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The Camp Reached on February 4, 1844

Charity Valley

Frémont, February 4, 1844:"-I went ahead early with two or three men, each with a led horse to break the road. We were obliged to abandon the hollow entirely, and work along the mountain-side, which was very steep, and the snow covered with an icy crust. We cut a footing as we advanced, and trampled a road through for the animals; but occasionally one plunged outside the trail, and slided along the field to the bottom, a hundred yards below. Late in the day we reached another bench in the hollow, where, in summer, the stream passed over a small precipice. Here was a short distance of dividing ground between the two ridges, and beyond an open basin, some ten miles across, whose bottom presented a field of snow. At the further or western side rose the middle crest of the mountain, a dark-looking ridge of volcanic rock.

"The camp had been occupied all the day in endeavoring to ascend the hill, but only the best horses had succeeded; the animals, generally, not having sufficient strength to bring themselves up without packs; and all the line of the road between this and the springs was strewed with camp-stores and equipage, and horses floundering in the snow. I therefor immediately encamped on the ground with my own mess, which was in advance, and directed Mr. Fitzpatrick to encamp at the springs, and send all the animals, in charge of Tabeau, with a strong guard, back to the place where they had been pastured the night before. Here was a small spot of level ground, protected on one side by the mountain, and on the other by a little ridge of rock. It was an open grove of pines, which assimilated the grandeur of the mountain [Markleeville Peak], being frequently six feet in diameter.

Frémont: To-night we had no shelter, but we made a large fire around one of the huge pines; and covering the snow with small boughs, on which we spread our blankets, soon made ourselves comfortable. The night was very bright and clear, though the thermometer was only at 10°. A strong wind, which sprang up at sundown, made it intensely cold; and this was one of the bitterest nights during the journey.

Two Indians joined our party here; and one of them, an old man, immediately began to harangue us, saying that ourselves and animals would perish in the snow; and that if we would go back, he would show us another and a better way to cross the mountain. He spoke in a very loud voice, and there was a singular repetition of phrases and arrangement of words, which rendered his speech striking and not unmusical. We had now begun to understand some of the words [Washoe language], and, with the aid of signs, easily comprehended the old man's ideas.

"Rock upon rock - rock upon rock - snow upon snow,"said he; "even if you get over the snow, you will not be able to get down from the mountains."

He made us the sign of precipices, and showed us how the feet of the horses would slip, and throw them off from the narrow trails that led along their sides. Our Chinook, who comprehended even more readily than ourselves, and believed our situation hopeless, covered his head with his blanket, and began to weep and lament. "I wanted to see the whites," said he; "I came away from my own people to see the whites, and I wouldn't care to die among them, but here"--and he looked around into the cold night and gloomy forest, and, drawing his blanket over his head, began again to lament.

Seated around the tree, the fire illuminating the rocks and the tall bolls of the pines round about, we presented a group of very serious faces.

The position of this place by GPS is N38° 40' 57" W119° 53' 42".
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©1999, 2007
Bob Graham