Lewis and Clark's Columbia River

"Wilkes Expedition, 1841"
U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 ...
"Columbia River to Cascade Locks"
In 1836, Congress approved the sum of $300,000 for a purely scientific exploratory expedition. The expedition, known as the "U.S. Exploring Expedition", and headed by Charles Wilkes, left in 1838 and returned in 1842, after exploring parts of the Pacific Northwest in 1841, including a journey up the Columbia River as far as the area of today's Cascade Locks.

Excerpts from:
Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. By Charles Wilkes, U.S.N., Commander of the Expedition ... In Five Volumes, and an Atlas ... Vol. IV, Vol.V, 1844; and Hydrography by Capt. Charles Wilkes, U.S.N., Vol.XXIII, 1861, Chapter XVII; and Geology by James D. Dana, A.M..

Under Construction ...

May 20, 1841

[written while at the Chehelis River, Washington, on their way to the Columbia River]

Hanging around their lodges were hundreds of lamprey eels, from a foot to eighteen inches long, and about an inch in diameter. We were told that these fish are caught in great quantities, and dried for food; they are also used for candles or torches; for, being full of oil, they burn brightly. ...

These Indians had a quantity of the cammass-root, which they had stored in baskets. It is a kind of sweet squills, and about the size of a small onion. It is extremely abundant on the open prairies, and particularly on those which are overflowed by small streams. ...

May 22, 1841

In the morning we had a view of the somewhat famous Astoria [Astoria, Oregon], which is any thing but what I should wish to describe. Half a dozen log houses, with as many sheds, and a pig-sty or two, are all that it can boast of, and even these appear to be rapidly going to decay.

The Company pay little regard to it, and the idea of holding or improving it as a post, has long since been given up. The headquarters of their operations have been removed to Vancouver [Fort Vancouver], eighty miles further up the river, since which Astoria has merely been held for the convenience of their vessels. It boasts of but one field, and that was in potatoes, which I can, however, vouch for as being very fine. In former times it had its gardens, forts, and banqueting halls; and from all accounds, when it was the head-quarters of the Northwest Company, during their rivalship with the Hudson bay Company, there was as jovial a set residing here, as ever were met together. I have had the pleasure of meeting with several of the survivors, who have recounted their banquetings, &c.

In point of beauty of situation, few places will vie with Astoria. It is situated on the south side of the Columbia river, eleven miles from cape Disappointment [Cape Disappointment, Washington], as the crow flies. From Astoria there is a fine view of the high promontory of Cape Disappointment, and the ocean bounding it on the west; the Chinook Hills [Scarboro Hill and Chinook Point area] and Point Ellice [Point Ellice], with its rugged peak, on the north; Tongue Point [Tongue Point] and Katalamet Range on the east; and a high background, bristling with lofty pines, to the south. The ground rises from the river gradually to the top of a ridge five hundred feet in elevation. This was originally covered with a thick forest of poines: that part reclaimed by the first occupants is again growing up in brushwood. From all parts of the ground the broad surface of the river is in view.

Heading to Fort Vancouver, end of May or early June, 1841

The scenery before reaching the lower mouth of the Willamette [Willamette River], is diversified with high and low land, which, together with three lofty snowy peaks, afford many fine views. [Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier]. The country begins to open here, and is much better adapted to agriculture than that lower down.

At Warrior Point [Warrior Point, northernmost tip of Sauvie Island] we entered the Callepuya [Lake River] , for the purpose of avoiding the current of the river. At this time of the year this branch forms and extensive range of lakes, which reaches to within a mile of Vancouver. The river was now high enough to make it convenient for us to take his route. Shortly after entering the Callepuya, we were obliged to encamp [location of today's Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge], which we did in rather an inauspicious-looking place; but the bank had not yet absorbed sufficient moisture to make it even wet or damp. ... On the approach to Vancouver, we passed one of the dairies, and some rich meadow-land, on which were grazing herds of fine cattle. We afterwards saw some flocks of sheep of the best English and Spanish breeds. ...

It becoming necessary to make a short portage within a mile of Vancouver, we concluded to walk thither by the road ...

We came in at the back part of the village, which consists of about fifty comfortable log houses, placed in regular order on each side of the road. They are inhabited by the Company's servants, and were swarming with children, whites, half-breeds, and pure Indians. The fort [Fort Vancouver] stands at some distance beyond the village, and to the eye appears like an upright wall of pickets, twenty-five feet high: this encloses the houses, shops, and magazines of the Company. The enclosure contains about four acres, which appear to be under full cultivation. Beyond the fort, large granaries were to be seen. At one end is Dr. M'Laughlin's house, built after the model of the French Canadian, of one story, weather-boarded and painted white. It has a piazza and small flower-beds, with grape and other vines, in front. Between the steps are two old cannons on sea-carriages, with a few shot, to spead defiance to the natives, who no doubt look upon them as very formidable weapons of destruction. I mention these, as they are the only warlike instruments to my knowledge that are within the pickets of Vancouver, which differs from all the other forts in having no bastions, galleries, or loop-holes. Near by are the rooms for the clerks and visiters, with the blacksmiths' and coopers' shops. In the centre stands the Roman Catholic chapel, and near by the flag-staff; beyond these again are the stores, magazines of powder, warerooms, and offices. ...

The situation of Vancouver [Fort Vancouver] is favourable for agricultural purposes, and it may be said to be the head of navigation for sea-going vessels. A vessel of fourteen feet draft of water, may reach it in the lowest state of the river. The Columbia at this point makes a considerable angle, and is divided by two islands [Hayden Island], which extend upwards about three miles, to where the upper branch of the Willamette [Willamette River, the "lower branch" of the Willamette is today's Multnomah Channel] joins it. The shores of these islands are covered with trees, consisting of ash, poplars, pines, and oaks, while the centre is generally prairie, and lower than the banks: they are principally composed of sand. During the rise of the river in May and June, the islands are covered with water, that filters through the banks that are not overflowed. This influx renders them unfit for grain crops, as the coldness of the water invariably destroys every cultivated plant it touches.

The Company's establishment at Vancouver [Fort Vancouver] is upon an extensive scale, and is worthy of the vast interest of which it is the centre. ...

Every thing may be had within the fort: they have an extensive apothecary shop, a bakery, blacksmiths' and coopers' shops, trade-offices for buying, others for selling, others again for keeping accounts and transacting business; shops for retail, where English manufactured articles may be purchased at as low a price, if not cheaper, than in the United States, consisting of cotton and woolen goods, ready made clothing, ship chandlery, earthen and iron ware, and fancy articles; in short, every thing, and of every kind and description, including all sorts of groceries, at an advance of eighty per cent. ...

Vancouver is the head-quarters of the Northwest of Columbian Department, which also includes New Caledonia; all the returns of furs are received here, and hither all accounts are transmitted for settlement. ...

Vancouver is a large manufacturing, agricultural, and commercial depot, and there are few if any idlers, except the sick. Everybody seems to be in a hurry, whilst there appears to be no obvious reason for it. ...

The interior of the houses in the fort are unpretending. They are simply finished with pine board panels, without any paint: bunks are built for bedsteads; but the whole, though plain, is as comfortable as could be desired. ...

There are two large entrance gates to the 'fort' for wagons and carts, and one in the rear leading to the granaries and garden: the latter is quite extensive, occupying four or five acres, and contains all kinds of vegetables and many kinds of fruit, with which the tables are abundantly supplied by the gardener, 'Billy Bruce'. ...

Besides the store-houses there is also a granary, which is a frame building of two stories, and the only one, the rest being built of logs. In addition to these, there are extensive kitchens and apartments for the half-breed and Indian children that the Company have taken to bring up and educate. ...

The farm at Vancouver is about nine miles square. On this they ahve two dairies, and milk upwards of one hundred cows. There are also two other dairies, situated on Wapauto Island [Sauvie Island] on the Willamette [Willamette River], where they have one hundred and fifty cows, whose milk is employed, under the direction of imported dairymen, in making butter and cheese for the Russian settlements.

They have likewise a grist and saw mill, both well constructed, about six miles above Vancouver, on the Columbia river. [near the location of today's Vancouver Trout Hatchery]

One afternoon, we rode with Mr. Douglass to visit the dairy-farm, which lies to the west of Vancouver, on the Callepuya [Lake River]. This was one of the most beautiful rides I had yet taken, through fine prairies, adorned with large oaks, ash, and pines. ...

May 29, 1841

In one of our rides we visited the site of the first fort at Vancouver: it is less than a mile from the present position, and is just on the brow of the upper prairie. The view from this place is truly beautiful: the noble river can be traced in all its windings, for a long distance through the cultivated prairie, with its groves and clumps of trees; beyond, the eye sweeps over an interminable forest, melting into a blue haze, from which Mount Hood, capped with its eternal snows, rises in great beauty. The tints of purple which appear in the atmosphere, are, so far as I am aware, peculiar to this country. This site was abandoned, in consequence of the difficulty of obtaining water, and its distance from the river, which compelled them to transport every article up a high and rugged road. The latter difficulty was encountered in the first location on the upper prairie, because it was said that the lower one was occasionally flooded; but altho this may have happened formerly, it is not found to occur at present.

I also visited the grist-mill, which is situated on a small stream, but owing to the height of the river, which threw a quantity of backwater on the wheel, it was not in action. The mill has one run of stones, and is a well-built edifice. Annexed to it is the house of the miller, who is also the watchmaker of the neighbourhood. The mill is amply sufficient for all the wants of the Company, and of the surrounding country. The saw-mill is two miles beyond the grist-mill. A similar mistake has been made in choosing its position, for the mill is placed so low that for the part of the season when they have most water, they are unable to use it. There are in it several runs of saws, and it is remarkably well built. In few buildings, indeed, can such materials be seen as are here used. The quality of timber cut into boards, is inferior to what we should deem merchantable in the United States, and is little bettr than our hemlock. The boards are shipped to the Sandwich Islands, and we here found the brig Wave taking in a cargo of lumber. These boards sell at Oahu for eighty dollars per thousand. I could not ascertain their cost here. About twenty men (Canadians and Sandwich Islanders) are employed at the mill.

They have a large smith's shop here, which, besides doing the work of the mill, makes all the axes and hatchets used by the trappers. The iron and steel are imported: the tools are manufactured at a much less price than those imported, and are mor to be depended on. ... Fifty of them it is said, can be manufactured in a day, and twenty-five are accounted an ordinary day's work. They are eagerly sought after by the Indians, who are very particular that the axe should have a certain shape, somewhat like a tomahawk.

From the mill we crossed over to one of the sheep-walks on the high prairie. The soil on this is a light sandy loam, which yields a plentiful crop of columbine, lupine, and cammass flowers. Throughout these upper prairies, in places, are seen growing pines of gigantic dimensions and towering height, with their branches drooping to the ground, with clumps of oaks, elders, and maple. These prairies have such an air of being artificially kept in order, that they never cease to create surprise, and it is difficult to believe that the hand of taste and refinement has not been at work upon them.

June 27, 1841 ... (vol.IV, chapter XI, p.379)

On the 27th June, they were off at early dawn, took their breakfast at Prairie du The [Washougal, Washington], and reached the Company's fishery, at the Cascades, at 6 p.m., where they encamped. This is the head of ship navigation [Cascade Rapids], where the river takes a turn northward, and for upwards of two miles is comparatively narrow -- four hundred and fifty yards wide. It falls in this distance about forty feet, and the whole body of water drives through this narrow channel with great impetuosity, forming high waves and fearful whirlpools, too dangerous to be encountered by any boat. When the river is low, these rapids are sometimes passed by skilful boatmen, but there have been many lives lost in the attempt.

The country bordering on the river is low until the Cascades are approached, with the exception of several high basaltic bluffs. Some of them are two hundred feet high, pointed like turreted castles [such as St. Peters Dome and Rock of Ages]. ...

The river, thus far, is navigated by seeking out the eddies. The great difficulty is found in doubling the points, which are at times impassable, except by tracking and poling. ...

At the Cascades, during the fishing season, there are about three hundred Indians, only about one-tenth of whom are residents: they occupy three lodges; but there was formerly a large town here. Great quantities of fish are taken by them; and the manner of doing this resembles that at the Willamette Falls. They also construct canals, on a line parallel with the shore, with rocks and stones, for about fifty feet in length, through which the fish pass in order to avoid the strong current, and are here taken in great numbers.

There are two portages here, under the names of the new and the old. At the first, only half of the load is landed, and the boats are tracked up for half a mile further, when the load is again shipped. The boats are then tracked to the old portage. A strong eddy occurs at this place, which runs in an opposite direction; and here it is necessary to land the whole of the cargo; after which, the empty boats are again tracked three-quarters of a mile beyond. ...

June 29, 1841

A short distance above the Cascades, they passed the locality of the sunken forest, which was at the time entirely submerged. Mr. Drayton, on his return, visited the place, and the water had fallen so much as to expose the stumps to view; they were of pine, and quite rotten, so much so that they broke when they were taken hold of. He is of opinion that the point on which the pine forest stands, has been undermined by the great currents during the freshets; and that it has sunk bodily down until the trees were entirely submerged. The whole mass appears to be so matted together by the roots as to prevent their separation. Changes, by the same undermining process, were observed to be going on continually in other parts of the river.

June 30, 1841 ... (p.381)

On the 30th of June, they had a favourable wind, but it blew so hard that they were obliged to reef their sail, and afterwards found the waves and wind too heavy for them to run without great danger; they in consequence put on shore to wait until it abated. ...

In the evening, they reached within seven miles of the Dalles, and four below the mission. Here the roar of the water at the Dalles was heard distinctly.

The country had now assumed a different aspect; the trees began to decrease in number, and the land to look dry and burnt up. ...

July 1, 1841

In the morning they were again on their route, and reached Little river, [Mill Creek]    from which the station of the Methodist Mission is three-fourths of a mile distant. ...

The mission consists of two log and board houses, hewn, sawed, and built by themselves, with a small barn, and several out-houses. The buildings are situated on high ground, among scattered oaks, and immediately in the rear is an extensive wood of oaks and pines, with numerous sharp and jagged knolls and obelisk-looking pillars of conglomerate, interspersed among basaltic rocks: in front is an alluvial plain, having a gradual descent towards the river, and extending to the right and left. This contains about two thousand acres of good land, well supplied with springs, with Little river, and other smaller streams passing through it. ...

The river, between the Cascades and the Dalles, a distance of forty miles, has no rapids, and is navigable for vessels drawing twelve feet of water. It passes through high rocky banks of basalt. ...

The mission is three miles from the Dalles. ...

The Dalles is one of the most remarkable places upon the Columbia. The river is here compressed into a narrow channel, three hundred feet wide, and half a mile long; the walls are perpendicular, flat on the top, and composed of basalt; the river forms an elbow, being situated in an amphitheatre, extending several miles to the northwest, and closed in by a high basaltic wall. From appearances, one is lead to conclude that in former times the river made a straight course over the whole; but, having the channel deeper, is now confined within the present limits. ...

Besides the main channel, there are four or five other small canals, through which the water passes when the river is high: these are but a few feet across. The river falls about fifty feet in the distance of two miles, and the greatest rise between high and low water mark, is sixty-two feet. This great rise is caused by accumulation of water in the river above, which is dammed by this narrow pass, and is constantly increasing, until it backs the waters, and overflows many low grounds and islands above. The tremendous roar arising from the rushing of the river through this outlet, with the many whirlpools and eddies which it causes, may be more readily imagined than described. ...

July 4, 1841 ... (p.385)

On the morning of the 4th July, they began to pass the portage, which is a mile in length. It is very rugged, and the weather being exceedingly warm, ...    It required seventy men to transport the boats, which were carried over bottom upwards, the gunwale resting on the men's shoulders. By night all was safely transported ...

From the high hills on the southern bank of the river, there is an extensive view of the country to the south. The distant part of this prospect was made up of rolling, barren, and arid hills. These hills, as well as the country nearer at hand, were covered with a natural hay or bunch-grass, which affords very nutritious food for cattle. ...

The missionaries have been stationed at the Dalles since 1838. ...

July 3, 1841 ... (p.387)

At daylight, on the 3d July, the goods were all embarked. When they reached the Chutes [Deschutes River], they again made a portage of their goods for a quarter of a mile, and in an hour and a half they were again on their way. During very high water, the fall, whence the place takes its name, is not visible, but when it is low, there is a fall of ten feet perpendicular, that occupies nearly the whole breadth of the river [Celilo Falls]. It is impossible to pass this fall at low water; but when the river swollen, boats shoot it with ease and safety. The Columbia, from the Chutes as far as John Day's river, is filled with rocks, which occasion dangerous rapids. The boats were, in consequence, tracked for the whole distance.

After passing the Dalles, and entirely new description of country is entered, for the line of woods extends no farther. The last tree stands on the south side of the river, and is named Ogden's Tree on our map [Lone Pine]: it is about six miles above the Dalles. The woods terminate at about the same distance from the coast in all parts of this region south of the parallel of 48o N.

The country between these places is decidedly volcanic, and the banks on either side of the river are rocky and high. ...

There are a number of villages in this neighbourhood, and among them Wisham, mentioned in Irving's Astoria. This is situated on the left bank of the river, and its proper name is Niculuita; Wisham being the name of the old chief, long since dead. There are now in this village about forty good lodges, built of split boards, with a roof of cedar bark, as before described. The Indians that live here seem much superior to those of the other villages ...

At John Day's river [John Day River] great quantities of salmon are taken, and there are, in consequence, many temporary lodges here. Notwithstanding this is a rocky region, there are vast quantities of fine sand deposited every where, which is brought down the river. On this the encampments are necessarily made; and the sand is exceedingly dry and hot, which renders the camping disagreeable. There are few places more uncomfortable; for a basaltic wall rises nine hundred or a thousand feet within two hundred yards of the camp, which reflects the sun's rays down upon the beach of white sand, rendering the atmosphere almost insupportable. ...

July 4-5, 1841

The brigade, as usual, set out early, and with the sun there arose a fine breeze, which carried them briskly onwards. About eight miles above their encampment they came to the Hieroglyphic Rocks. These area about twenty feet high, and on them are supposed to be recorded the deeds of some former tribe. They passed so quickly that Mr. Drayton could make only two hasty sketches of them; and it is to be regretted that they were not sufficiently perfect to allow of their being given in this place.

After passing John Day's river [John Day River], the country becomes much lower and more arid, and the current comparatively less. The weather was exceedingly hot, and the drifting sands were in greater quantities than before, so much so that whole islands were passed entirely composed of the sand. They now arrived at the long reach, just below Grand Island; the country becoming sandy and so flat as to give a view of the Grand Rapid Hills. It has the appearance of having been, at no very remote period, the bed of an extensive lake. ...   The distance made this day was fifty-seven miles, for which they were indebted to the breeze. The day before, they made only sixteen miles.

July 6, 1841 ... (p.390)

On the 6th of July the brigade reached the foot of the Grand Rapids, up which the boats were tracked. They afterwards passed along the foot of Grand Rapid Hills, which are composed of basalt, old lava, and scoria. Theses hills are steep on the river-side, and are fast crumbling away and falling into the stream.

Eighteen miles below Wallawalla [Walla Walla River] they passed the Windmill Rock [Hat Rock ???], about which are a number of curious basaltic peaks. On approaching Wallawalla the scenery becomes grand: the country is broken into volcanic peaks, forming many fantastic shapes, resembling figures and colossal heads: many of them are seen either insulated or in groups; some of them are known under the name of the Nine-pins [???]. Through this pass of volcanic rocks [Wallula Gap] the wind rushes with great violence in summer, to supply the rarefied portion above. The current had increased very considerably: it often became necessary for the voyageurs to take a pipe, or in other words, a rest. When the brigade was in sight from the fort, the Company's flag was hoisted. Before arriving there, and within a mile and a half of it, the country becomes again flat, and rises very little above the river, when the water is high. The ground is composed of pebbles and drifting sand for several miles to the east and to the north, with little or no soil, and nothing grows on it but a few spears of bunch-grass, and wormwood.

The brigade reached the fort at sunset, when they were received by Mr. M'Lean, who was in temporary charge of the post; and who reported himself ready to proceed with his Indian wife and children with Mr. Ogden; and Mr. M'Kinley took charge of Fort Wallawalla.

Fort Wallawalla is about two hundred feet square, and is built of pickets, with a gallery or staging on the inside, whence the pickets may be looked over. It has two bastions, one on the southwest and the other on the northeast. On the inside are several buildings, constructed of logs and mud; one of these is the Indian store: the whole is covered with sand and dust, which is blown about in vast quantities. The climate is hot; and every thing about the fort seemed so dry, that it appeared as if a single spark would ignite the whole and reduce it to ashes.

Pillar Rock, August 19, 1841

Pillar Rock is called by the Indians Taluaptea, after the name of a chief, who in bygone days lived at the falls of the Columbia, and who, having incurred the displeasure of their spirit, called Talapos, was turned into a rock, and placed where he would be washed by the waters of the great river. The rock is twenty-five feet high, and only ten feet square at its top: it is composed of conglomerate or puddingstone, and is fast crumbling to pieces. I found great difficulty in ascending it.

Coffin Rock, September 20, 1841

On the 20th, we anchored again off Coffin Rock, near which we found a depth of twenty-five rathoms, which is the deepest water within the capes. This place is sixty miles from the mouth of the river, and eight miles above the confluence of the Cowlitz. The shores here are composed of trap and a conglomerate, the last of which is the same rock as that which occurs below, and has already been spoken of. The Coffin Rock, which is not more than sixty feet in diameter, and twelve feet above the water, appears to have been excluseively reserved for the burial of chiefs. ...

Volume XXIII, Hydrography.
Chapter XVII

Tongue Point [Tongue Point] is a high bluff, projecting into the river from the south shore a mile; it divides Swan Bay [Cathlamet Bay] from the lower river: the extreme point [of Tongue Point] is 3 miles above Astoria [Astoria, Oregon]. The channel up to it is close to the shore, and half a mile wide. Until the survey by the Exploring Expedition [Charles Wilkes himself], it was the belief that there was no other channel above, than by the Tongue point Channel across the river. I was satisfied that, from the great flow of water towards the south shore, a channel must exist; and the examination resulted in the discorvery of a broad and almost straight channel from the Termination Islands [today's many islands of the lower Lewis and Clark NWR] to Tongue Point [Tongue Point], a distance of 5 miles; it proved to be one-third of a mile wide: it was named the Boston Channel [???]. After arriving abreast of Tongue Point, in 6 to 7 fathoms water, either the Tongue Point or Boston Channels may be taken. The latter is to be referred. To pass through it, having reached the position indicated above, steer for Little Finger Island (the most northern of the Termination Islands) [???] an east-northeast course, which will carry up through mid-channel. When abreast of the dead tree, above the Little Finger [???], the eastern end of the Upper Flat [???] will be passed, then haul over for Bee Point [Jim Crow Point], on the north shore, and steer for Point Eagle [listed as Eagle Point on his chart, ditto for later on in the narrative, today's Three Tree Point].

To sail up the North Channel [???], steer so as to pass close to the western point to Gray's Bay [today the unnamed bay west of Grays Point], from thence a direct course for Red Bluff [bluff above Harrington Point] will lead across Gray's [unnamed bay west of Grays Point] and Kutzule Bays [today's Grays Bay] into the Pillar Rock Channel [deep channel of the Columbia River bordering the Washington shoreline, stretching from Grays Bay to Harrington Point, passed Altoona, and on to Pillar Rock]; continue to follow close to the north shore, passing between the Pillar Rock [Pillar Rock], a square basaltic pillar, rising 62 feet above the water, situated on the northern point of the Upper Flats [???]: the channel continues to Bee Point [Jim Crow Point], where it unites with the Boston Channel [???].

There are two small streams of fresh water emptying into Kutzule Bay [today's Grays Bay] at its head [Deep River and Grays River]. Gray's [unnamed bay west of Grays Point] and Kutzule Bay [today's Grays Bay] are unfit for anchorage; the water is shallow, with mud and sand bottom. Swan Bay [Cathlamet Bay], on the south shore, lies between Tongue Point [Tongue Point] and the Termination Islands [today's many islands of lower Lewis and Clark NWR]. It is 3 miles wide by 2 deep, is shallow, has a muddy bottom, which in places becomes visible at extreme low water.

The Termination Islands [today's many islands of the lower Lewis and Clark NWR] are six in number. They are separated from the south shore by Dick's Run [???], 5 miles in length, which joins Swan Bay [Cathlamet Bay] to the Swash [???]. The western or lower islands have been named the Fingers [???]; they are all low and swampy. Katalamet Head [area of Aldrich Point] is a high and remarkable bluff, which may be seen from the coast: it borders the river, and is the most northern point of the hills which stretch to the south.

From Eagle Point [Three Tree Point], the river [Columbia River] takes a sweep to the east and south-east, passing around Capsize [location of today's Fitzpatrick Island] and Katalamet Islands [Tenasillahe Island]; the main channel follows the north shore until it passes Sand Islet [part of Tenasillahee Island, nothing comparable today], off the north point of Katalamet Island [Welch Island and Tenasillahe Island]; thence to Sunday Point [downstreammost tip of Puget Island], the northwestern point of Puget's Island [Puget Island], where it divides, passing on the north and south side of Puget's Island [Puget Island]. There is a passage to the south of the Katalamet Island [Tenasillahe Island], called the Miami Run [Clifton Channel]: it opens into the Swash [???], lying between Katalamet [Tenasillahe Island] and the Termination Islands [today's many islands of Lewis and Clark NWR]: it is one-third of a mile wide and 3 miles long, -- a good passage for very small vessels, barges, and boats. From Eagle Point [Three Tree Point] to Sunday Point [downstreammost tip of Puget Island] is 5 1/2 miles: the channel is half a mile wide, with deep water. Two creeks enter on the north shore, the Pimeca [Skamokawa Creek] and Oluman [Elochoman Slough]. They afford good water: at this part the banks are low and marshy, but soon rise in hills. If desirous of taking the channel south of Puget's Island [Puget Island], after passing Rogue's Islet [part of Tenasillahee Island, nothing comparable today], steer for Framboise Bluff [area of Bradwood, Oregon]; but if it be the intention to take the channel on the north side, stand on until nearly up with Sunday Point [downstreammost tip of Puget Island], wand when Lotiva Head [area of today's Cathlamet, Washington] bears east, steer for it, avoiding the shoal which lies off Sunday Point [downstreammost tip of Puget Island]. From Lotiva Head [area of today's Cathlamet, Washington] the channel runs under the high bluff of the north shore [bluff between Cathlamet and Cape Horn], with deep water; when half a mile above Bag Island [today the location of Whites Island], near the east point of Puget's Island [Puget Island], haul over to the shore of Kintshotsh Island [floodplain north of Westport Slough], to avoid the shoal which extends from Bell's Bluff [Cape Horn] to the west a mile, the outer edge of which is half a mile from the north shore. Having brought Bell's Bluff [Cape Horn] to bear east, you will have entered St. Helen's Reach [Columbia River south of Puget Island], and can steer for Bell's Bluff [Cape Horn], keeping mid-channel: this will carry clear of the shoal off Yupat's Island [western half of Wallace Island], which extends beyond Kotze Island [eastern half of Wallace Island], and thence to Oak Point [Oak Point, Oregon]. Natsox Run [Wallace Slough] passes between Yupat's [western half of Wallace Island] and Kotze Islands [eastern half of Wallace Island] and the south shore: it has only depth of water sufficient for small barges and boats.

St. Helen's Reach [Columbia River south side of Puget Island] extends from the eastern part of Framboise Bluff [area of Bradwood, Oregon] to the upper end of the Basaltic Cliff [between Cape Horn and Eagle Cliff, Washington], opposite Oak Point [Oak Point, Oregon], a distance of 11 miles. The western part is bounded on the north by Puget's Island [Puget Island], which is low and marshy, 4 miles in length, by 1 1/2 miles in width, and by Kintshotsh Island [floodplain north of Westport Slough] south, of like character. It is 6 1/2 miles in length, separated by Ataki Creek [Westport Slough] from the prairie beyond. The eastern part of St. Helen's Reach [Columbia River south side of Puget Island] has the high Basaltic Cliff [between Cape Horn and Eagle Cliff, Washington], extending from Bell's Point [Cape Horn] to opposite Weaquus Islet [small island north of Crims Island, not the same island as today's Gull], on the north, and the low prairie ground of Oak Point [Oak Point, Oregon], on the south, as its boundaries. The river expands and contracts in width, but the channel preserves its dimensions from one-third to half a mile wide. The depth of water varies from 3 1/4 to 11 fathoms. The tide is felt as far up as Oak Point [Oak Point, Oregon], but is rise and fall here is only 3 feet. At Oak Point [Oak Point, Oregon], the Columbia again turns to the southeast, and continues the same course up to Smoke Island [Martin Island], a distance of 25 miles. Five miles above the turn the prairie terminates, where a high basaltic bluff rises, which I named Waldron's Bluff [Green Point, the high bluff between Mayger and Rainier, Oregon]; it is 3 miles in length, and rises 800 feet above the river. Above the turn at Oak Point [Oak Point, Oregon] there are two islands, Gull [Crim's Island] and Weaquus [small island north of Crims, not the same island as today's Gull]; the former is 2 miles long, by one-third of a mile wide, separated from the prairie land by the Kinak Passage [Bradbury Slough], one-eighth of a mile wide. Of its northwest end is a shoal, which must be avoided. Weaquus Island [small island north of Crims, not the same island as today's Gull] lies to the north of Gull [Crims Island]: it is quite small, one-third of a mile long; it has a shoal surrounding it. The main channel passes to the north of Weaquus Island [small island north of Crims Island, not the same island as today's Gull]. When Plumondon Island [Fisher Island], which lies opposite to Waldron's Bluff [Green Point, high bluff between Mayger and Rainier, Oregon], opens, steer for it. This course will lead into the deepest water, and avoid the shoals which make off the north shore, opposite to the upper end of Gull Island [Crims Island]. Wala Creek [Coal Creek Slough] here empties into the Columbia. From it to the mouth of the Cowlitz River [Cowlitz River], there is an extensive prairie of several miles in width, on which, near to the river bank, is situated Mount Coffin [Mount Coffin, now gone], a regular cone, rising to the height of 720 feet. It is the only high land on the north shore in this distance.

Opposite to the upper part of Waldron's Bluff [Green Point, high bluff between Mayger and Rainier, Oregon] lies Walker's Island [Walker Island], one-third of a mile from the shore: it is 1 1/2 miles long and one-sixth of a mile wide. The best channel lies between it and the south shore, but that on the north may be used, care being taken to avoid the shoal making off from the east end of it. The shoal which lies above the island has a small sandbank on it; bare at low water.

Latap Bluff [basaltic bluff from Rainier, Oregon, to St. Helens, Oregon] lies on the south side of the river, and extends from opposite Mount Coffin [Mount Coffin] to Sandy Island [Sandy Island], a distance of 11 miles; it is 450 feet high. The river from Waldron's Bluff [Green Point, high bluff from Mayger to Rainier, Oregon] to above the mouth of the Cowlitz [Cowlitz River], I have named Mount Coffin Reach. Its average width is nearly a mile.

The mouth of the Cowlitz River [Cowlitz River] is 4 miles above Mount Coffin [Mount Coffin, now gone]. At its entrance into the Columbia it is one-sixth of a mile wide; off its mouth lies Taney's Island [???], low and at times submerged; it is one-third of a mile long. The Cowlitz is serpentine, and cannot be navigated, except when there is a freshet, or when its waters are backed up by those of the Columbia; then barges may ascend the Cowlitz a distance of 18 miles.

Kanem Island [Cottonwood Island] lies 1 mile above the mouth of the Cowlitz [Cowlitz River], on the northern shore, is 1 1/2 miles long, and one-sixth of a mile wide. The channel runs on the south side. Two miles above this island [Cottonwood Island] the river contracts in width to half a mile. On the north shore there is a fine salmon fishery, near the Mitlait Creek [Kalama River], which is just opposite to Coffin Rock [Coffin Rock], where the Columbia is 30 fathoms deep. The river continues of the same width 1 1/2 miles, to Holmes Point [Goble], when it again enlarges to upwards of a mile in width, Sandy Island [Sandy Island] occupying the centre of it. The best channel is near the south shore; that on the north, though wider, has less depth. The Lalu Islets [today a part of Kalama] lie along the north shore: a narrow passage divides them from the land. Five miles above Holms Point [Goble] is Brown's Point [eastern tip of Deer Island]. On the south shore the Kalukau Creek [Deer Island Slough] forms Deer Island [Deer Island], 3 miles long. The creek is much used by boats and barges when the river is high. Opposite to Brown's Point [eastern point of Deer Island] lies Smoke [Martin Island] and Paia Islands [Burke Island]: these are formed by Stiak Run [Martin Slough]. At the upper end of Paia Island [Burke Island] lies Porpoise Shoal [off the upstream tip of Burke Island], on which that vessel grounded for several hours; we borrowed too much on the north shore. It is better to keep a mid-channel course, avoiding the shoal which makes off from the Deer Island side [Deer Island, Oregon]. The course of the Columbia here varies to nearly south, and continues to Cazenove Point [Mathews Point], 4 miles below Fort Vancouver [eventually Vancouver, Washington].

The river [Columbia River] contracts above Deer Island [Deer Island], and its south shore rises to 150 feet for a distance of 5 miles. To this I have given the name of Wyeth Bluff [location between today's Columbia City and St. Helens, Oregon], which extends from Kalakau Creek [perhaps Merrill Creek ???] to the Wapautoo or Lower Branch of the Willamette River [Multnomah Channel], which enters from the south-southwest, dividing Multnomah Island [Sauvie Island] from the south shore, and forming Multnomah Island. At Warrior's Point [Warrior Point, downstream end of Sauvie Island], the lower end of Multnomah Island [Sauvie Island], the river maintains the same course. Opposite to Warrior's Point [downstream end of Sauvie Island] two small creeks enter, one from the southeast, called Calapuya [Lake River]; the other from the northeast, called the Snas Creek [Lewis River]; the Nut Islets [in the mouth of the Lewis River] lie in front of them. One branch [Bachelor Island Slough] of the Calapuya [Lake River], called the Piscou Creek [Bachelor Island Slough], unites with the Columbia, 3 1/2 miles above, separating a large part of the low prairie land into an island, called Pasainks [Bachelor Island]. Another branch [Lake River] runs up to within a mile of Vancouver, and affords a safe and convenient passage for boats and canoes when the river is high; at its upper end it approaches within a few hundred feet of the river, at which place there is a short portage [at southern end of Vancouver Lake].

Above Piscou Creek [Bachelor Island Slough], the river is not over one-fifth of a mile wide, and continues so until Ramsey's Island [perhaps the area of Willow Point] is passed; it then widens to over half a mile, forming the Willamette Reach, 5 miles in length, as far as the upper mouth of the Willamette [Willamette River], which flows into the Columbia, between Billy Bruce [Coon Island, today's Belle Vue Point, a part of Sauvie Island]

and Johnson's Islands

[Pearcy's Island and since plural "Islands" was used at least one of two smaller islands off of Pearcy's Island. The island to the north of Pearcy's Island was known as "Nigger Tom Island" and island southwest of Pearcy's Island was known as "Ramsey's Island". Today this area has been filled in and is Kelley Point Park.].

From this point, the river takes a bend to the southeast, increasing in width: McTavish, Joe, and Barclay's Islands [vicinity of Hayden Island] lie on its south shore. There is a channel on the south side of these islands [NOAA charts today list this channel simply as "North Portland Harbor"; earlier maps list it as "Haydens Slough"], but it is very shallow. From the Willamette River to McLaughlin Point [Ryan Point], above the landing at Fort Vancouver [Vancouver, Washington], is called Vancouver Reach; it is 5 miles long. The deepest channel during the lowest stage of the river lies on the Vancouver side. Obstructions are formed, and changes occur in the channels annually. At high water the river at Vancouver rises 19 feet above its low water mark. It attains its highest point in May and June, its lowest in October. The rise and fall of the tide is perceived at Vancouver, but the current does not change direction.

The shores of the Columbia near Vancouver [Fort Vancouver, today's Vancouver, Washington] are low. The river bank is a kind of levee, which is several feet above the river, at its highest flood; were it not for this, it would spread over the while extent of prairie. On this levee is a thick growth of trees and shrubs, which binds the earth together, and prevents a break.

The course of the Columbia above Vancouver [Fort Vancouver, today's Vancouver, Washington] is to the southward and eastward. Its average width is three-quarters of a mile; this includes the islands which ave been formed by its deposits and serve to contract its channel [such as Hayden Island and Government Island]. From Point McLaughlin [Ryan Point] to Frost Island [Lady Island], a distance of 10 miles, the river is nearly straight, and the channel is along the north shore. The hills which bordered the river prairies below, here approach the bank. Along the south shore lie Smith [Lemon Island], Rower, Sandy, and Douglass Islands [today merged into one, Government Island]. The water is too shallow for even small vessels to use the passage between the islands and the south shore. Boats and barges may pass through. The channel passes from the north to the south shore, between Douglass [upsream area of Government Island] and Frost [Lady Island] Islands, and again seeks the north shore beyond Frost Island, between it and Bachelet Island [Sandy River delta], the river changing its course more to the eastward. Frost Island [Lady Island] is 2 miles long; it lies near the north shore. Abreast of it the river is one-third of a mile wide. To the north of the east end of Frost Island [Lady Island] is Evert's Bay [mouth of the Washougal River], nearly circular, a mile in diameter. Bachelet Island [Sandy River delta] is of an oval shape, 1 1/2 miles in length, Palle Creek [lower mouth of the Sandy River], which passes between it and the south shore, is only used for boats and canoes. Above Bachelet Island [Sandy River delta] the river again widens. Point Broughton [Cottonwood Point, at the upstream end of Cottonwood Beach] lies two miles above the island [Sandy River delta]. The channel again crosses to the south shore, is very narrow, and runs very close to it. On approaching Vancouver's Island [today, Reed Island is located in this area. Reed Island is much larger and slightly downstream of the Vancouver Island of 1841.] the river is contracted; the channel occupies the width between that island and the Square Rock [Tunnel Point]. Vancouver's Island [Reed Island] is three-quarters of a mile in length; it has a conical hill on its east end. Square Rock [Tunnel Point] lies opposite to it on the south shore and a mile above it is the Obelisk [Rooster Rock].

From the latter [Rooster Rock] the channel passes to the high bluff on the north shore, called the Natural Wharf [below today's Cape Horn]. Three miles above this, on the same shore, is Cape Horn [Cape Horn]; the bluff continues 2 mile beyond. Hermit Islet [Phoca Rock] lies below, near the middle of the river; the channel is between it and the north shore, where the water is deep. On the south side the shores are low and sandy, the river quite shallow and filled with shoals and sandbanks. Grist Point [???], is a low sandy point. The point next above Grist Point [???] is Rounding Point [???], situated directly opposite to the east end of Cape Horn Bluff [basalt walls east of the point of Cape Horn]. Here the channel is the whole width of the river; as it approaches Long Island [Skamania Island is in the vicinity today] it turns towards the south shore. Long Island [Skamania Island] lies close to the north shore, is composed of sand, with a very few bushes growing on it. Between it and the shore there is a narrow passage for barges and boats, which may be used to avoid the strength of the current when ascending the river. Seven miles above Long Island [Skamania Island] is the head of navigation, near what was named Castle [Beacon Rock], at Observatory Point [???], on the north shore. Holmes [Pierce or Ives Island] and Eld [Pierce or Ives Island] Island lie at the foot of the Cascade Range, and near to Observatory Point [???] are the Rapids, [today's Cascade Locks area], the highest point of the survey. Above this, the river flows with the velocity of a mill-race, where the first portage occurs. At this place there is a small inlet. ..."

Chapter XVII ... Willamette River

"The Willamette, [Willamette River] though a much smaller stream than the Columbia, is one of its most important branches: it is navigable for 23 miles to its falls [Willamette Falls], by small vessels: 3 miles above its mouth the western or Wapautoo branch turns off [Multnomah Channel], forming Multnomah Island [Sauvie Island], joining the Columbia, as before remarked, between Warrior's Point [north end of Sauvie Island] and Wyeth's Bluff [today the location of St. Helens, Oregon]. The course of the Willamette and its branch is serpentine. Its lower reach is to the south 3 miles; thence it turns to the southeast 6 miles, to Willow Island [Swan Island]; again south 5 miles, to the Oak Island [Ross Island], varying beyond them for 3 miles to the southward and eastward, where it makes an elbow to the southward and westward of 3 miles; thence a south-southeast course of 4 miles to Goat Island [Goat Island], at the mouth of the Klackamus [Clackamas River]; it then turns to the southwest, 1 mile to the falls [Willamette Falls]. Its banks are composed of bluffs and low prairie. The channel is narrow, and at places intricate, particularly abreast of the islands; the Oak Islands lie on its east side [Ross Island, Hardtack Island, and East Island ???]. The Wapautoo branch [Multnomah Channel] is also navigable, and partakes of the same character as the Willamette. Its length is 17 miles. In making use of it much time and distance may be saved. When there is a freshet in the Columbia, there is little or no current in the Willamette, the water being backed up nearly to the Falls; then it affords a slack-water navigation, and appears very much swollen. Some of the richest lands in Oregon lie on the borders of these streams. Wood and water may be obtained in abundance."

Volume X, Geology, by James D. Dana.
Saddle Mountain

"Swalalahos or Saddle Hill -- On the jaunt to Swalalahos [Saddle Mountain], we ascended for ten miles Young's River [Youngs River], (a stream entering Young's Bay [Youngs Bay], on the south side of the Columbia,) and then struck through the forests to the south-southeast, twenty-five miles. When at the base of the Peak, we were already twelve or fifteen hundred feet above the sea. Blocks of conglomerate of various sizes up to thirty cubic feet lay around among the heavy hemlocks and spruces of the forest. We ascended by a difficult path sloping between forty and forty-five degrees. Up eight hundred feet, the forests were replaced by a grassy surface wherever the bare rocks were not projecting; and four hundred beyond, we stood under a high beetling bluff which forms the western brow of Swalalahos [Saddle Mountain]. We next followed the foot of the rocky precipice around to the northward, descending again about two hundred feet, and thence were finally guided to the top by a narrow gap on the north-northeast side.

The summit ridge forms a narrow wall on the east, north, and west sides around a large crater, which appeared to be at least five hundred feet deep. For half the depth within, the wall was nearly vertical; and then commenced a rapid slope towards the bottom. A dense forest covers its depths, and extending up the southern and southwestern declivities, is continuous with the forests of the range. The bredth of the crater is not less than two miles.

The walls on the sides examined, from the west to the northeast, consist of a volcanic conglomerate or breccia, which was composed mostly of angular fragments of basalt and pitchstone, some of it of an ochreous colour, and other portions, especially the coarser beds, dark like the basalt. The fragments of basalt seldom exceeded ten inches in diameter; they were compact or sparingly cellular, but not scoriaceous. The pitchstone was in pieces one or two inces through, and had nearly the lustre and colour of asphaltum.

On the sides explored, no lava streams or beds of basalt were seen, as the material was the conglomerate just described. There were some intersecting dikes; and the gap by which we ascended was the course of one of them. At the summit, the basalt of the dike projected in a wall twenty feet high and twelve wide, and the same wall may be traced into the crater following a north-northeast course. The basalt was a compact brownish-black rock, wholly uncrystalline and imprefectly columnar in structure. It resembles the basalt of Astoria and other parts of the Columbia.

It is remarkable that the volcanic material of Swalalahos [Saddle Mountain] should be confined within three miles of the mountain on the northwest side.

We know nothing with reference to other volcanic peaks in the Coast Range. From the descriptions received, it is probable that Mount Olympus [Mount Olympus, the high point in the Olympic National Park, on the western side of Puget Sound in northwestern Washington State] is of the same character; but this should be received as a mere conjecture on imperfect evidence.

Image IndexReturn 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

  • Smithsonian Institution Library website, 2004;
  • Washington State University website, 2004, "Early Washington Maps: A Digital Collection";

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 2010