Dorothy Sloan -- Books

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October 26, 2007

“One of the great landmark documents,
first official exploration of the Platte River system after Long”
-Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives

51. FRÉMONT, J[ohn] C[harles]. A Report on an Exploration of the Country lying between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, on the Line of the Kansas and Great Platte Rivers. By Lieut. J. C. Fremont, of the Corps of Topographical Engineers. Washington: Printed by Order of the United States Senate, 1843. [3]-207 [1 blank] pp. (lacking first leaf, transmittal letter preceding title), large folded lithograph map with waterways colored blue: Map to Illustrate an Exploration of the Country, lying between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, on the Line of the Nebraska or Platte River. By Lieut. J. C. Fremont, of the Corps of Topographical Engineers.... E. Weber & Co. Liths. (neat line to neat line: 82.7 x 35.5 cm); 6 lithograph plates of scenery (4 on tinted grounds): [1] Central Chain of the Wind River Mountains; [2] Chimney Rock; [3] Fort Laramie; [4] Hot Spring Gate Lith. of E. Weber & Co.; [5] Devil’s Gate Lith. of E. Weber & Co.; [6] View of the Wind River Mountains Lit of E. W. 8vo (23.3 x 15 cm), modern half tan sheep over marbled boards, spine with raised bands and gilt lettered red and black morocco labels. Light scattered foxing, map with small tear (no loss, barely into neat line) at juncture with book block, overall very good condition, the map fine. Occasional early notes and underlinings in red pencil in margins.

            First edition. Frémont’s report appeared as a separate (issued in printed wrappers) and also in the combined four-volume compilation of Senate documents for the 27th Congress, 3rd Session. It is not certain if the present copy was originally the separate or was removed from the compilation, a differentiation not noted by Wheat and other bibliographers (other than Hasse). “This is the first issue of the many times reprinted report of Fremont’s first expedition to the Rocky Mountain country. The expedition was designed by Senator Benton and the expansionist group in Congress to publicize the first main division of the route to Oregon, for though this was well known to the fur traders, the region west of the Missouri was still terra incognita to the general public.-TWS” (Streeter Sale 3130, describing his copy in original printed wrappers). American Imprints 43-1994. Bradford 1784. Braislin 767. Graff 1437(printed wrappers, lacking first leaf). Grolier American Hundred #49: “Made clear the first half of the route to Oregon through the South Pass and cast doubts on the prevailing myth of a great American desert between the Missouri and the Rockies.” Hasse, Reports of Explorations Printed in the Documents of the United States Government, p. 31. Hill I, p. 112. Hill II:639. Howes F371. McKelvey, Botanical Exploration of the Trans-Mississippi West 1790-1850, pp. 768-769. Mintz, The Trail 164. Plains & Rockies IV:95. Sabin 25843.

            Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West #464 & Vol. II, pp. 180-182: “This report, as well as those of Frémont’s succeeding expeditions, became trail-bibles for many of the emigrants commencing to head for the Far West [and] attracted so much attention that it is recorded that it was frequently stolen from libraries [footnote 12, p. 181].... The map [by Preuss] which accompanied Frémont’s report is a highly creditable production, extending from the mouth of the South Platte to the Wind River Mountains, with considerable detail in the Laramie Plains, Medicine Bow Mountains, New Park area of the North Platte and Laramie River headwaters. Charles Preuss was a real find. He was a careful cartographer and allowed no imaginary geography to encumber his excellent maps. For the most part they show only what he (or the party he was with) actually saw and laid down in their notebooks.”

            Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives 64: “Frémont’s report is one of the great landmark documents, representing the first official exploration of the Platte River system after that of Long in 1820. It established much of the geographical nomenclature and became the number one guidebook of later migrations. Writing from field notes with remarkable clarity, he provides the first accurate account of Platte geography, flora, and fauna, offers glimpses of the aborigines, and gives the first official recognition that Laramie Fork and Grand Island were ideal sites for future military posts to protect the route to Oregon.... Though mainly detached and scientific, Frémont substitutes romance for science when he climbed one of the Wind River Mountains and planted ‘the national flag’ on a peak he liked to think was ‘the North America.’”

            Goetzmann & Goetzmann, The West of the Imagination, p. 101-102: “When his report was printed by Congress and distributed in the thousands, Frémont’s climb to the top of the Wind River Mountains became a beacon and an inspiration to Americans contemplating the trek westward. It almost made Frémont an instant American hero, ‘the Pathfinder’.... [Preuss’] early maps were perhaps the most useful pictures of the West that could be made at the time.”  For more on the cartography of Preuss and his monumental 1846 map of the Oregon Trail, see Preuss under Maps in this catalogue.

            The map and plates in this report are the work of Charles Preuss, and the latter were recycled through succeeding Frémont reports (and endlessly elsewhere). They are classic images of Western iconography, and are present here in their first and superior appearance. “[Preuss] is best known for his precise maps, but when Frémont proved incapable to operate the daguerreotype camera that he had brought along on the first expedition, Preuss’ humble sketches were the only pictorial images available for the published report. ‘That’s the way it often is with these Americans,’ Preuss groused in his journal. ‘They know everything, they can do everything, and when they are put to a test, they fail miserably’” (Tyler, Prints of the American West, pp. 73-74). “The genre of art produced by the numerous military exploring expeditions in the West in the 1840s and 1850s was a combination of romantic view painting and topographical renditions with pretensions to scientific accuracy. These Western views of the Manifest Destiny era, because they were not art in the grand or painterly manner, but, rather, sketches and watercolors, have been largely overlooked by art historians” (Goetzmann & Goetzmann, p. 102). ($1,000-2,000)

Sold. Hammer: $1,600.00; Price Realized: $1,880.00

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