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Fremont, John Charles 1813-1890

Explorer; born in Savannah, Ga., Jan. 21, 1813; graduated at Charleston College in 1830. His father was a Frenchman, and his mother a Virginian. He was instructor in mathematics in the United States navy from 1833 to 1835. Engaged in surveying the Cherokee country in the winter of 1837-38, he began his famous explorations, first in the country between the Missouri River and the British possessions. He had been appointed second lieutenant of topographical engineers in July. In 1841 he married a daughter of Senator Thomas H. Benton, and in May, 1842, he began, under the authority of the government, the exploration of an overland route to the Pacific Ocean. He ascended the highest peak of the Wind River Mountains, which was afterwards named Fremont's Peak. He explored the Great Salt Lake region in 1843, and penetrated to the Pacific near the mouth of the Columbia River. In 1845 he explored the Sierra Nevada in California, and in 1846 became involved in hostilities with the Mexicans on the Pacific coast. He assisted in the conquest of California; was appointed its military governor; and, after its admission as a State, became one of its first United States Senators. He continued his explorations after the war. For his scientific researches, Fremont received, in 1850, a gold medal from the King of Prussia, and another from the Royal Geographical Society of London. He had already received from his countrymen the significant title of “The Pathfinder.” At his own expense he made a fifth exploration, in 1853, and found a new route to the Pacific. In 1856, the newly formed Republican party nominated him for the Presidency of the United States, and he received 114 electoral votes against 174 given for Buchanan. Returning from Europe in May, 1861, and being appointed a major-general in the United States army, he was assigned to command the Western Department; but,

John Charles Fremont.

through the intrigues of ambitious politicians, was removed from the co mand in the course of six months, while successfully prosecuting a campaign he had planned. He was in command of another department, but resigned in 1862, declining to serve under an officer inferior to him in rank. Radical Republicans nominated him for the Presidency in 1864, after which he took leave of political life; but he became active in promoting the construction of a transcontinental railway. He died in New York, July 13, 1890.

In the spring of 1845 Captain Fremont was sent by his government to explore the great basin and the maritime region of Oregon and California. He crossed the [458] Sierra Nevada, in the dead of winter, from Great Salt Lake into California, with between sixty and seventy men, to obtain supplies. Leaving them in the valley of the San Joaquin, he went to Monterey, then the capital of the province of California, to obtain permission from the Mexican authorities to continue his explorations. It was given, but was almost immediately withdrawn, and he was peremptorily ordered to leave the country without delay. He refused, when General de Castro, the Mexican governor, mustered the forces of the province to expel him. At length he was permitted to go on with his explorations without hinderance. On May 9, 1846, he received despatches from his government, directing him to watch the movements of the Mexicans in California, who seemed disposed to hand the province over to the British government. It was also rumored that General de Castro intended to destroy all the American settlements on the Sacramento River. Fremont hurried back to California, and found De Castro on the march against the settlements. The settlers flew to arms, and joined Fremont's camp, and, under his leadership, these settlements were not only saved, but the Mexican authorities were driven out of California. Fremont and his followers met General de Castro and his forces, strong in numbers, when Fremont retired about 30 miles, to a mountain position, where he called around him the American settlers in that region. With these he captured a Mexican post at Sonoma Pass (June 15, 1846), with nine cannon and 250 muskets. De Castro was routed, and on July 5 the Americans in California declared themselves independent, and elected Fremont governor of the province. He then proceeded to join the American naval forces at Monterey, under Commodore Stockton, who had lately arrived, with authority from Washington to conquer California, Fremont appeared there with 160 mounted riflemen. On Aug. 17, 1846, Stockton and Fremont took possession of the city of Los Angeles; and at that place General Kearny, who had just taken possession of New Mexico, joined Stockton and Fremont, Dec. 27, 1846. Kearny would not sanction the election of Fremont as governor of California, and on Feb. 8, 1847, assuming that office himself, he declared the annexation of California to the United States. Fremont refused to obey General Kearny, his superior officer, who sent him to Washington under arrest, where he was tried by a court-martial, which sentenced him to be dismissed from the service, but recommended him to the clemency of the President. The penalty was remitted, and in October, 1848, Fremont entered upon his fourth exploration among the far western mountains. See Kearny, Stephen Watts; Stockton, Robert field.

Fremont was in Europe when the Civil War broke out, and, leaving on receiving notice of his appointment to the army, he returned home, bringing with him arms for the government. He arrived in Boston on June 27, and July 6 he was appointed to the command of the Western Department, just created. He arrived at St. Louis July 26, where he made his headquarters. He found disorder everywhere. The terms of enlistment of home guards, or three-months' men, were expiring, and they were unwilling to reenlist. He had very little money or arms at his disposal, and was unable to send aid to General Lyon, in the southwestern portion of the State, battling with the Confederates. He resolved to assume grave responsibilities. He applied to the United States Treasurer at St. Louis for a portion of $300,000 in his hands, but was refused. He was about to seize $100,000 of it when the officer yielded: and, with the money, Fremont secured the re-enlistment of many of the home guards. He strongly fortified St. Louis, and prepared to place the important post at Cairo in a position of absolute security. With nearly 4,000 troops on steamers, he proceeded to Cairo with such a display that the impression was general that lie had 12,000. Although large bodies of Confederate troops in Kentucky and Missouri were gathered for the purpose of seizing Cairo and Bird's Point, Fremont was not molested in his mission, and Prentiss, at the former place, was amply strengthened. Pillow and Thompson and Hardee, who had advanced in that direction, fell back, and became very discreet. Fremont returned to St. Louis on Aug. 4, having accomplished his wishes [459] and spread alarm among the Confederates. Polk, at Memphis, ordered Pillow to evacuate New Madrid, with his men and heavy guns, and hasten to Randolph and Fort Pillow, on the Tennessee shore. When news of the battle at Wilson's Creek, and the death of Lyon, reached St. Louis, the Confederates were jubilant. Fremont immediately proclaimed martial law, and appointed a provost-marshal. Some of the most active Confederates were arrested, and the publication of newspapers charged with disloyalty was suspended. But the condition of public affairs in Missouri was becoming more and more alarming. The provisional government was almost powerless. Fremont took all authority into his own hands. Confederates were arrested and imprissoned, and disloyalty of every kind felt the force of his power. He proclaimed that the property, real and personal, of all persons in Missouri who should be proven to have taken an active part with the enemies of the government in the field should be confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if they had any, should thereafter be free men (see emancipation proclamations). As he acted promptly in accordance with his proclamation, great consternation began to prevail. At that moment his hand was stayed. Because of his avowed determination to confiscate the property and free the slaves of the disloyalists, a storm of indignation suddenly arose in the border slave States, which alarmed the national government, and the President, wishing to placate the rebellious spirit of those States, requested Fremont to modify his proclamation on these points. He declined to do so, when the President, at Fremont's request, issued an order for such a modification. Fremont could not, for it would imply that he thought the measure wrong, which he did not.

Fremont was censured for his failure to reinforce Colonel Mulligan at Lexington. The public knew very little of his embarrassments at that time. Pressing demands came for reinforcements from General Grant at Paducah. At various points in his department were heard cries for help, and a peremptory order came from General Scott for him to forward 5,000 troops immediately to Washington, D. C., notwithstanding McClellan numbered 75,000 within easy call of the capital. Fremont's force, never exceeding 56,000, was scattered over his department. Chafing under unjust complaints, he proceeded to put into execution his plan of ridding the Mississippi Valley of Confederates. His plan contemplated the capture or dispersion of troops under General Price in Missouri, and the seizure of Little Rock, Ark. By so doing, he expected to turn the position of Pillow and others in the vicinity of New Madrid, cut off the supplies from the southwest, and compel them to retreat, at which time a flotilla of gunboats, then building near St. Louis, might descend the Mississippi, and assist in military operations against the batteries at Memphis. In the event of this movement being successful, he proposed to push on towards the Gulf of Mexico with his army, and take possession of New Orleans. More than 20,000 soldiers were set in motion (Sept. 27, 1861) southward (5,000 of them cavalry), under the respective commands of Generals Hunter, Pope, Sigel, McKinstry, and Asboth, accompanied by eighty-six heavy guns. These were moving southward early in October; and on the 11th, when his army was 30,000 strong, he wrote to the government: “My plan is, New Orleans straight; I would precipitate the war forward, and end it soon victoriously.” He was marching with confidence of success, and his troops were winning little victories here and there, when, through the influence of men jealous of him and his political enemies, Fremont's career was suddenly checked. False accusers, public and private, caused General Scott to send an order for him to turn over his command to General Hunter, then some distance in the rear. Hunter arrived just as the troops were about to attack Price. He took the command, and countermanded Fremont's orders for battle; and nine days afterwards Gen. H. W. Halleck was placed in command of the Department of Missouri. The disappointed and disheartened army were turned back, and marched to St. Louis in sullen sadness. Soon afterwards an elegant sword was presented to Fremont, inscribed, “To the Pathfinder, by the men of the West.” [460]

Ascent of Fremont's Peak.

In the Journal of his first expedition (1842), Fremont gives a modest yet thrilling account of the ascent of the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains and of the planting of “Old glory” on the extreme summit. The altitude of this peak is given by Prof. F. V. Hayden as 13,790 feet. The Journal reads as follows:

August 10.

The air at sunrise is clear and pure, and the morning extremely cold, but beautiful. A lofty snow-peak of the mountain is glittering in the first rays of the sun, which has not yet reached us. The long mountain wall to the east, rising 2,000 feet abruptly from the plain, behind which we see the peaks, is still dark, and cuts clear against the glowing sky. A fog, just risen from the river, lies along the base of the mountain. A little before sunrise, the thermometer was at 35°, and at sunrise 33°. Water froze last night, and fires are very comfortable. The scenery becomes hourly more interesting and grand, and the view here is truly magnificent; but, indeed, it needs something to repay the long prairie journey of 1,000 miles. The sun has just shot above the wall, and makes a magical change. The whole valley is glowing and bright, and all the mountain-peaks are gleaming like silver. Though these snowmountains are not the Alps, they have their own character of grandeur and magnificence, and will doubtless find pens and pencils to do them justice. In the scene before us, we feel how much wood improves a view. The pines on the mountain seemed to give it much additional beauty. I was agreeably disappointed in the character of the streams on this side the ridge. Instead of the creeks, which description had led me to expect, I find bold, broad streams, with three or four feet of water, and a rapid current. The fork on which we are encamped is upward of 100 feet wide, timbered with groves or thickets of the low willow. We were now approaching the loftiest part of the Wind River chain; and I left the valley a few miles from our encampment, intending to penetrate the mountains, as far as possible, with the whole party. We were soon involved in very broken ground, among long ridges covered with fragments of granite. Winding our way up a long ravine, we came unexpectedly in view of a most beautiful lake, set like a gem in the mountains. The sheet of water lay transversely across the direction we had been pursuing; and, descending the steep, rocky ridge, where it was necessary to lead our horses, we followed its banks to the southern extremity. Here a view of the utmost magnificence and grandeur burst upon our eyes. With nothing between us and their feet to lessen the effect of the whole height, a grand bed of snow-capped mountains rose before us, pile upon pile, glowing in the bright light of an August day. Immediately below them lay the lake, between two ridges, covered with dark pines, which swept down from the main chain to the spot where we stood. Here, where the lake glittered in the open sunlight, its banks of yellow sand and the light foliage, of aspen groves contrasted well with the gloomy pines. “Never before,” said Mr. Preuss, “in this country or in Europe, have I seen such magnificent, grand rocks.” I was so much pleased with the beauty of the place that I determined to make the main camp here, where our animals would find good pasturage, and explore the mountains with a small party of men. Proceeding a little further, we came suddenly upon the outlet of the lake, where it found its way through a narrow passage between low hills. Dark pines. which overhung the stream, and masses of rock, where the water foamed along, gave it much romantic beauty. Where we crossed, which was immediately at the outlet, it is two hundred and fifty feet wide, and so deep that with difficulty we were able to ford it. Its bed was an accumulation of rocks, boulders, and broad slabs, and large angular fragments, among which the animals fell repeatedly.

The current was very swift, and the water cold and of a crystal purity. In crossing this stream, I met with a great misfortune in having my barometer broken. It was the only one. A great part of the interest of the journey for me was in the exploration of these mountains, of which so much had been said that was doubtful and contradictory; and now their snowy peaks rose majestically before me, and the only means of giving them authentically to science, the object. [461]

Rocky Mountain scenery.

of my anxious solicitude by night and day, was destroyed. We had brought this barometer in safety 1,000 miles, and broke it almost among the snow of the mountains. The loss was felt by the whole camp. All had seen my anxiety, and aided me in preserving it. The height of these mountains, considered by the hunters and traders the highest in the whole range, had been a theme of constant discussion among them; and all had looked forward with pleasure to the moment when the instrument, which they believed to be as true as the sun, should stand upon the summits and decide their disputes. Their grief was only inferior to my own.

This lake is about 3 miles long and of very irregular width and apparently great depth, and is the head-water of the third New Fork, a tributary to Green River, the Colorado of the West. On the map and in the narrative I have called it Mountain Lake. I encamped on the north side, about 350 yards from the outlet. This was the most western point at which I obtained astronomical observations, by which this place, called Bernier's encampment, is made in 110° 08′ 03″ W. long. from Greenwich, and lat. [462] 43° 49′ 49″. The mountain peaks, as laid down, were fixed by bearings front this and other astronomical points. We had no other compass than the small ones used in sketching the country; but from an azimuth, in which one of them was used, the variation of the compass is 18° E. The correction made in our field work by the astronomical observations indicates that this is a very correct observation.

As soon as the camp was formed, I set about endeavoring to repair my barometer. As I have already said, this was a standard cistern barometer, of Troughton's construction. The glass cistern had been broken about midway; but, as the instrument had been kept in a proper position, no air had found its way into the tube, the end of which had always remained covered. I had with me a number of phials of tolerably thick glass, some of which were of the same diameter as the cistern, and I spent the day in slowly working on these, endeavoring to cut them of the requisite length; but, as my instrument was a very rough file, I invariably broke them. A groove was cut in one of the trees, where the barometer was placed during the night, to be out of the way of any possible danger; and in the morning I commenced again. Among the powderhorns in the camp, I found one which was very transparent, so that its contents could be almost as plainly seen as through glass. This I boiled and stretched on a piece of wood to the requisite diameter, and scraped it very thin, in order to increase to the utmost its transparency. I then secured it firmly in its place on the instrument with strong glue made from a buffalo, and filled it with mercury properly heated. A piece of skin, which had covered one of the phials, furnished a good pocket, which was well secured with strong thread and glue; and then the brass cover was screwed into its place. The instrument was left some time to dry; and, when I reversed it, a few hours after, I had the satisfaction to find it in perfect order, its indications being about the same as on the other side of the lake before it had been broken. Our success in this little incident diffused pleasure throughout the camp; and we immediately set about our preparations for ascending the mountains.

As will be seen, on reference to a map, ou this short mountain chain are the head-waters of four great rivers of the continent,—namely, the Colorado, Columbia, Missouri, and Platte Rivers. It had been my design, after having ascended the mountains, to continue our route on the western side of the range, and, crossing through a pass at the northwestern end of the chain, about 30 miles from our present camp, return along the eastern slope across the heads of the Yellowstone River, and join on the line to our station of August 7, immediately at the foot of the ridge. In this way, I should be enabled to include the whole chain and its numerous waters in my survey; but various considerations induced me, very reluctantly, to abandon this plan.

I was desirous to keep strictly within the scope of my instructions; and it would have required ten or fifteen additional days for the accomplishment of this object. Our animals had become very much worn out with the length of the journey; game was very scarce; and, though it does not appear in the course of the narrative (as I have avoided dwelling upon trifling incidents not connected with the objects of the expedition), the spirits of the men had been much exhausted by the hardships and privations to which they had been subjected. Our provisions had wellnigh all disappeared. Bread had been long out of the question: and of all cur stock we had remaining two or three pounds of coffee and a small quantity of macaroni, which had been husbanded with great care for the mountain expedition we were about to undertake. Our daily meal consisted of dry buffalo meat cooked in tallow; and, as we had not dried this with Indian skill, part of it was spoiled, and what remained of good was as hard as wood, having much the taste and appearance of so many pieces of bark. Even of this, our stock was rapidly diminishing in a camp which was capable of consuming two buffaloes in every twenty-four hours. These animals had entirely disappeared, and it was not probable that we should fall in with them again until we returned to the Sweet Water.

Our arrangements for the ascent were rapidly completed. We were in a hostile country, which rendered the greatest [463] vigilance and circumspection necessary. The pass at the north end of the mountain was generally infested by Blackfeet; and immediately opposite was one of their forts, on the edge of a little thicket, two or three hundred feet from our encampment. We were posted in a grove of beech, on the margin of the lake, and a few hundred feet long, with a narrow prairillon on the inner side, bordered by the rocky ridge. In the upper end of this grove we cleared a circular space about 40 feet in diameter, and with the felled timber and interwoven branches surrounded it with a breastwork 5 feet in height. A gap was left for a gate on the inner side, by which the animals were to be driven in and secured, while the men slept around the little work. It was half hidden by the foliage, and, garrisoned by twelve resolute men, would have set at defiance any band of savages which might chance to discover them in the interval of our absence. Fifteen of the best mules, with fourteen men, were selected for the mountain party. Our provisions consisted of dried meat for two days, with our little stock of coffee and some macaroni. In addition to the barometer and thermometer I took with me a sextant spy-glass, and we had, of course, our compasses. In charge of the camp I left Brenier, one of my most trustworthy men, who possessed the most determined courage.

August 12.

Early in the morning we left the camp, fifteen in number, well armed, of course, and mounted on our best mules. A pack animal carried our provisions, with a coffee-pot and kettle and three or four tin cups. Every man had a blanket strapped over his saddle, to serve for his bed, and the instruments were carried by turns on their backs. We entered directly on rough and rocky ground, and, just after crossing the ridge, had the good fortune to shoot an antelope. We heard the roar, and had a glimpse of a waterfall as we rode along; and, crossing in our way two fine streams, tributary to the Colorado, in about two hours ride we reached the top of the first row or range of the mountains. Here, again, a view of the most romantic beauty met our eyes. It seemed as if, from the vast expanse of uninteresting prairie we had passed over, nature had collected all her beauties together in one chosen place. We were overlooking a deep valley, which was entirely occupied by three lakes, and from the brink the surrounding ridges rose precipitously 500 and 1,000 feet, covered with the dark green of the balsam pine, relieved on the border of the lake with the light foliage of the aspen. They all communicated with each other; and the green of the waters, common to mountain lakes of great depth, showed that it would be impossible to cross them. The surprise manifested by our guides when these impassable obstacles suddenly barred our progress proved that they were among the hidden treasures of the place, unknown even to the wandering trappers of the region. Descending the hill, we proceeded to make our way along the margin to the southern extremity. A narrow strip of angular fragments of rock sometimes afforded a rough pathway for our mules; but generally we rode along the shelving side, occasionally scrambling up, at a considerable risk of tumbling back into the lake.

The slope was frequently 60°. The pines grew densely together, and the ground was covered with the branches and trunks of trees. The air was fragrant with the odor of the pines; and I realized this delightful morning the pleasure of breathing that mountain air which makes a constant theme of the hunter's praise, and which now made us feel as if we had all been drinking some exhilarating gas. The depths of this unexplored forest were a place to delight the heart of a botanist. There was a rich undergrowth of plants and numerous gay-colored flowers in brilliant bloom. We reached the outlet at length, where some freshly barked willows that lay in the water showed that beaver had been recently at work. There were some small brown squirrels jumping about in the pines and a couple of large mallard ducks swimming about in the stream.

The hills on this southern end were low, and the lake looked like a mimic sea as the waves broke on the sandy beach in the force of a strong breeze. There was a pretty open spot, with fine grass for our mules; and we made our noon halt on the beach, under the shade of [464] some large hemlocks. We resumed our journey after a halt of about an hour, making our way up the ridge on the western side of the lake. In search of smoother ground, we rode a little inland, and, passing through groves of aspen, soon found ourselves again among the pines. Emerging from these, we struck the summit of the ridge above the upper end of the lake.

We had reached a very elevated point; and in the valley below and among the bills were a number of lakes at different levels, some two or three hundred feet above others, with which they communicated by foaming torrents. Even to our great height, the roar of the cataracts came up; and we could see them leaping down in lines of snowy foam. From this scene of busy waters, we turned abruptly into the stillness of a forest, where we rode among the open bolls of the pines over a lawn of verdant grass, having strikingly the air of cultivated grounds. This led us, after a time, among masses of rock, which had no vegetable earth but in hollows and crevices, though still the pine forest continued. Towards evening we reached a defile, or rather a hole in the mountains, entirely shut in by dark pine-covered rocks.

A small stream, with a scarcely perceptible current, flowed through a level bottom of perhaps 80 yards' width where the grass was saturated with water. Into this the mules were turned, and were neither hobbled nor picketed during the night, as the fine pasturage took away all temptation to stray; and we made our bivouac in the pines. The surrounding masses were all of granite. While supper was being prepared, I set out on an excursion in the neighborhood, accompanied by one of my men. We wandered about among the crags and ravines until dark, richly repaid for our walk by a fine collection of plants, many of them in full bloom. Ascending a peak to find the place of our camp, we saw that the little defile in which we lay communicated with the long green valley of some stream, which, here locked up in the mountains, far away to the south, found its way in a dense forest to the plains.

Looking along its upward course, it seemed to conduct by a smooth gradual slope directly towards the peak, which, from long consultation as we approached the mountain, we had decided to be the highest of the range. Pleased with the discovery of so fine a road for the next day, we hastened down to the camp, where we arrived just in time for supper. Our table service was rather scant; and we held the meat in our hands, and clean rocks made good plates on which to spread our macaroni. Among all the strange places on which we had occasion to encamp during our long journey, none have left so vivid an impression on my mind as the camp of this evening. The disorder of the masses which surrounded us, the little hole through which we saw the stars overhead, the dark pines where we slept, and the rocks lit up with the glow of our fires made a night picture of very wild beauty.

August 13.

The morning was bright and pleasant, just cool enough to make exercise agreeable; and we soon entered the defile I had seen the preceding day. It was smoothly carpeted with a soft grass and scattered over with groups of flowers, of which yellow was the predominant color. Sometimes we were forced by an occasional difficult pass to pick our way on a narrow ledge along the side of the defile, and the mules were frequently on their knees; but these obstructions were rare, and we journeyed on in the sweet morning air, delighted at our good fortune in having found such a beautiful entrance to the mountains. This road continued for about 3 miles, when we suddenly reached its termination in one of the grand views which at every turn meet the traveller in this magnificent region. Here the defile up which we had travelled opened out into a small lawn, where, in a little lake, the stream had its source.

There were some fine asters in bloom, but all the flowering plants appeared to seek the shelter of the rocks and to be of lower growth than below, as if they loved the warmth of the soil, and kept out of the way of the winds. Immediately at our feet a precipitous descent led to a confusion of defiles, and before us rose the mountains as we have represented them in the view on page 461. It is [465] not by the splendor of far-off views, which have lent such a glory to the Alps, that these impress the mind, but by a gigantic disorder of enormous masses and a savage sublimity of naked rock in wonderful contrast with innumerable green spots of a rich floral beauty shut up in their stern recesses. Their wildness seems well suited to the character of the people who inhabit the country.

I determined to leave our animals here and make the rest of our way on foot. The peak appeared so near that there was no doubt of our returning before night; and a few men were left in charge of the mules, with our provisions and blankets. We took with us nothing but our arms and instruments, and, as the day had become warm, the greater part left our coats. Having made an early dinner, we started again. We were soon involved in the most ragged precipices, nearing the central chain very slowly, and rising but little. The first ridge hid a succession of others; and when, with great fatigue and difficulty, we had climbed up 500 feet, it was but to make an equal descent on the other side. All these intervening places were filled with small deep lakes, which met the eye in every direction, descending from one level to another, sometimes under bridges formed by huge fragments of granite, beneath which was heard the roar of the water. These constantly obstructed our path, forcing us to make long detours, frequently obliged to retrace our steps, and frequently falling among the rocks. Maxwell was precipitated towards the face of a precipice, and saved himself from going over by throwing himself flat on the ground. We clambered on, always expecting with every ridge that we crossed to reach the foot of the peaks, and always disappointed, until about four o'clock, when, pretty well worn out, we reached the shore of a little lake in which there was a rocky island, and from which we obtained the view given in the frontispiece. We remained here a short time to rest, and continued on around the lake, which had in some places a beach of white sand, and in others was bound with rocks, over which the way was difficult and dangerous, as the water from innumerable springs made them very slippery.

By the time we had reached the farther side of the lake, we found ourselves all exceedingly fatigued, and, much to the satisfaction of the whole party, we encamped. The spot we had chosen was a broad, flat rock, in some measure protected from the winds by the surrounding crags, and the trunks of fallen pines afforded us bright fires. Near by was a foaming torrent which tumbled into the little lake about 150 feet below us, and which, by way of distinction, we have called Island Lake. We had reached the upper limit of the piney region; as above this point no tree was to be seen, and patches of snow lay everywhere around us on the cold sides of the rocks. The flora of the region we had traversed since leaving our mules was extremely rich, and among the characteristic plants the scarlet flowers of the Dodecatheon dentatum everywhere met the eye in great abundance. A small green ravine, on the edge of which we were encamped, was filled with a profusion of alpine plants in brilliant bloom. From barometrical observations made during our three days sojourn at this place, its elevation above the Gulf of Mexico is 10,000 feet. During the day we had seen no sign of animal life; but among the rocks here we heard what was supposed to be the bleat of a young goat, which we searched for with hungry activity, and found to proceed from a small animal of a gray color, with short ears and no tail,— probably the Siberian squirrel. We saw a considerable number of them, and, with the exception of a small bird like a sparrow, it is the only inhabitant of this elevated part of the mountains. On our return we saw below this lake large flocks of the mountain-goat. We had nothing to eat to-night. Lajeunesse with several others took their guns and sallied out in search of a goat, but returned unsuccessful. At sunset the barometer stood at 20.522, the attached thermometer 50°. Here we had the misfortune to break our thermometer, having now only that attached to the barometer. I was taken ill shortly after we had encamped, and continued so until late in the night, with violent headache and vomiting. This was probably caused by the excessive fatigue [466] I had undergone and want of food, and perhaps also in some measure by the rarity of the air. The night was cold, as a violent gale from the north had sprung up at sunset, which entirely blew away the heat of the fires. The cold and our granite beds had not been favorable to sleep, and we were glad to see the face of the sun in the morning. Not being delayed by any preparation for breakfast, we set out immediately.

On every side as we advanced was heard the roar of waters and of a torrent, which we followed up a short distance until it expanded into a lake about one mile in length. On the northern side of the lake was a bank of ice, or rather of snow covered with a crust of ice. Carson had been our guide into the mountain, and agreeably to his advice we left this little valley and took to the ridges again, which we found extremely broken and where we were again involved among precipices. Here were ice-fields; among which we were all dispersed, seeking each the best path to ascend the peak. Mr. Preuss attempted to walk along the upper edge of one of these fields, which sloped away at an angle of about twenty degrees; but his feet slipped from under him, and he went plunging down the plane. A few hundred feet below, at the bottom, were some fragments of sharp rock, on which he landed, and, though he turned a couple of somersets, fortunately received no injury beyond a few bruises. Two of the men, Clement Lambert and Descoteaux, had been taken ill, and lay down on the rocks a short distance below; and at this point I was attacked with headache and giddiness, accompanied by vomiting, as on the day before. Finding myself unable to proceed, I sent the barometer over to Mr. Preuss, who was in a gap two or three hundred yards distant, desiring him to reach the peak, if possible, and take an observation there. He found himself unable to proceed farther in that direction, and took an observation where the barometer stood at 19.401, attached thermometer 50° in the gap. Carson, who had gone over to him, succeeded in reaching one of the snowy summits of the main ridge, whence he saw the peak towards which all our efforts had been directed towering 800 or 1,000 feet into the air above him. In the mean time, finding himself grow rather worse than better, and doubtful how far my strength would carry me, I sent Basil Lajeunesse with four men back to the place where the mules had been left.

We were now better acquainted with the topography of the country; and I directed him to bring back with him, if it were in any way possible, four or five mules, with provisions and blankets. With me were Maxwell and Ayer; and, after we had remained nearly an hour on the rock, it became so unpleasantly cold, though the day was bright, that we set out on our return to the camp, at which we all arrived safely, straggling in one after the other. I continued ill during the afternoon, but became better towards sundown, when my recovery was completed by the appearance of Basil and four men, all mounted. The men who had gone with him had been too much fatigued to return, and were relieved by those in charge of the horses; but in his powers of endurance Basil resembled more a mountain-goat than a man. They brought blankets and provisions, and we enjoyed well our dried meat and a cup of good coffee. We rolled ourselves up in our blankets, and, with our feet turned to a blazing fire, slept soundly until morning.

August 15.

It had been supposed that we had finished with the mountains; and the evening before it had been arranged that Carson should set out at daylight, arid return to breakfast at the Camp of the Mules, taking with him all but four or five men, who were to stay with me and bring back the mules and instruments. Accordingly, at the break of day they set out. With Mr. Preuss and myself remained Basil Lajeunesse, Clement Lambert, Janisse, and Descoteaux. When we had secured strength for the day by a hearty breakfast, we covered what remained, which was enough for one meal, with rocks, in order that it might be safe from any marauding bird, and saddling cur mules, turned our faces once more towards the peaks. This time we deter mined to proceed quietly and cautiously, deliberately resolved to accomplish our object, if it were within the compass of [467] human means. We were of opinion that a long defile which lay to the left of yesterday's route would lead us to the foot of the main peak. Our mules had been refreshed by the fine grass in the little ravine at the island camp, and we intended to ride up the defile as far as possible, in order to husband our strength for the main ascent. Though this was a fine passage, still it was a defile of the most rugged mountains known, and we had many a rough and steep slippery place to cross before reaching the end. In this place the sun rarely shone. Snow lay along the border of the small stream which flowed through it, and occasional icy passages made the footing of the mules very insecure; and the rocks and ground were moist with the trickling waters in this spring of mighty rivers. We soon had the satisfaction to find ourselves riding along the huge wall which forms the central summits of the chain. There at last it rose by our sides, a nearly perpendicular wall of granite, terminating 2,000 to 3,000 feet above our heads in a serrated line of broken, jagged cones. We rode on until we came almost immediately below the main peak, which I denominated the Snow Peak, as it exhibited more snow to the eye than any of the neighboring summits. Here were three small lakes of a green color, each perhaps 1,000 yards in diameter, and apparently very deep. These lay in a kind of chasm; and, according to the barometer, we had attained but a few hundred feet above the Island Lake. The barometer here stood at 20.450, attached thermometer 700°.

We managed to get our mules up to a little bench about 100 feet above the lakes, where there was a patch of good grass, and turned them loose to graze. During our rough ride to this place, they had exhibited a wonderful surefootedness. Parts of the defile were filled with angular, sharp fragments of rock,—3 or 4 and 8 or 10 feet cube,—and among these they had worked their way, leaping from one narrow point to another, rarely making a false step, and giving us no occasion to dismount. Having divested ourselves of every unnecessary encumbrance, we commenced the ascent. This time, like experienced travellers, we did not press ourselves, but climbed leisurely, sitting down as soon as we found breath beginning to fail. At intervals we reached places where a number of springs gushed from the rocks, and about 1,800 feet above the lakes came to the snow-line. From this point our progress was uninterrupted climbing. Hitherto I had worn a pair of thick moccasins, with soles of parfleche; but here I put on a light thin pair, which I had brought for the purpose, as now the use of our toes became necessary to a further advance. I availed myself of a sort of comb of the mountains, which stood against the wall like a buttress, and which the wind and the solar radiation, joined to the steepness of the smooth rock, had kept almost entirely free from snow. Up this I made my way rapidly. Our cautious method of advancing in the outset had spared my strength; and, with the exception of a slight disposition to headache, I felt no remains of yesterday's illness. In a few minutes we reached a point where the buttress was overhanging, and there was no other way of surmounting the difficulty than by passing around one side of it, which was the face of a vertical precipice of several hundred feet.

Putting hands and feet in the crevices between the blocks, I succeeded in getting over it, and, when I reached the top, found my companions in a small valley below. Descending to them, we continued climbing, and in a short time reached the crest. I sprang upon the summit, and another step would have precipitated me into an immense snow-field 500 feet below. To the edge of this field was a sheer icy precipice; and then, with a gradual fall, the field sloped off for about a mile, until it struck the foot of another lower ridge. I stood on a narrow crest, about 3 feet in width, with an inclination of about 20° N. 51° E. As soon as I had gratified the first feelings of curiosity, I descended, and each man ascended in his turn; for I would only allow one at a time to mount the unstable and precarious slab, which it seemed a breath would hurl into the abyss below. We mounted the barometer in the snow of the summit, and, fixing a ramrod in a crevice, unfurled the national flag to wave in the breeze where never flag waved before. During our morning's ascent we had met [468] no sign of animal life except the small, sparrow-like bird already mentioned. A stillness the most profound and a terrible solitude forced themselves constantly on the mind as the great features of the place. Here on the summit where the stillness was absolute, unbroken by any sound, and the solitude complete, we thought ourselves beyond the region of animated life; but, while we were sitting on the rock, a solitary bee (bromuizs, the humble-bee) came winging his flight from the eastern valley, and lit on the knee of one of the men.

It was a strange place—the icy rock and the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains—for a lover of warm sunshine and flowers; and we pleased ourselves with the idea that he was the first of his species to cross the mountain barrier, a solitary pioneer to foretell the advance of civilization. I believe that a moment's thought would have made us let him continue his way unharmed; but we carried out the law of this country, where all animated nature seems at war, and, seizing him immediately, put him in at least a fit place,—in the leaves of a large book, among the flowers we had collected on our way. The barometer stood at 18.293, the attached thermometer at 44°, giving for the elevation of this summit 13,570 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, which may be called the highest flight of the bee. It is certainly the highest known flight of that insect. From the description given by Mackenzie of the mountains where he crossed them with that of a French officer still farther to the north and Colonel Long's measurements to the south, joined to the opinion of the oldest traders of the country, it is presumed that this is the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains. The day was sunny and bright, but a slight shining mist hung over the lower plains, which interfered with our view of the surrounding country. On one side we overlooked innumerable lakes and streams, the spring of the Colorado of the Gulf of California; and on the other was the Wind River Valley, where were the heads of the Yellowstone branch of the Missouri. Far to the north we just could discover the snowy heads of the Trois Tetons, where were the sources of the Missouri and Columbia rivers; and at the southern extremity of the ridge the peaks were plainly visible, among which were some of the springs of the Nebraska or Platte River. Around us the whole scene had one main striking feature, which was that of terrible convulsion. Parallel to its length, the ridge was split into chasms and fissures, between which rose the thin, lofty walls, terminated with slender minarets and columns, which is correctly represented in the view from the camp on Island Lake. According to the barometer, the little crest of the wall on which we stood was 3,570 feet above that place and 2,780 above the little lakes at the bottom, immediately at our feet. Our camp at the Two Hills (an astronomical station) bore south 3° east, which with a bearing afterwards obtained from a fixed position enabled us to locate the peak. The bearing of the Trois Tetons was north 50° west, and the direction of the central ridge of the Wind River Mountains south 39° east. The summit rock was gneiss, succeeded by sienitic gneiss. Sienite and feldspar succeeded in our descent to the snow-line, where we found a feldspathic granite. I had remarked that the noise produced by the explosion of our pistols had the usual degree of loudness, but was not in the least prolonged, expiring almost simultaneously. Having now made what observations our means afforded, we proceeded to descend. We had accomplished an object of laudable ambition, and beyond the strict order of our instructions. We had climbed the loftiest peak of the Rocky Mountains, and looked down upon the snow 1,000 feet below, and, standing where never human foot had stood before, felt the exultation of first explorers. It was about two o'clock when we left the summit; and, when we reached the bottom, the sun had already sunk behind the wall, and the day was drawing to a close. It would have been pleasant to have lingered here and on the summit longer; but we hurried away as rapidly as the ground would permit, for it was an object to regain our party as soon as possible, not knowing what accident the next hour might bring forth.

We reached our deposit of provisions at nightfall. Here was not the inn which awaits the tired traveller on his return from Mont Blanc, or the orange groves of [469] South America, with their refreshing juices and soft, fragrant air; but we found our little cache of dried meat and coffee undisturbed. Though the moon was bright, the road was full of precipices, and the fatigue of the day had been great. We therefore abandoned the idea of rejoining our friends, and lay down on the rock, and in spite of the cold slept soundly.

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