Introduction to Volume 10

The essential, definitive record of the Lewis and Clark expedition is contained in the journals and observations of the two captains, "the writingest explorers of their time," in the words of Donald Jackson.  [1] If no one else associated with the enterprise had written a word we would still have a marvelous narrative replete with geographic, zoological, botanical, and ethnographic information. In fact, however, at least four other members of the party did set down their own daily accounts. This edition brings them together with those of their commanders for the first time.

President Thomas Jefferson did not order the actual keeping of separate journals by anyone other than the captains. In his final instructions to Lewis, however, he did suggest that "several copies of these as well as of your other notes should be made at leisure times, & put into the care of the most trust-worthy of your attendants, to guard, by multiplying them, against the accidental losses to which they will be exposed."  [2] All this would seem to require is that some of the "attendants" copy the captains' journals verbatim. Apparently Lewis and Clark, at an early stage, decided to do something else. On May 26, 1804, less than two weeks out from River Dubois, the captains noted that "The sergts . . . are directed each to keep a separate journal from day to day of all passing accurences, and such other observations on the country &c. as shall appear to them worthy of notice.—"  [3]

In his last communication to Jefferson from Fort Mandan in April 1805, Lewis wrote: "We have encouraged our men to keep journals, and seven of them do so, to whom in this respect we give every assistance in our power."  [4] Lewis had a sense of history; in departing westward from the Mandan villages he compared his little fleet of pirogues and canoes to the vessels of Captain Cook.  [5] The significance of his enterprise warranted as complete a record as possible. It might be too much to ask any enlisted men to copy their officers' voluminous journals, but those so inclined could be encouraged to add their bit to the record.

At least some of the men who went with Lewis and Clark seem to have shared that sense of history. They were volunteers, after all, and although some of them no doubt simply hoped to escape from irksome military discipline or to find good beaver streams, others evidently knew very well that this was the chance of a lifetime, that they were involved in something that would survive them, something greater than their individual contribution. The combination of that sense of history with a degree of literacy and considerable diligence made a few of them journal keepers.

To appreciate the work of these men, let us remember the conditions under which they wrote. Most days of the voyage involved hard physical labor, working canoes upstream, loading and unloading bulky equipment, hunting and butchering, tanning leather, making moccasins, cooking, chopping and shaping wood, caring for horses and searching for strays, mounting guard, portaging around falls and rapids, all while exposed to every kind of weather and to the attacks of insects and grizzly bears, with the constant danger of physical injury from accidents. At the end of such a day, perhaps while others were dancing to Pierre Cruzatte's fiddle, a journal keeper would have to write by the light of a campfire in notebooks somehow kept safe from the elements. According to Lewis, seven of the thirty-odd men had the perseverance and the sense of destiny to try.

They wrote under the same conditions as the captains, and like them wrote not only for themselves. It seems probable that they examined each other's journals, and perhaps Lewis and Clark read them, too. We know that on July 14, 1804, having lost his notes for the previous day, Clark had "to refur to the . . . Journals of Serjeants." The enlisted men's journals were intended as part of the record; they were public documents and we cannot expect any deep psychological revelations. No one recorded explicitly, for example, his opinion of Lewis or Clark or Sacagawea.

Literacy was the first requirement. It is probable that some of the men could not even write their own names. Historians have expressed considerable humor over Clark's awkward grammar and his versatility as a speller, but he was little worse than many contemporaries who like him were men of affairs, government officials, and army officers. Comparison of Clark's journal with those of the enlisted men should keep us from laughing too much at Clark. Nor should we be overly amused at the enlisted men, for none of their journals suggests stupidity or dullness. They tried to the best of their ability to record an extraordinary experience.

Sergeants in the army had to be literate, since they kept records for their companies, and it is not too surprising that three of the four enlisted men's journals that we now have are those of sergeants. John Ordway and Charles Floyd held that rank from the start of the trip, and Patrick Gass was promoted some three months out to fill the place of the deceased Floyd. Joseph Whitehouse is the only private whose journal we now have. Ordway's spelling and grammar are, if anything, better than Clark's. We cannot judge Gass's performance for we do not have his original writing. Floyd and Whitehouse apparently struggled with writing, but there is rarely doubt about what they meant.

We have four enlisted men's journals, in one form or another. Lewis indicated that seven men were keeping journals, and the discrepancy requires some notice, although few hard conclusions can be made. Since the other sergeants were expected to keep journals, one would assume that Sergeant Nathaniel Pryor would also do so, but no document demonstrating this has come to light. Pryor served later on as an army officer and an Indian agent, but other men filled those posts on the frontier who could barely sign their names. On August 12, 1806, Clark noted that Pryor had left behind saddlebags containing his "papers," but Pryor had just returned from being separated from the main party, and the papers could have consisted only of letters he was supposed to deliver to a Canadian trader, and perhaps a journal of his separate trip, which began barely three weeks before. In any case, Pryor went back and recovered the saddlebags, so the papers, whatever they were, were not then lost. There is simply no clear evidence to show that Pryor was one of the seven journal keepers mentioned by Lewis.

It is fairly certain that one private besides Whitehouse kept some sort of journal, because Robert Frazer announced his intention to publish by issuing a prospectus soliciting subscribers barely a month after the party returned to St. Louis, promising "An accurate description of the Missouri and its several branches; of the mountains separating the Eastern from the Western waters; of the Columbia river and the Bay it forms on the Pacific Ocean; of the face of the Country in general; of the several Tribes of Indians on the Missouri and Columbia rivers . . . ," and with all this "a variety of Curious and interesting occurrences during a voyage of two years four months and nine days." The account, Frazer made clear, was "Published by Permission of Captn. Meriwether Lewis."  [6] If the journal was anything like what Frazer promised, that it was never published is a great pity. Given the importance of the expedition this is surprising, especially since Patrick Gass was able to secure publication of his work the next year and since there were six further editions of his book in six years. Clearly it was not lack of public interest in Lewis and Clark's discoveries that held Frazer's work back. Whatever the problem was, Frazer passed from view and so did his journal; we have no clue as to its fate.

In April 1805, when Lewis wrote that seven men were keeping journals, Floyd was already dead. If we accept Pryor and Frazer as journal keepers, along with Gass, Ordway, and Whitehouse, we still have two others to account for. It is possible that Lewis counted Floyd, whose journal was sent back from Fort Mandan, even though his record had ceased the previous August. There is a possibility that Private Alexander Willard kept a journal, and with Willard and Floyd we would have Lewis's seven journal keepers.  [7] One way or another a considerable part of the record appears to be lost, perhaps forever.

The journals that remain belong with those of Lewis and Clark, supporting them to the best of their ability as they did during the voyage. After the return Lewis evaluated his men, each according to his individual merits, and then wrote of them all: "the Ample support which they gave me under every difficulty; the manly firmness which they evinced on every necessary occasion; and the patience and fortitude with which they submitted to, and bore, the fatigues and painful sufferings incident to my late tour to the Pacific Ocean, entitles them to my warmest approbation and thanks."  [8]


Sergeant Patrick Gass, it seems clear, was a tough, lively, enterprising man who did things his own way. He was of Irish ancestry, but the comic brogue those writers of fiction give him is probably the product of their imaginations. Gass was born in 1771 in Pennsylvania. Like John Ordway he was serving in Captain Russell Bissell's company of the First Infantry, stationed at Kaskaskia, Illinois, having joined the army in 1799. Before then he had served on the frontier as a volunteer Ranger, a type of service requiring hardy and self-reliant men, and had become a competent carpenter, one of the most useful of frontier skills. Apparently he was one of those restless young Americans who moved about from one place to another and from one job to another, consciously looking for the right place and the right opportunity, unconsciously savoring the experiences life brought him. The Secretary of War instructed Captain Bissell to furnish Lewis and Clark with "one Sergeant & Eight good men," but Bissell evidently did not wish to lose a good carpenter, for he refused Gass's request to be one of them. Gass was determined and sought out Lewis and presented his case himself. Lewis says nothing of this in his Eastern Journal, but he must have been pleased with the Irishman's initiative. On a later occasion that initiative would please him less.  [9]

Gass does not appear in the captains' journals until January 3, 1804, when he is listed in Clark's field journal. It can be assumed that his carpentry skills were useful in building the winter quarters at River Dubois. Although he was in his thirties when he joined the Corps of Discovery and had served four years in the regular army, he was not among the original three sergeants. After Charles Floyd's death in August 1804 Lewis and Clark held an election among the men to choose his successor, and Gass received the most votes. On August 26 Clark noted, "apt. Pat Gass a Sergt. Vice Floyd Deceased." In a Detachment Order the captains told the men:


       The Commanding officers have every reason to hope from the previous faithfull services of Sergt. Gass, that this expression of their approbation will be still further confirmed, by his vigilent attention in future to his duties as a Sergeant. The Commanding officers are still further confirmed in the high opinion they had previously formed of the capacity, deligence and integrety of Sergt. Gass, from the wish expressed by a large majority of his comrades for his appointment as Sergeant.

Nothing in the captains' journals suggests that their confidence was misplaced.

Since Gass furnishes us with the dimensions of Fort Mandan (the only journal keeper who does so), we can assume that his carpentry was important in its construction, and no doubt the same was true of Fort Clatsop and of the many dugout canoes the party constructed at various places along the route. Like Sergeant Ordway he appears in the record chiefly in executing some duty, and the captains make no complaint of him. Like Ordway and Pryor he had a job with a little more authority than the privates and many more demands on his time, energy, and judgment. When Lewis, in July 1806, made a side expedition up the Marias River, the job of supervising the men left at the Great Falls of the Missouri automatically fell to Gass, the only sergeant with Lewis.

Gass accompanied Lewis to Washington after the party's return, then went to Wellsburg, in present West Virginia on the Ohio River, southwest of Pittsburgh. He returned to the army to serve in the War of 1812 and lost an eye, in battle by his own account, in an accident while chopping wood according to army records. He returned to Wellsburg and settled down, and at the age of sixty married a woman of twenty and made up for lost time by fathering six children. Clark, who tried to keep track of the expedition members, thought him dead by about 1825, but in fact he lived until 1870, when he was in his ninety-ninth year. The previous year the Pacific railroad had been completed and Patrick Gass, one of the first Americans to cross the continent and the last survivor of the Corps of Discovery, had lived to see it.  [10]

The record gives us reason to believe that Gass was a man of some independence, capable of following orders, but sometimes making his own rules. The history of his journal confirms this impression. The original, unfortunately, is lost to us. Gass acknowledged that he "never learned to read, write, and cipher till he had come of age,"  [11] but he still thought his record was worthy of presenting to the world, and he asked no one's permission to do so. In March 1807 the Pittsburgh Gazette published a prospectus for "a Journal of the Voyages & Travels of a Corps of Discovery, under the command of Captain Lewis and Captain Clarke of the Army of the United States, from the mouth of the river Missouri through the interior parts of North America to the Pacific Ocean." It promised "An authentic relation of the most interesting transactions during the expedition;—a description of the country, and an account of its inhabitants, soil, climate, curiosities, & vegetable and animal productions."  [12]

Lewis had apparently learned of Gass's intention a little earlier, and he was not pleased. He issued a letter to the public more than a week before the publication of Gass's prospectus, "to put them on their guard with respect to such publications, lest from the practice of such impositions they may be taught to depreciate the worth of the work which I am myself preparing for publication before it can possibly appear." The faithful sergeant had now appeared as a rival author. Lewis made sure the public knew that only Robert Frazer had permission to publish and that Lewis had warned Frazer's publishers "not to promise the world anything with which they had not the means of complying." Now there were "several unauthorised and probably some spurious publications now preparing for the press, on the subject of my late tour to the Pacific Ocean by individuals entirely unknown to me."  [13]

Whether or not Lewis's fire was directly aimed at Gass, it quickly prompted a return from David McKeehan, Gass's intended publisher. McKeehan's part in the story requires that he receive some attention. His name indicates that he and Gass may have been fellow Irishmen, and like Gass he had resided for a time in Wellsburg. These factors may account for their partnership, and it could even be that McKeehan, who opened a book and stationery store in Pittsburgh in 1807, persuaded Gass to publish. Many publishers of those days were bookstore owners who raised the money for printing and binding by taking subscriptions for prospective volumes. Lewis's denunciation was a threat to McKeehan's venture, and he fired back.  [14]

McKeehan obviously had a better than average education for the times, and a facility with the pen. He also had a certain talent for scurrility, which he put to use against "His Excellency Meriwether Lewis, Esquire, Governor of Upper Louisiana," whom he accused of using the dictatorial language of "him who commands and dispenses favours." He charged Lewis with making "amputations and mutilations" in Frazer's journal and denigrating his abilities in order "to deprive poor Frazer, or those who may have purchased from him, of all benefit arising from his publication." McKeehan informed Lewis, in the Pittsburgh Gazette, that he intended to publish Gass's narrative without asking Lewis's permission. The rest of a lengthy public letter consisted of gratuitous abuse of Lewis, claiming that he sought to keep all profit or benefit from the expedition for himself, in spite of the rewards he had already received from the government, suppressing any other publication. McKeehan suggested that the public might be interested in Gass's story, even if his scientific qualifications were nil, and implied that the useful geographic information from the captain's journals would be found also in Gass's. Lewis himself, noted McKeehan, was not a trained scientist. The bookseller closed with some sarcasm concerning the wound accidentally inflicted on Lewis by Pierre Cruzatte, "if not honorable, near the place of honor," implying it was not an accident. Lewis had the good sense not to reply to this blast.  [15]

McKeehan's talents as a writer are relevant because the version of Gass's journal we have is his to a considerable extent. McKeehan himself acknowledged that "I have arranged and transcribed it for the press, supplying such geographical notes and other observations as I supposed would render it more useful and satisfactory to the reader."  [16] Estimates of his effort have varied considerably, but most readers have agreed that McKeehan's elegant style was probably very different from that of a rough-and-ready frontier sergeant. There are some gaps in the entries, undoubtedly those of Gass himself, but there is no reason to think that the bookseller substantially altered the facts as Gass presented them. The work agrees well with the captains' journals, and sometimes adds to them. Gass is the only one, as noted, to give any of the dimensions of Fort Mandan and the only expedition journal keeper to describe how the Mandans and Hidatsas built their earth lodges.  [17]

Whatever happened to Gass's original, there was little danger of the McKeehan version being lost to the world. By 1814 six additional editions had appeared, in London, Paris, Weimar, and Philadelphia. The Philadelphia editions, published by Mathew Carey, included some quaint and highly imaginative engravings of scenes from the expedition which have often been reproduced in subsequent works. It was the first published work of any length dealing with the expedition, other than some spurious "instant books" based on their generally anonymous authors' imaginations and material lifted from earlier explorers' accounts. One reason for the repeated republication of Gass's work was undoubtedly the delay in the appearance of the official account by Nicholas Biddle.  [18]

In his fusillade against Lewis, McKeehan quoted from a certificate he said the captain had given Gass. In it he acknowledges "the ample support, which he gave me under every difficulty; the manly firmness, which he evinced on every necessary occasion; and the fortitude with which he bore . . . the fatigues and painful sufferings incident to that long voyage."  [19] These are in fact Lewis's words to the Secretary of War, recommending favorable treatment for all his men, but they apply to Patrick Gass as much as to any man of the party. His account has stood by itself for many years; now it appears with those of his comrades.


1. Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783–1854 (2d ed., 2 vols. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 1:vii. (Return to text.)


2. Jefferson's Instructions to Lewis [June 20, 1803], ibid., 1:62. (Return to text.)


3. See the Orderly Book entry for May 26, 1804. (Return to text.)


4. Lewis to Jefferson, April 7, 1805, Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:232. (Return to text.)


5. See Lewis's journal entry for April 7, 1805. (Return to text.)


6. The Robert Frazer Prospectus [October 1806], Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:345–46. (Return to text.)


7. On Willard's journal, see Olin D. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804–1806 (2 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 1:124; and Robert B. Betts, " 'The writingest explorers of their time': New Estimates of the Number of Words in the Published Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," We Proceeded On 7 (August 1981): 7–8, 8 n.34. (Return to text.)


8. Lewis to Henry Dearborn, January 15, 1807, Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:369. (Return to text.)


9. Henry Dearborn to Russell Bissell and Amos Stoddard, July 2, 1803, ibid., 1:103; Elliott Coues, ed., History of the Expedition under the Command of Lewis and Clark. . . . (1893, Reprint. 3 vols. New York: Dover Publications, 1965), 1:cii. (Return to text.)


10. Clark's List of Expedition Members [ca. 1825–28], Jackson, ed., Letters, 2:638; Gass to John H. Eaton, March 12, 1829, ibid., 2:646–48; Pension Petition of Patrick Gass, December 23, 1851, ibid., 2:644–50; Affadavit of Patrick Gass [February 17, 1854], ibid., 2:651–53; Charles G. Clarke, The Men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: A Biographical Roster of the Fifty-one Members and a Composite Diary of Their Activities from All Known Sources (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark, 1970), 39–40; John G. Jacob, The Life and Times of Patrick Gass (Wellsburg, Va.: Jacob and Smith, 1859); Earle R. Forrest, Patrick Gass: Lewis and Clark's Last Man (Independence, Pa.: privately published, 1950); James S. and Kathryn Smith, "Sedulous Sergeant, Patrick Gass," Montana, the Magazine of Western History 5 (Summer 1955): 20–27; Newman F. McGirr, "Patrick Gass and His Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," West Virginia History 3 (April 1942): 205–12. (Return to text.)


11. Coues, ed., History of the Expedition, 1:xcix. (Return to text.)


12. The Patrick Gass Prospectus [March 23, 1807], Jackson, ed., Letters, 2:390. (Return to text.)


13. Lewis to the Public, March 14, 1807, ibid., 2:385. (Return to text.)


14. Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 21–22. (Return to text.)


15. [David McKeehan] to Lewis [April 7, 1807], Jackson, ed., Letters, 2:399–408. (Return to text.)


16. Ibid., 2:401. (Return to text.)


17. Cutright, History of the Lewis and Clark Journals, 28–29. (Return to text.)


18. Ibid., 29–32. (Return to text.)


19. [David McKeehan] to Lewis [April 7, 1807], Jackson, ed., Letters, 2:406; compare with Lewis to Henry Dearborn, January 15, 1807, ibid., 1:369. (Return to text.)

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