Fremont's Expeditions.The explorations of John C. Fremont, made under an act of Congress, were of much importance in placing before the people a faithful description of the region west of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. His first was made in 1842 with only 21 men, collected in the neighborhood of St. Louis, principally Creole and Canadian voyageurs who had become familiar with prairie life in the service of the fur companies in the Indian country. Charles Preuss, a native of Germany, was his assistant in the topographical part of the survey; L. Maxwell of Kaskaskia was engaged as hunter, and Christopher Carson (more familiarly known as "Kit" Carson) was the guide. From St. Louis the part proceeded to Cyprian Chouteau's trading house on the Kansas river, about 10 miles west of the Missouri line. The start was made from that point on June 10, 1842. In about 10 miles they reached the Sante Fe road, along which they continued for a short time, "and encamped early on a small stream, having traveled about 11 miles." They traveled the next day along the Sante Fe road, which they left in the afternoon, and encamped late in the evening on a small creek, called by the Indians, Mishmagwi. On June 12 the party seems to have camped near the site of Lawrence, for in Col. Fremont's narrative he says: "We encamped in a remarkably beautiful situation on the Kansas bluffs, which commanded a fine view of the river valley, here from 3 to 4 miles wide. The central portion was occupied by a broad belt of heavy timber, and nearer the hills the prairies were of the richest verdure." On the 14th he crossed to the north side of the river, probably near the point where Topeka is now located. On the 16th he says: "We are now fairly in the Indian country, and it began to be time to prepare for the chances of the wilderness."
The party continued its journey along the foot of the hills which border the Kansas valley, and on the 20th crossed the Big Vermilion, "which has a rich bottom of about one mile in breadth, one-third of which is occupied by timber." After a day's march of 24 miles they reached the Big Blue, and encamped on the uplands of the western side, near a small creek, where was a fine large spring of very cold water. At noon on the 22nd a halt was made at Wyeth's creek, in the bed of which were numerous boulders of dark, ferruginous sandstone, mingled with others of the red sandstone variety. At the close of the same day they made their bivouac in the midst of some well-timbered ravines near the Little Blue, 24 miles from their camp of the preceding night. Crossing the next morning a number of handsome creeks, with water clear and sandy beds, at 10 a. m. they reached a beautifully wooded stream, about 35 feet wide, called Sandy creek, "and, as the Otoes frequently winter there, the Otoe fork." After another hard day's march of 28 miles they encamped on the Little Blue, "where our arrival made a scene of the Arabian Desert." Thence their route lay up the valley, and on the night of the 25th they halted at a point in what in now Nuckolls county, Nebraska. "From the mouth of the Kansas, according to our reckoning, we had traveled 328 miles, and the geological formation of the country we had passed over consisted of lime and sand stone, covered by the same erratic deposits of sand and gravel which forms the surface rock of the prairies between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers." They marched up the Platte valley, but upon reaching the forks, the main party was sent up the north fork, while a few men under Fremont passed up the south fork to St. Vrain's fort. From here they marched northward to the north fork and joined the main body at Fort Laramie. Although the Indians were on the warpath farther up the river, Fremont determined to proceed. They continued to advance without serious interruption, arrived at the Sweetwater river, marched through South Pass, and a little later ascended the highest peak of the Wind river mountains. The return journey down the Platte was made without notable incident.
Fremont's second exploration was made in 1843, his party consisting principally of Creole and Canadian French, and Americans, amounting in all to 39 men. To make the exploration as useful as possible, Col. Fremont determined to vary the route to the Rocky mountains from that followed in 1842, the route decided upon being up the valley of the Kansas river, to the head of the Arkansas river, and to some pass in the mountains, if any could be found, at the sources of that river. By making this deviation, it was thought the problem of a new road to Oregon and California in a climate more congenial might be solved, and a better knowledge obtained of an important river and the country it drained, while the great object of the expedition would find its point of commencement at the termination of the former.
The departure was made from what is now Kansas City, Kan., on the morning of May 29, and at the close of that day the party encamped about 4 miles beyond the frontier, on the verge of the great prairies. Resuming their journey on the 31st, they encamped in the evening at Elm Grove, and from then until June 3 followed the same route as the expedition of 1842. Reaching the ford of the Kansas, near the present site of Lawrence, they left the usual emigrant road to the mountains and continued their route along the south side of the river, where their progress was much delayed by the numerous small streams, which obliged them to make frequent bridges. On the morning of June 4 they crossed Otter creek, and on the 8th arrived at the mouth of Smoky Hill fork, forming here, by its junction with the Republican, the Kansas river. On the 11th they resumed their journey along the Republican fork, and for several days continued to travel through a country beautifully watered with numerous streams, handsomely timbered, "and rarely an incident occured to vary the monotonous resemblance which one day on the prairies here bears to another, and which scarcely requires a particular description."
They had been gradually and regularly ascending in their progress westward, and on the evening of the 14th were 265 miles by their traveling road from the mouth of the Kansas. At this point the party was divided, and on the 16th, Fremont, with 15 men, proceeded in advance, bearing a little out from the river. That night he encamped on Solomon's fork of the Smoky Hill river, along whose tributaries he continued to travel for several days. On the 19th he crossed the Pawnee road to the Arkansas, and on the afternoon of June 30 he found himself overlooking a valley, where, about 10 miles distant, "the south fork of the Platte was rolling magnificently along, swollen with the waters of the melting snows." Upon reaching St. Vrain's fort, he concluded to remain a considerable length of time in order to explore the surrounding country. Boiling Spring river was traversed, and the pueblo at or near its mouth was visited. From Fort St. Vrain, the main party marched straight to Fort Laramie, while the party under Fremont passed farther to the west, skirting the mountain, and carefully examining the country. The two detachments met on the Sweetwater river, and after marching through South Pass continued on to Fort Bridger, whence they moved west down the Bear river valley. The expedition then marched to California and passed a considerable distance down the coast, when it returned, reaching Colorado at Brown's Hole. While in Colorado, Fremont explored the wonderful natural parks there. On his return he passed down the Arkansas, visiting the "pueblo" and Bent's Fort, at which place he arrived on July 1, 1844. On the 5th he resumed his journey down the Arkansas river, traveling along a broad wagon road. Desiring to complete the examination of the Kansas, he soon left the Arkansas and took a northeasterly direction across the elevated dividing grounds which separate that river from the waters of the Platte. On the 8th he arrived at the head of a stream which proved to be the Smoky Hill fork of the Kansas river. After having traveled directly along its banks for 290 miles, the expedition left the river, where it bore suddenly off in a northwesternly direction, toward its junction with the Republican fork of the Kansas, and continued its easterly course for about 20 miles when it entered the wagon road from Sante Fe to Independence. On the last day of July Fremont again encamped at the site of Kansas City, Kan., after an absence of fourteen months.
The third expedition under Fremont in 1845 comprised nearly 100 men. Many of his old companions joined him, among whom were Carson, Godey, Owens, and several experienced Delaware Indians. With him also was his favorite, Basil Lajeunesse, and Lieuts. Abert and Peck. With this larger force he felt equal to any emergency likely to arise. The plains were crossed without noteworthy incident, except a scare from the Cheyennes, and on Aug. 2 Bent's Fort was reached. On the 16th, the expedition proper, consisting of about 60 men, mostly picked for their known qualities of courage, hardihood and faithfulness, left Bent's Fort and started on its journey. On the 20th it encamped at the month of Boiling Springs river, and on the 26th at the month of the great canon of the Arkansas. On the night of Sept. 2, it reached the remote headwaters of the Arkansas. Two days later Fremont passed across the divide into the valley of the Grand river, and camped on Piney river, where a goodly supply of fish was caught. The marvelous beauty of the surroundings were specially noted by the scientists accompanying the party. Continuing westward without noteworthy incident, the party reached Great Salt Lake early in October, and after great hardships Sutter's Fort in California was reached in December. The following year Fremont assisted the Californias in gaining their independence.
A fourth expedition, commenced in 1848, was prosecuted at his own expense, and ended in finding a passage to California from the east along the headwaters of the Rio Grande. This was later followed by the Southern Pacific railroad. He also fitted out upon his account a fifth expedition (1853), designed to perfect the results of the fourth, by fixing upon the best route for a national highway from the valley of the Mississippi to the Pacific ocean. These expeditions involved great hardships, but every suffering was rewarded by marvelous disclosures of the geographical variety and wealth of the country through which they passed. Kansas and the regions to the west were almost unknown up to this time. His report of the resources found attracted the attention of the people of the East, and from the time of these explorations may he dated the rapid influx of immigrants into Kansas and the speedy settlement of the territory. Traversing the state as he did, from its eastern to its western boundary, his complete reports turned the tide of home-seekers in that direction.Pages 694-697 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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