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Summer Lake and John C. Fremont

March 11, 2013

By Loren Irving

John C. Fremont named a number of locations while on what is known as his Second Exploring Expedition in 1843-1844. His mission when he left Westport, Missouri in spring of 1843 was to map and survey the Oregon Trail. Congress wanted the information published to encourage folks to come out to Oregon, primarily for the purpose of populating the area and then to claim it as part of the United States.

Summer Lake, Lake County, Oregon

Summer Lake and Winter Ridge, Lake County, Oregon

When Fremont arrived at The Dalles in November of 1843, he considered his mission complete, then decided to head south instead of wintering in there.

After going south on a route most likely approximating the Klamath Trail, he turned east in order to get the expedition out of the mountains and pine forest. His journal mentions the lack of grass and forage for the 104 horses and mules and some cattle he was trailing along for food. When he left the Sycan Marsh (located in what is now western Lake County, Oregon) he was on a foot or two of snow, which got deeper as the party ascended the back side of what is now called Winter Ridge.

The party had no idea that they would soon come to the edge of an escarpment from which they could look down some 3,000 feet and see a lake with no snow and was surrounded in places with green grass at about noon on December 16, 1843. Fremont had been advised of this lake already by local Native Americans.

Here is an excerpt from Fremont’s Journal entry for Dec. 16, 1843:

At our feet–more than a thousand feet below–we looked into a green prairie country, in which a beautiful lake, some twenty miles in length, was spread along the foot of the mountains, its shores bordered with green grass. Just then the sun broke out among the clouds, and illuminated the country below; while around us the storm raged fiercely. Not a particle of ice was to be seen on the lake, or snow on its borders, and all was like summer or spring. The glow of the sun in the valley below brightened up our hearts with sudden pleasure; and we made the woods ring with joyful shouts to those behind; and gradually, as each came up, he stopped to enjoy the unexpected scene. Shivering on snow three feet deep, and stiffening in a cold north wind, we exclaimed at once that the names of Summer Lake and Winter Ridge should be applied to these two proximate places of such sudden and violent contrast.

In a rare error in estimating, Fremont misses the actual distance in elevation substantially. As noted above, he thought it was 1,000 feet but it is more like 3,000 feet. The approximate location of the camp of Dec. 16, 1843 is where the Summer Lake Lodge is now located.

Loren Irving is currently the Vice Chair for the Oregon Historic Trails Advisory Council.

Interested in reading more of Fremont’s journal? Check it out on Google Books.

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