Westward with Fremont: The Story of Solomon Carvalho

Westward with Fremont: The Story of Solomon Carvalho

by Sophie Greenspan


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In 1853, Solomon Nunes Carvalho, proud descendant of a Sephardic Jewish family, accepted the invitation of Col. John Charles Fremont to accompany him on his fifth expedition of discovery through the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. As the photographer and artist of the Fremont expedition, Carvalho provided the visual proof that the northern route through the Rockies could be used for the railroad that was being planned to link East and West. Fremont required this evidence to foil those who favored a route through the southern slaveholding states. 

Carvalho performed exceedingly well under extreme stress and danger. His photographs document the scenery and the Indian tribes that lived in the area between modern Kansas and Utah. His interest in science helped the colonel in recording the topography of the region and its meteorology. The paths of Carvalho and Fremont crossed again when the latter became the first Republican candidate for the presidency. To help the colonel, Carvalho published a book with an account of the expedition that ultimately became a best seller. 

Carvalho retained the pioneering instinct for the rest of his life, even in his later business career. He remains an honored figure in the history of the United States, typifying those who have served both the country at large and the Jewish community. 

Westward with Fremont tells the exciting story of one of the great legendary figures in American Jewish history. 


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780827613133
Publisher: The Jewish Publication Society
Publication date: 09/01/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 1,260,000
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range: 8 - 10 Years

About the Author

Sophie Greenspan (1906–90) was national president of the Junior Hadassah of Canada before she moved by herself to Palestine in 1938. In Israel she did secretarial work for David Ben Gurion and Beryl Katzenelson, and she was the first English-language broadcaster for the underground Voice of Israel. Greenspan, her husband, and their two children eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1948, where she worked as a teacher and principal for Jewish day schools. She is also the author of Masada Will Not Fall Again.

Read an Excerpt


Invitation to Adventure

"I give you my solemn word, sir. You may expect me at St. Louis on the fourteenth day of September."

Solomon Carvalho could scarcely believe that the words sounding in his ears were his own. Perhaps it was some sort of madness. In the course of half an hour he had left the world of reality and had entered a world known to him only in his most romantic dreams. One half hour with the magnificent man before him had changed him from an ordinary citizen of Baltimore into a man of action — a builder of the United States of America. In this rosy dream, Solomon saw his businessman's suit change into a frontiersman's leather jerkin and his prosaic hat become a fur cap.

This was the new Solomon Carvalho, member-to-be of Fremont's party of exploration, encountering his destiny as empire builder. The dreamer became a doer, with a mountain staff in one hand and a camera in the other, striding over the lofty Rocky Mountains, following John Charles Fremont, pathfinder of trails, over the continent as far as the great Pacific Ocean.

All this was for the future. Solomon carne back to the present with a jolt. What would his wife, Sarah, say when he told her of his decision? And what of his young children?

But Colonel Fremont was talking again.

"Mr. Carvalho, you have shown complete understanding of the purpose of this expedition. You can do so much for it. As I have pointed out, you will be the first photographer who has ever gone on a journey of exploration of any kind. Your pictures will prove to the world in general, and to Jefferson Davis in particular, that the route for the new railroad should be the one that my fourth expedition has already used. The 38th parallel of latitude is the route the American people must use for opening up the new West."

Shaking his head impatiently, the Colonel continued: "It would be a tragedy for the American people if the railroad were built through Texas simply because Congress wished to win favor with that state and other slave-holding states."

Solomon silently applauded his words. Fremont was a leader who knew how to appeal to the fighting instinct of a man. He had thrown out a challenge. Here was a good cause to fight for — for a free America against the forces of slavery, the burning issue of the times.

"Fight" was the correct word, because the journey would be a fight against nature itself. It would be a tough march over hard country where white men had scarcely trod before. They would experience severe weather and cold as bitter as that of the arctic regions. It was not to be a trip in covered wagons over roads already marked out. There would only be the faintest trace of a trail. The Colonel explained frankly that he had deliberately chosen the winter season for his trip as this would prove to all that the route over the 38th parallel could serve as an all-weather road for the railway then being planned to link the two oceans.

Solomon rose to leave. The Colonel stood up too. The guest was surprised. He had thought that this heroic man would tower over him. Instead, he was able to look directly into his eyes. They were both of the same height and build. Power, then, does not lie in superior stature. Solomon felt more sure than ever that he could and would be at St. Louis on the fourteenth day of September.

He hastened to say good-bye to the man who had changed the course and quality of his life. He hurried because he felt that every minute counted in the preparation. Between the twenty-second of August, the day of his meeting with the Pathmaker, and the day of their rendezvous in St. Louis only three weeks remained, and he was determined to get ready with no loss of time.

Mrs. Jessie Benton Fremont saw him to the door and shook hands with him on leaving. Hurrying down C Street he thought of the Colonel's lady. What a study she would make for a daguerreotype! With her wide eyes and her classic nose and strong chin, her dark hair parted in the middle and her simple dress of a violet-colored muslin with the one white flower at her belt, she was fit to grace the White House. She looked like a lady. But more than that — she showed courage.

What other woman would have allowed her husband to spend half his married life away from her on his trips into the Far West? Would Sarah be ready to do the same? It would only be for a year or less and it would be the chance of a lifetime. Solomon began to line up the arguments he would use to plead his case.

He stepped into the stagecoach which would return him to the city of Baltimore. He was determined that this chance for fame would be worth fighting for, even if his wife offered some resistance.


A Way for the Lord

"Nachamu, nachamu, ami."

"'Be comforted, be comforted, my people,' said the Lord."

The voice of Solomon Nunes Carvalho rang out confidently from the reader's desk of the Har Sinai Synagogue. The congregation settled back in their oaken pews, prepared to enjoy the Sabbath portion. With his knowledge of Hebrew and his tuneful voice, Solomon was well equipped to chant the words of the Prophet Isaiah.

Mr. Carvalho often assumed this task, substituting for the Cantor. But today the place of honor had been given to him in special recognition. For he was now a national figure whose name had appeared in the newspapers of America. As a member of the congregation, Solomon had brought fame to the Jews of Baltimore and honor to Jews everywhere. The name of Solomon Nunes Carvalho would be on the lips of every red-blooded American and especially if that American was of the Jewish faith. Before the week was over, Carvalho would set forth to cut his way through the width of an immense continent. He would be making history as a member of the expedition led by Colonel John Charles Fremont. Much time would elapse before this congregation of the people of Baltimore would again enjoy Solomon's presence at Sabbath service.

The Cantor settled himself in his seat behind the reader, listening to the message of the Prophet. This week had seen the observance of the Ninth Day of Av in the Jewish calendar, the tragic day on which the Temple in Jerusalem had twice been destroyed. True to the Jewish tradition never to lose hope, the Prophet speaks out, bringing a promise in the name of the Lord of better times in the future of the Jewish people.

The sun broke through the low morning clouds and brought a cheerful light through the windows of the somber synagogue. The beautiful words of the Prophet continued. To the listeners the words seemed symbolic of the journey that lay before the company of adventurers:

"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: 'Prepare a way for the Lord; make straight through the desert a highway for the Lord; every valley shall be raised and every mountain shall be leveled.'"

Imagination visualized those mountains and deserts. Fantastic as it might seem, Carvalho would have to traverse them. To say that the mountains were two or three miles high was no exaggeration. Pike's Peak, for instance, was known to be close to fifteen thousand feet high — and it was not the highest elevation in the tremendous range which ran like a spine down the length of the continent. Like an immense fence, the Rocky Mountains stood there, a tremendous barrier preventing the crossing to the Pacific Ocean.

And as for the deserts, one of them was called Death Valley — and with good reason.

For weeks the newspapers had been full of the accounts of the four previous journeys of Colonel Fremont. They seemed like adventure stories which could exist only in the imagination of a writer of fiction. Often the accounts of danger made the readers shudder in fright.

What a coincidence that the Bible portion of the week told about it so certainly! It was like a prophecy of things to come. The words of the Prophet Isaiah rose from the lectern and seemed as fresh and real as the day they had been spoken twenty-five hundred years before.

In the women's gallery, Mrs. Carvalho sat with folded hands, her eyes down-bent on her Bible. The text was familiar to her; she had spent considerable time teaching the religion of her people to the youth of Baltimore. The words flowing through her eyes and ears gave her strength.

She raised her eyes and looked down, first at her little son, David, sitting downstairs with the men in his father's seat, and then at her husband. At thirty-eight, Solomon was no longer a young man, but he certainly looked fit and healthy as he stood at the altar. Each month he had gone with his rifle company on hikes and so he was accustomed to the outdoors. But could he withstand the trials of a difficult journey? She remembered reading in the newspapers how even the Colonel, a man accustomed to the rigors of outdoor life, was to that day suffering and ill as a result of the cold and discomforts of his mountain journeys.

What makes a man go out into danger, knowing full well that the odds are against him? What makes him continue on in such an existence, where life often hangs by a thread?

And Mrs. Carvalho wondered about Jessie Fremont.

"Will she be in church praying that the God of all men take care of her husband, too?"

Mrs. Carvalho stopped her straying thoughts. Solomon stood in the pulpit — handsome and dark — almost like the Prophet Isaiah himself. Colonel Fremont, she was told, was dark and handsome like her husband. His straight nose and strong, determined chin resembled those of her Solomon. Both were men of action, although their eyes had the dreamy look of men of vision. Each would drive himself to struggle against odds to fulfill his purpose.

Mrs. Carvalho sighed. She was proud of her husband. Until this time, his life had been unexciting, taken up with his business and with the Jewish community in which he lived. She had been surprised and shocked when he told her of his promise to the Colonel. But how could she stand in his way when he seemed so determined?

The reading of the Law over, Solomon invoked the blessing in a firm tone. Then he joined in the traditional procession which returned the Scroll to the Ark. He resumed his seat near his son, just behind the oak railing.

Rabbi Moritz Brown mounted the pulpit and concluded the Sabbath morning prayers. He recited the Adoration prayer and the new prayer for the welfare of the American government and its president. He raised his arms in the priestly blessing.

Following the services, the congregants clustered around the table in the social hall for the blessings over the wine and bread. Then they sat down in groups at the tables decked with white tablecloths for the Sabbath, to enjoy a leisurely visit with their Jewish neighbors.


Farewell to Friends

Baltimore, with its fifteen hundred Jews, was the second largest Jewish community in the United States. It had no less than three synagogues, because the Jewish population was spread along the Patapsco River of the Chesapeake Bay. From the synagogue on Bolton Street, some of them would have to walk at least one mile to get to their homes. Saturday was an opportunity to visit with friends from all over the far-flung city and to enjoy the companionship of people of their own religion. This pleasure would not come again until the following Sabbath.

On this day in 1853, the topic of conversation between friends ordinarily might have been the problem facing all Americans at this time. Slavery was dividing the nation and it was plain to see that the question was increasing in seriousness.

Today, however, the conversation turned immediately to the startling news about Carvalho. The hall was filled with eager voices. Suddenly in one of the lulls which come in any gathering, everyone heard:

"But in the dead of winter!"

It was the voice of Rosa Abulafia — not any louder than usual — which carried over to the other side of the social room for all to hear. After she had made the remark, Rosa realized the stillness. She looked around and blushed. Rosa was shy. Of a very pious nature, she was gentle from the tips of her Sabbath gloves to the little feathered red hat which she wore on her white hair. Rosa blushed again, redder than before.

She remained silent, wishing that she were somewhere else or that she could say something clever to take away from the awkward thing she had just said. The little music teacher sat as still as when she had had her daguerreotype taken. Just so had she sat in her Empire dress of gray with its high waist and puffed sleeves. Solomon Carvalho smiled and crossed to Rosa. She smiled timidly as she raised her eyes to him.

"That's just why," he said. "That's why, Miss Rosa. The Colonel is anxious to prove that these Rocky Mountains can be crossed. ..."

He stopped and quickly changed the words he was about to use.

"The Colonel is anxious to prove to everyone that these Rocky Mountains can be crossed even when the snow lies deepest."

David Nunes broke in.

"Well, if anyone can do it, Colonel Fremont can. This will be his ... is it his fourth trip?"

His brother corrected him.

"No, this is to be his fifth. His fourth was when he crossed over to California and afterward became its senator."

"California," sighed Rosa Abulafia, who had now recovered from her embarrassment. "Lovely ladies ... a land of sunshine and singing ... a picture of romance. Dancing ... colored skirts twirling ... black hair piled up high with brilliant combs. The clicking of heels in the Spanish fandango with the sound of castanets."

Her aged mother sighed too.

"It's not the fandango I'm thinking of. It's my rheumatism that worries me. August is not over and already I begin to dread the long Maryland winters. If it isn't the cold or the sniffles it's something more serious like pneumonia. And bringing the coal to keep the fires burning and then carrying the ashes out afterward . ..."

This time again Solomon came to the rescue. Old Mrs. Leah Abulafia was known as a constant complainer. Some of the Jewish community had given her the nickname of "the Mrs. Gummidge of Baltimore." This was because she reminded them of the character in a book by Charles Dickens, the English writer who was being read by many Americans.

Solomon said, "I assure you I will bring you some of that old Spanish California sunshine when I return. What kind would you like? They say that the California mission wine is equal to any we buy from Spain itself."

In the laugh that broke the tension, Rosa collected her mother's cup with her own and returned them to the table. A slow walk would take them back to their brick house fronting Bolton Street.

Soon afterward, most of the Sabbath worshipers rose from their seats to return home for the Sabbath nap that would follow a leisurely meal. In their imaginations, they could smell the Sabbath stew known as chond which contained lamb and a little bit of every kind of vegetable cooked over a slow flame. Its taste and inviting smell seemed to embody the very spirit of the Sabbath itself.

Solomon stayed on with the Rabbi. His mind was excited at the thought of the impending trip.

Solomon liked to talk. He had interesting friends among men of his own profession. With these artists and photographers he would discuss the new trends in their calling. Solomon was an artist in his own right. In the social hall behind him was his picture of Moses receiving the tablets of the Law on Mt. Sinai — a picture that had gained him a prize in a national contest.

Rabbi Brown reached for a piece of honey-cake.. His lips moved in the blessing: "Blessed art Thou, King of the Universe, who hast created the various grains."

Then, having bitten into the cake, he turned to his friend and congregant.

"We will miss you, Solomon. We will miss your help in the community, and we will miss your friendship. I do want to congratulate you on your reading today."

Solomon said, "For this you can thank my father who taught me."

"Yes," replied Rabbi Brown. "When your father was judge, his knowledge of the Talmud helped him to give just verdicts. He tried to follow in the footsteps of Moses, our teacher, by giving judgments that were right and proper."

Solomon concurred. "Mother always said that twenty-four hours in the day was not enough for him. He was a great scholar and he wrote a translation of the Psalms."

Little David standing by was not interested in the Psalms.

"Didn't Grandfather fight?" he asked.

"Yes," said his father. "When he was young he fought the British and helped defend Charleston."

Rabbi Brown asked a question.

"I have been curious. How did Colonel Fremont get your name?"

Solomon laughed. "I don't know and I didn't have the time to ask him. There were so many details we had to discuss. However, I'm glad that the Colonel heard of me and sent for me. I thank my stars he didn't invite Mathew Brady or I know that Mathew would have accepted. Even though we are good friends, I am afraid that Mathew will be jealous of me."

"You have earned the invitation. You have a good reputation in your chosen work. You mustn't be so modest."

Solomon's laugh rang through the empty hall.

"You are most kind, Rabbi. There are not many people who would agree with you. I am not modest. But I do believe that as Americans we should go out and help build our magnificent country. You have always encouraged us to do so."


Excerpted from "Westward with Fremont"
by .
Copyright © 1969 The Jewish Publication Society of America.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Solomon Carvalho Joins Fremont
1.    Invitation to Adventure
2.    A Way for the Lord
3.    Farewell to Friends
4.    Packing for the Journey

Eastward from St. Louis
5.    St. Louis, September 14, 1853
6.    Preparing for the Trail
7.    Solomon Carvalho, Great Medicine Man
8.    Solomon Carvalho, M.D.
9.    The Great Divide
10.    New Year’s Day, 1854

Hardships of the Trail
11.    On Guard
12.    The Oath
13.    Lost in the Snows
14.    Licked!
15.    Put Not Your Trust in Princes
16.    Parowan
17.    Salt Lake City
18.    War or Peace?
19.    The Hatred Hornadoes

After the Adventure
20.    All Israel is Responsible for One Another
21.    The Charter
22.    Mr. Solomon Nunes Carvalho, Author
23.    Free Soil, Free Speech, and Fremont
24.    Looking Backward

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