It’s the winter of 1806. In a few months, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark will begin a return journey back east with their men. Before they leave, however, several members from the Corps of Discovery Expedition are weathering an Oregon winter on the coast to make salt to preserve their food.
This is the scene the public will be brought into during the annual Salt Makers Return to Seaside, to be held from 5 p.m. Aug. 15 to 3 p.m. Aug. 17.
“You’re stepping back into 1806,” said Gloria Linkey, a Seaside historian and administrator for the Pacific Northwest Living Historians.
During the re-enactment, Pacific Northwest Living Historian interpreters will set up camp on the beach in south Seaside near Avenue U, just as five members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition did in 1806.
“This weekend program is a 46-hour first-person historical interpretation of the 1806 winter salt-making operation of the Lewis and Clark Expedition,” according a news release from the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which produces the event along with the Seaside Museum & Historical Society.
Dressed in period clothing and never breaking character, the men will extract salt for their “return journey” by boiling seawater hauled from the Pacific Ocean, Linkey said.
Each of the men will take a two-hour guard duty shift throughout the night to watch the camp and keep the fires going.
The original group from the Corps of Discovery was sent to establish a salt camp 15 miles southwest of Fort Clatsop in December 1805. Using five brass kettles, the men boiled approximately 1,400 gallons of seawater over the next several weeks, according to the Seaside Museum & Historical Society website.
The men made and used the salt to season and preserve food before they headed back to St. Louis. Only about a dozen days of the four months the corps was at Fort Clatsop it did not rain, Linkey said.
“As a result, they were killing elk and deer and they were drying the meat, but the meat was spoiling, because it was so damp, and they had no salt,” she said.
The seacoast camp was abandoned in February 1806 after three and a half bushels of salt were produced, according to the Seaside Museum & Historical Society website.
Seven interpreters will put on the Salt Makers Return program this year, portraying men from the expedition, such as Clark. Usually, one interpreter portrays Sacagawea — the only woman on the expedition. This year, however, nobody will be playing Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea’s husband.
“Without Charbonneau, we can’t have a Sacagawea,” Linkey said.
The event is free and open to the public.
When people first arrive at the camp, they will be met by people who will provide a brief explanation of what the visitors will experience. The public then will be invited to walk the camp and visit with members of the expedition, who will be making salt.
“They stay in character, and they talk as if it was 1806,” Linkey said, adding visitors won’t hear things like “uh-huh,” “sure thing” or the like.
The characters will not speak about their trip back home or anything that happened after making salt in Seaside. The public is encouraged to ask questions about the journey, where the men are from, if they are enjoying the new frontier and other questions relevant to the expedition, Linkey said.
The living historians have studied their characters completely.
“They should know as much about the character they are portraying as they know about themselves,” Linkey said.
Each man in the Corps of Discovery was selected specifically for the expedition because he possessed a certain skill or knew a trade relevant to the mission.
The visitors, for the purpose of the re-enactment, take on the role of the Clatsop and Tillamook Indians, who traded with the Corps of Discovery.
The public is welcome to trade food or other items with the interpreters in exchange for beads, bells and other period knick knacks similar to the trade items brought with Lewis and Clark and their men. The event will be very interactive.
“The children love it, because it’s so authentic and they get a sense of how the men survived,” Linkey said.
In general, the public seems to enjoy the program, because “they get a sense of what was going on in 1806 and how important the Lewis and Clark journey was to the United States,” Linkey said.
The idea for the event was generated by the Seaside Museum about 12 years ago at the start of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s journey. Since the salt-making operation took place in Seaside at the original saltworks site near South Beach Drive and Lewis & Clark Way, bringing attention to a significant aspect of the group’s journey agreed with the organization’s purpose and mission.
“This is where it actually happened,” Linkey said.
“It’s very relevant to Seaside,” she added. “Of course, Seaside has a lot of history, and this is just one episode that has happened, so it’s amazing. Most people consider Seaside a beach resort town. ... Which is a wonderful idea. But it also has a great amount of history.”
The program usually attracts about 2,000 people per year. This year’s program is sponsored by the Oregon Historic Trails Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, Seaside Museum & Historical Society member donations, Seaside Public Works Department, The Tides Motel, Clatsop County Work Crew and Oregon State Parks and Recreation.
For more information, contact Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at 503-861-2471 ext. 214 or the Seaside Museum & Historical Society at 503-738-7065.
‘This is where it actually happened’