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Mapping the Four Corners

Mapping the Four Corners: Narrating the Hayden Survey of 1875 by Robert S. McPherson

Reviewed by L. Bennett

In August of 1875 two government survey parties rode out of the La Sal Mountains and started across Dry Valley. Their task was to map the area, including the Abajo Mountains visible to the southwest. The Indian lodges they had observed at the foot of the La Sals raised only mild concern; most of the Ute, Paiute, and Navajo Indians they met in their journey had been friendly. Although not complacent as they rode out into the open valley, they did not expect the ferocious and persistent attack that soon threatened to end their lives.

That story, and the rest of their travels in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, is told by Robert McPherson and Susan Rhoades Neel in this new book (published 2016). By combining their historical research with excerpts from the letters, diaries, and newspaper accounts written by men who were members of the survey parties, the authors convey the rigor, determination, and difficult logistics of working in what was then, to the Anglos, an unknown land. For the Indians, the survey work was viewed as yet another way for the US government to take more of their land.

This book was well organized and I liked the extensive quotations from the people who were actual participants in the surveys. While the Dry Valley battle was the most dangerous encounter, it was by no means the only trouble. There were stubborn mules, insufficient or undrinkable water, rainstorms and mud, arroyos with sides too high to breach, and any number of other outdoor impediments. But there were also starlit skies, impressive views from mountain peaks, hospitable Indians, and trustworthy companions. The reader was transported to the times. But I have to admit that the daily long distance travel by mule was amazing. I'm pretty sure that most of our early day knowledge of the West would be severely limited if it weren't for mules.

If you've spent much time on the back roads in this part of the world, you'll have been close to where these surveyors did their work. Read this book and it will give you a new perspective on how Americans came to know the area. The bumpy ride in your old pickup will seem luxurious.

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