The Manifest Destiny
Present day Custer County happened to be at the crossroads for many early explorers of the American West, due in large part to the fact that Hardscrabble Creek and Grape Creek are among the first mountain waterways encountered by those following that great historical highway, the Arkansas River.
Historical records of our region began in the early 1700s and earlier by the Spanish explorers. Zebulon Pike and his party trudged through snowdrifts here in the winter of 1806-07. And a similar scenario occurred in 1848 when John Charles Fremont took on the full pursuit of American expansionism – Manifest Destiny – as promoted by his father-in-law, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton.
Benton wanted to establish a railroad route along the 38th parallel which runs from St. Louis west to San Francisco, and virtually smack-dab through Custer County. After securing private funding for the expedition, Fremont and his band of 35 men headed along the parallel in October 1848. At Bents Fort, Fremont was advised to abandon the quest due to the winter weather. But he pushed on, and in late November arrived in our region which he had casually explored in previous excursions. They made it over Mosca Pass – barely – and by the time they gave up and retreated to Taos, ten of his men and multiple mules had perished. Fremont wisely advised that no rails should cross over the Sangre de Cristos, at least not here.
Fremont, of course, went on to higher glory. He served as a California Senator in the early 1850s, presidential candidate in 1856, a major general during the Civil War and Territorial Governor of Arizona beginning in the late 1870s,
He was hailed as a great surveyor and explorer, and numerous Western counties, towns and landmarks bear his name, including, of course, Fremont County to the north of us, which was established in 1861, and included what is now Custer County until our secession in 1877.
On Monday, Jan. 21, we’ll mark the 200th anniversary of Fremont’s birth in Savannah, Ga. During his various Colorado expeditions, he documented the terrain, the flora, and other natural features, and thus provided some of the first high-profile observations about the Wet Mountain Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. If you care to celebrate, a special event will be held Monday at 10 a.m. at the Fremont County Administration Building at 615 Macon Ave. in Canon City.
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