Panhandle Pilgrimage: Illustrated Tales Tracing History in the Texas Panhandle Page: 58
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'The Exploration ofLt. James William Abert, 1845
Although 25-year-old Lt. James W. Abert's recon-
naissance exploration of the Canadian River area took
place in 1845, almost a century elapsed before his
excellent journals were made public, the army having
"entombed" them in a government file all that time.
Too bad, since his records would have served as a
much better guide across the Panhandle Plains dur-
ing the gold rush days and afterwards than did the
popular COMMERCE OF THE PRAIRIES written by
James William Abert, a third-generation West Point
Military Academy man, graduated in 1842, 55th in a
class of 56 men. Although his academic and discipline
records were poor, he excelled in drawing. This
talent (plus the fact that his father was chief of the
corps) helped in securing an assignment to the elite
Corps of Topographical Engineers, and orders "to make
a reconnaissance southward (from Colorado) and east-
ward along the Canadian River through the country
of the Kiowa and Comanche."
Abert's assistant topographical officer was Lt.
William G. Peck, an outstanding mathematician who,
in contrast to his superior officer, was graduated
first in his class at West Point. Of the 33 men in Abert's
party, all were civilians except the two lieutenants.
For a fellow with such an unpromising record at the
Academy, Abert turned out to be a surprisingly suc-
cessful explorer and a perceptive chronicler of the
experience. His aptitude as an artist enhanced his
written scientific reports with detailed drawings of the
area, its people and its wildlife. Abert's reports repre-
sented significant contributions to the knowledge of
American geography and related subjects.
His exploration, which entered the Panhandle on
September 5, 1845, is summarized by H. Bailey Carroll,
editor of The Journal of Lieutenant J. W. Abert
from Bent's Fort to St. Louis in 1845:
This expedition started at Bent's Fort (Colorado)
on the Arkansas and proceeded over Raton Pass on
the Mountain branch of the Santa Fe trail. From
there it went down the headwaters of the Canadian
to its Grand Canyon, across the Mosquero Flats
and down Ute Creek again to the Canadian which
was followed through the present eastern New
Mexico and across a large portion of the Texas Pan-
handle; thence it filed off southward to the head-
waters of the North Fork of Red River and back once
more to the Canadian, which was followed for al-
most its total course through the present state of
The route through the Panhandle traversed the area
north of the Canadian River to a point in Hutchinson
County where the crossover was made. On September
10, 11 and 12, the expedition trailed north of the river
through the northern part of present Potter County,
and the record for the 11th has an interesting note
concerning the afternoon's march:
Two columns to right: Drawings by Lt. Abert of ob-
servations during his expedition in the Panhandle.
Lt. James W. Abert,
by H. D. Bugbee
Above: Bent's Fort, Colorado
Below: Chief of the Cheyennes
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Robertson, Pauline Durrett & Robertson, R. L. Panhandle Pilgrimage: Illustrated Tales Tracing History in the Texas Panhandle, book, 1978; Amarillo, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth225495/m1/76/?q=abert: accessed November 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Canyon Area Library.