Sweat of the Earth
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Allan McMakin photo
The site of the salt works is now surrounded
by a residential district in the resort town
of Seaside, Oregon. The site is a detached
section of Fort Clatsop National Memorial.
September 28, 1805, at Canoe Camp on the Clearwater River:
| Game is very scarce, and our hunters unable to kill any meat. We are therefore obliged to live on fish and roots, that we procure from the natives, and which do not appear suitable diet for us. Salt also is scarce without which fish is but poor and insipid."|
November 24, 1805, at the mouth of the Columbia River:
|It would be of an advantage to us, for to stay near the Sea shore, on account of making Salt, which we are nearly out of at this time & the want of it in preserving our Provisions for the Winter, would be an object well worth our attention."|
o they wanted salt for flavoring, and needed it for curing meat. No one mentioned it, but they also could have used it to cure hides for clothing and moccasins. Lewis found a location for their winter encampment that would be sheltered from winter storms, near to winter deer and elk range, and reasonably close to the ocean where seawater--which ancient proto-scientists had regarded as the "sweat of the earth"--could be processed for salt.
The Netul River (now called the Lewis and Clark River) was affected by sea tides and thus was brackish, but it wasn't salty enough for efficient extraction of salt. The captains had to find a place on the coast well away from dilution by the outflow from the Columbia River.
On December 28 the captains ordered Privates Joseph Field,William Bratten, and George Gibson to cross the peninsula and find "a convenient place [to] form a Camp and Commence making Salt." Alexander Willard and Peter Weiser were sent along to help carry the Corps' five largest kettles. After five days of exploration they finally decided on a location about 17 miles below the mouth of the Columbia River. There was plenty of firewood and fresh water nearby, and their neighbors were several congenial families of Tillamook Indians.
The Corps had been entirely out of salt for two weeks when Willard and Weiser returned with a gallon of sea salt. Lewis found it "excellent, fine, strong, & white." Clark felt that it was "not So Strong as the rock Salt or that made in Kentucky or the Western parts of the U.States."
It was, as Lewis remarked, a tedious operation. For a month and a half the detail kept the fire going in the oven day and night, lugged perhaps 1,400 gallons of water from the surf, and boiled it down to 28 gallons of salt. Twelve gallons, packed in two small ironbound kegs, were set aside for the return trip as far as the mouth of the Marias River, where they had cached a reserve supply.