Sylvester Churchill & the Kearny Conspiracy

August 10th, 2015

~ Abbreviations, abbreviated history, and the personal connections in the quest for the past.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dear Donald,

This is presented in the ubiquitous ‘letters to oneself’ format (literally) or perspective (that somehow has to do with “the Donald”, but is not this Donald, but then maybe in some ways it is).

Anyway, ‘this Donald’ first attended his first school in first grade in (or at) Fremont School, a new school then, in its first year.  It was in Carson City, in 1954.  This Donald was just six.

And so it begins, or so it began.  As anyone who has ever gone to school probably already knows, school, each school year, begins with orientation.  It’s the map thing, ‘orient’ being east, orientation is figuring out where ‘you’ are.  It was teachers then who figured out where you are, where you were, where perhaps you were going.

I was going to Fremont School, Fremont Elementary School, named for (or after) John C. Frémont, short for John Charles Frémont, and the accent really is, or was, important.  In Carson City the accent was not deemed to be important, it was not taught, it was my introduction to a modified and abbreviated history.

Kit Carson on a mule at the Carson City capitol in Nevada.

The chicken and egg question in Carson City was which, or who, came first – Fremont or Carson?  For me ‘Carson’ came first, or at least I came first to Carson City, before Fremont Elementary was even ever built.  Carson, the person that the City was named after, or for, referred to ‘Kit’ Carson, the trapper, the explorer, the ‘Indian fighter’, the Scout; or so I was taught, or so I was told.  I was also told that ‘Scout’ did not mean that Kit Carson was a Boy Scout, or a Cub Scout, but was a real scout that gave, by example, the zeal and zest that scouting (Cub and Boy) really stood for, like being outdoors and always learning new things.

I guess everybody, meaning every adult of, or at, the time, knew that the only reason why Kit Carson was anywhere near Carson City was that he was in the company of Fremont (Frémont).  So, Fremont (Frémont) was in (or near) Carson City too.  The fact was that (though) nobody really seemed to know where, how close, or really exactly which route either of them, or both of them, actually took, or would take as they passed through, or passed by, Carson City or Eagle Valley or where ever ‘we’, meaning ‘they’ were back then, before there were names on things and places to orient us all.

New Spain in 1819, before Texas and after the Louisiana acquisition.

That was the point of the Frémont Expedition, to map things and to locate things on the maps.  He was a surveyor, a cartographer, an explorer of sorts.  Frémont was a botanist, a biologist, an observer of life, the ultimate outdoorsman.   He was also a husband, a hunter, a family man, a military man, an illegitimate son, a rising star, a national hero, a revolutionary, an abolitionist, and also a spy.  He was not above the occasional massacre or murder, but perhaps all that was done in the ‘national interest’, so added to the list might be ‘American sniper’.

None of the information in the preceding paragraph was imparted to me as I entered Fremont School   “Fremont was an explorer,” it was said, “he discovered the west.”  Fremont Elementary School was basically elementary, it was not complex, not comprehensive, not broad.  It did not offer a particularly broad education.  If it had been in Oregon it would have credited Lewis & Clark with ‘discovering’ the west, but then again it would have been named the Lewis and Clark School.   In Santa Fe (New Mexico) I might have been taught that Onate and Coronado discovered the west, in Taos I would have been taught that the west had always been there, the Taos and Taos Pueblo thing.

If there is one thing that I have learned in my fairly long life it is that every history is often just a matter of place and a matter of perspective.  It is very hard to do what Frémont tried to do, and that is map out everything as a cohesive whole.   There just isn’t a chart big enough, there isn’t enough paper or ink, there is never enough detail, clarity, or color.  So, enter the web.

The web is probably aptly named.  the term ‘tangled web’ would probably be redundant.  What the web really represents is the tangled, complex, diverse and divergent, often confused and discordant, reflection of history.  It is a reflection of that which makes it up: documents, editorials, writings, reminisces, reports; reports about what has ever happened, where it happened, what went right and more often what really went wrong.  And most importantly, the web is the record of people; it is after all, like life itself, a very personal thing.

Fort Churchill is Nevada’s oldest fort, it is 20 miles north and east of Carson City.  I have relatives buried there.  The fort looms rather large in close and early family history, and too, in the larger history of things.

Fort Churchill is named for (or after) Sylvester Churchill.  And Sylvester Churchill is somehow related through the far past to the other Churchill, better known, with the first name of Winston.  One strand of every web always connects with another.

Not too much is known about the life of Sylvester Churchill, that is, without a fair amount of digging.  Dig deep enough and eventually it is probably mostly, or all, there.  One thing that is not there are words about the trial; and that is strange, or not strange, depending on how one is inclined to view history and inclined to see and organize the facts.

As with any person, there were of course a lot of trials in Sylvester Churchill’s life.  He was a military man, hence his name on the fort.  Military men engage in acts of violence, are often victims of violence, often do violent and untoward things, and do so often without the benefit or use of conventional weapons.  In Churchill’s case, in the case of the rather special trial I’m referencing here, the previous statement may or may not be the case.

The ‘case’ in this case was the Court Martial of John C. Frémont, a court martial is the bringing of charges, then comes the trial.  Sylvester Churchill was a trial judge at the court martial trial of Frémont.  To be clear, he was the ranking judge on a panel of judges, or so it appears, or so it seems.  The issue of rank can be so confusing.

Actually, it was an issue of rank that led to the charges.  Stephen Watts Kearny arrived in California about the time that most all of the fighting, and squabbling, and competition and contesting for power and the control of California (Alta California back then) was virtually over.  The Russians were out, the Spanish were out, the British were out, the Mexican government had been out a very long time, and when Kearny arrived even the Californios had been pretty much defeated.  One battle, and one march more, and the war was over on the western front.  It should have been quite quiet in California.

Mexico 1838, click to enlarge.

The Mexican War, the War with Mexico, the Mexican-American War are all names that can be so misleading.  There is some truth in it (the names) of course.  Empires die slowly and names often continue after their death.  New nations, new states, arise in the old states ashes.  In California the new state was the California Republic, or the American Republic, one or the other, no one was really sure.  Think, “fog of battle.”

There was never really ‘war’ in California.  Every skirmish was really quite half-hearted.  Most strategic points and places fell, gave up, rolled over, or surrendered without a fight, or much of fight.  Alta California was not Mexico, in the east, state-side, this was never really understood.

Frémont organized the peace, he signed the agreement.  He made promises that only he could ever keep.  Kearny never understood any of this.  When Frémont became (military) governor Kearny decided he wanted to be governor too, or instead, or something or another.  It was complicated.  ‘Rank’ was said to be the issue.  In peace there became war.  It was a war between California and customs; between California practices and military customs (not orders per se).  It was a war pitting east vs. west before the discovery of gold would change both regions forever.

Frémont was very much a national hero, Kearny was famous for horses (cavalry), but otherwise almost a nobody.  Frémont was “supported” by his father-in-law Senator Benton, a very big man of the time, Manifest Destiny and all, more of an effort to take a continent than just California.  The quote has a meaning.  It was complicated then, it’s still complicated now.

After several changes of venue, and after a fair amount of delay, proceedings began in November in Washington City, in the District of Columbia, at a location so very different then than it is now.  Schools change.  The lessons learned then are not necessarily the lessons learned now.

The evidence then, and the evidence now, remains now, as it was then, muddled.  If I lived on Kearny Mesa I might see it all differently.  I don’t, so I don’t.  I’ll stay true to my school.  The Kearny conspiracy was an injustice, a counter-revolution, a deep thorn in the side of very carefully made plans.  The fate of nations were at stake, even the world.  How much of the truth can ever be uncovered and told is still rather unknown.  But I’m working on it.  I’m mapping it.  Like Frémont, I’m researching and exploring all the possibilities.

Sincerely yours,

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