A Special to longcamp.com

Frémont and Company's Route from Pyramid Lake to Bridgeport Reservoir
Peter Lathrop, Minden, NV
© 2005

Information added by editor, May 2013, regarding the proposed naming of a small mountain near Dayton, NV Fremont Lookout

Last year Bob asked me where I thought Frémont was during, late January, 1844. Whereas much work has been done on where Frémont's company was lost and exactly where he crossed the crest of the Sierra, little has been done on his route from January 15th at Pyramid Lake and January 26th at Bridgeport. Locations as far afield as Walker Lake and northeastern Nevada have been mentioned. Correlating Frémont's narratives, Preuss's large map, and modern topographical fort_churchill maps led to on-site observations and good excuses for road trips and hikes (expetitions; C. Robin). Of course the opinions expressed here are only hypothesizes and can be easily modified by new evidence and better arguments

Frémont's route from 1/16 to 1/25, 1844

1/16 - Frémont's party followed the east bank of the Truckee River south from Pyramid Lake passing across the river from where Ornsby would meet defeat and death two decades later. Frémont mistook the Pah Pah Range for the Sierra Nevada. They camped on the east side of Truckee River at the middle of the large eastern curve in Dodge Flat, northeast of Wadsworth.

1/17 - They "left the river, which here issues from the, mountains on the west", and traveled south over the low eastern end of the Virginia Range, pretty much following Alt. 95. They left the route of the highway about 3 miles north of Silver springs, following the wash south to camp at the top of the "S" curve in the Carson River at a site now under Lahontan Reservoir about 2 miles east of Silver Springs. The river at this site would have run "more directly to the eastward." This "S" curve of the river is clearly shown on Preuss's map,

1/18 - The expedition "followed it (the river) down for about three hours, and encamped" most likely where the river comes out of the east end of the narrows, south of the present launching ramp at 39°24'16". Frémont had to "ride out to reconnoiter the county," so they couldn't have been in the flat country to the east. The "open valley of another to the eastward where it was impossible to tell which way the the main river ran" well describes the flat pre-Newlands Reclamation project Lahontan Valley. A piece of evidence that this valley was not visible from the camp is that Preuss, who did not go on this reconnoiter, did not include details of the topography of the basin, nor the mountains beyond on his map.

1/19 - On this date they "went out of [their] way in a circuit over a little mountain." This would have taken them through the Dead Camel Mountains, passing to the north of Red Mountain to rejoin the Carson River at the front bottom of the "S" at 39°19' 21". This site is also under the waters of Lahontan Reservoir.

1/20 - The party moved upstream and "encamped on it close to the mountains". Here they "ascended a peak of the range, where it commanded a view of the stream behind the first ridge, where it was winding its course through a somewhat open valley". They had reached the point where the river valley narrows between the eastern Pine Nut Mountains and Churchill Butte, near the site of Fort Churchill. The peak climbed must have been the west peak of Churchill Butte, and the open valley was the Carson Plains looking, toward the site of Dayton with the storm covered mountains of the Virginia Range and the Carson Spur of the Sierras beyond. If they were any farther west their route the next day would have had to go south over the variable topography of the east Pine Nut Mountains and which would not have been described as "tolerably level ground." Frémont noted that they climbed a peak, not the highest which is the east peak of Churchill Butte. The east peak would have given a view of the entire area in which they had been traveling for the last three days, which would have been mentioned in his journal, whereas the west peak gives a clear view in the direction he was thinking of going, as well as to the south.

Frémont's Report:
"20th.--To-day we continued up the stream, and encamped on it close to the mountains. The freshly fallen snow was covered with the tracks of Indians, who had descended from upper waters, probably called down by the smokes in the plain. We ascended a peak of the range, which commanded a view of this stream behind the first ridge, where it was winding its course through a somewhat open valley, and I sometimes regret that I did not make the trial to cross here; but while we had fair weather below, the mountains were darkened with falling snow, and, feeling unwilling to encounter them, we turned away again to the southward."

Information added by editor, May 2013.
In the spring of 2013 it was reported in an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal, and picked up by the Associated Press, that it has been proposed by the Historical Society of Dayton Valley, NV to the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names that a low mountain along the Carson River about 25 miles east of Carson City be named Fremont Lookout. Society members Guy Rocha, who is "personally not a big fan of John C. Fremont,, and Stony Tennant, say their "extensive research" shows Fremont stood atop a mountain near 39° 17' 00" 119° 26' 21" on Jan. 20, 1844 to gain a view west of the Carson Range above Carson City.

The applicarion was approved by the Nevada State Board on Geographical Names on January 8, 2013.

However, that particular unnamed mountain suggested is approximately 8 miles farther west than the "5 miles" recorded as the distance traveled by the expedition from the camp of the 19th at the intersection of Frémont's determined latitude 39° 19' 21" where it intersects the course of the Carson River. The daily travel is printed in the Table of Distances in the 1845 government edition of the Report.

Confirming that "5 miles" is this enlarged area of the 1845 Frémont-Preuss map covering the route of January 15-21 between Pyramid Lake and the Walker River (Red additions are mine..) Circles shown on the dashed line of march are campsites; black triangles with circles in them are campsites where astronomical observations were made to determine coordinates. Those observations, which were weather dependent, so not always possible, were printed in the Tables of Astronomical Observations in the government Report.

So Frémont was never near the suggested mountain to be named Fremont Lookout. The "extensive research" supporting the site was limited to one 1956 commercial edition of the narrative of Frémont's 1845 Report; the original Report, with its Tables of Distances (p.291) and the accompanying Fremont-Preuss map showing the expedition route, were never consulted. Surely these items can be examined in the state archives in Carson City.

At that point in the expedition, Frémont was still searching for the Buenaventura River, so was examining every river he found at this approximate latitude on the western side of the Great Basin (a term he coined).

At right is the route traveled by the expedition on the 20th of January 1844 up the Carson River to a camp at the foot of Churchill Butte and the site of the 1861 Fort Churchill (Fort Churchill State Historic Park).

Frémont needed to have seen the course of the Walker River south of him before setting off across country. The horses were in poor condition, and could not be used for long distance searching for watercourses. Churchill Butte was a climb of 678' above the level of the Carson River, giving a view south, and across the intervening ridge. That 678' climb to explore was nothing compared to the over 2,000' vertical climb of Red Lake Peak on February 14 to search a route to the Sacramento Valley.
Bob Graham
May, 2013

The peak climbed must have been the west peak of Churchill Butte, and the open valley was the Carson Plains looking, toward the site of Dayton with the storm covered mountains of the Virginia Range and the Carson Spur of the Sierras beyond. The west peak also gives a clear view in the direction he was thinking of going, as well as to the south."

1/21 -- "In that direction [they] traveled the next day" for 24 miles to encamp on "another large stream running off to the northward and eastward." They had passed through the Adrian Valley to the "broad bottoms, fine meadowland" of Mason Valley. The campsite is a little north of Yerington at 39°01'53" on the west side of the Walker River.

1/22 - The expedition then followed on the west side of the West Walker River south pass where the East Fork branches off. After about 14 miles they camped where a tributary forks off to the south toward Pine Groove Hills. The latitude given, 38°49'54", does not match-up with the confluences of the large arroyo up which they proceeded the next day. It does agree with a smaller tributary and would place the camp at the foot of the ridge they climbed. Frémont with unidentified companions climbed one ridge to the main ridge of the Singatse Range, which extended south of Mt. Wilson. The geology of that ridge matches that described by Frémont. The view of Smith Valley seen from that nidge also matches his description. The West Walker River meanders from the "gorge" of Hoye Canyon toward the "cañon" of Wilson Canyon. The Pine Nut Range north of the "gorge" and the Sierra Nevada beyond were both hidden in snow clouds, so once again he decided to go "southward," in which direction he would have had a good view from the ridge.

1/23 - The southern end of Mason Valley's drainage patterns has been greatly altered by the demands of agriculture. It is therefore impossible to trace the natural patterns that existed in Frernoni's time. There is a large arroyo whose form indicates that it must have carried a large flow of water in times past. It drains north from Pine Groove Flat along which road 3C travels. This is most likely "the other branch" along "the course of" they "moved" "toward the southeast" on this date. Pine Groove Flat does make a "fine road," the saddle at the southern end of it is a "slight dividing ground", and the trail (and as the present road does) would have then "descended toward the valley of another strearn," in fact the East Walker River. This misidentification shows that they had missed the confluence of the East and West Walker while traveling south in Mason Valley, their view mostly blocked by the cottonwoods and willows. It is also evident then that the confluence was not the "forks" where they had camped that night. This day they encamped after traveling 24 miles by the East Walker at 38°36'19". This would put them near the present headquarters of the Flying M Ranch.

1/24 - This date started with the meeting of Frémont's men with a similar, though smaller group of Washoe who were outside their home territory mostly likely on a hunting expedition. Following the hunter's lead they went upstream "between dark-looking hills" of quaternary basalts on the east and the tertiary andesitic rock on the west that narrowed the river valley. They crossed the river on a fishing dam near where the moderm bridge is, the route upstream being blocked by the granite of "Impassable canons." The expedition most likely followed the present road up to the south skirting the "snowy mountains" of Big Indian Mt. of the Wassuk Range, as this route affords the easiest passage through the "very broken country" which lies between the road and the river. The "low gap" as shown on Preuss's map matches the one the present road passes through. This route would match the local geology of tertiary sedimentary sandstone with Frémont's description of "impure sandstone," as would the andesitic rocks encountered upon "Issuing from the gap" with Frémont's description of "compact lava, and other volcanic products". The "wide valley, or rather basin" they "descended" to, following the drainage from Baldwin Canyon, is the valley of Rough Creek, "a small tributary" of the East Walker. They encamped where the creek bed is wide before narrowing at the Lyon/Mineral County line at 38°24'28".

1/25 - This morning they proceeded west toward the Bodle Hills. Having crossed the modern north/south graded road they climbed west in the vicinity of the dirt roads to the "pure spring" between the roads at "the edge of the timber." The pronghom was most likely killed in the Washoe fashion of a small cooperative group using the springs as a trap. The trail then headed toward the lowest pass in the Bodle Hills, coming out of the trees near the California/Nevada border. The geology Frémont describes again fits the rocks found here, being rhyodacite and andesite flows and breccias. The pass (8350') is between Potato Peak and Masonic Hill just south of Logan Springs and gives a good view of their "future road" where Hwy 395 leaves Bridgeport Valley heading north. After taking in the magnificent view they followed the Rock Springs drainage down past Locomotive Point to their camp site which is now under the Bridgeport Reservoir.

Editor's note. At the camp reached on the 25th, a line of latitude 38° 18' 01" was determined in the early hours of the 26th. An attempt was also made to regain time, and longitude--a lunar, taking the "distance from the moon's first limb to Venus." This was a difficult observation, and there were many errors in the English published ephemerides at the time. Frémont's mathematically reduced result told him that his 2nd line of position was 121° 49' 52", which placed him 120 miles further west than his actual position, prompting his statement the following day that "At the time, we supposed this to be the point into which they [the mountains at hand] were gathered between the two great rivers."

go See Peter Lathrop's study of the preceeding Markleeville to Charity Valley route.
go And his look at the campsite on the East Carson River of January 31 to February 2, 1844--Frémont's gateway to the high mountains.
go The first descent camp, February 21, 1844.
Kit Carson to Frémont: "There," he said, "is the little mountain"
go From Butterfly Butte: "There," Carson said, "is the little mountain." Did they see Mt. Diablo?
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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Bob Graham