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Bill Thayer

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Part III

This webpage reproduces a section of
Uncle Sam's Camels

Lewis Burt Lesley

Harvard University Press,
Cambridge [Mass.], 1929
As republished by The Rio Grande Press, Inc.
Glorieta, NM 1970

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p137  The Report of Edward Fitzgerald Beale
to the Secretary of War
concerning the Wagon Road
from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River

April 26, 1858

35th Congress, 1st Session,
House of Representatives
Ex. Doc., No. 124

 p139  p1 Letter
the Secretary of War
The report of the superintendent of the wagon road
from Fort Defiance to the Colorado river.

May 12, 1858. — Ordered to be printed.

War Department,

Washington, May 10, 1858.

Sir: Referring to my letter of the 24th ultimo, in relation to the report of Edward F. Beale, esq., superintendent of the wagon road from Fort Defiance to the Colorado river, I have now the honor to transmit a copy of said report and of the accompanying map.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

John B. Floyd,

Secretary of War.

 p140  Hon. James L. Orr,
Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Washington, April 26, 1858.

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith my daily journal of the survey made last summer and winter of a wagon road from Fort Defiance to the Colorado river or State line of California, near the 35th parallel. With this journal I send also an itinerary from Albuquerque, in New Mexico, to California. The itinerary gives distances as they exist, no air lines or imaginary curves, but every turn of our wheels recorded by the odometer attached. Latitudes and longitudes of almost all the camps are given. It is proper that I should call your attention to the fact, that to go by Fort Defiance, and thence to Zuñi, our starting point, is an unnecessary loss of time and a very great increase p2of distance to no purpose. Complying with my instructions, however, I proceeded to Fort Defiance, and thence to Zuñi, but my train I sent by the direct road from the Gallo river to Zuñi, saving not less than sixty miles. Accompanying my journal is a table showing the thermometer at its highest elevation and lowest depression during the day on our outward journey in the months of September and October, and another kept on my return in January and February for the same purpose. A comparison of the two established the interesting fact, that one may travel the road in winter and summer without suffering the extremes of heat or cold. The journal which I send you is a faithful history of each day's work, written at the camp fire at the close of every day. I have not altered or changed it in any respect whatever, as I desired to speak of the country  p141 as it impressed me on the spot, so as to be as faithful in my description of it as possible. You will therefore find it very rough, but I hope those who may follow in my footsteps over the road may find it correct in every particular. I have written it for the use of emigrants more than for show, and if it answers the purpose of assisting them I shall be well satisfied. I have described things as I found them in the seasons in which I passed; more or less water in the summer, more or less snow in the winter, may be found by those who follow me. I am not responsible for the seasons, but I am for all my statements in relation to the country over which we passed. As far as the San Francisco mountain the road needs scarcely any other improvement than a few bridges. In one place alone a bridge at the Cañon Diablo would save twenty-five or thirty-five miles' travel, and on the whole road its length might be shortened by subsequent explorations and by straightening elbows one hundred miles. As this will inevitably become the great emigrant road to California, as well as that by which all stock from New Mexico will reach this place, it is proper that the government should put it in such a condition as to relieve the emigrant and stock drivers of as many of the hardships incident to their business as possible. For this purpose I would recommend that water dams be constructed at short intervals over the entire road. With these and a few bridges and military posts I do not doubt that the whole emigration to the Pacific coast would pursue this one line, instead of being divided and scattered over half a dozen different routes. The advantage to the traveller, and the economy to the government of having one line instead of having a dozen to protect, would fully repay all the expenses  p142 attending the construction of the road. I presume there can be no further question as to the practicability of the country near the thirty-fifth parallel for a wagon road, since Aubrey, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Whipple, and myself have all travelled it successfully with wagons, neither of us in precisely the same line, and yet through very much the same country. You will find by my journal that we encamped sometimes without wood and sometimes without water, but never without abundant grass. Starting with a drove of three hundred and fifty sheep, that number was increased by births upon the road, but not one was lost during the journey. In our first journey we groped, as it were, in the dark, and the weather being warm, did not care to leave the valleys for the wood, which is generally found on the hill-sides; and it is particularly worthy of p3note, that all the waters discovered were directly on the line of the road, and found almost without search and at short distances apart.

It is not to be questioned, that if so much was discovered on the first journey, a great deal more remains to be found upon a little exploration.

In preference to artesian wells, I propose to supply a deficiency of water by a system of dams across ravines and cañons, such as are used in Mexico and in portions of the State of Virginia, abundant evidences existing throughout the country that rains fall in sufficient quantities during the year to keep them full. In Mexico dams of this kind are used in the irrigation of large tracts of territory, which are dependent entirely upon this means for the supply of that element and for their crops. I cannot too urgently call your attention to this method of procuring abundant supplies of water, not only on the road to California, but on other emigrant  p143 routes where water may be scarce; it has the advantage over other artificial means of obtaining water, of returning a certainty for the expenditure of money, and of answering every purpose to be expected of wells of any kind, to say nothing of its being more economical.

In the journey of the year, during which I have been engaged upon this work, I have not lost a man, nor was there the slightest case of sickness in camp; the medicine chest proved only an incumbrance. My surgeon having left me, at the commencement of the journey, I did not employ, nor did I have need of one on the entire road. Even in midwinter, and on the most elevated portions of the road, not a tent was spread, the abundant fuel rendering them unnecessary for warmth and comfort.

I regard the establishment of a military post on the Colorado river as an indispensable necessity for the emigrant over this road; for, although the Indians, living in the rich meadow lands, are agricultural, and consequently peaceable, they are very numerous, so much so that we counted 800 men around our camp on the second day after our arrival on the banks of the river. The temptation of scattered emigrant parties with their families, and the confusion of inexperienced teamsters, rafting so wide and rapid a river with their wagons and families, would offer too strong a temptationº for the Indians to withstand.

Another appropriation of $100,000, to build bridges, cut off elbows, and to straighten the road from point to point, and make other improvements and explorations, will be required for the present year.

I feel assured that the public lands, which would be brought into the market and sold within three years after  p144 the opening of this road, will repay four-fold the appropriation asked.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

E. F. Beale,


Hon. John B. Floyd,
Secretary of War.

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