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John C. Fremont: U.S. Senator, Governor, Military Officer, Bandit, Prisoner and Traitor?

Dec 25, 2007
Fremont Peak State Park in San Benito County, California offers the best view of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary. 1n 1846 Fremont led an expeditionary force into what was then Mexico to survey the current state park area. At 3100 feet Gavilan Peak, or Fremont Peak as it is now called, splits the Bay in two; Santa Cruz at the northern tip and Monterey and Pacific Grove on the southern tip.

On the other side one can see the dirt bike hills of Hollister, the fields of Watsonville and Gilroy. On a clear day you can see the snow capped Sierras.

Why Fremont Peak and what does the name John C. Fremont, 'The Pathfinder', mean to California and U.S. history?

In 1842 Fremont scouted the Rockies and many areas of the West helping produce the first actual map of the Western United States. Through his explorations he became friends with another well known frontiersman, Kit Carson. Carson would later become Fremont's guide on his expeditions throughout the Rockies.

It's hard to say what effect years of wandering in the wilderness can have on a young man's mind. But one thing was for sure; Fremont explorations taught him not to be shy. In fact throughout his career Fremont was often beyond the point of being brash. And in the end his brashness led him to become one of the founders of modern day California.

In 1845 just prior to the Mexican American War, Fremont led a 'surveying' party to what is now Central Coast California. These surveyors were actually a mix of soldiers, mercenaries and bandits and Fremont did not have surveying in mind when he went to what was then Gavilan Peak. Fremont knew the Salinas Valley and the Pajaro Valley were unbelievably rich. As was California. And so far from Mexico City.

With 60 brigands Fremont was going to take California from Mexico or at least foment the rebellion to do it. He courageously, or foolishly, raised the American flag at Gavilan Peak which was essentially an act of war. He picked Gavilan Peak because he could see any 'enemy' soldiers coming from miles away. He might have even imagined Carmel and Pebble Beach but there was no record of such. Even though a dreamer, Fremont was imminently practical.

Soon the U.S. Consul delivered orders for Fremont to leave and he did. He took the Stars and Stripes down with his ego and retreated. One can imagine his pouting as he brings his men down the mountain. His timing was not right and there was nothing he could do about it. Except return, which he eventually did.

In 1846 he was a leader in the Bear Flag Revolt against Mexico. And in 1847 during the Mexican American War Fremont led the California Battalion. Eventually the U.S. won the war but Gen. Kearney censured Fremont for his conduct. Fremont was arrested, court martialed, and convicted of mutiny. Mutiny? Fortunately for Fremont President Polk commuted the sentences.

In 1848 Fremont began a series of five unsuccessful attempts to find a railroad route through the Sierras. One can only imagine what a frustration this must have been for him. To know there had to be a transcontinental railroad route somewhere and that route would literally break out the West. But he never found it...

In 1856 Fremont became the U.S. Senator from California. Such is proof that bad boys can sometimes win if they just hang in there long enough. Also in 1856 Fremont became the first Republican Party candidate for President of the United States. His campaign slogan was "Free Speech, Free Press, Free Soil, Free Men, Fremont and Victory." He lost to James Buchanan 16 states to 11. Fremont was close to becoming President of the United States.

In retrospect it was probably better he wasn't elected. There is something to be said for moderation and voters back then like now were mostly moderates. Though qualified to become President, voters were not certain how he would react under stress and quite probably voters back then saw him as tending a little bit to the extreme...extreme being an understatement. As President no telling where he might have ordered soldiers to raise the flag...

Today we can drive through the East Bay city of Fremont in between Oakland and San Jose. We can be reminded of John C. Fremont; surveyor, frontiersman, scout, soldier, patriot, visionary, military officer, U.S. Senator from California and Governor of Arizona. Also bandit, mercenary, brigand, traitor, mutineer, loose cannon and insubordinate.

That's what it took. That's what made California. It was not the time to be shy and follow the rules. It was a time and place for bold, decisive action. Every time I see Fremont Peak towering over the fog from across the Monterey Bay I think of him.

And I wonder what Fremont would think about his California today...
About the Author
Jack D. Deal develops marketing plans and writes marketing articles in Santa Cruz, California. Sample marketing articles and Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog/marketing_and_sales
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