Category Archives: The Conquest of California

Pilot Peak, Kit Carson, the Donner Party and Conquering California

I recently drove down to Area 51 in Nevada to film with the SyFy channel on a show called Ancient Artifacts. On the way back, I took I-80 out of Salt Lake City heading west.  Once you cross into Nevada on 80, you can see a mountain towering by itself to the north.  I took this photo from the off-ramp.

This is Pilot Peak, named by John Fremont after Kit Carson scouted it for him during their 1845 expedition west. This expedition forms a good part of my upcoming title, Duty, Honor, Country, coming 12 April, as one of my fictional character, Elijah Cord, is assigned to accompany the expedition to keep tabs on Fremont.

Kit Carson was already a legend in the west by the time of this expedition as a scout and modern Fort Carson in Colorado is named for him, where, by the way, my old unit, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) is now stationed.

Pilot Peak was important to early travelers because the most infamous part of the California Trail was just prior to it: the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake Desert.  Carson found springs at the base of Pilot Peak and this was a lifesaver for many an emigrant party.

Fremont named Pilot Peak and as you can see, it’s easily spotted.  The Donner party ended up having to divert to the springs at Pilot Peak during their trek, and this extra time might have cost many of them their lives later on when they tried to cross the Sierra Nevadas and were trapped by a blizzard.  Back then, making ten miles a day was considered good time.  Think about that next time you zip along at 70 miles an hour on the Interstate.

Fremont’s 1845 expedition ended in California, during the Mexican War, where he led the United States forces against the Mexicans there and ended up bringing California into the United States, history many aren’t aware of. There was also an execution of three unarmed Mexicans outside of San Francisco, which is a scene in Duty, Honor, Country and has ramifications in my story into the Civil War when Fremont was commander in the west for the Union and Ulysses S. Grant was a brand new one-star general looking for a command.  And thus history can turn on the smallest or the largest of events.

A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.

Tomorrow: Thomas Jefferson founded the United States Military Academy although he disliked the military


Duty, Honor, Country

12 April 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.  The official start, when Fort Sumter was fired upon.  It ‘s also the date my first book on the Civil War:  DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY, will be published.

However, the seeds of the Civil War were planted well before 12 April 1861, with the founding of the country.  Our story, though, starts in 1840, in Benny Havens tavern, just outside post limits of the United States Military Academy.  With William Tecumseh Sherman, a classmate, a plebe, and Benny Havens’ daughter coming together in a crucible of honor and loyalty.   And on post, in the West Point stables, where Ulysses S. Grant and a classmate are preparing to saddle the Hell-Beast, a horse with which Grant would eventually set an academy record, and both make fateful decisions that will change the course of their lives and history.

The key to this series is a simple fact I had to memorize as a plebe at West Point:

Who commanded the major battles of the Civil War? —— There were 60 important battles of the War. In 55 of them, graduates commanded on both sides; in the remaining 5, a graduate commanded one of the opposing sides.

That struck me as utterly fascinating and disturbing on a core level.  After all, how did men who went to the same Academy, who swore the same oath of allegiance, end up fighting each other?  In addition, it made me wonder if perhaps the war lasted so long and was the bloodiest in our history until World War II, because the leaders on both sides had all been trained in the same place?

So I decided to take a handful of fictional character and insert them into history, to rub elbows with those who would become great and those who would become infamous.  And have them live through events, both epic and personal.

The story ranges from West Point; to a plantation in Natchez, the richest city in the United States where cotton was king; to the only mutiny in the United States Navy; to St.  Louis where Kit Carson is preparing to depart on a famous expedition to the west with Fremont that would eventually bring California into the Union; to Mexico, where the United States Army suffered its highest casualty rate to this day and brought most of the western United States into the Union; to the founding of the Naval Academy; to John Brown’s hanging; to the firing on Fort Sumter; through First Bull  Run; the first battle of ironclads, the Monitor and Virginia; and culminating in the epic battle of Shiloh, where the United States had more casualties in one battle than in all previous wars combined and the face of warfare changed forever.

And that’s leaving out many more events that arc the story.  My handful of fictional characters are swept up by the tide of history and their factual contemporaries, and sometimes are more than swept up as they are the significant unknowns, the people who changed history but weren’t recorded by it.

This is history told both epic and personal so we can understand intellectually what happened, but more importantly feel the heart-wrenching struggle of duty, honor, country and loyalty coming into collision.

This first book will be followed by more books, taking our characters through the Civil War and beyond, into the Plains Wars and further.

As they say at West Point:  Much of the history we teach, was made by people we taught.

Coming 12 April 2011.

I hope you enjoy!

Bob Mayer

USMA ‘81

Infantry and U.S. Special Forces

PS:  If you want to read my latest novel, about a modern day West Point graduate, coming out of a covert unit and serving as a Federal liaison to a local police department who gets involved in a murder and counter-terrorist operation, check out Chasing The Ghost in eBook (only. 99) or print.

And, coming on the 4th of July, 185 years to the date after his death, The Jefferson Allegiance, a modern thriller where the pieces of the Jefferson Cipher must be found to found and put together to uncover the the Jefferson Allegiance, a document from the Founding Fathers, that in the wrong hands, could destroy the country.