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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Journals Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

Sea Otter

As the Corps descended the Columbia, they saw marine mammals in great numbers, presumably fishing. At the time, Capt. Clark described them as sea otters, but then realizes in his later entry that the sea otter is found only in salt water and that the animals he had seen earlier were seals.

Capt. Clark, October 23, 1805--Shot a Sea Orter which I did not get, Great Numbers about those rapids

Capt. Clark, November 1, 1805--Great numbers of Sea Otters, they are so cautious that I with dificuelty got a Shot at one today, which I must have killed, but could not get him as he Sunk.

Capt. Lewis, February 23, 1806--The Sea Otter is found on the sea coast and in the salt water. this anamal when fully grown is as large as a common mastive dog. the ears and eyes are remarkab[l]y small, particularly the former which is not an inch in length thick fleshey and pointed covered with short hair. the tail is about 10 inches in length thick where it joins the body and tapering to a very sharp point; in common with the body it is covered with a deep fur particularly on the upper side, on the under part the fur is not so long. the legs are remarkably short and the feet which have five toes each are broad large and webbed. the legs are covered with fur and the feet with short hair. the body of this animal is long and nearly of the same thickness throughout. from the extremity of the tail to that of the nose they will measure 5 feet or upwards. the colour is a uniform dark brown and when in good order and season perfectly black and glossey. it is the riches[t] and I think the most delicious fur in the world at least I cannot form an idea of any more so. it is deep thick silkey in the extreem and strong. the inner part of the fur when opened is lighter than the surface in it’s natural position. there are some fine black and shining hairs intermixed with the fur which are reather longer and add much to it’s beauty. the nose, about the eyes ears and forehead in some of these otter is of a lighter colour, sometimes a light brown. those parts in the young sucking Otter of this species is sometimes of a cream coloured white, but always much lighter than the other parts. the fur of the infant Otter is much inferior in point of colour and texture to that of the full grown otter or even after it has been weaned. there is so great a difference that I have for some time supposed it a different animal; the Indians call the infant Otter Spuck, and the full grow[n] or such as had obtained a coat of good fur, E-luck’-ke. this still further confirmed the opinion of their being distinct species; but I have since learned that the Spuck is the young Otter. the colour of the neck, body, legs and tail is a dark lead brown.

Capt. Clark, February 23, 1806--The Sea Otter is found only on the sea coast and in the salt water. Those animals which I took to be the sea otter from the Great Falls of the Columbia to the mount, proves to be the Phosia or Seal which at a little distance has every appearance of the sea otter. The sea otter when fully grown is as large as a common mastiff dog, the ears and Eyes are remarkably small, particularly the former which is not an inch in length thick fleshy and pointed covered with short hair. the tail is about 10 inches in length thick where it joins the body and tapering to a very sharp point; in common with the body it is covered with a deep fur particularly on the upper side, on the under part the fur is not so long. the legs are remarkably short and the feat which have five toes each are broad large and webbed. the legs are covered with fur and the feet with short hair. the body of this animal is long and nearly of the same thickness throughout. from the extremity of the tail to that of the nose they will measure 5 feet or upwards. the colour is of a uniform dark brown, and when in good order and season perfectly Black and Glossy. it is the richest and I think the most delightfull fur in the world at least I cannot form an idea of any more so. it is deep thick silky in the extream and strong. the inner part of the fur when open is lighter than the surface in it’s natural position. there are some fine black shineing hairs intermixed with the fur which are reather longer and add much to it’s beauty. the nose, about the eyes, ears and forehead in some of those otter is of a light colour, sometimes a light brown. those parts in the young sucking Otter of this species is sometimes of a cream coloured white, but always much lighter than the other parts. the fur of the infant Otter is much inferior in point of colour, and texture, to that of the full grown otter, or even after it has been weened. there is so great a difference that I have for some time supposed it a different animal; the Indians call the infant Otter spuck, and the full grown or such as had obtained a coat of good fur, Eluck’ko. this still further confirmed the opinion of their being distinct species; but I have since learned that the Spuck is the young Otter. the colour of the neck, body, legs and tail is a dark lead brown.

Sea otter skins as trade:

These passages illustrate that the native people were familiar with bartering with visitors, especially trading furs for manufactured goods - and driving a hard bargain in the process. The Corps of Discovery had an ever-dwindling supply of trading goods that were used for various purposes: building trust and friendship, obtaining food, canoes or horses, and obtaining items for historical purposes or for personal use. At various times during the journey, the native trading ""prices"" exceeded the limits that the Captains were willing or able to ""pay"", especially when they considered what their needs would be for the remainder of the trip. Even on the Pacific Coast, they were careful to keep enough in reserve to get them back over the Rockies and down the Missouri.

Capt. Lewis, January 9, 1806--This traffic on the part of the whites consists in vending, guns, (principally old british or American musquits) powder, balls and shot, Copper and brass kettles, brass teakettles and coffee pots, blankets from tow to three point, scarlet and blue Cloth (coarse), plates and strips of sheet copper and brass, large brass wire, knives, beads and tobacco with fishinghooks buttons and some other small articles; also a considerable quantity of Sailor’s cloaths, as hats coats, trowsers and shirts. for these they receive in return from the natives, dressed and undressed Elk-skins, skins of the sea Otter, common Otter, beaver, common fox, spuck and tiger cat; also dryed and pounded sammon in baskets, and a kind of buisquit, which the natives make of roots called by them shappelell.

Capt. Clark, November 23, 1805--in the evening Seven indians of the Clot sop Nation came over in a Canoe, they brought with them 2 Sea orter skins, for which the[y] asked such high prices we were uneabled to purchase, with[out] reduceing our small stock of merchindize upon which we have to depend in part for subsistance on our return home,

Capt. Clark, December 10, 1805--I attempted to purchase a Small Sea otter Skin for read [red] beeds which I had in my pockets, they would not trade for those beeds not priseing any other Colour than Blue or White,

Capt. Clark, December 14, 1805--the Indians leave us to day after Selling a Small Sea otter skin and a roab,

Capt. Lewis, January 19, 1806--we were visited today by two Clatsop men and a woman who brought for sale some Sea Otter skins of which we purchased one, giving in exchange the remainder of our blue beads consisting of 6 fathoms and about the same quantity of small white beads and a knife.

Capt. Lewis, February 18, 1806--in the forenoon we were visited by eight Cla[t]sops and Chinnooks from whom we purchased a Sea Otter’s skin and two hats made of waytape and white cedar bark.

Capt. Clark, February 24, 1806--This evening we were visited by Comowooll and the Clatsop Chief and 14 men women and children of his nation. Drewyer cam a pasinger in their canoe and brought with him two dogs. the chief and his party had brought for sale a sea otter skin, some hats, sturgeon and a species of fish (ed. - eulachon) which now begins to run and are taken in Great quantities in the Columbia River about 40 miles above us by means of skiming or scooping nets. Capt Lewis gave an old Coat and Vest for a sea otter skin, we purchased several hats of the Indian manufactry and distributed them among the party. we also purchased a fiew of the small fish which we found deliciously fine.

Capt. Lewis, March 23, 1806--I obtained one Sea Otter skin from this party.

Capt. Lewis, March 25, 1806--one of the men purchased a Sea Otter skin at this lodge, for which he gave a dressed Elkskin and a handkerchief.

Capt. Lewis, March 29, 1806--we purchased a considerable quantity of wappetoes 12 dogs, and 2 Sea otter skins of these people.

 
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