Discovering the Region: Commentary

7. William Clark, Account of Travels Down the Columbia River

Because the writings of Lewis and Clark are so widely available in books and on-line, we have selected a very small portion of their journals to include here. In this section William Clark wrote about the expedition’s experiences along the lower Columbia, reactions to reaching the end of the westward journey, feelings about the wet Northwest weather, and the decision as to where to set up camp for the winter of 1805-1806. The explorers ultimately wintered at Fort Clatsop, near present-day Astoria, Oregon. Even before they set up that outpost, they had become familiar with the torrential rains that come to the Northwest coast. These rains likely had a strong impact on the mood of the explorers. Some scholars have argued that Meriwether Lewis had bouts of clinical depression; if true, as seems likely, one can only imagine the gloomy weather’s effect on him.

William Clark’s entries deserve attention for several reasons. First, one should note that this edition includes both a first and a final draft of each entry. Readers can see how some time for reflection altered Clark’s initial rendering of a day’s events. Second, Clark offered quite detailed observations of Indian peoples, wildlife, the nature of the river, and so on. In one selected passage, for example, he recorded the length of a vulture’s toe nail. In some ways, no detail seemed beneath his notice. Yet there are other things about which we wish he had said more. Third, Clark’s variant spellings have earned him quite a reputation. Although his was an extreme case, American grammar in the early nineteenth century did not yet prize great consistency. Fourth, pay close attention to Clark’s first draft on November 24, when he recorded the results of his consultation with members of the expedition as to where to locate winter quarters. This consultation is the focus of the next text.

Reading the Region Home Discovering the Region Main Discovering the Region: Commentary Discovering the Region: Texts
Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest