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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
Pacific Historical Review
Vol. 10 No. 3 (Sep. 1941), pp361‑362

The text is in the public domain.

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 p361  A Pathfinder in the Southwest: The Itinerary of Lieutenant A. W. Whipple During His Explorations for a Railway Route from Fort Smith to Los Angeles in the Years 1853 and 1854. Edited by Grant Foreman. (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1941. xv + 298 pp. $3.00)

Interest in a transcontinental railroad was paramount in the United States in the forties and fifties of the last century. Sectional rivalry, however, stood in the way of any decision. Congress finally devised a plan by which the question of a railroad route to the Pacific was to be solved by a scientific study of the proposed routes under the direction of the Secretary of War, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis. This was in 1853. To Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.A. W. Whipple of the United States Topographical Corps was assigned the leadership of the surveying expedition along the thirty-fifth parallel, from Fort Smith, in Arkansas, to Los Angeles, via Albuquerque, a route nearly two thousand miles in length. The Whipple survey was later followed, almost in its entirely, by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Lieutenant Whipple made an exhaustive journal report of his exploration to the War Department, and this journal appeared as part of the Pacific Railroad Reports published by the government. Mr. Foreman has rendered valuable service in rescuing this important document from the obscurity in which it has too long been buried.

The Whipple journal affords another example of the painstaking work of alert and conscientious government officials to whom were assigned difficult exploratory and survey duties in the then unknown West. Report of these expeditions were eagerly read by contemporaries, who found them the best guides to an understanding of a land in which everyone was deeply interested. The leaders of these surveys were keen observers as well as literary lights of the first magnitude. They produced exhaustive treatises on the areas explored, and their volumes were beautifully illustrated by artists attached to the expeditions. No finer studies of the geography, geology, and ethnography of the West exist than can be found in these publications.

Nothing along the route of the Whipple journey escaped the attention of the leader or members of his party. Not only did he answer adequately the question of a possible railroad line along the route, but he reported outstanding features of the entire country covered by the survey. Hardships and adventures were taken in stride and are dramatically narrated. The description of Indian life is as complete as any available on the subject. Especially vivid is the picture of the Kiowa Indians of the Canadian River valley, and life among the Mojaves of the Colorado River area.

 p362  In his scholarly editorial introduction and footnotes, Mr. Foreman brings the Whipple account up to date with modern names and locations. He has made frequent use of the diary kept by H. B. Möllhausen, topographer and artist of the expedition. This diary was published in 1848, and graphically supplements the observations made by Whipple. The reader will appreciate the map prepared by Mr. Foreman on which each camp is clearly marked, making it a very simple matter to follow the course of the expedition. Such a map is far too rare in volumes of this type.

The editor states in his introduction that only three Rome surveys were planned by Secretary of War Davis, namely, those along the thirty-fifth, thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth, and the forty-seventh and forty-ninth parallels. There was a fourth survey also, along the much-discussed thirty-second parallel, which after a careful study of all of the routes explored was the choice of Jefferson Davis. Much of this route had been surveyed by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William H. Emory as early as 1846‑47, and also by the Boundary Survey Commission working west from El Paso. Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Popeº and Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. G. Parke carried on extensive surveys along this route to the Colorado River, and Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.R. S. Williamson worked first in southern California and later in Oregon and Washington as part of this important series of railroad route surveys arranged by Secretary of War Davis. Mr. Foreman makes no mention of the excellent summary of the government railroad surveys of the fifties by George L. Albright, Official Explorations for Pacific Railroads, 1853‑1855 (Berkeley, 1921), the sixth chapter of which is entitled "Whipple's Explorations Along the Thirty-Fifth Parallel."

These are but minor criticisms. Mr. Foreman is to be congratulated upon the excellent workmanship manifest in A Pathfinder in the Southwest. The book ranks as a major contribution to historical research on the Southwest.

Lewis B. Lesley

San Diego State College

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