The Pathfinders — John C Fremont


The Pathfinders – John C Fremont

I’ve written a series of posts I call The Pathfinders.

I’ve talked about John Mullen, John Colter, Kit Carson, and Jim Bridger.

Today I’m writing about the guy they call………..The Pathfinder.

Yep, he’s the guy that inspired this whole thing.

John C Fremont — The Pathfinder

As I write my books I am struck, again and again, with how formidable the west was to people traveling through it. The mountains, the deserts, the vast grasslands. Not only the land but the grizzlies, the herds of buffalo. The harsh winters, the burning hot summers, and the storms in all seasons. Let’s add native people who weren’t that crazy about their new neighbors.

A person couldn’t just start driving their covered wagon across the land and hope to survive. There were streams and rivers that were hard to cross. Someone had to find the places shallow enough, without sinking mud and steep sides. Even on fairly level grasslands you had to guide your team to water, and there weren’t just creeks and lakes everywhere.

The deserts had water holes and narrow crossings but you had to know where they were. These are cattle drive stories many of them. The Goodnight Loving Trail was a wonder. Goodnight and Loving found a way through that no one had ever traveled before (well, not with a herd of cattle needing to be watered)

The Rockies. ON MY GOSH. Hello? Sacagawea dragging the Louis and Clark Expedition through? Donner Party anyone??

I am honestly just in awe of the men who made this their life. Finding a path through these places. What compelled them to do such a thing? How would you set out in the mountains and hope to find your way through. First on horseback, then a trail a wagon could cross, finally a path wise enough, up and down those vast, rugged mountains for a train.

John C. Fremont — The Pathfinder

And no one…No One was better at it than John C Fremont. In the 1840s, Fremont led five expeditions into the American West.

Fremont’s first expedition

was in 1842. He went with Kit Carson to present day Wyoming to find and map a path called South Pass, first discovered by Jedediah Smith. This trail was at first only passable on foot, so narrow and with such cliffs and barriers a horse couldn’t cross it. By 1846, after Fremont’s expedition and with tons of work to widen and clear it, it became the Oregon Trail.

Fremont’s reputation was launched from this. He was featured in dime novels, including one called The Pathfinder, which propelled to him to nationwide fame.

Fremont’s second expedition

was began at South Pass and was to map and describe the rest of the trail to Oregon. Jedediah Smith again led the way, but Smith never wrote down a good description, he never drew a map. He just told tales and Fremont, again with Kit Carson, followed Smith’s trail all the way to the Pacific Ocean.


Fremont also reached the site of present day Las Vegas and he is the first non-native person to see Lake Tahoe. He saw it from a great height and didn’t go down close to it, but he wrote of seeing it. The maps he drew led the pioneers through the Oregon and California trails, inspired the Mormons to travel to Utah, and were the road map for the 49ers heading for the California Gold Rush.

Fremont’s third expedition

was a wild one. He started out to explore the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains but instead ending up in California, nearly started a war with Mexico, and had battles with the Indians, both of which nearly cost him his entire crew of men. Fremont, the son-in-law of a powerful Senator, ended up being appointed California’s military governor, but there was trouble when the president appointed another man, and Fremont ended up being court marshalled and thrown out of the army. He was pardoned. But his career was over.

And then came

Fremont’s fourth expedition

To restore his honor after the mess in California, Fremont, along with his father-in-law Thomas Hart Benton, went all in to work for America’s Manifest Destiny. That was the idea that the United States should spread all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Mexico had signed California over to America but the country had yet to really take control of the area. Fremont set out to plot a path for the railroad to reach San Francisco. It was a disaster at the time, with ten of his thirty-five men dying on the trip due to unexpected snow storms.

Fremont’s fifth and final expedition

was mostly a second try at finding a railroad path along the same trail he’d tried before. His goal was to pass through the Rocky Mountains in winter. It was a brutal journey but they made it and this path was ultimately the trail taken by the Transcontinental Railroad. Fremont had found the way to connect the nation.

John C Fremont for President 1856 at age 43

Fremont also was an anti-slavery Republican presidential candidate in the election before Abraham Lincoln was elected. He was 43 when he ran. Yes, that’s right, he’d done all that stuff, all those expeditions and he was only 43 and was back east running for president. 

James Buchanan won and many believe Buchanan’s sloppy handling of the growing divide between the north and south led to the Civil War.

Fremont then fought in the Civil War and rose to the rank of General, yes this was after he’d been court martialed and drummed out of the military.

He also discovered and documented countless new species of plants and he has so many western places named after him it’s almost funny, including towns named Fremont in ten states, streams, canyons, counties, schools, on and on and on. Chances are if you named something in the west Fremont, the man had been there.

When I read about Fremont’s life after his exploring years, the man seemed like honestly a radical nut, always in trouble. He declared an emancipation proclamation before Lincoln did, in Missouri and he put the whole state under martial law. He had absolutely no power to do this, but he did it anyway. This is just a sample of some of his wild ways.

But I think a man living in the west, forging his own path, had to be so independent, such an individual and so used to being a in charge and going his own way, that he’d make a darned poor employees.

Long Time Gone

Do you have anything near you named Fremont? Can you imagine what it took to be a pathfinder? Tell me the bravest thing you’ve ever done. The wildest thing?

Could You Have Found a Path Across the West?

Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a signed copy of Long Time Gone (Cimarron Legacy #2)

Long Time Gone 4 Star Romantic Times Review

Here is another amazing, fast-paced, suspenseful, page-turning novel by Connealy! Written in third person, this works as a stand-alone novel, but is the second in the Cimarron Legacy series. You will recognize characters from the first book as well as from a past series. This is a must-read that will stick with you long after you finish. Recommended for fans of historical suspense.


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59 thoughts on “The Pathfinders — John C Fremont”

  1. Nothing near me named Fremont. I can’t imagine being a pathfinder. I wouldn’t have the stamina to forge into territories unknown. I did however, do something quite brave, or stupid, I decided to move from California to Missouri in mid-February and I drove my little Ford Pinto (which was packed to full capacity) across country…in snow…spun out in Winslow, AZ..twice..hit black ice going into Amarillo… and survived it by the grace of God. I guess that could also be the wildest thing I’ve ever done too.

    I would love a copy of your book Mary. Thank you for the chance to win one.

    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • Cindy, I’m flinching just reading this. I hate bad roads and I can remember VIVIDLY the last time I took a risk on bad roads. I had three young kids in the car and took a dirt road without realizing it was muddy, and got stuck.
      I had a long walk, not in the cold thank heavens, with three little children and I VOWED to never do something so dubious again.

  2. Wow, what a wonderful history lesson you gave us. Absolutely loved this. Nothing named Fremont near me, but I live near the Santa Fe Trail and cross over the Cimarron River everyday going to work. I actually drive right past the Wagin Bed Springs where there is tale of the Indians attacking a Wells Fargo stagecoach that carried gold. They say it’s buried somewhere out there because the Indians had no use for the gold. A wives tale I’m sure, but who knows. Thank you for such a great history lesson about Fremont.

  3. That is awesome history!!! I live in the heart of Daniel Boone National Forest, another Pathfinder in his own right! I’m not brave, but I’m fascinated by stories about courageous people and I love the way you tell stories! Those are my favorites! I hope I win a copy of your book!!

  4. No Fremont here in Alabama that I know of. I’m not brace but I love stories of the old west. One of my favorites is Love Comes Softly.
    But I love your stories too!

  5. I don’t think there’s a Fremont in Texas. Those persons who went west were intrepid. To go into the unknown is scary to me. My bravest thing was moving from my home state of Florida to upstate NY with my husband. We didn’t know a soul up there, never really had seen snow either. It turned out wonderfully well, beautiful area, great people. Looking forward to reading your book Mary: )

    • Stacy I’m glad you found a path to a new area!!!
      I live ten miles from my childhood home and three miles from My Cowboy’s childhood home. So we haven’t done a lot of striking out for distant horizons.

  6. I don’t know, I have a board game called Conestoga and I always die on the trail when I try to get out west 🙂 I love westerns though and I am stubborn so I probably would have found a way. No Fremont around here. The bravest thing I’ve ever done was heading out on my own to be a nanny in CT and trusting that the people I was going to work for were who they said they were and that it would all work out. It did but they were late getting to the airport and this was before cell phones so I had a long wait by myself before they showed up.

    • OH MY GOSH! NAOMI! We used to play that old, old video game Oregon Trail and I can remember being too sick and too broke to go on, and I couldn’t die either. I wanted to just smash the computer!!!

  7. This sounds like another wonderful book to read, can’t wait!”yes”, we have Fremont about 30 miles from us, and they even hold John C. Fremont days every year summer!!!

  8. There is a Fremont street in Galesburg, Illinois, about an hour from me. I love the history of the old west and like to think that I would have made a good pathfinder. More likely I would have turned tail and headed home the first time a snake slithered across the path in front of me!

    • LOL Julia. I’m sort of a wimp in real life. I like air conditioning and bucket seats. I might have come through if the going got tough, but if I had, it’d’ve surprised everyone, myself included.

  9. Don’t you wonder how many pathfinders died and never got famous?
    It was a tough life and these guys were always one missed step, twisted ankle, broken leg away from death. And that’s BEFORE the grizzlies.

  10. Nothing Fremont in our part of MN, but my grandma grew up 35 miles north of Fremont, NE–we still visit the cousins down there when we can (it’s a great roughly-half-way stopping spot on the way to Colorado).

  11. WOW I love the history that you told of Fremont. I did know he ran for President . Nothing name Fremont that I know of here in Tx. I love traveling and seeing new things. Bravest things is when I have to go alone.

  12. I loved this little history lesson! I enjoy camping and backpacking, but I’m not sure I would make a good pathfinder since I’m not fond of snow and the dangerous animals. The bravest thing I’ve done is climb Half Dome in Yosemite and Angel’s Landing in Zion. Scary and cool at the same time.

  13. Goodness gracious! That man was certainly ambitious! I’m completely lame and tame compared to him. I’ve never done anything that adventurous.

  14. There’s not a Fremont in Canada. The closest match I found was Fermont, a town in northeastern Quebec. The bravest thing I’ve done in my life is facing cancer recently. God is with me on my journey, as are my family and friends. So thankful for my faith! I really enjoy your books and your posts 🙂

  15. Wow such great history! After reading this I thought his name was familiar, we have tons of things here in Oregon named after him! I have even driven across the bridge in Portland named after him!!! Thank you for helping me be more aware of the history all around me! I’m not sure how adventurous this may be to others but when I was younger we visited the Grand Canyon during winter. As we were driving up towards the scenic areas it started snowing so hard that we had to pull over and wait for the storm to subside a little. And it wasn’t just us, there were lines of cars behind us waiting on this steep hill. Some turned around to back down but my family decided to keep going. In the backseat I did a lot of praying as we were slipping and sliding. But I tell you what, when we finally got to the top and got out of the car to look… WOW! The Grand Canyon was full of snow!!! And seeing that beautiful white powder hanging of the ledges through out the canyon was so breathtaking!!!

      • Haha yes I know. I think my grandparents were a little to adventurous. Good thing we had a place to stay up past the Grand Canyon, so we didn’t end up having to go back down till the next day.

  16. No Fremonts here, and oddly we didn’t see any markers or reminders of him when we did a road trip of the Oregon Trail many years ago. Strange that. As for being brave, I didn’t think of it as so, but my family thought my going to live in Scotland on my own after graduating college was, with no concrete plans and an open agenda. I didn’t know for how long at the time but it ending up being for about a year. I’d get British rail passes and practically live on trains at times so I could see as much as I could.

    Next in time, back in the USA, I spent many vacations traveling the South by myself by car doing genealogy, working from Oklahoma back through the Southern states and up the East Coast only to learn that my first colonial ancestor had lived about an hour from where I live now, when he as a young man in late 1600s. It took six generations for my ancestors to get to Oklahoma, but just one generation — the seventh which was my grandfather — to get us back to where the family started, all without ever knowing it at the time. My grandfather’s sister and family OTOH went to California, so we have the country pretty well covered. 🙂

    So while some thought it was a brave thing back then for a woman alone to travel to unknown spots at the time, it always struck me that I was in a car on highways with motels to live in, while the ancestors I was tracking did it by going across country into areas unknown to any but Indians. My family decided that the need “to hit the road” or see new areas was a decided family trait best shown by my grandfather, my mother and me. “White line fever” I called it from a Merle Haggard song, even though my pioneer ancestors didn’t have roads, never mind white lines (or railroads).

    • Eliza, this is so interesting. Going to Scotland and traveling all over Europe…wow, what a fantastic thing to have in your life to remember. Such knowledge. And I love the genealogy research and travel to go with it. I’ve got to go with your family on this one. You’re brave!!!

  17. I don’t think I could have done that. Being on the road for days on end does not appeal to me. I certainly admire those who did forge a path through the west. He must have been married because you mention a father-in-law. Can you imagine being his wife? His portrait would make an interesting hero template.


    • Sylvia, not my thing either.
      I looked around for more info on his wife and children. John C and Jessie Fremont had five children, two died in infancy.
      She was an author who wrote books about her husband’s explorations and books about Kit Carson, too, helping make both men very famous. She lived all over the US, her husband was gov. or California and Arizona at different times. She grew up in Missouri and Wash. DC the daughter of a senator.
      Very influential and respected woman who was a huge supporter of her husband and fascinated by his pathfinding!

    • John C Fremont isn’t in this one, I’m just talking about him because I’ve become fascinated by these early explorers as I research my books and fully realize just how bold they were.

  18. I sure enjoyed this post Mary! I remember something of Fremont from history class, but nothing to this extent! I grew up out in San Diego and remember that there was a Fremont Jr. High School nearby. He sure sounds like a colorful character.

    Bravest thing I’ve ever done? Heading across country in my little ol’ blue BUG from San Diego to the Midwest all by myself. No cell phones then. But lots of John Denver tapes to listen to. Long time ago… 🙂

  19. Thanks for the history lesson, Mary! I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Fremont. What a guy! It seems to me like people are made of much weaker stuff nowadays. While we run and scream when we see spiders, they explored uncharted territory, battled man and beast, and cut a life out of wild land with their bare hands.

    Bravest thing I’ve ever done? I consider myself a decently brave person, but for some reason I can’t think of anything legitimately brave that I have done. Killed a wasp? Started a conversation with a stranger? That would probably make Mr. Fremont laugh out loud, or roll over in his grave laughing so hard.

    I’ve just recently read Long Time Gone and it was amazing!! Another masterpiece, Mary! I would be honored to win a copy. ?

    • Brandi I’m so glad you enjoyed Long Time Gone, thanks for telling me! 🙂
      Oh My Gosh, I’m so terrified of mice. Now that I’ve thought of that I feel like a real wimp!!!

  20. We do have a Fremont in Ky it’s located in McCracken County . I would not make a good pathfinder because I have bad feet. Both my feet are flat, tendinitis and corns. As far as wild or scary goes would be getting married and having kids whom God has entrusted me with.

    jennydtipton at gmail dot com

  21. There is a Fremont Lutheran Church out in the country near my small town in central Kansas. I’m not adventurous so it’s kind of hard for me to imagine having an life like that. It makes interesting reading, though. I’m not sure what the bravest thing is that I’ve done. I do work with first and second graders each day; some people may consider that being brave!

  22. No Fremont this direction. I remember a group of friends plus my husband wanted to raft down a swift River in Colorado. I didn’t want to but they all wanted to plus wanted me to so I consented and we did. The first run went without a hitch. The second run, not so good. We capsized in very high, rushing water. I was and never have been so very fearful of losing my life. Some of us were able to swim to safety, the other of us were rescued by a boat already ahead of us. It was an experience I never want to repeat and I have never forgotten.

  23. There is a Fremont Elementary School here, but I don’t know if he had anything to do with East Tennessee.
    I can imagine being a pathfinder. In my youth, I hiked in the woods and climbed the mountain near our family’s cabin. There were no trails, and I don’t think I ever went to the top of the mountain the same way more than once. I found some really neat things out there – deer yards, a rock shelf with quartz crystals, dear-bobcat-coydog tracks in the snow, and more. I started fires using the lens in my glasses. I never once got lost or confused about the way. Out in the open, I have a pretty good sense of direction. Not so much in cities.
    As for the bravest or wildest thing I ever did, they may be the same. Of course, stupid could be another description. I have climbed 2 active volcanoes. The first one, in the Philippines, wasn’t erupting, but the cinder cone had steaming, gas vents. The surface was hot enough to melt the soles of my sneakers from hiking up to look into the crater. The second one was in Indonesia and was active. It also had cinder slopes which are hard to climb. It would erupt shooting smoke, ash, cinders, and red-hot rocks into the air with a rumble. It rattled the windows of houses miles away. I climbed that one and stood on the edge looking down into the crater just as it erupted. Did some fancy scrambling and ducking to keep from getting hurt. Yup, young (21) and stupid.

  24. There is a street in Springfield, Mo named Fremont. I left Illinois when married my husband almost 38 years ago and moved to Arizona. I had not been outside state of Illinois before that in 29 years. Moved to several states in 9 years.

  25. Fremont had done all this before he was 43? Amazing! Some of those treks are no fun in a car — I can imagine how tough those journeys must have been on foot or with mules/horses, much less a wagon. Those people had tons of determination and courage.

    And a belated (very, very belated) thank you for the copy of “Long Time Gone” I was delighted to win! Love your cowboys and heroines 🙂

    Nancy C

  26. I don’t think there is anything named Fremont near me. And funny, I was just with my brother this afternoon, driving out to Funk’s Grove for some of their maple sirup before it’s all gone. I’ve been this way several times, have a basic idea of where I’m going, but sometimes I think I lose all my directional brain cells when I get in the car. We head out and I say to him, “Okay, which way do we go?” He just smiles and points. Obviously he’s been a passenger in my car before. So, I guess you wouldn’t want me to lead an excursion out to anywhere, unless you’re not concerned with getting back home.

    I must not be particularly brave or wild, as nothing comes to mind. But I loved your history lesson. These people who came before us were amazing.

    And I am woefully behind in reading Mary books, so thanks for the opportunity to win. 🙂

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