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The Journal of 2020 Foresight
Sunday, October 10, 2004  

New Eco-topia Explorers Hitting the Overland Trail at Starbucks

Chapter Three: The Outpost

By Steve Howard, CKO
The Knowledge Labs

Table of Contents
Chapter One: Basecamp
Chapter Two: The Ridge
Chapter Three: The Outpost
Chapter Four: The Tribal Territories

“Lewis and Clark were exceptional leaders who balanced each other very well. The men they recruited fulfilled the myriad number of duties and needs of the undertaking. But no matter how good the expedition personnel, they would have returned in 1804 already if not for the cooperation of the Indian tribes they encountered.“

James J. Holmberg

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California. -- At Starbucks, the next morning we three expedition members of the “Corps of Re-Discovery” met to map out our 3000-mile trip through 5 of the 8 western states? identified in the “BOF Knowledge Base. Waiting for the other two, I began reading a book I picked up on the recommendation of a friend, “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen” by Larry McMurty. Lone Eagle showed up first, followed a few minutes later by Lost Explorer.

Journal of 2020 Foresight: Yesterday, when we shuttled to the top of the incline, about 9000 feet above sea level we not only “oohed and ahhed” the magnificence of the twenty-two miles of Lake Tahoe, but also caught a glimpse of the smaller towns and surrounding region.

Lone Eagle: I love those names -- Truckee, Donners Pass, Carson City, Virginia City. I guess it's the “New Eco-topia” lifestyle in me.

Lost Explorer: What do you mean?

Eagle: We like to migrate to small towns and remote exurbs - to pristine areas in the western Rockies, you know? Like to here along the Sierras in South Lake Tahoe or Mammoth Mountain or at Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains.

J2020F: Well, according to both the “Nevada” and the “Early Growth” learning expeditions, you might want to check out Minden and Gardnerville in Douglas County, 5th on the list of growth counties in Nevada, just east of South Lake Tahoe. Both make the early growth list, but only Minden's lifestyle clusters include New Eco-topias - so you'd feel more at home there.

Eagle: Look out there beyond the parking lot. Imagine what it was like before all this was here. Not only is this a picturesque setting, there's quite a bit of western history - both California and Nevada history.

Explorer: We don't have to look to far. Truckee, named for Washoe Indian Chief Trokay, was once a lawless lumber and railroad town. According to the tourist guide much of its Old West charm remains; 19th-century false-front buildings and a train that runs through the middle of town can be seen.

Eagle: There must be hundreds of tales that could be told about this area.

Explorer: Funny you would bring that up. I've been skimming through Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain's), “Roughing It.” I never got around to reading it when I bought it in graduate school. It's all about his adventures in these parts.

J2020: And?

Explorer: Last night I read that he forwarded letters about his trip by overland stage from St. Josephs, Missouri to Carson City. His tall tales and vivid descriptions so entertained the newspaper publisher that he was offered a job as a reporter in Virginia City - in the mid- to late-1800s.

Eagle: I brought along a book too that covers roughly the same time period on more detail. It's “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” by Dee Brown with me - all about the Indian Campaigns between 1865 and 1890. I've kept it on a shelf for years in my study - but never really took the time to dive into it.

J2020F: Talk about coincidences, one of McMurty's main points is that the whole period of the western frontier lasted just nine decades - from the beginning of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803 to Wounded Knee in 1890. For years he wrote novels about the cowboy myth - trying to debunk it - having grown up in Archer, Texas - northeast of Dallas - Fort Worth, just south of Wichita Falls.

Explorer: Didn't he write "Lonesome Dove?"

J2020F: Yup. And "Terms of Endearment," "The Last Picture Show" and 23 other novels. He won a Pulitzer Prize, too.

Listen to this passage:

"I ... am one of the few writers who can still claim to have had prolonged and intimate contact with first-generation pioneers, men and women who came to a nearly absolute emptiness and began the filling of it themselves, setting twelve children afoot on the prairie grass, a covey of McMurtys who soon scattered like quail in the direction of the even emptier Panhandle.

The sense that resides in me most clearly when I think back on the twelve McMurtrys (all dead now) is of the intensity and depth of their hunger for land: American land, surveyed legal acreage that would relieve them of nomadism (and of the disenfranchisement of peasant Europe) and let everybody know that they were not shiftless people.”

He goes on to say like Twain, his family left Missouri for “The West.” Where their hopes and dreams began and ended there, to paraphrase a lyric from Jackson Browne. But for a different reason, because they thought Missouri was a lawless breeding ground for outlaws.

Explorer: Twain left because he failed a short stint as a Confederate soldier and chose to join his brother, Orion Clements who was either the governor or “his highness the Secretary” as Twain writes, of the Nevada Territories.

J2020F: Apparently, the original Native Americans in the Utah, Nevada and California area - before the early Europeans arrived in 1775 - belonged to the Mohave, Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe tribes.

Explorer: Because of this mountainous terrain and the desert area in the Great Basin it took fifty years between the first visit by Francisco Garces, a Spanish Franciscan priest, and Peter Skene Ogden's fur trapping expedition into the northern portion of Nevada, as a representative of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1825.

Eagle: Brown says, in 1850 without consulting "the Modocs, Mohaves, Paiutes, Shastas, Yumas or a hundred other lesser-known tribes along the Pacific Coast' California became a state -- the 31st.

J2020F: In between, in 1826 mountain man Jededia Smith - the first American to traverse the Sierra Nevada Mountains and to open the coastal trade route from California to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River - blazed the early overland trails across the Mojave Desert.

Eagle: He was born in New York in 1798, so he was 7 years old when Lewis and Clark's expedition formed at the Falls of the Ohio in Louisville on the Ohio River and set out to reach St. Louis and the Missouri River.

J2020F: I guess you could say that the Comanche's took exception to Smith's traveling across their territory one too many times. In 1831 on the Santa Fe Trail they killed him while crossing the Cimarron River - a year after he gave up the fur business and became a merchant - until the fateful decision to give in to his deep seated wanderlust.

Explorer: Smith bridged the gap in eras between the early hunter heroes, as PBS called them - contemporaries of Daniel Boone (1735 - 1820) and Davy Crocket (1786 - 1836) - John Jacob Astor (1763 - 1848), William Clark (1770 - 1838), Manuel Lisa (1772 - 1820), Meriwether Lewis (1774 - 1809), John Colter (1775 - 1813), Zebulon Pike (1779 - 1813), and Benjamin Bonneville (1796 - 1878) and the mountain men and Indian scouts from the 1820s to the Civil War.

J2020F: What do you mean?

Explorer: Like the others, Smith saw the early expansion of settlers and development westward from the 13 colonies. In Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket's life times the frontier boundaries - the uncharted territories - pushed from Tennessee and Kentucky to Missouri along the great rivers.

J2020F: Like Boone and Crocket, Smith set out to live an outdoorsman lifestyle in the wilderness - first in Virginia - by trapping and fur trading. By all accounts, he prospered quite well, having learned from the Indians how to survive and thrive in harmony with nature.

Explorer: He ran out of elbowroom and had that trailblazing itch.

Eagle: And, he almost single-handedly opened up the overland trails to the West Coast from St. Louis - the gateway to the West - after Lewis and Clark's expedition mapped the waterways northeast to the source of the Missouri River and then east through Yellowstone to Oregon and the Columbia River.

J2020F: Right, when he was still in his teens he joined William Ashley's Rocky Mountain Fur Company on a trapping expedition to the Rockies and stayed to trap and trade beaver pelts for the next ten years.

Explorer: Before his death on the Santa Fe Trail, he trapped fur throughout most if not all of the Western States including San Diego to San Francisco in California and up north to the Columbia River.

Eagle: In 1825, Jedediah attended the first Mountain Man rendezvous at Henry's Fork before accompanying William Ashley back to St. Louis with the season's bounty of furs.

J2020F: A year later in 1826 he found his own fur trading company with David Jackson and William Sublette. But, because he wanted to open up the newer and untapped areas in the Southwest, he and his partners sold their interest to the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1830. A year later he died on the trail.

Explorer: Also in 1826, at the ripe old age of fifteen, Kit Carson ran away from his apprenticeship as a saddler in Franklin, Missouri.

Eagle: As we will see, his name pops up all over the west, too. Here at the intersection of California and Nevada in Lake Tahoe, it is just a hop skip and a jump to Carson City - founded in 1858. Six years later it became the capital of Nevada and became the social center for mining settlements in the mid-1800s.

J2020F: In fact, I read somewhere that as Carson City prospered the federal government established a mint there for “coining” the silver output extracted out of the Comstock Lode 15 miles northeast under Virginia City.

Eagle: Ah, those were exciting times …

J2020F: But, they didn't last long - a lot less than most people think, according to McMurty. The Western Frontier open and closed in a lifetime - from 1803 to 1890.

Explorer: If Jim Bridger lived nine years longer it would have been his lifetime. He was born in 1804 in Richmond, Virginia and left St. Louis at age 18 to trap beaver with William Ashley's fur trading company too. He died on his farm near Kansas City, Missouri in 1881.

Eagle: If John Fremont had been born 10 years earlier in Savannah, Georgia, it would have been his lifetime. He hired Kit Carson as a guide for his explorations and expeditions throughout the Northwest and California. Fremont eventually became governor of the Arizona Territory before he died in 1890.

J2020F: The writing skills of John Fremont 's wife accounted for our nation's intense interest of his explorations. Overshadowed by John Fremont's better-publicized deeds, which at the time found a more willing audience -- those consumed with settling the West -- The Wilkes Expedition left Norfolk, Virginia in 1838 on six U.S. Naval vessels to circumscribe the planet.

Explorer: Didn't Charles Wilkes lead what later became known as the “Greatest American Sea Venture of the 19th Century?” Aren't some of his charts so meticulous that they are still used for navigation today?

J2020F: Yes. He became the Rodney Dangerfield of explorers - he got no respect. And, yet on one leg of their journey, the “Great United States Exploring Expeditions” (Ex. Ex). made way to the Pacific Northwest where they ran into rival explorers from the Hudson's Bay Company at the mouth of the Columbia River. Continuing upriver, Wilkes mapped the Columbia and Willamette rivers, as well as, Puget Sound and the Northwest Coast.

Eagle: He had commandeered all the logbooks and journals of the expedition, as well as the numerous charts, drawings, paintings and scientific reports. With these at hand, as well as his own journal, writing furiously so as to recover some of the glory, Wilkes turned out five large but dull volumes, replete with copious illustrations made by himself and his men.

Explorer: Didn't his massive collection of artifacts and other specimens force Congress to use "James Smithson's gift to build a national museum that became the main focus, along with Harvard, of early American science?

J2020F: Science, yes. Fame and fortune? No. The 'Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition' was such a lavish production that Congress voted to publish only 100 copies, as opposed to 10,000 copies of Fremont's 1845 report, thanks in large part to Fremont's wife and the land hunger that consumed most of the American psyche in the mid-1800s.

Eagle: You could say that his fate was the mirror opposite of Sitting Bull who ”lost his fortune” but gained so much fame that he was the first Native American celebrity in the United States of his time. It's a typical American story that involves a Paiute Messiah, a Buffalo Bill trained dancing horse, and a trip by Iron Horse to Pyramid Lake, but that's a tale for another time.

J2020F: Good, because we've got to hit the road!

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