John C. Fremont medal, issued December 1913 by the Circle of Friends of the Medallion. No. 9 in a series of 12 issued between 1909 and 1915. Bronze, oval, 3 inches (75mm) wide by 2¼ inches (57mm) high. Front: Bust of Fremont with the words, Pathfinder / Scientist / Soldier at left and the sculptor's monogram at right. Back: Allegorical figure of a winged Victory seated on a pedestal above the California bear flag with ships to either side and agricultural products below.
The Circle of Friends medals comprised America's first medallic art series. The Circle of Friends came together in about 1908 — at a time when Theodore Roosevelt was overhauling the nation's coinage to make it more artistic — at the behest of New York Times art critic Charles DeKay and Robert Hewitt Jr., a wealthy Manhattan real estate investor and numismatist. The first two and final (12th) medals were struck by brothers Felix and Henri Weil, who would found the Medallic Art Co.; the rest, including the Fremont medal, were struck by rival Joseph K. Davison & Sons of Philadelphia. Among the sculptors in the series were Victor D. Brenner, designer of the Lincoln Cent (1909) and John Flanagan, designer of the Washington quarter (1932). Most of the other medals were round.
The medals weren't offered for sale; rather, they were distributed in tan cloth books to dues-paying members of the Circle of Friends, whose roster included the likes of Alexander Graham Bell and J.P. Morgan. "From published membership lists it can be surmised that no more than 500 of any of medals were issued," according to specialist D. Wayne Johnson.
The sculptor of the Fremont medal was René Théophile de Quélin (1854-1932), who was born in Brittany, France, and came to the United States in 1881. He studied with Augustus St. Gaudens (designer of the 1907 U.S. $20 gold coin) and with artist John La Farge. He lived in Los Angeles from 1907-1910 and went to Japan where he won the Imperial gold medal for watercolor before returning to New York. He achieved his greatest notoriety for his work in stained glass; for 10 years he was the head artist for Louis Comfort Tiffany, and he lectured at the Carnegie Institute until his death.
The text in the cloth-bound book that held the Fremont medal was written by Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh (1853–1935), himself an explorer of the American West who at age 19 was a member of the expedition that discovered America's last unknown river, the Escalante, a tributary of the Colorado. An artist and topographer who has a mount named for him in Arizona, Dellenbaugh wrote extensively about Fremont and related subjects such as E.F. Beale's camel experiment.
About John C. Fremont:
The name John Charles Frémont (Fremont) is synonymous with President James K. Polk's policy of "Manifest Destiny" — the westward expansion of the United States in the 1840s.
Born Jan. 21, 1813 in Savannah, Ga., Fremont studied excelled in math at Charleston (S.C.) College but was expelled in 1831 for bad attendance. He joined the U.S. Navy and taught math on a warship before joining the U.S. Topographical Corps (later renamed the Army Corps of Engineers) as an explorer in about 1838. A skilled surveyor who could draw accurate maps useful for push west, Frémont was heading his own expeditions by 1841, surveying the Missouri River, the Oregon Trail and the Sierra Nevada. In that same year (1841) Frémont married Jessie Benton, the 17-year-old daughter of Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, the architect of the Manifest Destiny movement. Frémont, whom the press would dub "The Pathfinder" (even though
Kit Carson did most of the "path finding" for him), led three major expeditions to the Far West — in 1842, 1843-44 and 1845-47.
War broke out between the U.S. and Mexico in 1846 and Frémont, with knowledge of the territory, was sent to California. Frémont led much of the Bear Flag Revolt at Sutter's Fort in the Sacramento Valley while Mexican Gen. Andrés Pico was fighting — and defeating — U.S. Gen. Stephen Kearny at the Battle of San Pasqual near San Diego.
On Jan. 9, 1847, Frémont and his 100-man "buckskin battalion" arrived at Castaic Junction from the north, on their way to meeting Pico, and probably stopped overnight at the Del Valle ranch home. The following night, the troops camped at the Newhall Pass, somewhere in the vicinity of today's Eternal Valley Cemetery (according to Perkins, at the intersection of Highway 6 and San Fernando Road, now known as Sierra Highway and Newhall Avenue). The next morning Frémont and his company departed on foot, crossing the San Gabriels through Frémont Pass (later confused with Beale's Cut, which was about a quarter-mile to the west) as they marched on to face Pico in the San Fernando Valley.
It was a bloodless victory. Pico handed over his sword to Frémont in what is known as the Capitulation of Cahuenga.
General peace came a year later, on Feb. 2, 1848. Following the war, which added California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to the Union, Frémont led another expedition in 1848-49, was court-martialed for mutiny and retired to his ranch in Mariposa, Calif., where he found gold and got rich. Voted into the U.S. Senate in California's first election following statehood in 1850, Frémont served a two-year term and became the Republican Party's first presidential candidate in 1856, running on an anti-slavery platform.
Frémont was appointed Major General in the (regular) U.S. Army in 1861 and commanded the Western Department of the Union Army during the Civil War, but President Abraham Lincoln relieved him of his duties after Frémont issued an emancipation proclamation freeing slaves in Missouri — prior to Lincoln's own Emancipation Proclamation.
Frémont lost the fortune he had made in California gold when he dabbled in railroad investments after the Civil War. He got a job as Territorial Governor of Arizona, a post he held from 1878-83. In 1887 he returned to his Mariposa ranch and lived just long enough to see the U.S. Army restore his rank of Major General. He died July 13, 1890 in New York City.