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"... the big billowing- everlasting - ro-o-a-a-r-r-r-r -- onto-the-end-of-the-world
of the ocean..."
In general the American people have been presented with an American
West of wagon trains, trackless deserts, fierce Indian warriors riding
painted steeds, mesas and mountains, and vast herds of buffalo rumbling
across an endless prairie. This view has glorified the sodbusters, the
cattle ranchers, the U.S. Cavalry, the noble savage, the railroaders, the
miners, the peace keepers, and the gunslingers. But there was another frontier
-- a frontier of uncharted waterways, bold and precipitous mountains doing
perpetual battle with the on-rushing swells of the North Pacific, wild
and tumultous storms that could drive the unwary sailor upon an iron-bound
shore, relentless fogs blocking the path of all but the bold or foolish,
desert shores to the south and rain forest to the north, majestic redwood
and fir forests growing to the very edge of the sea, and sea -going Native
Americans who were as fierce and brave as their storied counterparts of
the plains and deserts. This was the Pacific frontier, the western-most
frontier, that faced the first Coast Surveyors who made the arduous trip
from the East Coast of the United States to the western margin of North
America. More than any other organization, it was the Coast Survey that
helped tame this frontier coast. A small group of dedicated surveyors helped
make this coast as safe for commerce and travel as any in the world in
the short space of a few years beginning in 1849.
The United States maintained an interest in the western coast of North
America almost since its beginnings as a nation. On May 11,1792, the New
England sea captain Robert Gray discovered the entrance to a great river
on the western coast of North America and named it the Columbia in honor
of his vessel, the COLUMBIA REDIVIVA. Besides opening up new trading territory
for Robert Gray, this discovery gave the United States a claim to the Oregon
country and the territory drained by the Columbia River. Competing powers
for these lands were the British whose Hudson's Bay Company was soon trading
as far south as the entrance to the Columbia, the Spanish who sent many
late Eighteenth Century exploring expeditions as far north as the south
coast of Alaska, and the Russians whose fur traders and sea otter hunters
established forts and trading posts as far south as Fort Ross, California,
by 1812. The Lewis and Clark expedition added credence to the claims of
the United States when it crossed the Rocky Mountains and followed the
Snake River and Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. Commercial incursions
by Yankee traders and fur hunters further whet the appetite of the United
States for these lands. As early as 1826, Jedediah Smith traveled overland
from the Salt Lake Valley to San Gabriel Mission, California, while other
fur trappers pushed into Oregon and delineated the Oregon trail. American
emigrants began following this trail in the late 1830's and became a veritable
flood through the 1840's.
Following the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845, war
broke out between the United States and Mexico. A revolt of American expatriates
took place in California leading to the establishment of the Bear Flag
Republic. Soon the United States was in firm control of California; and,
following the cessation of hostilities, California was ceded to the United
States by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. Even prior
to the signing of this treaty, Superintendent Bache had been agitating
to send survey parties to the Pacific. Both in the 1846 and 1847 Superintendent's
reports Bache mentioned his readiness to send crews to the Pacific "should
the time come when this extension is desired by Congress."(1)
By the summer of 1848 Congress desired the "extension", and the Coast
Survey was making plans for commencing the survey of the Western Coast.
Bache announced, "Assistant James S. Williams and Sub-assistant Joseph
S. Ruth(2) have been selected as the pioneers
of the coast survey in that distant section. A hydrographic party, under
Lieutenant Commanding W.P. McArthur, has also been organized for this service...."(3)
The original plan called for work to commence at the mouth of the Columbia
River, and thence run a hydrographic reconnaissance from the Columbia River
to Monterey. Williams apparently was under direction to not conduct any
work in California because of constitutional questions raised by the Secretary
of the Treasury regarding spending of Coast Survey funds in California.(4)
However, while these plans were being made, an extraordinary explosion
of interest in California occurred because of the discovery of gold at
Sutter's Mill in late January, 1848. Ironically, this occurred just before
the ceding of California to the United States but had no effect on treaty
negotiations. Initially little interest was shown by the citizens of the
United States in this discovery, but on December 5, 1848, President James
Polk made the following announcement to Congress: "Recent discoveries render
it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated."
These simple words touched off one of the greatest migrations in human
history.(5) The "gold rush" was on and this
would have a profound effect on the ability of the Coast Survey to perform
its duties on the western coast.
Williams, Ruth, and Brevet Major Richard P. Hammond, U.S.A.(6),
made arrangements to leave for California via the Isthmus of Panama on
the Atlantic mail steamer FALCON in early 1849. The hydrographic vessel,
the Coast Survey Schooner EWING under Lieutenant Commanding William Bartlett,
departed New York in January 1849, for the West Coast. Lieutenant McArthur,
who would assume command of this vessel in San Francisco, did not depart
the United States until March 17. Three hands, Mr. Humphries, L_____, and
Armstrong traveled as a separate group and arrived on the steamer EDITH
in San Francisco a few weeks before Williams. The Williams party arrived
in Chagres on February 14. Unfortunately, a number of other vessels arrived
on the same day causing delays in arranging transportation by canoe, thence
mule train, to the city of Panama on the Pacific side. After further delay
for repairs to the Pacific Mail Steamship OREGON, Williams and company
arrived in San Francisco on April 1, 1849. Perhaps April Fools' Day was
an appropriate day, as Williams met with very little success and very great
frustration for the next year.
Because of high prices, high wages, lack of transportation to the Columbia
River, and the desertion of members of his party for the gold fields, Williams
accomplished nothing before the arrival of the EWING on August 1. Joseph
Ruth remained attached to Williams' crew as did Major Hammond, although
both took a leave of absence. With the EWING came two "hands," Charles
Moore and "White". Williams wrote to Bache on August 27 and reported White
in bad health, "and I think his mind is affected by a fracture of his skull
in New York just before he sailed."(7) Lieutenant
McArthur had not arrived yet causing Williams to despair of reaching his
primary working area, the mouth of the Columbia River, before the onset
of bad weather.
By late September Williams reported "nothing has occurred worthy of
note" except the arrival of Lt. McArthur. Although there had been a small
mutiny on the EWING in early September, crew desertions and mutinies were
common-place events in San Francisco Bay and hardly worthy of notice at
that time. Bache received and responded to the August 27 letter on November
19 by sending official instructions to Williams that he was to begin his
work at the entrance to the Columbia River and, in concert with McArthur,
to conduct a reconnaissance of the Coast from Monterey to the Columbia.
"So soon as this work shall have been completed, [or if too late to proceed
at once to Oregon] you will commence the survey of the coast of California
by a reconnaissance of the headlands, bays, rivers, etc., of that coast
... for the indication of suitable points for the location of Lighthouses,
beacons, buoys, etc." Bache in an accompanying letter exhorts Williams,
"The great idea to pervade the Coast Survey Service on the Pacific is to
get results.... The great idea is -- do something -- furnish results. Don't
succumb to the pain of circumstance but meet difficulty with a bold heart
and be able to say, 'This I have done, in spite of adverse things.'"(8)
While Williams was traveling to the West Coast via Panama, the Coast
Survey Schooner EWING(9), under Lieutenant
Commanding Washington Bartlett, U.S.N.,(10)
was proceeding to San Francisco via Cape Horn. This voyage afforded Lieutenant
Commanding Bartlett ample opportunity to "meet difficulty with a bold heart...."
The EWING left New York on January 9 and after a voyage of seven months
with less than thirty days ashore arrived in San Francisco on August 1,
1849.(11) On the first leg of the voyage,
the EWING encountered rough weather in the North Atlantic which necessitated
repairs in Rio de Janeiro; however, Bartlett followed his orders the best
he could and determined the position of St. Paul Rocks in the Mid-Atlantic
and conducted an unsuccessful search for Walker Bank. The vessel entered
the harbor at Rio on March 7 and after an 18 day stay was able to continue
south on March 25.
The EWING passed the Rio Plate on April 3 and by April 11 crossed over
Latitude 50o South and set course for the Straits of Le Maire,
between Staten Island and Tierra del Fuego. The next two days the EWING
was beset by gales from the WSW which brought "in furious hail squalls
which compelled me to take all the sail off the schooner." This posed some
danger to the small schooner as the Falkland Islands lay to the northeast.
Finally on the 14th the wind shifted to the NNE. Probably weighing the
danger of another westerly gale, Bartlett modified his plan and chose to
pass off the eastern end of Staten Island and "set all steering sails and
stood for Cape St. John; at 7 P.M. passed within a ½ mile of the
cape, the schooner flying before the wind with all her light canvas, the
water perfectly smooth --- from Cape St. John shaped our course for Cape
Horn." Before night fell, the southernmost extremity of Staten Island was
observed "enveloped in snow and presenting a most desolate and cheerless
The following day, the EWING passed Cape Horn at 1 P.M. The weather
began deteriorating and by 4 P.M. the "atmosphere [was] thick with rain
and sleet." The little ship passed Diego Ramirez Island on the 16th. This
island is located near 50o 40' South Latitude and 71o
30' West Longitude. Here they were "fairly round the cape" but still had
to battle further west to give themselves sufficient leeway to clear the
west coast of South America. Complicating their problem was a severe gale
that began blowing from the WSW late on the 16th. Bartlett put the EWING
on a starboard tack to continue to the south while gaining headway to the
west. Five days later the gale ceased and the EWING proceeded on a more
westerly course. By April 24 the schooner had reached 55o 13'
South and 780 36' W for its furthest point south. After three
more days and another gale, the EWING had clawed another 60 miles to the
west before Bartlett decided that he had enough sea room to head north
and clear the southwestern coast of Chile while passing through the strong
westerly winds of the "Roaring 40's." This was not quite as far west as
he had wanted, but he had become "anxious to soften the rigors of this
extreme clime." The following day, he passed over the 50th Parallel "a
full seventeen days from the same latitude on the east coast of Patagonia."
The run to Valparaiso, Chile, was a "dead to windward beat." Adding to
the discomfort, it was not until May 2 that the crew experienced a dry
day, the first since April 11- "21 continuous days of wet, toil, and exertion
on the part of officers and men day and night."
On May 14, the EWING anchored in Valparaiso Harbor after a passage of
51 days from Rio de Janeiro. This was a fairly fast passage by the standards
of the day. The storeship U.S.S. FREDONIA, which was at Valparaiso at that
time, took 82 days to make the same passage. Here the schooner received
assistance with repairs from the crew of the U.S.S. DALE on its way home
from two years on the coast of California and Mexico. The EWING soon continued
on its way and proceeded to Callao, Peru, arriving on June 11. This was
only a short stay of a few days to make additional repairs and fill out
the ship's complement as there had been a number of desertions in Valparaiso.
The leg from Callao to San Francisco took 50 days. The EWING arrived off
the Golden Gate on August 1, 1849, after having traversed over 20,000 miles
sailing distance in about 170 sea days since January 10. There were no
reported deaths due to accident or disease during this passage, a remarkable
record for Lieutenant Commanding Bartlett. Only one other Coast Survey,
Coast and Geodetic Survey, or NOAA vessel would round Cape Horn in the
next 140 years.
Lieutenant William Pope McArthur left the United States on March 17,
1849. He proceeded to the Isthmus of Panama and made it to Chagres on the
Caribbean side in relative comfort; but from there to San Francisco it
was strictly improvisation. Upon arrival in Chagres, he found an overcrowded
lawless town. Because he was a United States officer, he was made head
of a vigilante committee and within 48 hours had restored order. He then
took a boat up the Chagres River and went overland by mule train to the
city of Panama. There was no transportation available to San Francisco
and many of the travelers in the city were becoming sick with various tropical
fevers. A delegation of gold-seekers approached a local merchant who was
using the Ship HUMBOLDT as a coal storeship. They bought the ship with
funds from 400 passengers putting up $200 apiece and selected McArthur
as commanding officer.
The HUMBOLDT left Panama on May 21, 1849, and took 46 days to reach
Acapulco where supplies were taken on board as all on board were nearly
famished. Cooking was done in a communal fifty-gallon pot with one meal
served per day, coffee served in the morning, and tea at night. Bedding
was where one could find a place to lie down. The ship arrived in San Francisco
on August 31. The EWING in the meantime had gone to Tomales Bay, north
of San Francisco, because of Bartlett's fears of crew desertions for either
much higher pay on commercial vessels or leaving for the goldfields. Bartlett's
fears notwithstanding, four crew members deserted with a ship's boat. It
is believed that they attempted to make it to San Francisco and were lost
at sea. September 6 the EWING returned to San Francisco and McArthur was
installed as captain although Bartlett remained attached to the ship.
After a short trip to Monterey, the EWING returned to San Francisco
Bay where, on the night of September 13, the most serious mutiny in the
history of the Coast Survey occurred. Passed Midshipman William Gibson
was placed in charge of a boat returning guests to shore after dining on
the EWING. Because of the threat of desertion, Gibson had pistols in hand
to restrain the crew when landing ashore and all went well. After rowing
out a few hundred yards towards the EWING, Gibson put his pistols away.
Then he was attacked: first by the after oarsman John Black, and then by
the other four members of the boat crew. In the struggle, he was thrown
overboard and left to drown. Gibson passed out in the water and was swept
by the current past a British ship where he was luckily seen and pulled
from the water.(12) The master of the British
vessel actually believed that Gibson had already died, but continued efforts
at resuscitation revived him. The following day, a group of trusted sailors
from the EWING captured the five mutineers.
The five men were the brothers John Black and Peter Black, Jonathan
Biddy, William Hall, and Henry Commerford. Court- martial proceedings began
October 8; on October 19, Commodore Thomas Jones, Commander-in-Chief, U.S.
Naval Forces Pacific, issued an order to hang all mutineers at 11:00 A.M.
on October 23. On the morning of October 23, the death sentences of Biddy,
Hall, and Commerford were commuted. John Black was hung from the fore yard
arm of the EWING and his brother Peter was hung from the fore yard arm
of the U.S. Frigate SAVANNAH. By the mercy of Jones, the other three were
sentenced to "one hundred lashes on the bare back, serve out the remainder
of their term of enlistment without pay, and with a ball and chain on the
leg, in solitary confinement, or at hard labor, or alternately both...."
During September and October the EWING was engaged in surveys of Mare
Island Straits, and it was by McArthur's recommendation that the Government
secured Mare Island for a naval base and shipyard.(13)
Not incidentally, McArthur showed a good head for business as he speculated
on land on Mare Island that his family subsequently sold to the Government
at a large profit.(14) McArthur had no
better luck than Williams in recruiting crew or in buying supplies at prevailing
rates. Consequently, he accomplished little of real consequence for the
Coast Survey at this time. He was, however, an astute observer of his surroundings
and wrote to his father-in-law on September 23:
"People are still crowding here from all parts of the world, and everybody seems to be as crazy as ever, but good order seems to prevail, and you would be surprised to see how quietly business is carried on - everything shipshape and orderly. There is already a good police in San Francisco, and the same was established yesterday in Sacramento City, so if a Vagabond comes out here to cut up his capers, he is quite mistaken.
"There is no especial news here except that the convention for forming a state and state laws has been in session for some time, and have acquitted themselves with great dignity and good sense. They will have good, wholesome laws, I have no doubt.
"The joint commission for the selection of sites for Fortifications, Navy Yards, Docks, etc., etc., are all here on board the Massachusetts. They are without men and have done absolutely nothing. They have borrowed some men from the Commodore (15)
to enable them to run over to the Sandwich Islands and ship a crew....
It is asserted that the islands are nearly depopulated already. I hope
seamen may be had there, as I may be compelled to recruit there myself."
Again, on October 26, McArthur wrote:
"This country is truly one of the greatest wonders of any age. The increase
of population is truly wonderful. Let us estimate San Francisco at 100,000
souls, Sacramento City 40,000, and Stockton 35,000 or nearly. Eighteen
months ago there was scarcely 100 people in all three. There [are] many
other places springing up into importance...."
That winter McArthur sailed for Hawaii in order to attempt to recruit
additional crew and "to run away from the incessant rains which are said
to prevail with winter." He invited James Williams to come with him which
Williams readily accepted. Williams had probably reinforced McArthur's
view of the winter and spring weather as he had written Bache earlier in
the year: "All are in excellent health, though suffering from the climate
which has been reported to us in the language of speculators. The cold
winds have compelled us to wear our thickest clothes and great coats every
day since our arrival and we have not seen the thermometer above 54o...."
They sailed in early December, too late to receive Bache's letter exhorting
Williams to "furnish results". By the time Williams received this in late
winter of 1850, he had already proceeded to and returned from the Hawaiian
Islands with Lt. McArthur on the EWING. One can only wonder at Bache's
reaction when he first received word that both his land party and ship
party had proceeded to Hawaii for the winter.
When the ship returned to San Francisco, many crew enlistments had expired,
and it was not until April 3 that McArthur was able to sail for a reconnaissance
of the northern coast. He was fairly discouraged by this time and wrote
to his father-in-law: "I have made up my mind to be disappointed with regard
to the probability of our usefulness on this coast. Capt. Williams(16)
has as yet done nothing and Heaven only knows when he may be able to proceed
with his labors.... I feel confident that no work can go on at the present
wages of the country as it would require the whole of the Coast Survey
appropriation to keep a party together. Wages are still from five to twelve
dollars per day, and if anything still rising as the mining season opens.
I have written to the Professor [Superintendent Bache] and laid my views
Like with most ships, once the EWING sailed, all the gloom and doom
evaporated. On April 13, 1850, McArthur wrote from Trinidad Bay, "I may
safely say that the only happy days I have spent in the country have been
spent since we started. I am at last at work and most usefully employed
in making a reconnaissance of the Coast as we go up.... We have completed
a very correct outline of the coast, its headlands, Bays, Rivers and indentations
from San Francisco to this place, as well as carrying our soundings as
we go...." Although not part of his crew, McArthur had the melancholy duty
of retrieving the bodies of Lieutenants Richard Bache and Robert L. Browning
who had drowned after volunteering to do a reconnaissance survey for the
Navy in the vicinity of Point St. George, California. Richard Bache was
a younger brother of Superintendent Bache and a veteran of many years on
the Coast Survey. This must have been bitter news to Superintendent Bache,
as four years earlier, his brother Lieutenant George Mifflin Bache, died
after being swept overboard from the Coast Survey Brig WASHINGTON in a
hurricane while on Gulf Stream investigations for the Coast Survey.
In June, McArthur described the scenery in the vicinity of the Columbia River as "beautiful and some places and some points of view the grandest that the eye ever beheld." He found time to continue his speculation in real estate as he and two other officers acquired homesteads in the Willamette Valley. He felt that if he could hold it for five years "it would be a fortune." In late June and early July he went up to the Puget Sound area on the steamer CAROLINA leaving Washington Bartlett in command of the hydrographic party. He described the waters of the sound as "a strange and peculiar anomaly. The deep blue sea runs up inland passing between straits but half a mile wide with a depth of over an hundred fathoms. Bays, Harbours, Inlets and Roads startle you at every turning forming a perfect labyrinth." From the south end of Puget Sound, he traveled overland to the Cowlitz River and took a canoe to the mouth of the Columbia. He was gone for over a month on this idyllic trip.
By the end of August, the EWING was back in San Francisco. McArthur
experienced remarkable weather, both at the entrance to the Columbia River
and on his trip back down the coast. In his words, "... We have been successful
in surveying the mouth of the Columbia River and up the same as far as
Astoria.... the dangers of navigation of this truly magnificent river have
been vastly exaggerated. We have crossed the bar sometimes as many as ten
times a day for weeks together.... On our way from the Columbia River we
were successful enough to make a good reconnaissance of the whole coast
from Cape Disappointment to this place and the limits of error may be estimated
at one mile in longitude and an ½ mile in latitude. This I consider
quite a triumph."
While in San Francisco, McArthur was engaged in preparing for the next
reconnaissance which was to extend south to San Diego. On November 21,
he received the welcome news that he was to proceed to the east coast and
take command of a steamship for west coast survey duty. Thus, with the
prospect of seeing his wife and family a year earlier than he had anticipated,
he booked passage with Washington Bartlett on the steamship OREGON bound
for Panama. The OREGON was under the command of his old friend Carlile
Patterson who had left Naval service to serve with the Pacific Mail Steamship
Company. Patterson was related by marriage to Alexander Dallas Bache and
David Dixon Porter. He had recently served as chief of party on a Gulf
Coast ship for the Coast Survey in the vicinity of Mobile Bay. Patterson
would spend the next ten years on the West Coast prior to returning to
the Coast Survey as a civilian at the beginning of the Civil War. The OREGON
departed December 1; shortly after leaving San Francisco McArthur suffered
an acute attack of dysentery. He never recovered and died December 23 as
the OREGON was entering the port of Panama.
William Pope McArthur was memorialized by a service at the Coast Survey
office on February 8, 1851. At his service, Alexander Dallas Bache eulogized:
"The work which he accomplished will live forever. Surrounded by circumstances
the most difficult, perhaps, which ever tried the constancy, the judgment,
the resources of any hydrographer, he vanquished circumstances. His reconnaissance
of the western coast, from Monterey to Columbia river, and his preliminary
survey there, were made in spite of desertion and even mutiny--in despite
of the inadequacy of means to meet the truly extraordinary circumstances
of the country...."
McArthur rightfully is credited with having led the way. Washington
Bartlett also should be remembered for his pioneering work on the West
Coast. Although McArthur did not accomplish any really meaningful work
until thirteen months after his leaving the East Coast, he did not let
himself be defeated by circumstances. James Williams, who could have been
remembered as having started the great work on the West Coast, instead
gave up and asked to be transferred back to the East. Within a few months
he was relieved by the party of Richard D. Cutts and Augustus F. Rodgers.
To his credit, Joseph Ruth stayed on. In the meantime, George Davidson,
whose name is most associated with the survey of the western coast, made
his way west and began his lifelong work.
In the early spring of 1850, in response to the frustrations caused
by the inactivity of James Williams and Lieutenant William P. McArthur,
Superintendent Bache finding "it impossible to retain hands in the land
parties without exceeding the expenditures authorized" determined to send
a crew of young men of great energy with "record to make" to the West Coast.
These men would undertake "for one year to do any duty, however hard or
manual, incident to the survey on the western coast." He selected George
Davidson, a former student of his at Central High School, to head this
party. Davidson, a native of Scotland, served as an observer at Bache's
Girard College Magnetic Observatory and then hired on the Coast Survey
in 1845 as clerk to Bache. Life in the office was not to Davidson's liking
and he was soon engaged in field work with Bache; Assistant Thomas Jefferson
Lee, an Army captain; and his mentor and future father-in-law, Assistant
Robert Fauntleroy. Davidson worked on the New England coast with Bache's
triangulation parties in the summer, with Lee on astronomic duty, and on
the southeastern coast and Texas coast in the winters with Fauntleroy.
Short interludes were spent in New Harmony, Indiana, the home of Robert
Fauntleroy, between field assignments.
Davidson's life changed significantly after his selection to head the
new West Coast field party. Although the original agreement with Bache
was to spend one year on the West Coast, Davidson spent virtually the remainder
of his professional life, with the exception of the Civil War years and
a few short stints on the East Coast, working in the states and territories
bordering the Pacific Ocean. In spite of other field parties and other
individuals who spent many years working on the West Coast, George Davidson
became the one man most highly associated with the Coast Survey of our
Pacific shores and with the development of scientific institutions in the
western United States.
One of the best sources for information regarding Davidson's and the
Coast Survey's early years in the Western United States is "The Autobiography
of James S. Lawson"(17) which contains
a record of the pioneering work of the Coast Survey on the western coast.
No less an historian than Hubert Howe Bancroft, the patriarch of historians
of the western coast of the United States, referred to the Lawson manuscript
in these glowing terms:
"This manuscript of Lawson's authorship is one of unusual value, containing
, besides a history of the scientific work of the coast survey, many original
scraps of history, biography, and anecdotes of persons met with in the
early years of the service, both in Oregon and California. Published entire
it would be read with interest."(18)
James S. Lawson was born in Philadelphia on February 13, 1828. He attended
the Philadelphia Central High School at the time that Alexander Dallas
Bache was principal. He was a classmate of George Davidson. Their lives
and careers would intertwine for the next half century. As he had with
Davidson, Bache selected Lawson as a night observer for the Magnetic Observatory
at Girard College, a position which Lawson held until the closing of the
observatory on June 30, 1845. Following graduation from the Central High
School, Lawson became a teacher for two years; then, once again following
in Davidson's footsteps, he was hired as Clerk to Superintendent Bache
Lawson spent the next two years in the office; but following the frustrations
of Assistant James Williams and Lieutenant William McArthur on the west
coast in 1849, Superintendent Bache turned to ambitious younger men to
conduct land operations on the western coast. Lawson described the situation:
"The ill success attending the parties previously sent, and the Supt.
being very anxious for some show of results from the Western Coast, he
determined to send another party, to be composed entirely of young men,
who had a record to make, and who would not shrink from any necessary labor,
or be daunted at any inconveniences or even privations to which they might
be subjected. The command of this party was offered to George Davidson,
then Sub-Assistant, and he accepted on the condition that he have the right
to name his own Aids. This was granted, somewhat reluctantly however; and
Mr. D. selected Mr. A. M. Harrison, a graduate of the Central High School
of Phila., who had entered the C.S. in 1847, and myself. Afterwards Mr.
John Rockwell was added to the party. The pay of the Aids was fixed at
$30.00 per month, so that all should be on an equal footing. To do this,
my pay as Clerk was reduced $5.00, Mr. Harrison's increased the same amount,
and Mr. Rockwell's was doubled."
Lawson left the Washington office on April 30, 1850, for his home in
Philadelphia where he spent a few days making preparations; he then went
to New York and procured equipment and instruments for the party. These
must have been exceedingly hectic days as he departed New York on May 5
with Davidson and Rockwell. They sailed on the Steamer PHILADELPHIA for
Chagres, Panama. Lawson's description of the trip over the Isthmus of Panama
and then on to San Francisco is perhaps one of the best descriptions of
the nature of the journey to California via the isthmus in existence:
"I had previously been round Pt. Judith and paid the customary tribute
to Neptune; but this was my true experience of a "Life on the Ocean Wave,"
and I was compelled to submit to all the ceremonies of a thorough initiation.
The trip was not marked by any circumstances of unusual moment. We had
the usual rough sea while crossing the Gulf Stream, and the long swell
in the Caribbean Sea. With the exception that the steamer was small and
crowded with passengers, it was as pleasant as sea trips usually are, or
at least were in those days. All were so anxious to reach the famous El
Dorado that they were willing to endure discomforts with composure.
"In due time we came to anchor off the mouth of the Chagres River, and
got ashore as best we could, in boats or canoes, each one or a party making
their own arrangements. We stopped one night at Chagres, just inside the
Mouth, and the next morning started up the river. Having all our camp outfit,
tents, instruments &c., Mr. Davidson found it necessary to engage a
large canoe for ourselves, at a cost of $120.00 to Cruces, half paid in
advance and half at the end of the trip. Our crew consisted of three natives,
the Padron (Chief man) and two oarsmen. In the still parts of the river
oars were used; in the strong currents the canoe was poled. We reached
Cruces on the third day, but the trip did not seem at all tedious. All
was novelty to us, the scenery, the verdure, the means of locomotion, the
inhabitants, the passing of boats, the stopping at various places, all
interested us, and tended to make the time pass pleasantly. This result
was also in a great measure owing to the treatment of our boatmen. In many
of the canoes the passengers were urging their crew to their utmost strength,
some even threatening to use force, firearms, & c. Mr. Davidson pursued
a different policy. Though the crew furnished their own food, they were
supplied every morning, noon and night with coffee, and in the middle of
fore and afternoon a drink of native liquor (aquardiente). I had brought
with me an accordion, and on this would grind out some of the Negro melodies
of the day. "Mary Blane" seemed particularly to strike their fancy, and
they wanted it played all the time. Finding it facilitated our progress,
I did play it until the tune and the instrument became positively distasteful.
The effect was good for us. When in company with other boats or canoes,
the crews would compare notes, and while others would be cursing their
passengers, we would invariably be complimented as buenos pasajeros.
The consequence was that no upward bound boat, unless a small and light
one, passed us. At Cruces all our baggage was carefully taken from the
canoe and placed on shore, the remainder of the money paid, and with best
wishes for our trip the crew bade us Adios. "Like begets like."
Treat men as men, and it is very rarely indeed that a similar return is
not made. We never urged this crew; these natives are fond of a bath at
intervals of work, and we never evinced any regret at the time apparently
lost. They appreciated it and when they resumed their oars or poles they
made up for lost time.
"The costume of these natives is at times extremely primitive. One of
our boatmen, an Apollo in manly physique, was a large portion of the trip
in full dress when he had a small piece of red tape around his left wrist.
"We remained at Cruces from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning,
waiting for mule transportation to Panama.... On Monday morning we succeeded
in procuring mules and started for Panama, leaving all our equipage in
the charge of a transportation Co. This was generally carried by the natives
in cradles fastened by straps around their shoulders & across the breast.
It was wonderful the weights some of them would carry. One of our boxes
weighed 180 lbs., and a man carried it the whole distance, about 21 miles.
"Two of the ladies who crossed at the same time with us had very sensibly
provided themselves with Bloomer Costumes, and in riding sat astride the
animals. It was certainly a much more safe and convenient way to get through
the narrow gorges and over the rough roads than the usual style of ladies'
"We arrived in Panama a couple of days after a riot between the Americans
and natives, caused, I believe, by the attempted arrest of a native boy
for stealing. In the disturbance, several persons were killed. All was
quiet when we arrived, and continued so during our stay of 10 days.
"We first took up quarters at the American Hotel, but changed in a day
or two, & with quite a number of our fellow passengers took lodgings
in a large room in a building formerly used for Government purposes. Only
cot beds were furnished, each one supplying his own bedding, of which a
small quantity sufficed. Our meals we took at a boarding house kept by
an American woman, whose husband had died at Panama.
"During the time spent there waiting for a steamer, our daily routine
was about as follows:-- up at sunrise, go to the beach outside the walls
and enjoy the luxury of a surf bath; then invest a dime (or a real) in
oranges just brought in the brugos (canoes) fresh from the trees,
the juice of the orange only being sucked. After that a small cup of coffee;
at 8 o'clock breakfast, from which until 11 we roamed around, looking at
the city, visited the Cathedral and churches, and explored the old ruins.
During middle of the day we remained indoors, reading, talking or enjoying
a siesta as each chose. About 3 P.M. we were out again, as in the
morning, until dinner time, (5 or 6 o'cl'k) after which we strolled to
the ramparts stopping to take a small cup of most excellent chocolate made
by a native woman. While at Panama we had some magnificent moonlight evenings
and the ramparts were a great place of resort for Americans and others
(said to number at that time 2500 to 3000) then awaiting transportation
to California. The brass guns and bombs, said to contain a large percentage
of silver, attracted much attention. On each was the date and place of
making (in Spain), the Spanish Crown, and a motto. I understand these have
since been sold and removed.
"At last the happy day came when it was announced that we could get
on board the Steamer ("Tennessee," Capt. Cole). As the passengers of two
steamers on the Atlantic side had to be crowded on this one, some trouble
was experienced in getting all of our equipage on board, Capt. Stout, the
agent of the P.M.S.S. Co., refusing to allow it. Mr. Davidson explained
the necessity to Capt. Cole, and he kindly granted permission.
"So great was the desire to reach California, that fabulous prices,
$800.00 to $1000.00, were paid for tickets from Panama to San Francisco.
It was said that some entered into this as a regular business. Before passing
through the gate, each ticket and its holder were subjected to a strict
scrutiny, and of course some very unpleasant, as well as amusing, things
occurred. Among the latter was the presentation by a woman of a ticket
bearing a man's name. This, the old martinet Stout rejected. Shortly afterwards
the same ticket was presented by one wearing a man's clothes, and was passed.
It was the same person who previously had shown it, and who on reaching
the steamer immediately assumed her proper garments.
"The steamer was so crowded that the word "comfort" could not be said
to form part of our vocabulary. Staterooms were more than full, every berth
was taken, and numbers had to take up quarters on deck, in boats, any where.
Our berths were "down, down below," in a sort of "black hole of Calcutta,"
a place which I never explored except when necessary for the toilet or
change of clothing, until within a few days of San Francisco, and had the
benefit of the cool N.W. wind. For sleeping accommodations we generally
stood ready about 10 P.M., when the tables were cleared of gamblers and
others, and took up squatters titles to as much as we could get and keep.
"Considering the delay on the Isthmus, the inconsiderate manner of living
of many while there, the free use of fruits and alcoholic liquors at the
same time, and the unwise exposure of themselves during the middle of the
day, and the crowded, uncomfortable state of the steamer, I think the health
of the passengers was very good. Several were sick of Panama fever, but
only two died. We stopped but once on the trip, at Acapulco, where we remained
three days while the ship was being coaled. There were none of the facilities
then, that were to be found in after years. Of course we did the town,
explored all around the old fort with its cracked walls and barefooted
garrison of almost a dozen natives, and obtained all the amusements we
could by seeing,---the hearing was not of so much consequence
to some of us inasmuch as we could not include the knowledge of the Spanish
language as one of our accomplishments.
"During the whole trip gambling was carried on to a very great extent.
From the clearing of the tables after breakfast until extinguishing lights
(10 P.M.), with the exception of the time occupied at lunch and dinner,
the cabin was transformed into a gambling hall. For the participants in
the games Sunday was a terrible day, for then they could not continue their
little game. Perhaps it was to dissipate the ennui that induced
a little lawyer (M.) from Washington, to treat the passengers to a dissertation
on this habit. I think it was on the Sunday before reaching San Francisco,
we were far enough North to be within the influence of the strong chilly
Nor'Westers, so disagreeable to those having passed several weeks in the
tropics. A clergyman on board held service on the upper deck, which was
well attended. At the conclusion, many rushed to the cabin for shelter,
among them Lawyer M. Seated there, reading the Book of all Books, was an
elderly gentleman, of staid, sober regular habits, a veritable specimen
of the orthodox Puritan, and this is said with all deference, who hailed
from the "State of Maine." I never knew his name, but throughout the ship
he was known as "The State of Maine". Lawyer M. approached him, and requested
the loan of his Bible. The old gentlemen, knowing M's habits, declined
at first to grant the favor, but M., apparently divining the causes that
prompted the refusal, gave assurances that he asked the favor from a good
motive, not to make light of the Book's holy teachings, or to infringe
upon the religious sentiments of any. On this assurance, "State of Maine,"
closed his Bible and handed it to Lawyer M., who opened it hap-hazard,
and glancing hurriedly over the pages, selected two verses, read them,
closed the Book, and with these verses as his text proceeded to discourse
on gambling. A more terrific tirade on gamblers and gambling, it has never
been my lot to hear. There was no term too strong to apply to gamblers,
no tie too sacred for them to keep. Father, Mother, Wife, Child, all would
be sacrificed to sustain the insatiable appetite. No crime was too great
for a gambler to commit; and could he obtain no greater stakes, he would
"steal the pennies off a dead man's eyes." Knowing that gambling had been
the occupation to which M. had devoted himself during the trip, we hoped
he had seen the error of his ways, and "turned over a new leaf." Our disappointment
and disgust can be well imagined, when the next morning, as soon as a portion
of the table could be secured, he was deeply as ever engaged in the mysteries
(and miseries) of vingt et un, a fitting illustration of the saying,
"Don't do as I do, but do as I say." What became of him I do not know,
but I am afraid his mania blasted what might otherwise have been a useful
"We came to anchor in San F. Harbor in the forenoon of June 19th 1850;
then began, each for himself, or for his associates, the scramble for success....
At the time of our arrival, there were no wharves to which a large vessel
could come. Our landing was made in boats at the end of "Howison's" pier,
a small wharf, the only one San F. could then boast of, at the foot of
Sacramento St. On this wharf was a wooden tramway on which was pushed a
small car for carrying trunks etc. to terra firma. Our luggage,
however, did not get taken quite so far. The fire of June 14th had laid
waste all that vicinity, burning the connection of the wharf with the land,
hence all our "traps" had to be carried from the pier across a plank to
the shore. My first astonishment (after that they were innumerable) was
seeing a man digging a trench among hot ashes and burning embers to lay
the sills of a new structure. By noon of the next day the house, a skeleton
frame with cotton-cloth and sides, was finished, stocked with goods, and
stood conspicuously as a first class store.
"Our first care after getting on shore was to have our instruments,
camp equipage, and superfluous personal baggage, stored in some safe place.
Room for this purpose was granted by the Collector of Customs (Col. Jas.
Collier) in the building then used as a Custom House, a large four story
brick building on the corner of California & Montgomery Sts. (on the
same lot where for many years Wells Fargo & Co's Express Co. had their
office and above them was the Union club; present building erected by John
Parrott.) This building was built of brick, had iron doors and shutters,
and was supposed to be fire-proof. But alas! for the frailty of human opinions,
the fire of May 6th 1851 completely destroyed it with all our worldly goods
"My descriptive powers are inadequate to give even a fair idea of what
San F. was in those days. This has been often done by abler & better
pens, and to them reference must be had."
It is unfortunate that James Lawson felt his descriptive powers inadequate
to describe San Francisco. The sights and sounds of this great burgeoning
metropolis must have been overwhelming to a young man fresh from a relatively
sheltered life as a teacher and then Government clerk. However, the enthusiasm
and resilience of youth carried him, Davidson, and Rockwell forward, and
they were soon on their way to Point Conception to begin their part in
the great work of surveying and charting the western coast.
Davidson's crew spent 17 days in San Francisco. The first few days were spent at the St. Francis Hotel with rates of $7 per day. As Davidson was making a little less than $70 per month and the aids were only making $30 per month, it quickly occurred to them to acquire less palatial shelter and they took a room in a small wooden building and ate where they chose. While in San Francisco, Davidson reviewed the work and selected Point Conception, marking the entrance to Santa Barbara Channel, as the first point upon which to conduct observations for latitude and longitude. It was the first priority of the Coast Survey crew to obtain accurate geographic positions of the major points and headlands of the West Coast as existing charts were known to contain many errors. Errors in longitudes were particularly onerous as positions were in general 5 to 20 minutes of arc too far westerly. However, this was fortunate as the direction of the error forced mariners to be cautious earlier rather than later while making landfall and probably saved many vessels.
Davidson and his party booked passage on the Bark BURNHAM, reaching
Point Conception in a few days. On the way down, Davidson hired as cook
a native of Santa Barbara who was returning home on the vessel. The cook's
pay was set at $125.00 per month, a substantially greater amount than George
Davidson' pay at that time, and more than all the aids and hands of the
survey crew were receiving together. According to Lawson, "The sum total
of his accomplishments in the culinary line, was to be able to fry a piece
of pork or bacon, and to make a pot of very muddy coffee."
The BURNHAM anchored off El Coxo, a few miles to the east of Pt. Conception
and unceremoniously deposited the survey crew ashore with all their gear.
Only a few stoic and silent Indians served as their welcoming committee.
The next few days were spent arranging the camp, transporting the instruments
to the observation site, and preparing the observatory for their work.
"All this meant work, everything, lumber, instruments, &c. had
to be carried up the steep face of the plateau. The hardest part of all
was the carrying of the stand of the transit. This was one piece of cast
iron, weighing at least 300 lbs. Davidson & I got it on our shoulders,
it was so short that we had to walk in a "lock step" the utmost care was
necessary that no false or mis-step should be made, and we did not dare
to stop or rest until we reached the Observatory."
Soon the taxing work, the strange environment, and the ill-prepared
food had all sick. Fortunately, no one died although Davidson was quite
ill. Once this initial malady passed, the survey crew was uncommonly healthy
for the remainder of their three-month stay at Point Conception. On hearing
of the landing at Point Conception of the Americans, Don Luis Carillo,
the son of the owner of the Point Conception Rancho, rode from Santa Barbara
to investigate these interlopers. John Rockwell knew some Spanish which
was fortunate, as Don Luis' knowledge of English "was confined to one particular
branch, in which, however, he was very proficient." Don Luis experienced
great difficulty in believing many of the stories of the surveyors. He
was unwilling to believe that there were multi-story buildings larger than
the mission church, that railroads could travel faster than the swiftest
horse, "but when the telegraph was explained, he was morally certain that
Davidson's party determined the latitude, longitude, and magnetic declination
of Point Conception over the next few months. After the arrival of Harrison,
a topographic survey of the vicinity was also undertaken including the
selection of a site for a lighthouse. Little fog disrupted their work and
they were able to obtain observations on 50 out of 60 nights on which work
was attempted. The dense fog remained offshore so continuously that it
was six weeks after their arrival when they first saw the Channel Islands.
With the arrival of clear fall weather they "had some splendid exhibitions
of mirage, inverted and direct images of these islands."
Their living conditions at this first station were primitive. Until
the arrival of Harrison they ate from tin plates with the exception of
their best dish -- a large abalone shell -- and drank from tin cups. Harrison
brought some white earthenware dishes from Santa Barbara, and the first
time Lawson saw "our table set with these, the contrast was so great that
we seemed to be reveling in luxury."
Lawson, when writing of his Point Conception experience in 1879 compared
the climate to "Italian skies", but doubted "if these can excel what we
enjoyed at "El Coxo." During our stay there, 2 1/2 months, I never wore
a cravat or collar; our clothing was almost reduced to a minimum, not quite,
however, to the full costume of our Apollo of the Chagres River. Occasionally
when feeling a little chilly in the observatory at nights, I put on a thin
knitted jacket, but very soon found it oppressive, and laid it aside. Many
a time have I laid down on the bare ground, or selected the soft side of
a board, and gone to sleep without any covering save the clothes I had
on. This I think was mainly owing to the kind of life we led; -- plenty
of work and exercise in the open air, a surf bath at sunrise, no high living
(we could not have had it, even if wanted) a clear conscience, and with
naturally a good constitution...."
Conversely, George Davidson wrote to an acquaintance in the East shortly
after arriving in California: "Combine all the worst features of New England,
make every hill barren -- no roads, no timber, no houses -- and you will
get a country in which no man will work while he can live elsewhere."(19)
However, Davidson was prone to complain as he wrote to Bache from the Texas
coast in 1848 that he had "stewed more than eight hours in the observatory
yesterday afternoon and evening, blinded with smoke in preference to being
eaten by mosquitoes."(20) A few months
later he complained that he was "totally separated from my family, from
my friends, from all the conveniences and resources of civilized life,
and from almost every opportunity of mental advancement derivable from
books."(21) But, George Davidson must have
loved the rough outdoor life associated with the Survey. He, like surveyors
and sailors today, probably derived a perverse pleasure from telling his
peers and friends how difficult it was to accomplish the work. He would
not have had it any other way.
The small survey party finished in early October. Their work shifted
Point Conception back nine miles further east on the map from earlier determinations.
A pack train was hired for transporting the camp equipment and surveying
instruments to Santa Barbara for transportation to the north. Saddle horses
were provided for the four surveyors, but each one had to take his turn
walking with the chronometers in order to shelter them from unnecessary
Davidson's crew spent about three weeks at the home of Don Anastasio
Carillo in Santa Barbara awaiting the steamer GOLDHUNTER.(22)
While there they visited the local attractions including the hot springs
in the Coast Ranges and the Mission Santa Barbara. In Lawson's words, they
"did the town" and talked with the old otter hunters Isaac Sparks
and George Nidever. The one thing they didn't do, which was later regretted,
was accept $3,000.00 to make a survey and plat of the town. When they left
the East, Bache indicated that he didn't want them interfering with the
work of private surveyors as the Williams party apparently had done some
contract survey work. This was perfectly understandable given the state
of the San Francisco area. However, Bache felt that this had been done
to the neglect of official duties. A few years later when Davidson and
Lawson had come East for their first leave of absence, they were dining
with Superintendent Bache and related the story. Lawson related that Bache
"laughed heartily, and did not hesitate to intimate plainly that we were
fools, and we began to think so too."
Finally Davidson and his party gave up on the GOLDHUNTER and proceeded
north to San Francisco on the fishing vessel EMPIRE. After an eight day
trip, they arrived in late October and stayed until late December completing
computations, duplicating records, finishing the topographic drawing of
Point Conception, and completing all the final details associated with
preparing their records for shipment to the office. Upon completion of
these tasks, they left for Monterey on the schooner EWING, Acting Master
James H. Moore, just before Christmas.
Following the success of Davidson and McArthur, Superintendent Bache
became sufficiently confident that he published his plan of attack for
the West Coast:
"To determine the geographical positions of the prominent points, correcting
existing charts by them and by intermediate reconnaissances, and using
them as points in the final survey. To make such surveys of harbors and
anchorages, of sound, of bays, and of portions of the coast, as may be
most immediately useful, taking up first the parts necessary for the establishment
of light-houses, beacons, buoys, and other aids to navigation, using the
methods of the coast survey, and establishing such permanent marks as will
enable us to bring together these detached parts into a complete survey
of the coast. To publish the successive approximations which we make, so
that, whenever we have better materials than those already existing for
charts, they may be given to the navigator, without waiting for the best
results which we can produce. In this spirit, the reconnaissance of the
coast, now preparing for publication, will be followed by a similar one
south from Monterey; the sites for the light-houses provided for in California
... will be reported upon; the preliminary survey of the Columbia river
entrance, now reducing, will be published, and the examination carried
up the river to Fort Vancouver, and up the Willamette; the portions of
San Francisco bay, the surveys of which are required by the Engineer department,
and for light-house purposes, will be first taken up, to be followed by
a complete survey of that and of the adjacent bays, after less known portions
of the coast have been embraced in the work."(23)
The year 1851 was pivotal in the history of the Coast Survey on the
West Coast as it marked the beginning of real systematic work. Although
James Williams and Lieutenant William McArthur arrived in 1849, it was
not until 1851 that an astronomic party under George Davidson, a topographic
party under A.M. Harrison, and a joint triangulation-topographic party
under Richard D. Cutts began operating on a scale comparable to that of
the East Coast. Cutts arrived in late 1850 and promptly took up triangulation
work in critical areas including San Francisco Bay and the strip of coast
between San Diego and the Mexican border. Augustus F. Rodgers, a son of
Commodore John Rodgers and brother of the Civil War hero Rear Admiral John
Rodgers, accompanied Cutts and carried on topographic work. Rodgers stayed
on the West Coast for over fifty years. Sub-assistant A.M. Harrison was
recognized as being head of an autonomous topographic party although still
usually working in the same area as Davidson's astronomic party.
The senior Coast Surveyor was Richard D. Cutts who worked with the Army and Navy commission responsible for selecting the sites for forts and bases as well as surveying lighthouse locations in the vicinity of these facilities. Bache wrote:"The circumstances of the work pointed to his selection as peculiarly fitted for the superintendence of mixed operations, versed as he is by experience in every branch of the duties of the coast survey." In addition to Harrison and Rodgers, James Lawson conducted topographic surveying in conjunction with Davidson's work. The only flies in the ointment were the hydrography and a burgeoning personnel problem.
The hydrographic work suffered from a series of catastrophes including
the death of William McArthur in December 1850, major damage to the EWING
in a storm in late December 1850, and the loss of the steamer JEFFERSON
in late May 1851. With the arrival of Lieutenant James Alden, U.S.N.(24),
in May 1851, the fortunes and productivity of the hydrographic party improved
greatly. Alden spent two months operating on the northern California coast
on the newly repaired EWING and then returned to San Francisco, chartered
the steamer QUICKSTEP, and began a reconnaissance to the south. In January
of 1852, the sidewheel steamer GOLDHUNTER was acquired and renamed the
ACTIVE for duty on the West Coast. Alden continued working to the south
and completed the reconnaissance from Monterey to San Diego in early 1852.
In order to execute his plan, Superintendent Bache decided to send the
steamer JEFFERSON around Cape Horn to San Francisco in February, 1851.
His original concept was to send the new steamer CORWIN to the West Coast
but he decided to retain that vessel for East Coast duty and send the JEFFERSON
in its place. Unfortunately, this plan met with disaster in a great storm
in the southern Atlantic Ocean. It was predictable that the JEFFERSON would
meet with disaster on this trip given its past history and reputation.(25)
The JEFFERSON was built for the Revenue Service in 1845 although never
put into service. The ship was about 160 feet in length, had a 24 foot
beam, and a maximum draft of 9 feet, 9 inches. In 1848 the ship was transferred
to the U. S. Coast Survey and modified for hydrographic duty. The first
use of this vessel for the Coast Survey occurred in late 1848 when Lieutenant
Commanding David Dixon Porter took a delegation of officials on a demonstration
tour of Hell Gate and the newly discovered Buttermilk Channel between Governors
Island and Brooklyn. This was a success in spite of the JEFFERSON being
unwieldy and having awkward response to the helm.(26)
The JEFFERSON remained inactive for the next few months until Lieutenant
Commanding Thornton A. Jenkins, a veteran of eight years on the Coast Survey
during Hassler's tenure, was selected as commanding officer. His happiness
at being given a command was soon tempered by his discovery that the ship
had been stripped of much of its essential supplies and equipment. He also
discovered that the workmanship of those who built the JEFFERSON was "disgraceful
... and discreditable to those who supervised it." By mid-July, Jenkins
expressed optimism that the ship would soon be operational and readied
the ship for operations in the Gulf Stream. Two short trips in August resulted
in serious mechanical problems and the resignation of the chief engineer.
The ship managed to acquire some hydrographic data in late September but
mechanical problems continued unabated. The decision was made to lay up
the ship at Baltimore on November 17, 1849, and there it sat until early
Such was the JEFFERSON, a failure as a ship that Superintendent Bache decided to risk sending on the 15,000 mile trip to California in early 1851. The new commanding officer, Lieutenant Commanding Francis Key Murray, U.S. Navy, reported to Superintendent Bache on February 20, 1851: "... I see no reason to doubt that she will be perfectly safe at sea, and believe that her machinery has never been in so good condition for service as now. Most of her firemen are good mechanics, and will be able, with the means at their disposal, to make any repairs (in case of mishap) which can be effected at sea."
This is vaguely reminiscent of the predictions of safety and invincibility
associated with the sinking of the TITANIC. Three short months later Lieutenant
Commanding Murray sent the following letter to Alexander Dallas Bache detailing
the wreck of the JEFFERSON:
" U.S. Surveying Steamer JEFFERSON
Port Desire, East Patagonia, June 3, 1851.
SIR: It becomes my unpleasant duty to inform you of the disasters which
have befallen the JEFFERSON since leaving Montevideo, and driven us into
this port, a complete wreck. After our sailing, the weather continued good
until the 23rd ultimo, when its threatening appearance, and the low state
of the barometer, gave warning of a heavy gale. It overtook us on the 24th,
from the northward, and as it increased, all necessary and usual precautions
were taken to make the vessel secure; the top-gallant yards and mizzen-topmast
were sent upon deck; the hatches battened down; relieving tackles hooked,&c.;
and until the morning of the 25th, the steamer scudded safely before the
wind, which hauled on that day to WNW., and blew with terrific violence,
raising a mountainous, irregular, and cross sea, which constantly threatened
our destruction. To keep ahead of this, all sail that could be carried
in addition to full steam was necessary; and at 3 o'clock, p.m., she had
on the close-reefed foresail; close-reefed maintop-sail, and reefed fore
storm-staysail. At about that time a heavy cross sea from the northward
broke over the port-gangway, and threw the vessel upon her beam-ends, when
she instantly broached to and lay exposed to the heavy sea following us.
I was on deck, as I had been, without interruption, during the gale, and
immediately gave the order to let everything fly but the staysail sheet;
and quickly afterwards, finding she did not recover, that the sea continued
to break over her, and the vessel to settle, to cut away her masts. To
the promptness and coolness with which this order was obeyed, we are indebted
for our lives. Relieved of the masts, she righted and fell off before the
wind; but for some moments before their fall, there appeared no earthly
hope that the vessel could remain above the water a minute, so fast and
far had she settled into the sea. Fortunately, both masts fell clear of
the wheel-houses, but for some time we lay exposed to the fury of the waves,
until their rigging could be disentangled from the lee-wheel.(27)
This accomplished, I directed the vessel to be hove to under low steam
and the reefed spanker, the only sail left; for, fortunately, the mizzen-mast
was retained when the fore and main fell.
"At about six o'clock, while laying to, another heavy sea broke on board,
on the port-bow, and swept fore and aft, staving in the bulkheads of the
engine-room, wheel-houses, &c., and carrying the steering-wheel overboard.
This shock strained the steamer's hull terribly from bow to stern, and
she afterwards worked and labored so much that I was apprehensive that
she would break in two. As soon as the hatches could be opened, I ordered
water, provisions, stores, everything that could possibly be spared, to
be thrown overboard, which was done with excellent effect; but, though
relieved, the working of the vessel's frame continued to such a degree
that it appeared doubtful whether she could hold together to reach port.
To add to our misfortunes, the vessel had begun to leak badly; the bilge-pumps,
choked by the coal, would not work, (no uncommon occurrence with them;)
and the frames of the engines had started from the hull, and, though instantly
secured by chain, were momentarily expected to break down, and under full
steam could make but six revolutions. It appeared that nothing but a miraculous
interposition of Providence could save us, and we have great cause for
gratitude that this was accorded us; for in a few minutes after the shock
which disabled the vessel, the wind hauled to the southward and westward,
and began to die away, and the sea to subside. A continuance of the gale,
or another of even ordinary strength, before we reached here, would have
caused our destruction....
"... After my arrival in port, the disabled state of the vessel became
with me a matter of painful consideration. I had hoped that she might be
repaired so as to continue her voyage; but on a close examination the painful
conviction forced itself upon me that to attempt it would be to incur an
unavailing and fruitless expense. The vessel is evidently shattered fore
and aft, and continues to leak badly at her anchors, droops forward and
aft, and presents every appearance of having broken amidships. In my opinion,
and in that of the officers, as contained in their report, an iron vessel
cannot be extensively repaired out of dock; certainly not by heaving down,
in any port of this rock-bound coast-- exposed to boisterous weather, heavy
seas, and a rise and fall of tide of over twenty feet. I have directed
a survey upon the hull of the steamer....
"In conclusion, sir, I need hardly say that I abandon this vessel with feelings of deep regret, but with a consciousness that my duty requires it; and that during the perils through which we have passed, no effort was wanting on the part of myself and officers to secure her safety and that of her crew. I take pleasure in bringing to your notice the excellent conduct of all under my command during the trying scenes of the late gale. To their firmness, coolness, and prompt obedience of orders, at a time when death appeared inevitable, we owe our lives, and the government what has been saved from the wreck. For seventy-two hours all hands were constantly on deck at the pumps and bailing, without rest, drenched by the sea, and benumbed by cold; yet all did their duty with a courage and manliness to which I am proud to bear testimony. I would particularly mention the conduct of Mr. Garvin, the engineer in charge. His gallantry in periling his life in the wheel, held only by the engine, and on which the sea was constantly breaking, to clear it of the rigging of the wreck of the foremast. I am happy to say that no lives were lost, though several men were severely injured during the gale; but I regret to inform you of the death of Lewis M. Dumore, (landsman,) of Wilmington, Delaware, which occurred suddenly on the 21st ultimo.
"I am, very respectfully, yours, &c.,
F. K. Murray
Accompanying this letter was a report of the survey of the vessel with
a recommendation that the JEFFERSON be abandoned. The examining board found
more serious damage in addition to that reported by Lieutenant Commanding
Murray : "She droops on starboard bow and port-quarter, has the appearance
of being logged, which opinion is strengthened by her working and laboring
very much in a seaway. She makes twenty-three or twenty-four inches of
water per day, from which we conclude that some rivets on the bottom have
started. Fore and mainmast gone, and jib-boom gone, with their sails and
rigging. Decks droop and leak fore and aft; all the joiner's work on the
forward and after-guards gone. Wheel-houses and port hammock-netting partially
carried away; also steering-wheel and engine-room bulkhead stove in; a
bad leak on the starboard bow; first cutter's planking stove off; upper
half-ports and binnacle gone; the ship steering wildly, rudder is supposed
to be injured; deck pump flange broken; outer frames of the engines work
three inches, and engines work fore and aft."(28)
The JEFFERSON was left to its fate on the far-off coast of Patagonia.
When news of the loss of this vessel reached Superintendent Bache, he reacted
with relief that there was no loss of life associated with the wreck and
abandonment of the vessel. However, he was left with the problem of how
to efficiently conduct the hydrographic surveying on the West Coast. This
problem was exacerbated by damage to the EWING suffered in December, 1850,
when it was attempting to transport the Davidson party to Monterey. The
ship left San Francisco on Christmas day and encountered a severe storm
soon after leaving the Golden Gate. The EWING returned to San Francisco
"in a somewhat dilapidated condition, having lost boats, anchor and chain,
and broken the fore-gaff." Lieutenant James Alden, the new chief of the
hydrographic party, arrived on the West Coast in May and worked from the
EWING and the chartered steamer QUICKSTEP to accomplish his work in 1851.
With the acquisition of the ACTIVE in January 1852, Superintendent Bache
was relieved of attempting to send another small steamer around Cape Horn
with all the attendant dangers of such a trip.
In spite of the damage to the EWING and destruction of the JEFFERSON,
George Davidson wasted little time in continuing the work of determining
the position of the major headlands along the coast. He left for Monterey
on the propeller CAROLINA with Lawson, Rockwell, Harrison, and a few hands
from San Francisco on New Year's Day, 1851. On their arrival, they transferred
all of their equipment and baggage to an old hulk at anchor in the harbor
and took a boat ashore to spend the evening in the hotel. The next morning
they were greeted by one of their crew with startling news that the old
hulk had sunk during the night. "Of course visions of lost instruments,
tents, stores, everything, flashed instantaneously through our minds, and
the fellow seemed to enjoy our distress for a while; then leisurely he
told us that all the instruments, and most valuable part of equipage was
saved...." This would have set back their work for months. Fortunately,
only some personal effects were lost.
The following day they selected a camp site at the edge of pines about
a half mile east of Point Pinos and commenced erecting their observatory.
The same suite of instruments as used at Point Conception were mounted
and readied for the work; i.e., transit instrument for determination of
longitude and local time, and a zenith telescope for latitude. Observations
for magnetic declination were conducted as well. Davidson conducted these
operations with Rockwell as aid while Harrison executed the topographical
surveying with Lawson as aid. As at Point Conception, a survey was conducted
for a lighthouse site and a report sent forward.
Surprisingly, given that it was the winter rainy season, the work at
Monterey only took two months to complete and they were on their way to
San Diego for determining the position of Point Loma in early March. Davidson
made his headquarters at government facilities located at the playa (beach)
inside the bay. The work here was made more pleasant by the acquisition
of a Scottish cook who was not only a "chef de cuisine" but an "artist."
When Davidson was interviewing him for the job, the Scotsman related, "I
hae cook-ed for twa Breet-ish noblemen, an' I think I can cook for ye."
Lawson related, "He was not only a cook, but a confectioner, and brewer.
He exercised considerable genius and taste in devising various dishes and
in the ornamentation, some of the latter causing considerable mirth at
their originality. His confectionery became proverbial, and rarely ever
did our visitors leave without a supply of dulces for their senorita
This sojourn in the warm southern California sun couldn't last forever, but they did manage to stretch out the work for three months as compared to the two months at Point Pinos. They left San Diego in mid-June, stopped in San Francisco for a few days, and were on their way to the Columbia River on the steamer COLUMBIA by June 21. Cape Disappointment, marking the north entrance to the Columbia River, was the next point to be determined. The steamer went into Baker's Bay where Davidson, his party, and survey gear were put ashore. Cape Disappointment presented greater difficulties than the other stations that they had observed to that time. It rose abruptly to 287 feet elevation and required building an ox-team road to the summit and the clearing of considerable brush. Davidson described working at Cape Disappointment in his Directory of the Pacific Coast, "When the evening fogs from the northern bays do not cover the cape, we have sometimes experienced a dense fog rolling down the river about sunrise, enveloping everything below the top of the cape upon which we have stood, when it looked like an island less than a hundred yards in extent, and surrounded by the river fog, that must be felt to be appreciated. We were 35 days on this cape before obtaining a single night's observations...."(29)
With the exception of the weather and other hardships attending the work, it had evolved into a routine. Astronomic latitude, longitude, and azimuth were observed at the highest point of the cape; a topographic survey of Cape Disappointment and the surrounding area was conducted; a lighthouse site was selected; and magnetic observations were conducted. Originally the magnetic station was observed close to the Baker Bay camp site, but magnetite sands on the beach caused erratic readings and the station was moved to coincide with the astronomic station.
Because it was less weather dependent, the topographic party finished
early and Harrison and Lawson were able to do some sight-seeing by means
of a small sailing vessel that belonged to a local citizen. They took an
excursion up the Columbia River with Mr. Hopkins, a school teacher whom
they had befriended, and Judge Kelly. On this trip they encountered the
scenic wonders of the Columbia River Gorge, were attacked by thousands
of fleas after visiting an Indian village, and spent a night in an old
Returning to their vessel after stopping at the Indian village near
present-day Cathlamet, Lawson and his friends discovered that they had
transported a number of fleas back with them, "some millions more or less,
for which we had not bargained. We were covered with fleas to such an extent
that from foot to knee the color of our pantaloons could not be distinguished.
The scene was entirely too animated for our taste. Knowing the torments
that would ensue if we went on board the sloop in that condition, we went
under her stern & made fast the boat's painter; then stripping, leaving
all our clothes in the boat, we jumped over board, and after swimming around
for a while climbed on board over the bow, and donned fresh clothing. The
next day we dipped every article into boiling water, and without the slightest
compunction of conscience, enjoyed a grand "Massacre of the Innocents."
Continuing on their way they stopped at and ascended Mt. Coffin, named
such because it was a burial ground for the Indians, and then continued
east past the mouth of the Willamette to Fort Vancouver. Here, after reaching
the head of tide water and with the advent of an easterly wind rushing
down the Columbia River Gorge, they were compelled to resort to rowing
the sailing vessel's dingy for making further progress up the river. The
rain was incessant, but they took little notice because they were enthralled
with the scenery:
"Cape Horn, with its basaltic cliffs rising from 500 to 700 ft. perpendicularly
from the water, flanked by hills of some 2000 ft., with its numerous streams
trickling down the mountainsides like threads of silver until they tumble
from the edge of the precipice, and from that dizzy height become a mass
of spray, is grand in the extreme. At several places along the fall of
this point are cones rising hundreds of feet, each, on its sides and top,
bearing some of the native pines, presenting the idea of sentinels on the
battlements of a huge castle. Farther up, and on the other side of the
river (now Oregon proper--it was all Oregon Territory in 1851) are numerous
beautiful falls, varying from a few hundreds to a thousand or fifteen hundred
ft. in perpendicular descent."
That night they enjoyed the hospitality of an early settler. Upon seeing
a "log house on the bank, we concluded to stop there for the night. The
place seemed deserted, but we soon had a roaring fire in a cooking stove,
and began a consultation among ourselves as to the possibilities of getting
a supper, I must confess we were somewhat startled by a deep sepulchral
sort of voice, demanding "What in H--l are you doing there?" Looking around
in a dark corner we found in a bunk, the owner of the mansion in the full
enjoyment of an ague chill. We explained to him our position, and he freely
offered all the hospitalities his place afforded. Pointing to a large chest
he said we would find a ham-bone, and some biscuit which a woman had made
for him a few days before. When he said bone, he was preeminently
correct; but when he said biscuit -- "Heaven save the mark!" they
would have made good shot for a six pounder. But "necessity knows no law,"
so we did the best we could off the biscuit and bone...."
The following day Lawson, Harrison, and Hopkins walked as far as the
Upper Cascades of the Columbia. While returning Lawson succumbed to the
temptation to bring home a souvenir and availed himself of a flattened
Indian skull which he had found at a gravesite. While doing this he fell
behind the others. Knowing the feelings of the Indians concerning desecration
of their grave sites, he concealed the skull in his handkerchief. This
was fortunate for him as he encountered a party of Indians while proceeding
back to the dingy. Lawson described his reaction: "I must confess that
for a few minutes my feelings were not of the most pleasant character;
I was alone and unarmed, and had in my hand the evidence of being a resurrectionist.
I advanced toward the Indians with as unconcerned an air as possible, bade
them a pleasant Kla-how-ya, which was as pleasantly returned, and
continued on in an easy walk until I was out of their sight; then I stood
not on the order of my going, but ran full speed for the boat."
The work at the mouth of the Columbia River closed in October and Davidson
and his party proceeded to Port Orford on a small commercial vessel and
conducted the usual observations. Hostilities with the Coquille Indians
were then underway and Port Orford was being used as a supply base for
the Army. In late November, Harrison was sent to conduct topographic work
in the vicinity of the border south of San Diego. James Lawson was attached
to his party. Davidson would remain in Port Orford until mid-January of
1852. During his stay he complained of "being soaking wet for 48 hours....",
"living on lean salmon until you feel scaly, turn color and wag your tail....",
having rheumatism flare up, and losing many of his personal possessions
when a four-day gale destroyed much of his shore camp. Lawson and Harrison,
although headed south to a warmer climate, had their share of problems.
Lawson described his trip south from San Francisco:
"On Christmas Eve we left on the Steamer "Sea Bird," Capt. Bob Haley,
for San Diego. Very stormy (S.E.) weather had prevented sailing for some
days, but on that afternoon the storm seemed to be abating, and the Capt.
determined to start. It was dark when we reached the Golden Gate. The bar
was breaking heavily, but this was not seen until we were too far out to
attempt to turn back. Quite a number of the passengers were native Californians,
among whom the consternation was great. One poor fellow, I never knew who
he was, while engaged in paying tribute to Neptune over the bow of the
steamer was struck by a heavy sea, and thrown on a pile of chain lying
on the deck; one side of his face fearfully torn.
"We succeeded in crossing the bar safely. This was my second experience
of that kind at that place. I certainly do not desire another. The storm
raged heavily throughout that night and the next day. I cannot say it was
a "Merry Christmas," and on the morning of the 26th reached an anchorage
at Monterey, where we remained until the abatement of the gale. We then
proceeded on our way, and in due time arrived at San Diego, disembarking
at the New Town."
Shortly after George Davidson returned to San Francisco, he proceeded
with Lieutenant James Alden on the ACTIVE for a reconnaissance of the coast
of California south of San Francisco. On this expedition, Davidson helped
determine the astronomic positions of Santa Cruz (town on the north end
of Monterey Bay), San Simeon, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Prisoner's
Harbor on Santa Cruz Island, San Pedro, Santa Catalina Island, San Clemente
Island, San Nicolas Island, and Cuyler's Harbor on San Miguel Island. Upon
return to San Francisco, he determined the position of the Presidio; and
then proceeded on the ACTIVE with James Lawson and seven others to Neah
Bay, near Cape Flattery at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The Neah Bay station was observed with potentially grave danger as the
Indians were led by Chief Clisseet and "Flattery Jack, a most incorrigible
scoundrel...." The surveyors accompanied by armed personnel from the ACTIVE
held a meeting with the dignitaries of the tribe and explained their mission
and that they meant no harm. The local tribe agreed not to interfere although
they could have mustered close to 500 warriors at the campsite within 24
hours. After this initial meeting, Davidson accompanied the ACTIVE on a
reconnaissance of the south shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and determined
latitude and longitude at Port Townsend and Port Angeles. After returning
Davidson to Neah Bay, the ACTIVE proceeded to Shoalwater Bay to conduct
hydrographic surveys with plans to return at the end of the working season.
The survey party consisted of only nine individuals, but, according
to James Lawson, "... while we feared no danger we deemed it well to be
prepared. We had in camp sufficient arms, rifles, revolvers, cavalry pistols
and shotguns, to fire over sixty shots without stopping to reload. For
a number of days after our settling at camp and the departure of the "Active"
everything went on in the usual quiet routine. One day quite a large fleet
of canoes, containing at least from 150 to 200 Indians, came from Vancouver
Id., and in the evening, instead of camping on the beach, they remained
in their canoes, anchoring them to the kelp. This we simply regarded as
a precautionary measure, lest some of the individuals of the two tribes
might engage in a quarrel, and thus embroil all; but we were soon awakened
from our fancied safety by Mr. Hancock, who knowing considerable of the
native dialect, had heard some Indians talking, and was told by some of
the Mah-Kah women, of a plot to attack camp that night, kill us
all, and divide the plunder. The Mah-Kahs, on account of threats of punishment,
were afraid to commit the deed, but the Vancouver Id. Indians were to do
so, and after sharing the spoils the latter would return home. We were
quickly on the alert, saw that our arms were in order, and each man supplied,
and then "mounted Guard." Frequently during the night an Indian would walk
along the beach in front of camp as if to reconnoiter, but he always found
an armed man on watch. No attack was made, and the next day the Vancouver
Indians returned to their homes. To prepare for any future emergency we
built a breast-work of logs, with loop-holes, and guard was kept every
Although no attack was ever made, the survey party deemed it prudent
to practice psychological warfare. Target practice was conducted every
week or so, preferably when there were a number of natives present. It
was particularly desirable that Chief Clisseet be present. All the pistols
would be placed on a table; in using them great care was taken to not shoot
all of the shots from any pistol. After shooting a few rounds, the person
firing would pick up a different pistol and fire again. The overall effect
on an individual who had only seen or used a musket was an illusion that
the weapons never required reloading. The surveyors were also excellent
shots which added to their mystique of invincibility. Lawson recalled that
on one occasion after the firing had stopped, Chief Clisseet "walked to
the target, and placing his thumb and forefinger at an average distance
of the shots from the bull's eye, he measured off how many times it required
to pass across his breast; then dropping his hand, and shaking his head
as though to say, "Poor chance for an Indian there" he walked slowly and
sedately back, and without a word, seated himself. It was one of the most
expressive movements I ever saw."
In recalling another incident a few years later, Lawson reiterated the
theme that Davidson and the men of the survey parties were certainly crack
shots as well as possibly crackpots. Within a few years of the Neah Bay
incident, Davidson's party had occasion to visit Victoria, British Columbia.
While there they took to bragging about American marksmanship to the British
colonial representatives. The following day while on a hunt with the British,
an American shot and wounded a mountain lion. Davidson, who had been running
forward, dropped a rifle cartridge into his shotgun; and, as the lion was
dropping from the first shot, he shot it through its heart. In the elation
of the moment, Davidson took off his hat (stovepipe variety), placed it
on the barrels of his shotgun, and then placed this in front of his face
so that the brim of his hat just touched the crown of his head. He shouted
to a fellow American, William H. Fauntleroy, to shoot at the hat. The other
fellow did, piercing the hat and splitting the barrels of the shotgun about
2 inches above Davidson's head. Lawson, reported that the "astonishment
of the English was inexpressible" and upon coming up to Davidson "forgetting
he was my superior officer" called him a "d____d fool".
For Lawson's part, he also was given to poor judgment occasionally.
In the summer of 1852, he was driven to distraction by the disconcerting
Indian habit of stripping colored markers off of the signals which he had
erected. One day while he was chaining the base line near the camp site,
he observed a group of Indians collecting his signal cloth. Without thinking
of the consequences, he dropped his survey notes, drew his pistol, and
ran after them. Lawson described what happened next: "They were fleeter
on foot than I, and got into the woods. On my return I had to pass the
village, which by this time was in a grand uproar. With pistol in hand
I passed them all, not an Indian daring to touch me, but I could not resist
presenting a leaden messenger to one of their dogs who came too inconveniently
close. I sent for "Flattery Jack" and through Mr. Hancock as interpreter,
I presented my ultimatum; that any Indian man I caught destroying my signals,
I would kill on the spot, women or boys I would bring into camp and have
publicly whipped. I had no further cause for complaint on that score."
The Neah Bay work was finished with injury to neither native American
nor surveyor. The ACTIVE returned from its work on the appointed day to
transport Davidson and his party south. Lieutenant Commanding Alden intended
to make a survey of the Umpqua River entrance for lighthouse purposes,
improve the reconnaissance survey between Columbia river and San Francisco,
and to land the party of George Davidson at Cape Mendocino on this return
trip. However, this met with frustration because of heavy weather and rough
In a letter to Superintendent Bache dated San Francisco, October 15,
1852, Alden illustrated the nature of frustrations in this early work as
well as the limitations of the early steamships where coaling stations
were few and far between:
"Much to my chagrin, and contrary to all expectations, I find myself
once more, and at least two weeks sooner than I intended at this place.
It has happened in this wise: leaving the Columbia river on the 6th, where
I wrote you last, I proceeded to the entrance of the Umpqua river. On our
arrival there the fog, for one day, prevented our seeing or hearing anything
but the surf; when that cleared up, I found the bar breaking so heavily
that it was not practicable either to enter with the steamer or examine
it with the boats, and after spending another day in fruitless attempts
to get in, I reluctantly bore up for Port Orford. It appears from the beacons
which have been put up, and which are still standing, for the range for
entering the Umpqua, that the opening has changed to the southward, at
least its whole width.... I went in there determined to do it at almost
any risk; but after trying to get in for two days, with my fuel getting
short, and no prospect of better weather, I was compelled to bear up. It
was then blowing so fresh, with such a heavy sea on during the night, that
I at daylight found myself to leeward of Port Orford; and although I had
the mails on board for that place, I was compelled to give that up also.
We then stood for Trinidad bay, where I knew there was some shelter, at
least, and where I intended to hold on till the weather should be such
that we could get into Humboldt bay. My object in visiting this last-named
place was, as I have informed you, first to see if there had been any changes
at the entrance; and, secondly, to see if Mr. Davidson could by any means
get from there overland to Cape Mendocino, as I found, and the result proved,
it would be impossible to land him on that rugged cape. After remaining
at Trinidad until the weather had somewhat improved, I made an attempt,
but was compelled by the fog to return to the anchorage; after a delay
of some hours more I tried it again, and found, when we got there, the
sea breaking entirely across, and at the same time could distinctly see
that the ranges for going in, which are laid down on our survey of last
year, were entirely useless, for the entrance has evidently changed very
much -- I should think its whole width -- to the northward; so, after a
delay of twenty-four hours, and burning coal all the time, (the sea being
so heavy we could not anchor,) I bore up for Cape Mendocino, but could
find no place there where it was at all practicable to land. The coal getting
short after all these delays, I was compelled, although very reluctantly,
to proceed to this place. It has been foggy almost continually, with strong
winds, ever since we left the Columbia, which precluded, of course, the
possibility of our making any examination of the coast on our way down."(30)
In spite of these setbacks, the season had been successful. With the
exceptions of determining the positions of Cape Mendocino and Cape Foulweather,
the end of 1852 saw the western coast delineated by a scheme of observed
geographical positions for every two degrees of latitude from San Diego
to Cape Flattery.
The expansion of the operations brought with it personnel problems in
the form of professional jealousies and concern for status and relative
pay. George Davidson and James Alden were both particularly susceptible
to these feelings and showed many traits associated with being whining
prima donnas. In later years, George Davidson liked to imply that he was
always the senior Coast Surveyor on West Coast operations, but this was
not so. In fact, during Davidson's early years he was the party chief of
the smallest of West Coast field parties. He was also given to much carping
about pay, conditions, and the management of the Survey leading Bache to
threaten him with demotion from party chief at least once. Davidson, perhaps
showing the rebelliousness of youth, had no problem expressing his distaste
for Bache in these early years. On one occasion he related to a friend,
"The kindest feeling I have for him is loathing .... he doles out his 'copper'
soul in dimes."(31) This was after Davidson
had received a raise of $200 to $1,000 per year and promotion to Assistant
in early 1851. In an earlier comparison, he was critical of Superintendent
Bache for "claiming the Lion's share --- ala Maury ---"(32)
of credit for work accomplished in his organization.(33)
Again in 1852 Davidson complained that he had been slighted when he
received a $300 per year raise while Richard D. Cutts received a $600 per
year raise. This time he wrote his complaint directly to Bache who sharply
rebuked him : "I know that your pay and allowances have more than
met your expenses and that you have actually saved money on them. You have
done your duty well, but in a spirit of grumbling ... which has rendered
your service of less value.... I am sorry indeed that you force comparisons
with others, but as you do, I must inform you that I do not consider your
merits or knowledge comparable with those of Mr. Cutts. It will require
a different spirit than that of the self-esteem which now has hold of you
to reach his attainments."(34)
Although there was much truth in what Superintendent Bache related to
Davidson, he also struck a low blow as the money referred to as being saved
was $10 per month that Davidson sent to help support his mother. Davidson
held a grudge at this point against Bache and began investing time and
funds in outside business activities.(35)
He was an astute businessman as within two years he had amassed over $20,000
on real estate and stock ventures. Profits from these activities allowed
him to make loans entangling him in additional business ventures. Davidson
defended these actions as having been caused by Bache's tight-fistedness
and attitude towards him. In a venomous letter to his sister Arabella,
Davidson wrote: "I know you may be astonished at the way I have gone into
money matters, but Bache charged me, before I ever made a cent,
with having made money: that he knew it! Which was simply a lie
and now he may make the assertion and not lie...."(36)(37)
With the arrival of Lieutenant James Alden as chief of the hydrographic
party, Davidson found a new target for his invective. George Davidson accompanied
him on his reconnaissance between San Francisco and San Diego and observed
the latitude and longitude of numerous prominent points on the coast and
in the Channel Islands. Davidson began his long-running feud with Lieutenant
Alden at this time, as he (Davidson) felt slighted that his name was not
mentioned on the credits for the first edition of the Coast Survey chart
of the California coast and the Channel Islands and on the revised edition
of the reconnaissance from San Francisco to Cape Flattery.(38)
In particular, after initially complaining and then receiving a positive
response from Superintendent Bache about receiving credit for his roll
in the southern reconnaissance survey, Davidson's letter of April 13, 1854
was quite demanding:
"I respectfully beg to put forward my claim for having my name put on the title of the Reconnaissance sheets from the Mexican boundary to Port Townsend.
"It is not necessary to state that the claims to accuracy for such a work depend, in the greatest measure, upon the determinations of the latitude and longitude of the different stations.
"You have already acknowledged such a claim -Letter No. 18 - 1853- to the sheet from the Mexican Boundary to Punta de Los Reyes.
"I also put forward a similar claim (for triangulation & topography)
of the sketches of Mendocino City Harbor, Shelter Cove, Cape Blanco reef
& Umpqua River...."(39)
There can be no doubt about George Davidson's competence and contributions,
but certainly at this time he had an inflated view of his worth to the
organization and of his place in it. On one occasion he claimed to have
seniority over Assistant Richard D. Cutts by virtue of his having arrived
on the West Coast a few months earlier. On another occasion, he and Lieutenant
Alden mutually blamed each other for an unfinished piece of work. Davidson
then wrote a caustic personal note to Alden which Alden in turn sent to
Superintendent Bache. This altercation caused the Superintendent to rebuke
Davidson for disrupting the harmony of the Survey.(40)
Superintendent Bache acknowledged Davidson's contribution to these works
by having his name placed foremost in an edition of the western reconnaissance
chart published in 1855. This infuriated Alden who wrote immediately to
Superintendent Bache, "I noticed something unusual in the arrangement of
names on the title and supposing such a glaring fault the result of a mistake
rather than an intention to do myself or party a positive wrong." Alden
was disturbed that the names were now in order of work accomplished; that
being astronomically determined geographical positions, triangulation,
topography, and then hydrography. He noted irritation in having had "the
trouble and inconvenience of hunting up suitable positions for Mr. Davidson
to occupy, and then landing him and his observatory safely through the
surf.... Again, if as the table shows on the middle sheet, Mr. Davidson
gave only eleven points & we did only the hydrography, who put in the
other points & headlands & in fact who made the charts of the reconnaissance
or examination & who discovered the different anchorages which were
then unknown on the Coast - if it was not done by the party under my charge?
By the present arrangement of title the whole credit except that of the
hydrography is given by implication to Mr. Davidson."(41)
Alden's case for primary recognition weakened considerably in December
1855 when he wrote to Superintendent Bache and notified him of an error
in the survey of Shoalwater Bay. He had to alter the scale as given on
the survey sheets because "when we came to measure another Base in the
new work to verify that of the old, it was discovered that there was an
important error in the original Base line and upon making a careful enquiry
into the matter, I found a chain must have been used which was subsequently
ascertained to be about one metre too short. It appears that the chain
was right enough when it was made, but the links being inconveniently long
(a metre) they were cut in two & no allowance made , or additional
ring put in for loss incurred in turning up the ends. I have also the additional
mortification to find, when we went to remeasure the old base, that the
sea had washed away all traces of one end of it."(42)
This episode pointed out that Alden oversaw little of the ACTIVE's actual
survey work and cared little for that work, but instead concerned himself
primarily with the operation of the ship. At about the same time that Alden
was reporting on his "mortification," Davidson was reporting to Superintendent
Bache that he had made up tables of astronomic latitude and longitude for
all of the points that he had observed on the coast and also tide tables.
At his own expense he had 150 of these tables printed under the authority
of the Coast Survey and had them distributed to West Coast mariners.(43)
It is not difficult to see why George Davidson was identified with the
Survey by the early West Coast shipping interests and ultimately why he
received the lion's share of credit for the accomplishments of the Survey
on the West Coast.
Sometimes this ongoing feud between Alden and Davidson resulted in positive harm to the operations of the Survey. In January 1856 Alden spent 2 days searching for an 18-fathom shoal off the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This shoal had been reported by George Davidson to Superintendent Bache in July 1855 with bearings to the location of the bank. Superintendent Bache in turn sent this information to Alden. Alden reported to the Superintendent that each time he looked, he took "the precaution to have on board several of the most intelligent Indians that I could find; with a canoe & fishing tackle, so that they might use their own means & appliances in demonstrating in our presence the existence or not in that locality of the far famed 'halibut.' But as I said before, not less than 45 fathoms were found & as the Indians insisted that we should not get less water, I anchored with a kedge & fished diligently for an hour or two without success, as it now appears near the same spot indicated by Mr. Davidson." In a more disturbing vein, Alden then launched into an attack on Davidson as he had sent Lieutenant Philip Johnson to ask Davidson the location of this bank on September 7. "Mr. D. remarked that he knew where it was, had the bearings etc.; whereupon Mr. Johnson asked him for the necessary information so that we could find it, but Mr. D. declined giving it to him & turned the subject. I will not express my opinion upon such a procedure, but Mr. Davidson surely can't have the interest of the Survey much at heart, or he would have communicated that information to me when it might have been of great service in the search, and prevented the necessity of an order requiring me to examine the spot in the dead of winter, and at great expense to the Survey." Alden continued, "I have nothing more to communicate in regard to my movements, having been principally employed in passing up & down the Sound visiting the settlements & the different "reserves" where there are some four or five thousand friendly Indians, but who require a great deal of care & looking after to keep them quiet."(44)
Two months later, Davidson wrote to Superintendent Bache and informed
him that he had provided Alden with the correct bearings to the shoal in
question. He pointed out that the Coast Survey office had provided Alden
with a bearing of NNW from a certain point when it should have been WNW
from that point. If that error had not been made, Alden would have found
the shoal during his search. The real problem with this episode was that
it showed little meaningful communication between Davidson and Alden. Neither
held the other to be the superior Coast Surveyor on the West Coast; and,
because there was no superior officer directing West Coast operations on
the scene, they communicated circuitously through the Superintendent. This
in turn led to a three-month lag at best; and if a miscommunication occurred,
the time lag until acquiring proper data for charting could be many months.
For Alden's part, it is apparent that he did little to keep the lead swinging
while on his trips throughout the Washington waterways; the FAUNTLEROY
seems to have made more significant hydrographic discoveries than the ACTIVE
although its primary mission was not hydrography.
When George Davidson returned to the East Coast in 1857, he worked on
a Directory for the Pacific Coast of the United States. Davidson,
who had published a general description and notes of the Western Coast
in 1855 compiled and produced a remarkable work in the Directory, the forerunner
of today's Coast Pilots. This work was published in the 1858 Report of
the Superintendent. James Alden received his first copy of this work as
an offprint prior to receiving the Superintendent's Report. Predictably,
he was livid and expressed his ire in a letter which probably caused him
to "cross the Rubicon" as far as his relationship with Superintendent Bache
was concerned. In this letter Alden claimed uncertainty as to whether it
was an official publication or whether it has been published privately
"I see nowhere your authority or that of the Hon. Secretary of the Treasury for its printing and circulation.... At the same time the pages are headed throughout the work, "Report of the Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey."
"As far as the book proclaims itself then it may either be the private undertaking of Mr. Davidson or it may have the weight of your official sanction. In the former case I have but a word to say - Common justice should prompt every one to give credit where it fairly belongs. Delicacy would forbid most men from entrenching on a field of labor belonging to others, and claiming applause for services not their own: but to those who have been associated with Mr. Davidson, the absence of both these qualities will not appear surprising. If he be alone concerned then, the execution of this work is what would naturally be expected from one of his character, and the question of its fairness of treatment might safely be left to the judgment of those who have been thrown into contact with him.
"If however, as may be the case, this "Directory" has been compiled with your concurrence and advice, it becomes invested with very different character. Then your name becomes a guarantee for its honesty, and the authority of the office may be quoted to add dignity to its pretensions....
"The entrances and sailing directions for harbors, prevailing winds, currents, etc., etc. occupy a very large space in its pages, and the greater part of this, I may boldly affirm, is taken from the published and unpublished work of the party under my command and under my immediate superintendence, and yet in no instance is mention made of this steamer, or the hydrographic parties: but the general reader is led to infer that for this, as for all other divisions of the work, he is indebted to Mr. George Davidson and the brig R.H. FAUNTLEROY.
"I protest for myself and the officers who have been associated with me, against the erroneous deductions which might hereby be made, and while not wishing to claim more than is justly our due, I insist that in any official publications of work done on this coast, our share of credit shall neither be openly purloined nor silently ignored....
"... I feel it my duty in the name of Naval officers generally, to raise
my voice against the spirit and tendency of such books as this "Directory
of the Pacific Coast", and shall be gratified to learn that it has been
issued without your sanction."(45)
Bache probably felt cold fury at the insults contained in Alden's letter
of August 26 and responded with no comment other than, "You will find that
the Directory referred to is extracted from the report of the Supt. U.S.C.S
1858."(46) Alden had a point in his letter;
but as George Davidson later related to his brother, if he was so outraged
or so interested in seeing this done by the complement of the ACTIVE, why
didn't he or one of the Naval officers attached to the ACTIVE compile this
work? The dislike of these two men for each other continued well past the
time when they worked together on the Pacific coast as Davidson wrote his
brother in 1870:
"I couldn't help smiling that Alden had told Peirce I was a quack, for
he once thought it was a d scandal that a civilian should get up
a coast pilot when so many Navy officers could do it -- when asked why
the Navy didn't do it he only pooh poohed. Some of his [Alden's] quackery
will prove rather damaging. In the Strait of Fuca, at the entrance to Rosario
Strait, Lawson found a reef 1/8 mile in extent with 20 feet of water
where Alden puts 56 fathoms on each side."(47)
It was unfortunate for both Davidson and Alden that they engaged in
this battle for recognition. Both appear somewhat foolish in retrospect
and both appear caustic and arrogant. Lieutenant Alden was probably merely
a whipping boy for Davidson who had little love for military men in general.
He professed to believe that "Buttons and brains will never assimilate
..."(48) although one of the few men he
claimed to respect in these years was Captain Thomas Jefferson Lee, U.S.A.
Captain Lee had been his first boss on the Survey when Davidson was transferred
from office work to the field in 1846. It is apparent that Davidson liked
few men who were his superior during his early years on the Survey and
he probably would have heaped invective upon anyone whom he perceived as
being an authority figure. This deprecation of superiors and those with
whom he was competing for status in the Coast Survey, with the accompanying
ill will that it generated, probably cost him the superintendency of the
Coast Survey in later years. Even James Lawson, who shared his tribulations
in the pioneering years on the West Coast, rarely spoke of Davidson in
either personal or warm tones in his autobiography.
Paradoxically, George Davidson's loyalty to the Coast Survey and his
love of the work was beyond reproach. He never overspent, occasionally
spent his own funds to keep the Survey going, had huge initiative, never
made excuses for why the work wasn't done although he complained about
being sick a lot, and never had to explain to Superintendent Bache his
"mortification" over some careless error. The amount of work, coupled with
high quality, that he put out over the years was prodigious. He was a driven
man. Because of his work on the Pacific margin, he became a well-known
and well-respected figure in maritime and commercial circles. As a man
of science, his expertise was sought in areas besides surveying and charting.
In the renowned 1857 Limantour lawsuit, he saved the citizens of San Francisco
millions of dollars by proving that a seal affixed to an alleged Spanish
land grant deeding much of the San Francisco peninsula to Jose Limantour
was fraudulent.(49) He was active in politics
and was always quick to defend the Survey from criticism. He also made
friends for himself and the Survey by assuring that West Coast mariners
were kept apprised of the latest discoveries of the Survey. Perhaps a highly
competitive nature precluded getting along with superiors and professional
peers. But his desire to serve the public and his independent personality
assured that he fit in well on a frontier coast on which an individual
had to be physically and mentally tough to survive.
By the end of 1852, George Davidson had virtually completed the critical
work of observing astronomically determined geographic positions of the
major headlands and port locations on the western coast . While he had
been doing this, parties under Richard D. Cutts conducted triangulation
in the San Francisco Bay area, from San Diego to the Mexican border, and
in the Columbia River Gorge. Topographic work was done along the shores
of San Francisco Bay, from San Diego to the Mexican border, in the vicinity
of numerous lighthouse sites, along parts of the Columbia River, and around
Cape Flattery and part of the southern shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
A hydrographic reconnaissance from the Mexican border to Cape Flattery
had been accomplished, and preliminary hydrographic surveys had been made
of lighthouse sites and areas critical to navigation sufficient to assure
reasonable safety for West Coast mariners. Under James Alden, the systematic
study of West Coast tides was also begun. However, this tremendous outpouring
of work and energy was only the beginning of the total task of surveying
the western margin of the United States.
Over the next few years, many of the pioneers went home, if not for
good, at least for a respite from the arduous nature of duty on the Pacific
coast. Richard Cutts went home to the East Coast on leave of absence for
seven months returning to San Francisco in mid-1853. George Davidson and
James Lawson went east in November 1854 returning to San Francisco in April
of the following year. The trip was nowhere near as arduous as that of
1849 and 1850 as regular steamship service had been established and the
trip from East Coast to West Coast only took a month. Alexander Harrison
and John Rockwell would leave in 1854 for home, never to return to the
West Coast with the Coast Survey. The artist William B. McMurtrie, whose
beautiful views graced the early charts of the West Coast, would also return
home in 1854 but would return to the West Coast for a few more years service
before the Civil War.
At least one of the early pioneers died in a tragic accident in late
1852.(50) This was Joseph Ruth, the earnest
young man who had come west with James Williams in 1849. He was attached
to the triangulation party of Richard Cutts which was working on the Columbia
River in the fall of 1852. On October 17, he was proceeding down the Columbia
River from Cathlamet to Astoria in a private sailboat to obtain cash to
pay the triangulation crew. The small vessel was upset by a sudden squall
about four miles above Astoria. Ruth tried to hold on to the keel of the
boat as did the owner of the vessel and three others, but after an hour
and a half in the cold water he succumbed to hypothermia and slipped off
the boat and drowned. The owner of the vessel, a Mr. Cauley, also died
in this accident. Cauley's body was found after four days, but it was many
weeks before Ruth's body was recovered. He was buried in Oregon; but the
following year at the request of Ruth's mother, a metallic coffin was sent
to the Columbia River "for the purpose of receiving the remains of Mr.
Ruth -- that arrangements there had been made to have the body disinterred
and placed in the coffin." From thence the body was shipped to San Francisco
and then on to Philadelphia. The death of Joseph Ruth was particularly
unsettling to Superintendent Bache as he had known him since a small boy
and was well aware that he was the sole support of an invalid mother. In
reference to Ruth and two other young men who had died in the service of
the Survey in 1852, Superintendent Bache eulogized: "These officers have
left little to their families but the inheritance of a good name."(51)
During these years there was a new wave of Coast Surveyors filling out
existing parties, replacing those who left or were on leaves of absence,
or in some cases filling new positions. These included Army Captains William
P. Trowbridge who was placed in charge of the first West Coast tidal observation
party and E.O.C. Ord who was made chief of a southern California triangulation
party, and civilian aids and sub-assistants who were assigned to topographic
and triangulation parties such as Assistant William Greenwell, Sub-Assistant
William M. Johnson, Aids Charles M. Bache and Preston C.F. West, and Hydrographic
Draughtsman William Farquhar. Even a new artist temporarily replaced William
B. McMurtrie. This was James Madison Alden who arrived in 1854, the nephew
of Lieutenant Commanding James Alden. The younger Alden was actually hired
as Captain's Clerk to Lieutenant Commanding Alden but was responsible for
producing many beautiful sketches and water colors of coastal views and
the operations of the Survey. These men approached the work with the same
relentless perseverance as the earlier pioneers.
Various vessels were used by the Survey on the West Coast during these
years besides the EWING and ACTIVE. Richard Cutts obtained the schooner
BALTIMORE which he used primarily in the vicinity of San Francisco, although
he made at least one trip to the Columbia River on this ship. In 1854 George
Davidson acquired the hermaphrodite brig AURELIA, which he renamed the
R.H. FAUNTLEROY in honor of his friend and mentor who had passed away on
the Gulf Coast in 1849. The schooner HUMBOLDT, a vessel actually built
by the Coast Survey for West Coast service, arrived in 1855. Its outward
bound trip was initially disastrous; and like the EWING before it, put
into Rio to refit. This vessel was used in southern California and in the
Channel Islands for the transportation of topographic and triangulation
parties. Besides these vessels, there were numerous vessels chartered for
transportation of the various field parties.
The field party leaders became more and more associated with specific
geographic localities during the mid-1850's. With the exception of one
assignment to San Pedro for Davidson in 1852-1853, he and James Lawson
worked to the north of San Francisco in the winter and in the Admiralty
Inlet-Puget Sound area of Washington Territory in the summer and fall.
Augustus F. Rodgers worked almost exclusively on the topography in the
vicinity of San Francisco Bay and its approaches, while A.M. Harrison worked
south of San Francisco and occasionally in Southern California. His replacement,
William Johnson, continued working south to Monterey and then took up the
topography of the San Pedro-Channel Islands area.
Although the work began to take on a more regular form at this time,
the danger and difficulty of operating on the West Coast remained. Each
area presented its own unique challenges. The following are examples of
those challenges and difficulties.
Although Richard D. Cutts and A.M. Harrison had conducted triangulation and topography from San Diego to the Mexican border in 1851 and early 1852, the real systematic work of the Survey in Southern California began with the reconnaissance of the Los Angeles area and measurement of the San Pedro base line by George Davidson. Davidson began work in the San Pedro area in the late fall of 1852. This work apparently began at the request of the General Land Office and was in support of surveying the various offshore islands lying off southern California. Curiously, he encountered flood conditions on the plains below San Pedro hill as there had been a succession of gales from the south. The rain was so continuous that much of the Los Angeles Basin was flooded with standing water everywhere. On one occasion, Davidson's horse sunk in mud to "its saddle girths and with difficulty got out." On another, he observed a freight wagon carrying only 1 and ½ tons being pulled by 15 pairs of mules and so deep in the mud its sides were "tearing up the top of the road." Davidson, for one of the few times in his career, was beat by the elements as he gave up on measuring the baseline and returned to San Francisco in late December. Here he discovered that the weather had been inclement throughout all of California as his observatory had been dismantled and his transit instrument taken down for fear of it being blown down. A house near his observatory had been "blown over the hill into the bay."(53)
Davidson returned to the San Pedro area in the spring and measured the
base line. This was his first base line measurement and at least one of
his complaints was forewarned of by Ferdinand Hassler many years before
in his "Papers...." as published in the Transactions of the American
Philosophical Society in 1825. Hassler warned surveyors to keep instruments
and signals safe from marauding cattle by building fences around the equipment
for safe-keeping at night. But he could hardly have envisioned the thousands
of cattle on the plains of Los Angeles that caused Davidson to write: "Great
annoyance is felt on account of our signals being deranged or broken down
by the immense herds of cattle feeding on this plain."(54)
A greater problem for Davidson was that 3/4 mile of his base line ran through
shallow water that required his stooping over in the cold water to make
his measurements. This greatly aggravated his rheumatism. Upon completion
of the 6 and 3/10 miles base line measurement, Davidson commenced the triangulation
of the offshore islands and continued on this work until relieved by Lieutenant
E. O. C. Ord on August 17, 1853.
Lieutenant Ord, although having a relatively short assignment with the
Coast Survey on the West Coast, is interesting because of his Civil War
record and association with Ulysses S. Grant. As compared to most of the
civilian and military assistants, he was quite blunt in his dealings with
Superintendent Bache and wrote exactly what was on his mind at any time.
This trait, coupled with a few surviving letters to his new bride written
in early 1855, gives a unique picture of day-to-day work on the Survey
in a Southern California that would be unrecognizable today.(55)
Ord attempted to push ahead with the work but made little progress initially
because of the heat. Not quite one year after Davidson had given up because
of rain and flooding, Ord wrote Bache: "The plains here are still perfectly
dry - and the hot air dancing over them before sunrise and after sunset
- so that I can only erect signals - To understand the climate here it
must be remembered that it is of the latitude and as hot on the plains
as the northern part of Sahara. I do not intend to occupy a station until
the ground has been cooled off by a rain of which none has fallen for some
Heat ceased to be a problem a month later, as rains hit Southern California
with a vengeance. The rains began in early December and, by December 21,
Ord had lost 6 days to weather of the last 15. He noted that the plains
were then "much too deep with mud for a wagon to cross them" and was having
difficulty in moving from station to station. This was a minor problem
with his burgeoning awareness that the cost of his operations was exceeding
his allocation for 1853-1854. Apparently, he was not initially informed
of what funds he had available when he took over the party and listened
more to Bache's exhortations for "going ahead and proceeding as rapidly
as possible" and less to "not to exceed the appropriation for the year."
He wrote to Bache that to limit his expenditures to the amount required
for the first six months of the fiscal year would necessitate discharging
half of his party and accomplishing less than had been planned. While most
of the assistants on the western coast were faced with similar problems,
they tended to attempt to placate Bache with promises to do the best possible
within the limits of the appropriation; Ord on the other hand spoke plainly
about the diametrically opposed instructions he had been given by the Superintendent:
"... tis in this country necessary to spend money - if one wishes to push
ahead rapidly in anything but starvation..."(57)
Somehow Ord managed to overcome the financial difficulties and continued
work through the winter. By March of 1854 he claimed that he was anxious
to return to the Army and complained, "I have endured more exposure and
worked harder this winter on the Coast Survey than in any previous winter
of my six years service here with no society when my days work is over."(58)
He continued toiling for another seven weeks until the "setting in of summer
heats" and discharged the temporary personnel of his party on April 24.
In his final letter of the 1853-1854 season, he shows himself a poor judge
of real estate when he comments on the cost of surveying the public lands
by the General Land Office: "I am told by many persons who are well informed,
and I think the same, that the surveys of government lands in this state
will cost the government at least ten times more than the government lands
will ever sell for."
Lieutenant Ord returned to northern California after finishing the season's
work. His real problem in requesting transfer back to the Army in March,
1854, was "no society" as he had made up his mind to seek a bride at this
stage of his life. This becomes apparent a few months later when he wrote
to Superintendent Bache from San Francisco: "... I have frequently expressed
my anxiety to get home - I wanted to get a companion - but - I hope soon
to do so without the necessity of going so far - if you have occasion for
Mr. Greenwell's services in the States he will not be wanted by me here
before next fall at soonest."(59)
The "necessity of going so far" never arose as he married Mary Mercer
Thompson before leaving for Southern California in the winter of 1854-1855.
He left her in San Francisco while he conducted his work in the vicinity
of San Pedro and the Channel Islands. In letters to his bride, it is obvious
that Ord was mesmerized by her and deeply felt the separation imposed on
him by his duties on the Survey. Despite his earlier claim to Superintendent
Bache, he often mentioned hopes for an early arrival of his replacement,
Assistant W.E. Greenwell, who had been ordered to the West Coast to relieve
him as chief of the Southern California triangulation.
After arriving at San Pedro, he wrote January 11, 1855, "San Pedro looked
more desolate and adobe-like than ever - I was glad to mount and be off
over the plains - after heliotroping Marcy and getting his sign back again
- the country is looking and feeling delicious - mild north wind and air
as clear as Molly's eyes - no taint either but clear as an honest man's
conscience - if there are any - and the lazy warm sun ...." At Los Angeles,
"I got here this P.M. - found Duff and the buggy - all in good health including
the bay horse - but our cook tent and two others blew down in a gale we
had the other day - My schooner had been out now six days and must have
had bad baffling winds - I think she will be in tomorrow and in a day or
two after I shall go to the islands in her to put up signals...." ["My
schooner" refers to the charter schooner GOLDEN GATE which he was using
for transportation to the Santa Barbara and Channel Islands]
January 28, 1855, concerning the islands, "We have had a right pleasant
time of it though the peaks are awfully steep & its a hard road to
travel over there -- I left here the same night I wrote to you -- all the
next day twas calm and we didn't get into Johnsons Cove till next A.M....
I went around the S-east point of the island that morning & after landing
along side where about 500 seals lay in a heap like pigs - sunning themselves,
I climbed a steep lookout rock in my drawers & as it was terribly steep
work, broken rotten rock too I had to lay flat in or on some places &
slide down & sharp stones made pointed remarks at the expense of my
skin - we planted a signal that day -went fishing afterwards - I &
the Capt [Shelly or Shelby of the GOLDEN GATE] didn't get a bite - &
went back to the vessel wet & hungry to get in a good humor drinking
the sailors' toasty - Sweet hearts & wives ...." The next day Ord "had
better luck; didn't get scratched so much though I climbed a peak of over
a thousand feet high and in the afternoon went fishing again & caught
some red fish of six and eight pounds weight...." Concerning his relief,
"I hear of Mr. Greenwell - but I hear he is still delayed from departing
to this section of the Coast Survey - from which I am disposed to
think he will not hasten to join - and if he can avoid it won't come at
all - well - I think I should as soon remain on the Survey as not - provided
I can have Molly with me sometimes...."
Ord, as did many of the early surveyors, had no trouble mixing public
and private duties. February 7, 1855 he wrote Molly: "I shall be at leisure
in a month or two and can get as many of the rancheroes to ask for me as
their surveyor as anyone -- in fact - I have or was asked to make surveys
by Sepulvedas, Domingues, and Diegos.... I surveyed the Pueblo & lands
-- & the new town of San Pedro - so that I feel confident we can do
justice to any work he can give to the firm "Coffee - Ord - & Co."
["Coffee" refers to another Army officer.]
In spite of prospects of additional work and money, the loneliness of
the work continued to get to Ord as he wrote three days later: "I am beginning
to think the same thing that we have been thinking all along that its not
much use getting married at all ... and you living by yourself ... and
me living by myself - all alone down here & lonesome enough it is truly
- with not even Marcy - nor Duff -- but nobody but Passmore & Gleason
and your hat hanging on the wall over the bookshelf, and Spot [the dog]
- I was goin to say - but she is in Coventry now owin to an encounter with
an overgrown pole kitten [skunk] we met coming down from San Pedro day
before yesterday, when as I can't help remarking we had the divils own
luck ... first we stuck fast in the river, which was a foot or two deep
in the wagon and this latter three more or less [feet deep] in the sand
- and "Jim" [a mule] wouldn't pull a bit - so nothing was left for Gleason
and I - I put him first (because he went in deepest) - but to pull the
wagon out ourselves - which we did - (after unloading it) - with a little
help from "Pete" at the next bad place - Jim, who had caught a sound beating
just before we got there - pulled too much & broke a trace - however
we mended that in short order, and we finally at sunset arrived, in good
health and appetite - at the Bolsas - I found Passmore as fat as a buck
he had been three weeks alone - & had eaten up every thing - but ...
some very dry beef which we got for dinner - not the Indian but the beef
- but I rode over to Murillos - today - & he promised to send milk
& beef & sometimes eggs ... and I had such a famous dinner today...."
The next evening Ord continued his letter -- "... It is night - and
the wind is blowing & shaking the tent and flaring my candle - by the
way its melancholy that lonesome candle and I will give it a mate right
away - well - Gleason - when called said there was but one candle stick
in camp - so I told him to bring me another candle and a potato - " A potato
- Sir - Yes - a potato - & I have improvised a steady - candlestick
... - and have blanketed the windy side of the tent and all inside is as
calm & comfortable as it can be, without Molly, and the table
looks a deal cosier. Brother Marcy - I left to show a heliotrope from San
Pedro Mountain - & as he has a good horse camp near by & Duff for
cook, he will not have a bad time - two other parties are at the island
- lonely enough too - the heliotrope of one this afternoon half an hour
after the sun was down (to me) - was glimmering through the haze from
the top of a mountain like a lightning bug on the top of a distant tree
- before dark - I could just see it with a telescope - as twas 30
miles off & very hazy - and if these misty mornings & hazy afternoons
continue - I may be kept here a month...."
In a delightful passage written on February 14, Ord described work and
camp life in a Los Angeles that will never be known again: "Three days
gone and I have done observing the island & San Pedro from this singularly
lonesome old hill - after an unusually hard days work; for Passmore and
I swam and waded two or three times each, across the mouth of the nearest
estuary (or arm of the sea) - tugging or pushing along with us - poles
- boards and shovels for a signal we are going to erect there tomorrow
- the current was very rapid & the water was awfully cold - but no
sharks - such as followed me across that same place last summer - The days
work is over and I have had my evening meal of dried beef - potatoes -
and hard bread - washed down with a good cup of coffee - ... - the plain
around the hill .... is so quiet, and if it wasn't for the little ground
owls - that begin to cu-cu-cooo about in spots - and that coyote laughing
such a squeelabelloo - over the next hill - it would seem lonesome - though
there's - the big billowing- everlasting - ro-o-a-a-r-r-r-r -- onto-the-end-of-the-world
of the ocean close by.... everything has gone off from the plain - which
makes it look so lively by day - the straggling troop of Sand hill cranes
that have been gaogle-gobbling and babbansaying to each other near the
foot of this gentle eminence have lazily spread their wings - and
slowly flapt away - the uneasy & noisy geese have settled in the marshes
& ponds - to be quiet (unless the coyotes pitch into them) till morning
- Passmore who draws a pretty good bow has done fiddling - Gleason has
lit my candles, ground his coffee for the morning; & is I suppose gone
to play poker with Passmore - the kangaroo mice are peering out from under
the lounge; and "Spot" is breathing hard outside - dreaming I fancy of
the "Ardillas" [ground squirrels] she caught today - and those she intends
to catch tomorrow...."
Ord's mode of writing captured the essence of his observations for his
new bride. One can almost hear the owls and sand hill cranes, Passmore
fiddling, and the everlasting roar of the ocean. In spite of his misgivings
concerning the arrival of Assistant Greenwell, he was relieved in May of
1855. Perhaps he was not the best of party administrators as he turned
over $500, which he thought was a surplus, to Assistant Greenwell upon
his assumption of the duties of chief of party. A month later he wrote
stating that he had made a mistake in the accounts and that he had overspent
the appropriation by approximately $900 and covered that with his own funds.
He requested, and received back, the $500 that he had given to Greenwell.(60)
Greenwell waited in San Francisco for the arrival of the Schooner HUMBOLDT,
a vessel that was planned and designed by him specifically for West Coast
duty. The HUMBOLDT virtually duplicated the voyage of the EWING. It experienced
a disastrous storm in the North Atlantic and required repairs at Rio de
Janeiro, had a 60 day transit from Rio around Cape Horn to Valparaiso "in
want of wood, water, provisions, and rigging." The HUMBOLDT then took another
two months to arrive in San Francisco in September. The civilian captain,
Edward Gordon(61), discharged two of his
crew in Rio who in turn complained to the U.S. Consul. The Consul reported
their complaints to Superintendent Bache which resulted in Bache censuring
Gordon. Gordon wrote to Bache upon arrival in San Francisco, "This whole
matter I thought of such little moment that it never occurred to me to
write you from Rio de Janeiro." Bache showing a peppery side that tolerated
no besmirchment of the Survey's reputation responded, "You are considered
very blame worthy in the transaction, and it was not of the light importance
that you seem to suppose."(62)
By early fall of 1855 Assistant Greenwell was working in the San Pedro
area. He noted the poor closure of some of the triangles observed by Ord(63)
and sought advice from Superintendent Bache; but none was forthcoming so
he forged ahead. Ord also reported these problems in April of 1855 and
attributed the poor closure to the heat and an unsteady atmosphere. He
most assuredly would have reobserved the same angles if he had remained
on the Survey. At this time, Sub-Assistant William M. Johnson proceeded
to Southern California and began the systematic topographic surveying of
the shoreline of the mainland and islands.
Johnson and Greenwell conducted a reconnaissance of of the islands.
Both men had a flare for description and had a number of harrowing experiences.
Sub-Assistant Johnson provided this glimpse of his first work on Santa
Cruz and Anacapa Islands:
"The survey of these islands was attended with no little personal risk. At Santa Cruz, where we were obliged to land on the sand and shingle beaches at the mouth of the "Gulches," the surf was oftentimes so heavy that even with the best management the boat would be swamped. On one of these occasions the cross-hairs in my alhidade were broken by the water getting into the tube before we could get ashore with it, although my men were always ready, instruments in hand, to jump and run as soon as the boat grounded; with this single exception, we escaped without any more serious consequences than a thorough drenching with salt water. At Anacapa our going ashore was attended with less difficulty and danger.... but the one [landing] on the west end is oftentimes difficult if not dangerous. This is owing to its being so near the west end of the peak, that it is exposed both to the heavy swell of the ocean and at the same time to the northwest winds. Thus a short chop sea is produced, in which it was oftentimes hard to prevent the boat from being thrown on the rocks....
"Anacapa is a place of great resort for the seal, sea-lion, and formerly
of the sea otter, but the latter have been all killed off for their fur....
Fish of many varieties abound in such numbers both here and at Santa Cruz,
that two or three persons in a short time can load a boat.... There is
not a drop of water on this island. The east end of the island is a place
of resort of countless numbers of sea-birds, which deposit their eggs and
bring up their young in perfect security from the disturbance of man. I
doubt very much whether previous to our arrival that part of the island
had ever been visited by a white man...."(64)
Greenwell erected a signal on Santa Barbara Island the following year
after experiencing difficulty in landing on the island. After that he attempted
to land again in order to leave a heliotroper and his camp gear, "but,
after two days spent in fruitless efforts to land, was at length forced
to abandon the attempt." He described both Santa Barbara Island and Santa
Catalina Island to Bache:
"...The extent of this little island in shore-line would not exceed two miles. Its elevation in the highest part is about five hundred feet, and the surface contains some twenty or thirty acres covered with soil, but no water occurs, and not a vestige of wood. The shores are rocky and abrupt, presenting on the northeast and on the southern side perpendicular surfaces, exposed to the full force of the ocean swell.
"Catalina island is about seventeen miles in length, with, at most, a breadth of four or five miles. Its shores are rocky, and on the southern side fearfully abrupt, but on the northern shore, in several little coves or bays, boats may land at any season of the year. For agricultural purposes I consider this island valueless. It is made up of ridges of rock, running diagonally across the surface from northeast to southwest, with elevations of from two to three thousand feet, composed principally of slate rock, with occasional masses of coarse quartz. Between these ridges occur precipitous gulches, and at intervals little valleys, but they are inconsiderable, and the soil is light and scarcely worth the cultivation.
"Four or five settlers cultivate the most productive of the little valleys
mentioned, but realize nothing beyond the bare means of living. About midway
between the isthmus and the northwestern extremity of the island, there
is a well of running water, sweet and good. At the southeastern point,
good water has also been found in digging to a depth of fifty feet or more;
but in places intermediate, although found at the same depth, the water
is brackish. The island of Santa Catalina produces good firewood, (scrub
oak,) and much of it could be obtained without extraordinary labor."(65)
The original plan to survey the Channel Islands involved observing a
triangulation scheme through the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente
before proceeding to the north. Superintendent Bache revised this plan
and decided to survey the islands to the north first because they were
considered habitable while Santa Catalina and San Clemente Islands were
not. There were two possible schemes for carrying the triangulation to
the northern islands from the San Pedro Base Line. The first involved observing
points on San Pedro Hill, Santa Catalina Island, Point Duma, and Santa
Barbara Island. The station at Santa Barbara Island was to function as
the hub of a wheel in this scheme with multiple observations on this island
as well as observations from Santa Barbara Island across the channel to
the north and 35 miles up to Santa Cruz Island. The second possible scheme
was to carry triangulation up the coast through the Santa Monica Mountains
and then to the west until establishing points across from Santa Cruz Island.
This required carrying an arc of triangulation 70 miles from the San Pedro
Base before observing across the Santa Barbara Channel.
Ironically, Greenwell was stymied in choosing the first route because
of an on-going drought. Clear weather came after storm and frontal passages
without which there was almost continuous fog and haze off the coast. Thus
Greenwell was compelled to choose the second scheme as the most feasible.
Although it was Superintendent Bache who had told him to change the priorities
of the Survey to the northern islands, Bache must not have understood Greenwell's
reasoning in driving the triangulation through the Santa Monica Mountains
as he wrote Greenwell on February 16, "The great object, viz.; the survey
of the islands, seems to me to make no progress and to be treated as secondary
in the affair while it is of primary consequence .... So far the money
goes, but no results .... the general information in regard to the islands
is interesting, but we have been three years in surveying and no survey
is yet made!"(66)
This communication of Superintendent Bache's, reminiscent of his words
to Assistant Williams in 1849, was disturbing. This was the first of a
number of apparently unfounded attacks that the Superintendent made on
William Greenwell over the next few years. Bache usually had sound judgment
concerning both the men working for him and the course of work that they
were following. Perhaps it was the frustration of attempting to direct
the work in this remote corner of the United States that tempered Bache's
words. Perhaps these apparent lapses of judgement on the Superintendent's
part were early manifestations of the disease that would severely debilitate
him in 1864 and finally kill him in early 1867. Perhaps Bache just had
a few men whom he picked out to bully and was peaches and cream to the
rest of the world.
At this time, Southern California was still composed of mere hamlets
with little interest being shown by the outside world. Because of sporadic
steamer schedules, mails took 6 to 8 weeks from the East Coast to San Pedro
as opposed to 3 to 4 weeks for San Francisco. In fact, Bache was responding
to Greenwell's November correspondence. Greenwell in the meantime had written
an upbeat report from San Pedro on January 25, 1856, reporting good progress
and that he would be ready to commence the triangulation of Santa Cruz
Island in early March if he received a sufficient increase in funds to
continue work for the fiscal year. He also noted, "Since my communication
to you of November 27 my work has progressed steadily and rapidly, but
I assure you, it has been at the cost of the very hardest work & exposure
ever yet seen on the Coast Survey. On the other side, I have gone through
some hardship & exposure and worked, I think not discreditable to myself,
but that was a mere exercise compared to this. So far I keep in good health...."(67)
Greenwell waited in vain for the increase in appropriation, fell sick,
and discharged his crew in mid-March. He received Bache's February 16 letter
on April 9 while sick in bed in Los Angeles. He was devastated by the tone
of Bache's letter as he knew that he had done good service for the Survey.
He wrote an 8-page letter in reply that recited a litany of problems associated
with working on the West Coast:
".... I cannot understand why you should have written me a letter such as that I now receive. I wish to answer it minutely, and will do so if I have strength.
"It is true the work has made no progress so far as the actual survey of the islands are concerned, but am I censurable for this in any way, prior to my arrival in California.
"If I understood your wishes before leaving Washington the islands of Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, & San Miguel are those you wished first attained & subdivided, and not Santa Catalina or San Clemente or San Nicolas..."
Greenwell went on to describe the drought conditions that were accompanied
by offshore fogs and haze, "Even now when the grass is usually knee high
on the plains, the rancheros are driving their cattle 100 to 200 miles
back to keep them from starvation. Throughout the whole country the plains
and hill sides are as destitute of grass as mid summer. I mention this
... to show you the state of the atmosphere we have had here this winter
and spring for rain and clear weather are synonymous."
More seriously, Greenwell placed before Bache that, out of his original
appropriation of $12000, he had to absorb some of Ord's expenses of the
previous fiscal year and that repairs had to be made to the HUMBOLDT including
dry-docking and replacement of some of the copper as "on this coast where
the worms are so destructive her bottom would have been eaten up in six
months without it. Her rigging too was much worn out which had to be renewed
.... In addition to these ... the camp equipage I received of Captain Ord
was worthless. Two new tents I was forced to have made in San Francisco
- One I made myself, or had made by my men - and of the other 3 which completed
my camp I begged 1 of Mr. Rodgers & 2 of Mr. Davidson ...."
The bottom line was that Greenwell had only $7198.11 to operate his
party on of the $12000 appropriation. Because of this he had released his
men, but not after waiting for an additional two weeks hoping for Bache
to send him additional funds to continue the work. Greenwell ends this
"My work here is probably more difficult and attended with greater exposure
& hardship than any other on the Coast Survey - certainly than any
other on this side. I feel an interest generally in whatever I undertake
and go ahead with a will. The spirit of your letter does not increase this
interest, or make my labors less laborious."(68)
Greenwell went to San Francisco to be placed under the care of a physician
for his illness and remained there until at least the end of July. This
communication debacle continued with his April 9 letter crossing with a
letter from Bache authorizing an additional $2000 to continue the work
until the end of the fiscal year. In spite of all these problems, Greenwell
was back at work by early October commencing the survey of Santa Cruz Island.
He had finished the triangulation from San Pedro up to San Buenaventura.
For Superintendent Bache's part, there is no record of an apology but Greenwell's
appropriation for 1857 was increased to $16000 from the $12000 of the previous
For the remainder of 1856 and into 1857 the work progressed well. However,
adventure came in the form of earthquake, rattlesnakes, and boat swampings.
On January 9, 1857, the San Andreas Fault produced the great Fort Tejon
earthquake with its epicenter in the Tehachapi Mountains approximately
40 miles to the east-northeast of the Santa Barbara area. Johnson was camped
in the Sycamore Valley approximately 30 miles eastward of San Buenaventura
while Greenwell was at work in the San Fernando area. The earthquake struck
at approximately 8:25 A. M. local time and was accompanied by a number
of major aftershocks that continued well into the evening. Sub-Assistant
Johnson had planned to go into San Buenaventura that same day to pick up
supplies and left soon after the most violent shock. He passed over the
bed of the Santa Clara River six miles above its mouth and observed:
" ... The stream in itself is insignificant, but its bed is from a half to three-quarters of a mile wide from bank to bank; and here I met with the first evidences of the terrible power exerted by the convulsion of nature so recently felt. Long cracks were visible in the bed of the river, many of them being six or eight inches across, and extending in a direction SE. and NW. These openings must have been at first considerably wider, for many of them had evidently been filled with water from the river, as on either side of the cracks lay a ridge of wet sand.
"These appearances were visible as far as I could see up and down the
bed of the river. Near the mouth of the river the cracks were longer and
wider. Persons residing within a mile of the entrance say that the water
was thrown out from the cracks as high as six feet, and that large blocks
of earth sank several feet below the former level, and there remain."
Greenwell who was a little farther east but about the same distance
from the epicenter observed: "The earth was in fearful agitation, with
undulations so quick and rapid as to make it almost impossible to stand.
The sensation was very much like that felt on the deck of a small vessel
in a heavy chopped sea." He added: "I was interested to know whether my
signals remained unchanged; but in subsequent measurements no differences
could be detected in the angles."(69) This
is certainly the first attempt in the western hemisphere and possibly in
the world to use geodetic methods to measure crustal motion due to earthquake.
He would have succeeded if his signals had straddled the San Andreas Fault
instead of all lying on the southwest side of the fault line. A half century
later the Coast and Geodetic Survey in cooperation with the Carnegie Institution
began a program to measure the relative motion between various points on
different sides of the San Andreas Fault.
The survey parties also had to contend with rattlesnakes in this area. While working in the vicinity of present-day Malibu, Sub-Assistant Johnson reported, "Judging from the number of rattlesnakes which we have killed in the field and among our tents, it seems a wonder that no serious misfortune has been met by the party. At the last station they were so numerous that it has been named by the men 'rattlesnake camp.' Two horses, temporarily in my employ, were bitten at different times. In both cases the swelling rapidly extended to the chest and neck, occasioning great difficulty in swallowing, but by repeated drenching with a mixture of whisky, salaeratus and water, proper attention to the wounds, both ultimately recovered...."
Johnson felt that "After favorable winters, this part of the country
might support from twenty-five hundred to three thousand head of cattle.
Its use will probably be confined to pasturage." He showed himself to be
a better geographer than judge of future real estate values when he described
this stretch of coast:
"The first plane table sheet extends from Point Conversion eastward
to the Canada de Isique, and embraces as rough and difficult a portion
of topography as can well be imagined. A spur of the coast range of mountains
here meets the ocean, and steep and rocky sides, overgrown with brush and
cactus, are made even more desolate and forbidding by innumerable barrancas,
gulches, and canadas. These terms have been adopted by Americans living
in California, and are now in general use, as being much more expressive
than any English words that could be employed to convey the same ideas.
The first signifies a deep break cut into the hill-side by winter rains.
The term 'gulch' conveys the idea of a small and narrow valley, very tortuous
in its course, the bottom cut into irregular falls, and strewed with large
boulders, over which the water sweep with violence. Its steep sides are
generally covered with thick brush, and are the haunts of bear, deer and
great numbers of rattlesnakes. The 'canadas' differ from gulches, in being
comparatively wide, level, and pleasant valleys, in which are to be found
fine large oak and sycamore trees, and usually water, which, however, seldom
reaches the coast, losing itself in the loose gravelly soil of its own
bed some miles in the interior."(70)
Greenwell seconded the opinion that the area around present day Malibu
was "barren, rugged, and useless for any habitable purpose." He described
the coast to the west: "From Point Conversion to the old mission of San
Buenaventura, some twenty miles, the coast is beautifully smooth and level
-- a wide open prairie of fertile land, part of which is watered by the
Santa Clara river. From San Buenaventura to Santa Barbara the mountains
again touch the shore, leaving occasional valleys and spots of cultivated
ground. Between Santa Barbara and Point Conception, a distance of about
forty-five miles, the line of coast is unbroken by any elevation, the range
of mountains running parallel with it, but lying back in the rear from
four to six miles, and gradually sloping to the very shores of the ocean.
Such, in a word, are the general features of the coast stretching from
San Pedro to Point Conception...."(71)
Apparently Sub-Assistant Johnson and his topographic party were also
the pioneer surfers in the Malibu area as his boat was swamped at least
a dozen times in attempting landings in the vicinity of Point Duma.(72)
Fortunately there were no fatalities in these accidents.
The year 1857 was a good one for the work on the Southern California
Coast. In his annual report, Superintendent Bache commended Assistant Greenwell
for making "good progress" and also gave as close to a public compliment
as the Superintendent ever made when he declared, "The difficulties attending
the triangulation of the main and neighboring islands ... have been in
a great measure overcome by the energy of Assistant Greenwell...." The
triangulation was finished nearly up to San Buenaventura, the islands of
Santa Cruz and San Nicolas were finished, and signals and reconnaissance
finished up to Point Conception and through to San Miguel Island. Greenwell
was probably feeling that he had worked himself back into the Superintendent's
good graces by this time and at the end of the year requested a leave of
absence to return home for a visit. Prior to receiving this communication
Bache had written Greenwell noting that the computing division had brought
the poor closure of the triangles in the vicinity of San Pedro to his attention
and that this work must be corrected. These were the same triangles that
both Ord and Greenwell had brought to the office's attention in 1855.
By March 1, the Superintendent had received Greenwell's request for
relief and responded, "The state of your work, as by my last letter, will
show what must be done before you can possibly be relieved. The work must
be complete and the stations secured so as to be permanent. You will see
the importance to your own reputation of this." Greenwell once again responded
with a long letter in which he reminded Bache the work was not his and
he ended, "I came out on this coast understanding that I would be relieved
in 3 years. This time I have faithfully served. I left my private affairs
not altogether as I would have wished ...; they now demand my presence
and it is ruinous to me to be forced to leave them neglected. In consideration
of this I am forced to ask at least a leave of absence of a few months
to enable me to do this...."
The end result of all this was that Greenwell remained and completed
the reobservation of the San Pedro area triangles. However, there was a
bizarre exchange of letters between him and Superintendent Bache over the
next year. April 4 Bache wrote and commented "I am glad to hear the work
is progressing so well." May 31, Bache responded to Greenwell's April 12
letter: "Yours of April 12 reporting the number of primary stations is
received. I consider the amount of primary work very small for the expenditure
made." He concluded this letter with the zinger, "I should be very glad
to grant you the privilege of returning but I feel that it will be at the
expense of the interest of the work & your own." Once again Bache is
blaming the state of the early work on Greenwell. Finally on September
16 Bache wrote, " I regret exceedingly the various difficulties incident
to the triangulation of San Nicolas Island, and am glad that you have been
able to surmount them. The progress reported is very gratifying under such
circumstances." This was in response to a Greenwell letter of July 31 in
which he detailed fog, gales, and only one safe anchorage in the vicinity
of the island. Then again on October 11 Superintendent Bache wrote again
to Greenwell, "I am gratified with the passable aspect which the work now
presents ...." This was all the more remarkable as Greenwell hadn't even
been working on the revision. Instead, he began this work in early November
of 1858. On December 2 he reported to Superintendent Bache, "...but up
to the present time, nothing in the way of observations have been effected....
This revision work is the most uninteresting & perplexing I have yet
had to perform..."(73)
In early February Greenwell reported, "...My measurements at these stations
are so different from Capt. Ord's, that I find it necessary to reoccupy
all his stations. His books I cannot make anything of.... In these I cannot
tell what observations to admit or reject...." The worst difference was
34" at one angle. Greenwell accounted for the bad measurements by commenting,
"He was not careful enough & thorough in having his signals perpendicular,
from this way I account for his errors...." Greenwell goes on to recount
a problem on Santa Rosa Island, "The island is ... filled with wild cattle,
some 8 or 10,000 head; it is with the greatest difficulty I can get a signal
to stand, these cattle wreck & tramp them down in a few days, no matter
how securely I put them up...."(74) Greenwell's
personal situation had changed by early 1859 and the urgency to return
to the East Coast was no longer so great. He told Bache, "... you expressed
the idea that I could return home after the revision work was made acceptable.
My circumstances now are different from then, & tho I would like much
to return on a visit, I would still prefer to remain here, if in going
home my return to this coast was made thereby uncertain...." Apparently
Greenwell, like Ord a few years earlier, had recently wed.
In early August, George Davidson wrote to Superintendent Bache and reported
that Greenwell lost his wife "two days since ... ten days after her confinement.
The misfortune has nearly distracted him." Apparently Greenwell's wife
died following the birth of their child. Corroborating this view is that
he mentioned having to take care of a sick child upon return to the eastern
seaboard in early December of 1860. Superintendent Bache most assuredly
had received Davidson's letter before writing again to Greenwell on September
16 as the mails only took three weeks from San Francisco to the East Coast.
He mentioned nothing about the tragic turn of events in Greenwell's life
and instead berated him for hiring an aid at the going rate in Southern
California which was $100 per month. (George Davidson's cook earned $125
per month in 1850 while working in this area.) This individual, a C. E.
Ellis, had worked for the Coast Survey for about five years in Northern
California and was experienced in triangulation and topography. Bache apparently
was angry that Greenwell had hired Ellis without first consulting him or
applying for an aid through him. Given the state of communication between
them it seems farfetched that he would bother to concern himself over such
a trivial matter. He directed Greenwell to discharge Ellis and then went
so far as to write other party chiefs on the west coast to not hire Ellis
if he should apply. This episode seems unbelievably petty concerning Ellis
and cruel to Greenwell given his circumstances.
Superintendent Bache's relationship with William Greenwell seems inexplicable
and irrational at this time. Greenwell was a senior assistant and only
had a handful of assistants or office personnel senior to him at this time.
Even if Bache was attempting to force him out of the Survey, the cruelty
of his communication following the death of Greenwell's wife transcended
a mere personnel problem. Although Greenwell's case was the most flagrant
example of seeming irrationality on Bache's part, there were a few other
instances of Bache seeming to bully West Coast assistants in the 1850's
for little apparent reason. Was he beginning to show signs of mental deterioration?
The year 1860 was uneventful in the relationship of Bache and Greenwell.
Perhaps the Superintendent was too distracted with the politics and events
in the eastern states to bother continuing with this apparent vendetta.
Greenwell closed out his work in Southern California in the early fall
of 1860 and returned home to Philadelphia with his child in December. He
was back on the West Coast by June 1861 and spent most of the rest of his
Coast Survey career in Southern California.
The topographer, Sub-Assistant William Johnson, also stayed in California
during the Civil War years. He bought the schooner ELIZABETH OWENS in early
1860 and described it as not much to look at but a good sea boat. He in
turn must have been hitting the "whiskey and salearatus" as the last official
mention of William Johnson in the records of the Coast Survey is found
in a letter from Assistant J. S. Edwards, who had been sent to the West
Coast in 1864, to the Superintendent of the Survey, "I respectfully suggest
that an order be sent to some proper person to collect and take charge
of the Coast Survey property that has been used by Mr. Johnson, it being
much scattered and in the hands of improper persons, who hold it for his
The work on the central California coast began with the arrival of Assistant
Richard D. Cutts and Sub-assistant Augustus F. Rodgers in San Francisco
in 1850. The initial work for both of them was in the vicinity of San Francisco
with Cutts conducting triangulation and Rodgers proceeding with the topography.
Cutts, as mentioned earlier, also spent time at San Diego and in the Columbia
River Gorge during his first two years on the coast. In the late summer
of 1853 he began the primary triangulation of the West Coast when he started
driving an arc of triangulation north to Ballenas Bay and down the backbone
of the Coast Range towards Monterey Bay. Cutts measured the Pulgas Base
Line at the south end of San Francisco Bay in June 1853 and then commenced
the survey to the south. By mid-1854 he had completed the primary scheme
to Mount Bache, present day Loma Prieta, the highest peak in the Santa
Cruz Mountains. Cutts failed to appreciate the beauty of this mountain
that stands as a sentinel over Monterey Bay. While conducting operations
on Loma Prieta in the summer of 1854 he wrote Superintendent Bache:
"I wrote you on the 28th of June that I had moved to my present encampment
. Since that time my party has been engaged in opening the line to the
summit of the mountain, and a difficult and most laborious job it has proved
to be. The summit is about 2500 feet above camp- with steep sides,
and covered with a dense chaparral thru which it is impossible to move
a yard without the aid of the axe. Deep canon - exceptional heat, the absence
of water and the necessity of being at all times being fully armed and
on the alert have caused the larger part of my party to break down. - &
I can with difficulty find men willing to work under the circumstances.
Every thing ... has to be carried up by men - as no mules could climb up
the steep mountain side. I reconnoitered for three or four days in May
& June to continue the triangulation without occupying this point -
but the mountains are so close to each other and of so equal altitude that
its selection was a case of necessity. Its occupation will be the most
laborious piece of work I have ever undertaken. Since the 8th I have reconnoitered
the country to the southward - & signals have been erected at Santa
Cruz & on the Bay of Monterey - & in a few days others will be
put up on the San Juan Mountains & in the vicinity of Monterey Peninsula."(76)
Two weeks after writing the above, Cutts reported:
" I came down last night from the summit of the mountain - having slept
near the station for the last 9 days for the purpose of observing early
& late - the signals showing but for a very short time about sunrise
& sunset. I have finished the station with the exception of one line
across the Bay of Monterey & this it will be impossible to observe
until the summer fogs have ceased to prevail - nor indeed would I have
been able to have succeeded at all at this & other stations had I not
selected points from 1500 to 3000 feet in height, which altitudes allow
of the line of sight passing above the fog & smoke with which morning
& evening the valleys are filled. The smoke from the burning plains
& fires in the mountains are now a greater drawback than the fog."(77)
By late fall of 1854 the primary triangulation had been completed from
near Drakes Bay to the north to Monterey to the south. The astronomic stations
that George Davidson had observed at San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Monterey
were all tied into the triangulation as were all of the lighthouse sites
between San Francisco and Monterey. A start was made on the secondary triangulation
in the Monterey Bay area. Cutts resumed the work in the spring but was
relieved by Assistant George A. Fairfield in late April of 1855. Cutts
was called to duty as the scientific representative of the United States
State Department in helping determine the offshore boundaries of streams
and rivers from the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States to northeastern
Canada. This duty resulted from the signing of a fisheries treaty between
the United States and Great Britain.
Assistant Fairfield came to California with the understanding that he
would only see a year of West Coast duty. Three long years later he returned
home to the East Coast. He was quite ineffectual during this period and
was stymied by fogs and poor visibility in the vicinity of Point Reyes
and points north for most of this three year period. His communications
with Superintendent Bache during this period had two main themes. The first
of these was that he couldn't get anything done because of fog and other
weather conditions. The second theme was a constant litany of requests
to be relieved and return home. Superintendent Bache for his part wrote
Fairfield on March 31, 1856, "The detail , and retention of Mr. Cutts on
the Fishery Commission has embarrassed me so much that I am still unable
to send the relief which you probably expected. Under these circumstances
I feel compelled to request you to remain in charge of the primary triangulation
on the Western Coast until I can provide a suitable substitute. This I
trust may not involve much delay in your service."(78)
On May 8 Fairfield responded from a camp near Tomales Bay, " "I am exceedingly
desirous of returning home." February 2, 1857, Fairfield was still at camp
near Tomales Bay pleading with Bache "I regret very much indeed that you
are still unable to relieve me. I am disappointed every mail, as I have
been expecting every two weeks for the last year to receive the long looked
for order to return to the States. My salary barely supports me, and I
am very anxious to return to my family. By the time this reaches you, it
will have been nearly two years since I received my instruction, double
the time that you promised that I would have to remain out here. I therefore
ask most respectfully that you will relieve me."(79)
He also reported another litany of failure in this letter as he was unable
to observe the line from Tomales Point to Sonoma Mountain with a revolving
heliotrope. However, he did finish the secondary triangulation around Tomales
Bay in 1858. He then gave up on the primary triangulation and proceeded
to Petaluma Creek to conduct secondary triangulation on the north end of
San Francisco Bay.
In the winter of 1857-1858 Bache recognized that Fairfield was accomplishing
nothing on the primary triangulation and suggested that he shift operations
to the Monterey area. Even this didn't work out and on May 1, 1858, Fairfield
wrote Bache from his camp on Tomales Point that this was infeasible and
also noted his failure to make observations. He reminded Bache that he
took over the party "three years ago today" with no relief in sight.(80)
By this time the Superintendent was probably disgusted with the lack of
production and Fairfield's incessant pleas to return to the East Coast.
He wrote orders for Fairfield to return home on May 31.(81)
The orders crossed in the mails with Fairfield's final plea:
"... I wish it understood that when I return home, I do not wish to come out here again. I believe it is not improper for me to express such a wish, as I have already served a full term, and it is your desire to have volunteers only on this coast...."
"As regards the state of Mr. Boutelle's health, I think this would be
the very place for him to recuperate, for surely there is no more healthy
climate in the world than this. I had supposed that all idea of his coming
out to relieve me had been given up long ago. But if his health is the
only obstacle, I sincerely hope that he may soon recover...."
Charles Boutelle never went to the West Coast in spite of Fairfield's
self-interested wish for his good health. Fairfield, once he received Bache's
May 31 communication, hastened "to comply with the order with the greatest
pleasure" and dismantled the Tomales Bay camp by July 2, took care of affairs
in San Francisco, and left on the steamer of August 5. He arrived in New
York on August 27 and never went to the West Coast again. In many respects,
the Superintendent's relationship with Fairfield was as disconcerting as
his relationship with Assistant Greenwell. Fairfield accomplished little
meaningful work during his assignment to the West Coast, obviously felt
that he had been taken advantage of, and continually regaled Bache with
his failures and desire to return home. As with Greenwell, it seems that
Bache exercised poor judgment in his relationship with Fairfield. By comparison
with the other men who went to the West Coast, Fairfield seemed to lack
the fortitude required to overcome the difficulties of working in a frontier
environment. Perhaps the Superintendent was hoping that Fairfield would
rise to the occasion and proceed vigorously ahead despite his personal
feelings. By forcing Fairfield to remain on the West Coast, Bache virtually
assured minimal progress in the primary triangulation work.
The primary triangulation resumed in November when George Davidson returned
to the West Coast following a leave of absence to visit the East. As the
reconnaissance astronomic work was completed, Davidson at this time took
over the triangulation work north of San Francisco. During his leave of
absence he wed Ellinor Fauntleroy, a daughter of his deceased mentor and
friend Robert Fauntleroy, and proceeded to the West Coast with her and
her younger brother Edward. Edward was hired as an aid by Davidson who
requested that Superintendent Bache assent to paying him $50 per month
as that was then the pay for hired laborers on the West Coast. The starting
pay for aids was $30 per month. In responding to this Bache argued that
"The case of hired hands does not assimilate to this - first, because the
hands are experienced working men, while the aids are inexperienced men.
Second, because the aids come to learn a profession & receive new instruction
from the CS; & third, because they are expectant of promotion, while
the hands are at the maximum of compensation."(82)
Apparently Edward Fauntleroy went to work with his brother-in-law on
the Survey for $30 per month, and they were soon hard at work on Mount
Tamalpais connecting to the coastal work of George Fairfield. Davidson
was not a man to be stopped by the mere elements. He stationed heliotropers
on three stations waiting for the weather to clear. During this work he
had one tent torn to shreds by the wind and another blown down. Davidson
wryly observed, "The winds have been severe, and have a capital chance
at an isolated mountain 2600 feet high; at this season too the cold is
very trying."(83) Little progress was made
before March when Davidson complained that "Bad weather, raw heliotropers,
no railroads or even major roads, and the want of another aid consume time
and hold me back."(84) However, by July
Davidson completed the triangulation connecting Point Reyes with Ballenas
Bay to the south and that of Assistant Fairfield to the northward. In doing
this Davidson "occupied 2 secondary & 3 tertiary stations, posting
heliotropes on lines of less than 8 miles! And literally snatching the
observations from the fire. To show the difficulties to be overcome, I
may mention that I have stood five & six hours at the theodolite, and
obtained 20 minutes work. To save the expense & loss of time required
for moving, I rode to one station 10 miles A.M & P.M., & climbed
the ridge 1350 feet high; the next four stations were 17 miles from camp...."(85)
In seven months Davidson completed work that had stymied George Fairfield
for three years.
George Davidson spent the month of July in San Francisco and was back
in the field by mid-August. What he had accomplished earlier was a cakewalk
by comparison with the work to come. At the beginning of this work Davidson
wrote Bache from Sulphur Peak:
"The country, hence northward, is terrible in the extreme; nothing but a wild chaos of mountains; and how we are to carry forward the reconnaissance I hardly dare to think of. We have been over six weeks in moving from Point Reyes and yet have not got the instruments mounted. We are camped 2600 feet above the ocean, and our station is 1012 feet above our heads. Up this steep wall my men have carried the instruments, portable observatory, blocks for stands etc.: and you may judge how morning, afternoon, and night observations are about to try us. I shall not shrink from it but I cannot stand such inordinate labor long. At Table Mt. we were encamped 2100 feet above the ocean all winter, ascended over 600 feet in a mile and a half for A.M, P.M., and observations at night. At Pt. Reyes we climbed 450 feet in about as many yards; at Richards I rode ten miles before sunrise & after sunset from the Reyes Hill Camp, over the ridge 1364 feet high: and Reyes Head we were 17 or 18 miles from camp.
"I do not mention these trifles to complain or to excite your sympathy,
but simply to give you a faint idea of the country we are entering upon.
There is no work on the Survey presents a tithe of the natural difficulties
we meet; added to which we are coming upon a region only settled when a
small valley will afford room for the settler."(86)
An example of the type of work George Davidson referred to was the problem
of pulling a "38 ft. Signal, one foot thick, from a gulch 1700 feet below
the station, with only three men available." Davidson was not exagerrating
when he added his name to the list of those who felt that the primary triangulation
on the West Coast presented the greatest difficulties that any Coast Surveyor
had ever encountered. He sent Edward Fauntleroy and a second aid, A. T.
Mossman, on a reconnaissance to the north in early September. By mid-October
he was becoming quite concerned for their well-being as, "They were near
a region where Indians have been ruthlessly shot down and the remainder
"foaming at the mouth" for vengeance."(87)
By the end of October the two young men had returned and Davidson commended
them for showing "unflinching courage" with their labors.
The year 1860 was a bad one for George Davidson. By January 22 he was
back in San Francisco recovering from a back injury incurred while attempting
to hoist a signal pole to the top of Ross Mountain, in the vicinity of
Fort Ross about 60 miles northwest of San Francisco. Showing the physical
and mental strain of the work in California, Davidson reported, "I am thoroughly
"used up" & "dispirited" thru injury combined with torturing neuralgia
producing hysteria."(88) Davidson was 7
weeks in recovering from his injury and was back in the field in late March
when he complained again:
"My health is so far shattered that I cannot possibly undertake any more heavy work at present, and it will be by force of will only that I can keep at the secondary and tertiary triangulation.
"So unfit do I feel from this heaviest of mountain work that your, and
my own, expectations cannot be fully realized. I have overtaxed myself
to crowd forward the operations of the Survey and am paying the penalty
by continuous suffering, that must eventually render me useless .... I
am plain because I am losing hope."(89)
Tragedy struck two months later. At this time both Davidson and Edward
Fauntleroy were confined to sickbeds in San Francisco. Fauntleroy "had
gotten a cold that settled in his head causing neuralgia and finally suppuration
from the right ear: this became complicated with a severe bilious attack
from which however he was in a fair way to recover." During Fauntleroy's
illness, George Davidson was confined to his bed with "inflammation of
the bowels, attended with neuralgia in the head & pain at the injured
part of the spine." Davidson apparently was in worse shape than Fauntleroy,
but " On the morning of May 25th he got up, rang for a fire & a cup
of tea; about 7 or 7 ½ his tea was brought to him, & he sat
at his table, took it & spoke as usual; at 8 o'clock the servant coming
into the room ( ? ) found him half sitting in bed, the death rattle
in his throat, and his hands up towards his head."(90)
Davidson directed that an autopsy be performed which "revealed a small
abscess on the right side of the brain; congestion; old adhesions of the
duralmater to the brain; and the primary cause of the sudden death, caries
of the petrous portion of the right osteoporis." Fauntleroy died as the
result of a long-standing condition. Davidson in turn had to report his
death not only to the Survey but to his mother-in-law. This was the second
of her loved one's to die while working in a far-away corner of the United
States with the Survey. Davidson, displaying that he was still not at home
with the West Coast wilderness, expressed his feelings that "there is a
melancholy relief in feeling that he has not lost his life whilst on some
wild mountain Reconnaissance, or riding boldly on horseback over our rugged
The constant illness and loss of Edward Fauntleroy was taking its toll
on George Davidson. He went back into the field after recovering from his
illness but in early August he notified Superintendent Bache that he wished
to leave for the East by November. He felt that he was taxing his "health
too severely by continuing the work of the triangulation" and wished to
be replaced for an indefinite period." He did not rule out coming back
to the West Coast, but did express that he wished to be made head of astronomic
and magnetic operations. As the telegraph wires were following the march
of progress on the Western Coast, a telegraphic longitude campaign was
near to becoming feasible about this time. However, Davidson left the West
Coast in early November and did not return for seven years. The Civil War
and the illness of Alexander Dallas Bache conspired to keep him in the
East for a much longer period than he anticipated in the fall of 1860.
The final letter that George Davidson ever wrote to Superintendent Bache
from the West Coast sounded an old theme. "I notice in the map of the "Entrance
to San Francisco Bay" that by some oversight my name is not on the title.
By reference to the trigonometrical records you will find that I occupied
the only primary triangulation station on that sheet, and that upon my
previously bringing the subject to your notice, before the map was fully
engraved, you acknowledged my claim to be proper & just...."(91)
If he had known what the future was to hold, perhaps he would have chosen
a more uplifting theme. However, to the end of these first years on the
West Coast he vied for attention and credit. Davidson won the battle for
recognition as he is now remembered as the most distinguished of the pioneers
on the West Coast. It is ironic that he is identified most with the triangulation
work that he did in later years coupled with the publication of his great
work, The Pacific Coast Directory. There are few who know and fewer
who care that his name appeared on a few editions of the charts of the
Of all regions in which the Coast Survey worked, the segment of coast
from Cape Mendocino north to the limits of United States Territory presented
the most challenges. Although all areas on the Western Coast presented
severe natural challenges, the northern areas also had the added danger
of hostile native Americans and, at one point, even the possibility of
war between the United States and Great Britain. Add to this mountains
and forests coming down to the edge of the sea in many areas, a damp and
cool climate, great storms from the Pacific slamming into the Northwest
Coast on a fairly regular basis, few harbors of refuge for mariners seeking
shelter from a storm, and few centers of civilization to ease the rigors
of working in the wilderness. Such was the nature of the northwestern working
grounds for the Coast Surveyors.
The early work consisted of the Davidson party astronomic work on Cape
Flattery, the triangulation of the entrance and initial reaches of the
Columbia River, and hydrographic surveys by the ACTIVE. After George Davidson
finished measuring the base at San Pedro and began the primary triangulation
work in Southern California, he took over as the principal assistant working
on the northern coast. He and John Rockwell made astronomic observations
to determine positions of Bodega Bay, Haven's Anchorage, Mendocino City,
Point Reyes, Humboldt Bay, Trinidad Bay, Point St. George, Port Orford,
and the entrance of the Umpquah River. Tertiary triangulation observations
for hydrographic signals were made by James Lawson at Mendocino City, Shelter
Cove, Point St. George, entrance of the Umpquah, and for determining the
location of Cape Blanco reef.
James Alden for his part was engaged in surveying the entrance to San
Francisco Bay from the winter of 1852 until June, 1853. He then proceeded
north redoing the hydrographic reconnaissance of McArthur, "For steamers
bound north, particularly in the summer time, when it is necessary to keep
close to the land for shelter from the wind, which blows almost a gale
down the coast, such 'cut-offs' will prove invaluable. We have brought
a line of soundings up the coast, getting casts at intervals of every two
miles, and seldom at a greater distance than one mile from the shore, often
within a quarter of a mile, and frequently within two or three hundred
metres of the rocks...."(92) On the way
north he revised the survey of Humboldt Harbor, made a new survey of Crescent
City, completed Port Orford Harbor, surveyed through the reef off Rogue's
River, examined passages through the reefs at Point St. George and Cape
Blanco, surveyed the entrance to the Umpquah River, and surveyed the Columbia
River entrance finding some change from the earlier surveys. In the late
summer of 1853, the ACTIVE crossed the Columbia Bar in a "quarter
less five fathoms", more water than Alden had ever observed
there. This trip to the north was not without its problems as, "We were
delayed in Humboldt seventeen days - two weeks by fogs - before we could
get any sights at all, and then three days on account of the roughness
of the bar, the sea breaking the whole time entirely across." After completing
work in the Columbia River, the ACTIVE commenced work in the Gulf of Georgia
and Rosario Straits, making the first tentative steps to survey the labyrinthine
waterways of northwest Washington.
Before returning to the south, Lieutenant Alden was called upon to help
capture an Indian who was accused of killing a settler. The alacrity with
which Alden was willing to engage in such escapades probably had Superintendent
Bache throwing fits by the end of Alden's assignments on the West Coast.
There were whole surveying seasons in which the ACTIVE did very little
surveying and acted instead as a troop and supply transport for Army activities
in Washington Territory. This occurred in the winter of 1855-1856 when
the ACTIVE supported Army operations, the period from June to September
of 1857 when the small steamer supported State Department needs on the
International Boundary Survey, and during the "Pig War" of 1859 when the
ACTIVE served as a dispatch vessel. The year 1858 was the only year from
1855 until the Civil War in which any significant hydrographic work was
accomplished in Washington Territory and even that was a marginal year
with only 7,742 soundings made and 847 miles of survey line run by the
ship. By comparison, the year 1856 had 398 soundings and 16 survey miles,
1857 had only 1,485 soundings and 122 survey miles, and 1859 had only 967
soundings and 105 survey miles. In 1860 and 1861 the ACTIVE did not go
The San Juan Island "Pig War" was a prime example of Alden's willingness
to inject himself into the middle of virtually any affair just so long
as it didn't involve surveying. In the summer of 1859 a pig that strayed
from a British citizen's sty into an American vegetable patch was killed
by the American owner of the vegetable patch. At that time it had not been
settled as to whether the island was British Territory or American territory.
By the time the war of words over the assassinated pig had scarcely begun,
General William Harney, the American Army commander in Washington Territory,
ordered Captain George Pickett to unilaterally occupy the island with fifty
American troops. Lieutenant Alden on the ACTIVE injected himself as a messenger
between the British and Americans in this affair and was able to follow
the actions of both sides.
Upon being told by the British Governor that he would land troops on
San Juan Island, Alden proceeded to Pickett's camp. Pickett had resisted
all efforts by the British to land anything but envoys on the island in
spite of having a small force. He assured Alden "that if they land in any
force" he would "fire upon them." Alden felt "satisfied that that was his
fixed determination, and knowing the overwhelming force that the British
could, and I had every reason to suppose would, bring against him..." then
returned to the British Governor at Victoria and informed him of Pickett's
The British Governor in turn felt it his duty to do his best to depose the Americans. A British Frigate, the TRIBUNE, was lying off San Juan Island waiting to carry out those orders. Alden informed the British that "Then there will be a collision, for Captain Pickett will not permit it."
According to Alden the following exchange then took place between himself and the British Governor:
"What," said his Excellency, "Captain Pickett has only about fifty men, would he fire upon six hundred?"
"Yes," said I, "six thousand."
"Oh!" said Captain Richards, R.N. who was present, "that would be madness."
"Call it anything you like," I replied, "madness or anything as Captain
Pickett has made up his mind to do it, and I pledge you my honor he will,
if he should be (to use a rather inelegant expression, but one very much
to the purpose) wiped out the next moment."(93)
In reply to further bellicose British statements, Alden reminded them
that during the past year's gold rush at Fraser River, twenty-five thousand
Americans had passed through Victoria and that "the authorities here [Victoria]
had serious apprehensions that they should be overrun by the Yankees."
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the only casualty was the pig. By
August 22, Alden was able to inform Bache that the crisis was over and,
"By this San Juan affair the Coast Survey has lost a fortnight's work but
I am satisfied that our timely presence and influence has had its effect;
& that neither you or the Government will see any [cause] to regret
the part we have taken in it."(94) As for
Captain Pickett, he had a second chance of having his command "wiped out"
four years later at Gettysburg.
Lieutenant Alden received thanks from General Harney through his assistant
adjutant general, Captain Alfred Pleasanton, for using the ACTIVE as "the
medium of communication between these headquarters and San Juan Island.
This conduct animates the high satisfaction and estimation the General
has always entertained for the noble and generous impulses of the Officers
of our Navy...."(95) There was no mention
of the Coast Survey here. Alden was a Navy officer first and a Coast Surveyor
second. Although Bache most assuredly would have sanctioned his actions,
Alden had forgotten who was paying the bills and used the ACTIVE as his
private fiefdom. This became increasingly obvious in many of his interactions
with private citizens, government officials, and with military and naval
The ACTIVE never ventured to Oregon or Washington Territory again in
its career as a survey vessel. After returning to California, the ACTIVE
was engaged in surveying duty in Monterey Bay, the approaches to Oakland,
and the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Over his last year, Alden was responsible
for obtaining close to 24,000 soundings before being detached in October
1860. This was a respectable number in comparison to his work in Washington
Territory over the past 5 years, but it was still a relatively low number
for a major command.
In April of 1860 Alden seized another opportunity to inject himself
and the ACTIVE into semi-official duties. The Japanese ambassador and his
embassy staff were passing through San Francisco while enroute to the East
Coast and were being transported on the U. S. S. POWHATAN. As soon as Alden
ascertained that the delegation wished to visit Mare Island, he immediately
tendered his services "and those of the ACTIVE, to Flag Officer Tatnall,
as a medium of communication with the city." Alden's offer was gladly accepted
and, "All the high functionaries, with their attendants, embraced the opportunity
thus afforded, of visiting a spot which is to them particularly interesting,
not only because it is the first city of the kind that they ever saw, but
because it is only ten years old. Its youth staggers them. After a stay
of two days, during which time they had public and private reception and
much feasting, we returned them highly delighted to their ship, full of
acknowledgements for our kindness and attention."(96)
By this time, Lieutenant Commanding Alden was becoming increasingly
anxious to return to the East Coast. His wife, whom he had left at home
in the East, was experiencing increasingly serious bouts of dementia. Superintendent
Bache was aware of this problem and gave Alden tacit permission to return
East whenever in Alden's opinion the situation became too bad. Alden acted
on this in early October but not before he had one last hurrah with the
ACTIVE. He always had time for socializing and at the end of September
extended "a little courtesy to the British Admiral of this Station, lately
arrived in the "Ganges" 74, by taking him in the "Active" on a visit to
the Navy Yard. A number of his officers, together with Hon. ? Johnson(97),
Senators Gwin and Benjiman (sic? or California State legislature Senators?),
the British and French Consuls & some twenty of the leading men of
the City made up the party."(98)
This was Lieutenant James Alden's last communication from California and as a Coast Surveyor. He reported in the same letter that on September 29 he "took Ass't Johnson's party & camp equipage on board & landed them safely at "Half Moon" Bay." The ACTIVE would work outside the confines of San Francisco Bay only once more for the Survey. It was another 8 months before Commander Benjamin F. Sands reported to the ACTIVE as commanding officer and under his command the ship worked at Tomales Bay in 1861. That same year it was used to transport troops to Los Angeles in response to a perceived threat from secessionists. Sands stayed with the ship until it was sold in June of 1862 as it was deemed too expensive to maintain and make shipshape for further surveying service on the outer coast. Given its productivity, this was certainly true. This last year of service for the ACTIVE was marred by tragedy as Commander Sands lost his son, who was serving as a master on the ACTIVE, to a boat accident when returning to the ship during the evening hours of April 2, 1862.
Although the ACTIVE accomplished little hydrographic work on the Northwest coast for the Coast Survey, George Davidson and James Lawson continued the work of triangulation and topography up and down the coast as well as finding significant shoals and rocks in the Puget Sound and Straits of Juan de Fuca area. In the spring of 1854 Davidson and Lawson spent two weeks waiting to cross the bar in "gales, rain, and hail storms" at Humboldt Bay, accomplished their work of astronomic observations and triangulation, and then returned to San Francisco. While at Humboldt Bay Davidson reported for one of the first times on a theme that occupied much of his future correspondence: "I am now suffering so much that every movement becomes painful in the extreme & the cold weather & the fogs are sad drawbacks to improvement. Were it not that Mr. Lawson takes all possible trouble & labor off my hands, I should before this have been obliged to quit the field...."(99) (100)
Besides the illness, Davidson let the Superintendent know of his real
fear of both the native Americans and the elements when he informed him
that he had deposited all Coast Survey records in the vault of a local
business in the event that he and Lawson did not return. These concerns
were not without merit as he was delayed on his return trip because of
the loss of the steamer ARISPE on which they had planned to return to San
While in San Francisco, Davidson procured the hermaphrodite brig AURELIA
for the transportation of his party. He renamed this vessel the R.H. FAUNTLEROY
in honor of his friend and mentor Robert Fauntleroy who had passed away
on the Texas coast a few years before. The FAUNTLEROY sailed for Washington
Territory in the second week of July. This would not have happened had
not George Davidson loaned the Survey $3000 of his own funds to outfit
the field work. Prior to sailing for Washington Territory, he contacted
the Army to procure "some means of defense in case the Indians are as bad
as the last reports make them...." He requested "Two brass or iron six
pound guns, with carriages & twenty rounds grape shot, and twenty round
balls...." Davidson requested similar material every year for the next
three years and hardly received anything, although Commodore David Farragut
provided him with a few old boarding pikes from the Mare Island Shipyard
in 1856 and in 1857 a Colonel Fauntleroy provided him "with rifle cartridges
after all the other officers had refused to transfer or sell them to me."
Perhaps his inability to get along with Alden added to his problems with
respect to obtaining cooperation with the Navy and Army. Prior to sailing
for Washington Territory in 1857 he reiterated that he feared the possibility
of attack: "If any accident befalls the Brig or crew through Indian attacks,
the blame cannot attach to me, as I have exhausted ever method for obtaining
the means of defence...."(101)
The FAUNTLEROY was never attacked. Ironically, the most danger that George Davidson found himself in over the next few years occurred at the end of the 1854 field season. Just prior to returning to the East Coast for a leave of absence, Davidson fell from a pier in San Francisco and "was plunged into the bay with strong tide running. Mr. Lawson succeeded in catching and saving me - as I cannot swim. Had he not fortunately been in the boat the result would have been rather 'interesting' after a 4 ½ year absence." This was remarkable. George Davidson, who made many surf landings over his years of service and sailed up and down the coast in all manner of craft, could not swim. Davidson survived this accident and sailed to the
East Coast in November for a respite from the arduous duties of the
West Coast. He was back in 5 months and showed that he was quite able to
take care of himself as in September of 1855 part of his "crew mutinied
and had to be bound and confined, and after about a week's bread and water"
he put them off on an island.(102) Davidson's
description of this event was very matter of fact with no further explanation.
Perhaps the most harrowing experience on the Northwest coast occurred
in 1855 during the observation of tides near Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island.
Under what authority the Coast Survey was at that location is questionable
although the tidal party observed tides as far south as Cabo San Lucas
at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula as well. Concerning
Vancouver Island, the international boundary had not yet been agreed upon
and perhaps Superintendent Bache felt that the United States had as much
right to be making observations there as anyone. Army Captain William P.
Trowbridge was the chief of the West Coast tides party at this time and
hired a Mr. C. J. W. Russell to make these observations. Trowbridge chartered
a schooner which proceeded to the small island called Aho-setle and commenced
a 14-day series of observations on August 28th. At first they were not
bothered by the native Americans but:
"The Indians at the cape [Cape Flattery] conceived a foolish notion that I had come to bring back the small-pox, which raged fearfully among them shortly after Mr. Davidson's visit there, and for some time they seemed ready for an open collision...."
"... the observations were made under the most perilous circumstances; nothing, indeed, but the firmness of Mr. Russell, saved the whole party from destruction by the savages. They were obliged to anchor the schooner near the shore, within bow-shot of the beach, and observe the staff from the deck of the vessel by day, and by means of a boat at night. For a few days they were unmolested, but after the news of their arrival had become known, the Indians flocked from all quarters to see them. The idea had been injuriously circulated by some of our enemies near Cape Flattery, that the object of Mr. Russell's visit was to cast some evil spell upon the land and waters, and they demanded that he should leave immediately, telling him plainly that they would attack him if he did not; he told them, however, that he could not leave until he had finished his observations. They then endeavored by all manner of stratagem to get possession of the vessel, and even attempted to sell poisoned provisions.
"For several days and nights the crew were unable to take any rest,
and Mr. R. was obliged to take the night observations with a lamp in one
hand and a pistol in the other. On the 11th of September, having finished
the observations, the party set sail for Cape Flattery , leaving the Indians
still gathered, with canoes continually bringing reinforcements...."(103)
The following winter Lieutenant Commanding Alden reported that a few
shots were fired into Seattle by the native Americans but no one was hurt.
By May of 1856 George Davidson and James Lawson were back in Washington
Territory and working near Port Townsend. Port Townsend is located at the
top center of a T with the Straits of Juan de Fuca forming the stem, Admiralty
Inlet forming the left topof the T, and Puget Sound forming the right top.
Here Davidson measured a preliminary baseline for carrying the triangulation
through all of the waterways of the region and then began extending the
triangulation to the west, south, and north. James Lawson aided with the
triangulation and also accomplished much topographic work. The work to
the north was particularly important as it would help provide the basis
for determining the Canada-United States boundary. The work was fairly
routine and ended in October when the FAUNTLEROY returned to San Francisco.
The 1857 season began on a sour note as the FAUNTLEROY spent 15 days
trying to make headway to the north against a succession of gales but had
to return to San Francisco for repairs. This was a bad year for George
Davidson as he was quite ill for most of the working season in Washington
Territory. Perhaps his fear of the native Americans was justified as in
August he related, "A few days since an attack was made upon the house
of Col. Ebey(?) on Whidbey Island: he was shot dead, his head cut off and
carried away. It has created a panic on the lower part of the inlet."(104)
At the same time he was quite ill and not able to carry out some cooperative
work with the Northwest Boundary Commission. He already had made plans
to return east in November and his illness reinforced his desire to return
to the East Coast. In October he took a steamer to San Francisco instead
of enduring the rigors of a potentially long passage on the FAUNTLEROY.
He sailed for the East Coast in early November. It would be many years
before George Davidson returned to Washington. James Lawson took over as
the principal assistant in the Washington-Oregon area and would remain
so for the remainder of his life.
If the end of the frontier on the Western Coast could be marked by any
date or event, it would have to be the publication of George Davidson's
Directory for the Pacific Coast of the United States. This
work marked the culmination of 8 years' labor on the Pacific Coast by Coast
Surveyors working from San Diego to Cape Flattery. The work was published
in 1859 as Appendix 44 of the Report of the Superintendent ... 1858
and as a separate stand-alone monograph. Even this work was not without
its critics as noted by the ire of Lieutenant James Alden who virtually
accused Davidson of plagiarism and complained that the Naval officers who
labored upon the Pacific Coast for the Coast Survey did not receive their
just dues and recognition. There was some truth in Alden's assertions;
but the larger truth was that George Davidson through Superintendent Bache
did a great service to the Nation and the mariners traversing the West
Coast in publishing this work.
The seed for the Directory was a request by Superintendent Bache to
George Davidson in late 1854 to write a "Report upon the Western Coast."(105)
Superintendent Bache made this request when Davidson returned to the East
Coast in November 1854. Davidson wrote a short report that winter that
was published as Appendix No. 26 of the Report of the Superintendent
If Superintendent Bache's request to Davidson in 1854 was the seed,
the roots of the Directory lay in the reports and letters written by all
of the Coast Surveyors who had worked on the Pacific Coast between 1849
and 1859. Certainly traces of the writings of Naval Lieutenants Washington
Bartlett, William P. McArthur, and James Alden are echoed in the Directory.
But James Alden's outrage rang hollow when he claimed the major credit
for this work lay with Naval officers. They were contributors as were the
topographers A. M. Harrison, Augustus Rodgers, and William M. Johnson,
the triangulation party chiefs Richard D. Cutts and William Greenwell,
the tides party chief Army Captain William P. Trowbridge, the artists William
B. McMurtrie and James Madison Alden, and the geologist William P. Blake
who was commissioned by Superintendent Bache to desribe the geology of
coastal California in the early 1850's. However, not one of the above-mentioned
men spent more time on or worked in more areas of the West Coast than George
Davidson. It was George Davidson who took all of these diverse sources
and molded their words and views into a coherent work which described the
waterways and natural features of the coast, the indigenous population,
the commerce, the climate, and the natural resources of the coastal belt
from the desert of southern California to the rain forests of the Olympic
Peninsula. It was George Davidson's experience that made the Directory
Davidson worked on the Directory during his spare time and during his
illnesses when he returned to the West Coast between 1855 and his second
return to the East Coast in late 1857. He wrote Superintendent Bache from
Kensington, Pennsylvania, in December of 1857: "It would very much aid
me in writing the Directory of the 'Pacific Coast of the U.S.' if you would
furnish me a copy of the map of the entrance to San Francisco Bay...."(106)
This was perhaps the first time that Davidson referred to a "Directory
of the Pacific Coast of the U.S" in official correspondence with Superintendent
Bache. With Davidson coming home to Kensington to finish writing the Directory,
the era of the frontier on the Western Coast was rapidly coming to an end.
Notice of the Directory for the Pacific Coast of the United States
was given in the annual report for 1858. Superintendent Bache, who was
in the position to best judge the relative contributions made by all Coast
Surveyors in the compilation of this work, virtually gave all credit to
George Davidson: "This useful work (Appendix No. 44) has been compiled
by George Davidson, esq., assistant in the Coast Survey, from the Coast
Survey and other authentic data, embodying also the results of his own
experience on the coast, where he has been occupied in charge of geographical,
triangulation, and topographical parties since the commencement of the
survey in 1849. Having thoroughly and peculiarly identified himself with
the survey of the Western Coast from its beginning, and had occasion himself
to know the necessities, facilities, and dangers of its navigation, he
has been in a position to prepare a particularly valuable directory for
the use of mariners and navigators."(107)
Davidson's letter to Superintendent Bache notifying him of the completion
of the first edition of the Directory as well as the introduction to the
Directory provided a view into the motivations for undertaking this work
and also some insight into Davidson himself. The letter to the Superintendent
accompanied Davidson's submission of the Directory to Bache in August 1858:
"Dear Sir: In offering for your acceptance the following directory for the Pacific Coast of the United States, it may not be amiss to state the circumstances under which it was undertaken.
For nearly eight years the duties which you assigned to me in California, and in Oregon and Washington Territories, kept me moving continually along the seaboard in every manner of conveyance, and familiarized me with almost every mile of the coast, along which my various trips and explorations have amounted to an aggregate of between fifty and sixty thousand miles. I early felt the want of reliable information in tangible form, instead of trusting to my memory, and, upon assuming the charge of the coast surveying brig R.H. FAUNTLEROY, I determined to embody for publication the information acquired, but several years of failing health prevented the execution of more than regular duties, until the growing desire to leave the Pacific coast forced me to occupy the remaining leisure moments in arranging the matter while yet freshly photographed upon the mind. A small portion was published in San Francisco, and, although abounding in typographical errors, the avidity with which it was sought was a strong incentive to continue the self-imposed task. The result is now placed at your disposal, and, having examined all the courses, distances, and positions, I trust that no essential errors have been overlooked, but whatever have, fall upon my own shoulders.
"My duties having been especially geodetic and astronomical, we naturally
preceded the hydrography, and, working in comparatively unknown waters,
have had constant occasion to use the lead. When seeking for an anchorage,
drifting with currents, or on boat duty, I have almost invariably kept
it going from my own hand. Several discoveries have rewarded our efforts...."(108)
This letter to Superintendent Bache was personal in nature and did in
fact leave the impression that this work was only Davidson's and the result
of work done on the FAUNTLEROY. Perhaps it would have been best for relationships
with James Alden and other Coast Surveyors if this letter had remained
private. A little more generosity in the acknowledgements would have gone
a long way in maintaining harmony in the Survey. In the introduction to
the Directory, Davidson at least acknowledged the contribution of other
anonymous Coast Surveyors to "whatever has not come directly under our
"It would take us far from our prescibed path to trace the extent, bearing, and importance of the successive discoveries made during a period of more than three hundred years, between 1539, when Francisco de Ulloa first determined Lower California to be a peninsula, and 1849, when the Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey first despatched a party to give definite shape to our shores. If the early adventurers and discoverers made their explorations in small crazy vessels, with wretched and untrustworthy instruments and methods, it is no less true that the first Coast Survey parties made theirs with inadequate funds, and under difficulties and privations that the well-housed Californian of to-day can never fully appreciate.
"The task we have proposed to ourselves before leaving the glorious El Dorado, whose Golden Gate has admitted in ten years the commerce of every nation, and given egress to products worth five hundred million dollars, will be, to state all that is known at the present time of the hydrography and geography of the Pacific coast of the United States from the southern boundary in 32o 32' to the northern boundary in 49o, embracing an ocean shore-line of over 3,120 miles, the whole divided as follows: California, including the islands of the Santa Barbara channel, 1,097 miles; Oregon Territory, 285 miles; Washington Territory, including the south side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Admiralty inlet, Puget's sound, the Archipelago de Haro, &c.,1,738 miles.
"The descriptions of ports, bays, anchorages, reefs, capes, islands, &c., will be given generally from personal observation made during an examination of the coast, extending through nearly eight years. Whatever has not come directly under our own criticism will be taken from the published reports and maps of the Coast Survey. The names adopted will be those most reliable. Where any changes have taken place, they will be stated if known.
"With these few words of introduction , we may be pardoned in expressing
a conviction that the knowledge herein conveyed will be of advantage to
our extended commerce, and in assuring the navigator approaching the bold
outline of our coast of the accuracy of the geographical positions. No
work of the kind has heretofore been undertaken; and should it possess
no other merit than serving as a nucleus for aggregating future discoveries
and developments, we shall feel that our labor has not been wholly in vain."(109)
The most remarkable features of the Directory were the descriptions
of the state of the coast as observed by George Davidson and the other
Coast Surveyors during their first decade of work on the West Coast. These
descriptions speak for themselves and attest to the tremendous outpouring
of energy that went into surveying the West Coast from 1849 to 1857. These
men arrived on a little-known coast in 1849 and within a few short years
had visited every nook and cranny along the full extent of the coast, determined
geographic positions, observed thousands of angles in conducting primary
and secondary triangulation, mapped much of the shoreline, and cast the
lead thousands of times. On top of this they found time to record their
observations of this wild coast leaving an invaluable record for future
generations. Excerpts(110) from the descriptions
found in the Directory follow and trace the coast from southern California
to Puget Sound:
Los Angeles -- "The town of Los Angeles is 22 miles north by the road, from San Pedro, and is the centre of an extensive grazing, agricultural, and grape growing country.
The quantity of grapes and fruit generally shipped to San Francisco during the proper season is already enormous, supporting two large coast steamers. At all seasons one steamer finds a profitable trade. The coasting trade of this place is now greater than the aggregate trade of all the other ports south of San Francisco. Regular communication is maintained with San Francisco and other ports by steamers and lines of sailing vessels.
"Over 100,000 gallons of wine, and 5,000 gallons of brandy were produced in 1854, and the culture of the grape bids fair to outstrip all others. Cotton, sugar cane, tobacco, flax and the cereals, yield productive crops; and the olive grows in abundance.
"Salt works have been established within a few miles of Los Angeles, but the pond from which the salt water is obtained is comparatively small. The daily product is about five tons.
"The country at the foot of the black hills is as productive as any
in California, but its distance from a large market is a great hindrance
to investment and improvement. The vast plains are literally covered with
cattle, and many of the rancheros count their yearly increase by thousands.
These cattle are driven to the mining districts and San Francisco, but
during the unusual droughts of summer great suffering is experienced, and
great numbers of them perish."
Santa Barbara -- "Santa Barbara is a town of considerable size, lying in the middle of an agricultural tract, running east and west, at the base of the Sierra Concepcion, but of limited breadth. The trade with San Francisco is not extensive; but this being one of the greatest stock raising districts on the coast, vast droves of cattle pass through and are sent to San Francisco and the mining districts.
"The Mission is one of the largest and best establishments of the kind in California, and in the gardens attached to it the grape and olive were cultivated with success.
"A large bitumen pit, about eight miles west of Santa Barbara, empties
directly into the ocean, and the bitumen, floating on the water, works
against the summer or northwest winds even beyond Point Concepcion. Sulphur,
in large beds and of superior quality, exists along the seaboard, and manifests
itself in all the warm springs."
Point Conception -- "Next to the islands of the Santa Barbara channel, Point Conception is the most prominent and interesting feature between San Francisco and the peninsula of Lower California. It has very justly been termed the 'Cape Horn' and the 'Hatteras' of the Pacific, on account of the heavy northwesters that are here met with on coming through the channel, with a great change of climate and meteorological conditions; the transition being remarkably sudden and well-defined. An investigation of the temperature of the ocean northwest and east of the cape would be highly instructive, as some characteristics would naturally be expected from the abrupt change in the direction of the mountains and coast line. We have frequently seen vessels coming from the eastward with all sail set, and light airs from the north, in a very little time reduced to short canvass upon approaching the cape, and vessels from the northwest coming before a spanking breeze lose it within a few miles after passing the cape into the channel. These last would be fortunate in reaching Santa Barbara in a day. We have known a vessel to be three days working from San Buenaventura to Santa Barbara, whilst a ten knot breeze was blowing west of Point Conception.
"During some summer seasons the fog is almost interminable, but more particularly among the islands. For the space of six weeks, with clear days and nights at the Cape, the islands have been invisible; rising, however, to an elevation of 1,000 to 1,500 feet, the observer plainly sees the summits of the islands over the sea of fog which envelops them.
"When the fogs prevail, they generally roll in from seaward at sunset, and clear away about ten o'clock the next morning....
"The geographical positions given previous to the Coast Survey operations
are remarkably erroneous. We recollect well when coming upon this coast
of finding in good nautical authority Point Conception over six miles distant
from the latest determination in latitude; and we have heard of more than
one vessel reaching California with only a school atlas for a chart!"
Santa Barbara Channel Oil -- "Navigators, in making the Santa Barbara channel from the northwest, readily estimate their approach in thick foggy weather by the peculiar odor of the bitumen which, issuing from a large pit on the shore about 8 miles west of Santa Barbara and floating upon the water, works against the summer winds far from Point Conception. This set to the westward is found to exist for about four miles offshore, and runs at a maximum velocity of a mile and a half per hour. Further out the current is variable, but even there its greatest velocity is attained when running to the westward. From Point Conception it strikes to the southward and westward, being doubtless influenced by a current from the coast.
"Vancouver is the first who calls attention to the bitumen, in the following language, vol. II, page 449: 'The surface of the sea, which was perfectly smooth and tranquil, was covered with a thick slimy substance, which, when separated or disturbed by any little agitation, became very luminous, whilst the light breeze that came principally from the shore brought with it a strong smell of tar, or of some such resinous substance. The next morning the sea had the appearance of dissolved tar floating upon its surface, which covered the ocean in all directions within the limits of our view, and indicated that in the neighborhood it was not subject to much agitation.'
"The following remarks of Sir Edward Belcher, in October, 1839, are
taken from the Voyage of the Sulphur, vol. I, page 320: 'Off this part
of the coast to the westward [of Santa Barbara] we experienced a very extraordinary
sensation, as if the ship was on fire, and after a very close investigation
attributed it to a scent from the shore, it being more sensible on deck
than below, and the land breeze confirming this, it occurred to me that
it might arise from naptha on the surface.'"
Santa Catalina -- "This island rises to a height of about 3,000 feet, and is remarkable for the great transverse break or depression, five miles from the northern end, running partly through it, and forming an anchorage or cove at each side. The land connecting these is very low, say not over 30 feet; but the hills rise up on each side two or three thousand feet, and, when sighted from the north or south, the whole appears like two very high islands. The Coast Survey chart for 1852 shows this very beautifully, and is highly characteristic....
"The soundings around the island show bold water, from 19 to 75 fathoms,
close in shore, with no outlying rocks except off the north cove. The shores
are rocky, and on the southern side fearfully precipitous, but on the northern
shore there are several indentations, where boats may land at almost any
season. Deep and precipitous gulches are formed by the ridges of rock running
diagonnally across the island from NE. to SW., and accasionally a small
valley varies the scene. Four or five settlers cultivate these spots, but
their inconsiderable extent precludes the realizing of anything beyond
a bare sustenance. About midway between the SE. point good water has been
obtained by sinking wells to a depth of fifty feet or more, but in the
intermediate places water found at the same depth is brackish. There is
a large pond obtained for fire-wood, and a growth of thorny bushes cover
the whole island, rendering travelling very difficult. The island was partially
stocked with cattle and sheep, and at one time vast numbers of wild goats
abounded, but they have helped to supply the California market with fresh
San Francisco Bay -- "This bay affords the finest and most commodious harbor on the Pacific coast of the United States. From its discovery it has commanded the admiration of navigators, and since the wonderful rise of California has well sustained its reputation. Its geographical position, its size and depth of water, its noble entrance and bold shores, the Sacramento and tributaries, draining the rich agricultural valleys and auriferous slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the magic city upon its shores, and the salubrity of its climate, have conspired to make it emphatically the port of the Pacific.
"The Golden Gate is the entrance to the bay, and presents the character of a great cleft or fissure in the sea coast range of mountains, thereby connecting the Bay of San Francisco with the Pacific Ocean. On approaching, it is difficult to imagine that a deep channel lies ahead, so clear is the atmosphere and so well defined the Contra Costa mountains behind the bay. Both shores are bold, broken into points, and rocky; but the northern is much the bolder, rising almost perpendicularly from the water, attaining an elevation of about 1,000 feet, but a short distance back, and in 7 miles rising to 2,600 feet...."
"In approaching the coast every opportunity should be seized for determining
the vessel's position, as fogs and thick weather prevail near the land...."
Fog-gun at Point Boneta -- "The fog-gun at Point Boneta has been discontinued since the placing of the bell-boat outside the bar, March 18, 1858. It may not, however, be amiss to state here the design of the fog-gun. A twenty-four pounder was placed near the light-house, and during fogs or thick-weather, either day or night, was fired at the hours and half-hours of San Francisco mean time. It enabled vessels, before reaching the bar, to get the bearing of Point Boneta, and, by the loudness of the report, or better, by soundings, to form an estimate of their distance from it.
"We advocated this plan strongly soon after our arrival upon the coast,
and it met with the hearty support and commendation of officers of the
navy and commanders of the steamships, clippers, and coasters. Continuing
to urge its adoption until the spring of 1855, we had the satisfaction
of seeing it tried in August of that year. We have since learned, by British
newspapers, that the Board of Trade and Liverpool Corporation have placed
a gun of large calibre on Holyhead, to be fired during foggy weather, for
the benefit of mail steamers passing up the Irish channel."
Red Tide at Tomales Bay -- "In February, 1857, the waters of
the bay [Tomales Bay] changed to a deep purple color, and the fish died
in such great numbers that the beaches and water were covered with them."
Redwoods - Trinidad Head and Bay -- "...The land in this vicinity
is very rich, and well adapted to agriculture. The red-wood trees grow
around it, and attain an enormous size. The stump of one which we measured
was about 20 feet in diameter, and a dozen trees standing in the vicinity
averaged over 10 feet. One is affirmed to be standing on the bank of a
small stream at the southeast part of the bay that measures over 90 feet
in circumference. The bark of these trees has a thickness of from 8 to
14 inches; they grow perfectly straight, retaining their thickness to a
great height, begin to branch at 50 or 100 feet, and frequently attain
250 feet in height. The forests of this timber, when free from undergrowth
present an imposing sight."
Indians - Rogue's River -- "The name of the river was suggested
by the dishonest propensities of the natives in its vicinity.... Several
campaigns have been made against the Rogue River Indians, and they have
been found a warlike and troublesome race; but the manner in which they
were treated by some of the early settlers was well calculated to rouse
them to a war of retaliation."
Banks off the Oregon Coast - Umpquah River Area -- "NW. by N.,
distant 66 miles from Cape Orford, is the southern end of a bank extending
parallel with the coast for 30 miles, and about the same distance from
it. The least depth yet discovered upon it is 43 fathoms, and the nature
of the bottom very variable, there being blue mud, coarse blue sand, coral,
pebbles, gravel, mud, and shells. Coasting vessels have often reported
passing over localities having a heavy swell upon them, and one frequently
so reported near the Umpquah led to the examination which discovered this.
When Heceta was upon this coast, and in this vicinity, he said: 'On Sunday
I found great differences [of depth;] at seven leagues I got bottom at
80 fathoms; and nearer the coast I sometimes found no bottom.' Should a
thorough examination of his discoveries here satisfactorily show that he
did really cross this or any yet undiscovered adjacent bank, it would be
a tribute to his exploration on this coast to apply his name to it."
Columbia River - Wreck of a Chinese Junk -- "The beach around
Point Adams and to the southward some distance is usually called Clatsop
beach. Upon it, many years ago, before the whites occupied the country,
a Chinese or Japanese junk, with many hands and a cargo of beeswax, was
cast ashore and went to pieces; but the crew were saved. In support of
this Indian tradition, there are occasionally, after great storms, pieces
of this wax thrown ashore, coated with sand and bleached nearly white.
Formerly a great deal was found, but now it is rarely met with. Belcher
mentions having a specimen. Many people on the Columbia possess them, and
we have seen several pieces. In a late work this wreck has been confounded
with another that took place near Cape Flattery."
Cape Disappointment -- "This cape is the only headland from Tillamook to latitude 47 20' that breaks the low line of shore. It presents a geological formation not before met with on the seaboard, being composed of horizontal columnar basalt, rising to an elevation of 287 feet, disposed in a succession of huge round hills, broken on the sea front by short strips of sand beach, and covering an irregular area of about three miles by one. The sea-faces of all the hills and irregularly projecting knobs rise perpendicularly for many feet, then slope slightly inshore to narrow ridges; are destitute of trees, but covered with grass, ferns, and bushes, and have an excellent though thin soil. Inland of their crests the trees commence, and their tops reaching above the summits of the hills increase their apparent height. The inshore slope of the hills is more gentle, so that paths can be easily carried to their tops. In 1851 we opened an ox-team road to the summit of the cape. When the evening fogs from the northern bays do not cover the cape, we have sometimes experienced a dense fog rolling down the river about sunrise, enveloping everything below the top of the cape upon which we have stood, when it looked like an island less than a hundred yards in extent, and surrounded by the river fog, that must be felt to be appreciated. We were 35 days on this cape before obtaining a single night's observations....
"This cape being basaltic, and showing an almost iron front to the river
and sea, it is improbable that, 'in the memory of many, Cape Disappointment
has been worn away some hundred feet by the sea and strong currents that
run by it.'"
Columbia River Bar -- "During heavy weather, and especially in
winter, the sea breaks with terrific fury from northwest of Cape Disappointment
well to the southward of Point Adams; and we remember the mail steamer
trying for 60 hours to find the smallest show of an opening to get in.
Sailing vessels have laid off the entrance 6 weeks, waiting for a fair
opportunity to enter, and many lie inside for weeks trying to get out.
The mail steamer, meanwhile exerting all her power, would drive through
the combers, having her deck swept fore and aft by every sea. Few places
present a scene of more wildness than this bar during a southeast gale,
contrasting strongly with many times during the summer, when not a breaker
is seen to mark the outline of the shoalest spot. From the summit of Cape
Disappointment we have often watched the bar in varied states of wind and
weather, and crossed it when calm and breaking...."
Columbia River Entrance -- "Chinook Point.... A number of fishing and Indian huts are situated upon the Chinook beach, the people being engaged in catching and curing salmon, with which the waters abound. The mode of catching them is by means of nets; those of Indian construction being made of twine spun from the fibres of the spruce roots, and sometimes from a peculiar grass obtained from northern coast Indians. The mode of curing is very rude and inefficient, and thousands of barrels that have been shipped have proved worthless. There is no reason why this should not become a large and profitable branch of business. The fish are the largest on the coast, often exceeding 80 pounds weight. We have purchased them weighing between 50 and 60 pounds, caught upon the beach at the sea base of Cape Disappointment. They commence to run about the end of May, and become remarkably plentiful by the third week in June....
"Chinook Point was the special location of the once powerful tribe of
Chinook Indians, and here the celebrated one-eyed chief, Concomly, held
sway. The tribe has dwindled to less than a hundred persons - men, women,
and children - and they are poor, miserable, drunken, diseased wretches."
Baker's Bay, Columbia River -- "Lewis and Clarke, in noticing the growth of trees on the Columbia, mention a fir near Astoria that was 230 feet high, and 120 feet of that height without a branch. Its circumference was 27 feet. This same tree is doubtless referred to in the narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, where the dimensions are given as follows: 39 1/2 feet in circumference at the 8 feet above the ground; bark 11 inches thick; height of the tree 250 feet and perfectly straight. Visitors used to be shown 'the big tree' as one of the notable sight of the locality.
"... In Baker's bay, in 1851, we measured a drift tree which had been
thrown upon the beach. It was 267 feet long, 27 feet in circumference with
the bark peeled off, and where broken at the small end 20 inches in diameter.
Very frequently, when trees are felled for cutting into lumber, the first
30 or 40 feet of the trunks are found too large for the saw-mill and have
to be cut off and left on the ground."
Up the Columbia -- "About 30 miles further up the river [from
Fort Vancouver] we reach the foot of the Cascades, which are a series of
rapids 4 miles long, where the river bursts through the eastern part of
the Cascade range of mountains, whose basaltic walls rise precipitously
over 3,000 feet on either side, presenting a magnificent sight. Below the
rapids the current rushes by with great velocity and depth, but small steamboats
ply regularly from Portland and Vancouver to the foot of the rapids; thence
passengers are carried by stages to the head, where one or two fine steamboats
convey them 50 miles to the Dalles...."
Shoalwater Bay -- "The shoals are covered with shell fish, among
which the oyster is the most abundant, and the principle article of export.
They are small and have a coppery taste. Codfish and halibut abound; sturgeon,
said to be of good quality, are plenty; and salmon of several varieties
and excellent flavor exist in infinite numbers. In spring vast numbers
of a small herring enter the bay. In winter wild fowl are innumerable,
but these have been made shy by the bad shooting of the Indians. Black
and white swan, geese, mallards, canvass backs, &c., always reward
the experienced sportsman."
Quinalt River -- "Que-ni-ult River -- The mouth of this small stream is between three and four miles NW. by W. from Point Grenville, and is almost closed by the shingle and gravel thrown up by the surf, which leave, however, a contracted opening for the passage of canoes in calm weather. The closing of the entrance has so dammed the river as to form a small lake inside, upon the banks of which is situated a village of the Queniults, a race of Indians hostile to all other tribes. Combined with others to the northward they have ever been notorious for their hostility and vindictiveness to the whites. Several Spanish, English, and Russian vessels and their crews were in former times, taken and destroyed. Hence we meet with the names Destruction Island, Isla de Dolores, Punta de Martires, &c., in this immediate vicinity....
"These Indians, when traveling by canoes along the low sandy beach south
of Point Grenville, push out into the rollers, keep between the line of
two seas that have broken, and pole the canoe through the surf. This peculiar
mode is rather apt to excite the fears of those ignorant of what a canoe
can be made to do when skillfully handled."
Olympic Coast -- "From Point Grenville to Cape Flattery the hills rising from the coast are about 2,000 feet high, densely covered with trees, and cut up by innumerable valleys. The shore is inhabited by numerous tribes of Indians, accustomed to war and bitterly hostile to the whites. They are far superior to the Indians found along the southern coast. Their villages are heavily stockaded, and the houses made of cedar boards, which they have cut with great industry from the tree. We have measured and found some of these boards to be over 4 feet wide and 20 feet long; the outside edges being about an inch thick and three inches in the middle. Their houses are very large and partitioned off into stalls for each family. The numerous streams emptying upon the coast afford them a never failing supply of the finest salmon; and to obtain means of barter with white traders they fearlessly attack and capture the different species of whale on the coast."
Cape Flattery -- "This cape forms the southern head of the entrance
of the Strait of Juan de Fuca; it has a bold, wild, jagged sea-face, about
100 feet high, much disintegrated by the wearing action of the ocean....
It was near this cape that a Japanese junk was wrecked in 1833, accounts
of which will be found in Belcher's narrative, and in that of the United
States Exploring Expedition."
Strait of Juan de Fuca -- "At the time of our first visit the southern shore of the strait was inhabited by large numbers of Indians, living in heavily stockaded villages. They were tolerably expert in the use of firearms, of which they seemed to have a good supply. They lived mostly by fishing, but raised a fair supply of remarkably good potatoes from the stock seed of the Hudson Bay Company.
"During dry summers the Indians and settlers set fire to the forests in every direction, and the country soon becomes enveloped in a dense smoke that lasts for two or three months. At such times it is frequently impossible to make out the shore at a half mile distant; the strong westerly winds coming up the strait disperse it for a while, but only to fan the fires and give them renewed force and activity....
"At the entrance the currents acquire, during the 'large tide' of each day, a velocity of 4 miles per hour, and, after strong northwest winds, a very large, short, but regular swell is encountered west of Nee-ah bay during the ebb current. If the wind is light and no steerage way on the vessel the feeling is decidedly disagreeable, especially as the current seems constantly to set close around Rock Duncan and Tatoosh island. If a vessel falls into the trough of this swell she is bound to fetch away something.
"Settlers are gradually advancing from Puget's Sound and Admiralty Inlet along the strait westward, and seem destined to meet those coming up the coast from Gray's harbor and Shoalwater bay.
"Washington Territory has a climate excelled only by California. We
know not where to point to such a ramification of inland navigation, save
in the British possessions to the northward. For depth of water, boldness
of approaches, freedom from hidden dangers, and the immeasurable sea of
gigantic timber coming down to the very shores, these waters are unsurpassed,
Neah Bay -- "In 1852 the Mukkaws about Flattery could muster
300 or 400 warriors, mostly armed with muskets and knives. They had several
large stockaded villages and hundreds of canoes. We have counted over 70
at one time fishing for salmon in the bay. They were brave and fearless;
made voyages to Nitinat, Clayoquot, and Nootka sounds, and pursued the
whale and black fish successfully. In three months they sold over 7,500
gallons of oil to the traders. They maintain trade with the Indians on
the west of Vancouver, forcing them to dispose of their oil and skins to
themselves directly, and not to the traders. They estimate their wealth
by the number of slaves and blankets, and the quantity of oil they possess.
In the fall of 1852 the smallpox was introduced among them, and nearly
swept off the tribe - more than two-thirds falling victims to the disease
- among them the principal chief, Clisseet, and the second chief, Flattery
Canal de Haro -- "... very large fields of kelp stretching far off the southeast point into the Canal. In one of these fields we discovered in 1853 a sharp pointed rock, which has been called Unit Rock, lying N. 72 E. from the SE. point of Darcy island, and distant from it three-quarters of a mile. The small sharp apex of this rock rises about three feet above the very lowest tides. In the most recent charts deep water is placed around it, and when the coast surveying brig beat through the field the existence of this danger was unknown. Near mid-channel a depth of 155 fathoms is found."
"All these fields and patches of kelp should be avoided, as they denote
rocky bottom; and isolated points of rocks frequently exist among them
and escape even a very scrutinizing survey."
Archipelago de Haro -- "The experience of three season's surveying
in this immediate locality has not increased our relish for navigating
these channels in sailing vessels. With plenty of wind no navigation could
be better, but in a calm vessels will frequently be jammed close to rocks,
with only a few fathoms inside of their positions, but 40 or 50 outside,
and a swirling current that renders towing with boats utterly impossible.
Frequently, too, boats have been nearly swamped by the tide rips that exist
through them. Off East Point, as an instance, a five-oared whale boat entirely
failed in trying to hold her own against the current, which we judged to
be rushing (the only term applicable) at the rate of 7 miles per hour.
Throughout the Canal de Haro the roar of the conflicting currents can be
heard for miles, and the main current runs frequently 6 miles per hour."
Seattle -- "The town of Seattle is on a small point at the NE. part of the bay, a little over 5 miles inside of West Point. It consists of a few houses and stores, a church, and a small saw-mill. It has but little trade....
"The town of Seattle was attacked by a small body of Indians in 1855, but the assault was repelled by the United States steamer MASSACHUSETTS.
"The bay was called Elliott's Bay by the United States Exploring Expedition
in 1841, but the present name [Duwamish Bay] is that by which it is invariably
known and was adopted from the name of the tribe of Indians inhabiting
its shores. The name [Seattle] is derived from that of the Chief Se-at-tl."
Port Gamble -- "The saw-mill here is the largest and most effective
in this part of the territory, cutting at the rate of six or seven millions
of feet of lumber per year. Attached to it are lath, shingle, and planing
machines. A large quantity of the lumber and rough spars for masts are
carried to Australia and the Sandwich Islands."
This work was one of the outstanding accomplishments of Davidson's life.
It served as a model for the Coast Pilots of the Pacific Coast for the
next half century and is one of the great geographic works associated with
the early exploration and reconnaissance of the western coast of the United
States. The Directory captured a glimpse of the United States West Coast
while it was in transition from a pristine wilderness to one of the greatest
mercantile regions of the modern world. It also captured the pathos of
the decimated native Americans, the wonder at the mighty forests, and the
healthy fear of the wild and furious winter storms that relentlessly pound
the Pacific shores. The West Coast would never be the same as when George
Davidson and his fellow Coast Surveyors first set foot on its shores in
1850. Their work locked down the location of the major headlands, found
most of the shoals and rocks that are still shown as dangers to navigation
on our modern charts, led to the building of lighthouses and placement
of buoys that have helped guide mariners for well over 100 years, and laid
the foundation for a suite of charts that have helped mariners navigate
their vessels to a safe haven for nearly a century and a half. With the
publication of the Directory for the Pacific Coast of the United
States, the coastal frontier had passed. The first great look was
2. Joseph Ruth was a young man made of stern stuff. As a new aid and recent graduate of the Philadelphia Central High School, he wrote to Bache in the summer of 1844 with his schedule: "5-5 ½ - religious exercises; 5 ½ to 7 ½ - studying German language; 8 ½ to 2 ½ - working at office; 3 to 5 - French, Mathematics, Writing, and Drawing; 5 to 7 - exercise by walking and dumb bells; 7 ½ to 9 ½ - Russell, Frost, Schlegel, and Philosophy." If this were not enough, "After which I make a self-examination and read the Bible." (Ruth to Bache, July 10, 1844. National Archives, RG23, MF 642, Roll 3, p. 519.) We can forgive Joseph Ruth that a
few weeks later he wrote Bache:"I have not been able to keep quite up to my plan of study." (Ruth to Bache, July 30, 1844. National Archives, RG23, MF 642, Roll 3.) Perhaps Joseph Ruth wished to sleep occasionally.
4. Williams wrote, "Should the Constitutional objections to the late Secretary of the Treasury to the expenditure of any part of the appropriation within the limits of California not be shared by his successor, the coming winter may be employed in some part of this Southern Coast in astronomical observations and reconnaissance, provided authority is given me to pay men the usual wages of the country." [Letter from Williams to Bache, August 1, 1849. National Archives, RG23, MF 642.] The late Secretary of the Treasury must have referred to Bache's brother-in-law, R.J. Walker. "Late" in the context of the letter means the previous secretary as Walker served until March 6, 1849, when replaced by William M. Meredith. Walker died in 1869.
6. Richard P. Hammond graduated from West Point in 1841 and served with distinction in the war with Mexico. He was on duty with the Coast Survey in late 1845 and then again from January 1848 until August, 1850. He then took leave of absence from the Army and ultimately resigned in 1851. He cast his lot with the new state and was soon a successful businessman and politician. He served as the speaker of the California House of Representatives in 1852, President of the 1859 Democratic State Convention, President of the San Francisco Board of Education 1868-1869, and as a regent of the University of California from 1868-1873. He was active in railroads, mining, and farming and also served on many other government boards and commissions.
9. The EWING was a topsail schooner originally built as a revenue cutter in 1841. Its dimensions were: length, 91'6"; breadth, 22'9"; and depth of 9'2". It displaced 170 tons. This information is found in a letter from the ship builder, Abraham Cooper, to the Secretary of the Treasury, Walter Forward, dated September 30, 1841. A copy of this letter resides in the Rare Book Room of the NOAA Central Library.
10. Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett was probably selected for this task because of his knowledge of the West Coast. He served with the American fleet off the coast of California in 1846 and was appointed the first American alcalde of San Francisco because he was fluent in Spanish. During this time he was captured by insurgents and held captive for a few months. Following his West Coast tour with the Survey, he went to Europe to observe the operation of various lenses for the Lighthouse service which resulted in the procurement of Fresnel lenses for certain lighthouses. He was released from the Navy in 1855 and lived in New York City. He was prominent socially and when his daughter married a very rich Cuban in 1859, the ceremony became known as the "Diamond Wedding." (Wilson, J.G. and Fiske, J. Editors. 1894. Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume I, p. 185-186. Appleton and Company, New York.) Washington A. Bartlett died in 1871. The West Coast historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft credits Bartlett with changing the name "Yerba Buena" to "San Francisco." But, Bancroft erred when he confused the Naval officer with a pioneer newspaper publisher and politician by the name of Washington Bartlett who arrived from Florida in early 1849 and was elected governor of California in 1887. (See: Bancroft, H.H. 1888. Bancroft's Works, Volume XXIII, History of California, Volume VI, p. 165; and, 1890, Volume XXIV, History of California, Volume VII, p. 433-434.)
11. Washington Bartlett's report of this voyage is found in the Bache Correspondence of the National Archives, RG23, MF 642, Roll 32, p. 659-674. All quotes in the following account are from Bartlett's report.
12. This version of the incident follows George Davidson's account of the mutiny as given in: Gudde, E.G. Mutiny on the EWING. California Historical Society Quarterly, Volume XXX, No. 1. A reprint of this article is found in: The Journal Coast and Geodetic Survey. p. 61-66. Number 4, December 1951. Dr. Gudde also gave William Gibson's account of the events of September 13, 1849, as well as the text of official records and correspondence concerned with the mutiny, subsequent courts martial, executions, and punishments.
13. These surveys were conducted at the request of a joint Army-Navy commission that was sent to the West Coast to examine points of occupation for military and naval purposes. This commission, Joint Commission for the selection of sites for Fortifications, Navy Yards, Docks, etc., U.S. Pacific Coast, experienced the same problems as the Coast Survey parties and was induced to proceed to Hawaii in the winter of 1849-1850 on the U.S.S. MASSACHUSETTS to recruit crew to be able to conduct their work. (See: Bancroft, H.H. 1888. The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume XXX, The History of Oregon. Vol. II, 1848-1888. p. 192,248-249. The History Company. San Francisco; and Lemmon, S. 1993. The Schooner McArthur. In: Navy History. Spring 1993.)
14. McArthur purchased a 1/16 interest in Mare Island for $468.50 on 1 August, 1850. Subsequently his family's interest was $5,218.20 when the Government purchased Mare Island on 4 January, 1853. ( See: Lemmon, S. 1993. The Schooner McArthur. In: Naval History. Spring 1993.)
15. Captain Thomas ap Catesby Jones, who had the frigate SAVANNAH as his flagship. He commanded the American naval forces in the battle with the British near New Orleans in December, 1814, and it was he who made the premature attempt to capture Monterey, California, on October 19, 1842. When he found that the United States and Mexico were not at war, and that California had not been ceded to England, he withdrew his landing party.
16. James S. Williams was a graduate of West Point, class of 1831. His highest rank attained was First Lieutenant prior to his resignation from the Army in 1837. The appellation "Captain" apparently came as a result of hydrographic surveying experience on Cumberland Sound in 1845 as he neither had a maritime background nor attained that rank in the Army. He served with both private industry and the Government before joining the Coast Survey in 1846. He resigned in 1853 and had a number of positions as Chief Civil Engineer for private railroad construction companies and then was Chief Commissioner for tracing the Western Boundary of Arkansas from 1857 until the outbreak of the Civil War. Being from Georgia, he joined the Confederacy and served as an Inspector General in the Confederate Army. Following the war he returned to railroad construction and then became a surveyor for the city of Savannah, Georgia. He died in 1871. See: Cullum, G.W. 1891. Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. p. 494. Volume I. Nos. 1 to 1000. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company. Boston and New York.
17. Lawson, J.S. 1879. The Autobiography of James S. Lawson. Unpublished manuscript residing in the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley and in the Special Collections of the NOAA Central Library, Silver Spring, Maryland.
22. The GOLDHUNTER was acquired by the Coast Survey in 1852 and renamed the ACTIVE. It was built in New York in 1849 and had dimensions of: length -- 172 feet; beam -- 27 feet; and depth -- 16 feet. Its tonnage was reported at 510. The ACTIVE served on the Pacific Coast until the Civil War.
24. Lieutenant James Alden served for over forty years in the Navy. By the time he arrived on the West Coast in 1851, he was a veteran of the United States Exploring Expedition under Charles Wilkes and had spent two years on Coast Survey duty. He was born in 1810 and received an appointment in the Navy as a midshipman in 1828. He retired as a Rear Admiral in 1872.
27. After the mast went overboard, the rigging wrapped around the shafts and wheel as the engine was still operating. This stopped all motion of the sidewheels. Chief Engineer Benjamin F. Garvin, at great risk, jumped into the wheel with an axe and cut away the rigging so that the ship's engine once again was operational.
31. Letter from Davidson, G. to Edward Hall, January 20, 1851. In: King, W. 1973. George Davidson: Pacific Coast Scientist for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1845-1895. p. 71. Phd. thesis submitted to Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California.
32. Davidson wrote this comparison of Bache and Maury to his mentor, Robert Fauntleroy, in late 1848. It is curious insomuch as Maury and his circle of friends accused Bache of "absorbing" the recognition of his subordinates in the much publicized attack of early 1849. Apparently, both Bache and Maury were subject to using the ideas and work of other men in attempting to reinforce their positions as leaders of their respective organizations.
33. Letter from Davidson to Robert Fauntleroy, October 27, 1848. In: King, W. 1973. George Davidson: Pacific Coast Scientist for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1845-1895. Footnote No. 32, p. 50. Phd. thesis submitted to Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California.
34. Letter from Bache to Davidson, May 4, 1852. In: King, W. 1973. George Davidson: Pacific Coast Scientist for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1845-1895. p. 81. Phd. thesis submitted to Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California.
35. Perhaps a strong sense that his only calling was public service caused Davidson to justify his business activities in such strident tones. In fact, many of the Coast Surveyors on the West Coast engaged in outside business activities. William Pope McArthur and Washington Bartlett engaged in a number of real estate transactions. Prior to Davidson working in Port Orford, he received a letter from Richard Cutts reporting: "Alden is ... up at the mines after the quartz veins and gold." Army Officer E.O.C. Ord, on Coast Survey duty near San Pedro, referred to the surveying firm of "Coffee - Ord - and Co." in an 1855 letter to his new bride. "Coffee" referred to a fellow Army officer. He spoke of surveying several towns in the vicinity of present-day Los Angeles. Cutts probably engaged in outside business as he apparently was a very good friend of prominent California attorney Henry Wager Halleck.
36. Letter from Davidson to his sister Arabella, July 31, 1853. In: King, W. 1973. George Davidson: Pacific Coast Scientist for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1845-1895. p. 82. Phd. thesis submitted to Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California.
37. Apparently Davidson's ventures into the commercial world ceased to be an issue between him and Bache as he wrote from the brig R.H. FAUNTLEROY on July 8, 1854 ( National Archives, RG23, MF 642, Roll 107, p. 171, Letter No. 47): "In order to carry out your instructions tho' without the funds to meet even the last quarters accounts. I have been able to collect between $2700 to $3000 of my own funds which were loaned out & with which I commence the work. By this I have not only sacrificed the interest due me but what would accumulate while I am away. At 3 percent per month which it was drawing it is easy to see the loss to me pecuniarily. I hope Mr. Hein will have sufficient funds for me upon my return." It was fortunate that Davidson had been so successful, as he was one of the few, if not the only Assistant, to ever have the means to support the major expenses of a field season. Bache acknowledged Davidson's monetary support in the Report of the Superintendent ... 1854.
47. Letter from G. Davidson to T. Davidson, December 16, 1870. In: King, W. 1973. George Davidson: Pacific Coast Scientist for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1845-1895. P. 47. Phd. thesis submitted to Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California.
48. Letter from G. Davidson to T. Davidson, June 27, 1870. In: King, W. 1973. George Davidson: Pacific Coast Scientist for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1845-1895. P. 47. Phd. thesis submitted to Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California.
50. A description of the circumstances of this accident are found in: Letter from Judge William Strong to R. D. Cutts, October 23, 1852. National Archives, RG23, MF 642, Roll 69. Strong mentions that Ruth's body had not yet been found. A year later, R.D. Cutts wrote to Bache concerning the disinterring of Ruth's body and the shipping of his body home in: Letter from Cutts to Bache, November 12, 1853. National Archives, RG23, MF 642, Roll 88.
52. The other two men were topographer J.B. Gluck, who died from complications related to "inflammatory rheumatism", and Assistant Woods Baker, who died as the result of severe burns suffered in the explosion of the steamboat REINDEER on the Hudson River at Bristol Landing, Saugerties, on September 3, 1852. Baker, also a close friend of Superintendent Bache, was in transit from one assignment to another at the time of this unfortunate accident.
61. Little is known of Captain Gordon other than he was a midshipman in the Navy from 1841 until dismissed in 1849 as reported in: Callahan, E.W. , Editor. 1901. List of Officers of the U.S. Navy and of the Marine Corps 1775-1900, p. 224. L.R. Hamersly and Co. New York.
70. Bache, A.D. 1858. Report of the Superintendent ... 1857. Appendix No. 43. Extracts from the report of Sub-Assistant W.M. Johnson, on the topographical features of the coast adjacent to Santa Barbara channel, California. p. 390-391.
71. Bache, A.D. 1858. Report of the Superintendent ... 1857. Appendix No. 44. Report of Assistant W.E. Greenwell, on the survey, character, and resources of the islands and main adjacent to Santa Barbara channel, California. Written from the U.S. schooner HUMBOLDT, Prisoner's Harbor, August 16, 1857. p. 392-395.
90. Letter from Davidson to Bache, May 30, 1860. National Archives, RG 23, MF 642, Roll 223, p. 196-197. This letter is apparently a copy of the original and chronologically out of sequence. The original was sent via Pony Express and apparently never made it to the Coast Survey Office.
100. Although much sport was made of Ferdinand Hassler's seeming pre-occupation with health, George Davidson topped Hassler in the realm of health concerns. A few additional examples follow: "I have not spoken of my health as often as my suffering might warrant, because every letter would bear the appearance of a 'bill of health'. Instead of getting better I have been getting worse and look forward with no small anxiety to the close of the season." Davidson to Bache: July 8, 1854. Letter No. 47, Roll 107, p. 171. "My health is improving but the rapid changes of weather are severe trials." Davidson to Bache, May 1, 1856. Roll 149, p.199. "For three weeks I have been enduring intense suffering from a neuralgic attack of the scalp, face, and neck, and my old disease has again fixed itself in every joint and upon the heart...." Davidson to Bache, August 22, 1857, Roll 169, p. 172.
108. Letter from Davidson to Bache, August 29, 1858. Appendix No. 44. DIRECTORY FOR THE PACIFIC COAST OF THE UNITED STATES. Reported to the Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey by George Davidson, Assistant. Written at Kensington, Pennsylvania, August 29, 1858. In: Bache, A.D. 1859. Report of the Superintendent ... 1858. p. 297.
109. Appendix No. 44. DIRECTORY FOR THE PACIFIC COAST OF THE UNITED STATES. Reported to the Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey by George Davidson, Assistant. Written at Kensington, Pennsylvania, August 29, 1858. In: Bache, A.D. 1859. Report of the Superintendent ... 1858. p. 298.
110. Appendix No. 44. DIRECTORY FOR THE PACIFIC COAST OF THE UNITED STATES. Reported to the Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey by George Davidson, Assistant. Written at Kensington, Pennsylvania, August 29, 1858. In: Bache, A.D. 1859. Report of the Superintendent ... 1858. The descriptions quoted in this section occur in geographical order generally from south to north from p. 305 to p. 453.