• Karen Baney

Surveyors: Unsung Heroes of the West

The main character in The Roaming Adventurer, Boone Colter, is a surveyor. In order to tell his story, I am doing a great deal of research about the job of surveyors in the 1890s.


Surveyors are the unsung heroes of the western expansion of the United States. The surveyors of the 1850s-1900s faced extreme dangers from hostiles, natives, outlaws, and the land itself. Surveyors needed to be tough, courageous men (and women, more on that in a minute).


Some surveyors held civil engineering degrees, while many learned from a mentor or figured it out as they went. Most expeditions included a surveyor, assistant surveyor, geologists, mineralogists, and botanists. Women sometimes traveled with the crew to cook and clean, but not always. Sometimes a wrangler accompanied the crew to care for horses and mules.


Surveyors had to be good at math, geometry, hiking, hunting, fishing, and camping. It was a very difficult life that took married men away from their families for months on end; some never returned. They faced life threatening situations and were often attacked by Indians, rustlers, or outlaws who crossed their path. Many times, to help provide protection, the U.S. Army accompanied the surveyors.


The western landscape is very rugged. In Arizona, water is always a concern. So, surveyors in Arizona had to bring water with them, especially when they hiked into the wilderness without knowing what they would find, which was often the case.


In The Roaming Adventurer, I focused on the surveying done for a specific railroad line. They mapped out potential routes, measured distances, and angles, studied the soil and rock, and so much more. They were true mountain men of their day.


Besides the railroad, surveyors were contracted by mining companies, and state and local governments. They worked on everything from trailing blazing in the wilderness to mapping out lots and plots within cities.


Without the hard work of surveyors, western expansion in the United States would have been nearly impossible.

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