When the USS Shark ran aground on the Columbia River bar on Sept. 10, 1846, the captain, Lt. Neil M. Howison, and all hands were fortunate enough to make it to shore on Clatsop Beach. Crew member Burr Osborn’s letters (http://tinyurl.com/BOsLet), and Howison’s reports (http://tinyurl.com/shark1846), detail what happened next.
Once on the beach, the survivors burned wood from the wreck of the USS Peacock, an exploration vessel, to keep warm. One of the men had the bad luck to have been shipwrecked twice — he was also on the Peacock when it ran aground on the bar in 1841.
The group spent two miserable nights in a 12 by 24-foot floorless shanty on the beach, said to have been built 40 years earlier by some of the men in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The survivors were constantly wet, and most were only wearing underwear, or nightwear, when they had to abandon ship.
Howison took one of the boats to head for Vancouver, Washington, to get much-needed supplies, leaving the crew behind. Fortunately, some Indians arrived and helped the starving men procure two oxen. The roasted dinner was most welcome, as by then, the survivors had not eaten for 52 hours.
The morning after the feast, the group headed for Astoria (pictured as it was in 1813), where there was a double log house/store, two log huts for trappers, a Baptist missionary’s wood frame house and an Indian tepee. Set about a mile away was Fort George (aka Fort Astoria).
Within a week, Osborn wrote, most of the crew fell ill, probably from exposure after the wreck, and were treated with quinine and salt from the store for the three weeks it took them to recuperate. But the store wasn’t much help for the simple comforts, as even a blanket was $10 ($300 now).
By mid-October, the men felt well enough to start hauling logs from a nearby forest to build a house near Fort George at Point George, which is thought to be near present day Pier 3 at the Port of Astoria. In mid-November the men moved in, naming the dwelling Sharksville, after their lost ship.
Next week: Life in Sharksville