Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"John Day River, Oregon"
Includes ... John Day River ... "River La Page" ... LePage Park ... Campsite of April 22, 1806 ... Jean Baptiste Lepage ... Missoula Floods ...
Image, 2003, John Day River looking upstream, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
John Day River, Oregon, looking upstream. John Day River, looking upstream, as seen from LaPage Park, Oregon. Image taken September 26, 2003.

John Day River ...
The John Day River is the second longest free-flowing river in the continental United States after the Yellowstone River. Its drainage area covers nearly 8,100 square miles and is the 4th largest subbasin in Oregon. The river flows northwest from the Blue Mountains and joins the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 218. Two miles downstream is the John Day Dam and four miles downstream is the Oregon community of Rufus. The John Day River was named for John Day, a member of William Price Hunt's Astoria overland expedition of 1811 and 1812 (near Astoria is a second John Day River, also named after John Day.).

John Day River Drainage ...
According to the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website (2004), the John Day system contains over 500 river miles. Three major rivers flow into the mainstem John Day -- the North Fork, Middle Fork, and South Fork John Day rivers. The largest of these is the North Fork John Day, which originates in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the Blue Mountains at elevations near 8,000 feet, flows westerly for 117 miles and joins the mainstem John Day near Kimberly, Oregon. Many segments of the John Day River have been designated under the federal Wild Scenic Rivers Act and Oregon's State Scenic Waterways Act.

Image, 2004, Mouth of the John Day River from Washington State Highway 14, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lake Umatilla, the reservoir behind the John Day Dam, looking towards the mouth of the John Day River. View from Washington State Highway 14. Image taken April 24, 2004.

Lewis and Clark and the John Day River ...
Lewis and Clark passed the John Day River on October 21, 1805, and Captain Clark mentioned it in his journal.

"... after Passing this dificult rapid to the mouth of a Small river on the Larboard Side 40 yards wide descharges but little water at this time, and appears to take its Source in the Open plains to the S.E. ... [Clark, October 21, 1805]

The Captains named this river "River La Page" after one of their members, Jean Baptiste Lepage. Their campsite that night was located on the Washington side of the Columbia just below today's John Day Dam.

On April 22, 1806 on their return upstream, the men camped again on the Washington side of the Columbia, this time upstream of the John Day Dam and across from the John Day River. According to their route map [Moulton, vol.1, map#77], the campsite was located almost directly across but yet a bit downstream of the John Day's mouth. In their journal entries for April 22, 1806 however they make no mention of the John Day River.

Early John Day River ...
According to "Oregon Geographic Names" (2003, McArthur and McArthur, Oregon Historical Society):

"John Day River ... John Day River is one of the important rivers of Oregon, but due to the fact that it drains an area with little rainfall, the stream does not deliver much water. ... It bears the name of John Day (1771-1819) of the Astor overland party. John Day was a Virginia backwoodsman. He was a member of the Astor-Hunt overland party, and he and Ramsay Crooks fell behind the main party in the Snake River country in the winter of 1811-12. They had several terrible experiences but eventually got through the snow of the Blue Mountains and fell in with friendly Walla Walla Indians. These Indians aided the wanderers and sent them on their way down the Columbia River. In the vicinity of the mouth of John Day River, Crooks and Day met hostile Indians who robbed them, even of their clothes. The two naked men started back to the Walla Walla country but fortunately were rescued by Robert Stuart's party, which was descending the Columbia. John Days name was applied to the Oregon river apparently because it was near the mouth of the stream that the two men were attacked. According to one account, John Day went insane in Astoria in 1814 and was buried there, but T.C. Elliott cites McKenzie's statement that Day died in the Snake River country in 1820. Lewis and Clark named this stream Lepages River on October 21, 1805, after one of their party. John Work uses the name Day's River in his journal for June 25, 1825. Peter Skene Ogden mentions John Day's river by that name November 29, 1825. ..."

John Day River in 1940 ...
From the Oregon State Archives "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon":

"... The JOHN DAY RIVER, ..., called LePage's River by Lewis and Clark for a member of their party, honors a member of the Astorians. Washington Irving describes John Day as "a hunter from the backwoods of Virginia.... about forty years of age, six feet two inches high, straight as an Indian; with an elastic step as if he trod on springs, and a handsome, open, manly countenance. He was strong of hand, bold of heart, a prime woodsman, and an almost unerring shot." Day, with Crooks and several French Canadians, fell behind on the Snake River, while Hunt forged ahead with the main party in the winter of 1811-12. The following spring when, after many hardships, the two Americans reached the mouth of the John Day River "they met with some of the 'chivalry' of that noted pass, who received them in a friendly way, and set food before them; but, while they were satisfying their hunger, perfidiously seized their rifles. They then stripped them naked and drove them off, refusing the entreaties of Mr. Crooks for a flint and steel of which they had robbed him; and threatening his life if he did not instantly depart." In this forlorn plight they were found months later by a searching party and taken to Astoria. Day decided to return to the States with Robert Stuart's party, but before reaching the Willamette he became violently insane and was sent back to Astoria where he died within the year. ..."

Views ...

Penny Postcard, John Day River, Oregon
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Union Pacific crossing the John Day River, Oregon.
Penny Postcard, Chrome, Divided Back (1939 to today), "Union Pacific Railroad". Union Pacific Railroad Colorphoto. Published by Audio-Visual Designs, Earlton, N.Y. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Caption on back: "Union Pacific Railroad. A diesel freight with a General Motors EMD DD-35A 5000 HP locomotive in the lead crosses the Columbia River on the John Day Bridge. The John Day Dam and Mt. Hood can be seen in the background."
Image, 2003, John Day River looking towards the Columbia River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
John Day River, Oregon, looking towards mouth. John Day River, looking downstream towards its confluence with the Columbia River, as seen from LaPage Park, Oregon. Image taken September 26, 2003.
Image, 2003, John Day River, right bank, at mouth, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
John Day River, Oregon, right bank, at mouth. John Day River, looking across towards the right bank at the northwestern part of "The Nook", as seen from LaPage Park, Oregon. Image taken September 26, 2003.

John Day River, etc.

  • John Day Dam ...
  • LePage Park ...
  • Missoula Floods ...

John Day Dam ...
Two miles downstream of the John Day River is the John Day Dam.

Image, 2012, Columbia River upstream of the John Day Dam, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River as seen from upstream of John Day Dam. On April 22, 1806, Lewis and Clark camped on the Washington State side of the Columbia River, just upstream of the John Day Dam, and nearly across from the mouth of the John Day River. The John Day River is just visible above the dam. Image taken June 6, 2012.

LePage Park ...
LePage Park is located on the left bank of the John Day River at the confluence of the John Day and the Columbia. Lewis and Clark called the John Day River the "River La Page", after Corps of Discovery member, Jean Baptiste Lepage, a French trapper who joined the Lewis and Clark expedition at the Mandan villages.

Image, 2003, John Day River and LePage Park, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
John Day River, Oregon, and LePage Park. Image taken September 26, 2003.

Missoula Floods ...
Alkali Canyon extends south from Arlington, Oregon and then heads west to Rock Creek, a tributary of the John Day River. Flood waters of Lake Condon of the Missoula Floods spilled over the southern bank of the Columbia River and headed south through Alkali Canyon to Rock Creek to the John Day River and then the John Day River drainage back to the Columbia River.


"Hodge (1931) recognized more than 50 years ago that floodwaters had overtopped the low divides between the Columbia River and the headwaters of Rock Creek, as well as the divide directly into the John Day Canyon. The floodwater poured up Alkali Canyon, south of Arlington (Oregon 19), and scoured a channel westward (now occupied by the Union Pacific RR branch line) into Rock Creek 6 miles above its junction with the John Day River. Farther west, the Floods poured up Jones Canyon, Blalock Canyon, and Phillip Canyon just east of Quinton, where it formed several square miles of scabland and left a high-perched expansion bar on the east wall of the John Day Canyon 10 miles from its mouth. A sixth small spillway lies at 1020 feet elevation, 2 miles northwest of Phillipi Canyon."

Source:    John Eliot Allen and Marjorie Burns, with Sam C. Sargent, 1986, Cataclysms on the Columbia: Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.


"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.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 21, 1805 ...

Clark, April 22, 1806 ...

Columbia PlateauReturn 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

  • Allen, J.E., and Burns, M., with Sargent, S.C., 1986, "Cataclysms on the Columbia", Timber Press, Portland;
  • Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website, 2004;
  • Hay, K.G., 2004, "The Lewis and Clark Columbia River Water Trail", Timber Press, Portland;
  • McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, "Oregon Geographic Names", Oregon Historical Society;
  • Oregon State Archives website, 2005, "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon";

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.
January 2016