Searching for the Lost Village:
An 1805 Lewis and Clark Site along the Oregon Coast
Project Background
Presentations
Image Gallery
References
Contact Information
Acknowledgements
Links

Project Background

Between 1803 and 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a team of explorers on an overland journey between the Missouri and Columbia River systems. This historical expedition provided the first detailed maps and descriptions of the western United States. During the team's stay along the Oregon coastline in the winter of 1805, they visited, mapped and described a native village belonging to the Clatsop Nation along the former Clatsop River. Several wooden structures were noted on their maps and journal records (Figure 1).

Map of Coastal Oregon drawn by Meriwether Lewis in 1805
Figure 1. A map of Coastal Oregon drawn by Meriwether Lewis in 1805

"We Crossed the Creek and proceeded on to the mouth of the creek which makes a great bend above the mouth of this Creek or to the S. are…houses and about 12 families of the Clatsop Nation, we crossed to those houses, which were built on the S. exporsur of the hill, Sunk into the ground about 4 feet the walls roof and gable ends are of Split pine boards, the dores Small with a ladder to decend to the iner part of the house…those people [the Clatsop Native Americans] treated me with extrodeanary friendship."
-Meriwether Lewis (December 9, 1805)

Artistic drawing of an early 19th Century Coastal Oregon Native American house
Figure 2. A drawing showing an early 19th Century Coastal Oregon Native American house

Despite investigations by previous researchers, the location of the village remains unknown today. Lewis and Cark were known to accurately map the locations in which they visited, and the failure to locate the site may be due to the significant increase in sedimentation and shoreline change at the site that has taken place since Lewis and Clark's visit (Figure 3). The purpose of this study is to investigate, and attempt to resolve, the physical location of the Clatsop native village using modern geophysical subsurface research methods.

Shoreline change within the Clatsop Plains since Lewis and Clark's visit
Figure 3. Shoreline change within the Clatsop Plains since Lewis and Clark's visit

After consulting with local residents and reviewing Lewis and Clark's map and journal records, a study area was selected within Camp Rilea Military Training Facility, near Warrenton, Oregon (Figure 4). The location of modern Slusher Lake, a perched coastal lake, appears to corresponds closely with the location of the Clatsop River outlet mapped by Lewis and Clark. It has been suggested to represent the relict river channel outlet upon which the Clatsop native village was located (Figure 1).

Aerial photo of the study area, at Slusher Lake, near Warrenton, OR
Figure 4. Aerial photo of the study area, at Slusher Lake, near Warrenton, OR

During a 1.5 day, intensive investigation in September of 2003, students from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire collected field data and spoke with historians, military personnel, coastal geologists, and residents to gather historical information about the study area. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) equipment (PulseEKKO 100 and 1000 systems) was used to image the subsurface to depths of up to 16 m. An Australian bucket auger and Oakfield soil borer were used to collect 21 cores. A Trimble ProXR differential global positioning system (dGPS) and ArcGIS 8.3 were used to create a spatial database and site map that incorporates the locations of laser level stations, soil cores and descriptions, GPR transects, and surrounding site infrastructure (Figure 5).

Students collect data using GIS and GPR equipment
Figure 5. Students collect data using GIS and GPR equipment

GPR profiles collected along the ridge west of Slusher Lake show parallel to sub-parallel, continuous to semi-continuous reflection patterns, which are interpreted as vertically accreting coastal sand dunes. A channel-form reflection pattern was noted on the GPR records northwest of Slusher Lake and may represent the old, relict Clatsop River outlet originally mapped by Lewis and Clark (Figure 6); however, additional subsurface data is needed to confirm this. Core samples collected to a maximum depth of 6 m along the GPR profiles reveal no buried soils or cultural remains, suggesting that the village is located > 6 m below the modern surface. The results of the initial field research helped constrain the physical location of the historic native village mapped by Lewis and Clark to the northwest side of Slusher Lake.

100MHz GPR profile showing a distinct channel-form reflection pattern
Figure 6. A 100MHz GPR profile showing a distinct channel-form reflection pattern

During a second visit to the Slusher Lake study area in March 2005, 50MHz GPR equipment was used to image the Clatsop River Outlet among multiple transect lines. Reflection patterns representing erosional remnants of the last major Cascadia earthquake event (300-yr BP) were imaged in the study area (Figure 7). The patterns are interpreted as buried scarps that record the 300-yr BP and 1100-yr BP shoreline positions, prior to Lewis and Clark’s arrival.

Scarp Reflection Patterns
Figure 7. 50MHz GPR profile showing reflection patterns that represent buried scarps that record the 300-yr BP and 1100-yr BP shoreline positions

According to Lewis and Clark's map and journal descriptions, the Clatsop native village was located 300 m south of the former Clatsop River's outlet (Figure 8). The results of this project may be used in future attempts to locate the Clatsop native village and/or establish historic landmarks at the site.

Paleo-Reconstruction
Figure 8. A paleo-reconstruction of the landscape based on the project results and Lewis and Clark’s map and journal records.

HOME