Friday, June 3, 2011

John C. Fremont 1844 Expedition - Highway 395

Mono County, August 30, 1993

Coming from Markleeville on Highway 89 to 395 just below Topaz Lake, we’re in Mono County and heading south on the road that has been meandering 1400 miles from Mexico to Canada up the eastern part of the westernmost states.

1982 photo

Hwy 395 even has a movie in its namesake, an action/crime thriller called ‘Highway 395 – Death Valley’ with Fred Dryer starring and directing the year 2000 film. Fred is small town cop, Wade Rawley who uncovers lots of bad goings-on. Apparently, the film is well written and shot and probably worth a Netflix look in the cult film category. Way to go Fred! That’s a long way from knowing him when this contributor used to play the Hindquarter steakhouse on Naples Island – Long Beach, and he and other football colleagues would hoist ample libations in their off season training typical of the early 70’s. More often than not, he’d be found the next morning just outside the side door where the little stage was inside, sleeping off the previous night in his split window VW bus. At any rate, the Dryer film could be a nice companion to Bogart’s ‘High Sierra’ for those of us with hundreds of trips up and down this road where God pulls out all stops and are looking for a dose of nostalgia.    

By the time they made this crossing, Fremont’s second topographical expedition had been running about the west since leaving Missouri in June of 1843, mapping the Oregon Trail, going to Fort Vancouver, then south through western Nevada. He had twenty seven men, including Kit Carson, and sixty seven horses and mules.
After being told by the Washoe Indians that crossing the Sierras in winter was impossible, Fremont went anyway, thinking these mountains certainly weren’t the challenge of the Rocky Mountains. Hindsight of course tells us the Sierra Nevada range isn’t user friendly when it comes trail blazing.  
Bob Graham’s book; ‘The Crossing’ covers things very well.

By matching this drawing of ‘Long Camp’ by expedition cartographer Charles Preuss, they’ve recently been able to pinpoint the location of the site near Carson Pass. Using the term ‘long’ meant they camped there for awhile. While making this drawing, Charles wasn’t very happy about Fremont’s decision to cross the Sierras to Sutter’s Fort in the middle of winter because they were low on provisions, he wrote: "We are now completely snowed in. The snowstorm is on top of us. The wind obliterates all tracks which, with incredible effort, we make for our horses. The horses are about twenty miles behind and are expected to arrive tonight, or rather, they are now no longer expected. How could they get through? At the moment no one can tell what will really happen. It is certain we shall have to eat horse meat."

In 1846, at a time when the Alta California government quite frankly didn’t want him or his survey gear around, Fremont mapped a trail for American settlers through Mission Pass to eastern San Francisco Bay and got a town named after him for the deed.  

“The ultimate curse of being a national hero
is that once the fires of acclaim go out, only the ashes of criticism remain.
This was the fate of John Charles Frémont,
for he climbed the peaks of glory to endure the deserts of despair”.
Ferol Egan, Frémont: Explorer for a Restless Nation

1993 photo

Ironically, there is no state landmark for the trail of the Fremont expedition here, but there is a landmark and plaque at Devil’s gate pass for Fremont and Carson’s expedition. Go figure.  

NO. 995-1 TRAIL OF THE JOHN C. FRÉMONT 1844 EXPEDITION - In 1844, while exploring and mapping the area of what is presently the western United States, Lt. John C. Frémont's party passed through northern Mono County during the last week of January. After passing through Mono County, Frémont passed over the Sierra and travelled to Sutter's Fort in the Sacramento Valley, where the party rested. To leave California the expedition headed south through the San Joaquin Valley, and then headed easterly to leave California by the Old Spanish Trail to Utah.
Location: Big Bend-Mountain Gate area, Toiyabe National Forest, Bridgeport
Google: 38.348333, -119.361944 (Fremont – Carson marker at Devil’s Gate Pass)

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