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A Brief History of Lake City:
Fremont & Gunnison Surveys
The discovery of gold in California in 1849 heightened the need for a transcontinental rail route to access the Pacific coast. That same year, a group of St. Louis businessmen hired Lieutenant John C. Fremont to survey a southern route along the 38th parallel for a proposed trans-continental line; Fremont had traversed Colorado in three previous expedition parties during the 1840s. Fremont's Fourth Expedition departed St. Louis in October 1848 and traveled west along the Arkansas River.
Following Hardscrabble Creek south (east of present-day Florence), the party crossed the Sangre de Cristos at Mosca Pass. Continuing west across the San Luis Valley they followed Embargo Creek into the La Garita Mountains about 50 miles southeast of Lake City. The expedition ended in disaster with 11 of the 33 men perishing and the rest suffering severe frostbite.*
In the early 1850s, two survey parties examined the Gunnison River 30 miles north of Lake City to evaluate its potential as a segment of the proposed trans-continental rail route.
Captain John W. Gunnison in 1853 followed the Santa Fe Trail west and crossed La Veta Pass into the San Luis Valley. Traveling northward, the team of 30 scientists and 30 military escorts crossed Cochetopa Pass about 50 miles northeast of Lake City to reach the Gunnison River and followed it west to the Colorado River. The survey party continued west into Utah, where Paiutes killed Gunnison and seven of his men.
In 1854, Fremont led a privately funded expedition that followed the Arkansas River west and crossed into the San Luis Valley via the Sangre de Cristo Pass then over Cochetopa Pass to the Gunnison River.**
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* Joy Richmond, Trail to Disaster, Denver Colorado Historical Society, 1989, 12-14.
** Carl Ubbelhode, Maxine Benson, and Duane A. Smith, A Colorado History, Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company, 1988, 49-53.
Traveling above the snowline. From the book, Knocking Round the Rockies, by Ernest Ingersoll, 1882. Click on image for larger pop-up view.
Colonel John C. Fremont's Fourth Expedition ended in disaster in 1848. Fremont later ran for president, unsuccessfully, in 1856. Click on image for larger pop-up view of this campaign image.
Captain John Gunnison was leading a survey party to determine the best route westward for the railroad when he was killed in Utah. Video from the LexisNexis Library.