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Historical Context:

...to determine the height above the sea of the limit of perpetual snow...we not only advance the progress of meteorology, but likewise furnish facts toward the interesting consideration of the geographical distribution of plants and animals.
Joseph N. Nicollet, 1839

Now appeared in the distance to the north and west, gleaming under the mantle of perpetual snow, the lofty range known as the Wind River Mountains. It was the first time I had seen snow in summer; some of the peaks were very precipitous, and the view was altogether most impressive.
General John Bidwell, 1841

Never before had anyone attempted to measure the altitude of an American mountain with a barometer.
William H. Goetzmann, Army Exploration of the American West.

Fremont's ascent was a bold feat of exploration, the hardest climb yet performed by Americans in the West.
David Roberts, A Newer World: Kit Carson, John C. Fremont And The Claiming of the American West

I fancied I could see Frémont's men hauling the cannon up the battlements of the Rocky Mountains, flags in the air, Frémont at the head, waving his sword, and unknown and unnamed empires at every hand.
Joaquin Miller

Is Frémont's "Snow Peak" today's
Frémont Peak

Frémont: "I sprang upon the summit, and another step would have precipitated me to an immense snow field five hundred feet below...We mounted the barometer in the snow of the summit, and fixing a ramrod in a crevice, unfurled the national flag to wave in the breeze where never flag waved before."

A peak in the Wind River Chain of the Rocky Mountains was ascended by Frémont and second expedition members Preuss, Lajeunesse, Lambert, Jannisse, and Descoteaux on August, 15, 1842. It was front-page news. The peak is now identified by some modern-day mountain climbers as a peak called Mount Woodrow Wilson (it wasn't), rather than another nearby peak now called Frémont Peak (Frémont's Peak in 1845).

By barometrical observation, Frémont's determined its elevation to be 13,570 feet. (See MY VIEWS below)

This is the actual flag depicted in 19th century drawings of the event. It was John Frémont's personal flag carried on the First Expedition. Now in the Southwest Museum. According to the donor, Elizabeth Benton Frémont, it was designed and made by Jessie Frémont and was presented it to her by John on his return from the expedition. The 26 stars, 13 above and 13 below the eagle grasping a Peace Pipe, have faded, and do not show well here.


Which Peak? Which route?
Up, men! he cried, yon rocky cone...John Greenleaf Whittier

1877: "We found no signs of anyone having visited this point [Fremont Peak] before; but I am of the opinion that this is the point reached by Frémont in 1842."
A. D. Wilson, Chief Cartographer, Hayden Survey, 1877.

The Preuss drawing of Island Lake, See a comparison with the Preuss drawings of:
goPyramid Lake with a recent photograph.
goAnd the Long Camp.
go Did Charles Preuss use a camera obscura?


What do you think?

1960: goAn examination of the Bonney & Bonney determination for Mt. Woodrow Wilson.

MY VIEWS (it's my site)
1999: goHere are the routes (there are 2 routes) and the determination of Fremont Peak as the peak conquered, with maps and a study of the barometric observations.

goMore on the approach route added 2003.

2000: David Roberts, A Newer World; Kit Carson, John C. Fremont And The Claiming of the American West. The author and climber's determination of the peak as Fremont Peak.


In making an identification of the 1842 expeditionary route, and identity of the particular peak climbed, the following original material is available:
Fremont's narrative, as published in the 1843 Report to Senate of the United States.
Frémont's Tables of Astronomical Observations, and Meteorological and Barometric Registers--appendices to that report.
The Report illustrations, drawn by Charles Preuss.
The 1843 Frémont / Preuss map.
Expedition cartographer Charles Preuss's diary.
See bibliography below.

Frémont's orders from Col. J. J. Abert, Chief of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, regarding the 1842 expedition were to make a survey of the Platte River and up the head of the Sweetwater to South Pass, and if time permitted, to make a similar survey of the Kansas River. The orders contained no instruction to move northwest of South Pass to explore the Wind River Range, let alone to scale "...the loftiest peak of the Rocky mountains," which Frémont admits in the Report, was "...beyond the strict order of our instructions."

But apparently, Frémont already had this adventure in mind before he started out.
When the barometer was broken near Boulder Lake on August 10th, Frémont recorded that "The loss was felt by the whole camp...The height of these mountains, considered by the hunters and traders the highest of the whole range, had been a theme of constant discussion among them; and all had looked forward with pleasure to the moment when the instrument, which they believed to be true as the sun, should stand upon the summits and decide their disputes."
go He repaired the barometer, and it did get to the top of Fremont Peak.

Further, these items had been purchased before the start of the expedition:

Voucher No.30, St. Louis, 26 May 1842
U.S. to Hendrick Tisius

2 pair ice shoes


2 pair iron plates and heels with steel nails [crampons]


2 steel pins for sticks [for alpenstocks]

Jackson, Donald, and Mary Lee Spence, The Expeditions of John Charles Frémont: Vol. I, Travels from 1838 to 1844 University of Illinois Press, 1970, p.142.


When the purchase was questioned by the government auditors, Frémont explained that "The articles in this account were for use among the ice-fields in the Survey of the Wind River Mts."

Preuss was recorded as slipping and sliding down an "ice field" on August 14, so these items apparently never got to or were not used in the Wind River Mountains or the climb of Fremont Peak:

August 15, 1842 on Fremont Peak: "Hitherto I had worn a thick pair of moccasins, with soles of parfléche [rawhide]; but here I put on a light thin pair, which I had brought for the purpose, as now the use of our toes became necessary for further advance."
go Parfléche soles caused Frémont to take a cold bath on his mid-winter crossing of the Sierra Nevada in 1844.

At twenty-nine years of age, Frémont took a lot of chances. He recorded in his Memoirs that on July 4, 1838, when camped with Nicollet at the Pipe Stone Quarry, "There was a detached pedestal standing out a few feet away from the bluff, and about twenty-five feet high. It was quite a feat to spring to this from the bluff, as the top was barely a foot square and uneven, and it required a sure foot not to go further."

Of this, Nicollet recorded in his Journal, "The colors of the United States are unfurled on the summit of a large, sharp-cornered rock, 23 feet high, standing isolated in front of the hill, its four faces precipitous. It is called "the chimney." One cannot reach the summit of the rock by any of its flanks. It is necessary to jump from the top of the hill to the summit of the rock and land there firmly balanced. The top is a surface 2 feet square, and the space between it and the hill is 5 feet wide. Mr. Frémont was assigned this operation and executed it successfully."

Another surveyor on gauging a jump: "An Irishman told me that if he held up one leg and if he could bring his toe in range with his eye and the opposite bank he knew that he could jump it. Why, I told him, I can blot out a star with my toe, but I would not engage to jump the distance. It then appeared that he knew when he had got his leg at the right height by a certain hitch there was in it. I suggested that he should connect his two ankles with a string." Thoreau, Journal, 1850.

Fremont Peak [13,745'], as it turns out, ranks only third in height in Wyoming...nevertheless, "Fremont's ascent was a bold feat of exploration, the hardest climb yet performed by Americans in the West." David Roberts, A Newer World; Kit Carson, John C. Fremont And The Claiming of the American West, Simon & Schuster, 2000.

The 5 cent commemorative stamp was issued in 1898.

go See some of the published illustrations 1856-1900.

go Frémont and Charles Preuss climb Red Lake Peak in the Sierra Nevada on February 14, 1844 to look for the Sacramento Valley and discover Lake Tahoe.



Bowditch, Nathaniel, Ll. D., The New American Practical Navigator, E. and G. W. Blunt, New York, 23rd Edition, 1853 (includes year 1842).

Frémont, J.C., Lieutenant, A Report on an Exploration of the Country Lying Between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, on the Line of the Kansas and Great Platte Rivers, Senate Document 243, Washington, 1843. Contains the 1843 Frémont/Preuss map.

Greely, Gen. A. W., American Weather, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1888.

Middleton, W. E. Knowles, A History of the Barometer, The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1964.

Negretti & Zambra, A Treatise on Meteorological Instruments, London, 1864.

Nicollet, Joseph Nicolas, Essay on Meteorological Observations, Printed by order of the War Department, Washington, 1839.

Nicollet, Joseph, eds. Bray, Martha Coleman, The Journals of Joseph N. Nicollet, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, 1970.

Plympton, George W., The Aneroid Barometer; Its Construction and Use, D. Van Nostrand Company, New York, 1884.

Preuss, Charles, Exploring With Frémont, Translated by Erwin G. and Elisabeth K., Gudde, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1958.

Williamson, R. S., On the Use of the Barometer on Surveys and Reconnaissances: part I, Meteorology in its Connection with Hypsometry; part II, Barometric Hypsometry; New York, D. Van Nostrand, 1868.  

©1999, 2007
Bob Graham