Brief survey timeline 1867

The survey Reports, are broken up into 7 different volumes with two atlases, a total of 9 different publications that took over 10 years to complete, they are as follows.



  • Atlas accompanying the report of the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel. by Clarence King, U. S. geologist-in-charge. 1876. Julius Bien, Lithographer. Folio, 2 11., (title and legend), 1 single and 11 double folio sheets (1 single folio map, 10 double folio maps, 1 double folio section).
  • Atlas accompanying Volume III on Mining Industry. [List of plates.] Engraved and printed by Julius Bien, New York. Folio, 11. (title page), 14 plates.

much of the information is listed throughout those volumes however it’s also summarized the book, Timothy H. O’Sullivan The King Survey Photographs, by Keith F. Davis & Jane L. Aspinwall.

The Survey raced an overlapping network of paths across the fortieth parallel territory. The group moved from one base camp to another, then regularly broke into smaller units that traced their own paths out from, and back to, the main camp. The survey reports contain several records of those routes. A precise map of Sereno Watson’s path in 1867-69 is included in his Botany report (1871) and Ridgways Ornithology provides dates and descriptions for each place of encampment. Although some ambiguities remain, these sources trace the survey’s main activity in these critical first three years.

Arriving from New York to San Fransico California in early June of 1867 the base survey team finished acquiring their gear, then took the river to Sacramento. then throughout much of June, they camped Near Sacramento.


July 3rd, 1867 the survey team started east crossing Donner pass. then establishing their 1st base camp was located in a town identified as Glendale Crossing, a small village on the Truckee River, in what we now call Victorian Square, Sparks, Nevada

That town was originally named Stone and Gates Crossing, eventually becoming the town of Glendale. Present day has absorbed the town of Glendale as part of Sparks, Nevada,  Glendale’s main street was as we now call it VIctorian Ave. in Sparks, Nevada.

This single room school was 1st opened in Glendale in 1864, today it’s located on Victorian Ave. between 9th and 10th street.

from there the survey moved the base camp to Cowle’s Station, near Wadsworth, Nevada
where they stayed from July 23 to August 20th  This photo is described as Camp12 by Bend of Truckee River.  it’s further described in Vol. II Descriptive Geology as being located a couple of miles south of Wadsworth.  The area, amazing now identified as the Big Bend RV Park, in Wadsworth Nevada and most people drive right past the bluff photographed and across the river as they travel on highway 80 through the forgotten town of Wadsworth.

Wadsworth, Nevada is one of the gateways to Pyramid lake the black rock desert and is famous for hosting a movie about the transcontinental railroad, and the main railroad station and yard prior to Reno. also one of the signs on the highway boasting pyramid lake, uses one of O’Sullivan’s photos.

Camp 12 by Bend of Truckee River.jpg

During the Survey’s time at Camp 12, a small group including O’Sullivan borrowed a boat to navigate Pyramid lake and were told that they could take the river from Wadsworth to the lake. it’s said the group spent about 5 days, full of misadventures navigating the lake and its shorelines. The Survey teams also visited Winnemucca Lake, the Carson Sink, and Humboldt Sink.

from Camp 12 the Survey traveled along the immigrant trail to Oreana, where they only stayed a few days as most of the survey team was suffering from Malaria, from where they moved to and through Wright Canyon to Unionville. where they established a primary base camp for almost six weeks from September 14th to October 28th

while in Unionville King and James Hague made a long excursion into Idaho, to see silver mines and then to The Dalles, Oregon to study fossils.

on October 28th the main survey with word from King traveled back through Oreana to Glendale Crossings. where they resided for nearly a month returning to Pyramid Lake to finish the work that was interrupted by the malaria outbreak.

On December of 2nd of 1867, the survey party moved to winter quarters in Carson City, Nevada, while King Stayed in Virginia City.

from Mid January to early February O’Sullivan photographed around Virginia city as

At Work-Gould & Curry Mine 17.8 x 19.4 cm

well in the Gould & Curry and Savage mines. using magnesium flares for lighting.








Then, in late March while many of the survey team remained in their winter quarters a small group including O’Sullivan ventured down to Mono Lake in California. while this was outside of the Survey the alkaline waters and evidence of volcanic activity were of great interest to the geologist.

–  to be continued  Survey time line 1868 –



The Soda Lakes

These lakes have been a thorn in my side, so to speak. with the high basalt content and sparse desert conditions, they’ve provided interesting challenges.  Everything from suffering from direct sun while working, to desert breezes flowing across the top of the ridge.   The conditions wreck havoc with my chemicals causing me to fight, dry high temperatures, with humidity being blown off the water.  The crazed temperatures of 100+ degrees have only been compound by a thick layer of smoke from the constant fires throughout California and Northern Nevada, forcing me to pretty much stay inside.

Yesterday, Saturday, August 13th I was able to get out, and at least visit the lakes again, the last time before the fires were July 1st, where I proved the wide angle lens that I’m using was able to capture the same perspective that O’Sullivan had been capturing.  but again, my chemicals were being problematic.

The problems, I’ve had with photographing these lakes have lead me to believe that O’Sullivan, is telling me that I was using the wrong lens, and not finding the correct location to that my chemical mixtures are wrong.

In July, I was using a formula of collodion that only had about 25% more alcohol to ether. That formula worked great, it stuck to the glass, while giving me great contrast and half tones. Between that time, I mixed of the same balance of salts, but with 75% more alcohol.  Using more alcohol is ideal for the extremely hot weather as we’ve been having.  However,  while more alcohol provides a more playable collodion ideal for lifting from glass to transfer to say leather, it also doesn’t stick to the glass. and requires you to sub the glass plates with Albumen.  I’m not sure why I wasn’t thinking about that when I mixed my newer batch of collodion, that I attempted using yesterday with reasonable temps of 88 degrees. But for some reason,  I did think of the higher alcohol collodion not sticking and wasn’t calculating for temps below 100 degrees with my chemicals. on a side note, the higher alcohol mix fine for ferrotypes when using a ferrous surface such as metal, as compared to glass.

With my chemicals in hand, I traveled to edge of the greater soda lake, to encounter winds that wanted to play with my focusing cloth like a kite and flys the size of small horses that were threating to carry my camera away.  Needless to say, after some questions to the void as to why? I packed my camera and decided to see if I could try a different location, as I was determined to test my collodion and shoot a photo.

I ventured to the sister lake, simply identified as soda lake in Vol 2 Descriptive Geology published in 1877.

throughout the volumes of books published, on the 40th parallel survey, the ability to print photographs for publication had not been profected yet, thus photos were tipped in or very exact copies of the original photos were duplicated by an artist. the drawing that was included in the published book is a copy of the original photo, the original negative can be found in the library of congress. The descripion of the lakes are as follows.descriptivegeolo00hagu_0811.jpg

The lakes are described as being 2 -3 miles northeast of Ragtwon, on the Carson River, Near the southern boundary of map V

reportofgeologic01unit_0455.jpg Form one of the most striking features of the Carson desert.  the photographs represent the smaller lake, the larger lake. They lie depressed below the level of the plain, in what are probably ancient craters, and are observed until just before reaching the brink.  upon the south side of the of the larger lake, the bank slopes somewhat gradually to the water’s edge, with a fall of not more than 35 feet, but rising steadily on the east and west sides, until at the north it attains a height of 150 feet in nearly perpendicular walls.


To continue as I ventured into the day and Back to The Future of 1867 with temperatures reaching 88 degrees, the ideal temps for time travel, that is if you are driving a DeLorean.  which I wasn’t I located the spots near where O’Sullivan captured his original photo from.  according to the time lines of the survey, these photos were taken in the middle of July 1867, the Shadows in the photos of the Greater Soda lake indicate that they were taken around 10 am in the morning. and taken with the focus leveling on off on the left horizon then turning the camera to the right, this gives the greater lake a tilt that tilts downwards towards the right.  based on the shadows

The curious aspect, while I haven’t figured out the time of day the smaller lake was photographed, I would surmise that it was earlier in the morning, with the sun being more east and casting shorter shadows. you can see the greater lake from the smaller lake, the same is not true in reverse.


if you note that the photo that’s looking at my not Delorean for time travel and the front of my camera, you can see a bit of water and the north eastern edge of the greater soda lake. with its nearly perpendicular walls that reach nearly 150 from the lake surface.

because the lesser lake is a little lower than the edge that O’Sullivan photographed the greater lake from, it’s also protected from the desert breeze, at least until the afternoon Washoe Zeffer blows in carrying as Mark Twain reported chickens and small cows with it.   to be honest, while Roughing it was published in 1872, Mark Twain does reference locations that were identified during the 40th parallel survey.

for me, I knew where the lake was, and more or less had an idea of where the original photograph was taken.  as I walked surveyed the area with the original photo in hand, I spied based upon the mountains in the horizon where the photo was likely taken however their big bushes in the way.   Also, the photograph was taken with someone sitting to provide a dimensional reference, but with minimal reference for leveling causing the lake effectively be tilting from the lower left to the upper right, which in comparison to the greater lake seems backward. there is only one clue, that shows that he was working again from left to right, focusing on the distant rim of the lake to level his photo.

Soda Lake.jpg

The confusing aspect, that the artist rendering, leveled the photo, and omitted the dimensional reference of the man sitting.

back to setting up and pour plates, remember I talked about using collodion with more alcohol than ether, meant for ferrotypes and temperatures of 100+ degrees and that I mentioned the temperatures of 88 degrees, now being hot, flustered by the wind, I wasn’t thinking and tried my new collodion. cleaned a plate took a picture and guessed on my exposure. the collodion slipped off the plate. plus I couldn’t figure out where he had leveled his camera from based upon the drawing I had as a reference, I again adjust the camera only this time I flowed collodion onto a plate that I had subbed with Albumen. the collodion stuck, but I put into my silver bath too soon for the alcohol based collodion at the 88-degree temps, plus I ended up with hot finger prints.

I swear this is a comedy of errors, with O’Sullivan just shaking his head, saying something like amateur. but the photo despite those factors was actually kind of, maybe even sort of decent.  So, at this point, excited that something worked, tilted, albeit the wrong direction, I laid the image on a black surface, and used my iPhone to take photo that I published on social media.


At this point, as I Think I have things figured or, sort of  and knowing full well that I Can do better, I decide after a break of being in the direct sun to try another plate, I pulled my last plate that I had subbed with albumen, and well decided what I thought was the back of the plate looked dirty and cleaned it, the side that I didn’t look like or that I thought had albumen on it. I then flowed collodion on the opposite side of the plate, only to have it start and slip as soon as I took it out of my silver.  Anyway, I tried again, and once again most of the collodion just lifted in the wash, plus by this time it was reaching the hottest point in the day at close to 100 degrees, and the Washoe Zeffer was moving in with the chickens and small cows.

needless to say, I packed up for the day, headed home to adjust my chemicals and see if I could do anything with the one image.  I may still try today by going into the modern town formally known as Ragtown to test my mix of collodion.  At least O’Sullivan won’t be shaking his fingers at me for those photos





Greater Soda Lake

This lake has been a thorn in my side for a while.

my first problem was that I needed a wide angle lens, now that I have that solved, I should be able to take a good picture. However, the humidity and dryness of the desert that’s often afflicted with the wind has caused innumerable problems. Today, July 1st 2017 I seemed plagued with problems. My 1st one I underestimated my exposure time and was using a pyro based developer.  the image was ok, but not nearly dense enough to do anything with.

next, I bumped my exposure time by about 2 stops, then developed using my conventional developer.  However this time my collodion didn’t want to stick to the glass.

The 3rd glass image, I used a subbed plate, and it stuck. except I got uneven development. and was on the dregs of my regular developer.

frustrated and hot, I gave in and grabbed some recycled 8×10 tin plates and shot two tintypes, the 1st plate ended up being a little over exposed and developed. the second plate I reused my developed, added some water a this at least gave me an instant visual aid as to if I was close to the right area while showing that my wide angle lens does allow me to capture the full lake in two shots.

What I learned is that O’Sullivan had found a vantage point from roughly the center of the lake. working from Left to right, O’Sullivan Leveled his camera on the left horizon, then simply panned his camera to the right, to create the panoramic view.  O’Sullivan often used items such as his camera, darkbox, wagon or people as known sizes to provide a visual representation to the size of the primary object that he was photographing. This is a classic guide to prospective, still taught and used today.
unfortunately, the majority of the photos that are being taken for this project, at least at present I do not have people that I can use.

panoramic without text

for my panoramic version done on tin I was working from right to left and had leveled my focus when looking at the right view shoreline. this causes the whole view to slant the opposite direction. also, my lens is slightly different creating more of an angle on the closest shore.

Soda Lakes Tintypes, reversed

I also believe that he was a bit further south of where I was.

For a while, I thought the location was cursed, due to the number of problems I’ve had with this location. Now I simply think that Mr. O’Sullivan is just telling me that I’m in the wrong area and that  I’m doing things backward from how he did it. As has been said a collodion image is a gift that is given to the photographer.  Collodion film is weird, it can be fickle, and there are times that nothing explains why things happen. Because of those occasions I’m becoming superstitious, and believe that photographers that we choose to follow, to a point also guide us. Giving our chemicals a blessing, guiding our hands and eyes to grant us the images that we capture in silver.  I didn’t do it today, but in the past have tried shooting at the lake, then shot somewhere else the same day and had no problems.

to further add to my superstition. earlier this year at the dog island civil war event in Red Bluff California, I shot some digital photo’s that have an eery resemblance to Mr. O’Sullivan’s Harvest of Death, which is said to have been the Excelsior Brigade at Gettysburg. The Excelsior Brigade reportedly lost 778 of 1,837 that were engaged at Gettysburg, It’s also the brigade that my Great Great Grandfather Danial Sickles formed out of New York.


my photo contains reenactors that portray the Excelsior Brigade, the shot was not posed



One challenging aspect of this project is finding sites that no longer exist or have changed so much they are difficult to locate, some of this is also compounded by the use of a wide angle lens, as it appears O’Sullivan was very fond of.

here’s a couple of Film photo’s that I took late last year trying to capture some different views of Rocklin Californa.


the park, with its constructed building and turn table are only approximate locations, the original round house that O’Sullivan photographed was destroyed a few years after the original photo. Also, the prospect is again different due to O’Sullivan using a wide angle lens. for that, I’ll need to use the wide angle that we’ve acquired that I think has a similar focus area



this is from the back side of the part, again using a 4 x 5 view camera




National Archives, initial contact


Today October 29th 2016, I received a post from the nation archives, that contained a few xeroxed copies of photo’s from the 40th parallel survey, along with a letter stating that they did not have any detailed information about the lenses or camera gear that O’Sullivan used. – as I delve further into this project it looks as if we’ll need to plan for a trip to the archives as well places like the Eastman house, to research some detailed information.  Fortunately  much of the info in today’s modern age has been digitized

O’Sullivan’s Camera’s and lenses

How many camera’s did O’Sullivan have and use, what lenses and focal length did he have and use, and do the camera’s still exist?

in this picture you can see his 9 x 12 cameratrachyte-columns-trinity-mountains-nevada

Is there any info or do they even exist still. The camera’s used by Timothy O’Sullivan’s during the 40th parallel survey. I know he had an 8 x 10 and a 9 x 12, but was the 9 x 12 the  stereoscopic? if so what lenses where used on it?
Then for his 8 x 10, most if not all of the views were taken using a wide angle lens, who made the lens and what was it’s focal length?

According Joel Snyder’s book; American Frontiers.
O’Sullivan’s Salary was a $100.00 a month. He immediately composed a memorandum listing the articles he would need as expedition photographer. Characteristically, he turned to his old friend Lewis Walker to assist him in the selection. The list was sent to King who in turn passed it on to his immediate supervisor Brigadier General A. A. Humphreys, Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers. He wrote,

I have the honor to transmit a memorandum of photographic material which I have decided upon after consulting with Mr. O’Sullivan and Mr. Walker, with the request that they may be delivered to Mr. O’Sullivan in New York, who follows me to California sailing on May 10th. I also desire that the larger camera may be made under Mr. O’Sullivan’s direction by Anthony & Co. of New York.

Memorandum of photographic instruments and material required for Geological exploration of the 40th Parallel

• 1 camera box for 9×12 plates
• 1 tripod stand for the same
• 1 camera for stereoscopic views (possible a 5×8)
• 1 table for 9×12 views by Zinburger of Philadelphia
• 75 English patent plates 9 x 12 in boxes of 25
• 50 English patent plates 8 x 10 in boxes of 25
• 1 Extra plate box to contain 25 plats for each size, viz.,
9 x 12 and 8 x 10
• 1 hard rubber bath for 9 x 12 plates, with 2 dippers
• 2 hydrometers for silver solution
• 1 eight ounce fluid measuring glass
• 1 glass filter and 2 packages if 13mm filter paper
• 1 small photographic tent
• 1 plate holder for cleaning plates 9 x 12
• 1 plate holder “ “ “ 8 x 10
• 6 pounds of Nitrate of Silver
• 3 “ Rotten stone finely powered
• 6 oz. Iodide of Potassium
• 3 “ “ “ Cadmium
• 3 “  Bromide
• 3 “ “ “ Ammonium
• 6 “ Crystallized Iodine
• 5 Pounds Cyanide of Potassium
• “  Negative Varnish
• 1 Black Cloth for Focus Shade.

O’Sullivan’s  request to supervise the construction of the large plate camera was typical of the care that he took with all of his work on the expeditions and of his pride in his craft. A camera off the shelf would not do. He Needed one that was light enough to be transported in the field, but that had been reinforced  to withstand the rigors of field work.

This Memorandum, answers a few questions, however it also brings up a few other questions. that I can only make hypothesis about, based upon tests and knowledge.

Some of the questions are how many camera’s did he with him was it two or three?
It appears based upon the plates that he ordered along with the odd size 9 x 12 camera that he only carried two cameras. However the request of a camera for stereoscopic views, almost makes one think that there’s a 3rd camera being ordered. It’s also apparent that he had an 8 x 10 camera to start with. This makes sense, most photographers today will have their own camera & lenses, but may request or use a camera for a particular project.

so, was this 9×12 camera box simply the camera body, and the with the “1 camera for stereoscopic views” being the lens package/plate holder for the camera?  this would then divide width in half, allowing each view to be 9 x 6 – this seems huge for most stereoscopic cards. what sort of lens package did this stereoscopic camera use? was he provided with the latest rapid rectilinear style lens or was he still using petzval style lenses, while accounting for the artifacts of lens?

Then Finally the 8 x 10, it appears that he was using a wide angle lens for most of his photo’s, this became very obvious, when I started shooting photo’s of some of the different area’s  finding that I couldn’t match the prospective both in view area and depth. wide angle lenses seem to make everything look much further way, forcing you to be closer to an area, than you might with a modern 50mm lens. this also makes a lot of sense, in that there were really only 3 types of lenses available during the civil war, the single view, the Petzval and the wide angle.  Then finally did he only carry the one lens, and who made it, and what was it’s Focal length.

I’m guessing from some of the photo’s I’ve shot, that he was using a wide angle lens with about an 8″ focal length, this being based upon the use of a Darlot  #3 wide angle with about  6″ focal length, this lens gives me a great area of view with a true 90 degree field of vision.  Then with my #2 R.O.Co. Single View lens. which has a 10″ focal length it seems to have a little less field of view than what O’Sullivan captured. Causing me to believe the focal length to be around 8″, leaving the question who made the lens, and was 8″ the focal length?

anyone with some insight it welcome to respond

Battle Born Historical Photography


Update – October 9th 2016

the National archives denotes 3 different sized cameras

During the 4 years he spent as photographer for the King Survey in 1867-1869 and 1872, Timothy O’Sullivan used a stereoscopic camera as well as a full plate camera. The stereo negatives that resulted show the entire area covered by the expedition-eastern California, Nevada, northern Utah, southern Idaho, southern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado. See the inventory card for 77-KS and the King Survey caption list for further information. Two different size stereo glass plates were used by O’Sullivan. The 4″x 10″ plates were used mostly during 1867-1869 in Nevada, California, Idaho and the southern Wahsatch Range in Utah. The 5″x 8″ plates were used mostly in 1869 and 1872 in the northern Wahsatch and Uinta Mountains of Utah, and in Wyoming. More than half of these photographs are similar to or match almost exactly the full size images in 77-KN, 77-KS, 77-KSP, 77-KS-LCV or 79-BC.

Curiously within the Memorandum, O’Sullivan ordered glass plates that where 9 x 12  and  8×10  a camera box for 9×12 plates, a tripod for the 9×12 camera body, and a table for 9×12 views, as well as an unidentified sized stereoscopic view camera, which as indicated by the size of stereoscopic views, as identified by the national archives  was a 5×8. However it’s also stated that he used a Full plate camera, which is 6.5″ x 8.5″. Unfortunately this information only adds to the confusion, in that one would assume that he already had an 8×10 camera, based upon the glass plates being ordered.

With my own experience, using both an 8×10 camera based upon an 1860’s  Anthony camera, it’s a heavy camera, that would be cumbersome to pack, on a mule or via foot along with, one’s darkbox and chemicals and glass, however some of the early photographic kits, and descriptions, often had some setup that enabled to photographer to pack in smaller quantities of needed supplies along with their camera. with careful planing and designs this would be very easily achieved with a 5×8 camera. today working with both camera’s setting them up several minutes walking distance away from my darkbox I’ve found it substantially easier, setup my plate, then pickup my 5×8 already on it’s tripod and walk to wherever I’m taking the photo, take the photo, then walk back with the camera, then developing my plate. verses carrying my 8×10 to location, walking back setting up my plate , then back to the camera take the picture, then back to my darkbox to develop the picture, then back to pickup the camera with the 8×10 being 20 lbs by it’s self verses maybe a 2 lbs for my 5×8 & tripod.

also, historically speaking, 5×8 was a common size used for stereoscopic cameras. this information helps contribute to the idea that O’Sullivan took a boat into Pyramid lake with his camera gear, without the survey team, then hiked out of the area to meet up with the wagon train, which at this point was following the immigrant trail and future railroad lines, likely around the Fernely, Nevada area headed towards Rag Town, Nevada –

one other perplexing question, is in that it’s such a predominate set of bluffs, which can be seen from the grater Soda lake, is why didn’t he take a photo of the bluffs in Hazen

Anyway at this point in order to capture the stereoscopic views as close to the original, I need to find two matched single view or wide angle lenses for the size of format to setup my 5×8 camera as a stereoscopic camera, with the final question how did he use the 9×12 camera.



I have to thank the authors, Rick Dingus, Joel Snyder and Mark Klett for taking their time to speak with me about their books and Timothy O’Sullivan, all whom I hope will eventually see this project come to fruition – As I work on this project my references & Reference material increases. but here’s what I’ve starting with.  As to some of the reference’s I do not have the permission from the individuals to publish their names


  • American Frontiers: Timothy H. O’Sullivan, 1867 – 1874,  Joel Snyder
  • The Photographic Artifacts of Timothy O’Sullivan, Rick Dingus
  • Mathew Brady Historian with a Camera, James D. Horan
  • Timothy H. O’Sullivan, The King Survey Photographs, Davis / Aspinwall
  • Timothy O’Sullivan America’s Forgotten Photographer, James D. Horan
  • Framing The West, the Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan
  • George M. Wheeler, Wheeler’s Photographic Survey of the American West, 1871 – 1873, with 50 landscape photographs by Timothy O’Sullivan and William Bell

Other References:


I should also mention endless google searches









The Truckee River Region

Plate XXIV

Camp 12 by Bend of Truckee River.jpg

According most information found today, in 1867, the survey camped in the Truckee meadows,  from where they launched a boat that was used to navigate the river to Pyramid lake , this picture simply labeled Camp 12 by bend of Truckee River is generally not defined as to where it was taken. having driven along HWY 80 and 447 a number of times from west Reno to Pyramid lake  – pictures in hand trying to conceptualize where, they could have camped? and where they may launched the boat from.


— Update — apparently people still launch small rafts in the same area today wherein they take the river to pyramid lake —

here’s a story about the boat, the Nettie:

Sailing away: The Nettie, an expedition boat on the Truckee River, western Nevada, in 1867. This was the river that O’Sullivan almost died in and according to the magazine Harper’s ‘Being a swimmer of no ordinary power, he succeeded in reaching the shore… he was carried a hundred yards down the rapids…The sharp rocks…had so cut and bruised his body that he was glad to crawl into the brier tangle that fringed the river’s brink.’ He is also supposed to have lost three hundred dollars worth of gold pieces during the accident too

This led into some discussion, and ideas of just finding an interesting area to photograph  of the river with buildings in the background. while Sharon and I looking at the hills along the river while discussing idea’s on ways to get to some of the original wagon trails – much of my focus was based upon the accessible of the river around Sparks, Lockwood and McCarran as this along with the great area of Reno was considered as part of the Truckee Meadows. Sharon even suggested that it seemed as if the area could be as far as Wadsworth.  leaving the question why would they portage a boat across the desert to Wadsworth to put in the river to go into Pyramid lake? so I kept looking –


This research lead to the original books published on the Survey. which is where I found some great clues in Volume II of Descriptive Geology,  where I found Plate XXIV, a drawing of O’Sullivan’s photo, and on page that on page 817 its described as:

” In the Photograph reproduced in Plate XXIV, a view taken about 3 miles below the town of Wadsworth”  this was a complete Eureka! moment I had found some real answers – now to start scouting the area.

the book further explains some interesting aspects about the geology leading into the area, stating that “these Bluffs, which undoubtedly belong to the age of the Humboldt Pliocene, are characteristically shown, with the more indurated beds standing out prominently beyond the friable sands. the same illustration presents a fair view of the valley, with exceptionally large and fine trees along the river-banks, the flood-flood plane of the river varying from 100 to 2,000 feet in width.  –

It further describes the canyons and with basins that are quite broad and which are occupied with farms.

for my scouting trip, I again with pictures, and information about who I am, and my digital camera I exited hwy 80 at Wadsworth drove back under the freeway south of the Town of Wadswoth, towards the River – this placed me just about 3 miles south of the town, and in my opinion “below” as described I was able to  find the river, and looking at the land around it – I wasn’t able to find  land masses that looked anything like what was in the original photo, except for on the other side of the freeway.

looking south across the river – the treeline is the on the river.


looking north from the river across the freeway 3-4 miles south of Wadsworth.

to  make it more interesting as I learned from a local farmer that had grown up in the area – he indicated that the area I was in, being south of the town was considered upper Wadsworth, and the basically the other side of the Bluff , more or less where the town is, is considered lower Wadsworth – he also told me that some fool, long before he was around said that the river was navigable.. while I’m still not sure where the original photo was taken.  Speaking to the Farmer about local history, I  learned more history about Wadworth which made the idea of launching the boat from Wadsworth more plausible. I was directed to some people on the local tribal counsel who could likely identify the location as well as help me get to the protected area’s that O’Sullivan photographed on Pyramid lake.

At present time the search continues –


———-Update August 24th 2016 ——

Sharon and I drove around Wadsworth a little today from the distance we spotted a bluff that looks very much like the one originally photographed, that appeared to be in the same vicinity

photographed from Wadsworth

as we drove back to the main highway, and towards Fernely seeing several burners, looking for ways to get closer to the bluff we stumbled up this small road with the a Sign reading ” Big Bend” RV Park 20160824-_DSC4603

laughing about the Irony of that we ventured to the RV park and past it to a horse arena and a dirt road that lead us to an access point to the free bridge going over the river – the only problem was that it was on the south side of the river – we’ll likely venture to the northern side later, as well as trying to contact the tribal council – as the land where the photo was originally taken is now paiute reservation land. here’s the same bluff, just south of the river – 20160824-_DSC4601


References –

Eastman House, O’Sullivan collection
Mathew Brady, History with a Camera
The Photographic Artifacts of Timothy O’Sullivan
Tomothy O’Sullivan America’s Forgotten Photographer
American Frontiers
Timothy O’Sullivan, The King Survey Photographs
Volume II of Descriptive Geology
USGS website
Local Farmers


New pictures found, Library of Congress



This Stereo view, I believe was taken of the “big Bend” Bluff from the bluff that’s almost directly north of the big bend.



today the I80 exit for Wadsworth, exits by a piute run gas station, north of the freeway, at this point it’s very easy to see the bluff in the foreground, and within the field behind the gas station, along the river is where they camped

it’s also my belief that this same bluff is the one that was photographed in this stereo view – interestingly you can see wear marks from the weather 1s01783v.jpg

Birth of the survey

As early as the 1830s the initial vision of a trans-continental railroad had begun.

Initial routes North,South, and Midwestern were being considered both for pacticality as well as financial/ political reasons. Congress had sponsored multiple survey parties to investigate potential routes during the 1850s. A man named Theodore Judah upon a suggestion from a store owner in Dutch Flat, California decided to investigate and survey the existing route used by pioneers and businesses over the Sierra Nevada mountains going East from Sacramento. With help of four financial backers they formed a new corporation known as the Central Pacific Rail Road and took his proposal to congress in 1861. While many congressmen were leary of the extensive costs he found an ally in the new president Abraham Lincoln who had already considered the many ramifications of a transcontinental rail route. On July 1, 1862 he signed into law the Pacific Railway Act which authorized the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads as the ones to get the job done. That route followed the 40th Parallel.

By 1862 the CPRR had already begun laying track from Sacramento. However as a result of the American Civil War and the spurious interest in mining in both California and Nevada workers were scarce. Grudgingly they had to look elsewhere for their manpower and the began to hire Chinese laborers. Not only did they prove superior workers but they came to represent 80% of their workforce. At the same time the UP began from Omaha, Nebraska moving west steadily. They too had difficulty at first and began with Irish immigrants escaping the potatoe famine. After the end of the war they got many former soldiers as well a freedmen.

The CPRR had a difficult time consuming effort in surmounting the Sierra Nevada mountains with one tunnel through solid granite that took up an entire day for 1 foot of progress. This took until 1867 to break through to the comparatively flat lands of Nevada. Ironically one of their former work cars converted from a flat car resides not far from their route and very near to our home in Nevada.

In spring of 1867 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton felt that he needed to secure the safety of westward expansion and the 40th Parallel route from multiple issues ranging from Native Americans, robbers, etc.. To properly do so he needed more than just a cursory idea of the lands surrounding this than what was currently available. The Comstock region alone was providing millions of dollars to the Federal Government. To accomplish he wanted a 100 miles swath survey of the 40th Parallel. With the backing of congress he selected Clarence King to head up this endeavor as well as photographer Timothy O’Sullivan of Civil War photography fame. And so the first great western survey was to begin!


Lens update

Darlot wide angle.jpg
Darlot #6

On August 5th 2016 we received a Number 3 Darlot wide angle lens visually comparing the field of view to the Rochester Optical & Co #2 single view lens, it does have a greater field of view.. I’m hoping that it’ll capture more of the same area that O’Sullivan was able to.. this has been one our more daunting challenges, finding the right lens – I’ve tested several different lenses, a small casket convertible, a few different rapid rectilinear lenses and a number 6 wide angle Darlot, in attempts to gain the same area of coverage, the closest lens, has been our ROC single view Lenses.jpg

Rochester Optical & Co. Number 2 single view lens. The lens is technically an 1880’s era lens, and was a inexpensive lens for the amateur, using a Rochester Optical Co 5×8 camera. However like most lenses of the period they will work on large formats, it’s also one of the oldest designs for lenses, with the exception of the wheel stop.


Historically, with the rapid rectilinear having been introduced in 1866 by Dallmeyer it would have been unlikely that O’Sullivan was relaying on one in 1867 during the 40th Parallel survey. Prior to the introduction of the Rapid Rectilinear lens, there was basically, the Single Aplanatic (being the 1st type of photographic lens) the wide angle lens and Petzval.

The only other problem, that we have to face later in to the project is that there is evidence that he used a stereoscopic camera, as there are some stereograph photo’s that were taken, it’s likely this camera was acquired in Nevada, possibly in Virginia city

Through testing and trying to re-photograph the area’s we’ve been able to locate, the closet lens has been our single view lens, however it still doesn’t quite capture the full area, I’m hoping that our Darlot #3 wide angle will capture the same area if it doesn’t I can only guess that he was using something like a Dallmeyer or Morison, both which boast of being able to have a up to 100 degree field of view. Whereas the Darlot only covers up to a 90 degree field. – Within the next day or so I’ll test it in the field.darlothemilenscatindermill1885p88.jpg

here’s a neat conjecture, it’s likely both O’sullivan and King were at the golden spike ceremony