Sergeant Patrick Gass Continued ...
Patrick McLene Gass of Irish and Scotch
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
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
Upon the return of the Corps of Discovery to St. Louis 23 September
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
and Dale Clark