Lewis and Clark's Columbia River

"Alexander Ross, 1849"
"Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1811, 1812, and 1813"
(information to come)

Excerpts from:
"Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River: Being a Narrative of the Expedition Fitted Out by John Jacob Astor, to Establish the 'Pacific Fur Company': with an Account of some Indian Tribes on the Coast of the Pacific". By Alexander Ross, One of the Adventurers. London, 1849.

Under Construction ...

March 1811

ON the 1st of March, 1811, we took our departure from the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii]; steering direct for Columbia River. ...

On the 22nd of March, we came in sight of land, which, on a nearer approach, proved to be Cape Disappointment [Cape Disappointment], a promontory forming the north side of the Great Oregon or Columbia River [Columbia River]. The sight filled every heart with gladness. But the cloudy and stormy state of the weather prevented us seeing clearly the mouth of the river; being then about ten miles from land. The aspect of the coast was wild and dangerous, and for some time the ship lay-to, until the captain could satisfy himself that it was the entrance of the river; ...

The mouth of Columbia River is remarkable for its sand-bars and high surf at all seasons, but more particularly in the spring and fall, during the equinoctial gales: these sand-bars frequently shift, the channel of course shifting along with them, which renders the passage at all times extremely dangerous. The bar, or rather the chain of sand banks, over which the huge waves and foaming breakers roll so awfully, is a league broad, and extends in a white foaming sheet for many miles, both south and north of the mouth of the river, forming as it were an impracticable barrier to the entrance, and threatening with instant destruction everything that comes near it. The river at its mouth is 4½ miles broad, confined by Cape Disappointment [Cape Disappointment, Washington] on the north, and Point Adams [Point Adams, Oregon] on the south; the former is a rocky cliff or promontory, rising about 500 feet above the level of the water, and covered on the top with a few scattered trees of stinted growth; the latter a low sandy point, jutting out about 300 yards into the river, directly opposite to Cape Disappointment: the deepest water is near the Cape, but the channel is both narrow and intricate. The country is low, and the impervious forests give to the surrounding coast a wild and gloomy aspect. ...

April and May, 1811

FOR some days, much time was spent in examining both sides of the inlet, with a view of choosing a suitable place to build on. At last it was settled that the new establishment should be erected on the south side, on a small rising ground situate between Point George on the west [Smith Point] and Tonquin Point on the east [Tongue Point], distant twelve miles from the mouth of the inlet or bar.

On the 12th of April, therefore, the whole party, consisting of thirty-three persons, all British subjects excepting three (eleven Sandwich Islanders being included in that number), left the ship and encamped on shore.

However pleasing the change, to be relieved from a long and tedious voyage, and from the tyranny of a sullen despotic captain, the day was not one of pleasure, but of labour. The misfortunes we had met with in crossing the fatal bar had deadened all sensibility, and cast a melancholy gloom over our most sanguine expectations. In our present position, everything harmonized with our feelings, to darken our future prospects. Silent and with heavy hearts we began the toil of the day, in clearing away brush and rotten wood for a spot to encamp on. ...

On the fourth day after our landing, we planted some potatoes and sowed a few garden seeds, and on the 16th of May we laid the foundations of our first building; but in order to procure suitable timber for the purpose, we had to go back some distance — the wood on the site being so large and unmanageable; and for want of cattle to haul it, we had to carry it on our shoulders, or drag it along the ground — a task of no ordinary difficulty. For this purpose, eight men were harnessed, and they conveyed in six days all the timber required for a building or store of sixty feet long by twenty-six broad. On the 18th, as soon as the foundation was completed, the establishment was named Astoria [Astoria, Oregon], in honour of Astor, the projector of the enterprise. ...

Trip up the Columbia River
July 22, 1811

NOTWITHSTANDING the departure of the ship, and our reduced numbers, measures were taken for extending the trade; and the return of Mr. Thompson up the Columbia, on his way back to Canada, was considered as affording a favourable opportunity for us to fit out a small expedition, with the view of establishing a trading post in the interior: we were to proceed together, for the sake of mutual protection and safety, our party being too small to attempt anything of the kind by itself. Accordingly, Mr. David Stuart, myself, Messrs. Pillette and M'Lennan, three Canadian voyageurs, and two Sandwich Islanders, accompanied by Mr. Thompson's party and the two strangers, in all twenty-one persons, started from Astoria [Astoria, Oregon], at eleven o'clock on the 22nd of July, 1811.

In two clumsy Chinook canoes, laden each with fifteen or twenty packages of goods, of ninety pounds weight, we embarked to ascend the strong and rapid Columbia; and, considering the unskilfulness of our party generally in the management of such fickle craft, the undertaking was extremely imprudent; but then, being all of us more or less ambitious, we overlooked, in the prospect of ultimate success, both difficulty and danger. After our canoes were laden, we moved down to the water's edge — one with a cloak on his arm, another with his umbrella, a third with pamphlets and newspapers for amusement, preparing, as we thought, for a trip of pleasure, or rather all anxious to be relieved from our present harassing and dangerous situation. The wind being fair and strong, we hoisted sail; but had not proceeded to Tongue Point [Tongue Point, Oregon], a small promontory in the river, not three miles distant from Astoria, when the unfriendly wind dashed our canoes, half-filled with water, on the shore; and, as we were not able to double the Point, we made a short passage across the isthmus [Lewis and Clark camped on this isthmus in 1805], and then, being somewhat more sheltered from the wind, proceeded [Cathlamet Bay], but had not got many miles before our progress was again arrested by a still worse accident; for, while passing among the islands and shoals [island of Cathlamet Bay, now a part of the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge], before rounding Oathlamuck Point [Cathlamet Head, today called Aldrich Point], at the head of Gray's Bay [Grays Bay, Washington, across the Columbia from Cathlamet Bay], the wind and swell drove us on a sandbank, where we stuck fast — the waves dashing over us, and the tide ebbing rapidly. Down came the mast, sail, and rigging about our ears; and, in the hurry and confusion, the canoes got almost full of water, and we were well drenched: here we had to carry the goods and drag the canoes till we reached deep water again, which was no easy task. This disaster occupied us about two hours, and gave us a foretaste of what we might expect during the remainder of the voyage. Cloaks and umbrellas, so gay in the morning, were now thrown aside for the more necessary paddle and carrying strap, and the pamphlets and newspapers went to the bottom. Having, however, got all put to rights again, we hoisted sail once more, passed Puget's Island [Puget Island], and then the great Whill Wetz village, situated on Oak Point, where the river makes a sudden bend to S.S.E.: here, on the south side, the rocks became high and the current strong, and night coming on us before we could reach low ground, we were compelled to encamp on the verge of a precipice, where we passed a gloomy night — drenched with wet, without fire, without supper, and without sleep. During this day's journey, both sides of the river presented a thick forest down to the water's edge — the timber being large, particularly the cedars. The sound, from Cape Disappointment [Cape Disappointment] to the head of Gray's Bay [Grays Bay], which we passed to-day, is about twenty-five miles in length, and varies from four to seven in breadth.

July 23, 1811

On the 23rd, after a restless night, we started, stemming a strong and almost irresistible current by daylight. Crossing to the north side, not far from our encampment, we passed a small rocky height, called Coffin Rock, or Mount Coffin [Mount Coffin in Longview, Washington, now destroyed], a receptacle for the dead: all over this rock —top, sides, and bottom — were placed canoes of all sorts and sizes, containing relics of the dead, the congregated dust of many ages.

Not far from Mount Coffin [Mount Coffin, Longview, Washington], on the same side, was the mouth of a small river, called by the natives Cowlitz [Cowlitz River], near which was an isolated rock, covered also with canoes and dead bodies [Coffin Rock, Oregon, near Goble, Oregon]. This sepulchral rock has a ghastly appearance, in the middle of the stream, and we rowed by it in silence; then passing Deer's Island [Deer Island], we encamped at the mouth of the Wallamitte [Multnomah Channel]. The waters of the Columbia are exceedingly high this year — all the low banks and ordinary water-marks are overflowed, and the island inundated. At the mouth of the Wallamitte [mouth of the Multnomah Channel], commences the great Columbian valley of Lewis and Clarke; but in the present state of flood, surrounded on all sides by woods almost impervious, the prospect is not fascinating. The Indians appeared very numerous in several villages. General course the same as yesterday, S.E.

July 24, 1811

On the 24th, after a good night's rest, and having made some trifling presents to a principal chief, named Kiasno, we proceeded on our voyage; but had not gone far, when we passed another and larger branch of the Wallamitte [Willamette River. Previously they passed the Multnomah Channel, altho they called it a mouth of the Willamette] — so that this river enters the Columbia by two channels, from the last of which the Columbia makes a gradual bend to the E.N.E.

During this day, we passed the Namowit Village, Bellevue Point [Sauvie Island/Kelley Point], Johnson's Island [Lady Island], and stayed for the night as Wasough-ally Camp [Washougal, Washington], near Quicksand River [Sandy River, Oregon], which enters the Columbia on the left.

Bellevue Point [Sauvie Island/Kelley Point] on the right-hand side of the river, although but low, presents a scene of great beauty, compared to what we had yet seen during the voyage: here the eye is occasionally relieved from the monotonous gloomy aspect of dense woods, by the sight of green spots, clumps of trees, small lakes, and meadows alternately.

July 25, 1811

On the 25th, early this morning, we arrived at and passed Point Vancouver [Point Vancouver, Washington], so named after the celebrated navigator, and the extreme point of Broughton's survey of the Columbia [Broughton was part of the Captain George Vancouver expedition in 1792]. From the lower branch of the Wallamitte [mouth of the Willamette River, Oregon] to Point Vancouver, the banks of the river on both sides are low; but, as we proceeded further on, a chain of huge black rocks rose perpendicularly from the water's edge: over their tops fell many bold rills of clear water [Cape Horn, Washington]. Hemmed in by these rocky heights, the current assumed double force, so that our paddles proved almost ineffectual; and, to get on, we were obliged to drag ourselves along from point to point, by laying hold of bushes and the branches of overhanging trees, which, although they impeded our progress in one way, sided us in another. After a day of severe toil, we halted for the night. We saw but five Indians all this day; and, for the first time, now came to our camp at night. The ebb and flow of the tide is not felt here. The country, generally, has a wild and savage appearance: course, E.N.E.

July 26, 1811

On the 26th, it was late this morning before we could muster courage to embark. The burning sun of yesterday, and the difficulty of stemming the rapid current, had so reduced our strength that we made but little headway to-day; and, after being for six hours rowing as many miles, we stopped, tired and rather discouraged: course, N.E.

July 27, 1811

On the 27th, we were again early at work, making the best of our way against a turbulent and still increasing current: as we advanced, the river became narrower, the hills and rocks approaching nearer and nearer to the river on either side. Here the view was very confined, and by no means cheering.

We, however, continued our toil till late in the evening, when, in place of a uniform smooth and strong current, as usual, the water became confused and ripply, with whirlpools and cross currents, indicating the proximity of some obstruction. At the foot of a rocky cliff, which we named Inshoach Castle [Beacon Rock], we put ashore for the night; nor did we see a single Indian all day. Mr. Thompson encamped on one side of the river, and we on the other. General course, to-day, nearly east.

During last night the water rose ten inches. This was supposed to be occasioned by the tide, although, after passing Bellevue Point [Sauvie Island/Kelley Point], the influence of tide was not perceptible on the current. From the mouth of the river to this place —a distance of a hundred and eighty miles — there is sufficient depth of water for almost any craft to pass; even ships of 400 tons might reach Inshoach Castle [Beacon Rock] had they power to stem the current.

As regards agricultural purposes, Bellevue Point [Sauvie Island/Kelley Point] and the valley of the Wallamitte [Willamette River] were the most favourable spots we met with. Generally speaking, the whole country on either side of the river, as far as the eye could reach, presented a dense, gloomy forest. We found, however, a marked improvement in the climate. Here the air is dry and agreeable. Fogs, mists, damp and rainy weather, ceased after we had passed the Wallamitte [Willamette River].

July 28, 1811

On the 28th, early in the morning, Mr. Thompson crossed over to our camp, and informed us that we were within a short distance of the cascades [Cascade Rapids]. We then embarked, and proceeded together. After making some distance with the paddles, we had recourse to the poles, and then to the hauling line, till at length we reached the point of disembarkation.

We had no sooner landed, than a great concourse of Indians assembled at a short distance from us, and, after holding a consultation, came moving on in a body to meet us, or rather, as we thought, to welcome our arrival. The parley being ended, and the ceremony of smoking over, they pointed up the river, signifying that the road was open for us to pass. Embarking again, we pushed on, and passing the Strawberry Island of Lewis and Clarke [Hamilton Island], we continued for some distance further, and finally put on shore at the end of the portage, or carrying-place, situate on the right-hand side of the river, and at the foot of a rather steep bank. Here the Indians crowded about us in fearful numbers, and some of them became very troublesome. A small present being made to each of the chiefs, or great men, in order to smooth them down a little in our favour, they pointed across the portage, or carrying-place, as much as to say — All is clear; pass on.

From this point we examined the road over which we had to transport the goods, and found it to be 1450 yards long, with a deep descent, near the Indian villages, at the far end, with up-hills, down-hills, and side-hills, most of the way, besides a confusion of rocks, gullies, and thick woods, from end to end. To say that there is not a worse path under the sun would perhaps be going a step too far, but to say that, for difficulty and danger, few could equal it would be saying but the truth. Certainly nothing could be more discouraging than our present situation — obstacles on every side; by land, by water, and from the Indians — all hostile alike. Having landed the goods, and secured the canoe, we commenced the laborious task of carrying, and by dividing ourselves in the best possible manner for safety, we managed to get all safe over by sunset. Not being accustomed myself to carry, I had of course, as well as some others, to stand sentinel; but seeing the rest almost wearied to death, I took hold of a roll of tobacco, and after adjusting it on my shoulder, and holding it fast with one hand, I moved on to ascend the first bank; at the top of which, however, I stood breathless, and could proceed no farther. In this awkward plight, I met an Indian, and made signs to him to convey the tobacco across, and that I would give him all the buttons on my coat; but he shook his head, and refused. Thinking the fellow did not understand me, I threw the tobacco down, and pointing to the buttons one by one, at last he consented, and off he set at a full trot, and I after him; but just as we had reached his camp at the other end, he pitched it down a precipice of two hundred feet in height, and left me to recover it the best way I could. Off I started after my tobacco; and if I was out of breath after getting up the first bank, I was ten times more so now. During my scrambling among the rocks to recover my tobacco, not only the wag that played me the trick, but fifty others, indulged in a hearty laugh at my expense; but the best of it was, the fellow came for his payment, and wished to get not only the buttons but the coat along with them. I was for giving him — what he richly deserved — buttons of another mould; but peace, in our present situation, was deemed the better policy: so the rogue got the buttons, and we saw him no more.

Before leaving this noted place, the first barrier of the Columbia, we may remark that the whole length of the cascade, from one end to the other, is two miles and a half. We were now encamped at the head or upper end of them, where the whole river is obstructed to the breadth of one hundred or one hundred and twenty feet, and descends in high and swelling surges with great fury for about one hundred yards. Then the channel widens and the river expands, and is here and there afterwards obstructed with rocks, whirlpools, and eddies throughout, rendering the navigation more or less dangerous; but there are no falls in any part of it, either at high or low water, and with the exception of the first shoot, at the head of the cascade, where the water rushes with great impetuosity down its channel, they are, with care and good management, passable at all seasons for large craft, that is boats.

All the Indians we saw about this place were in three small camps or villages, and might number two hundred and fifty or three hundred at most. They call themselves Cath-le-yach-κ-yachs, and we could scarcely purchase from the lazy rascals fish and roots enough for our supper. In dress, appearance, and habits, they differed but little from those about Astoria; but they spoke a different language, although many of them understood and spoke Chinook also.

At first we formed a favourable opinion of them; but their conduct soon changed, for we had no sooner commenced transporting our goods than they tried to annoy us in every kind of way — to break our canoes, pilfer our property, and even to threaten ourselves, by throwing stones and pointing their arrows at us. We were not, however, in a situation to hazard a quarrel with them, unless in the utmost extremity; and it was certainly with great difficulty, and by forbearance on our part, that we got so well off as we did. After finishing the labour of the day, we arranged ourselves for the night. The Indians all assembled again about our little camp, and became very insolent and importunate; they looked at everything, and coveted all they saw. Indeed we were afraid at one time that we would have to appeal to arms; but fortunately, after distributing a few trifling presents among the principal men, they smoked and left us; but we kept a constant watch all night. The only domestic animal we saw among them was the dog.

July 29, 1811

On the 29th, early in the morning, we prepared to leave the cascades; but the bank being steep, and the current very strong where we had to embark, we did not venture off before broad daylight, and before that time the Indians had crowded about us as usual. Their pilfering propensities had no bounds. The more we gave them the more they expected, and of course the more trouble they gave us; and notwithstanding all our care and kindness to them, they stole our canoe axe and a whole suit of clothes, excepting the hat, belonging to Mr. M'Lennan, which we were unable to recover. We had no sooner embarked, however, than Mr. M'Lennan in his usual good-humour, standing up in the canoe, and throwing the hat amongst them, said, “Gentlemen, there's the hat, you have got the rest, the suit is now complete,” and we pushed off and left them.

Immediately above the cascade the river resumes its usual breadth, with a smooth and strong current. The day being exceedingly warm, we made but little headway. In the evening we passed a small river on our left, near which we encamped for the night. Here we had promised ourselves a quiet night and sound sleep; but the Indians finding us out partly deprived us of both, as we had to keep watch. They were but few, however, and therefore peaceable. Course this day, N.N.E.

July 30, 1811

On the 30th we set off early, leaving the five Indians, who slept in our camp last night, sitting by the fire, enjoying a pipe of tobacco. As we proceeded, the country became more bold, rough, and mountainous; but still covered with thick woods and heavy timber. The day being very hot, we encamped early on a very pleasant and thickly-wooded island — course, N.E.

July 31, 1811

On the 31st, after breakfast, Mr. Thompson and party left us to prosecute their journey, and Mr. Stuart, in one of our canoes, accompanied him as far as the long narrows, nor did he return till late in the afternoon, and then thinking it too late to start, we passed the remainder of the day in camp, enjoying the repose which we had so much need of. The two strangers remained with us.

On Mr. Thompson's departure, Mr. Stuart gave him one of our Sandwich Islanders, a bold and trustworthy fellow, named Cox, for one of his men, a Canadian, called Boulard. Boulard had the advantage of being long in the Indian country, and had picked up a few words of the language on his way down. Cox, again, was looked upon by Mr. Thompson as a prodigy of wit and humour, so that those respectively acceptable qualities led to the exchange.

August 1, 1811

On the 1st of August we left our encampment at daylight, but a strong head-wind impeded our progress, and not being able to get on, we put ashore, and encamped at a much earlier hour than we wished. Course, N.E.

August 2, 1811

On the 2d, at three o'clock in the afternoon, we reached Sandy Bay, at the foot of the narrows. The Indians, being apprised of our coming, had assembled, as might be expected, in great numbers, and presented to us quite a new sight, being all armed cap-ΰ-pie , painted, and mounted on horseback. To us in our present situation they were rather objects of terror than of attraction, but we had to put the best face we could on things, so we landed our goods and invited them to smoke with us.

We had not hitherto settled upon any plan, whether to continue our route by water up the long narrows, or undertake the portage by land, both appearing equally difficult and equally dangerous: at last we adopted the latter plan, because it was recommended by the Indians, in whose power we were either way. The plan being now settled, we bargained with the chiefs for the carriage of the goods — ten metal buttons for each piece was the price stipulated, which reduced our stock by exactly two and a half gross: and in less than ten minutes after the whole cavalcade, goods and all, disappeared, leaving us standing in suspense and amazement. While we were in this painful state of anxiety, one man and an Indian were left to guard the canoes, whilst the rest of us, carrying what we could on our backs, followed the Indians on foot to the other end of the portage, where we arrived at sunset, and found, to our great satisfaction, all the property laid together in safety, and guarded by the chiefs. Having paid the Indians what we promised, and a small recompense to the different chiefs, we arranged our little camp for the night, the chiefs promising us their protection. All the Indians now flocked around us, men, women, and children, and spent the whole night in smoking, dancing and singing, while we kept watch in the centre of the ominous circle. During the night, however, notwithstanding the chief's guarantee of protection, we perceived some suspicious movements, which gave us considerable alarm. We had recourse again and again to the chiefs, who at last admitted that there was some indication of danger; but added that they were still our friends, and would do their utmost to protect us. Just at this moment, as we were consulting with the chiefs, several harangues were made in the camp, the smoking ceased, and the women and children were beginning to move off. It was a critical moment; we saw the cloud gathering, but could not dispel it; our fate seemed to hang upon a hair. At last we hit upon a stratagem; we persuaded the chief to come and stop within our little circle for the night, which they did, and from that position they harangued in turn, which had a good effect, and in this manner we passed the night, not forgetting every now and then to give the chiefs some little toy or trifle, to stimulate their exertions in our favour.

August 3, 1811

Early in the morning of the 3rd, four of us returned to the other end of the portage, and by two o'clock got one of the canoes safe across. Returning again immediately, we arrived with the other a little after dark; one man still remaining across, taking care of the canoe-tackling and camp utensils. The Indians all the day kept dancing and smoking, and it was our interest to keep them so employed as much as possible; and no one knew better how to do so than Mr. Stuart, his eye saw everything at a glance, and his mild and insinuating manners won their affections.

As night came on, the Indians were to be seen divided in groups, as if in consultation; but there appeared no sign of unanimity among them; each chief seemed occupied with his own little band, and we learned that they were not all one people, with one interest, or under one control, and this divided state no doubt added greatly to our safety; for wherever we found one chief alone, he invariably pointed to the others as bad men, calling them sho-sho-nez, or inlanders. Not knowing, however, who were our friends or who our foes, we had to keep a strict watch all night.

August 4, 1811

At daybreak on the 4th, three of our men crossed the portage for the remainder of the goods, and arrived safely at an early hour, but had enough to do to save their kettles from some scamps they met with on the way.

The length of this dry and sandy portage is nine miles; and when it is taken into consideration that we had to go and come all that distance four times in one day, without a drop of water to refresh ourselves, loaded as we were, and under a burning sun, it will be admitted that it was no ordinary task. Under any other circumstances but a struggle between life and death, it could never be performed; but it was too much; the effort was almost beyond human strength, and I may venture to say, all circumstances considered, it will never be done again.

The main camp of the Indians is situated at the head of the narrows, and may contain, during the salmon season, 3,000 souls, or more; but the constant inhabitants of the place do not exceed 100 persons, and are called Wy-am-pams; the rest are all foreigners from different tribes throughout the country, who resort hither, not for the purpose of catching salmon, but chiefly for gambling and speculation; for trade and traffic, not in fish, but in other articles; for the Indians of the plains seldom eat fish, and those of the sea-coast sell, but never buy fish. Fish is their own staple commodity. The articles of traffic brought to this place by the Indians of the interior are generally horses, buffalo-robes, and native tobacco, which they exchange with the natives of the sea-coast and other tribes, for the higua beads and other trinkets. But the natives of the coast seldom come up thus far. Now all these articles generally change hands through gambling, which alone draws so many vagabonds together at this place; because they are always sure to live well here, whereas no other place on the Columbia could support so many people together. The long narrows, therefore, is the great emporium or mart of the Columbia, and the general theatre of gambling and roguery.

We saw great quantities of fish everywhere; but what were they among so many: we could scarcely get a score of salmon to buy. For every fisherman there are fifty idlers, and all the fish caught are generally devoured on the spot; so that the natives of the place can seldom lay up their winter stock until the gambling season is over, and their troublesome visitors gone. All the gamblers, horse-stealers, and other outcasts throughout the country, for hundreds of miles round, make this place their great rendezvous during summer.

The narrows by water are not a great deal longer than the portage by land. At the upper end, during low water, a broad and flat ledge of rocks bars the whole river across, leaving only a small opening or portal, not exceeding forty feet, on the left side, through which the whole body of water must pass. Through this gap it rushes with great impetuosity; the foaming surges dash through the rocks with terrific violence; no craft, either large or small, can venture there in safety. During floods, this obstruction, or ledge of rocks, is covered with water, yet the passage of the narrows is not thereby improved. Immediately above the rocks, the river resembles a small still lake, with scarcely any current.

The general aspect of the country around the long narrows cannot be called agreeable; the place is lone, gloomy, and the surface rugged, barren, and rocky; yet it is cheering in comparison with the dense forests which darken the banks of the river to this place. At the foot of the narrows the whole face of nature is changed, like night into day. There the woody country ceases on both sides of the river at once, and abruptly; the open and barren plains begin. The contrast is sudden, striking, and remarkable. Distance from the cascades to this place seventy miles.

The great bend or elbow of the Columbia is formed by the long narrows: here, on the west side, terminates that long, high, and irregular chain of mountains which lie parallel to the coast, dividing the waters which flow into the Pacific on the west, from those running into the Columbia on the east. This range abounds in beaver and elk, and is often frequented by the industrious hunter. At the Indian tents we saw several small packages of beaver, but we purchased none, our canoes being too small; and, besides, they will always find their way to Astoria. We have all along, however, impressed on the natives the object of our visit to their country, and the value of beaver.

The Indians have been more troublesome, more importunate and forward to-day than at any time since our arrival among them. They often expressed a wish to see what we had in our bales and boxes. The chiefs also gave us to understand that their good offices merited a reward, and they could not comprehend why people who had so much as we were not more liberal. We endeavoured to satisfy their demands, and towards evening the chiefs were invited to sleep in our camp; but for us there was no sleep: there is no rest for the wicked.

August 5, 1811

ON the 5th of August, early in the morning, after making the chiefs a few presents, we proceeded, and had the singular good luck to get off with the loss of only one paddle. As we left the beach, the sullen savages crowded to the water's edge, and in silence stood and gazed at us, as if reproaching themselves for their forbearance. As we proceeded, the banks of the river were literally lined with Indians. Having ascended about seven miles, we arrived at the falls — the great Columbia Falls, as they are generally called; but, from the high floods this year, they were scarcely perceptible, and we passed them without ever getting out of our canoes. In seasons of low water, however, the break or fall is about twenty feet high, and runs across the whole breadth of the river, in an oblique direction. The face of the country about this place is bare, rugged, and rocky, and, to our annoyance, every point was swarming with Indians, all as anxious to get to us as we were to avoid them. Our exertions, and the want of sleep for the last three nights in succession, almost stupefied us, and we were the more anxious to find some quiet resting-place for the night. We halted a short distance above the falls, and there encamped. The current was strong, and rapid the whole of this day. Course, north.

August 6, 1811

On the 6th, after passing a comfortless and almost sleepless night, owing to the crowd of Indians that had collected about us, we were on the water again before sunrise, stemming a strong and rapid current. About a mile from our last encampment, and opposite to a rocky island, the river Lowhum enters the Columbia on the east side [Deschutes River]. Its breadth is considerable, but the depth of water at its mouth is scarcely sufficient to float an Indian canoe, and over the rocky bottom it made a noise like thunder. Proceeding from this place, we observed, a short distance ahead, a very large camp of Indians, and in order to avoid them we crossed over towards the left shore; but found the current so powerful, that we had to lay our paddles aside and take to the lines. In this rather dangerous operation, we had frequently to scramble up among the rocks. Soon after, a few Indians volunteered their services to help us, and we found them very useful; but one of them, while conducting the line round a rock, endeavoured to cut it with a stone; he was detected, however, in the act, and just in time to prevent accident. Had the villain succeeded, not only the goods, but in all likelihood some lives would have been lost. The wind springing up, we hoisted sail; but found the experiment dangerous, owing to the rapidity of the current. We encamped at a late hour without seeing a single Indian. Course as yesterday.

August 7, 1811

On the 7th, early in the morning, we passed the river Day [John Day River, Oregon] — not broad, but pretty deep, and distant about thirty miles from the river Lowhum [Deschutes River, Oregon]. In all directions, the face of the country is one wide and boundless plain, with here and there some trifling inequalities, but not a tree nor bush to be seen. General course as yesterday.

August 8, 1811

On the 8th, after a quiet and comfortable night's rest, we embarked early; and hoisting sail with a fair wind, we scudded along at a good rate till two o'clock in the afternoon, when, all of a sudden, a squall overtook us and broke the mast of one of our canoes, which, in the hurry and confusion of the moment, filled with water, so that we had great difficulty in getting safe to shore.

The day being fine, we set about drying our things, and for that purpose began to spread them out, for every article had got thoroughly soaked; but this task we had no sooner commenced than the Indians flocked about us in great numbers. We therefore soon perceived the impropriety and danger of exhibiting so great a temptation before their eyes. In a few minutes we were almost surrounded by bows and arrows, one volley of which might have extinguished the expedition for ever; and one of the fellows had the audacity to shoot an arrow into one of our bales, as a warning of what might follow. In short, we thought we could read in the savage expression of their countenances some dark design; we therefore immediately commenced loading. Wet and dry were bundled together, and put into the canoes; and in order to amuse for a moment, and attract the attention of the crowd, I laid hold of an axe, and set it up at the distance of eighty yards, then taking up my rifle, drove a ball through it. This manoeuvre had the desired effect. While the Indians stood gazing with amazement at the hole in the axe, our people were not idle. We embarked and got off without a word on either side. Having reached a small, snug island near the Suppa river, we put ashore for the night. Course as yesterday.

August 9, 1811

The 9th, we remained all day encamped drying the goods, and were visited only by the Indians in one canoe, who sold us a fine salmon.

August 10, 1811

On the 10th, at an early hour, we proceeded on our voyage, and met with no obstacle till the evening, when we arrived at the foot of a long and strong rapid [Umatilla Rapids, now the location of McNary Dam], where we encamped near the mouth of a considerable river called Umatallow [Umatilla River], which enters the Columbia here. This river takes its rise in a long range of blue mountains [Blue Mountains], which runs nearly east and west, and forms the northern boundary of the great Snake nation. Opposite to our encampment, on the west side, is situated a large mound or hill of considerable height [Sillusi Butte ???], which, from its lonely situation and peculiar form, we called Dumbarton Castle. During this day we saw many Indians, all occupied in catching salmon. Course as usual.

August 11, 1811

On the 11th we commenced ascending the rapid [Umatilla Rapids, now the location of McNary Dam] — a task which required all our skill and strength to accomplish; and paddles, poles, hauling lines, and carrying-straps were in requisition in turn, and yet half the day was consumed ere we got to the top. At the foot of this rapid, which is a mile in length, the river makes a quick bend to the east for about two miles, then comes gradually round again to the north from the head of the rapid. The channel of the river is studded on both sides with gloomy black rocks arranged like colonnades, for upwards of twenty miles. Here are some sandy islands also, on one of which we encamped; and a dark and cheerless encampment it was, surrounded and shaded by these gloomy heights.

August 12, 1811

On the 12th we left our camp early, and in a short time came to the colonnade rocks, which suddenly terminated in two huge bluffs, one on each side of the river, exactly opposite to each other, like monumental columns [Wallula Gap]. The river between these bluffs lies right south and north. The banks of the river then become low with sand and gravel, and the plains open full to view again, particularly on the east side.

Close under the right bluff [Wallula Gap] issues the meandering Walla-Walla [Walla Walla River], a beautiful little river, lined with weeping willows. It takes its rise in the blue mountains [Blue Mountains] already noticed. At the mouth of the Walla-Walla a large band of Indians were encamped, who expressed a wish that we should pass the day with them. We encamped accordingly; yet for some time not an Indian came near us, and those who had invited us to pass the day with them seemed to have gone away; so that we were at a loss what construction to put upon their shyness. But in the midst of our perplexity we perceived a great body of men issuing from the camp, all armed and painted, and proceeded by three chiefs. The whole array came moving on in solemn and regular order till within twenty yards of our tent. Here the three chiefs harangued us, each in his turn; all the rest giving, every now and then, a vociferous shout of approbation when the speaker happened to utter some emphatical expression. The purport of these harangues was friendly, and as soon as the chiefs had finished they all sat down on the grass in a large circle, when the great calumet of peace was produced, and the smoking began. Soon after the women, decked in their best attire, and painted, arrived, when the dancing and singing commenced — the usual symbols of peace and friendship; and in this pleasing and harmonious mood they passed the whole day.

The men were generally tall, raw-boned, and well dressed; having all buffalo-robes, deer-skin leggings, very white, and most of them garnished with porcupine quills. Their shoes were also trimmed and painted red;— altogether, their appearance indicated wealth. Their voices were strong and masculine, and their language differed from any we had heard before. The women wore garments of well dressed deer-skin down to their heels; many of them richly garnished with beads, higuas, and other trinkets — leggings and shoes similar to those of the men. Their faces were painted red. On the whole, they differed widely in appearance from the piscatory tribes we had seen along the river. The tribes assembled on the present occasion were the Walla-Wallas, the Shaw Haptens, and the Cajouses; forming altogether about fifteen hundred souls. The Shaw Haptens and Cajouses, with part of the Walla-Wallas, were armed with guns, and the others with bows and arrows. The names of the principal chiefs were (in the order of the tribes) Tummatapam, Quill-Quills-Tuck-a-Pesten, and Allowcatt. The plains were literally covered with horses, of which there could not have been less than four thousand in sight of the camp.

August 13, 1811

On the 13th, we prepared to be off as early as possible; but Tummatapam would not let us go till we had breakfasted on some fine fresh salmon. He told us he would be at the forks before us. We then embarked, and continued our voyage. The banks on both sides of the river, above the Walla-Walla [Walla Walla River], are low, and the country agreeable. After passing three islands, we arrived at the forks late in the evening [Snake River merging with the Columbia River], and there encamped for the night. The crowd of Indians assembled at that place was immense, and among the rest was our friend Tummatapam. The Indians smoked, danced, and chanted all night, as usual, while we kept watch in turn.

August 14, 1811

On the 14th, early in the morning, what did we see waving triumphantly in the air, at the confluence of the two great branches [Snake River with the Columbia River], but a British flag, hoisted in the middle of the Indian camp, planted there by Mr. Thompson, as he passed, with a written paper, laying claim to the country north of the forks, as British territory. This edict interdicted the subjects of other states from trading north of that station; and the Indians at first seemed to hint that we could not proceed up the north branch [Columbia River], and were rather disposed to prevent us, by saying, that Koo-Koo-Sint — meaning Mr. Thompson — had told them so, pointing at the same time to the south branch [Snake River], as if to intimate that we might trade there. The chiefs likewise stated that Koo-Koo-Sint had given them such and such things, and among others the British flag, that they should see his commands respected; but that if Mr. Stuart would give them more than Koo-Koo-Sint had done, then he would be the greater chief, and might go where he pleased.

The opposition of the Indians on the present occasion suggested to our minds two things; first, that Mr. Thompson's motive for leaving us at the time he did was to turn the natives against us as he went along, with the view of preventing us from getting further to the north, where the North-West Company had posts of their own; and, secondly, that the tribes about the forks would prefer our going up the south branch, because then we would be in the midst of themselves. But it was our interest then to defeat these schemes, and so completely did we upset Mr. Thompson's plans, that I verily believe had he to pass there again, he would have some difficulty in effecting his purpose. Mr. Thompson's conduct reminds us of the husbandman and the snake in the fable. That he who had been received so kindly, treated so generously, and furnished so liberally by us, should have attempted to incite the Indians against us, in our helpless and almost forlorn state, was conduct which the world must condemn.

At the junction of the two great branches of the Columbia, the country around is open and very pleasant, and seems to be a great resort, or general rendezvous, for the Indians on all important occasions. The southeast branch is known by the name of Lewis's River [Snake River], the north by that of Clarke's [Columbia River], in honour of the first adventurers. They are both large rivers, but the north branch [Columbia River] is considerably the larger of the two. At the junction of their waters, Lewis's River [Snake River] has a muddy or milk-and-water appearance, and is warm; while Clarke's River [Columbia River] is bluish, clear, and very cold. The difference of colour, like a dividing line between the two waters, continues for miles below their junction. These branches would seem, from a rough chart the Indians made us, to be of nearly equal length from the forks — perhaps 700 miles — widening from each other towards the mountains, where the distance between their sources may be 900 miles.

All the tributary rivers entering between this and the falls, a distance of 200 miles, are on the east side. The most important fishing place on the Columbia, after the long narrows ["Long Narrows", Celilo Falls/Wishram], is here, or rather a little below this, towards the Umatallow [Umatilla River]. Yet although the salmon are very fine and large, weighing from fifteen to forty pounds each, they are not taken in the immense quantities which some other countries boast of. A Columbian fisherman considers it a good day's work to kill 100 salmon, whereas, at the Copper-Mine River, a fisherman will kill 1000 a day; and a Kamtschatkan, it is said, will kill, with the same means, 10,000 a day; but if these countries can boast of numbers, the Columbia can boast of a better quality and larger size.

The only European articles seen here with the Indians, and with which they seemed perfectly contented, were guns, and here and there a kettle, or a knife; and, indeed, the fewer the better. They require but little, and the more they get of our manufacture the more unhappy will they be, as the possession of one article naturally creates a desire for another, so that they are never satisfied.

In the afternoon the chiefs held a council, at which Mr. Stuart and myself were present. It was then finally settled that we might proceed up the north branch, and that at all times we might count upon their friendship. This being done, Tummatapam came to our tent, smoked a pipe, and took supper with us; and as he was going off, Mr. Stuart presented him with a suit of his own clothes, which highly pleased the great man. The Indians having retired, we set the watch for the night as usual.

Tummatapam is a middle-aged man, well featured, and of a very agreeable countenance; and what is still better, he is, to all appearance, a good man, was very kind to us, and rendered us considerable service; but the other two chiefs appeared to take precedence of him in all matters of importance.

August 16, 1811

On the 16th, we left the forks and proceeded up the north branch [Columbia River], which to the eye is as broad and deep here as below the forks. About twelve miles up, a small river entered on the west side, called Eyakema [Yakima River]. The landscape at the mouth of the Eyakema surpassed in picturesque beauty anything we had yet seen. Here three Walla-Walla Indians overtook us on horseback, and to our agreeable surprise delivered us a bag of shot which we had left by mistake at our encampment of last night — a convincing proof that there is honesty among Indians; and if I recollect well, a similar circumstance, attesting the probity of the Walla-Wallas, occurred when Lewis and Clarke passed there in 1805. We saw but few Indians to-day, and in the evening we encamped without a night watch, for the first time since we left Astoria [Astoria, Oregon]. General course, north. ...

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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

  • Mountain Men and the Fur Trade website, 2005, 2006;

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