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Solomon Nunes Carvalho (1815-1897), a Sephardic Jew born in Charleston, South Carolina, signed up on this date in 1853 to serve as artist and daguerrotypist for John C. Fremont, aka the “Pathfinder,” in his fifth and final expedition through the Rocky Mountains in search of a westward railroad route to California. Carvalho, who had daguerrotype studios in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston, traveled with Fremont and twenty-one others (including, Carvalho wrote, “10 Delaware chiefs; and two Mexicans”) for five months. They became stranded in the mountains in deep winter and suffered from exposure and starvation; Carvalho lost 60 pounds and was eventually nursed back to health by a Mormon family in Utah. Nearly all of his daguerrotypes, which became mixed in with Matthew Brady’s, were ultimately destroyed. His journal, published in 1856, is the only contemporary source about the journey, in which he witnessed Native American customs, including warfare, chased buffalo herds, and had one astounding experience after the other. For a full account of the adventure, including extensive excerpts from Carvalho’s journal, click here. Fremont, of course, would go on to become the first presidential candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party, losing to James Buchanan in 1856.
“Imagine twenty odd men, 600 miles from the frontiers, at the commencement of a severe winter, deprived of their animals, on an open prairie, surrounded by Comanches, Pawnees and other tribes of hostile Indians. I am fully convinced that but for the ‘watchfulness’ of Col. Fremont, we should have been placed in this awkward predicament.” —Solomon Nunes Carvalho