First Advisor

William L. Lang

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), Chinook Indians -- Social life and customs Fort Clatsop (Or.), Fort Clatsop (Or.)



Physical Description

1 online resource, (137p.)


Members of the Lewis and Clark expedition did not like the 1805-1806 winter they spent at Fort Clatsop near the mouth of the Columbia River among the Lower Chinookan Indians, for two reasons. First, the environment west of the Rocky Mountains was unlike anything they had ever experienced or imagined, and it had such a powerful effect on the whites as to negatively influence their attitudes regarding the western landscape, and to prejudice the explorers against the peoples living in that environment.

Second, the cultures of the Lower Chinook Indians and the whites were so different that often neither group comprehended the motives and actions of the other, resulting in mutual resentment and dislike. Lewis and Clark often portray these Indians as thieves, price-gouging traders, and physically unattractive, but an examination of Chinookan culture gives another viewpoint: the Indians felt they were acting in legitimate and reasonable ways, and that it was the white visitors who were strange and unpredictable.

To comprehend Lower Chinookan culture I rely on the records left by the earliest visitors to the Columbia River (mainly fur traders), as well as more recent anthropological studies of those Indians. For an understanding of expedition attitudes, I depend mainly on The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, eleven volumes of expedition writing edited by Gary Moulton. A close examination of these party journals reveals two related trends. In the early part of their stay, expedition members often complain about the environment on the lower Columbia, but these protests gradually die out early in 1806. But, conversely, complaints about the Lower Chinookan Indians gradually grow stronger, continuing even after the expedition has left the coast. This suggests that the explorers gradually shifted their complaints away from what they could not control, the environment, to what they felt they could do something about, the Indians living in that environment. All of these attitudes and opinions resulted in a disagreeable winter for the explorers, and probably for the Chinook Indians as well.


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