Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
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Explorers and Scientists

He was the slim, bearded, white man who always carried a bag over his shoulder and a little pick in his right hand and who darted from one dry run to another, climbed up buttes and escarpments, picked at the rocks, and then went on. Once, a party of braves had surrounded him and dumped the contents of his bag onto the ground. It had nothing but rocks. So thinking him loco, they had given him a name that meant "man-who-picks-up stones-running" and let him go.

His real name was Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, M.D.

—Richard A. Bartlett, Great Surveys of the American West

William Clark
William Clark. William Clark and Meriwether Lewis headed the "Corps of Discovery"; their mission was to explore the newly purchased western lands and find a water route to the Pacific Ocean. National Park Service

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on their epic journey in 1804, Americans knew little of the North American continent west of the Mississippi River. President Thomas Jefferson considered the expedition so important that he wrote the orders for the expedition himself, and participated actively in planning the enterprise. Jefferson prescribed objectives that set standards for later government explorers. Lewis and Clark launched 75 years of government surveys that lasted until the late 1870s. [1]

Manifest Destiny became the nation's rallying slogan in the 1840s. Proponents of this doctrine believed that it was the destiny of the United States to expand over the North American continent. No one personified this idea more than John Charles Fremont. A member of the Army's Corps of Topographical Engineers, Fremont led his first expedition to the Rockies in 1842. Mapping a route for emigrants to Oregon, Fremont crossed South Pass into the Green River Basin, then turned north along the Wind River Range. He climbed what he thought was the tallest peak in the range, known today as Fremont Peak. Describing the day as "sunny and bright," Fremont "could just discover the snowy heads of the Trois Tetons" in the distance. He led several more surveys west, but this was as close as he ever came to Jackson Hole. [2]

Later surveys concentrated on locating a route for a transcontinental railroad. The need for such a link was both symbolic and practical. After the Mexican War ended in 1848, the United States spanned the continent from east to west, and hence required a reliable transportation route to secure political and economic ties and to defend the new western empire. Moreover, the transcontinental railroad symbolized the nationalism of the country. Unfortunately, intense sectional rivalries fueled by the issue of slavery tainted rational debate concerning an eastern terminus and route. Protagonists believed that the region securing the eastern terminus would enjoy overwhelming and permanent economic advantages over others. The issue pitted not only North against South, but communities and states against each other. No one seemed to accept the possibility of more than one transcontinental railroad. [3]

In 1853, Congress allocated funding to survey practicable routes to the Pacific Coast, charging the War Department with the task. Isaac I. Stevens, a former army officer, surveyed the northern route between the 47th and 49th parallels. Lieutenant John W. Gunnison led the 38th parallel survey, which covered an area through the Colorado Rockies and central Utah. The 35th parallel survey scouted from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Santa Fe, then on to California. Lieutenant A. W. Whipple directed this survey. Two survey parties reconnoitered the 32nd parallel, which crossed Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The 38th parallel survey explored the general area of the eventual alignment of the first transcontinental railroad from southwestern Wyoming to the Pacific Coast. None of the surveys evaluated a route through Jackson Hole.

Influential citizens in Washington Territory (which included what is now the states of Washington, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming) supported a railroad over South Pass with branches to San Francisco and Puget Sound. Consequently, they were disappointed with Stevens's recommendation for a northern route through Montana to Puget Sound. As a result, the Washington Territorial Legislature provided funds for the survey of a South Pass route. A civil engineer named Frederick West Lander conducted the survey. Lander surveyed south of the Teton Range and Jackson Hole, essentially following the Oregon Trail. [4] The United States Government published the surveys in a preliminary report in 1855, but Congress failed to agree on a route as the slavery issue inflamed sectional rivalries over the eastern terminus of the railroad. The Union stood on the threshold of dissolution and war when Captain W. F. Raynolds expedition entered Jackson Hole in 1860.

Raynolds's expedition was the first of three military surveys to pass through Jackson Hole. A member of the Army Topographical Engineers, Raynolds was instructed to explore the upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Madison Rivers. Like so many military surveys, Raynolds was to "ascertain the numbers, habits and disposition of the Indians inhabiting the country . . . as the army scouted potential opponents." [5] Further, Raynolds was to survey agricultural and mineral resources, climate, and, in particular, potential rail or wagon roads "to meet the wants of military operations or those of emigration through, or settlement in, the country." [6]

After travelling up the Missouri River by steamboat to Fort Pierre, South Dakota, the survey set out overland on June 18, 1859. Raynolds employed none other than Jim Bridger as a guide. Also accompanying the expedition was a young physician who exhibited a passion for geology and paleontology. He was Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, the organizer and leader of the post-Civil War Hayden Surveys. The military surveys of this period inventoried the flora, fauna, and geology of the West as a matter of course. Respected institutions such as the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, the Albany Academy, and the Smithsonian Institution sent scientists with these expeditions. As a result, a new perception of the American West emerged; scientists saw it as a gigantic natural laboratory. The scientist was a frontiersman, as much so as the soldier and mountain man. Yet, he perceived the West's natural resources in a much different light; they were most important for the knowledge that could be gleaned from them. Thus, in the Raynolds's expedition, mountain man, soldier, and scientist merged in the surveyors frontier. [7]

Jim Bridger guided the party across the badlands of South Dakota, past the Black Hills, and west to the Yellowstone River. Hayden's penchant for wandering off to collect rock and fossil specimens caused Raynolds and Bridger considerable worry. On August 11 or 12, 1859, on Rosebud Creek, Raynolds noted, "Dr. F. V. Hayden, geologist, had departed for Wolf mountains in such a state of scientific obsession as to neglect to obtain permission. Hayden was missing for at least one night. He returned August 13, "happy in having examined the mountains." Always the soldier, Raynolds ordered "that no one should thereafter be absent overnight without express permission." [8] Later, on the Little Bighorn, Hayden asked to examine a nearby bluff, but Raynolds denied the request "as Mr. Bridger was very decided as to the danger of parties going abroad alone while there were evidences of the vicinity of Indians, and as I could not encourage unnecessary work on the Sabbath." [9] As winter approached, the expedition found abandoned cabins along Deer Creek near present day Glenrock, Wyoming, where they holed up until spring. A very religious man, Raynolds espoused his faith and apparently tried to convert Hayden. Soldier, mountain man, and scientist must have spent a long winter on Deer Creek, broken only by the vivid yarns of Jim Bridger and other mountain men.

Raynolds's party moved out on May 8, 1860. They intended to follow the Wind River to its headwaters and cross a divide to the headwaters of the Yellowstone. In late May, Raynolds tried to cross the Continental Divide. Bridger warned against this, stating that it would be necessary to cross into the Columbia drainage before seeking the headwaters of the Yellowstone. Ignoring his advice, Raynolds found his way blocked by a basaltic ridge, "rising not less than five thousand feet above us." Bridger remarked to Raynolds: "I told you you could not go through. A bird can't fly over that without taking a supply of grub along." They returned to the Wind River, where Bridger determined to guide them over Union Pass. [10]

Thus, terrain and snow forced the Raynolds's survey to seek a route through Jackson Hole. On May 31, they set out. Bridger assured them that they would camp that night on the waters of the Columbia within five miles of the Green River. Steep slopes and deep snow hindered their progress so much that "Bridger for the first time lost heart and declared that it would be impossible to go further." The expedition floundered, but eventually reached the Continental Divide completing this "most laborious" march since leaving Fort Pierre. Raynolds named the divide, Union Pass, and the nearby summit, Union Peak. On June 1, the survey party trekked down the Gros Ventre Fork valley. Snow and deep mud exhausted both men and stock. Here, Jim Bridger lost his bearings. Although he knew the general area well, Bridger's memory for details seems to have failed him. He tried unsuccessfully to find a way through the Mount Leidy Highlands to Togwotee Pass and Two Ocean Pass. The snow and rugged terrain foiled him. Disappointed, Raynolds determined to follow the Gros Ventre west. He recorded, however, that Hayden and his assistants remained busy collecting specimens, despite the ordeal. [11]

Ferdinand V. Hayden
Ferdinand V. Hayden led some of the most notable surveying expeditions of the Yellowstone and Jackson Hole area. National Park Service

"Flower-painted meadows" greeted the expedition when they entered Jackson Hole. The Snake River presented another obstacle. It was a roiling torrent, fed by the spring runoff from the surrounding mountains. They traveled south seeking a safe crossing, but tragedy struck when one man drowned while testing a ford. Raynolds then ordered a raft built, which promptly failed a trial run. Meanwhile, Bridger had begun fashioning a bullboat of poles, blankets, and lodge skin. Using the boat, they ferried their gear across three 100-yard channels losing only the wheels to the odometer. They spent three days crossing the river. On June 18, Bridger guided the expedition over Teton Pass into Pierre's Hole. [12]

The survey followed the Madison River, then the Missouri River, back to Fort Pierre. Raynolds failed to locate the upper Yellowstone River. Why Jim Bridger did not follow the Wind River then divert to Togwotee Pass and Two Ocean Pass remains a mystery. Even more puzzling was the decision to cross Teton Pass rather than travel north through Jackson Hole to Two Ocean Pass. Both routes would have enabled Raynolds to locate the headwaters of the Yellowstone. There are two explanations. Bridger may have felt the snow would be too deep to try either route, or the passing years may have dimmed his memory. It is clear that he became confused in the Upper Gros Ventre River country for Raynolds observed that Bridger seemed "more at a loss than I have ever seen him. . . ." [13]

Nevertheless, the Raynolds survey is significant for several reasons. It was the first government survey to explore Jackson Hole; and for the first time scientists turned their attention to this area and collected specimens. It was also during this survey that Raynolds gave Union Pass its name. The presence of Jim Bridger linked the fur trappers' frontier to the explorer and surveyor's frontier. Finally, Raynolds concluded in his report that the Jackson Hole and Yellowstone country were too mountainous for a railroad.

While Raynolds conducted his surveys, divisions over slavery escalated in the United States. Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency fractured the Union in 1860, and when the volunteer army of the seceded states opened fire on Fort Sumter in April 1861, they hurled the nation into its bloodiest war. Exploration in the West came to a halt. After the Civil War ended in 1865, military surveyors again looked to the western horizon.

In 1873, Captain William A. Jones, Army Corps of Engineers, was ordered to reconnoiter an area from Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to the Yellowstone country. He sought to locate a military road, linking the Yellowstone and the Montana settlements with the Union Pacific tracks. Jones assembled a party of specialists that included Theodore B. Comstock, geologist; Dr. C. C. Parry, botanist; C. L. Heitzman, surgeon and chemist; and Lt. S. E. Blunt, astronomer.

The Jones expedition set out from Fort Bridger in June 1873. Their route took them through the Green River Valley, over South Pass, up the Wind River, where they crossed the Owl Creek Mountains into the Bighorn Basin. When they reached the Shoshone River (then called the Stinking Water), Jones turned west into Yellowstone Park. The survey made a loop through the Yellowstone country, spending the month of August in the new national park. South of Yellowstone Lake, their Shoshone guides rebelled, stranding the expedition in the Thorofare country. Jones enticed them to continue with promises of food and new respect. However, all of the Shoshone were lost except for one, and he proved unreliable. The party finally made their way up the Yellowstone River, crossed Two Ocean Pass, traveled down Lava Creek, then up Blackrock Creek to Togwotee Pass. Rediscovering this pass, Jones named it for one of the guides. In his 1875 report, Jones recommended the construction of a wagon road from the Union Pacific line across Togwotee and Two Ocean Passes into Yellowstone Park. However, the road was never built. [14]

In 1876, Lieutenant Gustavus Cheney Doane led a small party of soldiers into Jackson Hole. Doane had been ordered to "make exploration of the Snake River from Yellowstone Lake to Columbia River." Since the geography of the Snake River was reasonably well known, the need for this expedition remains obscure. Doane appears to have ignored the military chain of command, bypassing his immediate superior, Major James S. Brisbin, and proposing the expedition to General Alfred Terry, who issued orders approving the scheme. Doane's personal interest in exploration seems to have been the catalyst for the expedition. [15] He was authorized to take a sergeant and five troopers. The army issued mounts, pack animals, 60 days' rations, camp equipment, and a prefabricated boat that could be assembled and disassembled. Two additional enlisted men, brought along to handle extra mules and a wagon, accompanied the expedition for a portion of the journey.

On October 11, 1876, the expedition set out from Fort Ellis, Montana, optimistic and seemingly well prepared. Doane described their outfit as an "arctic one;" "We had buffalo coats and moccasins, rubber boots and overshoes, heavy underclothing and plenty of robes and blankets." The soldiers brought carbines, while Doane carried his Sharps buffalo rifle. He rejected pistols as being "worthless" in the mountains, adding, "in fact, they are worthless anywhere in the field." Knives, axes, mess and kitchen gear, a tent, and plenty of tobacco and tea were packed. Doane brought a prismatic compass, an aneroid barometer, maximum and minimum temperature thermometers, and a long tape measure. He noted caustically: "None of these were provided by a generous government, but all were purchased by myself as usual in such cases." [16]

They had traveled for two days only, when the wagon cramped and tipped over, crushing a wheel and reducing the box to "kindling wood." This was an omen of things to come. By the time the cavalry men reached Jackson Hole on November 23, survival, not exploration, was their main concern. Snow and dense vegetation hindered their progress through Yellowstone Park. They had abandoned one horse and eight mules by the time they reached Jackson Lake. Moreover, the boat was proving to be a hindrance; besides the energy expended hauling it over land, it had swamped the day after Doane's men assembled and launched it on Yellowstone Lake. Since then the boat had been repaired three times causing delays of at least four days. [17]

Snow pelted the expedition as Doane led them down the upper Snake River, where they entered the calmer waters of Jackson Lake. They camped in the vicinity of Waterfalls Canyon on the west shore of the lake. Doane's decision to travel along the west shore is inexplicable. The route is much easier along the east shore, especially since a well-known Indian and trapper trail existed here. [18] He recalled that travel was terrible with the pack train "climbing over rocks and through tangled forests of pine, aspen, and other varieties of timber." They abandoned another horse. On November 24, they camped at the north end of Moran Bay. Short of food, they killed and cooked a river otter, but Doane recalled that "[T]he first mouthful went down, but did not remain." The party gave up on otter as a food source. Fortunately, the native cutthroat trout provided an alternative. Doane decided to camp for a day giving the pack animals and the troopers a rest. Doane killed a deer, providing their first fresh meat in some time. On November 26, they continued along the lakeshore. Doane abandoned his horse, leaving them with four horses and one mule. They passed around Elk Island, traveling ten miles before setting up camp in a grassy meadow somewhere on the south shore of Jackson Lake. They journeyed another 15 miles the next day. On November 28, the expedition made only two miles when high winds and heavy snow forced them to bivouac. To make matters worse, diarrhea struck the entire party. Doane blamed deer meat gone bad, but his biographers, the Bonneys, believe it may have been caused by drinking water from glacial melt. [19] Most recuperated enough to travel by November 30. They reached the outlet of Jackson Lake in the afternoon, making good time to an area near the present day Snake River Overlook. The next day, December 1, Doane led his party down the Snake River where they camped at Blacktail Butte. The boat carried all the gear at this point, because the remaining animals were too worn to pack equipment. Although the fishing was good, Doane complained "fresh fish is to[o] thin a diet to subsist on alone. We now have no coffee, sugar, tea, bacon, and, worst of all, no tobacco. Nothing but a few beans left. The game is scarce and shy." [20] Even on an empty stomach, Doane left a vivid description of the Teton Range:

A glorious night. Moon in the full, but empty stomachs. We are now far enough away from the lakes to be clear of the clouds of vapor and local snow storms. Our camp is about at a central point with reference to obtaining a view of the Tetons, and at a distance of fifteen miles from the nearest part of the range. The moonlight view was one of unspeakable grandeur. There are twenty-two summits in the line, all of them mighty mountains, with the gleaming spire of Mount Hayden rising in a pinnacle above all.

There are no foothills to the Tetons. They rise suddenly in rugged majesty from the rock strewn plain. Masses of heavy forests appear on the glacial debris and in parks behind the curves of the lower slopes, but the general field of vision is glittering glaciated rock. The soft light floods the great expanse of the valley, the winding silvery river and the resplendent deeply carved mountain walls. [21]

They laid over the next day to hunt. Having no success, they killed and butchered the weakest horse. Even though the soldiers seasoned the meat with gunpowder, Doane recalled that "[T]he flesh tastes exactly as the perspiration of the animal smells." [22]

As they made their way down the Snake River on December 3, all were aware that the expedition had become an exercise in survival. They camped at the mouth of the Gros Ventre River. The boat now had to be repaired almost daily; troopers poured hot water on leaks that promptly froze over, sealing the boat. On December 7, Sergeant Server encountered an old trapper named John Pierce, who had a crude cabin somewhere in the southern end of Jackson Hole. Pierce visited their camp the next day, bringing a welcome quarter of fat elk.

This odometer was used in one of the Hayden Surveys of Yellowstone. The Raynolds Survey of 1860 used a similar odometer in Jackson Hole, until the wheels were lost in a river crossing. US. Geological Survey, William Henry Jackson #1290

Doane and his men moved on into the Snake River Canyon, where the boat capsized, "dancing end over end in the swift cold current." On December 18, they reached Keenan City, a mining camp located in the Snake River Range. Doane's weight had dropped from a robust 190 pounds to a mere 126 pounds. The rest were in similar condition. They arrived at Fort Hall, Idaho, on January 3, 1877. Doane planned to secure a new outfit and press on down the Snake River, but his commanding officer ordered him "with his escort to rejoin his proper station Fort Ellis, as soon as practicable." [23]

Doane later reported that his commander, Major Brisbin, had disapproved of the entire project from the outset. The fact that Doane had circumvented Brisbin to secure permission for the expedition may have contributed to his recall.

In retrospect, Doane's expedition exhibited poor planning and timing. [24] The goal of exploring the Snake River from Yellowstone Lake to the Columbia River was very general. Why the army required such a survey is unknown. Further, making the trip in winter was foolish. Doane recalled that the old trapper, John Pierce, "was evidently completely puzzled as to what motive could have induced us to make such a trip in such a way and at such a season." [25] Doane and his fellow cavalrymen were lucky to survive the trip. He lost his journal when the boat capsized in the Snake River Canyon. He wrote his narrative much later, using Sergeant Server's cryptic journal. Regardless, it remains one of the most interesting records of exploration in Jackson Hole; the foolishness of the trip adds to its appeal.

Expeditions such as Doane's did nothing to promote military surveys, which conflicted increasingly with civilian surveys after 1865. The U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories was formed in 1869. This Interior Department bureau competed with the military and, through this bureau, the civilian scientist replaced the soldier-explorer in western surveys. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, a veteran of Raynolds's 1860 survey, became one of the premier civilian explorers after the Civil War. Hayden had launched new surveys in 1867, eventually reporting directly to the Secretary of the Interior in 1869. As his influence grew, surveys received increased funding from Congress. [26]

In 1871, Congress appropriated $40,000 for a survey of the Yellowstone country, which was very generous for a notably stingy group of solons. Hayden spent the season in Yellowstone accompanied by a party that included William Henry Jackson, the pioneer photographer, and Thomas Moran, the landscape artist. Hayden's flair for publicity, aided by Jackson's photographs and Moran's artwork, contributed to the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

Hayden returned to the Yellowstone country to explore the sources of the Snake and Missouri Rivers in 1872. This survey was significant for several reasons. Most important, it established Hayden's dominance in the field of exploration for several years, overshadowing both civilian and military competition. Further, as Hayden matured as a survey leader after the Civil War, he recognized the importance of public relations in securing funding. He cultivated conscientiously the support of congressmen, railroad magnates, soldiers, and westerners. As a result, his interest shifted from the purely scientific to general inventories of the West's exploitable resources. His reports remained truthful, but tended to emphasize the positive, which delighted Western boosters.

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004