Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Surveying The Four Corners During The American Civil War/ Is It Where It Should Be?

marker at four corners
The area of the United States referred to as The Four Corners is the precise spot where the four states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah all join together. There is no other place in the western U.S. or anywhere in the U.S. where this occurs. The area is located in the southwestern U.S. where the land is desolate, arid yet beautiful. The site is run by the Navajo Indians and it's a popular tourist destination. Where else can you place two feet and two hands in four different states at the same time?

It's an interesting story of how and when the survey was taken to find the exact spot where all four states meet. That southwest region of the United States was made up of territories at the time of the Civil War. The Union wanted to do all possible to thwart any Confederate ambitions in that area of the country. Civil War battles were fought in new Mexico and Arizona and the Union wanted a way to strengthen their position in that far from Washington outpost.There was a pro Confederate group in the southern portion of the New Mexico Territory which wanted to secede from the Union. They felt that they were separated too far from the capital in Santa Fe and wanted more localized government, namely a capital in Tucson. In reality, many people in the southern territory came from Texas with a good amount of Confederate sympathy. That coupled with the fact they felt ignored by the northern part of the territory. Splitting the territory on an east-west line was not good for the Union since it would potentially give the Confederacy a straight line to the Pacific from Texas via California. Something else had to be devised.
durango and silverton railroad train

Congress responded in 1863 by establishing an Arizona territory but with a different set of boundaries that put two territories between Texas and the Colorado River along the California border. In 1868 there was a full press effort to create states from former territories. The first step was to split Arizona and New Mexico. This was a time before satellites and GPS receivers. Not an easy task but there were concrete ways to get the job done. The 1868 survey was undertaken by E. N. Darling and was marked by a sandstone. Another survey was undertaken in 1875 and this is where the current monument resides. The monument sits on the furthest southwest corner of the former Colorado Territory. The 1875 survey team was directed to take their bearings off of a prominent landmark nearby called "Ship Rock" . Without getting too technical, and the survey calculations are certainly technical, Congress had earlier established that the north-south line was to be at the 32nd meridian of longitude west of the Washington Meridian which was accepted to be at the dome of the old Naval Observatory (pictured below right). many other western states were also bordered using the Washington Meridian. In 1912, the U.S. Governement changed to the Greenwich Meridian. The Greenwich Meridian is now the world's prime meridian which is used for both geographical and time zone reference. The Greenwich meridian is located at the Royal Observatory in England.

naval observatory in washingtonBefore I go any further, it should be stated that the monument where it is today is in the correct place. The rumors for decades were that the current marker is some 2 1/2 miles away from where it should be. Headlines like Four Corners Marker in Wrong Place have been read everywhere. This is not really true. Some of the reasons offered by skeptics of the current location have to do with bulges of the earth not apparent to geologists in the mid 1800's. Any discrepancy that might be correct would be the slight difference between the 1875 Washington Meridian calculation and the Greenwich calculation. The National Geodetic Survey has put the possible location error at more like 1,800 feet rather than 2 1/2 miles. The surveys in the 1800's used astronomical observations along with triangulation and chaining. Like many of the surveys in the western U.S., there often seems to be some minute difference from one survey to the other. This is understandable when you consider the technology of the times. A possible 1,800 foot difference is acceptable and certainly understandable in an area that large. This appears to be one difficulty that satellite technology has now solved. For all practicable purposes the monument is in the correct location and I see no reason why or how the monument location would be changed. If that were to occur it may be necessary to take another look at many boundaries established with older technology. Cannot see that happening.

The state flags to the right represent each state which touches the Four Corners location. If you are passing through that area of the country you will be able to take some very good pictures at this vacation site. It's one of those very unique stops on you might make during your  western road trip. There are no expensive tickets to purchase for this type of informative and historic side trip. It allows you to see a site where history was made and allows you to travel on a budget at the same time.

The general area of Four Corners is adjacent to several Indian reservations and as you can imagine features many quite  interesting travel sites within a 75 mile radius such as the historic Hubbell Trading Post which continues in operation. To the north of Four Corners is Farmington, New Mexico and Cortez and Durango, Colorado. To the south is Gallup, New Mexico. Also to the south and southwest is the Navajo Indian reservation. National Parks and Monuments are in easy driving distance in all directions.
Below are listed several websites that will give you further information about the Four Corners area as well as some travel guidance and tips. Have a great road trip to the Four Corners.



Here's a good link for a New Mexico vacation guide to learn more information on vacation sites and vacation spots. 


Test your western history knowledge at tripsintohistory.com 


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