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Mount Shasta as a Visual Resource

Expedition Artists of the Fremont Expeditions: The Mid-1840s

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John Charles Fremont was probably the most famous U.S. explorer of mid-nineteenth century America.45 His expeditions covered more territory than even those of Lewis and Clark, and his writing ability made his reports best sellers; they described in accurate yet glowing terms the fertile land and climate of British Oregon and Mexican California. His reports, and especially the maps which he produced, were responsible in large part for the influx of pre-Gold Rush immigrants along the Oregon trail.

His expeditions were geographical and scientific reconnaissances, organized to collect all the information which would aid in the making of maps and reports. This included the collecting of thousands of botanical specimens, accurate daily sextant readings as to latitude and longitude, and drawings of the terrain. The drawings and maps done on Fremont's first trip to Southeast Oregon ('Fremont's Second Expedition, 1843-44') were made by Charles Preuss, a Prussian and expert botanist, artist, and topographer. On Fremont's next expedition to the area the artist was Edward Kern.

Charles Preuss (1803-1854)

Portrait of Charles Preuss.  From:  Charles Preuss.  Exploring with Fremont.  Norman:  University of Oklahoma Press, 1958.  Courtesy Bancroft Library. Fremont's orders to Preuss were to make "a series of maps representing each day's journey, a guide book in atlas form."46 The places where water, wood, and grass for livestock could be found were noted on each map. These day by day maps were compiled and the resulting published maps became invaluable aids to all immigrants from the east. Preuss noted in his journal that he was not pleased with the starvation, frostbite, insanity and desolateness of mountain travel during the middle of winter, November to March, 1843-1844.47

Preuss's topographical drawings from this trip were published in Fremont's Report of the Exploring Expedition... to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44. In the years that followed , several different maps of the West, all done by Preuss, gained a reputation as being the best and most accurate then available. His 1846 map Topographical Map of the road from Missouri to Oregon Commencing at the mouth of the Kansas in the Missouri River and Ending at the Mouth of the Wallah in the Columbia, and his 1848 Map of Oregon and Upper California From the Surveys of John Charles Fremont And Other Authorities, enabled thousands of travelers to reach their Oregon and California destinations. These maps also served to put Mount Shasta on the map, literally and figuratively. Today Preuss is considered to be one of the few master topographers of the pre-Gold Rush West.

Fremont wrote, in his reports of the expedition, the following lines about his intended route. Notice that he mentions the legendary Buenaventura River, which had it existed in reality, would have prevented his group from getting lost, and nearly starving to death. At the most necessary moments they resorted to eating their supply animals, including, sadly to all, their pet dog, Tlamath, acquired from the Indians of the same name48.

1843: November 18th - Three principal objects were indicated, by reports and maps, as being on this route; the character or existence of which I wished to ascertain, and which I assumed as landmarks, or leading points, on the projected line of return. The first of these points was the Tlamath lake, on the table-land between the head of the Fall (the Deschutes) river, which comes to the Columbia, and the Sacramento (the Pit river), which goes to the Bay of San Francisco; and from which lake a river of the same name makes its way westardly direct to the ocean. This lake and the river are often called Klamet, but I have chosen to write its name according to the Indian pronunciation. The position of this lake, on the line of inland communication between Oregon and California; its proximity to the demarcation boundary of latitude 42 degrees; its imputed double character of lake or meadow, according to the season of the year, and the hostile and warlike character attributed to the Indians about it--all made it a desirable to visit and examine. From this lake our course was intended to be about southeast, to a reported lake called Mary's, at some days journey in the Great Basin; and thence, still on southeast, to the reputed Buenaventura river, which has had a place in so many maps, and countenanced the belief of the existence of a great river flowing from the Rocky mountains to the Bay of San Francisco.49

The party thus passed by the Mount Shasta area traveling from the Columbia River south to the Klamath Marsh, which is miles north of today's Upper Klamath Lake, then they went northeast and later southeast to Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Preuss could have seen Mount Shasta, if the weather was clear, but no mention of a large peak to the southwest is noted. They were encountering fog at times, and it is likely that Shasta was never in view for them.

Unfortunately they never did find the Buenaventura river, and were forced to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains back into California. The snow was eight feet deep and worse over the passes; and Fremont's later narrative of their hardships became sensational reading for the entire nation.

Edward M. Kern (1823-1863)

Photo Portrait of Edward Meyer Kern.  From: Robert V. Hine.  In the Shadow of Fremont.  Norman:  University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.  2nd Edition. Fremont returned to northern California two years later. It is said that he would have preferred to take Preuss along with him again, and even Preuss himself had a yearning to get back to the open country, in spite of the previous hardships. Mrs. Preuss, however, would not allow it.50 So Fremont was in need of a new artist. Henry Eld and Joseph Drayton, members of the Wilkes Expedition who were still busy cataloging and preparing reports in Washington, suggested to Fremont that a young artist by the name of Edward Kern might be just the person to fill the role.51

John C. Fremont In December of 1845 (Fremont's Third Expedition, 1845-46), Fremont reached California. Kern was part of the group and was paid three dollars a day for his services, which was a fair sum in those days. Sixty men traveled with Fremont, the large number underscoring the fact that the president of the U.S. at the time, Polk, was determined to acquire California, and that military action might be necessary at some point.52

Each night of the trip Kern would draw a field map of the day's route with longitudes and latitudes and sketches of landmarks. Kern's first drawing of the Mount Shasta area was a view of Mount Shasta as seen from Sutter Buttes. The group traveled north from Lassen's camp, near present day Red Bluff, to the Pitt River and on around far east of Mount Shasta, to Klamath Lake.

The Buttes - Sacramento Valley by Edward Kern.
The Buttes - Sacramento Valley by Edward Kern.
From: John Charles Fremont. Memoirs of My Life. Chicago: Belford, Clarke and Co., 1887.

Their travels set a precedent for northern California Indian-White relationships in the decades to come. To Kit Carson, Fremont's guide, Indians weren't quite human. Near the Danish settler Peter Lassen's rancho, the following took place, as written by historian Ferol Egan.

As they camped, newly arrived emigrants just in from the States, came to Captain Fremont and requested his help in protecting them against so-called hostile Indians. While John Charles did not take part in this sad affair, he allowed Kit Carson and most of his men to become involved in a vicious killing spree against the local Indian tribes.

As Tom Martin remembered this bloody business, they charged into the Indian village and killed twenty-four with their initial rifle attack. Then, using sabers, they cut a red path of death for three hours. When it was all over, more than 175 Indians were dead, and the survivors had taken cover in the foothill country.53

Detail of Forest Camp at Shastl Peak by Edward Kern
Detail of Forest Camp at Shastl Peak by Edward Kern.
From: John Charles Fremont. Memoirs of My Life. Chicago: Belford, Clarke and Company, 1887.
Courtesy College of the Siskiyous Library Mount Shasta Collection.

Fremont's group eventually reached Klamath Lake. But before they did, forty miles to the south, Fremont was attacked at night and two of Fremont's Delaware Indian companions were killed by Klamath tribesmen. This resulted in a brutal counter attack by Fremont and his group upon a Klamath village, resulting in many deaths.54 This latter attack at Klamath Lake was recorded in an engraving by Kern and published with Fremont's report55.

Forest Camp at Shastl Peak by Edward Kern courtesy of the Mount Shasta Collection
Forest Camp at Shastl Peak by Edward Kern
From: John Charles Fremont. Memoirs of My Life. Chicago: Belford, Clarke and Company, 1887.
Courtesy College of the Siskiyous Library Mount Shasta Collection.

Not only was Kern an artist for Fremont. After the incidents with the Indians, the message came that war with Mexico was imminent. Fremont took charge quickly, attacking Indian villages in a successful attempt to eliminate their aiding the Mexican forces. The bear Flag Revolt then took place, in which 30 Sacramento Valley Americans raided General Vallejos's town of Sonoma, taking Vallejo and others prisoner.

Kern was then thrust into the absolute command of John Sutter's fort, to watch over the prisoners, while Fremont went off to aid the Americans in a fight against the uprising Los Angeles Mexican patriots. Sutter, all the while, was a virtual detainee in his own home, though he was graciously allowed to dine with Kern. Kern's amiable disposition is said to have been a major factor in his being chosen to command the fort.56

Sutter's Fort by Titian Ramsay Peale courtesy of American Philosophical Society.
Sutter's Fort, 1841 by Titian Ramsay Peale.
Watercolor dated October 19, 1841 (earliest known drawing of Sutter's Fort).
Courtesy American Philosophical Society.

At one point during the war, Kern went from Sutter's fort to aid the rescue attempts of the survivors of the ill-fated Donner party which was then crossing the Sierras. He used this opportunity to further some scientific illustration projects, and to further his own scientific interests, which at the time were predominantly ornithological. He captured a falcon, and this specimen was brought back to the Philadelphia National Academy of Science. It became the type specimen for that species, meaning that it may have been the first of its kind ever deposited at the National Academy of Science, or that at least it was a specimen of highly desirable plumage and descriptive characteristics.57

All told, Edward Kern lived an exciting and momentous life while in California. His skill as an artist was admirable, and his ability to adapt to the changing conditions of war made him all the more valuable to the success of the American takeover of California.

*The Kern river (from which Kern County takes its name) was named by Fremont to commemorate this artist.58


[45] Egan. p. xi.

[46] Fremont. Quoted in Egan. p. 119.

[47] Egan. p. 217.

[48] Smucker. p. 400. Smucker's book contain's Fremont's complete day by day narratives of the 1842-43 expedition.

[49] Smucker. p. 337

[50] Egan. p. 278.

[51] Ibid. p. 278.

[52] Hine. P. 11

[53] Egan. p. 325-326.

[54] Ibid. 333-334.

[55] Ibid. opp. p. 321.

[56] Hine. pp. 26-45.

[57] Ibid. p. 45.

[58] Hine. p. 27.

 

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