Rendezvous 2012—Toward the Western Horizon

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We’ve always been an innovative bunch. The Surveyors Historical Society (SHS) met in mid-September in Council Bluffs, Iowa to discuss and study the exciting and unique ways we, as a country, pursued the western horizon. The Lewis and Clark expedition told Americans the wonders of what lay ahead. Huge expanses of land lay ahead. To put that land in the citizen’s hands required a certain, yet unknown order. What resulted was the General Land Office. Also, not known for exactly being complacent, we built a steel road over this same land from one ocean to another. Crucial to this ever westward obsession was the surveyor.

Welcome Weary Travelers. On a beautiful fall afternoon in lodgings situated right on the banks of the Missouri River, many long held friendships were rekindled and many new ones were begun because of the participation of the Society of Land Surveyors of Iowa and the Professional Surveyors Association of Nebraska. While socializing commenced, (thanks given to the great hospitality of the Iowa group) SHS held an amazingly productive general membership meeting as well as a meeting of the Board of Directors. Three days of study, fellowship and new sights and sounds were about to begin.

Lewis and Clark
Boarding a bunch of bouncing buses (forgive me), at 7:00 am, we all headed for Fort Atkinson, Nebraska, a few miles north of Omaha. Actually, we were leaving Council Bluffs, Iowa and going to the real council bluffs. Lewis and Clark spoke of it as being the site of their first real encounter or council with Indians. In his journal, Clark suggested a fort be built on the bluffs.

Fort Atkinson is on a bluff high above a plane that was once the channel of the ever changing Missouri River. The fort, uncannily bearing semblances to the main quad at the University of Virginia was designed by Andrew Talcott, Engr. Considering his long friendship with fellow engineer Robert E. Lee and time spent in Virginia, its no wonder. Talcott himself (Jim Pickette) was there to greet the visitors to his fort. At the fort meeting room, Rendezvous 2012 organizer and SHS Chairman, Richard Leu formally welcomed everyone and officially kicked off the conference by introducing the first speaker.

Over nearly a 20 year period, "Montana Bill" Weikel has researched the equipment and methods used by Lewis and Clark. President Jefferson charged Meriwether Lewis with specific mapping duties. Utilizing actual tools of the period (or reproductions), Weikel demonstrated how Lewis provided the information requested by the President. How does one measure nearly 3000 miles of real estate using late 18th and early 19th century equipment? Not precisely, but pretty darn well according to Weikel.

Weikel returned to solve the mystery of just where the Nebraska council bluffs actually are. Over the years, there’s been some controversy about the true location of the first council with the western tribe. Comparing Clark’s maps, emphasis being on major geologic features with modern mapping, Weikel presented a sound and convincing argument that Fort Atkinson lies within a mile either way of the no longer known exact location of the meeting or council place.

In came George Drouillard, big and boisterous, a commanding figure. Drouillard (his name spelled any number of ways in journals) told us of being raised by the Indians and later moving to Fort Massack on the Ohio River. Lewis hired "Dweyer" as a hunter and as the primary interpreter for the expedition. "Drullard" (Nebraskan Darrel Draper) amused and entertained us with his many stories "borrowing" folks from the audience to help illustrate his tall tales. One of poignancy was the democratic solution to determine wintering at Fort Clatsop. Everyone in the expedition voted, everyone. For a woman (Sacajawea), it would be 115 years, for a black (York), it would be 64 years and for an Indian (any number in the expedition), it would be 119 years before any could again legally vote.

Back to Iowa on the shaken but not stirred bus line. Lewis and Clark State Park is on a land locked lake that was once a channel of the Missouri River. Upon these waters is a replica of the expedition’s massive keel boat and it was ours for the day. Working in shifts, one either went boating or participated in any number of activities. Lorna Hainesworth did excellent presentations on Lewis’s observation for latitude at the Cumberland Gap and on Andrew Ellicott, Lewis’s surveying teacher. Outside, Milton Denny supervised the assembly of a brass Gunter’s chain while Don Erickson exhibited and explained a gorgeous zenith telescope generously lent for the occasion by Dr. Bill Shultz. Weikel displayed his rare Lewis and Clark era equipment for anyone to actually touch and use. Whirly-gigs became a major topic of learned conversation. A good day to be a surveyor historian.

200th Anniversary of the General Land Office
Following a nine year war fought against taxation, we were broke. How could the new united States get back to solvency without taxes? Our greatest commodity was land.

Milton Denny, using pictures and maps, led us through the many iterations we devised to dispose of the public lands for the benefit of the new land owners and the government. Beginning with the Land Ordinance of 1785, Denny took us through the Ohio survey experiments, on into Indiana and Illinois rectangular surveys and through the Homestead period. Finally, in the midst of a major war (1812), the General Land Office was organized as a part of the Treasury Department. Denny’s maps and anecdotes entertainingly told the story of the structured conveyance of nearly half of a continent.

Rich Leu next told the GLO story in a unique way. Leu did this by sharing many of the letters to and from the GLO he has collected over the years. Nothing spectacular. The story was told from invoices, employment applications, equipment orders and any other mundane matter that kept the wheels of the Land Offices turning.

In came Daniel Freeman, big and boisterous, a commanding figure. Freeman (Daniel Draper) was America’s first homesteader. A respected physician and Civil War veteran, Freeman did use some creative ways (get the Land Agent drunk) in order to secure the first 160 acres granted under the homestead act.

1818, six years following the GLO, the federal government sent an expedition up the Missouri River in order to establish forts to protect the flood of western migrants. The previously mentioned Captain Andrew Talcott (now, Don Borcherding), aide-de-camp to Henry Atkinson, through maps and journals related the arduous trip to the council bluffs. Arduous simply because of the constant breakdown of the steam powered paddle boats traversing down the Ohio and up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. His final trek on this "Yellowstone" expedition was to map the road from this place north to Fort Snelling, near St. Paul, Minnesota. A side note, his latitude determinations were exceptional and he was later credited with the Talcott method for determining latitude.

The major focus of this year’s swap meet that afternoon was Dr. Richard Elgin’s contributions. It took 4 tables to display his equipment. There was a diverse array of books, coins, art, tally belts, letters and most especially instruments available for purchase or swap. Few museums could boast of the joint collection of paraphernalia.

The evening wrapped up with a delicious picnic and more hospitality from the Iowa folks.

The Pacific Railroad’s­ 150th Anniversary
to Ike’s accomplishment of the Interstate Highway system, the zenith of the surveying and engineering professions was the planning and construction of the railroads. 1862, with our country again engulfed in a major war, Americans (at least the northern portion) chose to realize the dream of spanning the country with steel rails and steam locomotive.

We began our railroad study at the end of the project. Richard Leu informed us of the many misconceptions about the day of the celebration of joining the rails out in Promontory Summit (not Point), Utah. The "golden spike" (one of four) was simply dropped into a pre-drilled hole (not driven), completing the joint Pacific Railroad projects. However, the continent wasn’t fully spanned until a little over a year later at Comanche Crossing, Colorado. No one recorded who drove that spike.

Who better in this country can talk about the U.S. Corps of Topographic Engineers than Don Erickson? The current expert on the Topogs filled us in on the endeavors of the many crews of scientists, surveyors, geologists, botanists, artists, photographers and the common citizens sent west by Jefferson Davis to find a practicable rail route to the Pacific in 1853. Each of the five surveys (depending on how one counts them) was a monumental success as hailed by the public who witnessed in awe, the discoveries of Warren, McClellen, Gunnison, and the many others. Erickson gave a thorough accounting of the instruments used (though in short supply at the time owing to the tremendous amount of exploration nationwide) as well as the various routes west. It took 13 volumes to relate the information gathered to the congress and to the public. Ironically, the initial road built followed none of these routes.

One of the most friendly, likable, humble and gracious men I ever encountered had the daunting task of telling the story of the "road" in an hour and one half. David Haward Bain has done for the story of The banquet and the annual group photo of the varied periods of dress of the re-enactors. And it the Pacific Railroads exactly what Shelby Foote did in his wasn’t yet Halloween. narrative on the Civil War. One of Bain’s many books, Empire Express spans 797 pages and the author economically covered the high points of the saga through a collection of photographs he has both acquired and recorded over a 20 year period. In his brief talk, we all learned to despise Doc Durant, have pity for surveyors Hill and Brown, killed by Indians, admire surveyors and engineers such as Peter Dey, Grenville Dodge, Ted Judah and Samuel Montague and shake our heads at the greed and corruption of Credit Mobilier. Bain’s knowledge and collection of pictures are priceless. We were a fortunate roomful of surveyors.

Once again, we boarded buses, this time bound for downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa. Passing the 56 foot tall golden spike along the way, we wound up at the Union Pacific Railroad museum. Recently undergoing a renovation, the venue proved to be fun and fact-filled. Special museum staff were made available to show original UPRR maps from the design mapping. We then proceeded to UPRR chief engineer Grenville Dodge’s private residence. Our conscientious volunteer tour guides learned that day to never tell a surveyor “Come, follow me.” It was Dodge, right there in Council Bluffs, viewing the western horizon, who put the bug into Abraham Lincoln’s ear to use the Platte River route for the railroad.

Prior to saying our goodbyes, it’s traditional to join together as a group for the annual banquet and fund raising auction. Following the food, we broke out our pocketbooks and cut each other’s throats, but in a good way. Once again, the auctioneers were Chas Langelan and Dave Ingram but this year, they were upstaged by one Caitlin Coors (Rose and Gary) from Ohio. It was Caitlin’s duty to present the items throughout the room to the perspective purchasers. Easily she added 40% to the bottom line over what Ingram and Langelan would have brought in.

Lewis and Clark, the GLO and the railroads all carried our nation toward the western horizon and to the prosperity we all have come to take for granted. It took a gargantuan amount of measuring to accomplish what all of our predecessors accomplished. Humbly, with pride, we all follow in these giants’ footsteps.

Next August, everyone is invited to the city of brotherly love to follow in the steps of Rittenhouse, Ellicott and Misters Mason and Dixon. Among other activities, the Surveyors Historical Society will be placing the head stone that he never had on the grave of Charles Mason. His grave is pretty close to Ben Franklin’s up there in Christ Church cemetery in Philadelphia. Come make some history with us.

Bart Crattie holds a BFA degree from Murray State University and is a licensed surveyor in Georgia and Tennessee. He is a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM and has been featured on national television networks regarding the Georgia water shortage and the location of the state’s northern line. Bart serves on the Board of Directors for the Surveyors Historical Society and is a regular contributor to the magazine.

A 5.141Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE