"I sprang upon the summit, and…fixing a ramrod in a crevice, unfurled the national flag to wave in the breeze where never flag waved before….We had climbed the loftiest peak of the Rocky mountains, and looked down upon the snow a thousand feet below; and, standing where never human foot had stood before, felt the exultation of first explorers.”
It was an inspiring moment, soon to be recorded in paintings and poetry, but as Preuss suspected Fremont had not climbed the highest mountain in the Rockies. He had not even climbed the highest mountain in Wyoming. But the bold commander took the time while on the summit to insist his freezing companions suffer through to a speech. And only then was Mr. Preuss allowed time to read his barometer and sketch the landscape. Then, Preuss groused to his journal, “As on the entire journey Fremont allowed me only a few minutes for my work….After about fifteen minutes we started on our return trip.” On the way back down the mountain in the dark Preuss fell and tore his only pair of pants. He began to refer to Fremont as “The Field Marshal”.
On October 10th, the expedition returned to the mouth of the Kansas River, and by the end of October Fremont and Preuss were back in Washington. In the spring of 1843 Fremont’s report was released (AN EXPLORATION OF THE COUNTRY LYING BETWEEN THE MISSOURI RIVER AND THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS…), and “touched off a wave of wagon caravans filled with hopeful emigrants” heading west. Fremont became famous as “The Pathfinder”, even though all the paths he found had already been found, and it was Preuss who drew the first accurate maps of them.
But Preuss’ diary would not be translated and published until the 1950’s. And only then would it become clear that John C. Fremont, long ago written off as a pompous self promoter, was actually one of the funniest writers in American history. As a social commentator once observed, “Life is full of second bananas. But they are never really funny without a straight man.”
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