Sunday, June 27, 2021

Table of Contents


1.  Crater Loops, Little Gore Canyon, Flaming Aspen and Other Vanishing Splendor

2.  Curtis Hill -- Cimarron River Valley

3.   Pecos River Bridge -- Fort Sumner, New Mexico 

4.   Crozier Canyon and Truxton Canyon -- Where the Waters Flow

5.  Crookton Cutoff -- Eagle Nest,Doublea, Crookton and Seligman

6.  Loma Alta, Lucy and the New Mexico High Plains 

7.  Tehachapi Loop Saved My Marriage 

8.   Travels with Mighty Dog in Search Of the Kansas City Southern;  Austin, Todd and Ladd; Arkansas and Oklahoma; Kansas and Oklahoma; Avard Subdivision and Other Oddities 

9.  BNSF Transcon in the Texas Panhandle 

10.  Abo Canyon:  Then and (S)now 

11.  Lombard Canyon and the Three Rivers 

12.  Mountains May Begin With Montana, but Fugichrome Ends With Me  

13.  Mullan Pass:  Mullan on my Mind 

14.  Kingman Canyon:  What am I Doing up Here?  

15.  BNSF Transcon:  Not Every Meeting is a Waste of Time 

16.  The Arbuckles are Worn Down, and I'm Headed There:  AT&SF and BNSF Railroad Photography From an Oklahoma Sinkhole  

17.  BNSF, UP and MRL in the Idaho Panhandle 

18.  Burlington Northern:  Trinidad to Walsenburg (Someone Built a Railroad Through Here?)

19.  Santa Fe on Curtis Hill (Things Ain't What They Used to Be) 

20.  BNSF West of Belen:  MP 27.8 to 31.9 

21.  BNSF at Flagstaff (and a little AT&SF)

22.  I Feel Like the Rock Island (Memories of a Stricken Railroad)

23.  Kansas City Southern:  Requiem for White Knights and Telephone Poles

24.  BNSF at Curtis Hill:  Where the West Begins

25.  Tennessee Pass:  Alas

26.  BNSF West of Wellington

27.  Cajon 2016:  Before the Fire 

28.  Union Pacific:  Aspen Mountain Through Echo Canyon

29.  Burlington Northern at Crawford Hill

30.  St. Louis Railroads -- as I Remember Them

31.  BNSF Across the Sacramento Valley:  Wild Burros and Cold Bears

32. She Caught the Katy and Left me a Mule to Ride

33.  Santa Fe in the Unassigned Lands

34.  BNSF:  Another Look at Crozier Canyon

35.  BNSF:  Colorado River to Goffs Hill

36.  Cajon Pass:  After the Fire

37.  BNSF in Oklahoma:  Avard Subdivision

38.  Back East!  Lost in the Trees

39.  Union Pacific:  The Craig Branch in its Prime

40.  Union Pacific from Point of Rocks to Granger:  Wherein Mighty Dog Clashes with the Serpent

41.  Trials and Tribulations of Train Photography

42.  The Frisco of my Youth:  Both Gone

43.  When That Evening Sun Goes Down:  Ellinor After Hours

44.  Nebraska's Sandhills in Transition

45.  BNSF:  Highway 47 to Mountainair

46.  Rock Island and Union Pacific on the Chisholm Trail

47.  Union Pacific, Southern Pacific and Western Pacific Potpourri:  Arnold Loop, Echo Canyon, Aiken Hill, Sherman Hill and Donner Summit

48.  Lake Pend Oreille! or The Importance of the Angle of Incidence

49.  Sunset on the Missouri Pacific

50.  BNSF Transcon:  Kansas City to Cajon (Part One:  Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas)

51.  BNSF Transcon:  Kansas City to Cajon (Part Two:  Clovis to Belen)

52.  BNSF Transcon:  Kansas City to Cajon (Part Three:  Belen to Seligman)

53.  BNSF Transcon:  Kansas City to Cajon (Part Four:  Crozier Canyon to Cajon)

54.  Burlington Northern Blues (and Greens)

55.  Kansas City Southern:  Ouachita Mountains Revival

56.  BNSF:  Trinchera Pass

57.  BNSF at the Millennium in the Cherokee Strip

58.  O, Canada!

59.  Bridges, Trestles and Causeways

60.  I Feel Like the Rock Island, but I Dream of the Santa Fe

61.  A Brief Tour of Tehachapi

62.  The Flint Hills!

63.  The Only Place I Ever Felt at Home

64.  Rio Grande on the Moffat Route

65.  Six Days in the Desert (BNSF Transcon: Danby to Ash Hill) 

66.  Walking Backward to go Forward



The Land That Swallows Trains: Part II


[Herein begins Part II of The Land that Swallows Trains.  You should read Part One ( before beginning this section, which presupposes knowledge of names, places and actions.]

The Whipple survey party straggled into Albuquerque like marathon runners, or more appropriately, like wild horses coming in off the desert – a few here, a few there, some today, some tomorrow – intending to decompress and recuperate for at least a month.  Only a few years before, this settlement had been controlled by the King of Spain, and everything about it was (obviously) Spanish, founded in 1706 by Nuevo Mexico governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdes as La Villa de Albuquerque, named in honor of the 10th Duke of Albuquerque, an outpost on the main road (called El Camino Real, one of several in North America) constructed along the Rio Grande north into New Mexico.  Your author believes that Albuquerque sits in one of the most beautiful valleys in the lower 48, a pearl nestled in oysterous mountains, and those who have driven into town from the west along Interstate 40 are generally in agreement.  (Similar agreement can be found among those who have ridden the tramway up Sandia Mountain to the east.)

Möllhausen thought that the valley presented a significant opportunity for development:

The inexhaustible wealth of nature which rendered, and still renders, the colonization of the North American continent so comparatively easy, is not in so high a degree characteristic of New Mexico, and in some places there are even deficiencies, but the fruitful valleys of the Rio Grande and its tributaries, as well as its mountains, rich in iron, coal and gold, are profuse enough in their gifts, not only to maintain, but to enrich whole nations, and carry them to the highest point of civilization.

At that time, Albuquerque was not a major settlement, with only 700-800 inhabitants, located about a quarter mile up the eastern slope from the Rio Grande, where the ground was flat, high enough to avoid flooding, but low enough to avoid the worst of the winter winds blowing down from the mountains on a valley over a mile above sea level.  Because there was no wood, all dwellings were constructed of red stucco, low to the ground like stones, though the wealthier inhabitants (“wealthy” being a relative term in this context) covered their houses with whitewash.  Boarded floors were unheard of.  Wealthy and poor alike contented themselves with clay floors, though the wealthier covered the clay with straw or mats.

Provisions and clothes for the survey team were not available and had to be shipped from Fort Union – 200 miles away.  The closest available wood for wagon repair was in San Antonio, New Mexico.  Several of the party had been detained by illness and were late in arriving, and illness was the least worry of those wandering across this untamed land.  If the survey team were European pilgrims, they were traveling across a sea wilder than any ocean.  Sherburne’s diary matter-of-factly recounts that, along the way in Texas and eastern New Mexico, “one man was buried in Devil’s Hole and one eaten by the wolves.”  Sherburne also notes that one of the mail carriers riding toward Albuquerque was shot by Comanches.  “They saw more Indians that we did.”

As discussed in Part One, the Whipple survey team had split in two in eastern New Mexico, one traveling northwest, eventually following the Santa Fe Trail south of the capital city to the Rio Grande, then further south to Albuquerque.  The other group continued due west, eventually reaching the Big River through Tijeras Pass.  Both routes were rugged, not suited to railroad construction.  Several years later, what became the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway built tracks along the Santa Fe trail, which required crossing the three percent ruling grades of both Raton and Glorieta Passes, but the Santa Fe soon bypassed that difficult line with the Belen Cut-off.  As the party was pausing to regroup in Albuquerque, they must have realized that their efforts (to find a railroad passage along the 35th parallel) had so far come to grief.

And the route west of Albuquerque was no better.  From the river bottom, the land rose straight out of the ground to the west like a stockade at a grade of no less than five percent for about ten miles until reaching the crest of a hill that looked straight down into the valley of the Rio Puerco and another five percent-plus grade of many miles.  Today, Interstate 40 follows this route.  Anyone who has driven it west of Albuquerque knows that railroad construction was never a serious option.   


Albuquerque was known for its fandangos, formalized Spanish dances in ¾ time, somewhat similar to a waltz, with castanets and guitars and occasional inebriated singing.  Sherburne noted in his diary that such dances were held every night.  Möllhausen said, “We were, above all things, anxious to make at the various balls of Albuquerque a rather less ragamuffin appearance.”  Thus, the survey team members spent “a good dollar” on new apparel.

The dances were public, open to all.  The ringing of the church bell signaled the men to approach the colorfully-dressed women and begin the ritualized movements across a wide, open-air courtyard.  Two entirely distinct societies kept watch on each other.  One involved the “cultivated” members of local society, with whom the survey team joined.  The other was composed of local laborers, cowboys (vaqueros), alcoholics and assorted miscreants who danced separately, spending most of their time quarreling, swearing, shouting and occasionally shooting.  Like oil and water, the two groups did not mix.

Sherburne recorded when the fun got out of hand:

One of our Teamsters shot today in a fandango – not badly injured, only losing a portion of his ear.  A row occurred in a fandango tonight . . .  A soldier was drunk and dressed in womans clothes insisted on entering the room.  Being pushed out he “flared up,” pulled off his dress and bonnet, and saying “I was shot once in this room and will have revenge,” he rushed into the room.  As he entered he was struck three times in the arm with a knife by the Mexican who gave the fandango.  This infuriated him the more and he rushed on until laid senseless by a blow on the temple from a stone.


One should not assume that the survey team’s stay in Albuquerque was consumed mostly by dancing.  The major chore was finding a suitable site for crossing the Rio Grande, and land was explored for miles both north and south along the river.  New mules were purchased and trained for the journey west.  The scientific corps collected specimens for shipment to the Smithsonian.  Upon learning that his primary guide had taken sick, Lieutenant Whipple employed Jose Manuel Savedra, who claimed to have led previous expeditions to the Rio Colorado.  Savedra hired teamsters to travel west with the party.  Shortly before the party left Albuquerque, however, the original guide (Antoine Leroux of Taos) recovered and asked to rejoin the team.  Feeling obliged, Whipple hired him back, and the party journeyed westward with two guides.

From Albuquerque, the survey team split in two again, one group (including Lieutenant Whipple) traveling due west up the steep slope of the Rio Grande (termed Rio Del Norte in Whipple’s report), then down into the valley of the Rio Puerco to the confluence of the Rio San Jose, then following the latter to the Laguna Pueblo, a village of small stucco houses piled on top of each other on a rocky prominence rising from the river valley.  The settlement in the 21st century bears striking resemblance to its 19th century counterpart and can easily be seen today from Interstate 40.  It looks to your author like a carefully crafted music box.  The Europeans in the party said it reminded them of Spain.

Laguna Pueblo

The term “pueblo” was enforced by Spaniards at the point of a sword.  According to Whipple’s report:
They [the Spanish] found a great many Indian tribes and settlements, which they succeeded in christianizing in the usual Spanish way, with sword in hand, and made them their slaves.  The villages of the chritianized Indians were called pueblos, in opposition to the wild and roving tribes that refused such favors.
In the late 17th century, various tribes joined in an insurrection, killing every European in New Mexico, driving the Spanish south to present El Paso.  The Spanish regrouped and about ten years later reconquered the lost territory, re-subjecting the Native Americans to the rule of the King of Spain.  The reader should remember that when viewing any of the many “pueblos” in New Mexico, one is looking at remnants of the Spanish conquest, still called by that name in Mexico.

The second group of the Whipple party (including Sherburne and Möllhausen) traveled south from Albuquerque to the Isleta Pueblo, which the survey team had earlier determined was the best location for a bridge across the Rio Grande.  Because of the long layover in Albuquerque, the calendar had turned to November; the nights were growing cold, generally below freezing.  (Remember:  Albuquerque sits 5,312 feet above sea level.)  Almost immediately after leaving town, the party’s wagons became stuck in the river sand; one of the axles broke.  Wheelwrights came from Albuquerque to repair the damage, and the party spent a cold night huddled like newborn puppies about a fire near the river, trying without much success to sleep, listening in the distance to the music of what Möllhausen described as “the everlasting fandango.”

They made Isleta near sundown of the next day, pitched camp outside the small settlement on a patch of level ground and were soon greeted by women from the village, bearing milk and fruit.  The survey team purchased the whole lot, then settled down for what they hoped would be a good night’s sleep.  Fate intervened, however, in the sound of loud pounding, like the thundering of a bison herd, coming from the village.  Möllhausen and two others set out to explore and soon, looking through the high, open window of one of the native adobe dwellings, saw inside several men beating drums rhythmically, and women, sitting in a circle inside the men, grinding corn in time to the drums.  Möllhausen and the others watched for a long time, either unnoticed by those inside, or else noticed but ignored, then returned to the camp along the river to spend another cold night trying to sleep.
Traveling across the New Mexico wilderness in 1853 must at first have been as exhilarating and intimidating as the fears of the first American astronauts when they climbed into their minuscule space capsules, with less computing power than a cheap, solar-powered pocket calculator, and waited to be hurled into the sky by technology not far advanced from a Buick Roadmaster, placing their lives in the hands of flat-topped men with narrow ties who consulted slide rules to calculate the trajectory to the moon.  

By this time in the journey, however, exhilaration was as infrequent as sleep; the survey team had grown numb with uncertainty and privation.  Lack of food and sleep was the norm, as were dust devils and rattlesnakes.  They left Isleta at dawn and climbed the western slope above the Rio Grande, not nearly as steep as that overlooking Albuquerque.  This portion of the survey was later followed by the Atlantic and Pacific Railway when the first tracks were laid.  The subsequent Belen Cut-off joined this route at Dallies Junction, the top of the grade.

Once they stopped climbing, the survey team looked down into the long brown valley of the Rio Puerco, and beyond the valley to Mesa Lucero, as tall as a mountain, the basalt-capped remains of an ancient volcanic eruption that over the millennia had not eroded significantly, while the river had carved a valley and deep canyon where the lava had not flowed.  The trail wound down to the river, bone dry except for a few isolated pools of brown water, then the river turned northwest into a narrow canyon, while the mules, wagons and men continued upland on a broad shelf between mesa and canyon.  The original tracks also avoided the canyon, climbing a 1.5 percent grade from southeast to northwest.  When the line was later double-tracked, the second line curved to the west to lessen the grade and ever since has been used by westbound traffic.

Here is the view looking down from the top of the ridge into the valley of the Rio Puerco, with Mesa Lucero rising behind.  This is the route followed by the survey team out of Isleta, the route later chosen by the Atlantic and Pacific.

An eastbound manifest is climbing out of the valley of the Rio Puerco, about to crest the summit and head downgrade into the valley of the Rio Grande.

Eastbound in the valley of Rio Puerco.

Westbound stacks have crested the summit and are rolling downgrade into the valley of Rio Puerco.  The Manzano Mountains rise in the background across the Rio Grande to the east.

Amtrak's Southwest Limited rolling downgrade in the valley of Rio Puerco.

Westbound stacks crossing Rio Puerco.  The bridge here is tiny, barely visible behind the east-facing signal, which is why both the survey team and later the railroad chose this location to cross.

The location where the two tracks divide west of Rio Puerco.  The survey team taking the southern route would have traveled this exact path.

Valley of the Pig River.

The survey team continued northwest until reaching the Rio San Jose, then followed that water course through a wider canyon, bracketed by huge cliffs that looked like medieval buttresses supporting a basalt ceiling.  This was the second day of the march from Isleta, near sundown, when the wind suddenly exploded and massive dust devils rose like columns from the Parthenon, quickly overtaking the team which huddled in a low marsh near the river until the storm blew itself out.  All were exhausted and now covered with sand as fine as powder, as fine as snow, that felt on hands, arms, neck and face like biting insects.  The team spent another uncomfortable night trying to sleep.  The next morning, they were joined by Lieutenant Whipple and his group in Laguna Pueblo.

Pushers on westbound stacks have left the valley of Rio Puerco and will soon descend into the Rio San Jose valley.  The train is on the newer second track constructed to lessen the westbound grade.

Beside the Rio San Jose.

Bridge across Rio San Jose.  This is likely where the survey party waited out the dust storm.

The big curve at Laguna Pueblo.

West of Laguna a broad valley opened like unfolding hands, criss-crossed with narrow agricultural canals, dissected by fences of dark lava that had flowed down from Mount Taylor, a huge strato-volcano rising above the valley to the north several thousand feet.  The lava was extremely difficult to cross, causing great hardship to the wagons and mules.  Lieutenant Whipple stated:

The whole length of the valley followed today has been threaded by a sinuous stream of lava.  It appears as if it had rolled down a viscous semi-fluid mass, had been arrested in its course, hardened, blackened, cracked, and in places broken, so as to allow the little brook to gush out from below and gurgle along by its side.  The lava bed is frequently a hundred yards in width, the cross-section being a semi-ellipse, in the centre probably thirty feet high. 

This valley west of Laguna Pueblo quickly turns north and presents what at first blush seems a perfect path toward the Continental Divide, the fences of dark lava notwithstanding.  From place to place, the central New Mexico landscape occasionally reveals such valleys in the midst of mountains, lava flows, canyons and other impediments to railroad construction.  If God were a railfan, if he wanted to create passage west through fantastically tortured scenery, he would have created the New Mexico labyrinth, with just enough flatland between obstacles to allow passage to those ingenious enough to discover the correct route.

The same is not true for Colorado.  There the Front Range and the Sangre de Cristo rise straight out of the ground, fantastic berms intended to prevent passage, as though God were saying, "Not here!"  But New Mexico is a puzzle that once solved provides relatively safe passage. 

Mount Taylor.


West of Laguna Pueblo, the railroad found a narrow course between the lava flows and the steep northern cliffs.  The cliffs were the result of an ancient flow that had not significantly eroded over millions of years, while the sediment around it had worn down to the present valley floor.  The dark lava flows (in the foreground) that gave the survey team so much grief had been generated much more recently, likely within the past 10,000 years, and had covered portions of the same valley floor.

West of Laguna Pueblo, Amtrak threads its way between the high cliffs and lava flows.

Where the valley turned north, the Whipple party again divided, (1) the main group continuing west into the mountains, (2) a tiny group (not including any surveyors or scientists) following the valley toward Fort Defiance.  Whipple, Möllhausen and Sherburne all traveled west, and to your author’s knowledge, no written record was kept by anyone in the small group that followed the valley north, the route that the Atlantic and Pacific later selected to the Continental Divide and then downgrade to Gallup – a town created by the railroad.  This route in both directions approaches the Divide on a shallow grade, less than one-half percent, the obvious location for a railway, as well as 100 years later for Interstate 40.  The grade is so minuscule that one does not even realize that the Divide is being crossed, unless one sees the marker along the highway.

This route is similar to the Union Pacific’s crossing of the Divide in Wyoming – actually double crossing through the Great Divide Basin – both locations where ancestral mountains have worn down to long shallow hills, and nothing has taken their places in the intervening hundreds of millions of years.  Probably because the road led to the Zuni Pueblo, a settlement where mules could be watered and grazed, the main Whipple party chose to head west about 50 miles through a portion of the ancestral mountains that had not so thoroughly eroded.  Fort Defiance, on the other hand, was over 200 miles away.

What no one in the survey team knew was that Zuni and surrounding pueblos were ground zero for a smallpox pandemic.  Whipple described it:
The smallpox had swept off nearly every male adult from three pueblos.  In one remained only a single man from a hundred warriors.  They were dying by fifties per day; and the living, unable to bury the dead, had thrown them down the steep sides of the lofty mesas upon which the pueblos are built.  There wolves and ravens had congregated in myriads to devour them.  The decaying bodies had even infected the streams, and the Zunians were obliged to have recourse to melons both for food and drink.  The young of the tribe had suffered less, few cases among them having proved mortal.

Although your author prefers to let the narrative speak for itself, he feels constrained to point out that the single biggest factor in the European conquest of Native Americans was smallpox.  Because of the infection,  the survey team did not enter the pueblo but kept its distance in the valley of a small stream.  


Möllhausen’s journal gives a brief description of the oral report from the group traveling via Fort Defiance:

The pass [across the Divide] lies almost due west from Mount Taylor, and the access to it is by a fine broad valley, three miles wide at its narrowest part.  The northern side is formed by high red sandstone rocks of the most various forms; the southern by the declivities of the Zuni mountains [those crossed by the main survey party]. 
Lieutenant Whipple’s report notes:
Mr. Campbell [the leader of the small party to Fort Defiance] reports the route . . . quite favorable for a railroad.  Indeed, so gradual was the ascent and descent on either side of the pass, not exceeding thirty feet to the mile, that without a careful survey the summit might be passed unperceived.  Thence to follow Rio Puerco of the west, seemed to him perfectly practicable.
Northwest of Laguna Pueblo, past the lava flows, the valley opens to a gentle incline toward the Continental Divide.  This route was perfect for a railroad.

Grants, New Mexico, where the wide valley flattened, an obvious location for a water stop and coaling station.  The land was originally owned by Don Jesus Blea, who constructed a house in 1872 and called his "town" Alamitos.  Soon, three brothers (Angus, Lewis and John Grant) procured the contract from the Atlantic and Pacific to construct the dirt work for the railroad through this section of New Mexico.  A huge tent city quickly developed, originally called Grant's Camp, later changed to simply Grants. 

"High red sandstone rocks of the most various forms."

Westbound stacks are approaching the Continental Divide.  As the image shows, the tracks are separated as at Rio Puerco, again due to construction at differing times.  Left-hand running is the norm.

Eastbound Amtrak reverse-running toward Grants.

A few miles from the Continental Divide.  The valley is smooth and almost flat, as though someone had already done the dirt work in preparation for a railroad.

Westbound at the Continental Divide.  This is the valley that the main survey party missed by traveling across the mountains to Zuni Pueblo.  

Continental Divide.

West of the Divide is another Rio Puerco, called the "Rio Puerco of the West" to differentiate it from its brother east of the Divide.  (For something similar, consider the Red River separating Texas and Oklahoma and the Red River of the North separating Minnesota and North Dakota.).   The small group that took the Fort Defiance route followed this river west of the divide.  Because they left no written record,  we cannot know today the impression made by the high cliffs in the canyon of the Rio Puerco of the West near the present New Mexico/Arizona border – cliffs higher and more striking than any found elsewhere along the 35th parallel.  In the space of less than 200 years, however, an increment that in geologic time is the equivalent of zero, we can be certain that what is seen of the canyon in the 21st century is virtually identical to that of the 19th.  And what we see today is magnificent.  If one were forced to choose a single view to encapsulate the Desert Southwest, this might be it.

The cliffs are part of the Navajo Nation, and dwellings are dotted across the landscape like tiny desert trees.  A narrow dirt road climbs the western heights and should be traversed only in a sturdy, four-wheel-drive vehicle.  Leading off that road is a trail that may once have seen vehicular traffic but today (June 2021) is mostly overgrown with desert grass and mountain cedars.  Still, with perseverance and foolishness, it is possible to navigate a Jeep through this tangle to about a half-mile from the edge.  A short downhill hike then presents one of the more majestic views in the West, or anywhere else, for that matter.  No one in the survey team saw this, but your author did.

Canyon of the Rio Puerco of the West, about three miles from the Arizona border.

Mid-trains in the canyon.  This train appeared to be about two miles long.

This is the route that the main survey party missed.

Eastbound crossing from Arizona into New Mexico.
Westbound through the canyon of the Rio Puerco of the West.
Deep in the canyon.


Pushers on eastbound stacks.

Arizona/New Mexico Border.

Sandstone cliffs leading to the Navajo Nation.

Eastbound entering canyon.

Westbound trailers exiting the canyon of the Rio Puerco of the West.

Westbound with NS power exiting canyon.

Onto the Colorado Plateau.

BNSF 6022, the 25th anniversary heritage unit, brings up the rear as we say good-by to the canyon of Rio Puerco of the West.

There is another.  On the western side of the Divide, it carves a wide canyon between vertical sandstone cliffs, like a trench dug by giants, that opens onto the Colorado Plateau and the Little Colorado River.  Beyond the western mouth of the canyon is where the two survey teams rejoined.  The Atlantic and Pacific, then the Santa Fe, now the BNSF, followed the river through the canyon, onto the plateau, then along the Little Colorado River, dry most of the year, into the heart of the Navajo Nation.  And so did the survey team -- into land untouched by the King of Spain or any other European.  (Continued in Part III.)

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Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Land That Swallows Trains: Part One


This is the first of a multi-part series about the United States' survey of a potential railroad route along the 35th parallel from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to the Pacific.  As history unfolded, no railroad was constructed along the route as far west as New Mexico.  Thereafter, significant portions were used by the Santa Fe's transcontinental line to California, operated today by BNSF.

Part One discusses that segment of the route never used for a railroad.  Because this is a train blog, such a discussion may seem odd, even pointless.  Your author nonetheless finds it interesting.  The reader may as well.  Even if you don't, it doesn't matter.  It's my blog.  I like the story, so I'm going to tell it. 


In June 1853, a steamboat headed south along the Mississippi River, bound for Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Among the passengers was a surveying party, headed by Lieutenant Amiel Weeks Whipple, with instructions from Congress to survey a railroad route to the Pacific Ocean along the 35th parallel.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Mississippi River south of St. Louis was wild, almost aboriginal, populated by poisonous snakes, black bears and alligators in its southern reaches.  Yet the territory to the west was wilder still -- mostly unmapped, unknown and uninviting.  

North and South were represented in the survey team, plus two foreign countries and the sciences of geology, biology, astronomy and meteorology.  Two railroad construction engineers were also included, as well as a naturalist, artist and surveyor.

Exploration of what became the American West was brought about by the Mexican-American War in the late 1840's, the result of which was the annexation by the United States of a vast territory from what is now New Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.  Where before, American dreams had stopped at the Rocky Mountains, businessmen, politicians, adventurers, homesteaders and the merely curious all turned their sights on the vast ocean that would connect the young country to the Orient. 


One of the foreign countries represented was Prussia -- in the person of Balduin Möllhausen.  The son of an artillery officer, he had travelled to the United States in search of adventure and quickly found it.  He liked to dress in what he thought was typical American frontier garb, but he must have gained his fashion sense from reading James Fenimore Cooper.  When fully costumed, with dark beard, moccasins, musket and Bowie knife, he did look a bit like Natty Bumpo.      

Balduin Möllhausen 

In 1852, he joined the Duke of Wurtenberg in a trip to the Rocky Mountains, where the pair became lost and lived for months with the Otoes.  Now, less than a year later, he was headed west again, and at the beginning of his journey, he wrote in his diary, which he later published and was thereafter translated into English:

It is a doctrine pretty often reduced to practice in American commercial life:  all things resolve round the common axis of money making, and the true man of business, whatever he does, never loses sight of the question, what profit he can make by it.


Another member of the party who also kept a diary of his travels was John Sherburne, born in New Hampshire in 1831 to one of the state's oldest and most prominent families.  For generations, the Sherburnes had been landowners, shipowners, sea captains, surveyors, merchants and government officials.  Among Sherburne's relatives were the governors of New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.  His mother was the granddaughter of Captain John Blunt, who had guided George Washington across the Delaware River before the Battle of Trenton.

He wore the full beard that was the fashion of the times, with long flowing black hair and a nose as thin and pointed as an arrow.  Uniformed, he looked paternal and thoughtful, as though he had experienced far too much in life to be judgmental.

John Sherburne

Shortly before joining Lieutenant Whipple, the 21 year old Sherburne was living with his parents after having been dismissed from West Point on January 31, 1853, for failing chemistry.  His record until then had been respectable, but he had failed the subject twice.  In a poll of the faculty, only three voted to retain him.  He was permitted to resign, and West Point issued a certificate testifying to his skill in the subjects passed during his three and one-half years' stay. 

Like many of us who have failed at something, Sherburne did not give up.  After completing the Whipple survey, he joined the United States Army and attained the rank of Lieutenant in the First United States Regular Infantry when the Civil War began in April 1861. On October 24, 1861 he was promoted to Captain, and given a commission in the newly raised 19th United States Regular Infantry regiment. In July 1862 he was promoted to Major and detailed as an Assistant Adjutant General, serving in the District of Washington (which he commanded for a time). On March 1, 1864 he was commissioned as a Colonel of Volunteers, and was given command of the 11th New York Volunteer Cavalry.  Colonel Sherburne led the cavalry unit through 1864, additionally serving as Chief of Cavalry for the Department of the Gulf from June 25 to September 8. On March 15, 1865 he was honorably discharged from his field service in the Volunteers due to illness. Returning to his regular Army rank of Major and his duties as an Assistant Adjutant General, he served until he was honorably discharged on December 28, 1870.

Perhaps because at so young an age he already understood the many vicissitudes of life, Sherburne wrote at the beginning of the journey into Oklahoma:

I cannot leave Fort Smith without regret, for I've made many pleasant acquaintances who probably I shall never meet again.  Farewell, kind friends.  Your hospitality and kindness has bound me with a tie which years will not sever.  May prosperity attend you all.


A third diary was maintained by the leader of the survey party, Lieutenant Whipple, who already had acquired years of surveying experience.  Born in Massachusetts in 1817, he entered West Point in 1841 and upon graduation was assigned to the Corp of Topographical Engineers.  In the mid-nineteenth century, a member of this branch of the service was the rough equivalent of an astronaut in the mid-twentieth century.  Both went where no one had gone before.

Lieutenant Whipple was initially assigned to military reconnaissance in Louisiana.  Then from 1844 to 1849, he worked on the survey of the northeastern boundary with Canada.  Then he moved to the Mexico Boundary Commission.  He eventually took over as the Commission's chief surveyor.

He was tall for the era and slender, with black hair that, by 21st century standards, would seem long but was fashionable in the 1850's.  His thin black moustache was modest, barely noticeable.  In dress uniform, he looked the full part of a soldier.

Amiel Weeks Whipple

Your author's favorite entry from Lieutenant Whipple's notebook is a terse comment dated July 3, 1853, while the party was still in Fort Smith:
Went to church and heard a miserable sermon.
John Sherburne's eldest sister by seven years, Eleanor, was married to Lieutenant Whipple.  Thus, the two surveyors knew each other well.  In his diary, Sherburne always refers to "Mr. W" or "Mr. Whipple," with never a hint of kinship.  In his own notebook, Whipple likewise mentions Sherburne in the same formal tones he used to describe the remainder of the party, only a few times calling Sherburne by his nickname "Pitts." 

The expedition was a topographical reconnaissance; the party was to report on the best route for construction of a railroad.  They were to provide elevations and grades of mountains passes, the availability of water and timber, and the nature and quantity of minerals, rocks and soil.  They were also to report on Native American tribes encountered and the existence, or lack thereof, of European settlement.  Since any possible railroad route must be passible generally by any wheeled vehicle, the team set out from Arkansas with mule-drawn wagons.

Fort Smith was on the very edge of the frontier.  Beyond it to the west lay Native Americans "removed" from their homes in the southeast and forcibly marched to what is now eastern Oklahoma -- along the Trail of Tears.  The five tribes involved were the Chickasaw (Mississippi), Choctaw (Mississippi), Cherokee (mostly Georgia), Creek (Alabama) and Seminole (Florida), and the death toll was horrendous.  Whipple's survey party knew nothing about this land.

All they really knew was that to reach Fort Smith, their steamboat left the Mississippi River in the middle of a cypress swamp and turned northwest (upstream) into the Arkansas River.  If the banks of the Mississippi seemed aboriginal, the Arkansas was otherworldly, original-growth forests that had never seen the axe, interspersed among bayous and swamps, infested with flying insects of every imaginable shape and size.  At the confluence, the Arkansas was as wide as the Mississippi, its current as fierce, and a man walking along the bank could have kept pace with the steamboat's labored progress against the stream, assuming that someone had cut down the trees.  Save for the lack of tropical vegetation, the scene was not much different than one encountered along the Amazon in interior Brazil.

At the end of the river journey sat Forth Smith, at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, on what is now the border between Oklahoma and Arkansas.  Established as a military outpost in 1817 to patrol the neighboring Native Americans, named after General Thomas Smith, the fort was abandoned in 1824.  By then a town founded by John Rogers had formed alongside the fort, which was re-occupied and expanded in 1838. It was, as far as the surveying party knew, the end of civilization.


Part of the North American "Interior Highlands," eastern Oklahoma is composed of the Ozark and Boston Mountains in the north, the Arkansas River Valley in the center and the Ouachita Mountains in the south.

The Weeks' survey team intended to cross the Poteau River immediately upon leaving Fort Smith, then travel east in the valley of the Arkansas River for about 45 miles until the dark waters turned northwest and left the 35th parallel, then follow the Canadian River into what is now central and western Oklahoma and beyond to the Texas Panhandle, cross the Pecos River, reaching the Rio Grande at Albuquerque.  The route had been explored, but not surveyed, in 1849 by Captain Randolph Marcy and Lieutenant James Simpson.  Congress published their report, including Simpson's maps.

Marcy's route, along the south bank of the Canadian, had been followed by a handful of gold-seekers who then traveled north to follow the Old Spanish Trail to Los Angeles or south along the Gila Trail to San Diego.  A parallel route on the north bank of the Canadian, seeing virtually no use, had been pioneered in 1839 by Josiah Gregg, who in 1844 published his journal of the region.  Lieutenant Whipple traveled west with both Gregg's book and Marcy and Simpson's report.  He must have felt that he was traversing country that if not civilized was at least not completely unknown, although he must have also realized that when he reached the High Plains, his party would cross lands of the migratory Commanche and Kiowa, warrior raiding tribes feared by all who knew of them.
Eastern Oklahoma has changed little since the days of the Whipple survey.  The Arkansas River bottom is wide and flat, surrounded by forested hills that turn into mountains, inhabited by people of mixed ancestry who prefer to be left alone, as well as black bears and the occasional panther (mountain lion).  

Möllhausen's notebook described the terrain:
The Sugar Loaf, the Kavaneau [Cavanal Mountain, near Poteau, Oklahoma] and the Sans-Bois mountains bound really paradisiacal valleys, over which Nature has poured out every kind of liveliness with inexhaustible profusion.  The meadows, which are perfect beds of splendid flowers, tempt the traveller almost irresistibly to linger, or even take up his abode in them. . . . The numerous little streams, which constantly refresh the soil, dispel the fear of the excessive heats of summer, and promise a joyful harvest; while the neighboring woods offer the settler hard hickory trunks for the beams of his log-house, and slender stems enough for his fences.

A southbound KCS local beneath Cavanal Mountain in the 20th century.

This part of the world is resplendent in foliage because it averages around 50 inches of rain per year, which falls throughout the 12 months, with no perceptible rainy or dry seasons.  When it rains, paradise can change character rapidly -- the river bottoms turn to a thick deep paste that easily snares any animal or vehicle foolish enough to venture forth.

The survey team departed Fort Smith on July 15 -- the hottest time of the year, when the high temperature averages in the mid-90's (Fahrenheit), and the relative humidity in the river bottoms is generally north of 80 percent.  In such weather, a minute can feel like an hour, an hour like a day.

Whipple's journal gives an understated idea of just how taxing the journey ahead would be:
Crossing the ferry of the Poteau occupied several hours.  Got over at about 12 1/2 midday. . . . Finding survey tediously slow I sent word to wagon master ahead to stop at the first house.  At 4 or 5 P.M. we broke off survey to follow to camp.  Having taken two of the surveying party into the already too heavily laden carretela [Spanish -- small four-wheeled carriage] going up a hill we ran against a stump and broke the cross piece of the tongue.  Leaving two men with the carretela we then went on foot but found no camp at 1st house.  Rain commenced, darkness reigned between the flashes of lightning and we waded actually knee deep in pools 2 1/2 miles further.  Discharged the wagon master for disobedience to orders. 

Sherburne's diary records the first day as follows:

The scenery is magnificent.  Immense cotton-wood and undergrowth of cane-brake.  Country [Arkansas River bottom] is remarkably level.  Started for Camp 5 p.m., but got caught in a severe thunder shower.  Wet & muddy; arrived at Camp after dark.  No tents pitched.  Went back to Ringg's House & slept all night on floor, with wet clothes.  A rattlesnake killed by one of the party today -- measured 4 ft. 9 in. in length, with 7 rattles & button.  Mr. Whipple's Caretella got "mired" & broke down, obliged to leave it till morning & walk.  Made 3 1/2 miles today. 

 Möllhausen stated:

Roots of trees and decaying trunks every moment arrested the procession, and since the thick shade of the overhanging boughs had prevented the drying of the ground, the last of the twelve wagons (each drawn by six mules) had to be literally drawn out of the mud, as if from a morass.  Scarcely had we reached the higher ground on which the wagons could roll easily along, and the beasts of burden obtain a firmer footing, than the oppressive heat was varied by a tremendous storm, by which the whole cavalcade was thrown into disorder.

This was the very start of the journey, with civilization still visible in the rear-view mirror.  The trail would only grow more rugged, the trees taller, the mud deeper, the thunderstorms fiercer, the wind stronger.

Can you imagine taking all day to go 3 1/2 miles?   

The road ahead had disappeared into the trees like a wraith.  Marcy and Simpson had blazed their trail, but most of the markings had disappeared.  Vegetation in that country grows so fast that new saplings, tall enough to snare wagons, had already grown to take the place of trees previously cut.  Insects were as thick as cotton.  Poisonous water moccasins lined the river banks, snakes more dangerous than rattlers, whose instinct is to hide when humans approach and strike only as a last resort.  The rattling is to warn humans to stay away.  Water moccasins, on the other hand, are warriors, fearless.  If a human approaches, they charge forward and strike, with no thought of safety or refuge.


On July 19, the party reached Skullyville -- about 11 miles in four days.  "Iskuli" is Choctaw for "money," so the survey team had landed in Moneytown.  Originally established as the first Choctaw Agency west of Fort Smith, the village in 1853 was prosperous and growing.  Many of the wealthiest Choctaws were mixed-bloods who owned slaves and farmed the fertile bottom-land soil south of the Agency. 

The town consisted of about 30 buildings, most of which were both houses and stores where the Choctaw could purchase food, garden implements and other necessities.  The population was evenly divided between Europeans, Africans and Choctaw.  Cows, chickens and dogs roamed freely through the main street, packed clay that nonetheless turned to paste during rains.

Loaded southbound KCS coal (with BNSF power) crossing the Arkansas River.  Skullyville (long abandoned) once stood just north of this location.

Lieutenant Whipple's diary noted that he dined with Mr. Cooper, the local Choctaw agent, and reviewed the printed laws of the Choctaw and Chickasaw, written in both English and their native tongues.  That these tribes had produced their own written languages gave rise to the phrase "Civilized Tribes."

Möllhausen noted the presence of Africans:

These new disciples of civilization have learned from the whites to keep negro slaves for house and field labor; but these slaves receive from their Indian masters more Christian treatment than among the Christian whites. . . . [T]he negro is regarded as a companion and helper to whom thanks and kindness are due. 


The survey team had now left the valley of the Arkansas and would hereafter proceed west along the south bluffs of the Canadian, avoiding the mud and cane forests of the river bottom.  Now another obstacle would be illness, which spread rapidly.  On July 24, they were still in Skullyville because several of the party were sick.

Finally, on July 26, the survey team moved west again, making much better time now that they were out of the river valley.  They covered about eight miles, and five more the next.  Two of the party turned back for Fort Smith because of continued illness.

All the diarists noted the complete peacefulness of the Choctaw.  Not once was the party stopped or interrupted.  No robbery was attempted.  On Sundays, the team would attend church services, often in the open air.  Many Choctaw had converted to Christianity in their native Southeast.  Whipple stated:  "Everywhere in the wildest forest we rode singly and unarmed as fearless of violence from natives as we would be in New England."


The survey party may not, at first, have realized that a route west from Fort Smith was not necessarily conducive to railroad construction.  A climb out of the Arkansas River valley would have required an extended grade of at least one percent, probably more.  Plus, further west stood a range of hills that only fell slightly short of mountainous.  The mules strained up one hill, then down into a deep gully, then up another, then down again.  The grade was so steep on one incline that each wagon was fastened with ropes on each side, pulled by multiple mule teams, while four to six men pushed behind.  At the top, the ropes were attached to trees and the wagons lowered slowly to the valley below.

Whipple estimated that cuts a hundred feet deep and about 1500 feet long would be required for a railroad to pass.  He referred to this portion of the journey as "those terrible hills." 

Although it is not possible from Whipple's journal to pinpoint the exact location in question, the party may have passed north of the current town of McAlester, Oklahoma, where there are indeed  rows of north-south, steep hills separated by water in what is now Lake Eufaula, a reservoir created by the Army Corps of Engineers after the Second World War by damming the Canadian River.  The first railroad constructed through eastern Oklahoma was the Missouri, Kansas and Texas, which ran northeast to southwest between these rows.  Below is an image of a northbound Katy manifest beside one arm of the huge lake.  The photographer is standing atop one hill, looking east across the valley to a parallel grade.  The lake here is about 80 feet deep, giving some idea of the terrain that may have been crossed by the survey party.  Note also that the valley would have been heavily forested, not cleared as in the photograph.

Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma.

Or it is possible that the team passed south of McAlester through an area known as Limestone Gap, shown below where the Katy mainline runs through a valley that today is still free of water.

Limestone Gap, Oklahoma.

The difficulty of constructing an east-west railroad through this land is obvious.

Thus, it is not surprising that no railroad was ever built west of Fort Smith along Whipple's route through eastern Oklahoma.  The Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf was eventually constructed and became part of the Rock Island system, connecting Memphis with Little Rock and Oklahoma City, but the line ran well south of Fort Smith.

As the aerial image below shows, the forests of eastern Oklahoma stop on the east side of Oklahoma City.  To the west is open prairie, with timber along the water courses.  The farther west one travels, the less the annual rainfall, which is only about 20 inches per year at the border of the Texas panhandle.


The survey team traveled south of present Oklahoma City on the south side of the Canadian River near what became Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma.  Once they had cleared the last of the forest of central Oklahoma, called the Cross Timbers, traveling improved noticeably.  Nonetheless, no railroad was built along the river through Oklahoma.  The Rock Island line west out of Oklahoma City ran northwest to Geary, crossed the Canadian at Bridgeport but quickly turned southwest while the river ran northwest. 

The old Rock Island Line west of Oklahoma City, now a branch of the Union Pacific.


On the trek westward, near the present border of Texas and Oklahoma, the party caught its first glimpse of a common 19th century sight -- the burning of the tall grass prairie by Native Americans, an annual occurrence to keep seedling trees from sprouting and impeding the path of wild game, including bison.  If you have not seen a prairie fire at night, your first glimpse will overwhelm you.  It looks as though the evening sun has been shot from the sky and bathed the ground with its golden blood.  Sherburne wrote:

It was then about dark.  In half an hour the prairie was on fire for miles & for the first time I saw for myself that which I've long desired to see -- a prairie on fire.  I can truly say I was not disappointed.  The flames rolled up for 6 or 8 ft., perhaps more -- 10 ft., & the heavy columns of smoke for 50 ft.  It was a magnificent sight.

The beauty of the blaze blinded the men to the approaching danger.  Sherburne noted that some of the men ran toward the fire like moths to a candle flame.  Common sense, however, eventually took hold.  They soon realized that the fire was burning directly toward their camp.  They lit their own back fire -- a common tactic of 20th century fire fighting -- to burn toward the conflagration.  But the fire was advancing rapidly, and if the back fire did not burn quickly enough, the blaze would overtake them, so the men scrambled first left, then right, then left again, frantically setting fires as though bailing water from a sinking ship.

The back fire leaped forward.  When it met the prairie blaze, the fuel was gone.  The flames cancelled each other like automobiles crashing head-on.  The fire continued burning around the survey team, then past them, leaving the camp an oasis in a desert of prairie ash.  Lieutenant Whipple, truly a master of understatement, matter-of-factly described the event:  

The fire they kindled was in the way of Camp & we were obliged to build another fire & fight it.  We think thus after infinite labor we are comparatively safe for the night.  


Having survived the prairie fire did not, however, guarantee the survey team's safe passage further west.  They were now entering the Llano Estacado, the "staked plains" of the Texas panhandle, land as flat and treeless as the ocean and home to the Comanche and Kiowa, perhaps the fiercest of the Native American tribes, who controlled a huge empire -- vast parts of present day Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas.  As Sherburne said, "The Indians begin to trouble us soon.  We anticipate much trouble from them before getting through." 

The Comanche were not always fierce warriors.  They were migratory, moving south to north and back each year with the bison herds.  Before the Spanish introduced horses into the Americas, the Comanche traveled on foot.  Wherever they stopped for the season was their home.  And when it was time to move, they packed and left nothing behind.

The Kiowa originated in Montana in the northern basin of the Missouri River, migrating south to the Black Hills around 1650, living there peacefully with the Crow.  Pushed southward by the invading Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux, who were themselves being pushed out of their lands near the Great Lakes by the Objiwe, the Kiowa moved to eastern Colorado, the Texas panhandle and northeastern New Mexico.

Like the Comanche, the Kiowa knew nothing of the horse.  But the Spaniards changed everything, bringing with them animals that were the 18th and 19th century equivalents of tanks.  The Comanche and Kiowa quickly learned to use them for military conquest, perhaps the first purveyors of "lightning war," conquering virtually all of their neighboring tribes.

They attacked and defeated everything and everyone they saw --including the Spaniards from whom they had learned horsemanship.  They stopped the northward advance of the Empire of the King of Spain dead in its tracks, an empire that had previously killed millions in Mexico and moved at will through the continent like a surgeon's scalpel, or perhaps more appropriately, a guillotine.    Their tactics were -- to reference Hobbes out of context -- nasty, brutish and short.  They raided wherever and whenever they pleased and left the High Plains a smoldering ruin of farm houses and human corpses.    

They appeared out of nowhere, suddenly and without the slightest warning like thunderstorms, as violent as anything nature ever created.  Male enemies were generally killed on the spot, even those who surrendered.  Same for older children.  Women were first sexually assaulted, then some slaughtered.  Young women were taken captive as concubines, bearing "half-breeds," such as Quanah Parker, who even today is looked upon by full-blood Comanche in southwestern Oklahoma as a "collaborator."

Eventually, inevitably, like two trains racing toward each other on the same track,  the Kiowa and Comanche fought, a struggle as bitter, protracted and brutal as anything seen in North American.  The Spanish, who by then wanted nothing to do with either tribe, brokered a treaty in 1807; the two groups made an alliance and agreed to share the southern High Plains.


Making peace with each other did not, however, stop the Comanche and Kiowa from their continuing terrorization of European settlers -- raiding, killing, kidnapping, burning, torturing.  Colonel Randolph Marcy, who originally blazed the trail that the Whipple Party later followed, wrote:  "If the Indian marauders are not punished, the whole country seems in a fair way of becoming totally depopulated."  

In response, the United States constructed several forts in what is now eastern Oklahoma to protect the "civilized tribes" from the Kiowa and Comanche -- Fort Towson, near the Red River, and Fort Washita, about 12 miles north of the present town of Durant, are examples.

But the Whipple Party had no one to protect them, save themselves.  They had moved beyond the LLano Estacdo and were once again following the valleys and mesas along the Canadian River.  Thus, they were more than a little agitated when on September the 9th those in the head of the wagon train, upon reaching the summit of a hill, began to cry, "Comanches!  Comanches!"

Below in a small cottonwood grove, near the present town of Canadian, Texas, sat the teepees and horses of what appeared to be a large band.  The party halted at the top of the hill.  Sherburne wrote, "Everyone examined his revolver and rifle."  One man was sent ahead with a white handkerchief.  How that man was chosen and his reaction are unknown.

Canadian, Texas, where the Santa Fe's Belen Cut-off, constructed in the early 20th century, crossed at right angles the route of the Whipple party.

The encampment turned out to be Kiowa rather than Comanche, which did nothing to soothe the survey party's agitated nerves.

Image from Möllhausen's book, showing his drawing of the Kiowa Camp.

The survey team waited, knowing as Sherburne put it, that "we would either be received as friends or be obliged to fight."  After many nervous minutes, the man with the white handkerchief returned.  Behind him walked a Kiowa, also holding a white piece of cloth, who turned out to be the Chief.

He embraced several men, shook the hands of the rest.  Behind him came six more Kiowa who also shook hands, then led the survey team to the camp, where Lieutenant Whipple made a speech, through the survey party's interpreter, to the Chief and other members of the tribe, transcribed in part by Möllhausen:

Our great grandfather in Washington has sent us.  We are to see whether the Kioways behave like friends and brothers of the Americans; if they murder no travelers and steal no horses, we are to make them presents.  But if the tribe of the Kioways are bad people, and ill-disposed, then the great grandfather in Washington will send as many soldiers as the Kioways have horses, and great thick guns (canon) besides, and will destroy the nation to the last man.

The chief replied that only a small part of his tribe was here encamped, the rest having gone to Mexico to steal horses -- no doubt to impress upon Lieutenant Whipple that the Kiowa were a large tribe, not  to be trifled with.  

The Kiowa in camp were holding two Mexican prisoners.  One was a woman named Maria, captured when she was twenty, now living with the Kiowa for seven years.  Beside her was a small boy, three years old, her son.  The father was the Chief.  According to Lieutenant Whipple's journal:  "She wishes to leave her hard masters and accompany us, in the hope of again reaching her home.  She was watched, and dared speak but little with us."

The other prisoner was Andres Nunares from Chihuahua, a captive for five years.  Two scalps hanging from a pole in the center of the camp were guarded by an old woman who, according to Whipple, "made much ado if anyone attempted to approach."

The survey party made camp on a small hill overlooking the Kiowa, who soon thereafter assembled for a meeting.  "Cunning, duplicity and treachery," wrote Whipple, "seemed stamped upon every lineament of their features."

When Lieutenant Whipple explained that the Mexican captives wished to travel with the survey team, the Chief exploded with anger, his expression dropping instantly from friendship to enmity.  He said that a friend would not separate a wife and husband.  Whipple replied that he would take only those who wished to go.  Eventually, after negotiation, Whipple gave the chief a cow.  The old man then smiled and said that the prisoners could depart.

It was night now.  The survey team went to bed.  The next morning, the chief appeared at dawn, leading by the hand the three year old boy, seeking more tribute in return for the child.  The mother followed on a horse.  The chief was angered and sent her away.  (According to Whipple's journal, she was the chief's third and favorite wife.)

One of the survey party announced that he had been robbed during the night.  Whipple instructed the chief to return the stolen goods, and the chief headed back to the Kiowa camp with the small boy.  Instead of restoring the items, however, the chief spoke with members of the tribe, who then packed their skins, tied their lodge poles to the sides of their horses and rode away -- all this while the survey party watched incredulously.  Thus, the Kiowa obtained a cow, plus the stolen goods, and retained possession of their captives -- and the child.  The survey party received nothing. 


The reader may wonder why the survey party did not chase after the Kiowa and free the captives.  A member of the party asked that very question of Lieutenant Whipple.  Möllhausen's book records Whipple's answer:

"We could, certainly, as the power was on our side, but we should certainly then have been prevented from carrying out our government instructions.  Our journey as far as the Rio Grande would have been one continued fight; the Indians would have swarmed about us like bees, and hindered our work, and the whole object of our journey would have been frustrated.  We are instructed . . . not to make war on Indians, and we are pretty sure to be obliged, some time or other, to use our weapons against them in self-defense, without manufacturing a causus belli for ourselves."


When the Whipple party crossed into New Mexico, it followed what over 100 years later became the route of Interstate 40 from Tucumcari to Santa Rosa -- about 60 miles.  Rock Island's Golden State Route, coming southwest from Kansas City, followed this same path about 50 years after the survey team.  Southern Pacific built northeast from El Paso, and the two roads met at Santa Rosa.  Though this route was not constructed east-west along the 35th parallel, it did for this short stretch follow the path of the survey team.  Today it is operated by Union Pacific.  

Westbound Union Pacific  grainer between Tucumcari and Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

Past Santa Rosa, Lieutenant Whipple divided the survey party to explore two possible routes for a railroad.  One group traveled directly west to Albuquerque, roughly following the route of present Interstate 40, leaving the valley of the Canadian where the river turned north.  The second group traveled northwest toward Galisteo, about 20 miles south of Santa Fe, and onward to the Santo Domingo Pueblo on the banks of the Rio Grande, then south to Albuquerque, where the two groups reunited.

The direct route to Albuquerque crossed rugged and rocky hills, plus the very southern end of the Santa Fe Mountains that even today provide significant impediments to large trucks on Interstate 40.  In addition, the route crossed the border between the Sandia and Monzano Mountains at Tejera Pass, a route far too steep for railroads.  

The more northerly route included the La Cuesta Valley, six hundred feet deep and approachable only over rugged hills.  The trail was too steep for wagons, which the party left behind and walked downgrade into the valley to explore a small settlement.  The group then navigated through the Santa Fe Mountains until reaching a canyon described by Sherburne as "five miles in length.  Ridge on both sides rising perpendicularly about 2500 or 3000 ft. & covered with rocks of volcanic description."  

None of the journals specifically identifies this canyon.  It is undoubtedly one of the several leading down off a huge mountainous plateau into the valley where Galisteo, New Mexico, is located.  Slightly west of Galisteo the survey team would have picked up the route where the railroad line from Trinidad, Colorado, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, was constructed about 40 years later, following the Santa Fe Trail, the line that crossed both Raton and Glorieta passes, the line that was the first transcontinental route of the Santa Fe Railway and was eventually bypassed by the Belen Cut-off far to the south -- to avoid the steep grades. 

Westbound AT&SF manifest has come down from Glorieta Pass at roughly the location where the tracks join the route of the Whipple party.  Today (May 2021) this line sees no freight traffic and is used only by Amtrak.

From this location forward, the Whipple survey party blazed the trail for future railroad construction.  (Continued in Part Two.)


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