Skip to main content

A Monument To Oregon’s Pioneers

July 2024
1min read

As the state of Oregon nears its one hundredth anniversary, the realm where the Tonquin ’s wayfarers experienced some of their bitter hardships is about to be added to our series of national historic shrines. The event will salute not the first permanent settlement of Americans at the mouth of the Columbia River, which was that of the Pacific Fur Company in 1811, but one which even preceded it.

This was Fort Clatsop, a 50-foot-square log stockade built by Lewis and Clark during the stormy winter of 1805–6, abandoned when they paddled back up the Columbia toward distant civilization, and visited by the Astor Argonauts from the doomed Tonquin five or six years later.

Deserted, Fort Clatsop eventually succumbed to the prodigious growth of the “rain forest.” Its last vestiges, even its foundations, disappeared. But in 1955, to herald the sesquicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the fort was rebuilt by community enterprise to the exact specifications in the expedition’s famous Journals .

Along with Senators Wayne Morse and Henry C. Dworshak, I introduced legislation that year in the Senate “to provide that the Secretary of the Interior shall investigate and report to the Congress as to the advisability of establishing Fort Clatsop, Oregon, as a National Monument.” After prolonged and stubborn digging by National Park Service archeologists, the secretary in January of this year recommended the establishment of an area of about 100 acres as the Fort Clatsop National Memorial. Representative Walter Norblad of Oregon and I have introduced bills to authorize the required Federal appropriation; with the backing of the national administration, it has now passed the Senate and will, I have no doubt, become law.

The proposed National Memorial will be the first of its kind anywhere along the 4,000 miles of camp-fires and bivouacs of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark—a strange omission all these intervening years! It will help to pay tribute to the Astor nomads, too, for they founded permanently the colony which the great explorers envisioned but could not stay to settle. Indeed, the Pacific Fur Company may have been to Lewis and Clark what the homesteaders with plows were to the early treks of men like Frémont, Bonneville, and Powell. One breed explored the country and made maps, the other stayed and built settlements.

Richard L. Neuberger

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.