Mr. Campbell to Mr. Fish.

Sir: Incompliance with the request contained in your letter of the 10th instant, I have the honor to transmit herewith the copy of a report from Major Twining, the chief astronomer, containing the information you desired me to communicate to the Department.

I have, &c.,


Captain Twining to Mr. Campbell.

Sir: I have received yours of the 11th inst., in which you request a statement of the “location of the beginning and termination of the boundary line surveyed during the season, and the more important points through which it passed.”

The topographical parties are still in the field and will continue their work until the first of February next. Even after their return it will require some time to bring their notes into such shape as to make an accurate map of the survey. I therefore enclose a general map of the country passed over, and have marked upon it the points of the boundary which have been determined by astronomical observations. I have also noted those matters of interest which have occurred to me. The survey extended fifty miles beyond the limit shown, but the map is the only one available and nothing of special interest occurs on the part omitted.

Before stating the results of the present season’s work, I will give a brief résumé of the operations of last year.

The “northern boundary,” as at present designated, has its initial point at the north westernmost point of the Lake of the Woods,” and thence follows a meridian south twenty-seven miles to the 49th parallel of north latitude, and thence west along that parallel to the summit of the Rocky Mountains. In the autumn of 1872 the 49th parallel was determined at Pembina on the west bank of the Red River, and also on the east shore of the Lake of the Woods, by both English and American parties; and as the results agreed within a small limit of error, the mean of the observations was adopted. Observations were also made by the United States and English chief astronomers with the sextant, and afterward with the zenith telescope, for the latitude of the “northwesternmost point” of the Lake of the Woods. The question in regard I have considered at length in a former report.

A sight-line, which represented, in the opinion of the United States and British chief astronomers, the true position of the north and south line, which was a part of the boundary was cut through the woods; and finally, the 49th parallel of latitude was run from Pembina to the Lake of the Woods—the United States parties running thirty-three miles, and the British parties during the winter completing fifty-six miles, the remainder of the distance. The British astronomers also established in this distance two astronomical stations.

In this condition the work came under my charge as chief astronomer.

During the present season the line has been carried west from Pembina 408½ miles, leaving about 350 miles yet to be completed. The longitude of the initial point is 97° 13; that of the western end of the line 106° 18′ nearly.

Along the southern border of the Province of Manitoba the line has been marked every mile by a picket and mound three feet high. These are regarded as temporary marks to be replaced by iron monuments as soon as practicable. On the remainder of the boundary the engineers have erected stone or earthen monuments of large size, the greater number having a base of fifteen feet and a height of from five to six feet.

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These larger monuments are supposed to he permanent, and are placed on conspicuous points at average intervals of three miles. In the entire distance run during the summer twenty astronomical stations have been established.

A belt of topography has been carefully surveyed along the entire length of the parallel as far as the boundary was marked. The five miles north of the Hue was done by the British; that to the south, by the American parties. As this topographical work is included to aid in the future recognition of the boundary, it has been executed with the utmost care and accuracy. The river lines have, in some cases, been carried far beyond the live-mile limit.

The parties returning from the field have made a quite accurate survey of their respective routes, and these, in connection with similar routes to be surveyed during the next season, will form a valuable addition to our present knowledge of what has hitherto been an unexplored region.

For the purpose of determining absolute altitudes, each astronomical party has kept a careful barometric record; from the series, at each station good mean results will un doubtedly be obtained.

As regards its general course, the boundary line keeps to the north of the Pembina River forty-five miles. It there crosses an open plain as far as the Turtle Mountain, which at the point of crossing is thirty-four miles in width. This mountain, or rather plateau, is exceedingly rugged, densely timbered, and covered with lakes, the largest being about a mile in width.

From the Turtle Mountain west the country possesses few points of interest, it being an open rolling prairie. The only exception to the general level is the coteau of the Missouri, which is here forty-five miles in width and very broken.

Beds of lignite crop out along the Mouse River between the 102d and 103d meridians of longitude. These exposures are all north of the 49th parallel. This coal is of average quality, similar to the lignites of the Missouri River, and probably belonging to the same formation. These deposits could not be considered of any value except in a country entirely destitute of wood.

As regards the general quality of the soil along the boundary and its capacity for supporting a large population, there is room for great difference of opinion. The soil near the Pembina River is deep and rich, and its productiveness has been demonstrated beyond a doubt. The supply of wood is sufficient for many years, and the country is sufficiently well watered.

West of Turtle Mountain the soil is poor and the average rain-fall is too small to make it at all probable that the land could be cultivated with any success. I have heard much speculation as to the gradual effect of the advance of the settlements from the east and the extension of the cultivated areas in increasing the amount of the rainfall on the western plains. Such anticipations can be fulfilled, if ever, only after the lapse of many years, as the changes to be effected in the climate are too great to be compassed in any short period of time. The surveying parties now in the field are engaged on the topography of the country between the Red River and the Lake of the Woods, and are expected to complete the work by the 1st of February next. This work is done in winter, as the swamps and bottomless bogs prevent its being attempted in summer.

The fatigues and exposures incident to such a work, conducted in the dead of winter and in that inhospitable climate, are undoubtedly great, but such arrangements have been made as will insure the least possible suffering. The work is under the immediate charge of Lieut. F. V. Greene, United States Engineers.

As only 350 miles of the boundary remain to be surveyed, the field-work can be completed during the next season.

I am, &c.,

Captain of Engineers.

Archibald Campbell, Esq.,
Commissioner Northern Boundary Survey.