The weeks remaining before the party set out on their return were passed without notable incident. The journal is chiefly occupied with comments on the weather, which was variable, and some account of the manners and customs of the Indian tribes along the Columbia River. At that time, so few traders had penetrated the wilds of the Lower Columbia that the Indians were not supplied with firearms to any great extent. Their main reliance was the bow and arrow. A few shotguns were seen among them, but no rifles, and great was the admiration and wonder with which the Indians saw the white men slay birds and animals at a long distance. Pitfalls for elk were constructed by the side of fallen trees over which the animals might leap. Concerning the manufactures of the Clatsops, they reported as follows:--
"Their hats are made of cedar-bark and bear-grass, interwoven together in the form of a European hat, with a small brim of about two inches, and a high crown widening upward. They are light, ornamented with various colors and figures, and being nearly water-proof, are much more durable than either chip or straw hats. These hats form a small article of traffic with the whites, and their manufacture is one of the best exertions of Indian industry. They are, however, very dexterous in making a variety of domestic utensils, among which are bowls, spoons, scewers [skewers], spits, and baskets. The bowl or trough is of different shapes--round, semicircular, in the form of a canoe, or cubic, and generally dug out of a single piece of wood; the larger vessels have holes in the sides by way of handles, and all are executed with great neatness. In these vessels they boil their food, by throwing hot stones into the water, and extract oil from different animals in the same way. Spoons are not very abundant, nor is there anything remarkable in their shape, except that they are large and the bowl broad. Meat is roasted on one end of a sharp skewer, placed erect before the fire, with the other end fixed in the ground.
"But the most curious workmanship is that of the basket. It is formed of cedar-bark and bear-grass, so closely interwoven that it is water-tight, without the aid of either gum or resin. The form is generally conic, or rather the segment [frustum] of a cone, of which the smaller end is the bottom of the basket; and being made of all sizes, from that of the smallest cup to the capacity of five or six gallons, they answer the double purpose of a covering for the head or to contain water. Some of them are highly ornamented with strands of bear-grass, woven into figures of various colors, which require great labor; yet they are made very expeditiously and sold for a trifle. It is for the construction of these baskets that the bear-grass forms an article of considerable traffic. It grows only near the snowy region of the high mountains; the blade, which is two feet long and about three-eighths of an inch wide, is smooth, strong, and pliant; the young blades particularly, from their not being exposed to the sun and air, have an appearance of great neatness, and are generally preferred. Other bags and baskets, not waterproof, are made of cedar-bark, silk-grass, rushes, flags, and common coarse sedge, for the use of families. In these manufactures, as in the ordinary work of the house, the instrument most in use is a knife, or rather a dagger. The handle of it is small, and has a strong loop of twine for the thumb, to prevent its being wrested from the band. On each side is a blade, double-edged and pointed; the longer from nine to ten inches, the shorter from four to five. This knife is carried habitually in the hand, sometimes exposed, but mostly, when in company with strangers, is put under the robe."
Naturally, all of the Columbia River Indians were found to be expert in the building and handling of canoes. Here their greatest skill was employed. And, it may be added, the Indians of the North Pacific coast to-day are equally adept and skilful. The canoes of the present race of red men do not essentially differ from those of the tribes described by Lewis and Clark, and who are now extinct. The Indians then living above tide-water built canoes of smaller size than those employed by the nations farther down the river. The canoes of the Tillamooks and other tribes living on the seacoast were upwards of fifty feet long, and would carry eight or ten thousand pounds' weight, or twenty-five or thirty persons. These were constructed from the trunk of a single tree, usually white cedar. The bow and stern rose much higher than the gunwale, and were adorned by grotesque figures excellently well carved and fitted to pedestals cut in the solid wood of the canoe. The same method of adornment may be seen among the aborigines of Alaska and other regions of the North Pacific, to-day. The figures are made of small pieces of wood neatly fitted together by inlaying and mortising, without any spike of any kind. When one reflects that the Indians seen by Lewis and Clark constructed their large canoes with very poor tools, it is impossible to withhold one's admiration of their industry and patience. The journal says:--
"Our admiration of their skill in these curious constructions was increased by observing the very inadequate implements which they use. These Indians possess very few axes, and the only tool they employ, from felling the tree to the delicate workmanship of the images, is a chisel made of an old file, about an inch or an inch and a half in width. Even of this, too, they have not learned the proper management; for the chisel is sometimes fixed in a large block of wood, and, being held in the right hand, the block is pushed with the left, without the aid of a mallet. But under all these disadvantages, their canoes, which one would suppose to be the work of years, are made in a few weeks. A canoe, however, is very highly prized, being in traffic an article of the greatest value except a wife, and of equal value with her; so that a lover generally gives a canoe to the father in exchange for his daughter. . . .
"The harmony of their private life is secured by their ignorance of spirituous liquors, the earliest and most dreadful present which civilization has given to the other natives of the continent. Although they have had so much intercourse with whites, they do not appear to possess any knowledge of those dangerous luxuries; at least they have never inquired after them, which they probably would have done if once liquors bad been introduced among them. Indeed, we have not observed any liquor of intoxicating quality among these or any Indians west of the Rocky Mountains, the universal beverage being pure water. They, however, sometimes almost intoxicate themselves by smoking tobacco, of which they are excessively fond, and the pleasures of which they prolong as much as possible, by retaining vast quantities at a time, till after circulating through the lungs and stomach it issues in volumes from the mouth and nostrils."
A long period of quiet prevailed in camp after the first of February, before the final preparations for departure were made. Parties were sent out every day to hunt, and the campers were able to command a few days' supply of provision in advance. The flesh of the deer was now very lean and poor, but that of the elk was growing better and better. It was estimated by one of the party that they killed, between December 1, 1805, and March 20, 1806, elk to the number of one hundred and thirty-one, and twenty deer. Some of this meat they smoked for its better preservation, but most of it was eaten fresh. No record was kept of the amount of fish consumed by the party; but they were obliged at times to make fish their sole article of diet. Late in February they were visited by Comowool, the principal Clatsop chief, who brought them a sturgeon and quantities of a small fish which had just begun to make its appearance in the Columbia. This was known as the anchovy, but oftener as the candle-fish; it is so fat that it may be burned like a torch, or candle. The journal speaks of Comowool as "by far the most friendly and decent savage we have seen in this neighborhood."
The officers of the expedition had decided to begin their homeward march on the first of April; but a natural impatience induced them to start a little earlier, and, as a matter of record, it may be said that they evacuated Fort Clatsop on the 23d of March, 1806. An examination of their stock of ammunition showed that they had on hand a supply of powder amply sufficient for their needs when travelling the three thousand miles of wilderness in which their sole reliance for food must be the game to be killed. The powder was kept in leaden canisters, and these, when empty, were used for making balls for muskets and rifles. Three bushels of salt were collected for their use on the homeward journey.