Western America in 1846–47: The Original Travel Diary of Lieutenant J. W. Abert who mapped New Mexico for the United States Army ed. by John Galvin (review)
- Western American Literature
- The Western Literature Association
- Volume 2, Number 3, Fall 1967
- pp. 247-248
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Reviews 247 search he has built a carefully documented, thoroughly reliable account of the exploits of the Negro cavalry between 1866 and 1891. The sheer volume of material that Leckie has assembled enforces both the great virtue and the unavoidable shortcoming of the book. Its virtue is in its compression, its inexorable record of one engagement after another during the twenty-four years that the two regiments campaigned on the Great Plains, in Western Texas, in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and the Dakotas. Its necessary shortcoming is that it cannot stop to linger for more than a paragraph or two when a trooper’s heroism wins a Congressional Medal, when troopers assist the posse that nearly captures Billy the Kid, or when Lieutenant Henry Flipper, the one Negro officer in the U. S. Army in 1882, is courtmartialed and dismissed from the service. It can give only brief chapters to the campaigns against Victorio and Geronimo. Leckie is detailed but restrained in recounting the prejudice and dis crimination that was “ever harrassing, hampering, and embarrassing” the efforts of the buffalo soldiers. He rightly complains that “their contributions still go largely unknown or unheralded.” But when he writes that theirs “is a record in which every American can take justifiable pride,” he seems in sensitive to the irony of employing Negro troops to exterminate Indian tribes for the benefit of white men who despised both dark skinned races. E v e r e tt L. Jo n e s, University of California, Los Angeles1 Western America in 1846-47: The Original Travel Diary of Lieutenant J. W. Abert who mapped New Mexico for the United States Army. Edited by John Galvin. (San Francisco, John Howell Books, 1966. 174 pages, illus., maps, $7.50.) In the years after the Lewis and Clark expedition and before the Civil War the government sent out many army expeditions on reconnaissances and surveys of the region beyond the Mississippi. These included the expeditions of Pike and Long in the first two decades of the century, and the western travels of John C. Fremont across the continental divide, into the Great Basin and beyond to the Pacific in the 1840’s. Then there were the several surveys of the 1850’s occasioned by the Pacific Railroad Act of 1853 aimed at deter mining the best route for a transcontinental railroad to the Pacific Coast. In that same decade was conducted the survey of the Great Sale Lake under 248 Western American Literature the leadership of Captain Howard Stansbury assisted by Lt. John W. Gunnison of tragic fame a couple of years later in connection with the railroad surveys. In 1857 the Utah expedition under Colonel Albert Sydney Johnston was mounted to quell in Utah a supposed Mormon rebellion. In 1859 Captain James H. Simpson worked out a wagon road west from Camp Floyd across the Great Basin to the Sierra. With the exception of Johnston’s army most if not all of the other surveys were under command of officers in the Corps of Topographical Engi neers, which in the years before the Civil War was the elite corps of the United States Army. It was expected that men trained for such activity and assigned to such duty would keep careful field notes and make reports of their expeditions. All of them did. In addition many included artists and topographers in their expeditions to record the topographical features and the flora and fauna of the country under their inspection. The result was a full reporting of the major topographical features of the great American West so little known only a handful of years before. Lt. J. W. Abert, assigned to General S. W. Kearny’s Army of the West, falling ill, was left behind to recuperate at Bent’s Fort. He arrived at Santa Fe in September 1846 after the army had gone on to California. Here he received orders to conduct a survey of New Mexico as a new possession of the United States. This task he did with much resolution and resourcefulness and under considerable hardship. It was one of the earliest and best Anglo accounts of this hitherto little known and strange land. His...