1805 To the Pacific – Reaching the Columbia River at last!
Sacagawea, although not the pathfinder of folklore, was a valued member of the Corps of Discovery.
Here on the Snake River, as the group moved swiftly downstream, the leaders first noted Sacagawea's
value as a symbol of peace. On Oct. 13, Clark wrote, "The wife of Shabono our interpretr we
find reconsiles all the Indians, as to our friendly intentions a woman with a party of men is a token
Three days later, the Corps arrived at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers, a traditional
gathering place for many tribes. They spent three days here getting to know the Native people, hunting,
exploring and preparing for the continuation of their voyage.
The party camped near a large Sahaptian village Sgt. Whitehouse described as: "… in
a very pleasant situated place." He wrote: "We Encamped near those Indians on the same
point of land." Wood was extremely scarce here, as Clark noted on Oct. 17: "no timber
of any Sort except Small willow bushed in Sight..."
"Great quantities of a kind of prickley pares, much worst than any I have before Seen of a
tapering form and attach themselves by bunches."
~William Clark, Oct. 16, 1805
Clark noted the river was "Remarkably Clear and Crowded with Salmon," but was
puzzled by the number of dead salmon that lay on the shore and floated in the water. He wrote: "
the Cause of the emence numbers of dead Salmon I can't account for ...." Clark was unfamiliar
with the spawning cycle of these fish, and many in the party chose not to eat the fish, fearing they
were unfit for consumption.
A Short Side Trip Upriver
Clark and a small party traveled upriver on the Columbia on Oct. 17, 1805. They saw several small
fishing camps where American Indians caught and dried salmon by the ton. The American Indians showed
Clark where the "Tap teel" (Yakima River) flowed into the Columbia from the west.
"passed a Island in the middle of the river…great quants. of Salmon on Scaffolds
~William Clark, Oct. 17, 1805
A Mystery Solved
Upon reaching the Columbia River on October 1805, the Corps closed a chapter in geographic
speculation that had existed since Father Jacques Marquette's sighting of the Missouri River in 1673.
Until Lewis and Clark reached the Columbia, the exact nature of the relationship between the Missouri,
which drains the continent's heartland, and the "Great River of the West" (the Columbia)
flowing to the Pacific, remained a mystery.
About the State Park
Sacajawea State Park now occupies the point formed by
the confluence of the two rivers. The park, named in the 1920s, retains the historic spelling of the
young Indian woman traveling with the Corps – Sacajawea. Today, most historians spell her name
"Sacagawea," a convention followed within the interpretive center. The exhibits in the
Sacajawea Interpretive Center use this dual spelling as an educational opportunity.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition camped within the present-day park. Although the park does not offer
camping to modern visitors, you can stop for a day visit, walk the shores of the Snake and the Columbia
rivers and visit the Sacajawea Interpretive Center to learn about the history of this fascinating location.
However, you won't have to watch out for the prickly pear cactus that bothered the members of the
Expedition – the park is a lush oasis, covered with grass and shady trees.
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