Originally Published In The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. XVII, No. 1, March, 1916, Pages 50-51


Who Discovered the South Pass?

The Detroit Advertiser having asserted that Col. Fremont was the discoverer of the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, a correspondent of the Detroit Free Press denies the truth of statement and the editor of that journal publishes the following letter from Ramsay Crooks, Esq., of New York:


"New York, June 28, 1856.

My Dear Sir:-Just as I was about closing my letter to you of yesterday's date, I received the Detroit Free Press of the 21st inst., containing a laudation of Col. John C. Fremont taken from the Detroit Advertiser of the previous day and which (if it had been true) is not, in my humble opinion, a very important item in making up the essentials of such a man as should become President of this glorious confederacy.

I, however, presume it is intended to exhibit him as endowed with uncommon intrepidity and daring in exploring so wide a region, surrounded by savages and grizzly bears, thereby proving great firmness of character, so very desirable, but unfortunately so very rare in the head of a great nation.

But even if the Colonel had discovered the 'South Pass,' it does not show any more fitness for the exalted station he covets than the numerous beaver hunters and traders who passed and repassed through that noted place full twenty years before Col. Fremont had attained a legal right to vote, and were fully his equals in enterprise, energy, and indomitable perseverance, with this somewhat important difference, that he was backed by the United States treasury, while other explorers had to rely on their own resources.

The perils of the 'South Pass,' therefore, confer on the Colonel no greater claim to distinction than the trapper is entitled to, and his party must be pressed very hard when they had to drag in a circumstance so very unimportant as who discovered the 'South Pass.'

Although the Free Press conclusively proves that the Colonel could not be the discoverer of the 'South Pass,' the details are not accurate and in order that history (if it ever gets there) may be correctly vindicated, I will tell you how it was.

Mr. David Stuart sailed from this port in 1810 for the Columbia River on board the ship 'Tonquin' with a number of Mr. Astor's associates in the 'Pacific Fur Company,' and after the breaking up of the company in 1814, he returned through the Northwest Company's territories to Montreal, far to the north of the 'South Pass,' which he never saw.

In 1811, the overland party of Mr. Astor's expedition, under the command of Mr. Wilson P. Hunt, of Trenton, New Jersey, although numbering sixty well armed men, found the Indians so very troublesome in the country of the Yellowstone River, that the party of seven persons who left Astoria toward the end of June, 1812, considering it dangerous to pass again by the route of 1811, turned toward the southeast as soon as they had crossed the main chain of the Rocky Mountains, and, after several days' journey, came through the celebrated 'South Pass' in the month of November, 1812.

Pursuing from thence an easterly course, they fell upon the River Platte of the Missouri, where they passed the winter and reached St. Louis in April, 1813.

The seven persons forming the party were Robert McClelland of Hagerstown, who, with the celebrated Captain Wells, was captain of spies under General Wayne in his famous Indian campaign, Joseph Miller of Baltimore, for several years an officer of the U. S. army, Robert Stuart, a citizen of Detroit, Benjamin Jones, of Missouri, who acted as huntsman of the party, Francois LeClaire, a halfbreed, and Adré Valée, a Canadian voyageur, and Ramsay Crooks, who is the only survivor of this small band of adventurers.

I am very sincerely yours,

RAMSEY CROOKS.

Anthony Dudgeon, Esq., Detroit, Michigan."