Trail of the John C. Frémont 1844 Expedition (No. 995-1 California Historical Landmark)
Photo © Barry Swackhamer, 2011
In the mid 1800s, John Charles Frémont—a lieutenant in the Army Topographical Corps—was commissioned by the U. S. government to explore and map the Pacific Northwest in order to guide pioneers into the unknown West. In his second overland expedition of 1843-44, Frémont handpicked twenty seven men—mountain men, trappers, surveyors and cartographers—to accompany him; among them was famous explorer, Kit Carson. Equipped with sixty-seven horses and mules, and a bronze mountain howitzer (a wheeled cannon), Frémont and his crew explored and mapped the Oregon Trail between Missouri and Fort Vancouver.
At the start of his trip back towards Missouri, Frémont—low on provisions and fearing death from cold and starvation—made a risky decision to turn west and cross the Sierra Nevada to Sutter's Fort in California. It was the middle of winter; the mountains were covered by a deep snow, and Frémont had severely underestimated the challenge that bestowed him. Washoe Indians tried to warn the crew that crossing the Sierra during winter would be impossible. They described, “Rock upon rock; snow, upon snow.”
Not heeding their warnings, Frémont and his men headed west, passing through northern Mono County the last week of January of 1844. While at Long Camp—the most noted camp from the expedition—Frémont’s surveyor and cartographer Charles Preuss complained about the conditions: "We are now completely snowed in. The snowstorm is on top of us. The wind obliterates all tracks which, with incredible effort, we make for our horses. The horses are about twenty miles behind and are expected to arrive tonight, or rather, they are now no longer expected. How could they get through? At the moment no one can tell what will really happen. It is certain we shall have to eat horse meat."
Despite all odds, Frémont successfully reached Sutter’s Fort in March of 1844, where they stayed and rested for a month. Choosing a much safer route, the crew headed south through the San Joaquin Valley, then easterly along the Old Spanish Trail to pass into Utah.
A plaque was dedicated to this expedition in 1977 and is located at Devil's Gate Summit on Highway 395 (between Sonora Junction and Bridgeport), on the right when traveling south. The actual site where Frémont passed through Mono County is located at Big Bend-Mountain Gate area, Toiyabe National Forest, Bridgeport.
Learn more about the 1843-44 Frémont Expedition through the Sierra at the Kit Carson Marker nomination.
Mono County is a rugged—yet beautifully scenic—region of high desert and Sierra peaks that holds dearly a colorful mining history from the days of the California Gold Rush. It is said to have received its name from the term “Monache,” which was applied to the Native Americans inhabiting the region prior to settlement. Mono County was formed in 1861 from parts of Calaveras and Fresno county territory; however, its eastern boundary remained undetermined for several years. When lines were finally drawn in 1863, Mono County’s first county seat—Aurora—ended up in Nevada. Bridgeport became the new county seat, and remains in that position today. Home to historically important Gold Rush towns such as Bodie and Dog Town, remnants of pioneer mining activities can still be seen today.
California Historical Landmarks Program
Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region
2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California
3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder
California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks.
In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.
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Time Period Represented: 1843-1844