Life at Fort Clatsop
Life in the Coastal Communities
"At sunset … both gates shall be shut.”
Lewis, January 1, 1806)
During the winter following their arrival on the coast, the expedition’s commanders grew increasingly worried about completing their mission. Although Jefferson had told them that they might meet American or British ships on the Pacific coast, none in fact appeared. The company was nearly out of supplies and, worse, the captains were unsuccessful in bargaining with the local Chinook-speaking Clatsops, who were savvy traders (British and Canadian merchants were already regular visitors to the area, so the Americans’ merchandise had little appeal). The unpleasant damp weather only added to anxieties.
The commanders worried that the enlisted men spent too much time socializing with the Indians. They concluded that they could no longer afford the easy relationships that had characterized the previous winter at Fort Mandan. On New Year’s Day, 1806, Captain Lewis issued a new set of general orders: the gates to the Americans’ compound, Fort Clatsop, would close at sunset and all Indians would be put out of the fort. Indians who became “troublesome” at any time would be removed. Every member of the expedition would take a turn at guard duty. And anyone who traded or gave away government property without authorization would be tried and punished.