The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XIV. Travellers and Explorers, 18461900
§ 9. Frémont
Benton’s son-in-law, John C. Frèmont, had conducted an expedition in 1842 along the Oregon Trail to the Wind River Mountains, and he was selected to carry on a new reconnaissance, ostensibly to connect the survey of the Oregon Trail with survey work done on the Pacific Coast by Wilkes. But this 1843–44 expedition did not halt in Oregon. It headed southward into Mexican territory along the eastern edge of the Sierras, hunting for a mythical Buenaventura River that would have made a fine military base had it existed. Not discovering that entrancing Elysian valley, Frèmont crossed the high Sierras in dead winter to Sutter’s Fort, returning by the Spanish Trail to Utah and breaking through the Wasatch east of Utah Lake. His Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842 and to Oregon and Northern California in the Years 1843–44 (1845) was a revelation to most of the world. Ten thousand copies were printed by the government, and it was reprinted by professional publishers, minus the scientific matter, in their regular lists.
The very day Frèmont handed in this report, 1 March, 1845, the United States flung the gauntlet in the face of Mexico by admitting Texas and assuming the Texan boundary affair. War was inevitable and everybody knew it. Therefore when Frèmont headed a new “topographical surveying” expedition to the Far West he had a force of sixty well-armed marksmen. When he reached California and found an incipient rebellion already organized by Americans, he placed himself with this powerful party and the American flag at its head, supplanting the Bear Flag of the revolutionists and giving immediate notice thereby to the other covetous nations that California was only for the United States.
The Bear Flag revolt from its beginning may be studied in Scraps of California History Never Before Published. A Biographical Sketch of William B. Ide, etc. (1880), privately printed by Simeon Ide. In H.H. Bancroft’s History of California, vol. v, is another account; and the revolt and Frèmont are sharply criticized by Josiah Royce in California from the Conquest in 1846 to the Second Vigilance Committee in San Francisco (1888). Royce also gave his analysis of Frèmont’s character in the Atlantic Monthly in 1890.
Frèmont tells his own story in Memories of My Life (1887; only vol. 1 of the projected two volumes was published). This contains a sketch of “The Life of Senator Benton in Connection with Western Explorations” from the pen of his daughter, Jessie Benton Frèmont. Frèmont’s career up to the time he ran for President was written by John Bigelow as a campaign document in 1856: Memoir of the Life of John C. Frèmont. Another Life of Frèmont (1856) is by Charles W. Upham, but there was no single volume containing all the story of this active explorer and politician till Frèmont and’49, by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, appeared in 1914.
California now attracted world attention, and there are a great number of interesting and valuable books relating to it. Los Gringos (1849), by Lieutenant Wise, U. S. N., describes the cruise of an American man-of-war which took active part in the conquest along the coast. One of the most trustworthy of all the volumes of this period is by Edwin Bryant, “late Alcalde of San Francisco,” What I saw in California in 1846–1847 (1848). This will always stand in the first rank of Western Americana, with Farnham, Gregg, etc. Bryant was in Frèmont’s California Battalion during the conquest. The book has been cheaply reprinted, with a “blood and thunder” titlepage supplanting the original, as Rocky Mountain Adventures (1889).