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Patrick Gass Describes Crossing the Rocky Mountains

These selections from Patrick Gass' journal describe the crossing of the Rocky Mountains, a particularly hazardous stretch of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the vast territory of the Louisiana Purchase, recently acquired from France. Lewis and Clark followed the path of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers through eleven present-day states to the Pacific Ocean. Both Lewis and Clark, along with several other members of the "Corps of Discovery," recorded their impressions of the expedition's often-perilous journey in carefully-detailed journal entries. Gass, a carpenter and sergeant in the corps, was in 1807 the first to publish an account of the expedition.

September 03, 1805

we pursued our journey up the creek, which still continued fatiguing almost beyond description. The country is very mountainous and thickly timbered; ... Having gone nine miles we halted for dinner, which was composed of a small portion of flour we had along and the last of our pork, which was but a trifle. -- Our hunters had not killed any thing.

September 04, 1805

A considerable quantity of snow fell last night, ... After eating a few grains of parched corn, we set out at 8 o'clock; ... We killed some pheasants on our way, and were about to make use of the last of our flour, when, to our great joy, one of our hunters killed a fine deer.


September 05, 1805

The Indian dogs are so hungry and ravenous, that they eat 4 or 5 pair of our mockasons last night. ... and made 4 or 5 of this nation of Indian chiefs. They are a very friendly people; have plenty of robes and skins for covering, and a large stock of horses, some of which are very good; but they have nothing to eat but berries, roots and such articles of food. This band is on its way over to the Missouri or Yellowstone river to hunt buffaloe. They are the whitest Indians I ever saw.


September 14, 1805

... none of the hunters killed any thing except 2 or 3 pheasants; on which, without a miracle it was impossible to feed 30 hungry men and upwards, besides some Indians. So Capt. Lewis gave out some portable soup, which he had along, to be used in cases of necessity. Some of the men did not relish this soup, and agreed to kill a colt; which they immediately did, and set about roasting it; and which appeared to me to be good eating.


September 15, 1805

Having breakfasted on colt, we moved on down the river 3 miles, and again took the mountains. In going up, one of the horses fell, and required 8 or 10 men to assist him in getting up again. We continued our march to 2 o'clock when we halted at a spring and dined on portable soup and a handful of parched corn. We then proceeded on our journey over the mountains to a high point, where, it being dark, we were obliged to encamp. There was here no water; but a bank of snow answered as a substitute; and we supped upon soup.


September 16, 1805

Last night about 12 o'clock it began to snow. We renewed our march early, though the morning was very disagreeable, and proceeded over the most terrible mountains I ever beheld. It continued snowing until 3 o'clock P.M. when we halted, took some more soup, and went on till we came to a small stream where we encamped for the night. Here we killed another colt and supped on it. The snow fell so thick, and the day was so dark, that a person could not see to a distance of 200 yards. In the night and during the day the snow fell about 10 inches deep.


September 17, 1805

It was a fine day with warm sunshine, which melted the snow very fast on the south sides of the hills, and made the travelling very fatiguing and uncomfortable. We continued over high desert mountains, where our hunters could find no game, nor signs of any except a bear's tract which they observed to day -- At dark we halted at a spring on the top of a mountain; killed another colt, and encamped there all night.


September 19, 1805

One of our horses fell down the precipice about 100 feet, and was not killed, nor much hurt: the reason was, that there is no bottom below, and the precipice, the only bank, which the creek has; therefore the horse pitched into the water, without meeting with any intervening object, which could materially injure him. ... Having heard nothing from our hunters, we again supped upon some of our portable soup. The men are becoming lean and debilitated, on account of the scarcity and poor quality of the provisions on which we subsist: our horses' feet are also becoming very sore. We have however, some hopes of getting soon out of this horrible mountainous desert, as we have discovered the appearance of a valley or level part of the country about 40 miles ahead. When this discovery was made there was as much joy and rejoicing among the corps, as happens among passengers at sea, who have experienced a dangerous and protracted voyage, when they first discover land on the long looked for coast.


September 20, 1805

Having proceeded about a mile, we came to a small glade, where our hunters had found a horse, and had killed, dressed and hung him up.


September 21, 1805

A great portion of the timber through which we passed along this ridge is dead, and a considerable part fallen; and our horses are weak and much jaded. ... We went down this creek about a mile, and encamped on it for the night in a small rich bottom. Here we killed a duck and two or three pheasants; and supped upon them and the last of our horse meat. We also killed a wolf and eat it.


September 22, 1805

The Indians belonging to this band, received us kindly, appeared pleased to see us, and gave us such provisions as they had. We were at a loss for an interpreter, none of our interpreters being able to understand them.

Source | University of Nebraska, The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, September 9-22, 1805,
Creator | Patrick Gass
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Patrick Gass, “Patrick Gass Describes Crossing the Rocky Mountains,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 3, 2023,

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