The first chunk of this article explains Fremont’s location at the time of the tragedy, in which you may or may not be interested, although there is also some good background information in that section as well. Fremont’s own account starts at the bold type, “TAOS, NEW MEXICO, Feb. 6, 1849.”
From the National Intelligencer.
Col. Fremont and Party — Further and Final Accounts.
We resumed the extracts from Col. Fremont’s Letters, prefacing them with some brief description of the localities made memorable by disaster, for the information of those who have not recent maps at hand.
It is known that the great Rocky Mountain chain, with a general direction north and south, sends out a branch towards the southeast from between the heads of the Arkansas and the Rio del Norte; and this branch forms the dividing ridge between the upper valleys of these two rivers, and between the head waters of the Red River and the del Norte; and having accomplished these purposes it subsides and disappears in the plains of Texas.
The highest part of this branch chain, and the governing objects in it to travellers, are the Spanish peaks, first made known to American geography by the then young Lieut. Pike. These Peaks are about in north latitude 37 1/2 deg., and west longitude from London 105 degrees and about on a line longitudinally with the puebles of the Upper Arkansas distant from them half a degree, and in sight. They are seen at a great distance and are guiding objects to travellers. The road to Santa Fe passes below these peaks, and crosses the chain about two degrees south. Col. Fremont passed above them, and entered the valley of the Del Norte high up above the Mexican settlements, and above Pike’s stockade, and intended to follow the Del Norte to its head, and cross the great Rocky Mountain chain though some pass there to be found. He was therefore, so to speak, going into the forks of the mountain — into the gorge of two mountains — and at a great elevation, shown by the fact of the great rivers which issue from the opposite sides of the Rocky Mountains at that part — the Arkansas and Del Norte on the east, the Grand River fork of the Colorado of the gulf of California on the west. It was at this point — the head of the Del Norte — where no traveller had ever gone before, that Col. Fremont intended to pass, to survey his line across the country between the Mississippi and the Pacific, and crown the labors of long explorations by showing the country between the great river and the great sea to be inhabitable by a civilized people and practicable for a great road, and that on several lines, and which was the best. He had been several years engaged in this great labor, and wished to complete it. It was the beginning of December that he crossed the chain from the Arkansas valley into the valley of the Del Norte; and, although late with the full belief of the old hunters and traders at the pueblos, the guide inclusive, whom he there engaged, that he would go through. He was provided with every thing to carry the men to California, and with grain to carry all the animals across all the mountains into the valleys of the tributaries of the great Colorado of the West, where the snows would be light, wood and grass sufficient, game abundant, and the hardships of the expedition all surmounted and left behind. In two weeks he expected to be in these mild valleys.
Unhappily, the guide consumed these two weeks in getting to the head of the Del Norte — a distance which only required four or five days of travel, as Col. Fremont showed in coming back. — This was the cause of the first calamity — the loss of the horses and mules. The same guide consumed twenty-two days, when sent with a party for relief, in making the distance which Col. Fremont (with Godey, Pruess, and a servant,) without a guide, on foot, in colder weather, deeper snows, and half famished made in six. That was the cause of the second and irreparable calamity — the death of the men.
The immediate scene of suffering in this great disaster, where the ascent of the great mountain was forced and its summit scaled, must have been about north latitude 38 1/2 and west longitude from London 107, the elevation above twelve thousand feet, and the time that of dead winter — Christmas! From this point the noted objects, Pike’s Peak and the three Parks, would bear about E.N.E. and the Spanish Peaks about E.S.E.
With this notice of localities to which a mournful interest must long attach, we proceed to give extracts from the remaining and final letters from Col. Fremont. The first of these is dated –
“TAOS, NEW MEXICO, Feb. 6, 1849.
“After a long delay, which had wearied me to the point of resolving to set out again myself; tidings have at last reached of my ill-fated party.
“Mr. Vincent Haler came in last night, having the night before reached the Little Colorado settlement with three or four others, including Mr. King and Mr. Prouix,” we have lost eleven of our party.
“Occurrences, since I left them, are briefly these, so far as they came within the knowledge of Mr. Haler; I say briefly, because I am now unwilling to force my mind to dwell upon the details of what has been suffered. I need reprieve from terrible contemplations. I am absolutely astonished at this persistence of misfortune — this succession of calamities which no care or vigilance of mine could foresee or prevent.
“You will remember that I had left the camp (twenty-three men) when I set off with Gody, Pruess, and my servant in search of King and succor, with directions about the baggage, and with occupation sufficient about it to employ them for three or four days; after which they were to follow me down the river. Within that time I expected relief from King’s party, if it came at all. — They remained seven days and then started, their scant provisions about exhausted, and the dead mules on the western side of the great Sierra burried under snow.
“Manuel — (you will remember Manuel — a Christian Indian of the Cosumne tribe, in the valley of the San Joaquin) — gave way to a feeling of despair after they had moved about two miles, and begged Vincent Haler, whom I had left in command, to shoot him. Failing to find death in that form he turned and made his way back to the camp, intending to die there; which he doubtless soon did.
“The party moved on and at ten miles, Wise gave out — threw away his gun, blanket — and, a few hundred yards further, fell over into the snow, and died. Two Indian boys — countrymen of Manuel were behind. They came upon him — rolled him up in his blanket, and buried him in the snow, on the bank of the river.
“No other died that day. None the next day.
“Carver raved during the night his imagination wholly occupied with images of many things which he fancied himself eating. In the morning he wandered off, and probably soon died. He was not seen again.
“Sorel on this day (the fourth from the camp) laid down to die. They built him a fire, and Morin, who was in a dying condition, and snow blind, remained with him. These two did not probably last till the next morning. That evening (I think it was) Hubbard killed a deer.
“They travelled on, getting here and there a grouse, but nothing else, the deep snow in the valley having driven off the game.
“The state of the party became desperate, and bro’t Haler to the determination of breaking it up, in order to prevent them from living upon each other. He told them that he had done all he could for them — that they had no other hope remaining than the expected relief; and that the best plan was to scatter, and make the best of their way, each as he could, down the river; that, for himself it he was to be eaten, he would, at all events be found travelling when he did die. This address had its affect. They accordingly separated.
“With Haler continued five others, Scott, Hubbard, Martin, Bacon, one other and the two Cosumne Indian boys.
“Rhorer now became despondent and stopped. Haler reminded him of his family, and urged him to try and hold out for their sake. Roused by this appeal to his tenderest affections, the unfortunate man moved forward, but feebly and soon began to fall behind. On a further appeal he promised to follow, and to overtake them at evening.
“Haler, Scott, Hubbard and Martin now agreed that if any one of them should give out the others were not to wait for him to die, but to push on, and try and save themselves. Soon this mournful covenant had to be kept. But let me not anticipate events. Sufficient for each day is the sorrow thereof.
“At night Kerne’s party encamped a few hundred yards from Haler’s with the intention, according to Taplin, to remain where they were until the relief should come, and in the mean time to live upon those who had died, and upon the weaker ones as they should die. — With this party, were the three brothers Cerne, Captain Cathcart, McKie, Andrews, Stepperfeldt and Taplin. I do not know that I have got all the names of this part.
“Ferguson and Beadle had remained together behind. In the evening Rhorer came up and remained in Kerne’s party. Haler learnt afterwards from some of the party that Rhorer and Andrews wandered off the next morning and died. They say they saw their bodies.
Haler’s party continued on. After a few hours Hubbard gave out. According to the agreement he was left to die, but with such comfort as could be given him. — They built him a fire and gathered him some wood and then left him — without turning their heads, as Haler says, to look at him as they went off.
“About two miles further, Scott — you remember him; he used to shoot birds for you on the frontier — he gave out. He was another of the four who covenanted against waiting for each other. The survivors did for him as they had done for Hubbard and passed on.
“In the afternoon the two Indian boys went ahead — blessed be these boys! — and before night-fall met Godey with the relief. He had gone on with all speed. The boys gave him the news. He fired signal guns to notify his approach. Haler heard the guns, and knew the crack of our rifles, and felt that relief had come. This night was the first of hope and joy. Early in the morning, with the first grey light, Godey was in the trail, and soon met Haler and the wreck of his party slowly advancing. I hear that they all cried together like children — these men of iron nerves and lion hearts, when –dangers were to be faced or hardships to be conquered. They were all children in this moment of melted hearts. Succor was soon dealt out to those few first met; and Godey with his relief, and accompanied by Haler, who turned back, hurriedly followed the back trail in search of the living and the dead scattered in the rear. — They came to Scott first. He was yet alive and is saved! They came to Hubbard next; he was dead, but still warm. Those were the only ones of Haler’s party that had been left.
“From Kene’s party, next met, they learnt the deaths of Andrews and Rohrer; and a little further on, met Ferguson, who told them that Beadle had died the night before. All the living were found — and saved — Manuel among them — which looked like a resurrection — and reduces the number of the dead to ten — one third of the whole party which a few days before were scaling the mountain with me, and battling with the elements twelve thousand feet in the air.
“Godey had accomplished his mission for the people: a further service had been prescribed him, that of going to the camp on the river, at the base of the great mountain, to recover the most valuable of the baggage, secreted there. With some Mexicans and pack mules he went on; and this is the last yet heard of him.
“Vincent Haler, with Martin and Bacon, all on foot, and bringing Scott on horseback have just arrived at the outside Pueblo on the Little Colorado. Provisions for the support, and horses for the transport, were left for the others, who preferred to remain where they were, regaining some strength, till Godey should get back. At the latest, they would have reached the little Pueblo last night. Haler came on to relieve my anxieties, and did well in so doing; for I was wound up to the point of setting out again. When Godey returns, I shall know all the circumstances sufficiently in detail to understand clearly every thing. But it will not be necessary to tell you any thing futher. You have the results and sorrow enough in reading them.
“Evening. — How rapid are the changes of life! A few days ago, and I was struggling through snow in the savage wilds of the upper Del Norte — following the course of the frozen river in more than Russian cold — no food — no blanket to cover me in the long freezing nights — (I had sold my two to the Utah for help to my men) — uncertain at what moment of the night we might be roused by the Indian rifle — doubtful, very doubtful, whether I should ever see you or friends again. Now I am seated by a comfortable fire, alone, pursuing my own thoughts writing to you in the certainty of reaching you — a French volume of Balzac on the table — a colored print of the landing of Columbus before me — listening in safety to the raging storm without.
“You will wish to know what effect the scenes I have passed through have had upon me. In person, none. The destruction of my party, and the loss of friends, are causes of grief; but I have not been injured in body or mind. Both have been strained, and severely taxed, but neither hurt. I have seen one or the other, and sometimes both, give way in strong minds, and stout hearts; but, as heretofore, I have come out unhurt. I believe that the remembrance of friends sometimes gives a power of resistance which the desire to save our own lives could never call up.
“I have made my preparations to proceed. I shall have to follow the old Gila road, and shall move rapidly, and expect to be in California in March, and to find letters from home and a supply of newspapers and documents, more welcome perhaps, because these things have a home look about them. The future occupies me. Our home in California — you arrival in April — your good health in that delightful climate — the finishing up my geographical and astronomical labors — my farming labors and enjoyments. I have written to Messrs. Mahew & Co., agricultural warehouse, N.Y., requesting them to ship me immediately a threshing machine; and to Messrs. Hoe & Co., same city, requesting them to forward to me at San Francisco two runs, or setts of mill stones. The mill irons and the agricultural instruments shipped for me last autumn from New York will be at San Francisco by the time I arrive there. Your arrival in April will complete all the plans.”
[These extracts in relation to Col. Fremont's intended pursuit are given to contradict the unfounded supposition of gold projects attributed to him by some newspapers. The word gold is not mentioned in his letters from one end to the other, nor did he take gold mining the least into his calculations when he left Missouri, on the 21st of October last, although the authentic reports brought in by Lieut. Beale, of the navy, were then in all the newspapers, and fully known to him.]
“February 11. — Godey has got back. He did not succeed in recovering any of the baggage or camp furniture. Everything was lost except some few things which I had brought down. The depth of the snow made it impossible for him to reach the camp at the mountain where the men had left the baggage. Amidst the wreck I had the good fortune to save my large alforgas, or travelling trunk — the double one which you packed — and that was about all.
“SANTA FE, February 17, 1849. — In the midst of hurried movements, and in the difficult endeavor to get a [party] all started together, I can only write a line to say that I am well, and moving on to California. I [will] leave Santa Fe this evening.
“I have received here from the officers every civility and attention in their power, and have been assisted in my outfit as far as it was possible for them to do. I dine this evening with the Governor (Col. Washington,) before I follow my party. A Spanish gentleman has been engaged to go to Albuquerque and purchase mules for me. From that place we go on my own animals and expect no detention, as we follow on the old Gila route, so long known, and presenting nothing new to stop for.