PIERRE, S.D. – Union County, South Dakota, is home to the first election in the northwestern portion of the United States and dates back to the early 1800s. The election, held on August 22, 1804, consisted of three young men: Pat Gass, George Gibson, and William Bratton.
Pat Gass was the winner with 19 out of a possible 27 votes; with soldiers making up the majority of the vote. This was the first election ever held in the Louisiana Purchase.
Gass, born in Pennsylvania, June 12, 1771, was elected to fill the rank of sergeant in the Lewis and Clark Expedition upon the death of Sergeant Charles Floyd just two days earlier on August 20. He had only 19 days of formal education and by his own admission "never learned to read, write, and cipher till he had come of age." He was important to the Expedition because of his service as carpenter and he published the first journal of the expedition in 1807, seven years before the first publication based on Lewis and Clark's journals. He coined the literary phrase “Corps of Discovery.”
Gass’s journal has provided many of us with more details about some of the activities of the Lewis and Clark Expedition than did the other journals. Gass was a keen observer, and since he was a carpenter, he provided details on construction of earth lodges and canoes of the native people.
The historical marker reflecting the location of this election can be found on the Interstate 29 loop in Elk Point on the courthouse square, near Main Street.
The Marks of History series is a project of the South Dakota Office of Tourism designed to highlight historic markers all across South Dakota. Click on the special “Marks of History” link at www.MediaSD.com to access the complete list of articles.
The Marks of History series is part of Goal 1 of the 2010 Initiative to double visitor spending in South Dakota and Goal 4 to enhance history and arts as a tool for economic development and cultural tourism in South Dakota. The Office of Tourism serves under the direction of Richard Benda, Secretary of the Department of Tourism and State Development.
Please Note: The South Dakota Office of Tourism is not responsible for the text included on these markers. Some of the language used at the time of production may not be appropriate by today's standards. Please view the markers at your own discretion.