Expedition on the route near the Thirty-Eighth and Thirty-Ninth Parallels, 1853

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The expedition was headed by Captain J. W. Gunnison of the corps of Topographical Engineers, to explore the Central Pacific Railroad route. The group left their main camp near Fort Leavenworth on June 23, 1853 and entered into Utah Territory on September 29th by crossing the Green River. The government sponsored expedition was described by William H. Behle as being commissioned to make a "survey of the pass through the Rocky mountains, in the vicinity of the headwaters of the Rio del Norte [Rio Grande], by way of the Huerfano river and Coochetopa, or some other eligible pass, into the region of the Grand and Green rivers, and westwardly to the Vegas de Santa Clara [Santa Clara River, southwestern Utah] and Nicollet river [Sevier] of the Great Basin, and thence northward to the vicinity of Lake Utah on a return route, to explore the most available passes of the Wahsatch range and South Pass to Fort Laramie." Members of the expedition include R. H. Kern (topographer and artist), First Lieutenant E. G. Beckwith (assistant), and F. Kreutzfeldt (botanist), Sheppard Homans (astronomer), Dr. James Schiel (surgeon and geologist), J. A. Snyder (assistant topographer), and some 30 non-commissioned officers and men. Captain Gunnison, Kreuzfeldt and a few others pushed ahead of the main party and were massacred by Pavant Indians on October 25. Following this tragic occurrence, Lieutenant Beckwith assumed charge of the expedition which eventually reached Salt Lake City on November 8th. A publication by S.F. Baird was released in 1859 documenting a number of birds collected during the expedition by Kreutzfeldt and another member following his death.


  • Table of Contents for Reports of Explorations and Survey to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Accessed 15 July 2011: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpcoop/moahtml/afk4383.html
  • Behle, W. H. (1938). highlights of ornithological work in utah. (Jul-Aug, 1938). The Condor, 40(4), 165-173. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1363425

Date Range

1853 - 1853


  • Geology
  • Astronomy


  • Huerfano River
  • United States
  • Utah Lake
  • Fort Laramie
  • Utah


Expedition name