The Colorado Exploring Expedition (Ives Expedition) (1857 - 1858)

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In the 1850s, the Colorado River had great potential to become an important shipping route and several companies were exploring the area. Furthermore, the Federal government needed a route for the transportation of troops and supplies to Utah, where the Mormon War was intensifying. The 1857 Army Appropriation Act provided governmental funds for the Colorado Exploring Expedition, also known as the Ives Expedition, in order to determine the navigability of the river. This topographical corps survey lasted from 1857 to 1858 and was led by Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives. The expedition’s primary objectives were to chart the river's course and conduct a hydrographic survey that included accurately mapping the Colorado and her tributaries in the region. As a secondary and purely scientific objective, Ives was instructed to "acquire knowledge of the surrounding country." This entailed making a geological survey and collecting natural history and ethnological specimens. Departing December 31, 1857 from Robinson’s Landing at the mouth of the Colorado River, and aboard the steamer Explorer, the expedition traveled north to Fort Yuma. By March they had reached the mouth of Black Canyon. After that, the ship and its crew began to sail back down the Colorado, eventually reaching Beale’s Crossing from where they began an overland journey to Fort Defiance via Grand Canyon. In total, 27 men made up the expeditionary force led by Ives. Other major members of the excursion were naturalist and geologist John S. Newberry, Prussian artist and the trip’s collector, Balduin Möllhausen, and topographer Baron von Egloffstein. The group was also accompanied by Indian guides, including the Mohave chief Irataba who helped lead the land portion of the expedition.


  • Beidleman, Richard G. California’s Frontier Naturalists. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Sandweiss, Martha A. Print the Legend: Photography and the American West. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Berger, Todd R. It Happened at Grand Canyon. Guilford, Connecticut: Twodot, 2007.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1998.
  • Ives, Joseph C. Report upon the Colorado River of the West, Explored in 1857 and 1858 by Lieutenant Joseph C. Ives, Corps of Topographical Engineers, Under the Direction of the Office of Explorations and Surveys, A. A. Humphreys, Captain Topographical Engineers, in Charge. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1861.
  • Reinhartz, Dennis and Gerald D. Saxon. Mapping and Empire: Soldier-Engineers on the Southwestern Frontier. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2005.

Date Range

1857 - 1858


  • Geology
  • Plants
  • Hydrography
  • Botany


  • Fort Yuma Indian Reservation
  • United States
  • Colorado River
  • Fort Defiance
  • Utah
  • Black Canyon


Expedition name