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Explorer for a Restless Nation

Ferol Egan

Publication Year: 1985

Published by: University of Nevada Press

Title page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xvi

IF THERE IS such a critter as a 110-percent Westerner, then surely it is Ferol Egan. He was born in the very heart of California's historic Gold Rush country, Tuolumne County in the Mother Lode foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and is so zealous a Far Westerner that...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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pp. xix-xxiii

THE ULTIMATE CURSE of being a national hero is that once the fires of acclaim go out, only the ashes of criticism remain. This was the fate of John Charles Fremont, for he climbed the peaks of glory only to endure the deserts of despair. Few men in the period of...

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1: The Nomad Strain

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pp. 1-14

MOVING SLOWLY, a steady column of black smoke curling from its stack and rising upward to drift with the wind, the train looked like some extinct and unclassified animal as it climbed the grade slowly up toward the Continental Divide. Inside one of the sooty...

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2: An Explorer's Apprenticeship

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pp. 15-33

THE TOUCH OF WINTER remained in the wind when John Charles arrived in Washington. March 1838 was much like the same months for other years in the nation's capital. Trees had the chilled look of snow and ice, and the green of spring awaited the warm rains...

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3: A Fork in the Trail

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pp. 34-48

TURNING POINTS IN A MAN'S LIFE cannot be anticipated. Sometimes a slight and seemingly inconsequential event can mark a new departure, another starting point that results in a different outcome in the long run. At other times, the path a man's life will follow is charted...

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4: Toward the Setting Sun

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pp. 49-62

Supremely happy as Jessie's husband, caught up in his work on maps and reports, Fremont might well have lived out his life as a career officer in the Bureau of Topographical Engineers. But the vision of the American West, the call of a vaguely charted land beyond...

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5: The Wind of Discovery

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pp. 63-83

SET UP CAMP, eat early, stand watch, roll out before dawn, hunker beside the campfire and eat breakfast, saddle up, hitch the mules to the carts, move out at daybreak and hit the trail-the routine of travel was well established within a few days. When the expedition reached...

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6: Beyond South Pass

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pp. 84-115

THREE DAYS OF HARD TRAVEL across a dry land of cactus, greasewood, and sagebrush-three days of heading north by northeast from St. Vrain's Forttook Fremont and his men across Crow, Lodgepole, and Horse creeks and on through Goshen Hole, a pass between two steep ranges of hills that appeared...

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7: Western Star

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pp. 116-132

OCTOBER WAS RUNNING ITS COURSE, and Jessie longed to have John Charles come home. Their baby was due within the next two weeks, and she wanted him to be there when she gave birth. She knew he was on his way, that the expedition had reached St. Louis safely. News of his return had...

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8: The Road to India

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pp. 133-177

THE KINKS were not out of the expedition even though they were nine days on the trail and 174 miles away from Westport Landing. It was taking time to break the greenhorns of bad habits, to teach them the methods of survival beyond the frontier. Frederick Dwight was a long...

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9: Strangers in a Strange Land

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pp. 178-198

RAIN AND FOG, nothing but constant rain and fog, and on their third day upriver from Fort Vancouver, they arrived at the Lower Rapids of the Cascades. The Wasco Indians in the Chinook canoes shot ahead, and the boatmen used all their skill with paddles to ease...

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10: Rock upon Rock, Snow upon Snow

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pp. 199-222

THE WAY PREUSS SAW IT, they were lost. There was no other way to size up their situation. At last, though, six days since they had left the camp on the Carson River, Fremont called for a day of rest. He even got out the brandy bottle and poured a dram for each man...

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11: The Great Valley

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pp. 223-237

WHEN JOHN CHARLES FREMONT and all the men of his second expedition arrived at Sutter's Fort on March 8, 1844, they were following a custom that had become part of the pastoral scene in the Sacramento Valley. For the early settlers of this great valley...

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12: Beyond the Desert

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pp. 238-261

THEY WERE HOMEWARD BOUND, but that was the only good thing any of the men could say about the journey that faced them. Everything before them was strange and out of place after their stay in the Great Valley. Beyond the desert, past the horizon...

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13: Odyssey's End

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pp. 262-279

MIDNIGHT, AUGUST 6, 1844. Fremont saw the dark outline of St. Louis from the deck of the steamboat. The buildings of the city were shadows in the warm, humid night. Slowly the boat chugged toward the levee. In the darkness the levee and dock were...

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14: Following the Winds of Summer

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pp. 280-296

THEODORE TALBOT found St. Louis a hurry-up, get-on-your-way exciting place, a westward-facing city filled with people on the move in that May of 1845. He had come on ahead with William, the Chinook. He had last seen Captain Fremont at Louisville...

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15: Mapping the California Trail

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pp. 297-309

THE FROST OF LATE SEPTEMBER had colored the leaves of quaking aspens and cottonwoods before the expedition worked its way down the final western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. True to his word, Joseph Walker met the party somewhere in the valley...

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16: A Climate for Violence

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pp. 310-322

THE WARM PASTORAL LIFE, the easy-come and easy-go attitude of Californians had changed since Fremont had last crossed the Sierra Nevada and entered what had seemed to be a New Eden. Not that there hadn't been suspicion about strangers before, and even some records...

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17: The Turning Point

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pp. 323-335

WHILE GENERAL CASTRO boasted about driving the Americans away from the territory, Captain Fremont and his men were not beating a hasty retreat. They had dropped down the southeastern slopes of the Gabilan Mountains by way of Pacheco Pass and entered the San...

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18: The Time of the Bear

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pp. 336-359

THE STARS were on a collision course, and nothing was destined to change the path of impact. Captain Fremont and his men rode south from Lassen's Deer Creek headquarters on the morning of May 25, 1846, but John Charles was not aware of all the forces...

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19: The Conquest of California

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pp. 360-405

THE TIME OP DECISION arrived the day after the Fourth of July on a warm summer morning at Sonoma. Captain Fremont called the meeting to order inside Salvador Vallejo's adobe home. Fremont's men were present; eight or ten United States Navy officers from the...

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20: The Man in the Middle

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pp. 406-431

IT WAS A RAINY AFTERNOON, and the column moved slowly in the sticky clay mud. Four hundred strong, they looked more like a band of mountain men than soldiers. At the rear of the procession, the men with the mule teams pulled six pieces of...

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21: Prelude to Ordeal

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pp. 432-442

MORE THAN TWO LONG YEARS HAD PASSED, and Jessie yearned to see John Charles. During that lonely time, she had the sadness of seeing her mother suffer another stroke and became increasingly feeble. Her only joy had been the growth of Lily. When John Charles...

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22: Court-Martial

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pp. 443-463

THE DAY WAS WARM for November 2, 1847. Indian summer lingered longer than usual in Washington. But there was an electric excitement in the air as this was the opening of the court-martial. The city was filled with visitors and regulars. Congressmen had returned from visiting...

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23: Snows of Disaster

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pp. 464-477

THE COURT-MARTIAL WAS OVER, but John Charles Fremont felt as though he were still on trial. Admired by the many and hated by the few, he found himself an outcast from any opportunity to head a government survey. His luck had vanished, and he appeared...

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24: Life in El Dorado

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pp. 478-490

THE ASPINWALL STRAMER rolled at anchor eight miles away from the mouth of the Chagres River. As Lily was handed down the ship's ladder to the waiting boatmen, Jessie thought she was going to be ill. The air was hot and humid, and it carried the stench of rotting fish, the heavy and sweet...

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25: The Last Expedition

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pp. 491-504

POLITICS WAS THE NAME OF THE GAME, and Fremont realized this when they reached England in the spring of 1852. News awaited him about Congress ordering five surveys for a potential railway route to the Pacific. Yet there was no invitation...

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26: Peaks of Glory, Valleys of Despair

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pp. 505-524

THE TRIP BACK TO WASHINGTON was a sample of things to come, of the rapid changes that were taking place since he had first learned the art of exploration. His late mentor, Joseph Nicolas Nicollet, would not recognize the methods of travel that had once been wild...


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pp. 525-558

Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 559-561


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pp. 563-582

Photo Insert

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E-ISBN-13: 9780874178982
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874170962

Page Count: 620
Illustrations: 48 b/w photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 1985