Narratives of Exploration and Adventure

By John Charles Frémont; Allan Nevins | Go to book overview

Frémont as an Explorer

by Allan Nevins

ROLLING plains covered with dry bunch grass stretch for miles on every side. Far on the northern horizon lifts an enormous squaretopped butte, giving individuality to that quarter of the landscape. Westward, faint in the distance but brought into hard relief as the sun sets, are penciled the snowy peaks of an isolated mountain chain; and close inspection shows that near their base the country dips into a narrow valley, with cottonwoods indicating a stream whose waters are fed by these distant summits. Nowhere is any sign of life or motion visible except that on the south, far along the rolling swells, certain black specks slowly change their position, sometimes coagulating into a mass, sometimes scattering widely; they are buffalo. It is an uninhabited, untraversed country, bare of track or meaning-a page on which the first hieroglyphs of history are still to be inscribed.

In this solitude suddenly appears a party of thirty men, moving slowly on foot, and leading a larger number of animals; some horses with saddlebags, more of them pack mules and pack ponies laden with all kinds of gear from tents to frying pans. At a distance the group, tattered, dusty, burned black by the sun, wild-looking, might be taken for dismounted Tatars or Beduins. They are longhaired, gaunt, and hawk-eyed. But their arms are short carbines, with heavy knives and revolvers at their belts; and close at hand, it is plain that apart from a few Indians assisting as guides, they are Americans. Most of them speak English, some a French patois. They are all young; all steel-muscled and determined-looking; all alert and disciplined-no straggling is permitted. At their head walks a lithe, well-proportioned man, clad in deerskin shirt, blue army trousers, and thick-soled moccasins, with a cotton handkerchief bound around his head. His remarkable feature is not his curling

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