Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, may revise John C. Frémont exhibit after my criticisms

John C. Frémont

John C. Frémont

An official of the Nevada State Museum says a traveling exhibit now in Las Vegas about the life of 19th century military adventurer and politician John C. Frémont might be revised to add negative material that I complained had been left out, like his war-criminal slaughter of Latino civilians and Indians in the run-up to the Mexican War.

Eugene M. Hattori, curator of anthropology at the museum, which has facilities in Las Vegas and Carson City, acknowledged there were significant omissions in the chronology presented at the exhibit of Frémont and that he was open to fixing that. Hattori spoke during a back-and-forth interview with me moderated by Joe Schoenmann aired today on “KNPR’s State of Nevada,” a weekday public affairs show on Las Vegas public radio station KNPR.

That interview can be heard by clicking here and in the next window clicking on the word “LISTEN.”

In a New To Las Vegas post and update earlier this month about the exhibit, entitled “Finding Frémont,” I wrote that so much bad stuff about his life had been left out that the exhibit should be renamed “Whitewashing Frémont.” I wrote then:

I saw no mention of his massacre of Indians, no mention of his massacre of Latinos, no mention of his being a tax cheat, no mention of his using inside information to get a lucrative land grant and fiddle with its boundaries, little mention of his poor military skills, little mention of his dreadful political skills, no mention of his role as an absentee lawmaker and office-holder, and no mention of his peddling worthless bonds or conviction and prison sentence for fraud.

In general, Hattori agreed, although he said the focus of the exhibit was on Frémont’s activities within Nevada. He called the missing material “more an oversight than an intentional omission.” While it is true the gaps I complained about occurred outside Nevada–the Indians were slaughtered in Oregon and the Latino civilians in California, for example–the timeline of his career presented at the exhibit, which occupies the length of one wall, covers his entire life. Besides mapping the West, for which he first became famous, Frémont (1813-1890) was the Republican Party’s first presidential candidate in 1856 and later a territorial governor of Arizona.

Extremely complicit with Frémont in the killings was his more-famous-today sidekick, Kit Carson. At one point during the 18-minute-long interview segment, I pointed out that I now live in a state where “the state capital [Carson City] is named for a massacre guy, too.”

“Finding Frémont” is scheduled to be in Las Vegas for a year. I took pictures of all the original exhibit text and will swing back at some point to see if anything has been, uh, updated.

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Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, may revise John C. Frémont exhibit after my criticisms — 2 Comments

  1. As always, an insightful and informed commentary. JC Fremont does indeed receive more credit than is his due, and far less objective criticism than he should. In the recent History Channel episode on Frontiersman Fremont received the lion share of credit for California declaring its independence from Mexico, after 27 years of ineffective or absent administration from Mexico City. It was unfortunate, at the very least, that the Hispanic Californios who were more intrinsically involved in the independence movement than Fremont were ignored.

    By-the-way, I enjoyed reading Offside. This book explains the housing/loan collapse of the past decade far better than anything I’ve read.

    • Historical amnesia is a big problem in the West. It is full of self-proclaimed “rugged individualists” who wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without massive help from the East (i.e. the Federal Government) like military support to get rid of Indians, money to irrigate land and build dams, etc. Thanks for the kind words about Offside: A Mystery.

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