Photos taken by William H. Jackson as part of the Hayden Survey, courtesy of Grand County Historical Association
The Hayden Surveys and William H. Jackson
In 1869, Ferdinand V. Hayden began a series of surveys of the western territories of the United States, which would last until 1876. Hayden, a former Civil War surgeon, began a career with the United States Geological Survey of the Territories in 1867 when he was appointed geologist in charge. The Hayden Surveys covered the peaks and valleys of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the stunning geysers of Yellowstone, and the mysterious ruins of the Mesa Verde area. Earlier surveys (Fremont, Gunnison, and Berthoud) through Colorado and Wyoming were primarily charged with mapping out transportation routes and assessing the tribes in the area. This survey was much broader in scope.
Hayden’s teams were surveying every reportable aspect possible in Colorado, Wyoming, and surrounding areas. Economic maps were drawn out with regard to mining, industry, agriculture, towns, railroads, and wagon roads. Particular attention was given to geology and geography. The landscape was meticulously recorded, sketched, and photographed. The photography of the Hayden Surveys turned out to be among the most significant pieces of the project and the man responsible for the task was William H. Jackson.
Ferdinand Hayden hired William Jackson to head up the survey’s photographic division that consisted of himself, six assistants, and six mules. Like Hayden, Jackson was a Civil War veteran and served in the Battle of Gettysburg. He headed west and started a photography business in Omaha. In 1869, Jackson went to work as the photographer for the Union Pacific Railroad. It was in that capacity that he caught the attention of Hayden, who hired Jackson in 1870.
Under the USGS of the Territories, Jackson captured the stunning vistas of the American West. He let no barrier block his quest to document what he saw around him. Trudging camera and glass plates, Jackson climbed to vantage points to photograph Mount of the Holy Cross, Yellowstone, the Tetons, and the ruins of Mesa Verde. His photographs of these areas were the first ever made and consequently made those areas iconic in the eyes of a fascinated public.
One of the primary purposes of the Hayden Surveys was to document and list the natural resources of “the territories to exploit for economic gain. This mostly meant what mineral resources could be mined and what lands were beneficial for harvesting agriculture. What wasn’t anticipated was that the surveys would also become the voice of conservation of the landscape of the American West. Jackson’s photographs served as the key component in the need to preserve special places in the west. In 1872, the US Congress passed and President Grant signed into law the act that created Yellowstone National Park, the first in the world. Furthermore, Jackson’s photograph of Mount of the Holy Cross confirmed for many American’s the nation’s role in “Manifest Destiny.” This was important for a nation that was still reeling from the Civil War and the consequences of Reconstruction to unite a country into a Union. Also, Jackson’s photographs of the ruins in the Mesa Verde region more than likely had a part in the interest of protecting the ancient artifacts of the area. Producing the first photos of the preserved ruins of the area fascinated people about an ancient culture reminiscent of the “Old World.”
Immediately following the conclusion of his assignment of the Hayden Surveys, Jackson took his collection of USGS of the Territories prints to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and set up an exhibit. He personally presided over the exhibit greeting and speaking to visitors. The exhibit was an overwhelming success and captivated onlookers with the magnificent images of the American West. Around 10 million visitors attended the Exposition from throughout the nation and around the world.
After the Centennial Exposition, Jackson returned to Colorado to set up a studio in Denver. He resided in Denver for the next 20years photographing many sites throughout Colorado. Nonetheless, his work would never match the grandeur he gathered during the Hayden Surveys. In the 1880s, he befriended Louise Fisher, the widow of Redwood Fisher. Redwood Fisher was an early settler of Denver, was the surveyor of the Berthoud survey, and Denver’s first surveyor. He was killed in a traffic accident in 1870 when he was run over by a runaway wagon. Sometime after striking up a friendship with Louise Fisher Jackson gave her his personal collection of Hayden Surveys prints, complete with the USGS of the Territories stamps on the prints. Perhaps these were the same collection that was exhibited in Philadelphia.
Eventually, Redwood and Louise Fisher’s grandson, Redwood Fisher of Grand Lake, inherited the collection of Hayden Surveys prints given to his grandmother by William H. Jackson. Redwood Fisher in turn donated the prints to the Grand County Historical Association in 1978. This collection includes photos of Berthoud Pass, Grand Lake, Hot Sulphur Springs, Kremmling, Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, and many other locations.