood is glowing in the sunlight this morning, and the air is pleasant, with a temperature of 38. We continued down the river, and, passing through a pretty green valley, bounded by high precipitous rocks, encamped at the lower end.

On the right shore, the banks of the Columbia are very high and steep; the river is 1,690 feet broad, and dark bluffs of rock give it a picturesque appearance

November 2, 1843

The river here entered among bluffs, leaving no longer room for a road; and we accordingly left it, and took a more inland way among the river hills -- on which we had no sooner entered, than we found a great improvement in the country. The sand had disappeared, and the soil was good, and covered with excellent grass, although the surface was broken into high hills, with uncommonly deep valleys. At noon we crossed John Day's river [John Day River], a clear and beautiful stream, with a swift current and a bed of rolled stones. It is sunk in a deep valley, which is characteristic of all the streams in this region; and the hill we descended to reach it well deserves the name of mountains. ...

November 4, 1843

The road continued among the hills, and, reaching an eminence, we saw before us in a little green valley, watered by a clear stream, a tolerably large valley, through which the trail passed. ...

The road in about half an hour passed near an elevated point, from which we overlooked the valley of the Columbia for many miels, and saw in the distance several houses surrounded by fields, which a chief, who had accompanied us from the village, pointed out to us as the Methodist missionary station.

In a few miles we descended to the river [Columbia River], which we reached at one of its remarkably interesting features, known as the Dalles of the Columbia [the rapids at The Dalles, Oregon]. The whole volume of the river at this place passed between the walls of a chasm, which has the appearance of having been rent through the basaltic strata, which form the valley of rock of the region. At the narrowest place we found the breadth, by measurement, 58 yards, and the average height of the walls above the water 25 feet; forming a trough between the rocks --- whence the name, probably applied by a Canadian voyageur. The mass of water, in the present low state of the river, passed swiftly between, deep and black, and curled into many small whirlpools and counter currents, but unbroken by foam, and so still that scarcely the sound of a ripple was heard. The rock, for a considerable distance from the river, was worn over a large portion of its surface into circular holes and well-like cavities, by the abrasion of the river, which, at the season of high waters, is spread out over the adjoining bottoms.

In the recent passage through this chasm, an unfortunate event had occured to Mr. Applegate's party, in the loss of one of their boats, which had been carried under water in the midst of the Dalles, and two of Mr. Applegate's children and one man drowned. This misfortune was attributed only to want of skill in the steersman, as at this season there is no impediment to navigation; although the place is entirely impassable at high water, when boats pass safely over the great falls above, in the submerged state in which they then find themselves.

We passed rapidly three or four miles down the level valley, and encamped near the mission. [Methodist Mission at The Dalles, Oregon] ...   Our land journey found here its western termination. The delay involved in getting our camp to the right bank of the Columbia, and in opening a road through the continuous forest to Vancouver [Fort Vancouver], rendering a journey along the river impracticable; and on this side the usual road across the mountain required strong and fresh animals, there being an interval of three days in which they could obtain no food. ...

November 5, 1843

The day after our arrival being Sunday, no business could be done at the mission;

November 6, 1843

but on Monday Mr. Perkins assisted me in procuring from the Indians a large canoe, in which I designed to complete our journey to Vancouver [Fort Vancouver] ... The village [location of today's Lyle, Washington]   from which were were to take the canoe was on the right bank of the river, about ten miles below, at the mouth of the Tinanens creek [Klickitat River, Washington]; ...

The last of the emigrants had just left the Dalles at the time of our arrival, traveling some by water and others by land, making ark-like rafts, on which they had embarked their families and households, with their large wagons and other furniture, while their stock were driven along the shore.

For about five miles below the Dalles, the river is narrow, and probably very deep; but during this distance it is somewhat open, with grassy bottoms on the left. Entering, then, among the lower mountains of the Cascade range, it assumes a general character, and high and steep rocky hills shut it in on either side, rising abruptly in places to the height of 1,500 feet above the water, and gradually acquiring a more mountainous character as the river approaches the Cascades.

After an hour's travel, when the sun was nearly down, we searched along the shore for a pleasant place, and halted to prepare supper. ... We were delighted at a change in our mode of travelling and living. The canoe sailed smoothly down the river: at night we encamped upon the shore ...

Being now upon the ground explored by the South Sea expedition under Captain Wilkes, and having accomplished the object of uniting my survey with his, and thus presenting a connected exploration from the Mississippi to the Pacific, and the winter being at hand, I deemed it necessary to economize time by voyaging in the night, as is customary here, to avoid the high winds, which rise with the morning and decline with the day.

Accordingly, after an hour's halt, we again embarked, and resumed our pleasant voyage down the river. ... About midnight we put to the shore on a rocky beach, behind which was a dark-looking pine forest. We built up large fires among the rocks, which were in large massess round about; and, arranging our blankets on the most sheltered places we could find, passed a delightful night.

November 7, 1843

After an early breakfast, at daylight we resumed our journey, the weather being clear and beautiful, and the river smooth and still. On either side the mountains are all pine-timbered, rocky, and high. We were now approaching one of the marked features of the lower Columbia, where the river forms a great cascade, with a series of rapids, in breaking throught he range of mountains to which the lofty peaks of Mount Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon]   and St. Helens [Mount St. Helens, Washington   belong, and which rise as great pillars of snow on either side of the passage [Cascade Rapids].   The main branch of the Sacramento river, and the Tlamath, issue in cascades from this range; and the Columbia, breaking through it in a succesesion of cascades, gives the idea of cascades to the whole range; and hence the name of the CASCADE RANGE, which it bears, and distinguishes it from the Coast Range lower down. In making a short turn to the south, the river forms the cascades in breaking over a point of agglomerated masses of rock, leaving a handsome bay to the right, with several rocky pine-covered islands, and the mountains sweep at a distance around a cove where several small streams enter the bay. In less than an hour we halted on the left bank, about five minutes' walk above the cascades, where there were several Indian huts, and where our guides signified it was customary to hire Indians to assist in making the portage. ...    On a low broad point on the right bank of the river, at the lower end of these rapids, were pitched many tents of the emigrants, who were waiting here for their friends from above, or for boats and provisions which were expected from Vancouver [Fort Vancouver, Washington].   In our passage down the rapids, I had noticed their camps along the shore, or transporting their goods across the portage. This portage makes a head of navigation, ascending the river. It is about two miles in length; and above, to the Dalles [The Dalles, Oregon], is 45 miles of smooth and good navigation.

We glided on without further interruption between very rocky and high steep mountains, which sweep along the river valley at a little distance, covered with forests of pine, and showing occasionally lofty escarpments of red rock. Nearer, the shore is bordered by steep escarped hills and huge vertical rocks, from which the waters of the mountain reach the river in a variety of beautiful falls, sometimes several hundred feet in height. Occasionally along the river occurred pretty bottoms, covered with the greenest verdure of the spring. ...     A few miles below the cascades we passed a singular isolated hill [Beacon Rock]; and in the course of the next six miles occurred five very pretty falls from the heights on the left bank, one of them being of a very picturesque character [Multnomah Falls vicinity]; and towards sunset we reached a remarkable point of rocks, distinguished, on account of prevailing high winds, and the delay it frequently occasions to the canoe navigation, by the name of Cape Horn [Cape Horn, Washington]. It borders the river in a high wall of rock, which comes boldly down into deep water; and in violent gales down the river, and from the opposite shore [Dalton Point, Oregon], which is the prevailing direction of strong winds, the water is dashed against it with considerable violence. It appears to form a serious obstacle to canoe travelling; and I was informed by Mr. Perkins, that in a voyage up the river he had been detained two weeks at this place, and was finally obliged to return to Vancouver. ...

The hills here had lost something of their rocky appearance, and had already begun to decline. As the sun went down, we searched along the river for an inviting spot; and, finding a clean rocky beach, where some large dry trees were lying on the ground, we ran our boat to the shore; and, after another comfortable supper, ploughed our way along the river in darkness. ...    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 [Steigerwald Lake NWR and Washougal, Washington area].   In the course of a few hours, and opposite to small stream coming in from the north, called the Tea Prairie river [Washougal River], the highlands on the left declined to the plains, and three or four miles below disappeared entirely on both sides, and the river entered the low country. The river had gradually expanded; and when we emerged from the highlands, the opposite shores were so distant as to appear indistinct in the uncertainty of the light. About 10 o'clock our pilots halted, apparently to confer about the course; and, after a little hesitation, pulled directly across an open expansion of the river, where the waves were somewhat rough for a canoe, the wind blowing very fresh. Much to our surprise, a few minutes afterwards we ran aground. Backing off our boat, we made repeated trials at various places to cross what appeared to be a point of shifting sand bars, where we had attempted to shorten the way by a cut-off. Finally, one of our Indians got into the water, and waded about until he found a channel sufficiently deep, through which we would along after him, and in a few minutes again entered the deep water below [perhaps the sand bars of the Sandy River ???].   As we paddled rapidly down the river, we heard the noise of a saw mill at work on the right bank [vicinity of the Vancouver Trout Hatchery]; and, letting our boat float quietly down, we listened with pleasure to the unusual sounds; and before midnight encamped on the bank of the river, about a mile above Fort Vancouver. ...

Map detail, Fremont, 1843-44, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Map detail, 1843-1844, showing Fort Vancouver, the Hudson's Bay Company's "mill" and "sawmill", and the location of the "Tea Prairie". Original map: "Map of an Exploring Expedition to the ... Oregon & North California in the Years 1843-44" by Brevet Capt. J.C. Fremont of the Corps of Topographical Engineers. Original map courtesy U.S. Library of Congress, 2005.

November 8, 1843

In the morning, the first object that attracted my attention was the barque Columbia, lying at anchor near the landing. ...

November 13, 1843

Wherever we came in contact with the rocks of these mountains, we found them volcanic, which is probably the character of the range; and at the time, two of the great snowy cones, Mount Regnier [Mount Rainier] and St. Helens [Mount St. Helens], were in action. On the 23d of the proceding November, St. Helens had scattered its ashes, like a light fall of snow, over the Dalles of the Columbia [The Dalles, Oregon], 50 miles distant. A specimen of these ashes was given to me by Mr. Brewer, one of the clergymen at the Dalles. ...

November 17, 1843

We had to-day an opportunity to complete the sketch of that portion of the river down which we had come by night, and of which I will not give a particular description, which the small scale of our map would not illustrate. Many places occur along the river, where the stumps, or rather portions of the trunks of pine trees, are standing along the shore, and in the water, where they may be seen at a considerable depth below the surface, in the beautifully clear water. These collections of dead trees are called on the Columbia the submerged forest [such as the Submerged Forest at Wind Mountain], and are supposed to have been created by the effects of some convulsion whch formed the cascades [Cascade Locks vicinity], and which, by damming up the river, placed these trees under water and destroyed them. But I venture to presume that the cascades are older than the trees; and as these submerged forests occur at five or six places along the river, I had an opportunity to satisfy myself that they have been formed by immense land slides from the mountains, which here closely shut in the river, and which brought down with them into the river the pines of the mountain. At one place, on the right bank, I remarked a place where a portion of one of these slides seemed to have planted itself, with all the evergreen foliage, and the vegetation of the neighboring hill, directly amidst the falling and yellow leaves of the river trees. It occurred to me that this would have been a beautiful illustration to the eye of a botanist.

Following the course of a slide, which was very plainly marked along the mountain, I found that in the interior parts the trees were in their usual erect position; but at the extremity of the slide they were rocked about, and thrown into a confusion of inclinations.

About 4 o'clock in the afternoon we passed a sandy bar in the river, whence we had an unexpected view of Mount Hood, bearing directly south by compass [probably Hood River vicinity].

During the day we used oar and sail, and at night had again a delightful camping ground, and a dry place to sleep upon.

November 18, 1843

The day again was pleasant and bright. At 10 o'clock we passed a rock island, on the right shore of the river, which the Indians use as a burial ground [probably Memaloose Island]; and, halting for a short time, about an hour afterwards, at the village of our Indian friends, early in the afternoon we arrived again at the Dalles [The Dalles, Oregon]. ...

November 19-25, 1843

We made, in the mean time, several excursions in the vicinity [The Dalles, Oregon, preparing for their journey south along the banks the The Deschutes River to Klamath Lake, and onward to California]. Mr. Perkins walked with Mr. Preuss and myself to the heights, about nine miles distant, on the opposite side of the river, whence, in fine weather, an extensive view may be had over the mountains, including seven great peaks of the Cascade Range; but clouds, on this occasion, destroyed the anticipated pleasure, and we obtained bearings only to three that were visible: Mount Regnier [Mount Rainier, Washington, although most likely Fremont was seeing Mount Adams, Washington], St. Helens [Mount St. Helens, Washington], and Mount Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon]. On the heights, about one mile south of the mission [The mission at The Dalles was towards the southwest in today's city], a very fine view may be had of Mount Hood and St. Helens. In order to determine their positions with as much accuracy as possible, the angular distances of the peaks were measured with the sextant, at different fixed points from which they could be seen.

November 25, 1843

We were all up early, in the excitement of turning towards home. The stars were brilliant ... We started about noon, when the weather had become disagreeably cold, with flurries of snow. ... Ascending to the uplands beyond the southern fork of the Tinanens creek [Fifteenmile Creek], we found the snow lying on the ground in frequent patches, although the pasture appeared good, and the new short grass was fresh and green. We traveled over high, hilly land, and encamped on a little branch of Tinanens creek [Fifteenmile Creek], where there were good grass and timber. ...

November 26, 1843

Left camp at 10 o'clock, the road leading along tributaries of the Tinanens [Fifteenmile Creek], and being, so far, very good. We turned to the right at the fork of the trail, ascending by a steep ascent along a apur to the dividing grounds between this stream [Fifteenmile Creek] and the waters of Fall River [Deschutes River]. The creeks we had passed were timbered principally with oak and other deciduous trees. ...

This morning we had a grand view of St. Helens [Mount St. Helens] and Regnier [Mount Rainier, would suspect however that Fremont actually was looking at Mount Adams]: the latter appeared of a conical form, and very lofty, leading the eye far up into the sky. The line of the timbered country is very distinctly marked here, the bare hills making with it a remarkable contrast. The summit of the ridge commanded a fine view of the Taih prairie [Tygh Valley], and the stream running through it [White River], which is a tributary to the Fall river [Deschutes River], the chasm of which is visible to the right. A steep descent of a mountain hill brought us down into the valley [Tygh Valley] and we encamped on the stream [White River] after dark ... This is a large branch of the Fall river [Deschutes River] ...

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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


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.
September 2008