Students watch a video based on William Clark’s journal entry about how the Corps of Discovery spent Christmas Day, 1805, at Fort Clatsop on the Oregon coast. Lewis and Clark kept detailed journals during their 2.5 year-long exploration. The daily entries discussed their discoveries of flora, fauna, and water passageways; the customs and lifestyles of the Native Peoples; as well as their day-to-day experiences of exploring and living in rough and unfamiliar territory. This video—based on Clark’s own words—details an uncomfortable Christmas Day—lacking in the comfort and happiness of a usual holiday celebration. Students answer questions on the video, and locate the Lewis and Clark trail in relation to the Columbia River and Fort Clatsop.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Unit 4: Early Explorers & Fur Trade." In this unit, students will explore how exploration and the fur trade impacted the Native Peoples and set the region on a path toward statehood.
4.2: Explain how key individuals and events influenced the early growth and changes in Oregon.
4.7: Use primary and secondary sources to create or describe a narrative about events in Oregon history.
- Video: Moments in Time: Christmas at Fort Clatsop
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show videos to the class
- Class set of Christmas at Fort Clatsop handout
- Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
Explain that Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment for Lewis and Clark from December 1805 to March 1806. Fort Clatsop is near the mouth of the Columbia River in what is now known as Oregon. Today, there is a visitor center that includes a replica of Fort Clatsop that is similar to the one built by the explorers.
At the time of the expedition, journaling was the primary method of record-keeping to document events, recollections, reflections, ideas, and discoveries. The detailed journals of Lewis and Clark provide us with some of the only primary sources detailing life as it existed in early nineteenth-century Oregon. These journal entries not only account for the scientific discoveries made during the expedition, but also give insight into the feelings and experiences of the explorers themselves.
Distribute the Christmas at Fort Clatsop handout to students. Tell students they will be watching a video that dramatizes one of the journal entries written by William Clark describing the Christmas Day he spent at Fort Clatsop with Meriwether Lewis and the rest of the Corps of Discovery. Instruct students to take notes as they watch.
Play the video, Moments in Time: Christmas at Fort Clatsop. [1:06]
Have students answer questions found on the handout.
Ask students whether the audio could be considered a primary source. What about the video? Explain that the journal entry itself is a primary source, since it’s Clark’s eyewitness account of events, written at the time the events took place. The video is a visual representation of the journal entry, and the dramatizations depicted can be considered secondary sources.
The explorers celebrated Christmas Day by shooting off guns, handing out small gifts, and engaging in salutes, shouts, and songs [0:15]
Tobacco and handkerchief [0:28]
Spoiled meat, spoiled fish, and a few roots [0:50]
Answers will vary, but might include: (a) Clark documented Christmas Day to show how difficult their circumstances were (i.e., not even a holiday was very fun; “low spirits”); he wrote about it to show how hard life in winter was on the Oregon coast; to show how different life in the frontier could be (no feasting) compared to the east coast; and (b) the inclusion of the Christmas Day journal entry indicates that their time in Oregon overall was very difficult—meager food sources; few nice items; low spirits (even a holiday couldn’t really raise them).
December 1805 to March 1806