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Emigration to Oregon.—John C. Fremont; his Explorations; his diffi
culties with the Mexican Governor.-- American Settlers in alarm.-
CHAP. The importance of securing Oregon by settlement had .
especially attracted the attention of the people of the 1842. Western States. The stories of hunters, and the glowing
descriptions given in the newspapers of that distant region, imbued the minds of the adventurous with an enthusiasm as ardent as that which glowed in the breasts of the earlier explorers and settlers of this country two and a half centuries before. A thousand emigrants, consisting of men, their wives and children, driving before them their flocks and herds, their only weapon the trusty rifle-alike to protect from savage violence and to procure sustenance from the wandering droves of buffalo and deer-set out from the confines of Missouri. They passed up the long eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, over them through the South Pass, thence to Lewis' River and down it to the Columbia, on whose shores they found a resting place, after a toilsome journey of six months, through an untrodden mountainous region.
These emigrants were followed the next year by
COLONY ON THE COLUMBIA-FREMONT.
another company, consisting of two thousand, who passed CHAP over the same route.
These enterprising settlers, with the few who had pre- 1843. ceded them, labored under many difficulties, as the United States government did not exercise the jurisdiction which it claimed over the territory. A bill introduced into the Senate, granted lands to actual settlers, and made provision to maintain their rights as citizens by extending over them the laws of the territory of Iowa. Though this bill passed only the Senate, it gave encouragement to those persons who desired to emigrate to the banks of the Columbia. A colony thus planted by private enterprise, and thus slightly encouraged by the government, became the germ of another State, (Oregon) now added to the 1959. Union.
It was in connection with this awakened spirit of emigration that Colonel John C. Fremont, then a lieutenant, made his first exploring expedition. He was a young man, once friendless and unknown, but had risen by his own talents and industry, and on the recommendation of Poinsett, then Secretary of War, had been appointed in the Topographical Engineers by President Jack
Fremont solicited and obtained permission from the government to explore the Rocky Mountains and their passes, but at this time with special reference to the South Pass and its vicinity. In six months he returned ; he had accurately determined the location of that Pass, which now became a fixed point in the path of emigration to Oregon.
Soon after his return, Fremont again asked for orders to prosecute still further explorations in that distant region. They were given ; but after his preparations were made, and he and his party had reached the frontiers of Missouri, the government countermanded his orders, on
CHAP, the singular plea that he had armed his party, in addition
to their rifles, with a small mountain howitzer. But for1813. tunately for science and the country, the letter containing
the order came to Mrs. Fremont, whom he had requested to examine his letters and forward only those he ought to eceive. She deemed the government countermand one hat he ought not to receive, and Fremont knew nothing of its existence until he returned from his eventful tour. On his return he was received with honor, his conduct approved, and on the recommendation of the Secretary of War, William Wilkins, the brevet of captain was conferred upon him by President Tyler.
He had received special orders to survey the route of travel from the frontiers of Missouri to the tide-waters of the Columbia. This was accomplished by the first of November, after six months' labor, though often he diverged from the main route to make useful observations. He now resolved to return immediately, and when on the way to explore the vast territory which must lie between the route he had passed over and the Pacific. To pass through this region in midwinter was no easy matter. Soon deep snows appeared on the highlands, and the party descended into the valley, now known as the Great Basin, out of which flows no stream. On the west, the mountains loomed up with their snowy tops ; every thing was strange; the Indians, terrified at the approach of white men, fled : a desert appeared, and with it the vision of starvation and death. No place could they find, as they had hoped, where they might winter and derive their sustenance from hunting the animals of the forest. They passed down to the latitude of San Francisco, as found by astronomical observations; but between them and that place, the nearest point where they could obtain aid from civilized man, rose mountains, their snowy tops piercing the clouds ; their sides frowning precipices thousands of feet high. No Indian would act as a guide through their passes. The
THE RESULTS OF THE EXPLORATION.
whole party, by excessive toil and want of food, were re- CHAP. duced to skeletons, both men and horses. Finally they
crawled over the Sierra Nevada," and arrived at the 1843. head-waters of the Sacramento. “In this eventful exploration, all the great features of the western slope of our continent were brought to light-the Great Salt Lake, the Utah Lake, the Little Salt Lake—at all which places, then desert, the Mormons now are; the Sierra Nevada, then solitary in the snow, now crowded with Americans, digging gold from its banks; the beautiful valleys of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, then alive with wild horses, elk, deer, and wild fowls, now smiling with American cultivation. The Great Basin itself, and its contents; the Three Parks; the approximation of the great rivers which, rising together in the central region of the Rocky Mountains, go off east and west towards the rising and the setting sun,-all these, and other strange features of a new region, more Asiatic than American, were brought to light, and revealed to public view in the results of this exploration.”
In May, Fremont set out on his third expedition to 1845, explore still further the Great West. There were now indications that war would soon result between Mexico and the United States. But to avoid exciting the suspicions of the Mexicans, he obtained permission from General De Castro, commandant at Monterey on the Pacific, to pass the following winter in the uninhabitable portion of the valley of the San Joaquin. But before long, De Castro professed to believe that his object was not scientific exploration, but to excite a rebellion among the American settlers, and he undertook to either drive him out of the country or capture the whole party. A messenger, secretly sent by the United States consul at
· Benton's Thirty Years' View, Vol. ij. Chap. 134.
CHAP. Monterey, Mr. Larkin, suddenly appeared in his camp and
informed him of these unfriendly designs. Fremont im1845. diately chose a strong position on a mountain, raised the
American flag, and he and his sixty determined followers resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible. After waiting four days, as De Castro hesitated to attack his camp, he came down from the mountain and set out for
Oregon through the region of the Tlamath lakes. 1846.
During the former part of May he was overtaken by a United States officer, Lieutenant Gillespie, who brought a letter of introduction from James Buchanan, Secretary of State, and verbal instructions to the effect that he should counteract any foreign scheme on California, and conciliate the good will of the inhabitants toward the United States.
Fremont was now on the confines of Oregon, but at once he turned back to California. When he arrived in the valley of the Sacramento, he found the whole community in a state of great excitement. Among the Mexicans two projects were in contemplation : one to massacre the American settlers ; the other to place California under British protection, and thus shield themselves against the arms of the United States in case of a war with Mexico.
A deputation from the American settlers hastened to lay before him a statement of these facts; and, in addition, that the Indians had been incited against them; that General De Castro was on his march to attack them, and also that a British fleet was daily expected upon the coast.
Though the countries were at peace when he left home, the approach of De Castro with a hostile army demanded decisive measures, and Fremont accepted the trust in self-defence. The American settlers flocked to his camp, brought their horses, their ammunition, their provisions,