Dangerous Job Being a Surveyor in 1859

Note: Chipeta: Ute Peacemaker author Cynthia Becker is interviewed this week on Writers of the West.

Surveyor's Marker

In 1854, President Franklin Pierce appointed William Pelham as the first Surveyor General of New Mexico Territory. Pelham was in charge of an effort to survey public lands in the territory acquired in the Mexican American War.
          Reuben E. Clements was hired by the Surveyor General to complete part of the survey. On July 10, 1859, Clements wrote a letter to Pelham describing difficulties with Indians during his surveying attempts. The letter was composed from the safety of Hatch’s Ranch.

July 10th 1859

Sir:
Under our contract of May 31st we proceeded
to the Canadian Fork of the Arkansas River to execute
the surveys contracted for. On the 3d inst. the Comanche
Indians came to our camp, took all our men prisoners and
possessed themselves of all our provisions clothes etc. After
having held a consultation whether they should take
our lives also, they determined to liberate our party on
condition that we would leave the country in one hour,
and not return to do any more work. This promise we
were compelled to make in order to save our lives.
We deem it to be extremely dangerous at the present
time to continue working at the place required by
our contract and therefore respectfully request that
you will allow us to relinquish the portion of it which
has not yet been completed.

Very Respectfully,

R.E. Clements
P. Archer
Dep. Sur. (deputy surveyor?)

          A copy of Clements’ original letter can be seen on page 23 of  New Mexico Primary Sources from the National Archives Rocky Mountain Region.
          Hatch’s Ranch was located southeast of Santa Fe on the west bank of the Gallinas River. The Army leased it as a convenient supply stop from Fort Union. The main house (115 x 288 feet) was adobe, surrounded by a 10-foot high adobe wall.

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