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Nevada in 1841


John Charles Frémont
John Charles Frémont

In 1841 an extraordinary band of emigrants passed through the entire Great Basin region. A young teacher, John Bidwell, helped to organize the Western Emigration Society in 1840 to publicize a journey overland to California. Of the 500 people who originally pledged to leave the following spring, only 69 appeared when the time for departure arrived. Under the leadership of Captain John Bartleson, and with Bidwell as secretary and historian, the party left Westport (now part of Kansas City), Missouri, in May 1841.

The group was able to travel to Soda Springs, Idaho, with Father Pierre De Smet’s missionary party, which was guided by the experienced Thomas (“Broken Hand”) Fitzpatrick. At Soda Springs the party split up.

Thirty-two of the original Bidwell-Bartleson party continued on to Oregon with the De Smet party, while the others turned south to the Great Salt Lake and then directly west to cross Nevada, including the Sierra Nevada. They arrived at the home of John Marsh at the foot of Mount Diablo in California in November 1842. Despite the group’s ignorance of the route they followed and their complete lack of experience, they all arrived in California, although without their wagons and animals.

John Charles Frémont


The first thorough exploration of the Great Basin was carried out by an explorer and future Republican candidate for president of the United States, John Charles Frémont.

Frémont led three expeditions into the area, which were at least partly inspired by the growing idea of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States was destined to occupy all the lands between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The first Frémont expedition into Nevada was made in 1843 and 1844. The party entered the northwestern corner of the state and proceeded south to the large desert lake that Frémont named Pyramid after an island in the middle of it. It then continued south and then west to cross the Sierra near Carson Pass.

The party arrived at Sutter’s Fort (present-day Sacramento, California) in March 1844. In his report and on his excellent maps, Frémont called this land the Great Basin.

Frémont again explored the Great Basin in 1845. This time he entered Nevada from the east near Pilot Peak and proceeded southwest, splitting the party twice, first in the Ruby Mountains and again at Walker Lake. On the way Frémont, seeing the Unknown River from a distance, named it after the prominent German geographer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt. The information gathered on these two journeys was widely circulated and greatly helped settlers crossing the Great Basin on their way to California. The information also helped the Mormons in planning their migration to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. "Nevada" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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