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George Karl (Charles) Ludwig Preuss:
Frémont's cartographer.


"By Gad, sir, you are a character." Casper Gutman to Sam Spade, Maltese Falcon, 1929.

Charles Preuss was a character. And he knew it:
"To be sure, I believe I should change my attitude and make myself more agreeable here in the distant prairie."
Charles Preuss, his diary. August 11, 1842.

Born in Höhscheid in 1803. After studying the science of geodesy, he became a surveyor for the Prussian government. After moving to the United States in 1834 with his wife and children, he worked for the Coast Survey under Ferdinand Hassler. In 1838, when funds for the survey were curtailed, Preuss found himself out of a job and unable to feed his family.
Hassler recommended him to Frémont, a young second lieutenant about to start out on an exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains.
Frémont hired him to reduce astronomical observations from the 1839 Nicollet survey. This work, Preuss could not do, but Frémont did the work for him to keep him employed until the start of the first Frémont expedition.

Preuss was an important member of Frémont's expeditions of 1842, 1843-44, and 1848. He kept a daily map of the route which was used later to produce the details of the maps--filling in between Frémont's astronomically determined positions. A fine artist, Preuss also made the drawings from which the illustrative plates were engraved that accompanied the published reports, and he produced the maps of 1843, 1845, and 1848. The most western portion of the 1848 map is shown below. The Frémont/Preuss maps of the period 1843 to 1848 were the basis for all western maps of the following two decades.

Did Charles Preuss make use of the camera obscura?

After 3 years of adventuring, Preuss did not accompany the 3rd Expedition. In Washington, making preparations for his 3rd Expedition, Frémont recorded that:

To Mr Preuss had been assigned the congenial labor of making up the maps [from 1843-44]. He was now owner of a comfortable home of his own; a good house near the Arsenal, which the locality brought within his means. The large front room he converted into his working-room, where he had space and a good light, and there was a lookout over the river, and a long bit of grassed ground where Preuss made an arbor and where he smoked his pipe as he watched his child playing and the cow grazing.

The 9" X 24" fold-out from the 1845 report showing the 1844 route of the winter crossing of the Sierra Nevada. It begins on the East Fork of the Carson River near Markleeville, CA (right side), and ends at Sutter's Fort at New Helvetia (Sacramento) near the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers

"There was a mass of astronomical and other observations to be calculated and discussed before a beginning on [a map] could be made. Indeed, the making of such a map is an interesting process. It must be exact. First, the foundations must be laid in observations made in the field; then the [mathematical] reductions of these observations to latitude and longitude; afterward the projection of the map, and the laying down of positions fixed by the observation; then the tracings from the sketch-books of the lines of the rivers, the forms of the lakes, the contours of the hills. Specially, it is interesting to those who have laid in the field these foundations, to see them all brought into final shape--fixing on a small sheet the results of laborious travel over waste regions, and giving to them an enduring place on the world's surface." Frémont

The 1845 Frémont / Preuss map:

"was the first of a series of scientific mapping of the western country and a landmark in the progress of geographical knowledge." Goetzmann,William H., Army Exploration in the American West 1803-1863, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1959.

The 1845 Frémont / Preuss map "changed the entire picture of the West, and made a lasting contribution to cartography." Carl I. Wheat., Mapping the Transmississippi West, San Francisco, 1958-63.

See a larger image of the 1848 Frémont-Preuss map at right.

See a larger image of the 1845 Frémont-Preuss map

One of the sections of the Frémont / Preuss Oregon Trail map

Preuss also left a diary made on these expeditions. It was not discovered (in Germany) until 1954:
Preuss, Charles, Exploring With Frémont, Translated by Erwin G. and Elisabeth K., Gudde, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1958. It is a wonderful read, but Preuss was a character, and it should be read in parallel with Frémont's Reports, and Kit Carson's autobiography.

Frémont and Preuss map; The Great Basin examined.

©1999, 2007
Bob Graham