Frémont, Pathmarker of the West

By Allan Nevins | Go to book overview

Xll
Sutter's Fort and California

IT was a tattered, exhausted, woebegone caravan which wound its way up to the gates of Sutter's Fort. Of the sixty- three horses and mules which had begun the ascent of the Sierras, only thirty-three survived. Frémont and a few others who led the way had good mounts, but the rest made a pathetic procession, crawling along single file, skeleton men leading skeleton horses. They needed all of Sutter's generosity.

Johann August Sutter, as his short, stout figure, the blond hair fringing his bald head, his large blue eyes, and his air of cherubic kindness all testified, was of German blood. He had been born in Kandern, Baden, forty-one years earlier, had spent much of his early life in Switzerland, according to some accounts had attended the military academy at Neuchatel, and had certainly married, begotten children, and served in various mercantile employments. He always spoke of himself as a Swiss. A dreamer, enterprising and adventurous, he had slipped all his home responsibilities and arrived in New York, almost penniless, in the summer of 1834. His imaginative French biographer tells us that, leaving a trail of creditors behind him, he signalized his landing in New York by a wild gesture. "He leaped upon the quay, dodged past the police guard placed there, threw a single rapid glance along the whole water front, uncorked and emptied at a draught a bottle of Rhine wine, threw the empty bottle into a West Indian lugger, and with an exultant burst of laughter launched himself into the passing crowd."1 For some weeks he picked up a living in the East by

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1
Blaise Cendrars, L'Or, p. 31. This wildly inaccurate book deserves some credit for helping recreate interest in Sutter. A somewhat too favorable but otherwise useful life of Sutter has been published since by Julian Dana; while

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