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Frémont's Route Across the Great Basin in 1854

"These mountains are not explored, being only seen from elevated points on the northern exploring line."

"Although biased in favor of the Virgin river route, I determined to examine this one in the interest of geography

Larger with route below

Some General Results of a Recent Expedition Across the Rocky Mountains, for the Survey of a Route for a Railroad to the Pacific
33d Congress [SENATE] Misc. Doc. No. 67,
JUNE 15,1854.

Pages 5-6, route description (my emphases):

"At this point [Parowan, Utah] the line of exploration entered the third or western section, comprehending the mountainous plateau between the Wahsatch mountains and the Sierra Nevada of California. Two routes here suggested themselves to me for examination: one directly across the plateau, between the 37th and 38th parallels; the other keeping to the south of the mountains, and following for about two hundred miles down a valley of' the Rio Virgin--Virgin river--thence direct to the Tejon Pass, at the head of' the San Joaquin valley. This route down the Virgin river had been examined the year before, with a view to settlement this summer by a Mormon exploring party under the command of Major Steele, of Parowan, who (and others of' the party) informed me that they found fertile valleys inhabited by Indians who cultivated corn and melons, and the rich ground in many places matted over with grapevines. The Tejon Passes are two, one of them (from the abundance of vines at its lower end) called Caxon de las Uvas [today's I-5 "Grapevine" route]. They were of long use, and were examined by me and their practicability ascertained by my expedition of 1848--'49 ; and in 1851 I again passed through them both, bringing three thousand head of cattle through one of them.

"Knowing the practicability of' these passes, and confiding in the report of Major Steele as to the intermediate country, I determined to take the other (between the 37th and 38th parallels,) it recommending itself to me as being more direct towards San Francisco, and preferable on that account for a road, if suitable ground could be found; and also as being unknown, the Mormons informing me that various attempts had been made to explore it, and all failed for want of water. Although biased in favor of the Virgin river route, I determined to examine this one in the interest of geography, and accordingly set out for this purpose from the settlement about the 20th of February, travelling directly westward from Cedar City, (eighteen miles west of Parowan. We found the country a high table land, bristling with mountains, often in short isolated blocks, and sometimes accumulated into considerable ranges, with numerous open and low passes.

"We were thus always in a valley, and always surrounded by mountains more or less closely, which apparently altered in shape and position as we advanced. The valleys are dry and naked, without water or wood; but the mountains are generally covered with grass and well wooded with pines. Springs are very rare, and occasional small streams are at remote distances. Not a human being was encountered between the Santa Clara road near the Mormon settlements and the Sierra Nevada, over a distance of more than three hundred miles. The solitary character of this uninhabited region, and naked valleys without water courses, among mountains with fertile soil and grass and woods abundant, give it the appearance of an unfinished country.

"Commencing at the 38th [parallel], we struck the Sierra Nevada on about the 37th parallel about the 15th March. On our route across we had for the greater pat of the time pleasant and rather warm weather; the valley grounds and low ridges uncovered, but snow over the upper parts of the higher mountains. Between the 20th of February and 17th of March we had several snow storms, sometimes accompanied with hail and heavy thunder; but the snow remained on the valley grounds only a few hours after the storm was over. It forms not the least impediment at any time of the winter."

Here is that route and range shown on the 1886 Map Showing Country Explored by John Charles Frémont From 1841 through 1854 Inclusive, Drawn and Engraved Expressly for Frémont's Memoirs by A Zeese & Company in Chicago.

When Frémont and Charles Preuss constructed the 1848 Map of Oregon and Upper California, the depicted east-west transverse range that was shown as the southern boundary carried the caveat "These mountains [also titled "Range" on the map] are not explored, being only seen from elevated points on the northern exploring line."

So, in 1854, Frémont did explore it. It is interesting to note that this 5th expedition route is only route shown on the 1886 map that includes the astronomical stations (my arrows) and the only record of the route of that expedioin.
Apparently Frémont himself considered this import.ant!
The conjectured transverse range of the 1848 map has been replaced by an observed east-west ranging string of detached mountains.

Note August, 2015--When I wrote the above in 2009, I thought that the significance of this detail of the 1886 map was my own original discovery. But I have recently found the same observation in Walker's R. R. Routes--1853, Pat Adler & Walt Wheelock, La Siesta Press, Glendale, 1965. A fine book with a very limited distribution.



The 24" x 24" 1886 map at a scale of about 1:3000000 appeared only in Memoirs of My Life, John Charles Frémont, Belford, Clark & Company, Chicago, 1887. First appearance of the Memoirs, a very expensive production, was the first of ten parts issued semi-monthly by subscription beginning January 1886 in the wrappers shown above. The complete bound volume (right) followed. This was Volume I of two planned volumes, but, because of poor sales, the second volume was never printed. A pity, because we would have much more detail of the later expeditions and events after 1847, and the extensive artwork produced from the drawings of Edward and Richard Kern and the daguerreotypes of Soloman Nuñes Carvalho, who painted this portrait of General Frémont in 1864 for the Metropolitan Fair, the forerunner of the New York Metropolitan Museum, to be auctioned "for the benefit the Sick and Wounded Soldiers."

The journals of Lewis and Clark, May 23rd, 1805: "This creek [Teapot creek] seems to come from a range of low hills, which run from east to west for 70 miles..."

"Lewis has here in view certain mountains, which to his line of vision seem continuous, but they are not." Elliot Coues, editor, 1893.


go The Frémont-Preuss maps defining the Great Basin--1845 and 1848.
go Great Basin: Frémont's quest for the legendary San Buenaventura River.
go drawings of cartographic correctness. There is good evidence that cartographer Charles Preuss made use of the camera obscura in making his drawings to illustrate Frémont's Reports, including the Great Basin's goPyramid Lake.
go The full text of the Great Basin entry from Frémont's Geographical Memoir.
go Frémont's expedition: the Reports.
go Frémont's contributions to geology.
go Frémont's contributions to botany.
go A look at Frémont 's determinations of elevations.
go And the first scientific measurement of a high peak (13,745') in North America.
go A history of Frémont 's training in mathematics, navigation, and mapmaking.


Frémont and the Great Basin:

  • Blodget, Lorin, Climatology of the United States and the Temperate Latitudes of the North American Continent, J. B. Lippincott and Co., Philadelphia: 1857.
  • Cline, Gloria Griffin, Exploring the Great Basin, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1963 (and University of Nevada Press reprint 1988)
  • Francaviglia, Richard. V., Mapping and Imagination in the Great Basin: a Cartographic History, University of Nevada Press, Reno, 2005.
  • Frémont, Brevet Captain J. C., Report of The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-'44, Printed by order of the Senate of the United States (Senate Document No. 174), Gales and Seaton, Washington, 1845. Contains the 1845 Frémont/Preuss map.
  • Frémont, John Charles, Geographical Memoir Upon Upper California, Senate. 30th Congress, Misc. No.148, Wendell and Van Benthuysen, Washington, 1848. Contains the 1848 Frémont/Preuss map.
  • Frémont, John Charles, Memoirs of My Life, Belford, Clark & Company, Chicago, 1887.
  • J. C. Frémont, Letter of J. C. Frémont to The Editors of the National Intellengencer Communicating Some General Results of a Recent Expedition Across the Rocky Mountains, for the Survey of a Route for a Railroad to the Pacific, U.S. Senate, 33rd Congress, Misc. Document No. 67, 1854.
  • Fletcher, F. N., Early Nevada--the Period of Exploration, 1776-1848, Reno, 1929.
  • Hine, Robert V., In the Shadow of Frémont: Edward Kern and the Art of Exploration. 1845-1860, University of Oklahoma Press, Noeman, 1982.
  • Jackson, Donald, and Mary Lee Spence, The Expeditions of John Charles Frémont: Vol. I, Travels from 1838 to 1844; Vol. II, The Bear Flag Revolt and the Court-Martial, University of Illinois Press, 1970.
  • Jackson, Donald, The Expeditions of John Charles Frémont: Map Portfolio, University of Illinois Press, 1970. Full size facsimiles of the 1839-40, 1843, 1845, 1848, and 7-section map of the road to Oregon.
  • Jepson, Willis Linn, A Manual of the Flowering Plants of California, University Of California Press, (1925), 1953.
  • Kelly, Charles, Salt Desert Trails, Western Printing Co., Salt Lake City, 1930.
  • McPhee, John, Basin and Range, New York: Farrar Straus, 1981.
  • Preuss, Charles, Exploring With Frémont, Translated by Erwin G. and Elisabeth K., Gudde, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1958.


Bob Graham