“You are now entering 1806,” the sign in Seaside’s Cove announced on Saturday, where interpreters from the Pacific Northwest Living Historians shared the legacy of the Lewis and Clark expedition into Seaside.
According to historian John Orthmann, the encampment existed in Seaside for several months, all in the quest for salt.
The expedition had kegs of salt when they were sent out of St. Louis in May 1804, Orthmann said. But by the time they arrived at Fort Clatsop a year-and-a-half later, supplies were depleted.
“They found that in the wet weather they had a hard time preserving their meat,” Orthmann explained. “Sometimes they would send a hunter out and he’d kill an elk. But by the time they got back, it was spoiling. They really needed the salt to preserve the meat.”
Five members of the Corps of Discovery traveled on foot from Fort Clatsop to Seaside, which had everything they needed: sea water, plenty of rock, timber for making fires and fresh-water streams nearby.
The detachment made salt by boiling water for nearly two months, enduring wet winter weather, before collecting all the salt they made and returning to Fort Clatsop.
Two-hundred-twelve years later, the historians, attired in frontier fashion, demonstrated the transport of buckets of sea water, the boiling process, and then the scraping of salt.
“Gallons and gallons of water for just a little bit of salt,” Orthmann said.
Orthmann played the role of Kentucky-born Joseph Field, considered to be among the best shots and hunters in the Corps of Discovery.
Other interpreters played the roles of Private William Werner, Private Alexander Willard and Private Thomas Howard, among others.
Did any members of the expedition remain in Oregon?
“They didn’t stay,” Orthmann said. “They did not like the rain.”
When the annual salt makers event lost funding due to cuts in the National Park Service budget in 2015, the Oregon chapter of the foundation sought and won a grant to revive the program, according to Seaside Museum and Historical Society president Steve Wright.
The event kicks off the six-day national conference of the 50th annual meeting of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, through Oct. 10 in Astoria.
Along with the Oregon chapter of the foundation and the Seaside Museum, event participants and supporters included the Clatsop County work crew, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Tides by the Sea, which provided rooms, and the Seaside Department of Public Works which provided a front-end loader to build up the fire pit, Orthmann said.
Wright said the museum hopes to bring back the event to Seaside every year.