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Mount Shasta as a Visual Resource

Transcontinental Railroad Survey Artists: The 1850s

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The 1846 war with Mexico and the 1849 Gold Rush both helped to quickly establish northern California as a part of America. It became clear that the country needed a railroad to the West. Many routes for a transcontinental railroad were proposed; several surveys, two of which passed near Mount Shasta, were conducted between 1853 and 1855. Each survey party included surveyors, civil engineers, geologists, botanists, zoologists, artists, physicians, and topographers, plus necessary assistants and military escort. The published reports of the Beckwith Survey of 1854 and Williamson-Abbott Survey of 1855 each included full page drawings illustrating Mount Shasta.

Baron von Egloffstein (1824-1898)

In July of 1854 the Beckwith 41st parallel Railroad Survey entered California at a point just south of the Warner Mountains.59 The Survey artist was a talented Prussian aristocrat named Baron von Egloffstein. He was regarded as having drawn the most detailed and useful illustrations of any artist of the Railroad Surveys. Lieutenant Beckwith, leader of the 41st parallel Survey, wrote that

The privation and exposure to which Mr. Egloffstein freely subjected himself, in order to acquire topographical information has resulted in an accurate delineation of every portion of the region traversed.60
Egloffstein did fourteen steel engravings for the report, published in 1855, and three of these engravings were distant views of Mount Shasta.61 Taft, an historian of these early artists, states that
Probably in none of the twelve volumes of this monumental work are the illustrations more specifically directed to the immediate purpose of the report, that of depicting the country through which a railroad would have to pass.62

The titles of Egloffstein's engravings were surprisingly detailed, as for example, Portion of Main Mountain Passage of the Upper Sacramento or Pitt River, July 20 at 1 p.m., 25 Miles South of Mt. Shasta. This particular title also reflects the fact that what is today called the Pit River was in the 1850s also known as the Upper Sacramento River. Also, Egloffstein used the spelling of 'Mount Shasta', with a final 'a', for his engraving, indicating that by 1855 the name had changed to its modern form, even though other variations of the name would still be published for several years afterward.63

Portion of the Main Mountain Passage of the Upper Sacramento or Pitt River by Frederick W. von Egloffstein courtesy of the Mount Shasta Collection
Portion of the Main Mountain Passage of the Upper Sacramento or Pitt River by Frederick W. von Egloffstein.
From: Pacific Railroad Survey Reports Vol. XI, Section 2, Washington, D.C., 1861.
Courtesy College of the Siskiyous Library Mount Shasta Collection.

Later in his life Egloffstein invented, wrote a book about, and patented the 'halftone' printing process.64 The new method became, and still is, immensely important to the newspaper and printing industry. The halftone process allowed for the relatively easy reproduction of photographs, and thus it thankfully helped to diminish the importance of the steel engraving business, which had been his laborious profession for so many years.

As mentioned, the Beckwith Survey was one of several railroad surveys conducted by the U.S. government between 1853 and 1855. The surveys were under orders to report not only on the topography of the land, but also, in detail, and with illustrations if possible, all the animals, birds, native inhabitants, geology, and all other pertinent information - hence the reputation of the reports as being the first "environmental impact statements."65 Issued from 1855 to 1857, the Reports of Exploration and Surveys to Ascertain the Most Practical and Economic Route for the Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean cost over one million dollars to publish, more than twice the cost of the combined expeditions themselves.66

John J. Young (1830-1879)

As one of the official U.S. Railroad Surveys of 1853-1855, the Williamson-Abbott Survey was responsible for ascertaining the practicality of a railroad route north from the Sacramento Valley through the Siskiyous and Cascade Mountains into Oregon. The work began in July of 1855 and was completed in mid-November of the same year. The official survey artist, John J. Young, produced many full page color lithographs of the landmarks on the route, including the picture titled Shasta Butte and Shasta Valley from a Point near Camp 29A, which was published in Volume VI of the Survey Reports. The name of 'Shasta Butte', as published by the government in 1855, was another, more local name for the mountain, and must have added to the still lingering lack of convention of a standard name for Mount Shasta.

Shasta Butte and Shasta Valley from a Point near Camp 79A by John J. Young courtesy of the Mount Shasta Collection
Shasta Butte and Shasta Valley from a Point near Camp 79A [sketched 1855] by John J. Young.
From: Henry Larcom Abbot. Report of Lieut. Henry L. Abbot...
In: Pacific Railroad Survey Reports, Vol. VI. Washington, D.C., 1857.
Courtesy College of the Siskiyous Library Mount Shasta Collection.

At the time there were thought to be two possible ways to lay a North - South railroad track from Redding to Oregon. One way was to the west of the base of Mount Shasta up the Sacramento river canyon, and the other way was to go along the Pitt river canyon and then over the stage road on the eastside of the mountain. It was decided to conduct parallel surveys, one for the west side route and one for the east side route. Williamson led one, and Abbott the other.67 Hence the title of the "Williamson-Abbott" Survey.

Young's artwork was actually done as watercolor 'sketches' which were later reproduced as lithographs for publication.68 Whether or not Young represented 'Shasta Butte' in the most realistic manner is open to debate; at least his picture captured a sense of the Shasta Valley through which the railroad would pass. Incidentally, the small hills in the foreground of the picture, almost always noted as curious by early explorers and scientists, are now thought by modern geologists to be the remains of a gigantic debris avalanche, which occured as part of an earlier eruption of one of the proto-Mount Shastas. This current idea was put forth because of the observation of similar small hills resulting from the 1980 eruption and debris avalanche of Mount Saint Helens in Washington State.

Lassen by John J. Young courtesy of the Montagne Collection
Lassens Butte from Vicinity of Camp 18 [sketched 1855] by John J. Young.
From: Henry Larcom Abbot. Report of Lieut. Henry L. Abbot...
In: Pacific Railroad Survey Reports, Vol. VI. Washington, D.C., 1857.
Courtesy College of the Siskiyous Library Mount Shasta Collection.

John Young was also the topographer who drew and was given credit for the making of the highly detailed maps of the Williamson-Abbott Survey. These maps, because of the time needed to complete them, were not published until 1858, in Volume XI of the Survey Reports. Young, as artist and topographer, was thus yet another multitalented and distinguished player in the progress of California art and science.

Portion of map 'From San Francisco Bay to the northern boundary of California' from the 1855 Williamson-Abbott Survey by John J. Young from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection
Portion of map "From San Francisco Bay to the northern boundary of California" by John J. Young.
From the Library of Congress American Memory Historical Collections.

[59] Beckwith. This Volume II of the Railroad survey gives a full account of the progress of the group, where they were and what they did.

[60] Quoted in Taft. p. 264. Taft's book on the early illustrators of the West is a formidable, detailed, and invaluable work, especially as to the printing history of the Railroad Surveys.

[61] Ibid p. 263.

[62] Ibid. p.263.

[63] The history of the name Shasta has been the subject of debate since before the turn of the century. Of seven maps consulted for this book, all of them published between 1834 and 1840, and all of them of the Oregon Territory specifically, not one shows the present Mount Shasta as having the name 'Mount Shasta'. On the contrary, three of the maps show today's Mount McLoughlin as being named Shaste and Shasty, and they show today's Rogue River as being named the Shasty River. The four remaining maps also support the idea that today's Mount McLoughlin, northwest of Klamath Lake, was the first Mount Shasta.

According to Jeff LeLande, historian of Peter Skene Ogden's travels in the area, it is quite certain that Ogden was the person who first used a name similar to 'Shasta'. Ogden, in his 1827 journal, used the names Sastise and Sistise, and he applied them to today's Mount McCloughlin, and the name Sasty to the river which is now called the Rogue. The maps which came after his explorations adopted his usage.

The first map to use the name Shasty, or anything like it, for today's Mount Shasta, were those maps resulting from the 1841 Wilkes (Emmons Overland) Expedition. Why Emmons used Shasty and not some other name is still a mystery. As Jeff Lelande points out in his book on Ogden, it was in 1829 that Hudson Bay Co. trapper Alexander Roderick McLeod, in his journals sent to Dr. McLoughlin, used the name of Chaste for today's Mount Shasta. Though the maps of the next ten years did not reflect McLeod's usage, it may nonetheless have been McLeod's use of the name Cheste which influenced the Hudson's Bay community of administrators and trappers to informally adopt the usage of Shaste for the larger of the two today's Mount Shasta.

Given that Wilkes and Emmons were in the Oregon territory for more than two months before Emmons went overland, there would have been ample time to discuss plans and landmarks. Emmons also met with Tom MacKay and Joe Meek before setting out. MacKay knew the area better than anyone, he was Ogden's guide in 1827 and was McLeod's guide at one point too. Possibly it was from Mackay that the directions to Shasty peak were given. Maybe someday more information willl be available. The crucial question seems to be why did Emmons call today's Mount Shasta 'Shasty'?

One possible place to look would be in papers associated with the Joel Walker trip from Ca. to Oregon, around 1840; this same family traveled back to California with the Wilkes (Emmons Overland) Expedition in 1841.

On U.S. maps published before 1841, the various names of Roger's Peak, Snowy Mountains, Pit Mountain, Mount Jackson, and others, were used for the spot on the map now named Mount Shasta.

[64] Taft. p. 264.

[65] Lyons. Quoted from a 1988 catalog of Railroad Survey Prints. As to the seriousness of the government's concern to detail all things, consider for example, that the Williamson Report, Volume 6 of the Railroad Surveys, 1855, contains about 200 pages of geology descriptions, plus full page drawings of fossils; 100 pages of botany descriptions of every plant found along the route plus full page illustrations of plants; 100 pages of description of the trip itself plus color lithographs of the scenery and landmarks; 100 pages of zoology including full page drawings of dozens of fish species, several birds, many mammals; hundreds of barometer, thermometer and astronomical observations; even a brief vocabulary of the Klamath Indian language; and much more. The thoroughness and professionalism of these large volumes is very impressive and all the scientific illustration is of a high caliber.

[66] Taft. p. 5. He states "These volumes, published by the Federal Government between 1855 and 1861, constitute probably the most important single contemporary source of knowledge on Western geography and history and their value is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of many beautiful plates in color of scenery, native inhabitants, fauna and flora of the Western country. Ironically enough the publication of this monumental work cost the government over $1,000,000; the surveys themselves $455,000."

[67] A map showing the two routes can be found in Volume XI of the Survey reports.

[68] Taft.


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