The Great Explorer – John C. Fremont

Written by on May 15, 2013 in Southwest Characters - Comments Off on The Great Explorer – John C. Fremont

If you visit the Southwest, a lot of places and things carry the name Fremont — some named after the Native American Fremont people, but many named after one of the most famous explorers of the day. In the 1830s and 1840s John C. Fremont led numerous expeditions into the West to explore the relatively unknown territories.

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1813, he attended school at the Scientific Department of the College of Charleston. Ironically, he was three months short of graduating when an incident caused him to be expelled. Apparently, that little setback didn’t stop him at all. He served as a surveyor on the Charleston and Cincinnati Railroad, was second lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers and eventually worked with Joseph N. Nicollet on a two-year reconnaissance of the Minnesota area. It was under Nicollet’s tutelage that Fremont learned methods of surveying and how to manage and organize an expedition.

When Fremont returned to Washington, he met the daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton and the two eloped. This alliance proved extremely valuable to the advancement of his career. During the next 12 years, Fremont led five expeditions into the West. First, he surveyed up the Platte River. The second took 14 months as he made a circuit of the entire West (he explored the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake on this expedition). His third expedition took him across the Salt Lake desert into the struggle for California’s independence from Mexico. The fourth was a winter expedition to ascertain the viability of the central railroad – he became stranded in the snows of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. His fifth was to ascertain if a railroad was possible in Utah.

Then his traveling days were over, but his political career began. He served briefly as a California senator, ran for president but lost to James Buchanan, commanded the Union Army’s Western Department, and finally served as governor of Arizona Territory from 1878 to 1881.

Like many great men, his achievements were not much recognized during his lifetime. He died in virtual poverty in New York City on July 13, 1890.

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