Narratives of Exploration and Adventure

Narratives of Exploration and Adventure

Narratives of Exploration and Adventure

Narratives of Exploration and Adventure

Excerpt

"It appears to be no more than a just tribute to your exertions," wrote J. J. Abert, head of the Topographical Bureau, to Frémont on April 26, 1843, "that I should express my great personal pleasure as well as official satisfaction with your report which has now been printed, reflecting credit. . . upon your good taste as well as intelligence. It is by efforts like these that officers elevate their own character while they also render eminent public service; and while they also contribute to the standing and usefulness of their particular branch of service. Perseverance in the course you have commenced cannot fail to lead to distinction. . . ." This commendation of young Frémont's report on his first trans-Missouri expedition, that through South Pass to the Wind River chain of the Rockies, is part of the extensive correspondence between Frémont and Abert in the National Archives. On one side the letters show Frémont making careful estimates of costs for his work (low estimates, too; that for the second expedition, 1842-43, was only $10,500); buying materials -- chronometers, sextants, barometers, drawing instruments; recruiting his parties; and worrying about his map work. He was obviously a strange combination of impulsive enterprise and businesslike caution, the enterprise predominating. On the other side the letters show the Bureau giving him singularly vague directions, exhibiting a certain nervousness about his headstrong traits, and taking marked pride in his achievements.

Much was expected of Frémont; he always accomplished more than was anticipated. It is illuminating to compare the Topographical Bureau's Sketch of Duties for his second trans-Missouri expedition with the actual result. Abert's instructions (March 10, 1843) ran:

To proceed to the main forks of the Kansas river, determine their position, and thence survey the main stream to its head. From the head of the . . .

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