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Morning Forum speaker addresses Lewis and Clark misconceptions

Photo By: Kathryn A. Tomaino/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Kathryn A. Tomaino/Special To The Town Crier

Author Rex Ziak discusses Lewis and Clark at Morning Forum June 4.

An author and amateur historian corrected a 200-year-old error through his intimate knowledge of the weather, tides and terrain of the Columbia River basin.

In a June 4 Morning Forum of Los Altos presentation, “In Full View: The True Story of Lewis and Clark,” Rex Ziak explained how he discovered the true location of the final stop on Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s epic Corps of Discovery trek in 1805.

Ziak’s book, “In Full View: A True and Accurate Account of Lewis and Clark’s Arrival at the Pacific Ocean, and Their Search for a Winter Camp Along the Lower Columbia River” (Moffitt House Press, 2002), chronicles his journey into the past.

His knowledge, curiosity and persistence led him to question long-established facts held by historians and uncover a missing chapter in American history.

President Thomas Jefferson inspired Lewis and Clark’s expedition, an effort to uncover the shortest and most convenient route across the Western U.S. to the Pacific Ocean. Their journey began in 1804 at the mouth of the Missouri River, lasted 28 months and covered 8,000 miles.

Ziak told the audience that it is not what you know that matters, it is the questions you ask.

“History repeats itself, and the historians repeat each other,” he said.

Curiosity led Ziak to question the experts and separate conventional wisdom from the facts recorded in Lewis and Clark’s journals.

Ziak, a native of Washington, searches for driftwood along the Columbia River to heat his home. While waiting for several hours for a log to break loose, he considered why the explorers took a full month to travel less than 20 miles. Knowledge of the terrain and tides informed his examination of the journals in a way that historians who read them from afar lacked and prompted him to travel the expedition’s exact route.

Lewis and Clark thought they were in sight of their goal Nov. 7, 1805: “Great joy in camp, we are in view of the ocean.” Ziak discovered that between Nov. 7 and Dec. 6 that year, the group stayed on Long Beach Peninsula in Pacific County, Wash., and not in Oregon, which historians had incorrectly identified as the end of the duo’s expedition. Treacherous ocean tides and river currents and a big storm resulted in the monthlong journey.

The explorers needed to establish a winter camp and learned from Clatsop Indians that elk had been spotted on the south side of the Columbia River, Ziak said. Although Lewis and Clark selected the camp’s location, each member of the expedition voted, including the lone woman, Sacajawea, and Clark’s slave, York. They voted to cross to the south side in search of meat, firewood and elk skins to replace their tattered clothes, he added, and subsequently built Camp Clatsop there.

Ziak’s discoveries led to his testimonies before Congress in 2004 in support of the formation of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historic Park, which now spans Oregon and Washington.

The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit www.morningforum.org.

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