August 26

This Day in History

Old West

Aug 26, 1804:

Lewis and Clark promote Patrick Gass to sergeant

Following the death of Sergeant Charles Floyd, Lewis and Clark promote Patrick Gass as his replacement.

Barely three months into their journey to the Pacific, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark lost the only man to die on the journey. On August 20, 1804, Sergeant Charles Floyd died from a disease Lewis diagnosed as "Biliose Chorlick," or bilious colic. Based on the symptoms described, Floyd's appendix had probably ruptured and he died of peritonitis. After burying Floyd on a high bluff above the Missouri River, the expedition moved on toward the Pacific Ocean.

Two days later, the captains held an election among the men to determine Floyd's replacement. Private Patrick Gass received a majority of the votes. A native of Pennsylvania, Gass had joined the U.S. Army in 1799 at the age of 28. He proved to be a reliable soldier and soon won promotion to sergeant. When a call for volunteers to join Lewis and Clark's journey of exploration to the Pacific was released, Gass jumped at the chance. Lewis overrode the commander's objections to giving up his best noncommissioned officer, and Gass joined the Corps of Discovery as a private.

Gass proved himself a capable man in the first weeks of the mission. The captains agreed with their men--Gass was the best choice to replace Floyd as one of the two sergeants on the expedition. On this day in 1804, Lewis issued an order promoting Gass to the rank of "Sergeant in the corps of volunteers for North Western Discovery." Gass proved more than equal to the task. He served faithfully during the long journey to the Pacific and kept a careful journal throughout the journey, an important historical contribution.

After the expedition returned, Lewis and Clark released Gass from duty, giving him a letter testifying to his excellent service. Gass settled in Wellsburg, West Virginia, where he prepared for the publication of his journal. Appearing seven years before the official narrative of the journey was published, A Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery was a well-crafted account of the journey that continues to be useful to historians.

Having already completed the adventure of a lifetime, Gass still had many decades ahead of him. He served again in the army, lost an eye during the War of 1812, married at the age of 58, and fathered seven children. For most of his later years, Gass was the sole surviving member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. He lived until 1870, dying only a few months short of his 100th birthday.

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