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29 rémont’s wish to start over in California was helped along by his father-in-law. While his influence was on the decline, the senator from Missouri still had important friends. Benton managed to arrange a privately funded trip to California for Frémont to search for a transcontinental railroad route through the Rocky Mountains. The trek did not start, though, until after the birth of the Fremonts’ second child, Benton, on July 24, 1848. The baby’s godfather, Kit Carson, warned Jessie that her firstborn son would not live long. He expressed his concern about Benton’s fragile health when he attended the child’s christening in Washington. Years later, in a letter to Carson, Jessie remembered his blunt words: “You were the first to warn me that my oldest boy could not live—I always think of you in connection with that poor suffering baby. Grief was new to me then and I could not bear to give him up. But that, and many another sorrow has come since you were with me at my Father’s house—it makes what is left more valued.” For now, “what is left” would come much later—the intended trip to California would come first. Frémont planned to start his trip west from the St. Louis area, and Jessie wanted to see him off. So she, Frémont, their two children , and a nanny traveled to Missouri in the fall of 1848. It was in the frontier settlement of Westport Island, located on the Mississippi River near St. Louis in Lincoln County, that baby Benton died on October 6. After two days, and with Jessie’s CHAPTER 4 Jessie’s Travels m F reluctant approval, his body was sent to St. Louis for burial. The grieving Frémont family continued their journey to the small town of Boone Creek in Franklin County, from where Frémont would begin his expedition. He and Jessie said their goodbyes, a hardship compounded by the loss of their son. Yet, as she wrote in her introduction to his Memoirs, their separation this time would be different: “[H]e must make the journey [by land] but I would go by sea and together we would make it [California] home.” She returned to St. Louis and then Washington, and prepared for her trip to meet her husband in the spring. Jessie was about to see and do things that few people of any era ever did, especially women. As she reflected later, this trip “would be an ordeal that tried every feeling—an uprooting of every fiber.” She was up to the challenge. Jessie was eager to start a new life with her husband and daughter in California on the property Frémont had acquired. As she wrote in Year, “[T]he long expeditions which Mr. Frémont made took him from home five years of the first eight after we were married.” Now it was Jessie’s turn to go, to travel, and to explore new vistas. The plan was for her father to go with her to the American West, the land of newly discovered gold— a place he had dreamed of for so long. However, as the time for the trip arrived, Benton, for reasons that are not known, did not join Jessie. As she related in Year, her father “found himself unable to go from home.” She gave no further explanation. There were two ways to get to California in 1849. One choice was to traverse the continent overland—an almost impossible task with no established transportation in place. Companies and individuals such as Kit Carson would escort groups to California for a price, about $100. The fee usually included mules for a wagon, three months of provisions, and the invaluable expertise needed to guide travelers across America’s frontier. Such companies kept the wagons in their troupe to a small number, for ease of travel and safety. The second alternative was the one Jessie selected: to sail down the East Coast of the United States to Panama, cross the 30 / JESSIE BENTON FRÉMONT 31 / JESSIE’S TRAVELS While it does not picture the Crescent City, the boat that took Jessie and Lily to Panama, this advertisement is typical of those that ship companies used to lure passengers to the California gold fields via Panama. (Attention, Pioneers! James S. Copley Library) isthmus by boat, canoe, and mule, and then catch a steamer that took travelers up the West Coast...


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