The journals of the Corps of Discovery are deeply etched into American history. Reading them it is astonishing to learn, for instance, how many fish were in the rivers, especially the Columbia and its tributaries. Fish in the salmon family were particularly abundant, including Pacific salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout.
Intimately connected to this rich food source, Indian tribes kept in rhythm with the seasonal spawning migrations. Through the journals we see Indians all along the riverbanks hanging fresh salmon filets to dry. This they did in preparation for winter.
Two hundred years later the great salmon and trout of the Columbia are nearly gone. Hydroelectric dams, runoff from deforestation, and pollution together destroyed the habitats of these fish. The journals leave us with a record of the past grandeur and abundance of life along the Columbia. They allow us a peek at both a river system flush with wild things, and the vibrant native cultures that depended on that plentitude. Their inscriptions also serve to remind us about the importance of fish to the economy, then and now.