|A newly discovered map may
help solve one of the great mysteries associated with the Lewis and Clark
expedition Ė the exact location of their west-coast encampment, Fort Clatsop.
The map was drawn by an unknown member
of the 1851 U.S. Coast Survey that mapped the lower Columbia River near
"I came across the map while doing research
on Oregon Indian history at the National Archives in Greenbelt, Maryland,"
says Scott Byram, a doctoral degree candidate in anthropology at the University
of Oregon. "I didnít know whether Fort Clatsop investigators had already
seen the map. But I knew they were trying to pinpoint the exact location
of the fort, and I had a hunch that if they hadnít seen the map, they would
very much want to get a copy."
Byramís hunch paid off.
"I was intrigued when Scott called," says
James Thomson, National Parks Service (NPS) regional archaeologist. Thomson
directs the Fort Clatsop Project, a joint effort by the NPS, the Museum
of the Rockies and the University of Washington to find the fort. "And
when I saw a copy of the map, I was impressed with how professional a rendering
it was. This gives us a lot of hope."
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, at
the end of their arduous trek westward, built Fort Clatsop near the mouth
of the Columbia River. The fort served as a secure encampment at which
the travel-weary explorers would spend the winter of 1805ó06 before making
the return journey to the American east.
Because of the historical significance
of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Fort Clatsop site is now a National
Memorial overseen by the NPS and visited each year by thousands of tourists.
"Yet within the boundaries of the memorial
park, the exact location of the fort is not known," Byram explains.
Why? No maps of the fort exist that were
drawn by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In fact, before Byramís
map, historical records reported the location of the encampment somewhere
between one-and-one-half and four miles from the mouth of the Lewis &
click on map to enlarge
Homesteader recollections of the fort
ruins recorded at the turn of the century by the Oregon Historical Society
point to a general location, but provide conflicting information about
the specific site. Compounding the problem is uncertainty about river changes
in the past 200 years.
Archaeological excavations in 1948, 1956,
1957 and 1961, as well as the present Fort Clatsop Project, failed to find
a definitive location.
Byramís map, which remains well preserved
after nearly 150 years in the U.S. Coast Survey archives, will provide
researchers with valuable new information.
For example, the fort (or "hut" as it
is labeled on the map) is shown at the very edge of a slope, which descends
toward the riverís flood plain. The fortís shape and orientation are also
suggested by the small square used to mark the structure.
"The Coast Survey staff were skilled mapmakers,
and the 1851 map typifies their attention to detail," Byram notes. "The
care that went into producing this map is especially impressive considering
that it may have been drawn in a canvas tent on the beach at Youngís Bay,
or in the cabin of a schooner in the harbor at Astoria."