Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery Salt Makers, 1806 & 2001
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The salt makers did return

A report by Helen Gaston and Roy Kirkham


In the background the year was 2001 in a city called Seaside Oregon. In the foreground the year was 1806 near a village of friendly Clatsop Indians. Sergeant Patrick Gass sits while Private William Bratton tends to the fire under a kettle of boiling seawater.

Patrick Gass was played by John Luzader, who has a business called "Living Museums of the West" in Colorado, and William Bratton was played by Matt Hensley, a teacher at Astoria Middle School in Astoria Oregon. Hensley also works as a Ranger at Fort Clatsop National Memorial each summer.

Others in the total cast of characters were Shawn Williams as Private Joseph Field, Thomas Wilson as Private Thomas Howard, and Sean Johnson as Private George Shannon. Williams works at Fort Clatsop, Wilson is a teacher in the Astoria School District, and Johnson is a student at Astoria High School and volunteers at Fort Clatsop.

Helen Gaston tells about the Salt Maker presentation:

Over 6,000 visitors met the Lewis and Clark Salt Makers at the special events held in July and August. This event was sponsored by the Seaside Museum and Historical Society in partnership with Fort Clatsop National Memorial. The programs were very well received, with many of the participants giving high praises about the interpreters. For many it was a new way of learning the history of our country, specifically the Lewis and Clark Corp of Discoveries experience on the beach, boiling salt water to make salt for their return trip.

As first person interpreters, they knew only what had happened in their lives before February 1806. Extensive research was done for each of the characters, such as their birth dates and birth places. Who were their parents and grandparents? Where did they live before joining the expedition? What was their childhood like? Did they attend school? When and where did they sign up with the Corp? As they were a regiment of the US Army, what was the protocol of the Army in 1806? What kind of tools did they bring with them? What experiences did they have on the way out here? Because the characters knew this information, their interpretation of the salt makers was made very realistic.

The program was a tremendous success and at our critiquing meeting after the event it was decided to try to obtain funding to have it again in 2002. This year's program was funded by the Oregon Community Foundation Historic Trails Fund, The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee (Clatsop County), the National Park Service 2001 Challenge Cost Share Program, and Fort Clatsop National Memorial. The Clatsop County Genealogical Society, the City of Seaside and Oregon State Parks also contributed to this project.

Roy Kirkham tells about being a Contextual Greeter

What is a "contextual greeter"? I found out when I accepted that assignment for the "Salt Makers Return", a unique interactive learning experience for the entire family. For two 72-hour sessions, during the summer of 2001, a first-person historical interpretation program was presented on the beach in Seaside, Oregon. The character interpreters had set up camp, were tending the fires and boiling seawater about 300 yards from the actual Salt Works monument.

As a "contextual greeter", my job was to welcome visitors, let them know they were traveling back to the year 1806, and tell them they were approaching the Lewis & Clark Salt Works. They were to forget the hotels, houses and parked cars a few hundred yards behind them and imagine they were approaching this camp 195 years ago. The visitors would soon find themselves entering a different culture.

This was an interactive experience and the visitors asked the salt makers questions about their exploration with the Corps of Discovery, remembering the answers would all be in the context of this moment in 1806. The salt makers had researched their character, thoroughly, and would answer only in their present and past, and in the jargon of 1806.

In 1806 bartering was a routine way of doing business at the Salt Works and bartering continued at the Salt Works in 2001. The original expedition members' diet was limited with elk, fish and dog on the menu. Visitors were offered "valuable" blue beads, shells, bits of copper or pieces of ribbon for the pet dog accompanying them. I am relieved to report that no offers were accepted and all dogs returned home with their masters.

My work as a "contextual greeter" turned out to be a rewarding experience. Not only was I able to greet the visitors and prepare them for their adventure, but I also found myself being approached, after their interactive experience, to answer questions about the Corps of Discovery expedition and why certain things happened the way they did. Almost all of our visitors went away from the Salt Maker experience eager to learn more about this moment in history and to prepare for the 200th anniversary celebration of this event in the year 2006.