John C. Fremont was the most celebrated explorer of his era. In 1842, on the first of five expeditions he would lead to the Far West, Fremont and a small party of men journeyed up the Kansas and Platte Rivers to the Wind River Range in Wyoming. At the time, virtually this entire region was known as the Great Desert, and many Americans viewed it and the Rocky Mountains beyond as natural barriers to the United States. After Congress published Fremont's official report of the expedition, however, few doubted the nation should expand to the Pacific.
The first in-depth study of this remarkable report, Sight Unseen argues that Fremont used both a radical form of art and an imaginary map to create an aesthetic desire for expansion. He not only redefined the Great Desert as a novel and complex environment, but on a summit of the Wind River Range, he envisioned the Continental Divide as a feature that would unify rather than impede a larger nation.
In addition to provoking the great migration to Oregon and providing an aesthetic justification for the National Park system, Fremont's report profoundly altered American views of geography, progress, and the need for a transcontinental railroad. By helping to shape the very notion of Manifest Destiny, the report became one of the most important documents in the history of American landscape.
Andrew Menard is an independent writer, artist, and critic. His work has appeared in the Georgia Review, Antioch Review, the New England Quarterly, Western American Literature, Journal of American Studies, and Oxford Art Journal. He is the author of Learning from Thoreau.
List of Illustrations Introduction: The Golden Meane Part 1. Picturesque America The Great Desert The Hudson Valley Eastern Kansas Courthouse Rock Yellowstone All the Different Parts of Our Country Part 2. Westward the Course of Empire The Mouth of the Oregon Westward the Course of Empire The Loftiest Peak of the Rocky Mountains The Barometric Reading The National Flag Bromus, the Humble Bee The Four Cardinal Rivers To the Pacific and Beyond Afterword: The Eye That Has Not Seen Notes Index