Jessie Fremont – The Yosemite Muse



There is a Bill seeking to rename Mammoth Peak after my kindred, Jessie Benton Fremont. Jessie was bumped from the trip her daughter took to Yosemite and Mariposa Grove. Elizabeth Fremont met Glen Clark who built a cabin for her and her girlfriends, the first structure in this National Park. This famous mother and daughter wrote of their journeys, and life in Bear Valley located thirty miles from Yosemite.

John and Jessie discussed their anti-slavery stance, they declining their kindred William Preston’s invitation to join the Democratic party. John was nominated to run for President as a member of the newly formed Republican party. For her efforts to make Oregon and California slave-free States, Jessie deserves a mountain named after her.

Jon Presco

“Some of the accusations made against my
father in the campaign of ’56 were ludicrous
in the extreme, too silly for serious considera-
tion. He was vehemently attacked for noth-
ing more than wearing a moustache and
beard; was called a French actor recently
from Paris ; a Catholic ; a foreigner straying
into our country, boldly making an attempt
to take hold of the reins of government and
lead it to destruction!

The Woman Who Inspired the Saving of Yosemite Valley & the Mariposa Grove

(Editor’s Note: In an earlier Sierra Heritage, we presented the story, First Woman in the White House, on Jessie Benton Fremont’s incredible effort to help her husband’s presidential campaign. For years, author Craig MacDonald has been investigating how and who Jessie brought together in the first effort to save Yosemite, before John Muir arrived on the scene. We present this story in honor of this remarkable woman, who passed away 110 years ago this year. You can read more about her husband, John Charles Fremont, on page 12 in Along the Route of Hwy 99.)

Jessie Benton Fremont fell in love with Yosemite the very first time she saw it in the late 1850s. She had recently moved to California from back East and was totally awestruck with the unparalleled beautiful grandeur of the place. But she also was gravely concerned by what was starting to happen to this most spectacular scenery.

The wife of explorer John Charles Fremont envisioned settlers homesteading, orchards being planted, cattle and sheep overgrazing, loggers sawing down giant sequoias and wildlife being killed for food, fun and fortune. Jessie was determined to preserve and protect Yosemite and she did something about it. She gathered friends and others together in her homes at Bear Valley, near Mariposa (1858-59), and Black Point (1860-61), overlooking the Golden Gate in San Francisco.

She and her guests regularly discussed how to save Yosemite at afternoon teas and Sunday dinners. Jessie wrote a friend describing her one-three hour teas as “delightful and chatty.” Everyone at her teas and dinners had something to contribute. Among her guests were writers like Bret Harte, Herman Melville, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. and famous New York editor Horace Greeley.

Other friends, who enjoyed her hospitality, took prominent roles in the first effort to save Yosemite, including orator/writer/minister Thomas Starr King, photographer Carleton Watkins, businessman Israel Ward Raymond and geologists Josiah D. Whitney and William Ashburner. Mountaineer Galen Clark also visited with her on occasion. Effervescent Jessie inspired and encouraged her distinguished pals to lobby Congress, the media and acquaintances on the immediate need to preserve Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, before it was too late.

Jessie loved working behind the scenes, never desiring any credit for her role in orchestrating the first effort to save Yosemite. She preferred bringing people together, introducing them and planting her brilliant ideas in the minds of influential men. An excited Thomas Starr King wrote Randolph Ryers, on October 29, 1860: “I am going to dine today at Mrs. Fremont’s (Black Point) with Colonel Baker, the new Republican Senator from Oregon.” Baker was a good friend of Abraham Lincoln and helped spread the gospel for saving Yosemite Valley. He was just one of the politicians she invited to her friendly gatherings.

“Jessie’s role was that of a catalyst and muse, prodding and encouraging (them) to write and speak,” wrote John Henneberger of the National Park Service.

Her houseguests appreciated her advice and passion. Jessie knew what she was talking about. She was taught how to bring “the right” people together and lobby Congress and even Presidents by her father, Thomas Hart Benton, once the most powerful U.S. Senator in Washington.

AFTER we left Washington, we went to
Siasconset by the Sea, where we spent
the following summer. While there my father
was asked to permit the use of his name for
nomination as the presidential candidate on
the Democratic ticket. On account of his well
known aversion to slavery, it was suggested
that the party platform would permit alter-
nate states to come into the Union as slave
and free states, but my father would sign no
plank that did not make for absolute freedom.
A cousin of ours, William Preston of Ken-
tucky, afterwards Minister to Spain, urged
my father to be the standard bearer of the
Democratic party.

** Come with us; we are going to win,”
he urged, but my father would not forsake
principle for political honors, and he re-
mained firm in his decision.

After my father had given his answer, he
and my mother walked the bluff overlooking
the ocean, discussing the matter far into the
night, realizing all that it meant to them.
They knew that the slavery issue would soon



divide the country, and with that great issue
must come the parting of the ways for them —
the severance of close family ties and friend-
ships, for those sacred ties were severed as
hearts were broken, thick and fast, during the
dark days that followed, there being no com-
promise between North and South.

In speaking of that night in later years, I
have heard my mother say that the lighthouse
lighted up the bluff as they looked into the
dark future, while the silvery light of the
moon danced upon the ocean. ^^ The beacon
light blazed out,” said mother, ^* a warning
to the mariners, to save them from the rocks
ahead, but for us, alas! it lighted all our
hopes, strewing the shore with the wreck of
the loves and friendships of our past lives.”

Someone once said that my father should
have been called Moses, instead of John, for
like the biblical character, he was led up to
the hilltop and permitted to view the prom-
ised land below, though he never was per-
mitted to enter. He must have though of this
when he refused to lend his name for nomina-
tion as standard bearer of the Democratic
party in the campaign of ’56.

Our ride up to the Grove was over a pine-
needle covered trail, through a flower
scented forest of trees near the Sequoias.
The trees would be considered big elsewhere,
but there in close proximity to the largest
trees in the world, they were little noticed.

We made our camp in the grove near
Clark’s cabin, on the banks of the Merced
Eiver. “While we had heard about the great
trees, as we rode among them we realized
that we had no conception of their majestic
grandeur until we had seen them, as indeed
no one can appreciate them without seeing
them in their glory.

Clark guided us through the grove, de-
lighted with our awe and admiration of
them, for G-alen Clark, the keeper of the
grove, was also the discoverer of the trees and
died among them only a few short years ago.

Part of the grove had been accidentally
burned and after our ride through it, we
reached camp black as the actors in any min-
strel show could ever hope to be; so we de-
cided on a bath in the Merced, its glacier-
like waters eliciting many a piercing scream
at the first plunge.

That night our camp mattresses were made
of a thick pile of soft hemlock twigs, a deep


layer of hay spread over the twigs, and
blankets stretched upon them. At the sug-
gestion of Mr. Clark, we set fire to a fallen
pine tree, to make a night lamp for the
ladies, as Clark gaily put it, and the great
tree burned until morning dawned.

Our New York friend said it was too beau-
tiful to sleep, and as she had a well-trained
voice, she entertained us with strains from the
operas mother most liked, the rest of the
party joining in the choruses.

Very many years after, when Galen Clark
was in his extreme old age — he lived to be
more than ninety-six — he was passing
through Los Angeles and called to see my
mother, telling her that that musical night
was among his most cherished memories of
his life in the Mariposas.

Click to access 311diamant.pdf!msg/parklandsupdate/jE9Ujqi46KE/mrrl2m1jdRYJ



July 14, 2014

113th Congress, 2nd Session
Issue: Vol. 160, No. 109 — Daily Edition

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(House of Representatives – July 14, 2014)

Text of this article available as: TXT

[Pages H6166-H6167]
{time} 1745

Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the
bill (H.R. 1192) to redesignate Mammoth Peak in Yosemite National Park
as “Mount Jessie Benton Fremont”.
The Clerk read the title of the bill.
The text of the bill is as follows:

H.R. 1192

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of
the United States of America in Congress assembled,


Congress finds that Jessie Benton Fremont–
(1) was the daughter of United States Senator Thomas Hart
Benton of Missouri, a leading proponent of the concept of
Manifest Destiny that advocated for the Nation to expand its
borders westward;
(2) became fluent in French and Spanish, was a gifted
writer, and was at ease in any political discussion;
(3) married John C. Fremont, who was assigned to explore
the West;
(4) transformed John C. Fremont’s descriptions from his
treks into prose that was used by pioneers to guide their
route West;
(5) traveled to California in 1849 to join her husband at
their Mariposa ranch, where gold had been discovered;
(6) became involved in John C. Fremont’s 1856 campaign for
Presidency, which proposed the abolition of slavery, a notion
that Jessie Benton Fremont also supported;
(7) moved to Bear Valley, California, with her husband John
C. Fremont in 1858 and thereafter realized the need to
preserve the land that would become Yosemite National Park
for future generations;
(8) entertained men such as Horace Greeley, Thomas Starr
King, and United States Senator Edward Baker of Oregon, and
urged them to begin a process that ultimately led to the
establishment of Yosemite National Park;
(9) influenced President Abraham Lincoln to sign the Act
entitled “An Act authorizing a Grant to the State of
California of the `Yo-Semite Valley’ and of the Land
embracing the `Mariposa Big Tree Grove’ ”, approved June 30,
1864 (commonly known as the Yosemite Grant), the first
instance of land being set aside specifically for its
preservation and public use by a national government; and
(10) set the foundation for the creation of national parks
and California State parks through her advocacy for and
influence on the Yosemite Grant.


(a) In General.–The peak known as “Mammoth Peak” in
Yosemite National Park (located at NPS coordinates 37.855 N,
-119.264 W) shall be redesignated as “Mount Jessie Benton
Fremont” and may be known informally as “Mt. Jessie” in
honor of the contributions of Jessie Benton Fremont to the
approval of the Yosemite Grant.
(b) References.–Any reference in a law, map, regulation,
document, record, or other paper of the United States to the
peak described in subsection (a) shall be considered to be a
reference to “Mount Jessie Benton Fremont”.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from
California (Mr. McClintock) and the gentleman from Maryland (Mr.
Cummings) each will control 20 minutes.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Maryland.

General Leave

Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members
may have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and
include extraneous materials on the bill under consideration.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the
gentleman from California?
There was no objection.
Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may
Mr. Speaker, H.R. 1192 would redesignate Mammoth Peak in Yosemite
National Park as Mount Jessie Benton Fremont.
The bill is brought to us by a group of local park enthusiasts and
historians, with the support of the El Dorado County Historical
Society. Its purpose is to recognize this pioneer who played a
significant role in establishing Yosemite National Park.
Jessie Benton Fremont was the daughter of U.S. Senator Thomas Hart
Benton, a prominent Democrat who was a leading proponent of the
Nation’s westward expansion. In 1841, she married John C. Fremont, a
prominent Republican, an American military officer, explorer, and–
later–a Presidential candidate.
She traveled to California in 1849 and, soon thereafter, became one
of the most influential advocates for establishing Yosemite National
When we think of Yosemite, we think of John Muir. Ironically, John
Muir’s first visit to the park didn’t occur until 4 years after the
park was established. It only came to his attention, as it came to the
attention of so many, because Jessie Benton Fremont saw the beauty of
the valley, she appreciated its importance, and she began a passionate
crusade to preserve it for the American people to enjoy.
Jessie Benton Fremont was herself a gifted writer, and she used her
skill to transform her husband’s travel and exploration into popular
narratives that were used by pioneers to guide their route west.
After she came to California in 1849, Yosemite became her passion.
She published many accounts of the valley and

[[Page H6167]]

hosted scores of dignitaries to see its wonders.
It was her deep love of Yosemite, coupled with her ceaseless
agitation, her boundless energy, and her political connections in both
parties that set in motion and drove the events that led to Congress
passing, and President Abraham Lincoln signing, the Yosemite Grant Act
150 years ago.
Remember, she did all of this in an age when women were expected to
be seen and not heard. She set an example of leadership that gave
inspiration and guidance to the next generation that ultimately
produced the movement toward women’s suffrage.
The Yosemite Grant Act was revolutionary in its day. It was the first
time in the Nation’s history that land had been set aside, in the words
of the Act, “on the express condition that the premises shall be held
for public use, resort, and recreation . . . for all time.”
Now, this act led ultimately to the creation of the National Park
Service in 1916 and to the preservation of so many other landscapes for
the American people to enjoy for their use and resort and recreation.
The Norman and Plantagenet kings of old set aside vast tracts of land
as their exclusive preserve, in which only a select few, with their
blessing, could enjoy. The Yosemite grant was the very opposite of
that. It set aside the most beautiful land in the Nation entirely for
the people.
The current name of the peak, Mammoth Peak, has absolutely no
historical significance. The name was originally conferred on that peak
because it was big. That is it.
Furthermore, this naming will eliminate a constant source of
confusion with Mammoth Mountain, a place that we have all heard of.
That is the major ski resort just a few hours outside of Yosemite
National Park. The Mammoth Peak we are referring to is inside Yosemite,
and if you find that confusing, well, so too do many tourists.
The fine point of the matter comes down to this: other persons who
had lesser or comparable roles in establishing Yosemite are all
commemorated by attaching their names to prominent features of the
park–Horace Greeley, Carlton Watkins, Thomas Starr King, and U.S.
Senators John Conness and Edward Baker.
The name of the dynamic force that moved all of those people, Jessie
Benton Fremont, is nowhere to be found on the names of features within
the park. This is a century-and-a-half oversight that we can correct
today by passing H.R. 1192.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. CUMMINGS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, H.R. 1192 would designate Mammoth Peak in Yosemite
National Park as Mount Jessie Benton Fremont to honor Jessie Fremont’s
role in the early preservation of the Yosemite Valley.
Jessie Fremont was enchanted by the beauty of Yosemite Valley and
lobbied for its protection. Her efforts led to the passage of the
Yosemite Grant Act and, ultimately, the creation of the Yosemite
National Park.
Not only did she work to permanently protect the Yosemite Valley,
many Americans of her time became familiar with the vast unexplored
West from her recounting of her husband’s early explorations of the
American West with scout Kit Carson.
I would like to thank my colleague, Mr. McClintock, for recognizing
the contributions of American conservationists such as Jessie Fremont.
She not only is an important figure in the conservation movement in
this country, she is an important figure in women’s history as well.
Her accomplishments came at a time when women faced severe
discrimination, making her achievements even more remarkable, and so I
urge all of my colleagues to vote in favor of this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Maryland for
his kind words and yield back the balance of my time.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the
gentleman from California (Mr. McClintock) that the House suspend the
rules and pass the bill, H.R. 1192.
So (two-thirds being in the affirmative) the rules were suspended and
the bill was passed.
A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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1 Response to Jessie Fremont – The Yosemite Muse

  1. Reblogged this on Rosamond Press and commented:

    The Belmont Historical Society rejected all information on Jessie Benton who held a salon at Black Point. Is Belmont – and the Buck Foundation – against saving the environment?

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