A Special to longcamp.com

The Frémont Expedition Campsite on the East Fork of the Carson River and the route to the Markleeville Area and Grovers Hot Springs
Peter Lathrop, Minden, NV

December 2003
In your email dated November 30, 2003 you voiced an interest in the actual campsite of January 31 through February 2, 1844, and the approach to Markleeville from there on February 2nd. That naturally got me thinking. I ran off a series of maps for that route from my Tahoe Topo program, cut and spliced them together and taped it to a door in my classroom. On free moments I'd study the map for all possible routes. Also checked with any other maps I could find. The route up Indian Creek over the Markleeville airport and down the large draw makes sense in terms of logistics and follows the journal description.

"Crossing the river on the ice, we commenced the ascent of the mountain along the valley of a tributary stream...Leaving this stream, and pursuing a very direct course, we passed over an intervening ridge to the river we had left...travelling a little higher up [we] encamped on its banks."

The Carson River runs through a narrow canyon most of the way from Hangman Bridge to the takeout above the old dam. Therefore it makes no sense for them to have crossed over any intervening ridge before this route. The way would have been very accessible, as shown by the maps, including the false color infrared overlay added to the map. Roads run the entire distance, they are, however, on private or Washoe Reservation lands from the Carson River to Dutch Valley. I feel certain that this is the route they took on February 2nd.

Map notes:
a--January 31-February 2, 1844. Lahontan National Fish Hatchery on East Fork of the Carson River
b--February 2-18. A bit downstream from the confluence of Markleeville Creek and the East Fork of the Carson River just above the guaging station. Downstream from Markleeville, this camp was a horse camp under the charge of Baptiste Bernier until about February 18th.
c--February 3-18. A camp, or camps, near Grovers Hot Springs under the charge of Tom Fitzpatrick for purposes of making a road through the snow for the animals.

go The route up the mountains from Grovers to Charity Valley, and the approach to Carson Pass

The exact location of the camp of January 31 to February 2nd was also food for thought. Your statement "near the hatchery," and "a mile south of Dresslerville," were too vague for me. Brittney [center in photo at top] and I drove down there yesterday and scoped it out. Fortunately the bridge over the river that was wiped out in the 1997 flood has been replaced--the water is pretty cold in December. We were able to drive up on the bluff opposite the hatchery for a good view of the lay of the land. As is pointed out on the map [below], to have any protection of the wind they would have had to go as far, and no farther that the site of the hatchery with its east-west line of cottonwoods and willows.

"In the course of the afternoon, one of the men had his foot frostbitten; and about dark we had the satisfaction to reach the bottoms of a stream timbered with large trees, among which we found a sheltered camp, with an abundance of such grass as the season afforded for the animals."

Being between storms (recorded weather of the 31st and the 1st) there would have been strong southwest winds. Fremont's statement "the top of the range being hidden in clouds of snow" well describes the rain shadow effect we get here, with the storm clouds dissipating as the air mass drops into the valley. The mouth of Long Valley where Indian Creek comes out into the Carson flood plain is narrow and would have been easy to miss without the help of the Indian guide Melo on January 31st. There is a beautiful old barn at the mouth of the draw and a road going up it, as well as signs pointing out that this is Tribal Land. As the map indicates we can be reasonably sure that the site of the two-night camp was in the hatchery housing area. Smart place to put housing!

1. Down hillside from Bodie Flat. Same route as the road to Aurora built in the 1860s.

2. The river runs along the base of the bluff until the location of the fish hatchery. They could not camp along the river because of the bluffs.

3. A small hill forced them through a break in the bluffs. The highway follows the same break.

4. Cottonwoods and willow thickets form a windbreak along the Carson River. The flat bottom land where the housing for the hatchery workers is--actually housing just to the south of the ponds--makes a good campsite. The river bottom would have provided an abundance of grass.

5. They crossed the frozen river and ascended the mountain "along a tributary stream"--Indian Creek. No location further down stream gives an east/west windbreak to the SW winds, and would also be too far from Indian Creek.


Editor's note:
Peter points out that the cottonwood trees in this area are P. fremontii--the Frémont Cottonwood. In the canyons at higher elevations the variety changes to the Black Cottonwood, P. tricocarpa.

go See the place at 1:24,000 on a USGS map at Topozone.

Frémont: "We had scarcely lighted our fires, when the camp was crowded with nearly naked Indians [Washoe]; some of them were furnished with long nets in addition to bows, and appeared to have been out in the sage hills to hunt rabbits. These nets were perhaps 30 to 40 feet long, kept upright in the ground by slight sticks at intervals, and were made from a kind of wild hemp, very much resembling in manufacture those common among Indians of the Sacramento valley. They came among us without any fear, and scattered themselves about the fires, mainly occupied in gratifying mainly occupied in gratifying their their astonishment. I was struck by the singular appearance of a row of about a dozen, who were sitting on their haunches perched on a log near one of the fires, with their quick sharp eyes following every motion."

Other Peter Lathrop contributions to this website concerning the 1844 Frémont expedition route between January 31 and February 20, 1844

go A Hypothesis For the Five Frémont Expedition Routes in the Carson Pass Area
Markleeville to Grovers
go Kit Carson to Frémont: "There," he said, "is the little mountain"
go The first descent camp, February 21, 1844.
go The route from Pyramid Lake to Bridgeport.
go Frémont's Route from Grovers to the Long Camp: the location of the campsites for February 4th through the 10th, 1844

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