The history of Lewis and Clark is well documented along the Lower Columbia River.
The region is home to Fort Clatsop, the Corps of Discovery’s winter camp for more than 100 days, and Dismal Nitch, where the expedition faced perilous storms.
Among the many points of interest, a little-known Lewis and Clark campsite at Tongue Point in Astoria has been mostly forgotten.
Through the work of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s Oregon Chapter, Astoria Parks and Recreation Department and other local leaders, the small piece of history was recognized Saturday during a dedication ceremony.
A group of about two dozen people gathered on the Astoria Riverwalk near the Alderbrook Lagoon to unveil an interpretive panel and bench with a memorial plaque honoring Keith G. Hay, a former Oregon chapter president who helped create the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
The exact location of the campsite is on restricted U.S. Coast Guard property and not open to the public, but the location is visible from the Astoria Riverwalk sign and bench.
The Corps of Discovery stayed at the Tongue Point site for 10 days between Nov. 27 and Dec. 6, 1805. Their next stop was Fort Clatsop for the winter.
“Where else across the United States did Lewis and Clark stay more than a day or two that doesn’t have signage or a visitor’s center or something like that,” Mark Johnson, the Oregon chapter president of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, said.
While doing inventory of all the sites during the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, Johnson said, the heritage foundation realized no interpretation had been done on Tongue Point.
Over the past decade, the foundation has been working toward recognizing the site. Work sped up over the past year with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, Tongue Point Job Corps, the Clatsop-Nehalem Tribe and the National Parks Service.
Tom Wilson, a former teacher at Astor Elementary School and a heritage foundation member, spoke to the crowd Saturday about the history of the campsite.
Before reaching Tongue Point, which they called Point William, the Corp of Discovery was barely surviving at Dismal Nitch on the other side of the river. They decided to cross the river in hopes of hunting an elk for the first time west of the Rocky Mountains, Wilson said.
The interpretive sign unveiled Saturday has a quote from William Clark describing the scene.
“Joseph Fields came home with the marrow bones of an elk which he had killed 6 miles distant. I sent out 6 men in a canoe for the meat, the evening being late they did not return this night, which proved fair moon shining night,” Clark wrote. “This is the first elk we have killed on this side the rockey mounts. A great deal of elk sign in the neighbourhood.”
At that time, Wilson said, the expedition’s decision to cross the river was looking good.
Wilson went on to describe how Tongue Point almost became a British stronghold before the War of 1812, and how the U.S. Coast Guard has increased its presence there since the early 1900s. In recent history, the Tongue Point Job Corps Center opened in 1965 as one of the first centers in the country.
“What an amazing history right here,” Wilson said. “We are very honored and proud to have this site.”