Fremont County, Colorado, home to the Royal Gorge Region, was named after John C. Fremont. But, who was he anyway?

John C. Fremont, “The Pathfinder,” was an early explorer, a U.S. senator, and a presidential candidate. Generally speaking, he was a hero people liked, having illustrated the then unknown western landscape through reports printed in newspapers across the country.

Cool Fact: In 1856 Fremont was the anti-slavery Republican Party’s first candidate for president who lost to Democrat James Buchanan.

Fremont led five major expeditions into the American West in the early and mid-1840s. These expeditions took him along the Oregon Trail, the Arkansas River, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Salt Lake, California, and elsewhere. His writings about the natural science of the areas he explored, the maps he drew, and the colorful anecdotes he offered about being an explorer gained him instant celebrity status. He was a conqueror wielding not a sword but a compass and a transit

Fremont’s Fourth Expedition out West.

Why does Fremont County, Colorado bear The Pathfinder’s name? Because on his fourth expedition, he passed through the region.

In 1848, Fremont secured private funding to look for a railroad route along the 38th parallel that would connect St. Louis to San Francisco. In October of that same year, Fremont embarked with 35 men up the Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas rivers to explore the terrain.

Cool Fact: After his final expedition, Fremont settled in the Mariposa area in central California and was caught up in the Gold Rush. California became a state in 1850, and Fremont served in the U.S. Senate for about a year.

When his party reached Bent’s Fort near La Junta, Colorado, he was strongly advised by most of the trappers against continuing the journey because of the foot of snow already on the ground. The winter in the mountains, they promised, would be especially harsh. Fremont, however, wanted to demonstrate that a 38th parallel railroad would be practical year-round, so he hired new guides willing to make the journey and pressed on.

Fremont reached Florence, Colorado in November, and had he followed the Arkansas River north he might have succeeded in his mission. But he turned south instead, crossing the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range via Mosca Pass where he and his crew experienced days of bitter cold, blinding snow, and difficult travel. From here on, Fremont would lose most of his men and animals, and it wasn’t until the end of December that he decided to regroup and resupply in Taos.