During the week Lewis was sick, Clark moved the camp to the junction of the North Fork of the Clearwater with the main stream. While camped there for a week, the men found Ponderosa Pine big enough to make canoes. By October 6th, the canoes were finished and even though they were mostly all still sick, they put the canoes into the water and began to load provisions.
The expedition sped down the Clearwater towards the junction with the Snake River. Although the dugout canoes were cumbersome, overturned and grounded on the rocks, swamped and sprung leaks, the captains ran the rapids anyway, as many as 15 in a day. Old Toby was so frightened by running the rapids he took off that night, without waiting for his pay. He was last seen running eastward along the riverbank.
On October 10th, the expedition reached the Snake River, coming in from the south. The party camped that night near the site of present day Lewiston, Idaho. The men bought dogs and dried fish from the local Indians. “All the Party have greatly the advantage of me,” Clark reported, “in as much as they all relish the flesh of the dogs.” On October 14th, the unhappy Clark shot some ducks and was able to record, “for the first time in three weeks past I had a good dinner of Blue wing Teel.”
The expedition swept on toward the junction of the Snake and Columbia, passing through the canyon-lined Snake on into present Washington State, where the Great Columbian Plain offered a barren landscape in stark contrast to the wooded mountains they were leaving behind. Along the way they passed numerous Indian villages of the Nez Perce� nation, by far the largest and most powerful of the Pacific Northwest. They had more horses than any tribe on the continent and were the only North American Indians to practice selective breeding. They scorned eating horse flesh; their diet was primarily deer and elk, supplemented by large quantities of fish. The Columbia and Snake River system, where they lived, produced more salmon than any other river in the world. Their catches were amazing; one man could catch 100 salmon on a good day, a full ton of fish!
Lewis was torn between wanting to keep moving toward the Pacific and his need to bring the Nez Perce� into the American orbit. He was not in American territory, neither the U. S. or Great Britain had established sovereignty over the Pacific Northwest. Both countries wanted it and had some sort of claim but the Russians and Spaniards did too. But Lewis and Clark were the first white men to enter Idaho, Washington and Oregon by land. Even though they never planted a flag to make a formal claim for the United States, they acted as if it were already theirs.
No matter how badly Lewis and Clark wanted good relations with the Indians, sometimes they put their daily needs first. “We have made it a point at all times not to take any thing belonging to the Indians even their wood,” Clark noted on October 14th, but since there was no wood on the island where they were camped that night, “we are Compelled to violate that rule and take a part of the Split timber we find here.” The next night, “we were obliged for the first time (sic) to take the property of the Indians without the consent or approbation of the owner, the night was cold and we made use of a part of those boards and Split logs for fire wood.” This would not be the only time that Lewis and Clark would resort to stealing from the Indians.
On October 16th, the party reached the junction with the Columbia, the first white men to be on the river east of the Cascades. They camped for two days while Clark investigated the Columbia for about ten miles upstream. The men were amazed by the number of salmon in the river, mostly dying after the spawn and therefore inedible.
Lewis had long realized that the Columbia had to have many rapids and some major falls on it as it dropped down from the Rockies to the Pacific. On October 23rd, they came to
the beginning of a spectacular but dangerous stretch that extended about 55 miles. The Indians gathered on the riverbanks to watch the white men run the rapids. That night, Twisted Hair, a Nez Perce� guide and interpreter, told Lewis and Clark that he had heard from his relatives among the local Indians that the Chinookan people living farther down the river intended to kill the Americans when they arrived. The following day, Twisted Hair and his lesser chief, Tetoharsky, decided to return home. They said that the Chinooks would surely kill them if they had the chance and they could not speak the language so they could no longer help the expedition as interpreters.
On November 7th, after a fog lifted, the expedition set off. By mid-afternoon, the sky was clear and a shout went up. In his field notes Clark scribbled his immortal line, “Ocian in view! O! the joy.” The canoes sped along and made 34 miles that day. Once again the campsite was barely sufficient and it was raining. Despite the conditions, Clark wrote, “Great joy in camp we are in view of the Ocian, the great Pacific Octean which we been So long anxious to See.” They could distinctly hear waves breaking on the rocks. Then he wrote, “Ocian 4142 Miles from the Mouth of Missouri R.” There was no celebration though, it was raining too hard, but each man�s mind must have been soaring with a sense of triumph!
By late November, the expedition reached present day Astoria, Oregon but were still in search of an adequate place to spend the winter. After exploring up the Lewis and Clark River, about 3 miles from the mouth, they found their spot and built Fort Clatsop.