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This photo shows a replica of Fort Clatsop, the modest structure in which the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1805-1806. Probably built of fir and spruce logs, the fort measured only fifty feet by fifty feet, not a lot of space for more than thirty people. Nevertheless, it served its purpose well, offering Expedition members shelter from the incessant rains of the coast and giving them security against the Native peoples in the area. Although the Corps named the fort after the local Indians, they did not fully trust either the Clatsop or the related Chinook people, and kept both at arms length throughout their stay on the coast.
The time at Fort Clatsop was well spent by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The captains caught up on their journal entries and worked on maps of the territory they had traversed since leaving St. Louis in May 1804. Many of the captains’ most important observations about the natural history and Native cultures of the Columbia River region date from this period. Other Expedition members hunted the abundant elk in the area, stood guard over the fort, prepared animal hides, or boiled seawater to make salt, but mostly they bided their time, eagerly anticipating returning east at the first sign of spring. The Corps set off in late March 1806, leaving the fort to Coboway, headman of the Clatsop.
In a 1901 letter to writer Eva Emery Dye, a pioneer by the name of Joe Dobbins noted that the remains of Fort Clatsop were still evident in the 1850s, but “not a vestige of the fort was to be seen” when he visited Clatsop Plains in the summer of 1886. Interest in the fort was renewed around the turn of the century, and in 1901 the Oregon Historical Society acquired the site. Local community members built the replica pictured here in celebration of the 1955 sesquicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1958, the Oregon Historical Society donated the site to the federal government, which designated it a national memorial. It is currently managed by the National Park Service.
On October 3, 2005, an accidental fire burned down the replica fort. After an archaeological excavation, rebuilding efforts began. Several hundred volunteers spent nearly a year rebuilding the fort under the direction of the National Park Service. The newly completed replica fort was dedicated on December 5, 2006.
Holman, Frederick V. “Lewis and Clark Expedition at Fort Clatsop.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 27, 1926: 265-278.
Written by Cain Allen, © Oregon Historical Society, 2004.