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BEFORE THE WHITE PEOPLE ARRIVE This scene, located closest to the column's base, depicts the forest primeval with the beaver, a key element in the fur trade, and other wildlife. The absence of Native Americans is notable since they had occupied the region for at least 10,000 years.

gray and indians

CAPTAIN ROBERT GRAY, SHIP COLUMBIA IN THE GREAT RIVER The Columbia Rediviva was the first large vessel to cross over the bar of the Columbia. A trader working under a sea letter issued by President George Washington, Gray named the river for his ship. His "discovery" in 1792 became the foundation of American claims to the region.


FIRST CONTACT: THE CHINOOK AND CLATSOP INDIANS In 1792 Captain Robert Gray dropped anchor and began trading for salmon and furs with the Chinook and Clatsop tribes living at the entrance to the Columbia River. The Indians had for centuries bartered commodities of the shoreline for those of the interior. Maritime fur traders brought new commodities: blankets, cotton cloth, tools, firearms, beads, mirrors, and alcohol.


LIEUTENANT WILLIAM R. BROUGHTON NAMES MOUNT HOOD Learning of Gray's "discovery," the British Captain George Vancouver dispatched his associate, Lieutenant Broughton, to examine the Columbia River in 1792. Broughton outfitted two whaleboats and made a reconnaissance to the head of tidewater. He sighted Mount Hood, naming it for Samuel Hood, a rear admiral in the British navy during the American Revolutionary War. Broughton's explorations helped fix British claims.

LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION CROSSES THE MOUNTAINS In both their westbound and eastbound travels, the Corps of Discovery confronted inclement weather, near-starvation, and great tribulation in the Bitterroot Mountains, part of the broad chain known as the Rockies.

Indians greet L&C

INDIANS GREET THE EXPLORERS For millennia, the mouth of the Columbia had been the homeland of the Clatsop and Chinook tribes. Sharing a common dialect of Lower Chinookan, these people were the wealthy traders at the mouth of the great river. They controlled precontact trade and, for a time, remained arbiters in the emerging fur trade.


LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION REACHES THE PACIFIC In November 1805, The Corps of Discovery examined the north shore of the Columbia from its base, Station Camp. After a reconnaissance of Cape Disappointment and a polling of the party, Captains Lewis and Clark decided to spend the winter on the south side of the river.


SALT WORKS ON THE PACIFIC SHORE Having killed dozens of elk, the members of the Corps of Discovery confronted a major problem in preserving their food for the winter and the return journey. Captains Lewis and Clark dispatched a patrol to the seacoast to boil saltwater, extracting the salt for use in preserving the meat at Fort Clatsop.

Fort Clatsop

FORT CLATSOP Members of the Corps of Discovery spent nearly four weeks felling trees, splitting boards, and building their winter encampment on the banks of the Lewis and Clark River. The fort was the first U.S. Army post in the Pacific Northwest and was occupied from December 1805 to April 1806.

EXPLORERS COMPLETE FORT CLATSOP The Lewis and Clark Expedition moved into Fort Clatsop on Christmas Day, 1805. The party faced a terrible, rainy winter. Hunting parties ranged through the countryside to kill elk and deer. Some of the men made candles, moccasins, and leather pantaloons for their return journey.


INDIAN FISHING AND CANOE-MAKING The Chinookans were masterful makers of dugout canoes. Their large, sleek craft could carry several tons and cut through the choppy waters of the Columbia estuary. The Indians fished for salmon, sturgeon, steelhead, smelt, and lamprey eels.

ASTOR OVERLAND PARTY LEAVES ST. LOUIS In 1810 John Jacob Astor, principal investor in the Pacific Fur Company, dispatched an overland party from St. Louis under Wilson Price Hunt, a company employee. The expedition reached Council Bluffs on the Missouri and then set out on horseback across the plains via the Platte River in July 1811.

TONQUIN SAILS FROM NEW YORK Bound for the mouth of the Columbia, the Tonquin sailed from New York City in September 1810 carrying seamen, workers, and supplies for Astor's fur-trading post on the Pacific coast. The Tonquin traveled around Cape Horn.

TONQUIN ARRIVES AT THE COLUMBIA After a six-month voyage, including a two-week stay in the Hawaiian Islands, the Tonquin arrived in March 1811 at the entrance to the Columbia River. Its contentious captain, Jonathan Thorn, four times sent out men to sound the channel. Eight drowned in the effort.

OVERLAND ASTORIANS CROSS THE DIVIDE Enduring great adversity in the mountains, the party led by William Price Hunt followed the Snake River westward and nearly perished in 1812 in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon.

DESTRUCTION OF THE TONQUIN In the summer of 1811, Captain Thorn took his vessel out of the Columbia and sailed north to trade for furs with the Indians. Although the story is unclear, the captain apparently antagonized the natives, who stormed the vessel. The ship blew up or sank with a loss of 27 people, probably on the west coast of Vancouver Island.


FIRST OVERLAND ASTORIANS ARRIVE After 18 months in the field, most of Wilson Price Hunt's expedition reached Astoria in February 1812. Of the 62 in the party, only two had died in the challenging trip across the American West.

THE LOST ASTORIANS Ramsay Crooks and John Day, members of the overland party under Wilson Price Hunt, did not reach Astoria until May 1812. The men had lost almost everything but their lives.


TRANSFER OF ASTORIA TO THE NORTHWEST COMPANY Having learned of the outbreak of a second war with Great Britain, later known as the War of 1812, John Jacob Astor's partners feared that the British navy might sail into the Columbia River and seize their fort. In October 1813, the "partners in the field" in Oregon dissolved the Pacific Fur Company and sold out to the Canadian-based North West Company of Montreal.

U.S. SHIP ONTARIO By the term "status ante bellum" in the Treaty of Ghent (1814), which ended the War of 1812, the United States assumed no loss of its "discovery rights" to the Pacific Northwest. In 1818, Captain James Biddle sailed into the Columbia on the U.S. Navy vessel Ontario and symbolically took possession of both shores for the United States.


COMING OF THE PIONEERS With the establishment of American Protestant missions to the Indians in 1834 and 1836, the stage was set to publicize the good soil, timber, fish, and climate of the Oregon Country. By 1850, more than 10,000 American citizens had emigrated overland to Oregon.

railroad arrives

ARRIVAL OF THE RAILROAD IN ASTORIA In the mid-1880s, railroad lines connected the Pacific Northwest to the rest of the continent. In 1893 the Seashore Railroad Company, later the Astoria & Columbia River Railroad, began a rail system at the mouth of the Columbia. Later the Great Northern acquired this line.

Oregon Historical Society, Online Research Resources, Oregon History Project

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Gateway Arch St. Louis)

Fort Clatsop National Memorial

The Lewis & Clark Rediscovery Project


Photos this page ©2007-2012 Ancil Nance


2007-2010  Friends of the Astoria Column, Inc. PO Box 717, Astoria, OR 97103, P/F 503.325.2963