Cover image for Pathfinder : John Charles Frémont and the course of American empire
Pathfinder : John Charles Frémont and the course of American empire
Chaffin, Tom.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hill and Wang, 2002.
Physical Description:
xxx, 559 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Apprenticeship, 1813-41 -- The first expedition, spring 1842-fall 1842 -- The second expedition, spring 1843-winter 1845 -- The third expedition: summer 1845-winter 1846 -- Reckonings, 1847-54 -- For liberty, union, and commerce, 1854-64 -- The light of parting day, 1864-87.
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Material Type
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Item Holds
E415.9.F8 C48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E415.9.F8 C48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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The amazing life of the explorer who first mapped the West and forever changed nineteenth-century America The career of John Charles FrÉmont (1813-90) celebrates and ties together the full breadth of American expansionism from its eighteenth-century origins through its culmination in the Gilded Age. Tom Chaffin's important new biography demonstrates FrÉmont's vital importance to the history of American empire, and his role in shattering long-held myths about the ecology and habitability of the American West. As the most celebrated American explorer and mapper of his time, FrÉmont stood at the center of the vast federal project of Western exploration and conquest. His expeditions between 1838 and 1854 captured the public's imagination, inspired Americans to accept their nation's destiny as a vast continental empire, and earned him his enduring sobriquet, the Pathfinder. But FrÉmont was more than an explorer. Chaffin's dramatic narrative includes FrÉmont's varied experiences as an entrepreneur, abolitionist, Civil War general, husband to the remarkable Jessie Benton FrÉmont, two-time Republican presidential candidate, and Gilded Age aristocrat. Chaffin brings to life the personal and political experiences of a remarkable American whose saga offers compelling insight into the conflicts, tensions, and contradictions at the core of America's lust for empire and its conquest of the trans-Missouri West.

Author Notes

Tom Chaffin, teaches history at Emory University. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, and other publications. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Long neglected by historians and laypersons awed by the tremendous accomplishments of Lewis and Clark, John Charles Fremont played an equally vital role in the mapping of the American West. In fact, Chaffin argues that Fremont's numerous expeditions generated more scientific data and covered more territory than the more famous Lewis and Clark expedition. This robust biography charts the course of Fremont's multiple careers as an explorer and surveyor, businessman, U.S. Army officer, politician, and abolitionist. Opinionated, charismatic, and independent, Fremont also embodied and symbolized a new type of American frontier spirit. Willing and unafraid to take advantage of every political, military, and economic opportunity that presented itself to him, he was largely responsible for expanding the American empire to the West Coast. This fascinating portrait vivifies the extraordinary life story of an often controversial--but undeniably significant--American hero. --Margaret Flanagan

Publisher's Weekly Review

John Charles Fremont (1813-1890), nicknamed "the Pathfinder" in recognition of his groundbreaking expeditions to map the American West, is not as well known as Lewis and Clark, but with this superb biography, the reader is soon convinced that Fremont's life is well worth examining, not only for its dizzying ups and downs but also for its intersection with so many hugely important themes in the nation's history: Manifest Destiny, the settlement of the West and displacement of Native Americans; the building of the railroads; and the corrosive debate over slavery. Chaffin's masterful grasp of storytelling creates a deeply nuanced portrait of a man of many parts-dashing explorer, businessman and politician-and the tumultuous times he lived through and helped shape. There's something here for every history buff: gripping accounts of Fremont's expeditions to map the rugged terrain of the West; insightful portrayals of Fremont's allies and adversaries that reveal the author's deep understanding of how power is wielded in both political and nonpolitical settings; and superb analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of American empire. Chaffin (director of Emory University's Oral History Project) even delivers a memorable love story-the relationship between Frmont and his wife, Jessie, daughter of powerful Missouri Sen. Thomas Hart Benton-that could easily stand on its own. 21 b&w illus., 4 maps not seen by PW. (Nov.) Forecast: Given a recent revival of interest in American history and biography-and the attention that will be showered on the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's expedition-this excellent volume about another explorer of the West may rise with the tide if it receives enough review coverage. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Chaffin (Narcisco Lopez and the First Clandestine U.S. War Against Cuba) here examines the life of John Charles Fremont, one of the great figures in the American expansion throughout the West during the second third of the 19th century. With good storytelling sense, the author weaves together Fremont's work surveying the vast unmapped expanses of the trans-Mississippi region. Chaffin also reveals his subject's involvement with some of the major political issues of his time-e.g., relations with Indian tribes and with Mexico. We also see fascinating people: colorful and controversial fellow soldiers like Kit Carson and powerful politicians, such as his patron and father-in-law, the Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton. But unlike Andrew Rolle's psychological portrait in Character as Destiny: John Charles Fremont, Chaffin focuses on the empire of the West, which Fremont helped create and into which he thrust himself. Ultimately, the author sees his subject as tragic, used and ultimately pushed aside by a nation that had become larger than this larger-than-life man. This book will be essential reading for historians of the West, and its accessible style will make it enjoyable for many general readers as well. For large public libraries.-Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

John C. Fremont literally followed in the steps of counterparts who led in efforts to explore and understand the American West in the 19th century--Zebulon Pike (known to historians as the "lost pathfinder"), Henry Brackenridge, Stephen H. Long, and Peter Skene Ogden, to name a few. Fremont, however, did more than simply explore. An important player in the country's Manifest Destiny, he had a role in California's "Bear Flag Revolt" of 1846 that subsequently added California to the Union, and he became the Republican Party's nominee in 1856 to run against Democrat James Buchanan for the presidency. Chaffin (history, Emory Univ., Fatal Glory: Narciso Lopez and the First Clandestine US War against Cuba, CH, Apr'97) offers an exhaustive account of Fremont's experiences that praises many of his abilities but reveals a complex, ambiguity-ridden, and often contradictory "pathfinder." Chaffin writes of Fremont's "equivocation ... [and that] he had no firm grasp of events, and no thought-out set of plans." No "John Wayne-in-the-West" here. This marvelous and readable book will delight scholars and those with interests in Americana. An excellent companion to John Phillip Reid's Contested Empire: Peter Skene Ogden and the Snake River Expeditions (CH, Feb'03). Summing Up: Highly recommended. All libraries. P. D. Travis Texas Woman's University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Chronologyp. xv
Mapsp. xvii
Preface: How the West Was Lostp. xxiii
Prologuep. 3
Part I Apprenticeships, 1813-41
1. The Rising Empirep. 7
2. Charles Fremon Filsp. 19
3. Boundaries Where None Are Markedp. 35
4. There's Geography for You!p. 59
5. Washington and the Bentonsp. 75
Part II The First Expendition, Spring 1842-Fall 1842
6. To South Passp. 95
7. Fremont Peak and Backp. 117
8. The First Report and Oregon Feverp. 136
Part III The Second Expedition, Spring 1843-Winter 1845
9. Return to the Rockies and Exploration of Great Salt Lakep. 153
10. Oregonp. 173
11. To the Banks of the Buenaventurap. 194
12. Winter Sierrap. 209
13. California Idyll, and Backp. 222
14. The Pathfinderp. 239
Part IV The Third Expedition, Summer 1845-Winter 1846
15. Great Salt Lake, Great Basin, and Humboldt Riverp. 257
16. The Opening Clear Before Mep. 267
17. To Promote This Object of the Presidentp. 289
18. Neutral Conquestp. 309
19. Bear Flagp. 321
20. A Pawn for Empirep. 336
21. Commandant of the Territoryp. 351
Part V Reckonings, 1847-54
22. Governor Fremontp. 367
23. Measuring the Empirep. 382
24. The Wages of Empire, and the Final Expeditionp. 415
Part VI For Liberty, Union, and Commerce, 1854-64
25. Free Soil, Free Men, Fremontp. 433
26. General Fremontp. 455
Part VII The Light of Parting Day, 1865-87
27. Moses Unredeemedp. 479
28. The Legacies of Empirep. 488
Epilogue, 1887-90p. 495
On Textual Sources and Place-Namesp. 503
Notesp. 507
Bibliographyp. 529
Indexp. 545