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Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition visits the future site of Long Beach on November 19, 1805.

HistoryLink.org Essay 9814 : Printer-Friendly Format

On November 19, 1805, Captain William Clark (1770-1838) of the Lewis and Clark Expedition visits the future site of Long Beach. Clark records in his journal that at the most northerly point the expedition reached on the Pacific coast he inscribed "my name on a Small pine, the Day of the month & Year, Etc." (Reuben Gold Thwaites, 236). The tree will be lost, but a bronze sculpture placed along the Discovery Trail in Long Beach in 2003 will commemorate Clark's visit and mark the tree's approximate location.

Clark Reaches the Pacific

The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, traveled by land across North America in 1804 and 1805. Before deciding to build its winter fort on the south side of the Columbia River, the Corps explored the north side, land now part of Washington state. William Clark, one of the captains leading the expedition, took 11 men from their camp at McGowan, Station Camp, and traveled overland to the ocean beach, stopping to camp overnight near present-day Ilwaco. In his journal, Clark wrote, "Men appear much satisfied with their trip, beholding with estonishment the high waves dashing against the rocks of this emence Ocian" (Reuben Gold Thwaites, 234).

Clark's party walked up the sandy beach from Beard's Hollow to the northern side of today's Long Beach. Their route would have been farther inland than the beach we see today because in the intervening centuries sand accretion has added significantly to the shore. The group followed a long-used "highway" on which Indians took advantage of the beach's expanse of hard-packed, wet sand for easy travel between the Columbia River and Willapa Bay.

Before turning back to Station Camp, Clark inscribed his name and the date on a pine tree. Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and Clark inscribed their names and the dates at a number of locations along their route, both to mark their presence for posterity and to bolster American claims to the contested lands west of the Rockies, north of the Spanish colonies, and south of the Russian colonies -- today's British Columbia and Pacific Northwest.

The Corps Remembered

Americans would not return to the peninsula for several decades. In the 1850s and 1860s farmers began to claim land in the area and a stagecoach ran along the beach between Ilwaco and Oysterville, at the northern end of the peninsula.

The tree on which Clark had placed his initials was removed, some suspect, by an unwitting road crew many years ago and is lost. In 2000, in preparation for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the cities of Long Beach and Ilwaco and the Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission, working with the Washington State National and Air National guards and the Oregon National Guard, began work on the Discovery Trail. The 8.5-mile trail follows the Clark group's route from Baker Bay on the Columbia River to Long Beach.

In Long Beach the trail follows the city's boardwalk. At approximately the northern terminus of Clark's walk on the peninsula stands Clark's Tree, a bronze sculpture of a pine-tree snag by Utah artist Stanley Wanlass (b. 1941). Wanlass inscribed the tree trunk with the phrase, "William Clark. November 19, 1805. By land from the U. States," which is believed to be what Clark carved into the pine.

Two other sculptures elsewhere on the Discovery Trail depict Clark and a sturgeon he found on the beach. A reconstructed gray whale skeleton stands in for a whale carcass that Clark's group came upon during their visit. At the Ilwaco end of the trail, on the waterfront, a sculpture of a California condor depicts the birds that Clark identified as buzzards.

Sources:
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806:Printed from the Original Manuscripts in the Library of the American Philosophical Society and by Direction of Its Committee on Historical Documents, Together with Manuscript Material of Lewis and Clark from Other Sources, Including Note-books, Letters, Maps, Etc., and the Journals of Charles Floyd and Joseph Whitehouse, Now for the First Time Published in Full and Exactly as Written, Vol. 3, ed. by Reuben Gold Thwaites (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1905); John Macdonald, "Long Beach Peninsula: Carving, Casting a Place in History," The Seattle Times, November 4, 2004 (www.seattletimes.com); L. R. Williams, Our Pacific County (Raymond: The Raymond Herald, [1930], 1964), 102-103; "Discovery Trail," Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau website accessed April 20, 2011 (www.funbeach.com/local-attractions/discovery-trail/).


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William Clark (1770-1838), ca. 1810
Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, Courtesy National Park Service


Historical reenactment,Clark's Tree sculpture dedication, Long Beach, November 8, 2003
Sculpture by Stanley Wanlass, Photo Courtesy National Park Service


 
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