What's New in Old News?
Welcome to the September installment of What’s New in Old News. I have been having difficulties with my newsletter platform (a failure to deliver newsletters to subscribers), so I am going to try an alternate service. Hopefully this (late) copy of the September newsletter will reach you.
Quite a few pearls for you this month, so let’s get right into it.
Salted Dogs at the End of the Trail
The Lewis and Clark Saltworks, Seaside, Oregon.
We purchased eight small, fat dogs for the party to eat. [T]he natives not being fond of selling their good fish compels us to make use of dog meat for food, the flesh of which the most of the party have become fond of from the habits of using it for some time past.
– The Journal of Lewis and Clark, Oct. 23, 1805
Food had become a problem as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led their small exploring party down the Columbia River. Dog, supplemented by the occasional fish or other wandering mammal, was a nutritional mainstay for the Corps of Discovery expedition. The native Americans with whom the explorers traded would exchange several dogs for a steel fishhook although, as Clark noted, fish came at a much higher price. By the time the explorers reached the mouth of the Columbia, dog and wapato root were daily entries on the menu.
Our party, from necessity, have been obliged to subsist some length of time on dogs [and] we have now become extremely fond of their flesh. It is worthy of remark that while we lived principally on the flesh of this animal, we were much more healthy, strong, and more fleshy than we have been since we left Buffalow Country.
As for my own part, I have not become reconciled to the taste of this animal as yet.
– The Journal of Lewis and Clark, Jan. 3, 1806
Of course an unsalted dog is fairly bland, and that might be why Clark never fully adapted to the meat. The party had run out of salt, so the first order of business, once they had reached the sea, was to boil up a fresh supply. While most of Lewis and Clark’s men hunted elk or set up a stockade around Fort Clatsop, the expedition’s winter quarters, the leaders dispatched three men—Joseph Field, William Bratton, and George Gibson—to set up a saltworks. The trio men hiked south along the coast until they reached the site of modern day Seaside, Oregon. It was essential that they get far enough away from the freshwater mouth of the Columbia River to ensure the best saltwater.
The men built a long, low stone half-cylinder and started a fire beneath it. They placed five metal kettles, filled with seawater, atop the stone cairn and started the slow boiling process.
As the days passed and the men failed to return, William Clark grew worried. What had become of his salty crew?
On Sunday, January 5, two of the men returned to camp. Clark wrote: “They had not been lost as we apprehended.” They had hiked south for five days before finding the ideal site for their saltworks. They had placed their manufacturing plant next to the lodge of friendly natives. Their hosts shared portions of whale blubber, which Clark decided was “very palatable and tender; it resembled the beaver or the dog in flavor.”
The good news from the saltworks was that Field, Bratton, and Gibson were producing between three quarts and a gallon of white salt each day. “They brought with them a specimen of the salt…we found it excellent, fine, strong, and white. This was a great treat to myself and most of the party, having not had any since the 20th of the preceding month.”
The saltworks was a great success. The three workers produced twenty-eight gallons of salt, enough to preserve the meat they hunted over the winter and to give a little extra seasoning to any dogs, beavers, or whales they might have eaten on the trail home.
If you happen to be in Seaside, as I was earlier this month, you can visit the conjectured site of the expedition’s saltworks. A low (reconstructed) cairn sits in a shady park near the beach, surrounded by condominiums and beach cottages. The precise location of the original installation has been lost to the ravages of time. This site was selected because Jenny Michel (d. 1905) told settlers that her father remembered seeing white men making salt at this location.
And that’s as close as you will get to eyewitness confirmation.
Stories You May Have Missed
Although no one would ever be so foolish as to suggest that the age of invention is over, the following two stories focus on early (failed) technologies that we now take for granted:
The Wright brothers were wrong — Professor J. S. Zerbe of Los Angeles, California was convinced of it. Yes, they had been the first to launch a human into powered flight, but they had gone about the…
On Feb. 4, 1912, an Austrian tailor, Franz Reichelt, jumped from the Eiffel Tower to test his new parachute suit. It did not end well.
The Oyster Burger Chronicles
Was this the greatest oyster burger ever made? Travel to Garibaldi to find out.
I have long nurtured a soft spot in my heart for Newport, Oregon. Situated at the top of Yaquina Bay, this popular town is a perfect mix of port and sand. But does it have a good oyster burger?
Summers are always a pleasant time for academics. Liberated from the classroom, we spread our sails and indulge in lives filled with research, writing, and long slow days of historical contemplation. I have spent most of the summer writing on (and about) the Oregon coast. Around a major book project—detailing the madness that gripped America when Halley’s Comet returned in 1910—I have written new articles about renegade sailors, Astoria, and the sea-destroyed resort, Bayocean. These will be appearing in print next year. Keep an eye on upcoming newsletters for publication details.
I was browsing through the National Archives this month, looking for records and photos related to the Army Corps of Engineers—don’t ask. Much to my great bemusement, I stumbled across a series of records grouped under the title: “The World of Dredging.”
With so many Internet delights available, it is amazing that I ever achieve anything…
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