John C. Frémont was the most celebrated explorer of his era. In
1842, on the first of five expeditions he would lead to the Far
West, Frémont 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 Frémont'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 Frémont 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, Frémont'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.