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Across our State

The history of Station Camp

From Dismal Nitch rest area it is just a few miles west to Station Camp. The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent 10 days here in 1805 after the near disaster during the storm at Dismal Nitch. They had missed the supply ship. The rains pelted them endlessly. They often wrote of the violence of the wind.

When the bedraggled bunch came to Station Camp, they found what they thought was an abandoned Indian village in a snug harbor. Now we know the Chinooks who lived there had already moved to their winter camp in Grays Harbor. They knew the harsh rigors of the wind and the rain.

The Chinooks had established a trading place in this harbor. It is thought that before Lewis and Clark about 90 ships of various origin already had visited this place to trade for pelts. At least the expedition had a safe base to explore the region and finally reach the Pacific Ocean.

Taking a few men at a time and leaving some to guard their few remaining supplies, first Lewis then Clark trekked around Cape Disappointment, even carving their names and the date into a tree in celebration of reaching their goal. That's why Clark called it Station Camp as it was their camp as they surveyed and mapped the area surrounding the mouth of the Columbia.

Winter was coming. Where should they spend it before beginning the return journey? The Clatsop Indians had come across the river to sell their furs. The explorers had found them easier to deal with than the Chinooks, who were more experienced traders. They needed a friendly place and one with lots of game for meat to eat and leather for shoes and clothing.

On Nov. 24, 1805, the first recorded vote was taken in Washington state. There in Station Camp each member of the corps could vote for one of three options: stay here and find a good place to winter near the ocean, go back to the falls where there was plenty of food to find and trade, or go look across the river and assess staying among the Clatsop Indians.

York, the black slave, voted 50-plus years before the Emancipation Proclamation. Sacajawea, the Indian women, voted more than a hundred years before the women's suffrage movement. After a little more exploration of the north bank, the crew looked for a suitable place to cross the river to find their winter camp.

The history of Station Camp continued. We know there was a Chinook village there until 1833. We know Catholic missionaries came about that time and in 1853 Mr. McGowan bought land from the mission. Around 1900 a small white frame Catholic church was built, which is still there today. Other buildings, including a post office in 1903, a barn, and later a duplex were built.

In 2005 the National Park Service was going to build an interpretive center at Station Camp in preparation for the 200th anniversary events surrounding the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The land owner wanted to give the historic site to the parks service, but he wanted the road between the park and the rest of his private property. So, parks officials planned to save the church but move the duplex and barn to a location farther north in order to move the existing road along the river's edge farther inland.

At the barn site archeologists found more than 10,000 artifacts. These included a pocket ink well, perhaps belonging to Clark, coins, trade beads, plates, cups, musket balls, arrowheads, fish weights, a trade ring, and gun flints. They also found 264 small round clay balls which had been fired and some larger round balls. Since the clay balls resembled marbles it was concluded that perhaps these were pieces of a homemade game.

Did Lewis and Clark lose their marbles? We don't know whether or not they belonged to them and I honestly don't think they had time to play games. It is interesting, though, that the marbles were sent to the Lewis and Clark museum at Clatsop.

In two weeks ground will finally be broken for the long-planned interpretive center. The road will not be moved because of the unearthed archeological site, but agreement has finally been reached. Next time we visit we will be able to learn more of this story.

- Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), is in Olympia during the current legislative session, and provides this column for readers of the Daily Sun News.

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