The storms of the last couple of weeks have been an opportunity to make connections between ourselves and history. When it’s windy in Long Beach, it’s really windy on Cape Disappointment. When the wind carries the rain up the sides of the cape straight up your nose and it tastes like salt, we have a name for it- “good Lewis and Clark weather.” Many of us are familiar with Captain Clark’s observations in this area. Snippets from Clark’s journals, such as, “we are all wet and disagreeable” and “dismal niche” encompass the struggles that the Expedition experienced the closer they got to the ocean. There were others besides Clark who took the time and effort to write daily in their journals no matter what the weather served them.
Patrick Gass became Sergeant Gass after the death of Sergeant Floyd as the Expedition traveled through present day Iowa. Although there were multiple expedition members who kept journals, Sergeant Gass was one of the most diligent. You can call me a geek but I enjoy getting as many perspectives as I can, therefore I sometimes refer to Patrick Gass’s journals for a different take on the experiences of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. There are many similarities between the different journal entries made by the variety of authors but sometimes hearing the same thing from another mouth and mind alters your understanding. It is with that intention that I have collected excerpts from Gass’s journal below from the time the expedition was in our area.
November 7, 1805: It was this evening when Captain Clark recorded, “Great joy in camp, we are in view of the ocean.” Patrick Gass makes no mention of being able to see the ocean at this campsite; he does however calculate the width of the Columbia River as being, “5 miles broad” at the head of Gray’s Bay near present day Altoona, Washington.
November 8: “The whole of this day was wet and disagreeable; and the distance we made in a straight line, was not more than 9 miles; though the distance we coasted was above 20 miles.” Like I said earlier, sometimes quotations between different journals weren’t so unlike each other, this language is very similar to Captain Clark’s. It goes to show, at t
his point in the journey, the whole party was wet.
November 9: “We had no fresh water, except what rain we caught by putting out our vessels.” This statement is unique to Gass’s journal and I think it reveals both desperation and thirst.
November 10: “Here we scarcely had room to lie between the rocks and water; but we made shift to do it among some drift wood that had been beat up by the tide.” The expedition was forced to set up camp as best a possible, on driftwood trees, since there wasn’t and still isn’t any beach in this location.
November 11: “The morning was wet and the wind still blowing, so that we could not proceed.”
November 12: “The rain still continued, and the river remained very rough.” This is a statement that many of us should be able to relate, especially over the last couple of weeks.
November 13: “At 9 o’clock in the forenoon it became a little more calm than usual; and 3 men took a canoe, which we got from the Indians of a kind excellent for riding swells, and set out to go to the point on the sea shore, to ascertain whether there were any white people there, or if they were gone.” These guys were motivated to find any white people who they could get more supplies from or maybe even a ride home.
November 14: “The rest remained in camp; and the weather continued wet, and the most disagreeable I had ever seen.”
November 15: “Here we halted on a sand beach, formed a comfortable camp, and remained in full view of the ocean, at this time more raging than pacific.” Gass recounts finally being able to make it around the rocky slopes and points that had been keeping them from a better camp location. This is present-day Station Camp.
November 16: “We are now at the end of our voyage, which has been completely accomplished according to the intention of the expedition, the object of which was to discover a passage by the way of the Missouri and Columbia rivers to the Pacific ocean; notwithstanding the difficulties, privations and dangers, which we had to encounter, endure and surmount.” This has to be one of the most eloquent passages in any of the men’s journals. This really captures the sense of accomplishment the Corps must have been feeling at this point.
November 17: Meriwether Lewis and a couple of men had made their way to the coast as quickly as they could going on information from the Chinooks that there were traders anchored at the mouth of the Columbia River. “They had been round the bay, and seen where white people had been in the course of the summer: but they had all sailed away. “
November 18: While Captain Clark ventured Baker Bay toward Cape Disappointment and north, Patrick Gass stayed back with Lewis and probably caught his breath. He certainly was drying out as well. “The Indians still remained with us, and Capt. Lewis got a specimen of their language. Those who live about the seashore and on Rogue’s harbour creek, a large creek that comes in on the north side of the bay, call themselves the Chin-ook nation.”
November 19: “Several of the men have robes made of Brandt skins: one of them had a hat made of the bark of white cedar and bear-grass, very handsomely wrought and water-proof. One of our party purchased it for an old razor.” Gass was obviously fond of anything water-proof.
November 20: Speaking of Captain Clark and the eleven men who went to the cape and beyond Gass noted, “They found some pumice stones, which had been thrown out by the waves, of a quality superior to those on the Missouri; also a number of shells of different kinds.”
November 21: “The wind blew so violent to day, and the waves ran so high, that we could not set out on our return, which it is our intention to do as soon as the weather and water will permit. The season being so far advanced, we wish to establish our winter quarters as soon as possible.” The statement “set out on our return” to me reinforces the concept that by the time
Captain Clark returned from the sea coast they felt their mission had been met, from here on out, everything could be seen as “heading home.”
November 22: “This was a rainy and stormy morning; and we were not yet able to set out: the wind blew very hard from the south, and the river was rougher than it has been since we came here.” They were so close to leaving and yet so far. I would have liked to see the roughest river conditions…from a distance.
November 23: “One of these men had the reddest hair I ever saw, and a fair skin, much freckled.” According to footnotes in the Moulton edition of the Lewis and Clark journals this man was most likely Jack Ramsey, evidence of intimate relations between white traders and native peoples.
November 24: “As this was a fine clear day, it was thought proper to remain here in order to make some observations, which the bad weather had before rendered impossible.” Finally it was clear and calm enough to attempt crossing the river and Captain Clark kept everyone waiting so he could pinpoint the location of Station Camp.
Note Gass doesn’t say it was proper, he just mentions “it was thought proper.”
To learn more about Patrick Gass and the other members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, come up to the interpretive center at Cape Disappointment State Park. We proudly have on display personal items of Patrick Gass, such as his hatchet head and a shaving box of his believed to have been carved by Sacagawea. The bookstores at the center, operated by the Friends of the Columbia River Gateway, sell The Journals of Patrick Gass if you want to read more of his perspectives of the journey. Don’t worry, no one will look at you like you’re a geek.
Jon Schmidt is an Interpretive Specialist at Cape Disappointment State Park. To contact him, call the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at (360)642-3029 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.