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On the Shores of the Nootka
On the Shores of the Nootka

In 1805, the northwest tip of what is now Oregon was inhabited by the Clatsop Indians. The tribe consisted of about four hundred people, and occupied three villages on the southern side of the Columbia river. Like their neighbors, the Chinooks, the Clatsops were a flourishing people, and enjoyed plentiful amounts of fish and fur. They had few enemies, and fought few wars.

Coboway, chief of one of the villages, was the only Clastop leader to make recorded contact with the Corps of Discovery. On December 12, 1805, Coboway visited the expedition at Fort Clatsop, which was still under construction. He exchanged some goods, including a sea otter pelt, for fishhooks and a small bag of Shoshone tobacco. Over the rest of the winter, Coboway would be a frequent and welcome vistor to Fort Clatsop.

The Clatsops also aided the Corps both in preparing for and dealing with the Northwest winter. They informed Lewis and Clark that there was a good amount of elk on the south side of the Columbia, information that influenced the Corps to build Fort Clatsop where they did. When the expedition’s food supplies were running low, the Clatsops informed the Corps that a whale had washed ashore some miles to the south.

Relations between the Clatsops and the expedition went well through the duration of the Americans’ stay. The only negative incident between the two groups – the expedition’s theft of a Clatsop canoe – was concealed from the Clatsops. At the expedition’s departure from Fort Clatsop on March 22, 1806, Lewis wrote in his journal that Coboway “has been much more kind an[d] hospitable to us than any other indian in this neighbourhood.” Because of his friendship with the expedition, Coboway was left Fort Clatsop and all its furniture by Lewis and Clark.