Among the many historical treasures of the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library in Santa Fe are diaries and other papers of John A. Clark, third surveyor general of New Mexico Territory [not to be confused with John H. Clark who in 1859 surveyed the New Mexico-Texas boundary]. They were donated in 1966 to the library by his grandson and include his portrait photograph. Written during his tenure from 1861 until 1868, the journals document how the Civil War affected the surveying history of the Territory.
On July 26, 1861, the day on which Fort Fillmore [located six miles southeast of Mesilla, just west of I-10] was surrendered to Confederate troops from Texas, President Lincoln “with the advice and consent of the Senate” appointed Clark surveyor general of New Mexico Territory, which until 1863 (for surveying purposes until 1867) included Arizona. To prepare for what he may well have regarded the great adventure of his life, Clark purchased 5 x 7 inch notebooks, bound in light brown leather, into which he made daily entries for the next seven years. Eventually he would fill twenty-five of them, a total of 1,943 pages written in an evenly flowing hand. Sketches of travel routes and places he visited amend many of his records, and the last pages of each book usually contain records of expenditures and accounts.
Clark was an observant and thoughtful man, and his entries reflect his personal feelings along with his opinions and hopes, as well as his love and concerns for his wife and their seven children he had left behind in Illinois. Family anniversaries gave him reason to pause and to reflect on life and its vagaries. On February 20, 1862, the eve of the battle at Valverde 150 miles to the south, he wrote: “I am 48 years old today! – It is a long time looking forward, but in looking back, it seems but a little while since I was a boy – I remember my thoughts, my hopes and experiences … – more than two thirds of the three score years and ten have passed, so that now I am descending on the other side of the mountain, and probably far short of the ultimate period I shall find my resting place in the valley. As God will, I shall endeavor to be content”.
John Anderson Clark was born the son of a physician on February 20, 1814 in Delhi, Delaware County, New York. When he was nine years old his family took him to Monroe, Michigan, where John’s father stopped practicing medicine and became employed with the General Land Office. An elder brother had received an education in “especially accurate surveying” and worked as a GLO surveyor. John joined him and both surveyed on GLO contracts in Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois. In October 1838 John married Irish born Anna Jane Kyle and settled in Freeport, Illinois, a frontier town near the Wisconsin state line and seat of newly established Stephenson County. The couple eventually had nine children. During the 1840s he was clerk of the circuit court, served as county recorder and treasurer, and speculated in real estate. Together with a younger brother he began to read law and in 1850 was admitted to the bar. Clark practiced probate and “office” law, and also served two terms as Alderman. Financially ruined in the “Panic of 1857” he returned to surveying, serving seven years as Surveyor General of New Mexico and following, briefly of Utah. In 1869 he accepted an offer to work as land commissioner for the ‘Missouri River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad Co.’ in Kansas City, Missouri. There he died of cancer on August 5, 1881. He was buried in his adopted hometown of Freeport.
Clark commenced his journals on September 3, 1861, the day he left his home in Freeport for Santa Fe. It would take him a month to get there, by rail to Saint Louis, by steamer on the Missouri River to Omaha, and by stage to Denver. In Denver he called on the Governor and: “… before leaving procure from the Governor three Navy revolvers & one double barreled shot gun to arm my party.” It cost him $125 to hire a carriage to Santa Fe where he arrived on the 7th of October.
In the months ahead he met with all the notable residents of the capital and familiarized himself with the duties of his office. In February 1862 Civil War events in New Mexico overtook him and on March 3rd he boxed up the land office records and with his personal belongings traveled for the relative safety of Fort Union. En route his party overtook ex-surveyors general Pelham and Wilbar, Union prisoners who were marched to a Fort Union jail. But Clark had no business in a Federal fort, having concluded that: “the military has no monopoly on wisdom”, and sought and obtained two months leave of absence that brought him back to his family in Freeport. Owing to war-connected difficulties of travel he did not return to Santa Fe until the second week in August.
Because of the Civil War troubles and Indian hostilities the annual surveys in the Territory dwindled until from 1863 through 1866 there were none at all, giving Clark ample time to reconnoiter his assigned professional domain. Not since Lieutenant Emory’s reconnaissance in 1846 was New Mexico and Arizona host to a better observer. At the request of General Carleton who was in command of the Military Department of New Mexico, in June 1863 John Clark accompanied a military party led by Captain Pishon to the booming goldfields around Prescott. Carleton had instructed him to prospect along the route for gold and report on the probable extend and value of the gold fields. When Fort Whipple was moved out of Arizona’s Chino Valley the old site was renamed Camp Clark in honor of him. Camp Clark is considered to have been the first temporary capital of Arizona. Another result of Clark’s Arizona travels was his recommendation to use one of the triangulation stations of the 1853 International Boundary Survey as initial point for the Arizona Public Land Surveys (Gila and Salt River Meridian).
Clark was deeply impressed by the beauty of the Southwest. In camp on a Sunday (April 30, 1865) near the San Francisco River in the western Gila country he wrote: “I have worshiped in God’s holy temple – In the midst of these grand pine forests & lofty mountains a man must be debased & brutalized if he does not worship the Creator of all these glorious works – I never feel more truly religious than when alone in the mountains or forests contemplating nature in all its glory & mystery – ” Many surveyors will find it easy to agree.
Clark’s diaries end with his entry of Friday, August 28, 1868, the last day he spent in Santa Fe. A month earlier, when word reached him that he had been appointed surveyor general of Utah Territory he confided to his diary: “I do not know whether to be glad or sorry but hope it may be for the best”. Next morning he boarded the stage for “the States” on his way to his family in Freeport. The Santa Fe New Mexican wished him farewell: “General Clark during his seven years’ residence in Santa Fe has endeared himself to our people of all clases [sic], and we are quite sure he has their well wishes on now retiring from among them.”
Clark’s journals are a treasure house of data on the Southwest, containing a vast amount of useful and reliable information about the geography, characteristics, and resources of the Territory. At the time of this writing a Great-Granddaughter of his is engaged in arranging for their publication. If that happens, John A. Clark will have made an impact on the Southwest that will overshadow his relative modest accomplishments as surveyor general, hamstrung by war and its aftermath as he was, and a colorful, formative period of our part of the country will appear as seen through the trained eyes of a professional surveyor.