It was a complicated relationship—father and son, filled with so many expectations and disappointments.
Louren Upson, prominent editor of the Sacramento Daily Union, did not approve of the rudderless direction his son’s life had taken or the company he kept. Nineteen-year-old Warren Fremont Upson had taken up with rowdies and troublemakers from Sutter’s Fort, riding through the countryside and shooting off guns at all hours of the night, annoying the neighbors.
The boy didn’t seem interested in following in his father’s footsteps: studying law and preparing for a career in politics. He had a head full of adventure and was more interested in horsemanship than a place in society.
So, when the senior Upson tried to rein in his wayward son, Warren took off for the alpine country to learn all he could from the Northern Sierra Miwok. It was almost a year before the boy would return, bedecked in knee-high riding boots and buckskins. Warren informed his mother that he intended to ride for the Pony Express. A family argument ensued, and Louren put his foot down.
The esteemed Mr. Upson was a man of considerable political influence. And yet, he found his dictates at home were severely challenged. It was the lady of the house, Selina Upson, who had the last word on the matter.
Warren deliberately disobeyed his father and applied for the job, Louren barely spoke to his son after that.
The Daily Union broke the news in early March 1860 that Warren was selected out of two-hundred applicants received by William W. Finney at the Central Overland Pony Express Company. Warren stood out from the rest due to his extraordinary abilities handling a mustang pony and for his superior knowledge of the trails in the high Sierras—paths only the Miwok knew. In less than two weeks, Warren would ride the second leg of the inaugural journey of the Pony Express.
At the Alta California Telegraph Office, Louren Upson stood over the reporter receiving dispatches—it was Warren’s big day. Initial news consisted of only arrival times at the relay stations. He learned that on April 3rd at Friday’s Station, his son turned over seventy letters to the next Pony Express rider, eight hours after he departed.
Later, Louren found out just how harrowing his son’s ride had been. Warren carried the mail fifty-five miles over the big hump of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in a howling snowstorm—a trek that few men could have survived. The station keeper at Strawberry recounted how he urged Warren to wait out the blinding storm, arguing it was too dangerous to continue. The young rider doggedly trudged on, crossing the freezing rivers, negotiating thirty-foot drifts, and leading his horse up a mountain rock face. The mule driver, who drove his animals back and forth to keep the pass open, told how Warren slithered down an icy gorge to get around a snow blockade.
We don’t know if Louren Upson ever congratulated his son for the heroic ride. But, there is a record of Warren’s ride published in the April 5th Daily Union.
As fate would have it, the father and son would soon go their separate ways—never to reconcile. Louren headed off to Washington, where he was appointed to the office of United States Surveyor-General, serving six-years, under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson. After riding for the short-lived Pony Express, Warren became a whaler off the Alaskan Coast, where he eventually lost his life.
Ironically, Louren Upson had given his son the middle name “Fremont” after John C. Fremont, the civil war hero who once ran for president. Mr. Upson hoped the name would inspire his son to become a great statesman someday.
Fremont also famously blazed the Emigrant Trail as an explorer, opening the way for settlers and forty-niners to California. It was the approximate route that Warren had taken through the Sierras on the second leg of the Pony Express’ inaugural journey.
To the senior Upson’s chagrin, it was the explorer in him, “willing to risk death daily,” to which the impetuous Warren aspired.
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