Lewis and Clark Trail.com Re-live the Adventure


Lewis and Clark History

Corps of Discovery ~ Sergeant Patrick Gass

The Corps of Volunteers of North Western Discovery were 33 ordinary people who did ordinary things in an extra ordinary way to make this one of the most successful expeditions of our time. One of the extra ordinary members of the group was the rough and tumble Patrick Gass whose background, skills and leadership abilities made him a key player in the success of the Corps.

Custom Search

Quick Links

Follow Lewis and Clark Trail on Twitter  Lewis and Clark Trail - Facebook  

Sergeant Patrick Gass Continued ...

Patrick McLene Gass of Irish and Scotch decent
was born at Falling Springs, near present day Chambersburg, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on 12 June 1771. Patrick’s father Benjamin operated a fulling mill (a mill for the process of shrinking and thickening woolen fabric by application of moisture, heat, friction and pressure to cause the fibers to felt.)

The Gass family moved to Maryland in 1775 where Patrick was within earshot of the Revolutionary War. From 1777 to 1780. Patrick lived with his grandparents. In 1780 the family was again on the move west. After several stops for short periods of time, they finally settled at Catfish Camp near present day Washington, Pennsylvania, where the family farmed and operated a fulling mill.

In 1792, Patrick’s father was drafted into the army to defend settlers from attacking Indians; Patrick served in his father’s place. At age 21 Patrick was in Captain Caton’s Company of Rangers. The Rangers were to protect the settlers from raiding bands of Indians from the Ohio country. Following his discharge in 1793, Patrick joined a group of flatboat men and traveled down to New Orleans, returning to Philadelphia by way of Cuba.

In 1794, Patrick was in Mercersbury, Pennsylvania, where he apprenticed himself as a carpenter. Here he worked on a house owned by James Buchanan, Senior. Buchanan’s son James Jr. (who was three at the time) would become the fifteenth President of the United States. Patrick worked as a carpenter until 1799 when the threat of conflict appeared with France. He enlisted in the army under General Alexander Hamilton. After serving under several commanders, Patrick came under the command of Captain Russell Bissell on the Tennessee River, and in 1801 this contingent joined the artillery company at Fort Kaskaskia, Illinois Territory.

Patrick’s military records show that he was 5 foot 7 inches tall with dark hair and complexion; his eyes were gray, and his occupation was a carpenter. Family oral tradition indicates he was broad-chested and heavy limbed, yet lean and very quick. He was a very active walker who enjoyed his tobacco and liquor. It has been said that his language was better suited for a campfire than the parlor. He was an interesting individual.

In the fall of 1803
Captains Lewis and Clark came down the Ohio River and stopped at Fort Kaskaskaia and called for volunteers for their overland expedition through unknown lands to the Pacific Ocean. They found twelve candidates from the troops there. More men volunteered here than any other place. One of these volunteers was Captain Bissell’s carpenter, Patrick Gass. Captain Bissell refused to release Gass because he was not only a good soldier but also a first rate carpenter.

Lewis asked the men who could write to keep journals. Patrick Gass was one of the seven known journal keepers that included Lewis, Clark, Ordway, Floyd, Whitehouse, and Frazer. Pryor and Willard may have also kept journals, but we do not have them today. Patrick had only 19 days of formal education and by his own admission "never learned to read, write, and cipher till he had come of age." Gass’s journal has provided us with more details about some activities of the Expedition than did the other journals. Gass was a keen observer, and since he was a carpenter, he provided details on construction of earth lodges and canoes of the native people. On 30 March 1806 Gass wrote of the Skillute, "The native of this country ought to have the credit of making the finest canoes, perhaps in the world, both to service and beauty; they are no less expert in working them when made." Gass had his journal of the expedition published just six months after the Corps returned to St. Louis and seven years before Lewis’s and Clark’s were published. In David MeKeehan’s prospectus for Patrick Gass’s journal in the Pittsburgh Gazette, March 1807 the name "Corps of Volunteers for North Western Discovery’ was shortened to "The Corps of Discovery," and this term has been used ever since.
On 14 May 1804 when the Corps headed up the Missouri River
Patrick Gass was thirty-three years old, making him among the oldest of the group. Captain Clark was ten months older than Gass; and John Shields, blacksmith/gunsmith, was two years older than Gass. The senior member was French/Canadian Touussaint Charbonneau, husband of Sacagawea, who was in his mid thirties and joined the party at the Mandan Village.



Gass proved his worth to the Corps from the very beginning. With his woodworking skills he oversaw the construction of all the winter forts
He made early modifications on the keelboat and was in charge of hewing the dugout canoes at Mandan (North Dakota), White Bear Island (Montana), and Canoe Camp (Idaho). He designed and built the wagons to make the 18 mile portage overland at Great Falls. Gass assisted Captain Lewis in the assembly of the "experiment," the iron boat frame that failed due to the lack of proper material to seal the seams of the hides used to cover it.

Gass certainly possessed people skills also. On 20 August 1804, Sergeant Charles Floyd died (the only member of the Corps to die). The Captains let the men elect his replacement, and on 22 August 1804 Patrick Gass was elected the new Sergeant with 19 votes.

On 3 July 1806 on the return trip, Lewis and Clark divided the party into three groups. Clark took a detachment and explored down the Yellowstone River. Lewis took a detachment over the mountains and divided it into two groups. Lewis took three men and traveled up the Maria River to establish the northern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase. Gass was in command of the rest of the Corps and traveled down the Missouri to join with Lewis and Clark on the lower Missouri. On 11 August 1806, Lewis took Pierre Cruzatte, the one-eyed near-sighted fiddle player hunting with him. Pierre accidentally shot the Captain. The ball hit no bones, but passed through the left buttock a few inches below the hip joint and cut across the right buttock about the depth of the ball causing a very painful wound. Gass was called upon to help the Captain dress the wound. On 12 August 1806, Captain Clark rejoined the group.
Upon the return of the Corps of Discovery to St. Louis 23 September 1806
Gass was dispatched with a letter for George Rogers Clark, Captain Clark’s Brother on the Falls of the Ohio. The letter was published in the Frankfort, Kentucky Palladium on 9 October 1806 announcing to the nation the safe return of the Corps of Discovery.

Patrick returned to Wellsburg, West Virginia, (then Virginia) after the expedition and worked at various jobs. Gass re-enlisted in the Army and fought in the War of 1812. In September 1813 at Fort Independence on the Mississippi, Territory of Missouri, Gass lost his left eye in an accident while felling a tree according to army records. In 1814, he fought in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane near Niagara Falls and took part in the charge by 300 Americans to capture a key British artillery battery. Gass was discharged from the Army with a full pension as a result of the accident. He received $96 a year. Gass once again returned to Wellsburg. In the fall of 1829, Gass was boarding with John Hamilton, known as "Judge," who was probably a justice of the peace. Hamilton’s daughter Maria who was about 16 was living at home. She looked upon Patrick as being a romantic figure. The two fell in love and married 1 March 1831. Gass was now 60 years old.

Patrick saved his money and in a short time was able to purchase a tract of hillside land on Pierce’s Run about six miles from Wellsburg. Here he erected a log home and began to farm. Patrick and Maria had seven children. The first died in infancy in 1832. Late in 1846 an outbreak of measles struck the area of Wellsburg. All the Gass children were stricken as well as Maria. The children recovered, but Maria did not. She died on 16 February 1847 at the age of thirty-six.

Patrick, now seventy-five, was left with six young children. The youngest, Rachel, was only 11 months. Patrick tried to provide for the young family, but over the next few years they were all placed with families in the area. According to the family, Patrick was a devoted father and grandfather and was living with his daughter Annie when he died on 20 April 1870, fourteen months short of his 100th birthday. Hew was the last member of the Corp to die. He even survived Jean Baptist Charbonneau (Sacagawea’s baby) by four years.

Patrick Gass was born before the Revolutionary War and lived to see the War of 1812, Mexican War, and the Civil War. He lived to see the country grow from thirteen colonies to thirty-eight states. He saw the nation bridged by a railroad, and he voted for eighteen presidents from Washington to Grant. He truly is a man to be remembered.

Guest Author: Eugene Gass Painter (great grandson of Patrick Gass) and Dale Clark 

Great Books

Lewis and Clark Trail maps on this web site were provided courtesy of the National Park Service
GPO 1991-557-779

Copyright 2011, LewisAndClarkTrail.com - all rights reserved. LewisAndClarkTrail.com and "Re-live the Adventure" are trademarks.
Reproduction of any part of this web site, for any use, is prohibited without prior approval of LewisAndClarkTrail.com.

Main Page  | Lewis and Clark History  | Travel the Lewis and Clark Trail  | Communities along the Trail  |  Maps  | Lodging | Lewis and Clark Bookstore | National Parks