SERGEANT PATRICK GASS
"A Journal of the Voyages and Travels ... of a corps of discovery, under the command of Capt. Lewis and Capt. Clarke of the army of the United States ... Mid-America Series from the original edition of 1810 and is limited to 2,000 numbered copies. Ross & Haines, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1958."
[PROVIDED WITH THE GREATEST OF APPRECIATION
BY THE ANCESTORS OF PATRICK GASS.]
Many remarkable events occurred during the long, gallant life of Sergeant Patrick Gass. Before he died on April 2nd, 1870 at the age of almost 99 years, great cities had been built and untold wealth found in the land he had helped discover. During the War of 1812 he fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the campaign on the Canadian border, and at the age of 63, after a lifetime spent in the service of his country, he married a girl of 20, whom he survived many years. Born before the Revolution, he lived to see this country grow from the original thirteen colornies to 38 states; he voted at the election of 18 presidents from Washington to Grant who served during his lifetime. Four great wars...the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican and Civil were fought, in addition to numerous Indian battles.
It is little wonder that Patrick Gass led such an adventurous life, for he was born June 12th, 1771, at Falling Springs, not far from the present town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, then on the Western frontier of civilization. Like all pioneers, his father was a wanderer, always seeking a home in the ever-moving far West. Patrick's childhood was lived with the sound of the guns of the Revolution, and he was reared beyond the borders of civilization, among the Indian fighters and adventurers of the old frontier at a time when the wild war cry of the red warrior rang through the forests of the Ohio Valley.
In 1775 the elder Gass left Pennsylvania and sought a home in Maryland, near old Fort Frederick, the ruins of which still stand three miles south of Indian Springs on the National Road. There young Gass spent his early boyhood while the Revolution was being fought within sound of his home.
Fort Frederick was erected in 1755-56 on the north bank of the Potomoc River, about 50 miles below Fort Cumberland, built for the protection of the frontier from Indian raids following Braddock's defeat July 9th, 1755. It was built entirely of stone, with walls fifteen feet high and bastions at the corners. Quadranguler in shape it was 360 feet long, and when completed it was garrisoned by 200 troops. The walls were so well constructed, that though presently in ruins, vestiges of their quality remain.
When the American cause seemed hopeless in 1780 the elder Gass decided to move to a new frontier. This time he set out for the country beyond the Alleghanies ... the promised land of the time for the Eastern peoples anxious to escape British domination. The Gass family followed the historic road cut through the western wilderness a quarter of a century before by General Braddock on his ill-fated expedition against the French at Fort Duquesne, where Pittsburgh now stands. This road was used by emigrants to the western country until the completion of the National Road from Cumberland to Wheeling.
We do not know by what means they traveled, but it was more than likely by horseback or walking with their few possessions on pack-horses. We do know that they encountered all the hardships of wilderness trail travel of those days, and they were glad to stop at the little town of Beasontown, now Uniontown, Penn., at the foot of the western slope of the Alleghanies. This was a beautiful country and there was plenty of land, but the elder Gass had itchy feet and western fever ... a bad combination ... and the next year found him again on the trail. This time he stopped at Catfish Camp, now Washington, Penn., another little settlement on the far western frontier of the 1780's. He leased a tract of nearby land and spent the next eight years farming. I have been unable to find the exact location of this farm as Gass did not own it, and no record has been left.
The love of adventure that carried young Patrick Gass across the continent with Lewis & Clark was developed during those years when he grew to manhood in Western Pennsylvania. The boys of those days in the Western country learned the lessons of survival early. Before 1790 young Gass had made several trips across the mountains to Hagerstown, Maryland, and Mercersburg, Penn.; and he had traveled the dangerous emptiness of what is now West Virginia and Ohio.
In 1792 Patrick Gass joined Captain Caton's Company of Rangers of the Frontier, an organization of bold woodsmen who guarded the settlers from raiding bands of Indians from the Ohio country, and while stationed at Yellow Creek Fort, West Virginia, and at Bennett's Fort, three miles about Wheeling, he met such frontiersmen as Lewis Wetzel, the lone scout of Fort Henry, and Captain Sam Brady, leader of the Fort Pitt Rangers, two of the most noted Indian fighters in the history of the times.
After a trading trip to New Orleans on a keelboat, and a long apprenticeship to a carpenter, Patrick Gass enlisted in the Tenth United States Infantry in 1799 when war with France seemed a certainty. But the war clouds passed and Gass was soon discharged, only to re-enlist under Major Cass for five years and with the rank of Sergeant.
Gass and Sgt. John Ordway were in Capt. Russell Bissell's company of the First Infantry, stationed at Fort Kaskaskia in the fall of 1803 when Capt. Meriwether Lewis came in search of volunteers for an expedition to the Pacific Coast. Gass is described at this period of his life as about five feet seven, broad-chested and strong. Such a journey through a country much of which had never been seen by a white man, appealed to his adventurous spirit, and he was one of the first to volunteer along with Ordway. Capt. Bissell released the latter, but he refused consent for Gass to join. Gass was a good soldier and a first rate carpenter ... scarce combinations on the frontier ... and his Captain felt that he could ill-afford the loss of so valuable a man. Gass's determination was supreme, however, and after a private interview with Capt. Lewis, the leader used his authority to override Bissell, and Sergeant Gass became the carpenter of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Gass kept a diary during the entire Expedition, and he expected to realize something from its sale for publication when he returned. As his education was limited to fourteen days in school, and he had practically learned to read and write through his own application, the diary was in rather crude form.
This diary begins with May 14, 1804, the day the expedition left the winter camp at the mouth of the River du Bois or Wood River, at the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi. Gass recorded that the day dawned bright and pleasant, assuring a successful and safe journey. Capt. Lewis remained in St. Louis to overtake them in a few days, and Lt. Clark, later Captain, was in command. They crossed the Mississippi and entered the Missouri in three boats they had constructed during the winter ... a 22-oar keelboat, a large pirogue (dugout canoe) and a smaller pirogue.
Perhaps Patrick Gass made more than a fortunate guess when he forecast a safe and successful journey. In any event, only one fatality occurred on the Expedition ... that of Sergeant John Charles Floyd who died August 20, and was buried on a bluff overlooking the river at what is now Sioux City, Iowa. The commanders gave the men permission to elect a successor, and they chose Patrick Gass.
Fate seemed to decree that those physically able to bear misfortune shall continue to do so, for after Gass' return from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and its hardships, he seemed to have earned no respite, for the road ahead proved equally difficult. The diary he had planned to sell at some profit was published in 1807, and while it met with an enthusiastic acceptance by the public, Gass received only 100 copies as his share of the venture. The manuscript was edited by David McKeehan, a school teacher of Wellsburg, and was published by Zadok Kramer at Pittsburgh. This first edition is sufficiently rare so that none of Gass' descendents possess a copy at the present time.
The Wellsburg that Patrick Gass returned to was not the place he had known. The flavor was gone. The frontier had moved west, taking the wild Indian with it, and life in the Virginia Panhandle was not at all to Gass' liking.
Once again he set his face toward the west and in 1807 he was assistant commissary at Kaskaskia. Drifting here and there, he was engaged in the lead trade when the War of 1812 broke out, and while in Nashville, he was drafted by General Andrew Jackson to fight the Creek Indians. But this assignment did not suit Gass. He wanted to hear the roar of the big guns, and he was released when he accepted a cash bonus of $100 to enlist in the regular army for five years. During 1813 he was stationed at Fort Massac and at Fort Bellefontaine on the Illinois frontier near St. Louis to hold the Indians in check, but in the spring of 1814 these troops were ordered to the Niagara frontier. Here Gass was to get his wish to hear the big guns. The long journey down the Mississippi and up the Ohio was made in boats built by the soldiers, and it seems realistic to believe that Gass, the carpenter, headed the project. The only means of proplusion against the high water of the Ohio was by pushing and pulling along the shore, and it was late June before the troops reached Pittsburgh. From this point they were rushed to join the Northern Army then being mobilized under General Brown on the Canadian border, but they arrived just a few hours late to participate in the battle of Chippewa on July 5, 1814.
However, Gass saw plenty of fighting during the next few weeks. He received his baptism of fire from the big guns he wanted to hear at Lundy's Lane on July 25th. He was one of the gallant 300 who, led by Colonel James Miller, charged and captured the British battery after a desperate hand-to-hand struggle during the night. Gass was wounded, whether in this charge or later in the battle is not known today, but he lost the sight of one eye as a result.
In this connection, it is interesting to refer to a minor controversy that has been accepted in some quarters to the point of becoming a minor legend. The essence of the matter is the claim that Patrick Gass lost the sight of an eye while "chopping wood." No one has come forward with a statement of time or place of this event, but the position is nevertheless maintained even by some historians. Here is presented a photostatic copy of Patrick Gass' petition presented to the Congress of the United States and dated Dec. 23, 1851, asking for a pension in view of his meritorious services in the War of 1812, and stating without equivocation that he lost the sight of an eye in the Battle of Lundy's Lane. The photostat of this document is reproduced here (see photographic section in book) and should serve to shed some light on the question, and to lay low some of the feebly-supported arguments on the "wood-chopping" school of thought. A full transcription of the document is given immediately following this introduction. Naturally, there is a suggestion that possibly Gass could conveniently transfer the cause of such a wound to battle-origin for the sake of a sorely needed pension, but I believe most will hold to the opinion that a man who served so honorably for so long, and who constantly displayed the qualities of loyalty and integrity over such an extended period, would not be apt to misrepresent a fact to serve his own advantage. Patrick Gass was an honorable man.
After the war Gass was discharged at Sackett's Harbor, N.Y. in June of 1815. He returned to Wellsburg but he was lonesome for the frontier. He had spent his entire life of 44 years in the company of Indian fighters and wilderness rovers, but he conquered his wanderlust and settled down to being a carpenter. Wellsburg held him briefly, and he drifted to Mansfield, Ohio where he spent several years in hunting stray horses and doing odd jobs of carpentry. As an active wilderness and military man, he had always been too occupied in the service of his country to permit time for romance, and his years had been spent in areas where women were even scarcer than friendly Indians. After the death of his father in 1827, Gass worked at odd jobs around Wellsburg, and in the fall of 1829 went to board with a "Judge" Hamilton. The resulting propinquity brought a wife of 20 years, Maria Hamilton, to Gass who was 60 at that time. They were married at Plummer's Mills by Squire Plummer on March 1, 1831. Patrick Gass saved his money and in a short time was able to buy a tract of hillside land on Pierce's Run, six miles from Wellsburg, where he erected a log house and settled down to the life of a farmer. His young wife died there on Feb. 15, 1849, leaving Gass at the age of 76 with six children to raise. The youngest, later Mrs. Brierley, was just a baby at the time.
Gass remained in his home on Pierce's Run for eight or nine years after the death of his wife, and then went to live with a married daughter, Mrs. James Smith, at Waugh's Mills, three miles distant. He received a pension of $96 a year and a grant of 160 acres of land, the location of which is not known today, as he lost it for non-payment of taxes.
Patrick Gass, the last of the gallant band that followed Lewis and Clark to the Pacific and back, died April 2, 1870, at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Smith. He was buried in a private graveyard on the David Waugh farm, near his old home at Pierce's Run, beside the young wife whom he had survived 23 years. There they slept for nearly half a century in unmarked graves, forgotten by the country he had served so faithfully for so long.
A brief mention of the children of Patrick Gass may be desired. Benjamin Gass, the oldest son, started in pursuit of a man who had robbed him of $150. and was never heard of again. William Gass was drowned many years ago in the Ohio River, and James Gass died at his home in Walker, Missouri in 1907. Mrs. Sara Gass Bowman died at Wellsburg in 1921, and is buried beside her father and mother. Mrs. Brierley died in the Washington Hospital at Washington, Penn., May 31, 1926, and her death severed the direct connection. She was the last child of the 31 men and one Indian woman who were first to cross the continent, south of Canada, under Lewis and Clark.
©1998 Roxann Gess Smith
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