This review first appeared in the Tally Sheet (Spring 2017, Volume 63, Number 2)


By Robert S. McPherson & Susan Rhodes Neel. University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 284 pp; 30 illus.; 3 maps; end notes; bibliography; Index. HB

The Hayden Survey of 1875 which covered southwestern Colorado and south-eastern Utah was one part of one of the four great surveys of the American West in the 1860s and '70s. (The others were the Powell, Wheeler and King surveys.) All were re-organized in 1879 as the United States Geological Survey.

Geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden led geologic and geographic surveys of the West before and after the Civil War including in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. They also accompanied the Raynolds 1860 Topographical Engineers expedition on the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, and more importantly, in 1871 led the first federally funded expedition into the Yellowstone region of northwest Wyoming. The surveying team included such notable individuals as photographer William Henry Jackson and the painter Thomas Moran. The subsequent expedition report strongly influenced Congress to establish the country’s first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872. Further annual surveys included the one outlined in this book.

The survey, set around the border with Utah and the Gunnison and Dolores rivers in Colorado, was part of an annual survey over four seasons, 1873-6.  The members thought that it was going to be a calm summer’s work. Little was known scientifically of Colorado’s geology, flora and fauna. Primary mapping and triangulation was essential. Photographer Jackson was among the team here also, and some of his pictures accompany the text of this book.

Hayden split the team into small groups under individual leaders to cover different locations and areas. The photographic division under Jackson travelled furthest to visit the Hopi mesas in northern Arizona. The teams encountered not only previously unimagined spectacular scenery but evidence of prehistoric civilisations – Anasazi sites were in abundance, but they missed seeing the great cliff houses of Mesa Verde whilst finding others nearby. (Cliff Palace, for example, would not be found until 1888 when rancher Richard Wetherill and cowboy Charlie Mason were told of it by a member of the Ute tribe.)

This was indeed Ute country. Some of the Indians were not glad to see the Hayden people. They considered that the survey meant dispossession from their homelands. Yet the surveyors were generally treated kindly as they followed the old trails and passed through Ute villages – but not always. There were some minor conflicts before a more serious attack - which developed into a five-hour skirmish - was staged upon the team by a party of Utes and Paiutes. According to the generally friendly Ute leader in that area, Chief Ouray, it was due to a renegade band. Two of the separate surveying parties, under James Gardner and Henry Gannett, had recently joined together when they were attacked in what was to be the most serious Indian trouble encountered during their time in the region. It took place in the desert plateau and canyon country between the La Sal and Abajo mountains of southeastern Utah. There were no serious casualties but mules and equipment were lost. The narrative brings some exciting descriptions of the events by the diarists’ entries. (Stories in other literature of Indian attacks on specifically scientific parties elsewhere in the West are hard to find.)

Hayden saw this expedition as a scientific endeavour of course but there was also an underlying pragmatic motive in the search for economic potential. This and other surveys helped to solidify the idea of “progress” while revealing a beautiful and sublime landscape and ancient cultures. The reports and diaries here, though, were also fruitful in documenting more mundane hardships of the surveying teams, such as wrangling half wild pack mules, the difficulties of sleeping in rain-soaked blankets and making tea from muddy and often alkaline water.

The 1875 Survey was probably the high point in Hayden’s work and it gathered widespread attention and public acclaim. Those who worked for Hayden were dedicated scientists but they were also young and ambitious. Hayden often struggled to manage some conflicting temperaments and desires in the team, revealed here.

This is a story vividly brought to life. Dry it is not. The authors are both Utah State - Eastern university professors. McPherson is the author of a number of books on Navajo and Southwestern history, particularly the Four Corners region. They skilfully blend the surveyors' diary entries and field notes with newspaper accounts to present an enjoyable account of the surveying teams' ventures into some remote and little known country at the time.

Raymond Cox


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