- Mapping the Four Corners: Narrating the Hayden Survey of 1875 by Robert S. McPherson and Susan Rhoades Neel
In 1875, a federal survey under the direction of Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden helped shed new light on the geology and geography of the Four Corners region, where the borders of present-day Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. Home to varied groups of Native Americans, including what were then called Moquis (Hopis) and Navajos (Diné) as well as Utes, this region had been explored earlier by Spanish, Mormon, and American expeditions. The survey focused on southwestern Colorado, which was then being exploited by mining companies, traversed by railroads, and utilized by ranchers and farmers. Although lying northwest of Texas, this area represented a continuation of that same frontier. However, unlike Texas, this area was home to the Pueblo Indians, which had long fascinated European Americans who were searching for answers about the origins of "ancient" indigenous people.
As the authors demonstrate, Hayden was a skilled geologist whose ulterior motive was putting science in the service of an expanding nation. They explain why and how Hayden split this expedition into several divisions, each of which consisted of about seven members and had a separate focus. Ideally, the groups' findings were to be coordinated after they returned to Washington D.C. in the fall of 1875. This book provides informative biographical sketches of the survey's participants, some of whom had varied agendas. As the native peoples looked on, these divisions scoured the countryside in search of more mineral resources, better railroad routes, and ever more land that could be used for grazing and farming. Using selected journal entries, field notes, and even published newspaper articles, the authors clearly show how the survey became part of a nationalistic narrative of "civilization" taming a "savage" wilderness. Helping to visualize this drama was the noted photographer William Henry Jackson, whose photographs were crucial to the survey's success. The source material the authors selected confirms an austere and often unforgiving landscape and indigenous nomadic tribes who knew the land intimately and were not about to surrender it without a fight. Although Ute chief Ouray greatly assisted the survey, he was opposed by renegade tribal members who mistrusted federal authorities. The chapter on how a series of skirmishes with armed Utes was literally (literarily) transformed into a battle between peaceful scientists and "sneaking coyotes" armed with rifles (177) reveals much about how popular culture framed this encounter. During the next year (1876) Colorado became a state, and materials from the survey were shown at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
Readers will learn much from this book, which comes up a bit short in only one regard. As its title suggests, Hayden's survey was also concerned [End Page 236] with mapping the region, and the authors provide several relevant entries revealing how surveying and triangulation helped impart order on this wild land; they even prepared three helpful maps showing where the varied divisions trekked. Therefore, it is surprising that the actual map produced by the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey from this expedition—"S.W. Colorado and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah"—is not discussed in any detail, nor is it even illustrated. A study of that map reveals that this survey under the direction of Hayden helped contextualize many features we recognize today, including Mesa Verde and its fabulous cliff dwellings. That criticism aside, this book is a wonderful, and very valuable, addition to the interpretive literature on the American Southwest.