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A Magnificent “Failure”

Mapping the Last Major Unexplored Region of the Far West


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574.   [YELLOWSTONE]. [RAYNOLDS TOPOGRAPHICAL MAP]. UNITED STATES. WAR DEPARTMENT. U.S. War Department. Map of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and Their Tributaries. Explored by Capt. W.F. Raynolds Topl. Engrs. and 1st. Lieut. H.E. Maynadier 10th. Infy. Assistant. 1859-60. To accompany a Report to the Bureau of Engineers. 1867 [scale] Engraved in the Engineer Bureau War Dept. [insignia showing a castle surrounded by wreaths in a shield, surmounted by an eagle with a snake in its beak, with the word “Essayons” in a ribbon below]. N.p., n.d. [1867?, but published in an 1868 report]. Lithograph map, uncolored, on light-weight paper. Neat line to neat line: 68.6 x 106.5 cm; overall sheet size: 73.5 x 109 cm. Creased where formerly folded, slightly darkened at some of the folds, folds strengthened with old paper tape on verso, a few small splits at folds (no losses), four small minor spots, left blank margin slightly chipped, overall very good.

     This map appeared in a government report (not present) issued by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers: Report on the Exploration of the Yellowstone River, by Bvt. Brig. Gen. W.F. Raynolds. Communicated by the Secretary of War in compliance with a Resolution of Senate, February 13, 1866 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1868; 40th Congress, 1st Session, Senate, Executive Document 77; the report was also published by the War Department). Blevins, Mapping Wyoming #106 & pp. 66-69. Hasse, p. 89. Howes R88. Graff 3429. Jennewein 29. Phillips, America, p. 1130. Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West #1012, illustrated op. p. 183, & Vol. IV, pp. 183-187: “Extremely well-drawn map, and except for the fact that it contains certain information gathered between the time of its making and that of its actual printing, which was not until 1868, it is probably the best map of its area that had been produced.” The longevity of this map may be inferred by the fact that it was still in print as late as 1920 (Clason Map Company in Denver).

     This present report version of the map apparently was preceded by an earlier pocket map version meant for the private use of the Corps of Engineers. Yale has the Streeter copy (Streeter Sale 2108; Siebert Sale 7356:737), dissected and mounted on linen and in original cloth with printed paper label, and with ink manuscript note: “Hd. Qrs. Mil. Div. Missouri, Engineer Office, Official: Wm. E. Merrill, May 30th, 1867, Maj. Engn. & Bvt. Col.” Montana State Library owns a copy of the pocket map version, too, also signed by Merrill, but dated August 24, 1867. Those versions were obviously meant for the private use of the Corps. The pocket map version varies slightly in the title. In the present copy, line 10 reads: “To accompany a Report to the Bureau of Engineers. 1867”; in the pocket map version, lines 10 and 11 read: “To accompany a Report to the Bureau of Topographical Engineers | Lt. Col. Hartman Bache in charge.” Both versions display an older version of the Corps’ insignia. (On March 31, 1863, the Corps of Topographical Engineers was merged with the Corps of Engineers, with the castle replaced with Columbia's shield, along with other alterations.)

     The objective of the Raynolds expedition was to explore the country drained by the upper tributaries of the Yellowstone River and of the mountains in which these tributaries and the Gallatin and Madison forks of the Missouri have their source (i.e., northwestern Wyoming and southern Montana, including the region now known as Yellowstone National Park). The Raynolds party traveled from St. Louis up the Missouri to Fort Pierre (South Dakota), then headed westward and northwestward to the Yellowstone River via the Cheyenne, Belle Fourche, and Powder Rivers. From the Yellowstone, the party headed southward, skirting the eastern edge of the Big Horn Mountains to Deer Creek near the North Platte River, where winter quarters were established. The following spring, the party resumed explorations including an attempt to penetrate the Wind River Mountains into the Yellowstone country but failed on account of the ruggedness of the mountains and depth of the snow (the guide for this portion of the expedition was the famed mountain man James Bridger, who was well familiar with the country and recounted the many marvels he had seen while traveling in the Yellowstone basin). One of the party’s goals was to prove or disprove the existence of the fabled Yellowstone geysers and other strange phenomena. They were forced to retreat by way of Jackson’s Hole, Teton Pass, and Pierre’s Hole, arriving at the Great Falls of the Missouri after passing almost around their objective.

     On the present map what is now Yellowstone National Park remains a blank due the party’s inability to surmount snow and other obstacles. What might seem a defeat in not penetrating Yellowstone was, according to some historians, the party’s success. Their “failure” was serendipitous, resulting in delay of railroad construction, thus giving time for conservationists’ efforts to protect the natural grandeur of Yellowstone. Blevins cites the Raynolds exploration as being the most significant mapping of northern Wyoming (and southern Montana) to that time, far surpassing previous efforts in detailing the territory. See Goetzmann’s prescient and brilliant discussion in Army Exploration in the American West (pp. 417–424) from whom all others borrow, where he comments: “The Raynolds’ expedition was important, because it brought the government scientists into the last major unexplored region of the Far West.” See Items 575 & 576 following.


Sold. Hammer: $300.00; Price Realized: $360.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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