Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 15. Boundary Surveys

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XIV. Travellers and Explorers, 1846–1900

§ 15. Boundary Surveys

A transcontinental railway became more and more a necessity from numerous points of view, not the least of which was the interchange of products across the Pacific. Preliminary wagon roads were surveyed, and for this purpose Lieutenant E. F. Beale in returning to California struck across a little ahead of Gunnison on the same route. With him was Gwin Harris Heap, who wrote the narrative of the journey: Central Route to the Pacific from the Valley of the Mississippi to California (1854), an attractive and interesting story

Following almost the same route, as far as Gunnison’s crossing of Green River, came later in the same year the indefatigable Frèmont on his fifth expedition. At Gunnison Crossing he swung to the south through the “High Plateau” country, a southern extension of the Wasatch uplift, and after much suffering in the midwinter of 1853–54 the starving party dragged into the Mormon settlement of Parowan with the loss of one man. Every family in the town immediately took in some of the men and gave them the kindest care. When able, Frèmont proceeded westward till he met the high Sierras’ icy wall, where he deflected south to the first available pass. To the end of his life he never forgot the generous behavior of the Mormons.

At this time Mrs. Frèmont reports in her Far West Sketches (1890) a most remarkable vision she had of her husband’s plight, which came to her in the night at Washington. Mrs. Frèmont wrote other interesting books, The Story of the Guard (1863), A Year of American Travel (1878), Souvenirs of my Time (1887), and the “Origin of the Frèmont Explorations” in The Century Magazine (1890). The Recollections (1912) of her daughter, Elizabeth Benton Frèmont, belong to the story of Frèmont’s career.

Frèmont published no account, and no data, of the fifth and last expedition excepting a letter to The National Intelligencer (1854), reprinted in Bigelow’s Life. The narrative was to appear in the second volume of his Memoirs, but this was not published. His exact route therefore cannot be located. The main reliance for the narrative is Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West with Frèmont’s Last Expedition (1857), by S. N. Carvalho, artist to the expedition.

One of the phenomenally reckless, daredevil frontiersmen was James P. Beckwourth, a man of mixed blood, who dictated a marvellous story of his escapades to T. D. Bonner. This was published in 1856 as The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth. Somewhat highly coloured, no doubt, by Beckwourth’s fancy, it still remains a valuable record of the time. Another book in this class is The Adventures of James Capen Adams of California, edited by Theodore H. Hittell (1860 and 1911); and still another is William F. Drannan’s Thirty-One Years on the Plains and Mountains, or The Last Voice from the Plains (1900), wherein he describes his intimacy with Kit Carson and other frontiersmen, all apparently from memory, as was the case with the life records of most of the rougher class of hunters. Drannan published another book, Captain W. F. Drannan, Chief of Scouts, etc. Joe Meek was a brilliant example of the early trapper and had a varied experience which Mrs. Frances Fuller Victor records in her fine work The River of the West (1870).

An extremely scarce volume is Reid’s Tramp: or a Journal of the Incidents of Ten Months’ Travel Through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, etc. This volume by John C. Reid was published in 1858 at Selma, Alabama. The United States, after the Mexican War, had bought from Mexico a strip south of the Gila River known as the “Gadsden Purchase,” and to this many pioneers flocked expecting a new Eden, Eldorado, Elysian Fields, or what not. Reid remarks: “We may review the history of the fall, death, and interment of these hopes in a faroff country of irremediable disappointment.” We know of the existence of but four copies of Reid’s book.

After the Gadsden Purchase the matter of the Mexican boundary was ready for determination. The work was under the direction of Major W. H. Emory, who made an excellent Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey (1857) in two fine volumes, the first two chapters of volume 1 containing a very interesting personal account. One of the boundary commissioners, John Russell Bartlett, published his own account in two volumes of Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihuachua During the Years 1850, ’51, ’52, and 1853 (1854), a valuable addition to the literature of the South-West.

On the north the boundary was also surveyed, and Archibald Campbell and W. J. Twining wrote Reports upon the Survey of the Boundary between the Territory of the United States and the Possessions of Great Britain from the Lake of the Woods to the Summit of the Rocky Mountains (1878). Previously the boundary along the 49th parallel had been surveyed to the Gulf of Georgia in settling the Oregon question.

A volume published for the author, Philip Tome, in Buffalo in 1854, now very rare, is Pioneer Life, or Thirty Years a Hunter. Being Scenes and Adventures in the Life of Philip Tome, Fifteen Years Interpreter for Cornplanter and George Blacksnake, Chiefs on the Alleghany River. Cornplanter, a half-breed Seneca, was one of the most distinguished of the Iroquois leaders.