There is an unremarkable, flat grave marker in a section of Greenwood Memorial Terrace in Spokane where the trees and shrubs grow as they did a century ago. No manicured lawns, no sprinkler system, just typical Inland Northwest landscape where loved ones can still be laid to rest in a natural setting just inside the cemetery gates along Government Way.
The stone marking the site where Benjamin Patrick Brierley was buried in 1935 might have forever gone unnoticed were it not for the notation stating that he was the grandson of Sgt. Patrick Gass. Gass was the carpenter on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the man whose journal was the first published work about the famed expedition to and through the western territories of America in the early 1800s.
Brierley is a direct link to this important piece of history courtesy of his grandfather. Not much is known about Benjamin Brierley, but what is known was discovered by Donna Potter Phillips, a member of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society, when her group embarked on a service project to help clean up that section of the cemetery about five years ago. When she discovered the marker, she began her research into the man’s background.
She learned that Brierley was 57 when he died on Jan. 4, 1935. He was born in Wilmington, Del., on Feb. 3, 1877, the second child and first son of George Brierley and Rachel Maria Gass, daughter of explorer Patrick Gass. He married Margaret Green in Illinois in 1905, but the marriage ended in divorce. He registered for the World War I draft in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1918, listing traveling salesman for the Chicago Copy Co. as his occupation. He was 5-foot-4 and had blue eyes.
He died at the Pennington Hotel in Spokane, and his death certificate lists acute alcoholism as the cause.
Potter Phillips was able to locate a man named Eugene Gass Painter, a great-grandson of Patrick Gass, who lives in Washington, Pa., and who recalled Brierley. According to an account from that interview, Brierley and his brother Robert traveled the country for a photo company based in Chicago, selling photo restoration, copies of photographs and framing. The brothers often returned to the family home in Independence, Pa., to spend Christmas with their mother.
According to Painter, the family was told Brierley had died in a hit-and-run accident – why there is this discrepancy from the official record is not known – and that a cousin living in Spokane, a man named Owen Buxton, took care of funeral arrangements.
Much more is known about Brierley’s famous grandfather. Patrick Gass, who died in 1870 at nearly 100 years of age, outlived all members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A paraphrase of his original field notes about the journey was published in 1807, which, according to written accounts, provided a nation hungry for details about the famous expedition with much excellent reading – a full seven years before the papers of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were published.
In his writings Gass popularized the term “Corps of Discovery” for the famous expedition, a term still used today. Gass was instrumental in building the three Lewis and Clark winter quarters – at Camp Dubois, Fort Mandan and Fort Clatsop. And he led one of the commands when the explorers split into three groups on their return from the Pacific; Lewis and Clark led the other two.
A great deal is known about the grandfather buried in Wellsburg, W.Va., but there is very little information about the grandson buried in Spokane. As Potter Phillips wrote in her report, “(Brierley) was 2,000 miles from home and left very few to mourn or remember him.”