Lewis and Clark's Columbia River

"Captain Robert Gray, May 1972"
Discovering the Columbia River, May 1792 ...
"Mouth to Grays Bay"
The Columbia River was given the name it bears today in May 1792, by American Captain Robert Gray, after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. On May 11, 1792, Captain Robert Gray entered the mouth of the Columbia River. He explored 20 miles up the river as far as Grays Bay, a bay named for him later in the year by Lieutenant William Broughton of the Vancouver Expedition, who crossed the bar and traveled 100 miles up the Columbia.

Excerpts from:
"REMNANT OF the Official Log of the 'Columbia'", in Voyages of the "Columbia" to the Northwest Coast: 1787-1790 and 1790-1793, Frederic W. Howay, editor, and courtesty University of Washington Website, 2007, "History and Literature of the Pacific Northwest".

Under Construction ...

Grays Harbor ...
May 7, 1792

May 7th. Being within six miles of the land, saw an entrance in the same, which had a very good appearance of a harbor [Grays Harbor]; lowered away the jolly-boat, and went in search of an anchoring-place, the ship standing to and fro, with a very strong weather current. At one, p.m., the boat returned, having found no place where the ship could anchor with safety; made sail on the ship; stood in for the shore. We soon saw, from our mast-head, a passage in between the sand-bars. At half past three, bore away, and ran in north-east by east, having from four to eight fathoms, sandy bottom; and, as we drew in nearer between the bars, had from ten to thirteen fathoms, having a very strong tide of ebb to stem. Many canoes came alongside. At five, p.m., came to in five fathoms water, sandy bottom, in a safe harbor, well sheltered from the sea by long sand-bars and spits. Our latitude observed this day was 46 degrees 58 minutes north.

May 10, 1792

May 10th. Fresh breezes and pleasant weather; many natives alongside; at noon all the canoes left us. At one, p.m., began to un-moor, took up the best bower-anchor, and hove short on the small bower-anchor. At half past four, (being high water,) hove up the anchor, and came to sail and a beating down the harbor.

Columbia River ...
May 11, 1792

May 11th. At half past seven, we were out clear of the bars, and directed our course to the southward, along shore. At eight, p.m. [May 10, 1792], the entrance of Bulfinch’s Harbor [Grays Harbor] bore north, distance four miles; the southern extremity of the land bore south-south-east half east, and the northern north-north-west; sent up the main-top-gallant-yard and set all sail. At four, a.m. [May 11, 1792], saw the entrance of our desired port bearing east-south-east, distance six leagues [Columbia River]; in steering sails, and hauled our wind in shore. At eight, a.m., being a little to wind-ward of the entrance of the Harbor, bore away, and run in east-north-east between the breakers, having from five to seven fathoms of water. When we were over the bar, we found this to be a large river of fresh water, up which we steered [Columbia River]. Many canoes came along-side. At one, p.m., came to with the small bower, in ten fathoms, black and white sand [about 1/2 mile offshore between Point Ellice and McGowan]. The entrance between the bars bore west-south-west, distant ten miles; the north side of the river a half mile distant from the ship [Baker Bay]; the south side of the same two and a half miles’ distance [Astoria, Oregon]; a village on the north side of the river west by north, distant three quarters of a mile [Chinook village near Chinook Point]. Vast numbers of natives came along-side; people employed in pumping the salt water out of our water-casks, in order to fill with fresh, while the ship floated in. So ends.

May 12, 1792

May 12th. Many natives alongside; noon, fresh wind; let go the best bower-anchor, and veered out on both cables; sent down the main-top-gallant-yard; filled up all the water-casks in the hold. The latter part, heavy gales, and rainy, dirty weather.

May 13, 1792

May 13th. Fresh winds and rainy weather; many natives along-side; hove up the best bower-anchor; seamen and tradesmen at their various department.

May 14, 1792

May 14th. Fresh gales and cloudy; many natives alongside; at noon, weighed and came to sail [McGowan and Point Ellice area], standing up the river north-east by east; we found the channel very narrow. At four, p.m., we had sailed upwards of twelve or fifteen miles [to the Grays Bay area], when the channel was so very narrow that it was almost impossible to keep in it, having from three to eighteen fathoms water, sandy bottom. At half past four, the ship took ground, but she did not stay long before she came off, without any assistance. We backed her off, stern foremost, into three fathoms, and let go the small bower, and moored ship with kedge and hawser. The jolly-boat was sent to sound the channel out, but found it not navigable farther up; so, of course, we must have taken the wrong channel. So ends, with rainy weather; many natives alongside.

May 15, 1792

May 15th. Light airs and pleasant weather; many natives from different tribes came alongside. At ten, a.m., unmoored [Grays Bay area] and dropped down with the tide to a better anchoring-place [off Grays Point]; smiths and other tradesmen constantly employed. In the afternoon, Captain Gray and Mr. Hoskins, in the jolly-boat, went on shore to take a short view of the country.

Log from John Boit, fifth mate aboard the Columbia:
15 [May 1792]. N. Latt. 46º 7’ W. Long. 122º 47’. On the 15th took up the Anchor, and stood up River but soon found the water to be shoal so that the Ship took the Ground, after proceeding 7 or 8 miles from our 1st station, however soon got off again. Sent the Cutter and found the main Channel was on the South side, and that there was a sand bank in the middle, as we did not expect to procure Otter furs at any distance from the Sea, we contented ourselves in our present situation which was a very pleasant one. I landed abrest the Ship with Capt. Gray [Grays Point] to view the Country and take possession [Historians write that this phrase "and take possession" was inserted later and is in a different ink], leaving charge with the 2d Officer. Found much clear ground, fit for Cultivation, and the woods mostly clear from Underbrush. none of the Natives come near us.

May 16, 1792

May 16th. Light airs and cloudy. At four, a.m., hove up the anchor and towed down about three miles [near Knappton], with the last of the ebb-tide; came into six fathoms, sandy bottom, the jolly-boat sounding the channel. At ten, a.m., a fresh breeze came up river. With the first of the ebb-tide we got under way, and beat down river. At one, (from its being very squally,) we came to, about two miles from the village, (Chinouk,) [Chinook Village near Chinook Point] which bore west-south-west; many natives along-side; fresh gales and squally.

May 17, 1792

May 17th. Fresh winds and squally; many canoes alongside; calkers calking the pinnace; seamen paying the ship’s sides with tar; painter painting ship; smiths and carpenters at their departments.

May 18, 1792

May 18th. Pleasant weather. At four in the morning, began to heave ahead; at half past, came to sail, standing down river with the ebb-tide; at seven, (being slack water and the wind fluttering,) we came to in five fathoms, sandy bottom; the entrance between the bars bore south-west by west, distant three miles. The north point of the harbor bore north-west, distant two miles [Cape Disappointment]; and south bore south-east, distant three and a half miles [Point Adams]. At nine, a breeze came up from the eastward; took up the anchor and came to sail, but the wind soon came fluttering again; came to with the kedge and hawser; veered out fifty fathoms. Noon, pleasant. Latitude observed, 46 degrees 17 minutes north. At one, came to sail with the first of the edd-tide, and drifted down broadside, with light airs and strong tide; at three quarters past, a fresh wind came from the northward; wore ship, and stood into the river again. At four, came to in six fathoms; good holding-ground about six or seven miles up [Chinook Point]; many canoes alongside.

Log from John Boit, fifth mate aboard the Columbia:
18 [May 1792]. Shifted the Ship’s birth to her Old Station abrest the Village Chinoak [Chinook Point], command’d by a cheif name Polack [??? different village than Chief Comcomly ??? ... perhaps Chief before Comcomly ???]. Vast many Canoes full of Indians from different parts of the river where constantly along side. Capt. Grays named this river Columbia’s, and the North entrance Cape Hancock [Cape Disappointment], and the South Point Adams [Point Adams]. This River in my opinion, wou’d be a fine place for to sett up a Factory [Trading Post]. The Indians are very numerous, and appear’d very civill (not even offering to steal). during our short stay we collected 150 Otter, 300 Beaver, and twice the Number of other land furs. the river abounds with excellent Salmon, and most other River fish, and the Woods with plenty of Moose and Deer, the skins of which was brought us in great plenty, and the Banks produces a ground Nut, which is an excellent substitute for either bread or Potatoes, We found plenty of Oak, Ash, and Walnut trees, and clear ground in plenty, which with little labour might be made fit to raise such seeds as in nessescary for the sustenance of inhabitants, and in short a factory set up here and another at Hancock’s River in the Queen Charlotte Isles, wou’d engross the whole trade of the NW Coast (with the help [of] a few small coasting vessels).

May 19, 1792

May 19th. Fresh wind and clear weather. Early a number of canoes came alongside; seamen and tradesmen employed in their various departments. Captain Gray gave this river the name of Columbia’s River, and the north side of the entrance Cape Hancock [Cape Disappointment, Washington], the south, Adam’s Point [Point Adams, Oregon].

May 20, 1792

May 20th. Gentle breezes and pleasant weather. At one, p.m., (being full sea,) took up the anchor, and made sail, standing down river. At two, the wind left us, we being on the bar with a very strong tide, which set on the breakers; it was now not possible to get out without a breeze to shoot her across the tide; so we were obliged to bring up in three and a half fathoms, the tide running five knots. At three quarters past two, a fresh wind came in from seaward; we immediately came to sail, and boat over the bar, having from five to seven fathoms water in the channel. At five, p.m., we were out, clear of all the bars, and in twenty fathoms water. A breeze came from the southward; we bore away to the northward; set all sail to the best advantage. At eight, Cape Hancock [Cape Disappointment] bore south-east, distant three leagues; the north extremity of the land in sight bore north by west. At nine, in steering and top-gallant sails. Midnight, light airs. . . .

Log from John Boit, fifth mate aboard the Columbia:
20 [May 1792]. This day left Columbia’s River, and stood clear of the bars, and bore off to the Northward The Men at Columbia’s River are strait limb’d, fine looking fellows, and the women are very pretty. they are all in a state of Nature, except the females, who wear a leaf Apron (perhaps ‘twas a fig leaf). But some of our gentlemen, that examin’d them pretty close, and near, both within and without reported that it was not a leaf but a nice wove mat in resemblance!! and so we go—thus, thus—and no Near!—!

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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

  • University of Washington website, 2007, "History and Literature of the Pacific Northwest";

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