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The Call of Gold (1936) by Newell D. Chamberlain


Through the formation of the Wall Street corporation, Fremont realized at least two million dollars. Had the Company not been wrecked within such a short time, he would have made even more.

After the Civil War, he devoted his time and fortune to the promotion of overland transportation. He laid the foundation of the Kansas and Pacific Railroad, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, and the Memphis and Pacific Railroad, in the last of which, through the misconduct of French agents in Paris, his fortune was really lost.

While promoting railroads, he and his family lived luxuriously. He had been so greatly benefited by the stock-selling scheme of the Mariposa Company that he thought he could be successful in promoting stock to build railroads. Being only a visionary dreamer, however, with no practical experience in corporate financing, he became an easy mark for shrewd schemers.

His Memphis and El Paso Railroad had been chartered by the State of Texas and given 18,000,000 acres of land, on the strength of which, bonds were floated. Several millions of dollars worth of these bonds were sold in France, but the agents and banking house kept forty per cent, leaving but sixty per cent for the building of the proposed railroad.

In 1870, the Company became insolvent and Fremont and many of his friends lost everything, to say nothing of the losses sustained by thousands who had purchased stock on the glittering representations of agents. Fremont’s inside knowledge as to the condition of the Company gave him advance information of the impending failure and he could have used that knowledge to save a part of his fortune, had he been dishonest.

The following article appeared in the Mariposa Gazette of April 17, 1874:

“Fremont’s brother-in-law, Baron Boileau, who was sentenced to imprisonment by a Memphis and El Paso R. R. affair, is confined in the conciergerie in Paris. Mme. Boileau and her six children were at last accounts at Boulogne, dependent on the generosity of friends.

“Nine or ten years ago, Baron Boileau was the French consul at New York City, trusted, respected, popular and accomplished. While there, he married Susan, daughter of Colonel Thomas H. Benton, who served thirty years in the United States Senate and who was long the political autocrat of Missouri. The marriage was happy. After his union with Miss Benton, Baron Boileau was appointed French minister to Ecuador, but certain acts of his while Consul at New York were brought to the notice of the government and led to his recall from Ecuador and his discharge from his country’s service.

“While in New York, he became involved in railroad schemes and was induced to recommend, in his capacity as an official agent of the French government, the negotiation of the Memphis and El Paso Railroad bonds. It was for this plain violation of the country’s law, that his government, rigid in such matters, recalled, discharged, fined, imprisoned, in short, ruined him.

“The same Court, which tried him, found General Fremont guilty of raising money on the Memphis and El Paso R. R. bonds, by false representations and sentenced him to serve a year in prison. He made good his escape from France and is beyond the reach of the French Government, it being a strange fact, that although France and America upheld a common cause and fought side by side on fields of battle, they have with each other no extradition treaty.

“Mrs. Fremont was the favorite daughter of Colonel Benton, a woman of rare accomplishments and great ambition. Her hopes have withered; she beholds, as the result of an unfortunate speculation, her husband, who once almost grasped the highest prize in this country’s gift, declared a felon by a friendly Republic and the devoted companion of her sister, hurled from a high pinnacle into ruin and disgrace. How marvelous and melancholy are some of time’s mutations?”

It was later proven that Fremont was not guilty of misrepresentation in the sale of bonds in France. That he acted with absolute honesty but with a lamentable shortness of business judgment, was proven by a letter sent him by the unfriendly Receiver of the defunct company, which read as follows: “I deem it fair that throughout the long and careful scrutiny which I have made into the affairs of the company, I have found no proof that would sustain the charges brought against you, regarding the fraudulent sale of the company’s bonds in France.”

Fremont had proven a dismal failure as a business man and had wrecked many of his friends and relatives.

In 1878, he was appointed Governor of Arizona Territory, by President Hayes, and served four years, at a salary of $2000 a year. On his way out to assume his duties, he visited San Francisco and was given a reception by the Society of California Pioneers.

Early in 1890, in view of his services to his country, as explorer, administrator and soldier, Congress restored him to the rank of Major-General, and then placed him on the retired list, at a salary of $6000 a year. This was the first time for many years that he could enjoy a comfortable income.

On May 9th, he went to the Treasury Department to ask that his salary be not retained to meet a supposed old debt, when he was informed that the Government actually owed him $21,000 and that a clerical error forty years previous had been responsible for making it appear that he was indebted to the Government for $19,000. When he received the news, he fainted, but soon revived as he was handed a warrant for the amount due. He did not live very long to enjoy his new competency, for on July 13th, he passed away, at the home of his adopted daughter in New York City. The high distinction of being “Major-General, U. S. A.” was cut on his tombstone and it will be recalled that the same title appeared after his name on the deed when he signed away his Mariposa Estate for a consideration of over six millions of dollars.

The Nation will always be indebted to him for his important part in the opening up of the far western country, comprising half a continent. During the years, 1842 to 1847, with the famous Kit Carson, as guide, he made three expeditions through the then almost unknown regions between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean, in which, his daring and fortitude, amid unfriendly savages, through hazardous mountain wilds and inhospitable deserts, have seldom been surpassed.

He has been appropriately termed the “West’s Greatest Pathfinder”. Undoubtedly, he did more to open up the far western country than any other man and his detailed and accurate descriptions of that vast region helped to save many lives during the first great overland gold rush. In addition, his promptness, combined with his energy and patriotism, and that of his followers, saved California from becoming a British possession. English Admiral Seymour afterwards declared that if he had arrrived with his fleet a few days sooner at Monterey, the flag of England would have floated over California, all in accordance with a plan arranged by British Consul Forbes and Emissary Priest Macnamara.

For his services, in geographic and scientific discovery, he was recognized and rewarded by the Royal Geographic Societies of both London and Berlin. In 1861, he was chosen by the King of Prussia to be a Knight of the Society of Merit, to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Macauley. Another noteworthy distinction, which he prized, was the friendship of Baron von Humboldt, the great German geographer and explorer, who founded the modern science of physical geography.

Major-General Fremont should have been one of the wealthiest men in the United States. His patent to the vast Mariposa Estate, rich in mineral wealth, made him several times a millionaire, but he lacked the business ability to keep his money. He was a dreamer and his philosophy of life is best expressed in a letter which he once wrote to his wife; “There are two Gods which are very dear to me, Hope and Sleep. Both make the time pass lightly.” He was successful in some things, but a failure in other things. He tried to play too many parts, yet the God of Hope always cheered him

Next: 29. John MuirContentsPrevious: 27. Wall Street Mismanagement

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management