U.S. President Thomas Jefferson assigned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark the task of exploring the unknown territory in the West. They were to study the plants, animal, and geography; make contacts with the Native Americans; find out if there were resources of economic value, and find the Northwest Passage to Asia. During their arduous journey, they managed all except the last.
Thirty-three hardy souls left Camp Dubois, Illinois on May 14, 1804, and Lewis joined the group a few days later. Only one person died during their incredible journey, Sergeant Charles Floyd died of what was probably acute appendicitis. The Expedition made contact with over 20 different Native American tribes, without whose help they might have starved. When they reached the Pacific Ocean they took a vote to decide whether to spend the winter on the North or South side of the Columbia River. Everyone in the group was allowed an equal vote, probably the first vote for both a female (Sacagawea) and a slave (York).
The decision was that they would stay on the South side, where they built Fort Clatsop. The group had run out of salt before they reached the Columbia River; having salt to make food taste good was important for morale. However it was essential for preserving the meat to make the trip back to the East. A place about 15 miles from the fort seemed good for making salt, and between January 2, 1806, and February 20, 1806, with the help of the local Clatsop and Tillamook Indians, they made 3 ½ bushels of salt.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday (August 17, 18, 19, 2012), starting at 4 PM Friday and running continuously until 3 PM Sunday, salt will be again made on the Seaside beach. The Seaside Museum and Historical Society, with Ft. Clatsop Nat. Park and the city of Seaside join to provide an authentic reenactment of what making salt was like for the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The actual site used by the saltmakers is a few blocks from where the reenactment occurs. That location was established by the Oregon Historical Society in 1900 from the memories of Jenny Michel of Seaside, a Native American who remembered being told about it as a child. On the way to participate in the saltmaking, you can stop at the memorial.
When you reach the sign reading “You Are Now Entering the Year 1806,” you will be greeted by a museum volunteer who will brief you on what to expect in the year 1806. The actual professional interpreters have studied hard and know the history of the person they are portraying, the language used in 1806, and how the person they are representing would respond to situations. They can tell you their ‘personal’ stories about the cross continental journey.
The interpreters set up camp for 48 hours, and during that time they actually make salt. You can have the pleasure of watching them carry water from the ocean and boil it down to make salt. You also have the opportunity to interact with the interpreters and even trade with them as the Native Americans did.
Come to Seaside and the thrill of stepping into the past to make salt. The saltmakers preformed an invaluable task for the Lewis & Clark expedition ensuring that they had salt to preserve their meat. The courageous individuals who were part of the Expedition returned with plant and animal specimens, extensive notes, and maps they made throughout their journey. They succeeded in their assignment, except for finding the Northwest Passage, which did not exist.
Article written by Mary Boyer
For more information about this fun historical experience.