Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Jolie Prairie, Washington"
Includes ... Jolie Prairie ... Belle Vue Point ... Campsite of March 30, 1806 ... Naming of Mount Jefferson ...
Image, 2006, Columbia River from Officers Row, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River and "Jolie Prairie", from Officers Row, Vancouver National Historic Reserve. Green grass in the foreground is the Vancouver Barracks Parade Ground. Image taken August 26, 2006.

"Jolie Prairie" ...
"Jolie Prairie" is the name of the flood plain on the north side of the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 107. In 1829 it became home to the second Fort Vancouver.

"... In 1829, with no significant threat materializing from the Chinook, the initial palisade was abandoned and a new site for the palisade was selected on the river plain known as Jolie Prairie and later as Fort Plain. Driving the move was the decision by HBC Governor George Simpson to make Fort Vancouver the headquarters for the HBC Columbia Department. The Fort Plain site provided open land with rich soils suitable for cultivated fields and pasture, close to the river for access to fresh water and transportation, but above the flood zone. The dense conifer forest to the west and north provided a ready supply of timber, while the freshwater pond near the shore became the nexus for building and other industrial activities. Six miles to the east, streams provided a power source for the first grist and saw mills in the Pacific Northwest. ..." [U.S. National Park Service website, 2005, Fort Vancouver]

Today Jolie Prairie is home to the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, including Fort Vancouver, Pearson Airpark, Vancouver Barracks, Officer's Row, and the condominium/restaurant complex of Columbia Shores.

"Beautiful Prairie" ...
"Jolie Prairie" is French for "beautiful prairie". The prairie was one of many "Plains and Prairies" of the Hudson's Bay Company and was occasionally referred to as "Belle Vue Point". It should not be confused with Belle Vue Point located today on Sauvie Island.

Image, 2004, Jolie Prairie, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
"Jolie Prairie", Vancouver, Washington. Image taken March 8, 2004.
Image, 2004, Jolie Prairie, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Pearson Field, "Jolie Prairie", Vancouver, Washington. View of the Jack Murdock Aviation Center (left) and the Pearson Airpark (right). Mount Hood is in the background. Image taken March 8, 2004.

Lewis and Clark and "Jolie Prairie" ...
Lewis and Clark first passed through this area on November 4, 1805. Ponds, long since gone, once existed in the area.

"... a Small Prarie in which there is a pond opposit on the Stard.     here I landed and walked on Shore, about 3 miles a fine open Prarie for about 1 mile, back of which the countrey rises gradually and wood land comencies ...     a few Cottonwood trees & the Ash of this countrey grow Scattered on the river bank ..." [Clark, November 4, 1805]

On their return upstream on March 30, 1806, Lewis and Clark set up camp in this prairie.

"... we encamped a little before sunset in a beautifull prarie above a large pond ... " [Lewis, March 30, 1806]

"... We had a beautiful day throughout, and in the evening encamped on a handsome prairie in sight of a large pond on the north side of the river. ..." [Gass, March 30, 1806]

"... At sunset we encamp'd at a handsome place on the North side of the River, where the land was Priaries & Groves of White Oak & cotton timber, & the Country laying much lower than the Country below ..." [Whitehouse, March 30, 1806]

Campsite of March 30, 1806 ...
Columbia Shores is a condominium/restaurant/office complex located on the lowlands of the Columbia River once known as "Jolie Prairie". Lewis and Clark spent the night of March 30, 1906, on this "beautifull prarie above a large pond".

Image, 2004, Columbia Shores with Mount Hood, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
March 30, 1806 campsite, looking upstream. "Columbia Shores", Washington, with Mount Hood, Oregon. Image taken January 20, 2004.

Notes from Fort Vancouver National Historic Site website ...
From the U.S. National Park Service, on the history of Fort Vancouver:

"... In 1824, George Simpson, North American governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, ordered the abandonment of Ft. George and the search for a new post on the north side of the Columbia River, Criteria for locating the new post included the desire to strengthen British claims to the land north of the Columbia River, and for the HBC to render themselves '...independent of foreign aid in regard to Subsistence.' The search for suitable terrain -- land lacking steep banks or low, flood prone areas -- ended at Jolie Prairie, about one hundred miles from the mouth of the Columbia River. ..."

In Simpson's early correspondence regarding this site he referred to this prairie as "Belle Vue Point", apparently in the belief it was the same point of land named in 1792 by Lieutenant Broughton of the Captain George Vancouver Expedition. Today historian's believe Broughton's "Belle Vue Point" was located downstream either on the eastern tip of Sauvie Island, or it was the point today called Kelley Point.

"... The site of Fort Vancouver, called Jolie Prairie, was located near a Chinook Indian village named Ske-chew-twa that was located on the site of the W.W.I. Kaiser Shipyards. Jolie Prairie was later named Fort Plain by the Hudson's Bay Company, and became the core of Fort Vancouver. The first stockade, which operated between 1825 and 1828, was located about three quarters of a mile from the river on the edge of a terrace. This location, sixty feet above the low-lying river plain, offered protection from floods and served as a strategic defensive position from the undetermined threat of native Chinook Indians. The naturally occurring plain provided open land for agriculture, and grass for livestock pasture. The coniferous forests surrounding the plains provided a ready supply of timber for fuel and building materials. The streams on Mill Plain, six miles east of Fort Plain, provided a power source for both a grist mill and a saw mill. ..."

"... At its height, development at Fort Vancouver was located in three large prairies called Fort Plain, Lower Plain and Mill Plain, and five smaller prairies to the northeast called the Back Plains (First Plain, Second Plain, Third Plain, Fourth Plain, Fifth Plain and Camas Plain). ..."

[More Belle Vue Point]
[More Plains and Prairies]

Oregon White Oak at "Jolie Prairie" ...
Lewis and Clark's camp of March 30, 1806, near today's Vancouver, Washington, was in a beautiful prairie lined with groves of Oregon White Oak.

"... here we encamped a little before sunset in a beautifull prarie above a large pond having traveled 23 M. I took a walk of a few miles through the prarie and an open grove of oak timber which borders the prarie on the back part. ..." [Lewis, March 30, 1806]

"... about Sunset we Camped at a handsom prarie & Groves of oak timber &C the country is lower & more Smooth than below. ..." [Ordway, March 30, 1806]

"... At sunset we encamp'd at a handsome place on the North side of the River, where the land was Priaries & Groves of White Oak & cotton timber, & the Country laying much lower than the Country below ..." [Whitehouse, March 30, 1806]

A part of this "beautiful prairie" is today's Parade Grounds for the Vancouver Barracks. Oregon White Oak still exists on the Parade Grounds, including two large trees which may date from the 1850s.

"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards". The "Penny Postcard" became a popular way to send greetings to friends and family. Today the "Penny Postcard" has become an image of history.

Penny Postcard, Mount Hood from Vancouver Barracks, ca.1909
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Mount Hood, Oregon, from Vancouver Barracks, Washington, ca.1909. Penny Postcard, Postmarked 1909. Caption on top reads: "Mount Hood from Vancouver Barracks, Vancouver, Wash.". Published by Portland Post Card Company, Portland, Oregon. Card #1010. Divided back, card is postmarked July 1, 1909. This area was known as "Jolie Prairie", today the location of Fort Vancouver, Vancouver Barracks, Pearson Airfield, and Vancouver industry and condominiums. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 4, 1805 ...
A cloudy cool morning wind from the West we Set out at 1/2 past 8 oClock [from their camp on the north side of Government Island, approximately across from Fisher's Landing], one man Shannon Set out early to walk on the Island [Government Island] to kill Something, he joined us at the lower point with a Buck. This island is 6 miles long and near 3 miles wide thinly timbered     (Tide rose last night 18 inches perpndicular at Camp) near the lower point of this diamond Island [Government Island] is The head of a large Island Seperated from a Small one by a narrow chanel [Lewis and Clark show two large islands on their maps, both in today's Government Island area], and both Situated nearest the Lard Side, those Islands [even today the Government Island reach is a complex of many islands] as also the bottoms are thickly Covered with Pine &c. river wide, Country low on both Sides; [since 1983 the Interstate 205 bridge crosses Government Island connecting Oregon to Washington]     on the Main Lard Shore a Short distance below the last Island we landed at a village of 25 Houses: [near Portland International Airport]; ...     This village contains about 200 men of the Skil-loot nation ...

at 7 miles below this village passed the upper point of a large Island [Hayden Island] nearest the Lard Side, a Small Prarie [Jolie Prairie, today the location of Fort Vancouver and Pearson Airpark. Lewis and Clark camp on this prairie on their return] in which there is a pond [one of the many ponds which use to dot this area] opposit on the Stard. here I landed and walked on Shore, about 3 miles a fine open Prarie for about 1 mile, back of which the countrey rises gradually and wood land comencies Such as white oake, pine of different kinds, wild crabs with the taste and flavour of the common crab and Several Species of undergroth of which I am not acquainted, a few Cottonwood trees & the Ash of this countrey grow Scattered on the river bank, ...     joined Capt. Lewis at a place he had landed with the party for Diner. ...

dureing the time we were at dinner those fellows Stold my pipe Tomahawk which They were Smoking with [Tomahawk pipe, thus giving rise to the name Tomahawk Island] ...    we proceeded on

[The men have passed through the area which, 20 years later, Dr. John McLoughlin would choose for a trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company, later to become Fort Vancouver and eventually the city of Vancouver, Washington.]

met a large & a Small Canoe from below, with 12 men the large Canoe was ornimented with Images carved in wood the figures of <man &> a Bear in front & a man in Stern, Painted & fixed verry netely on the <bow & Stern> of the Canoe, rising to near the hight of a man [Lewis and Clark then named Hayden Island "Image Canoe Island"]     two Indians verry finely Dressed & with hats on was in this canoe passed the lower point of the Island [Hayden Island] which is nine miles in length haveing passed 2 Islands on the Stard Side of this large Island [the location of Vancouver Landing and since 1917 the Interstate 5 Bridge connecting Oregon to Washington State], three Small Islands at its lower point [The downstream end of Hayden Island was at one time composed of small islands. One of these, Pearcy Island, would become today's Kelley Point.]. the Indians make Signs that a village is Situated back of those Islands on the Lard. Side and I believe that a Chanel is Still on the Lrd. Side [it wasn't until Lewis and Clark's return trip they would discover the mouth of the Willamette River] as a Canoe passed in between the Small Islands, and made Signs that way, probably to traffick with Some of the nativs liveing on another Chanel, at 3 miles lower [Sauvie Island is located at this stretch, but it is not until the return that Lewis and Clark recognize it as a separate island], and 12 Leagues below quick Sand river [Sandy River] passed a village of four large houses on The Lard. Side [on Sauvie Island], near which we had a full view of Mt. Helien [Mount St. Helens, Washington] which is perhaps the highest pinical in America from their base it bears N. 25 E about 90 miles- This is the mountain I Saw from the Muscle Shell rapid [Umatilla Rapids, Captain Clark actually saw Mount Adams] on the 19th of October last Covered with Snow, it rises Something in the form of a Sugar lofe- about a mile lower passed a Single house on the Lard. Side, and one on the Stard. Side, passed a village on each Side and Camped near a house on the Stard. Side [Post Office Lake vicinity, today within the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge] we proceeded on untill one hour after dark with a view to get clear of the nativs who was constantly about us, and troublesom, finding that we could not get Shut of those people for one night, we landed and Encamped on the Stard. Side ...

This evening we Saw vines much resembling the raspberry which is verry thick in the bottoms. A range of high hills at about 5 miles on the Lard Side [Portland's West Hills'] which runs S. E. & N W. Covered with tall timber the bottoms below in this range of hills and the river is rich and leavel, Saw White geese with a part of their wings black. The river here is 1 miles wide, and current jentle. opposite to our camp on a Small Sandy Island [one of the small sandy islands prevelent in this stretch of the Columbia. Today the Willow Bar Islands on the east side of Sauvie Island lie across from Post Office Lake.] the brant & geese make Such a noise that it will be impossible for me to Sleap. we made 29 miles to day

Clark, March 30, 1806 ...
we got under way verry early [from their camp near Wapato Portage] and had not proceeded to the head of the island [Bachelor Island] before we met with the three men of the Clan-nar-min-a-mon's who met us yesterday brackfast at the upper point of the Island [Bachelor Island] we met Several of the Clackstar and Cath-lah-cum-up in two canoes. Soon after we were overtaken by Several Canoes of different tribes who reside on each Side of the river the three above Tribes and the Clh-in-na-ta cathy-lah-nah-qui-up & Cath-lah-com-mah-tup reside on each Side of Wappato inlet [Multnomah Channel] and back of Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] which Island is formed by a Small Chanel which passes from the Lower part of Image Canoe Island [Hayden Island] into an inlet which makes in from the S W. Side, and receves the water of a Creek which heads with the Kil a mox River. this wappato Island [Sauvie Island] is about 18 or 20 Miles long and in places from 6 to 10 miles wide high & furtile with ponds on different parts of it in which the nativs geather Wappato. nearly opposit the upper point of the Isld. behing which we encamped last night, or on the Wappato Isld. is Several Camps of the nativs catching Sturgion. about 5 miles Still higher up and on the N E. Side we halted for brackfast at the place which We had encamped the 4th of November last [near Post Office Lake, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge]. here we were visited by several canoes of Indians from two Towns a Short distance above on the Wappato Island [Sauvie Island]. the 1st of those Tribes Call themselves Clan-nah-quah and Situated about 2 miles above us, the other about a mile above Call themselves Mult-no-mah ...     at 10 a. m. we Set out and had not proceeded far before we came to a landing place where there was Several large canoes hauled up, and Sitting in a canoe, appearantly waiting our arival with a view to join the fleet indian who was then along Side of us. this man informed he was a Shoto and that his nation resided a little distance from the river. we landed and one of the indians pointed to the Shoto village which is Situated back of Pond [Vancouver Lake] which lies parrelal with the river on the N E. Side nearly opposit the Clan-nah quah village. here we were also joined by Several Canoes loaded with the natives from the Island who Continued to accompany us untill about 4 oClock when they all returned and we proceeded on to the place the Indians Stole my Tomahawk 4th Novr. last [Hayden Island] and Encamped in a Small Prarie ["Jolie Prairie" where Fort Vancouver and Pearson Airpark would some day be located] above a large Pond on N. E and opposit the Center of image Canoe Island [Hayden Island]. capt Lewis walked out and Saw Several deer. Jo. Field Shot at Elk he killed and brought in a fine duck. ...     we made 22 Miles only to day the wind and a Strong current being against us all day, with rain. discovered a high mountain S E. Covered with Snow which we call Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon]

Lewis, March 30, 1806 ...
We got under way very early in the morning [their camp at Wapato Portage], and had not reached the head of the island [Bachelor Island] before we were met by three men of the Clan-nah-min-na-mun nation one of whom we recognized being the same who had accompanied us yesterday, and who was very pressing in his entreaties that we should visit his nation on the inlet [Multnomah Channel] S. W. of Wappetoe island [Sauvie Island]. at the distance of about 2 M. or at the head of the quathlahpahtle island [Bachelor Island] we met a party of the Claxtars and Cathlahcumups in two canoes; soon after we were met by several canoes of the different nations who reside on each side of the river near this place. Wappetoe Island [Sauvie Island] is about 20 miles long and from 5 to 10 in width; the land is high and extreemly fertile and intersected in many parts with ponds which produce great quantities of the sagittaria Sagittifolia, the bulb of which the natives call wappetoe. there is a heavy growth of Cottonwood, ash, the large leafed ash and sweet willow on most parts of this island. the black alder common on the coast has now disappeared. we passed several fishing camps on wappetoe island and at the distance of 5 miles above quathlahpotle Island [Bachelor Island] on the N. E. side we halted for breakfast near the place we had encamped on the evening of the 4th of November last [near Post Office Lake, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge]; here we were visited by several canoes which came off from two towns situated a little distance above us on wappetoe Island. the 1st of these tribes about 2 miles above us call themselves Clan-nah-quah, the other about a mile above them call themselves Mult-no-mah. ...    at 10 A. M. we set out and had not proceeded far before we came to a landing place of the natives where there were several large canoes drawn out on shore and several natives seting in a canoe apparently waiting our arrival; they joined the fleet and continued with us some miles. we halted a few minutes at this landing and the Indians pointed to a village which was situated abut 2 miles from the river behid a pond [Vancouver Lake] lying parallel with it on the N. E. side nearly opposite to the Clan-nah-quah town. here they informed us that the Sho-toes resided. here we were joined by several other canoes of natives from the Island. ...   :  we continued our rout along the N. E. shore of the river to the place we had halted to dine on the 4th of Novembr opposite to the center of Immage canoe island [Hayden Island] where the Indians stole Capt. Clarks tomahawk. here we encamped a little before sunset in a beautifull prarie ["Jolie Prairie"] above a large pond having traveled 23 M. I took a walk of a few miles through the prarie and an open grove of oak timber which borders the prarie on the back part. [today the area of Pearson Field and Fort Vancouver]    I saw 4 deer in the course of my walk and much appearance of both Elk and deer. Joseph feields who was also out a little above me saw several Elk and deer but killed none of them; they are very shye and the annual furn which is now dry and abundant in the bottoms makes so much nois in passing through it that it is extreemly difficult to get within reach of the game. Feilds killed and brought with him a duck. ...   :  The timber and apearance of the country is much as before discribed. the up lands are covered almost entirely with a heavy growth of fir of several speceis like those discribed in the neighbourhood of Fort Clatsop; the white cedar is also found here of large size; no white pine nor pine of any other kind. we had a view of mount St. helines [Mount St. Helens, Washington] and Mount Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon]. the 1st is the most noble looking object of it's kind in nature. it's figure is a regular cone. both these mountains are perfectly covered with snow; at least the parts of them which are visible. the highlands in this valley are rolling tho' by no means too steep for cultivation they are generally fertile of a dark rich loam and tolerably free of stones. this valley is terminated on its lower side by the mountanous country which borders the coast, and above by the rainge of mountains [Cascade Mountain Range] which pass the Columbia between the great falls and rapids of the Columbia river. it is about 70 miles wide on a direct line and it's length I beleive to be very extensive tho' how far I cannot determine. this valley would be copetent to the mantainance of 40 or 50 thousand souls if properly cultivated and is indeed the only desireable situation for a settlement which I have seen on the West side of the Rocky mountains.

Vancouver PlainsReturn 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

  • U.S. National Park Service website, 2005, "Fort Vancouver National Historic Site";

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.
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September 2008