Narratives of Exploration and Adventure

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

CHAPTER 2
Nicollet: *Surveying the Minnesota-Dakota Country

THE Cherokee survey was over. I remained at home only just long enough to enjoy the pleasure of the return to it, and to rehabituate myself to old scenes. While I was trying to devise and settle upon some plan for the future, my unforgetful friend, Mr. Poinsett, had also been thinking for me. He was now Secretary of War, and, at his request, I was appointed by President Van Buren a second lieutenant in the United States Topographical Corps, and ordered to Washington. Washington was greatly different then from the beautiful capital of today. Instead of many broad, well-paved, and leafy avenues, Pennsylvania Avenue about represented the town. There were not the usual resources of public amusement. It was a lonesome place for a young man knowing but one person in the city, and there was no such attractive spot as the Battery by the sea at

____________________
*
This chapter is taken from Frémont's Memoirs, pp. 31-54. It might well be called the Nicollet chapter of Frémont's life. Joseph Nicolas Nicollet, often mistakenly called Jean, was fifty-two when he made the survey of the upper Missouri country on which Frémont accompanied him ( 1838). A musician, an accomplished mathematician -- he had been professor of mathematics at the Collège Louis-Le-Grand in Paris-a man well read in all the sciences, he was just the mentor Frémont needed. He had been born in Savoy, had attracted attention by the brilliance of his mind, and had rapidly advanced to the position of secretary and librarian of the Observatory, where he worked with Laplace. At the time of the Revolution of 1830 he emigrated to New Orleans. The Chouteau family in St. Louis helped him in his plans for exploring the upper Mississippi and its headwaters, and in 1836-37 he spent the winter at Fort Snelling. Secretary Poinsett then asked him to come to Washington. Frémont's enthusiastic account of his personality is the fullest we possess. A man of slight physique, ill adapted to hardship, his years of exploration were destined to be few. For his part, he became warmly attached to Frémont. When the young man left him for a special survey, he wrote of the pain the separation had given him, and added: "I shall await you with open arms to embrace you, and congratulate you."

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