Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Home Regions Campsites Penny Postcards My Corps of Discovery Image Index Links About This Site Main Menu
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.).

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.

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.

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 ...

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.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 21, 1805 ...
A verry cool morning wind from the S. W. we Set out verry early and proceeded on, last night [their previous camp was downstream of Roosevelt, Washington] we could not Collect more dry willows the only fuel, than was barely Suffient to cook Supper, and not a Sufficency to cook brackfast this morning, passd. a Small Island at 5½ miles a large one 8 miles in the middle of the river, Some rapid water at the head and Eight Lodges of nativs opposit its Lower point on the Stard. Side, we came too at those lodges, bought some wood and brackfast. ...     at 2 miles lower passed a rapid, large rocks Stringing into the river of large Size [near Blalock Canyon], opposit to this rapid on the Stard. Shore is Situated two Lodges of the nativs drying fish here we halted a fiew minits to examine the rapid before we entered it which was our constant Custom, and at all that was verry dangerous put out all who could not Swim to walk around, after passing this rapid we proceeded on passed anoothe rapid at 5 miles lower down, above this rapid on <the Stard. Side> five Lodges of Indians fishing &c. [near Rock Creek where they would camp on their return, on April 23, 1806] above this rapid maney large rocks on each Side at Some distance from Shore, one mile passed an Island Close to the Stard. Side, below which is two Lodge of nativs, a little below is a bad rapid which is bad crouded with hugh rocks Scattered in every Direction which renders the pasage verry Difficuelt a little above this rapid on the Lard. Side emence piles of rocks appears as if Sliped from the Clifts under which they lay passed great number of rocks in every direction Scattered in the river 5 Lodges a little below on the Stard. Side, and one lodge on an Island near the Stard. Shore opposit to which is a verry bad rapid, thro which we found much dificuelty in passing, the river is Crouded with rocks in every direction, after Passing this dificult rapid to the mouth of a Small river on the Larboard Side [John Day River] 40 yards wide descharges but little water at this time, and appears to take its Sourse in the Open plains to the S. E.     from this place I proceved Some fiew Small pines on the tops of the high hills and bushes in the hollars. imediately above & below this little river [John Day River] comences a rapid which is crouded with large rocks in every direction, the pasage both crooked and dificuelt, we halted at a Lodge to examine those noumerous islands of rock which apd. to extend maney miles below,—. great numbs. of Indians came in canoes to View us at this place, after passing this rapid which we accomplished without loss; <we passed> winding through between the hugh rocks for about 2 miles—. (from this rapid the Conocil mountain [Mount Hood] is S. W. which the Indians inform me is not far to the left of the great falls; this I call the Timm or falls mountain it is high and the top is covered with Snow) imediately below the last rapids there is four Lodges of Indians on the Stard. Side, proceeded on about two miles lower and landed and encamped near five Lodges of nativs, drying fish [Washington side just downstream of today's John Day Dam] those are the relations of those at the Great falls [Celilo Falls], ...     this part of the river is furnished with fine Springs which either rise high up the Sides of the hills or on the bottom near the river and run into the river. the hills are high and rugid a fiew scattering trees to be Seen on them either Small pine or Scrubey white oke. ...     we made 33 miles to day.

Clark, April 22, 1806 ...
last night 2 of our horses broke loose and Strayed of at a Short distance. at 7 oClock we loaded up and Set out [their camp was two miles upstream of Wishram, Washington, across from the western tip of Miller Island, at the base of Haystack Butte], haveing previously Sent off the Canoe with Colter and Potts   we had not arived at the top of the hill which is 200 feet [Columbia Hills] before Shabonos horse threw off his load and went with great Speed down the hill to the Village ...     and delayed Capt. Lewis and the rear party ...     dureing the time the front of the party was waiting for Cap Lewis, I assended a high hill from which I could plainly See the range of Mountains which runs South [Cascade Mountains] from Mt. Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon] as far as I could See. I also discovered the top of Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon] which is Covered with Snow and is S 10° W. Mt. Hood is S. 30° W. the range of mountains are Covered with timber and also Mt Hood to a sertain hite. The range of Mountains has Snow on them. I also discovered some timbered land in a S. derection from me, Short of the mountains. Clarks river which mouthes imedeately opposit to me [Deschutes River] forks at about 18 or 20 miles, the West fork runs to the Mt Hood and the main branch Runs from S. E.     after Capt Lewis Came up we proceeded on through a open ruged plain about 8 miles to a Village of 6 Houses on the river. here we observed our 2 Canoes passing up on the opposit Side and the Wind too high for them to join us. I halted at the mouth of a run [Historians suggest perhaps Harley Canyon] above the village near Some good grass to let the horses graze and for the party to dine. ...     after we proceeded on up the river about 4 miles to a village of 7 mat Lodges. here our Chopunnish guide informed me that the next villg. was at Some distance and that we Could not get to it to night, and that there was no wood to be precured on this Side. a man offered to Sell us a horse for a Canoe. just at the moment we discovered one of our Canoes on the opposit Side [quite possibly near the mouth of the John Day River].    we concluded to Camp here all night with the expectation of precureing some horses [across from the John Day River]. ...     the air I find extreemly Cold which blows Continularly from Mt. Hoods Snowey regions. ...     we made 14 miles to day with the greatest exirtion. Serjt. Gass & R. Fields joined us with one Canoe this evening. the other Canoe with Colter & pots is a head.

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

  • Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website, 2004;
  • Hay, K.G., 2004, The Lewis and Clark Columbia River Water Trail, Timber Press, Portland;
  • 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.
© 2019, Lyn Topinka, "ColumbiaRiverImages.com", All rights reserved.
Images are NOT to be downloaded from this website.
January 2016