About Edward Meyer Kern
Age: 23 Auxiliary
Draftsman with Fremont's 1845 expedition. After the Bear Flag Revolt (June 1846) Kern commanded the garrison at Sutter's Fort with the rank of lieutenant in the California Battalion. He was appointed to manage the funds collected for the Donner relief. Kern was regarded with scant respect by members of the relief parties; uncomplimentary remarks about his behavior were appended to the Ritchie-Tucker First Relief Diary, and many years later R. P. Tucker recalled Kern strutting about "as big as the dog in the Smok hous."
In December of 1845 (Fremont's Third Expedition, 1845-46), Fremont reached California. Kern was part of the group and was paid three dollars a day for his services, which was a fair sum in those days. Sixty men traveled with Fremont, the large number underscoring the fact that the president of the U.S. at the time, Polk, was determined to acquire California, and that military action might be necessary at some point.
Not only was Kern an artist for Fremont. After the incidents with the Indians, the message came that war with Mexico was imminent. Fremont took charge quickly, attacking Indian villages in a successful attempt to eliminate their aiding the Mexican forces. The bear Flag Revolt then took place, in which 30 Sacramento Valley Americans raided General Vallejos's town of Sonoma, taking Vallejo and others prisoner.
Kern was then thrust into the absolute command of John Sutter's fort, to watch over the prisoners, while Fremont went off to aid the Americans in a fight against the uprising Los Angeles Mexican patriots. Sutter, all the while, was a virtual detainee in his own home, though he was graciously allowed to dine with Kern. Kern's amiable disposition is said to have been a major factor in his being chosen to command the fort.
At one point during the war, Kern went from Sutter's fort to aid the rescue attempts of the survivors of the ill-fated Donner party which was then crossing the Sierras. He used this opportunity to further some scientific illustration projects, and to further his own scientific interests, which at the time were predominantly ornithological. He captured a falcon, and this specimen was brought back to the Philadelphia National Academy of Science. It became the type specimen for that species, meaning that it may have been the first of its kind ever deposited at the National Academy of Science, or that at least it was a specimen of highly desirable plumage and descriptive characteristics.57
All told, Edward Kern lived an exciting and momentous life while in California. His skill as an artist was admirable, and his ability to adapt to the changing conditions of war made him all the more valuable to the success of the American takeover of California.
- The Kern river (from which Kern County takes its name) was named by Fremont to commemorate this artist.