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BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

The Forty-Ninth Parallel Klotz, Otto, 1852-1923 1917

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Reprinted from The University Magazine,
N the present paper the story of the forty-ninth parallel
west of the Rocky Mountains will be told. By Article
II of the Convention Oct. 20, 1818, between Great Britain
and the United States, the forty-ninth parallel became the
boundary line from the Lake of the Woods to the " Stony
Mountains," as the Rocky Mountains were formerly called.
West of the latter, and to the waters of the Pacific ocean, the
country was "free and open" to both parties for a period of
ten years. By the Convention of Aug. 6, 1827, the period
was "indefinitely extended and continued in force." In order
to understand clearly what led to the Treaty of June 15, 1846,
between Great Britain and the United States, whereby the
forty-ninth parallel became the boundary line west of the
Rocky Mountains, it is necessary to give a brief historical
review of what had been done in discovery, in exploration,
and in occupation, so that we may have a fair perspective of
the claims of the contending nations. Although Balboa was
the first to sight the Pacific in 1513 from Darien, Drake was
the first to proceed up the coast in 1579 to latitude 43 degrees.
It was nearly a century later before the Spaniard Perez
reached as far as 54 degrees. Then follow the memorable
explorations of the world's greatest navigator—Captain Cook
—who in 1778 explored the Pacific coast northward from 43
degrees, through Bering's Straits, to latitude 70° degrees.
Trouble arose between the Spanish and British on the Pacific
coast, and by the Nootka Convention of 1790, Spain was
practically eliminated as far as territory now under discussion
is concerned. The man that left an imperishable monument
on the Pacific coast by the accuracy of his survey work was
Captain George Vancouver, who had served under Captain
Cook. Vancouver's work covered the years 1792-3-4. It is
strange that Vancouver missed the discovery of the mouth of the Columbia river, which discolours the water of the
ocean for miles and miles. This was reserved for the American, Captain Gray, in 1792, in his ship "Columbia," whence
the name of the river. This discovery was one of the important points upon which later the United States based their
claim to the country which the river drains. Captain Gray
did not ascend the river; but this was subsequently done
by Lieut. Broughton, under Vancouver's instructions.
Mackenzie, the discoverer of the great river bearing his name,
in 1793, made his way through the interior of the continent, in behalf of the Northwest Company, the great rival
of the Hudson's Bay Company, to the Pacific in about
latitude 52 degrees. President Jefferson followed up the
"Louisiana" purchase by sending an expedition under Lewis
and Clark (1804-1806) to explore the territory north of the
then Spanish territoiy of California and west of the Rocky
Mountains,  the  "Oregon  Country"  as it was  afterwards m
called. Lewis and Clark penetrated through the Rocky
Mountains and descended the Columbia, whereby the United
States added another claim, and a strong claim, to the
territory subsequently in dispute. In 1808 Astor founded the
American Fur Company, and three years later the Pacific
Fur Company, a branch of the former, which was followed
by the founding of Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia.
The Northwest Company was busy with exploration too
in the interest of their fur trade. In 1808 Simon Fraser
descends the river that now bears his name, to the sea; and
similarly David Thompson, who also has a river to his name,
descends in 1811 the Columbia to the Pacific. We see how
year by year British and American claims are made by
exploration and occupation. A blast of the war of 1812 even
reached the Pacific coast.    In 1813 Astoria was discreetly jft
sold to the Northwest Company and a month later was taken
possession of by a British vessel and its name changed to
Fort George, but it was restored in 1818. In the following
year Spain waived her claim to the north of 42 degrees in {
favour of the United States.    The bitter rivalry that had existed between the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Company, and which had cost many fives, was brought
to a close by the amalgamation or absorption of the latter
company by the former in 1821. The fur trade was now
vigorously pushed in the far west, and in 1824 Chief Factor
J. McLaughlin built Fort Vancouver on the lower Columbia,
near the mouth of the Willamette; and this was for years the
centre of trade and of authority, which the Hudson's Bay
Company knew so well to wield. Russia had been active
on the nor hwest coast of America for many years; her
explorations were exclusively in the interest of the fur trade.
Under Article III of the Convention of 1824 between Russia
and the United States, Russia renounced all claims to territory
south of 54 degrees, 40 minutes. Up to this time and for
a few years more the strongest claim of Great Britain was
that of occupation, for there were few Americans in the
territory. The advent of four Indian chiefs from the Oregon
country in St. Louis in 1832 stirred the missionary zeal for
a new field of labour. The fertility-of the Columbia valley,
the wealth of the forests, the salubrity of the climate, became
known in the east, and slowly a stream of immigration set in.
As early as 1841 the Americans in Oregon began to feel the
need of some form of civil government, other than that
meted out by the Hudson's Bay Company, so that two years
later we find a provisional government organized. Year by
year the American immigration increased, till in 1845 some
3,000 arrived from the Missouri and Mississippi valleys.
The Americans had undoubtedly possession of the territory
now, more especially of the Columbia valley, and it was
obvious that the day of settlement of adjustment of rival
claims was at hand. Matters were somewhat aggravated by
the democratic slogan in the presidential campaign of 184.4
of "Fifty-Four or Fight." This meant up to the southern
limit of the Russian possessions referred to in the Convention
of 1824. The slogan served the Democratic party well, for
Polk was elected President. Well, they didn't get fifty-four
forty, nor did they fight.   To the former the Americans had absolutely no claim; and for the latter common sense stood
them in good stead.
Negotiations were now set on foot which culminated in
the Treaty of June 15, 1846, already referred to, whereby the
forty-ninth parallel is continued westward from the Rocky
Mountains "to the middle of the channel which separates the
continent from Vancouver's Island," as the boundary line.
The boundary line was now defined on paper, but it was
not until ten years later—on Aug. 11, 1856—that Congress
authorized the appointment of a commission which with a
similar commission to be appointed by Great Britain, was to
carry out the provisions of Article I of the above Treaty.
Archibald Campbell was appointed the United States
Commissioner and Col. J. S. Hawkins the British Commissioner, and Major J. G. Parke and Capt. R. W. Haig
were appointed the respective astronomers. Field operations
were begun in 1857 and concluded in 1861.    Although the *
survey was completed late in 1861 it was not until May 7,
1869, that the final report was signed at Washington by the
two commissioners. Here begins the gist and romance of
the story of the survey of the forty-ninth parallel which it is
intended to tell. It should be observed that the observations
of the two commissions were made with the utmost attainable
precision, and are comparable with the best field work of
to-day. The position of the parallel in the 410 miles of its
length was determined from twenty-eight astronomical
stations, eleven of which were established by the British
Commission, fourteen by the United States Commission, and
three by joint observations. The total expense of the United
States commission was approximately $600,000, equivalent to
about $1,460 per mile. We may assume that the expense of
the British commission was about the same, although the "ft
figures are not available. The boundary line ran across a
wild, mountainous, and generally forested country with no
population save in isolated spots. The boundary line was
not opened out, but only at the astronomic stations on the i
parallel short vistas were cut in the woods.  However, in the more or less open country lying between the Similkameen
and the Columbia, a distance of 96 miles, the commissions
decided to connect the astronomic stations by straight lines,
with stone monuments (pyramids) at suitable intervals.
This was done, and these 96 miles were the only part of the
boundary that was continuously laid down and marked on
the ground. For some years this marked boundary line lay
in solitude; but in time squatters and settlers began to occupy
lands on both sides of the boundary line. They found in
places three lines cut through the woods, as well as two sets
of stone cairns, which naturally left them in a quandary as
to where the definite boundary line was. Where is the
boundar}^ ? and which line is it ? were questions that unexpectedly presented themselves.
Settlers on the Canadian side applied to the Provincial
Government at Victoria for the necessary information. But
none could be supplied from that source. That government
referred the question to the federal authorities at Ottawa,
but here, too, no records were available. It seemed obvious
that it would only be necessary to write to London to obtain
the desired information and a copy of the final report of the
survey of 1857-1861. Now the extraordinary thing happened.
This final report with the necessary data of the survey was
not to be found in London. Time and again search was
made by different persons for the missing documents, but all
to no avail. To add to the remarkable situation, the duplicate
final report was not to be found in any of the government
archives in Washington. Does history record any similar
circumstances ? Two governments are engaged for years on
an expensive international work, a boundary survey; the
respective commissioners sign joint final reports and transmit
them to their respective governments; and the reports are
nowhere to be found—apparently vanished from the face of
the earth ! The apparently impossible had happened, and the
outlook was that in the near future a new survey under
another international commission would have to be made. 6
Such was the situation in 1898 when the writer was sent
by the Dominion Government to London and St. Petersburg
(Petrograd) on a special mission, in which was included the
obtaining of information regarding the records and final
report of the above survey. All the offices in London were
visited in which there was the faintest likelihood that the
records might be stored, but without result, and no one seemed
to be able to give any assistance. It was the writer's first
visit to Europe, and naturally a visit was paid to the Royal
Observatory at Greenwich, as he was astronomer for the
Dominion Government. By chance his eye. caught the
initials B. N. A. on some boxes on top of the library shelves.
Like a flash those letters interpreted themselves as standing
for "British North America." At his request the boxes were
taken down, the dust of years removed, and in them lay the
long-lost records of the international survey of the forty-ninth
The long lost documents had been found, and their precious
contents were to reveal and answer those long unanswered
questions of international import. The find meant the saving to
Canada and to the United States of the great expense of
another international bounday survey. The final report,
dated May 7, 1869, and jointly signed by the two commissioners, together with other official correspondence pertaining
to the boundary, has since been printed by the office of Chief
Astronomer, Department of the Interior, Ottawa. With the
material found it was now possible to understand all the
operations of the survey, the method of placing the monuments, the reason for the existence of diverging fines cut
through the forest, and the meaning of duplicate cairns.
The occurrence of the last was due to the non-removal by
the men, as instructed, of those cairns which no longer indicated the position of the accepted boundary line.
In order to understand how and why unavoidable
difficulties arose in making the demarcation of the boundary
line continuous, it is necessary to say a word about astronomical observations for latitude.    The  zero from which n
latitude observations are made is*indicated by the "level,"
and its position in turn is the resultant of all the gravitational
forces acting on it; that is, the distribution of matter, visible
and invisible, about a station determines the position of the
"bubble" or "level," the zero of observation. Mountainous
regions generally show "deflections of the plumb-line," as the
deviation of the zero is termed, due to the anomalous distribution of matter. Were there no anomalies it would be
possible theoretically, after establishing an individual point
on any parallel of latitude, to establish other points on the
parallel from it. Or we may say that, if two points are
established in latitude, the direction a straight fine must take
from the one point to the other is simply a matter of computation.
In the present case the effect of this condition was markedly
shown in the 96 miles from the Similkameen to the Columbia.
The astronomic stations in this section were, in order from west
to east: Similkameen U. S.; Osoyoos Br.; First Crossing
or Newhoilpitkw U. S.; Second Crossing, or Inshwointum
Br.; Third Crossing, or Statapoosten U. S.; Columbia Br.
and U. S. It will be remembered that it was agreed to
project the boundary line a short distance east and west
from each astronomic station. This was done. From the
British station at Osoyoos, the British commission ran lines
—cutting the forest where encountered—west and east to
meet the United States astronomic stations respectively at
Similkameen and at First Crossing; and similarly from the
Second Crossing again to the First Crossing and eastward
to the Third Crossing. The not-unexpected happened—the
lines did not meet, owing to "local deflection of the plumb
line," although the discrepancies were greater than expected.
At Similkameen the line came 509 feet north of the United
States station; at the First Crossing the Osoyoos line came
364 feet north of the United States station, but the line
projected from the Second Crossing westward came 300 feet
south of this same United States station; i.e., the two British
lines run from British stations were 664 feet apart.    This was
j 8
not attributable to any error in the work, for the work was
well done, but to the inherent idiosyncrasies of the environing
mass distribution. Because of this operation of connecting,
or trying to connect, the astronomic stations there were now
two fines cut at each of the three United States stations.
Things could not be left in this condition. After discussion
by the officers of the two commissions on March 4, 1861,
"it was agreed that a mean parallel should be adopted, and
a new line run and marked from the Similkameen to Stata-
poosten." And this new line was run and marked by the
United States commission. Thus in places a third line was
cut; this was the definitive line. This explains why on the
ground several vistas through the woods existed side by side.
From the position of the mean parallel at Statapoosten the
British commission subsequently ran the line to connect with
the astronomic stations on the Columbia. Here, too, the
line suffered a deflection to the north, namely of 212 feet.
As already mentioned the cairns should all have been removed
from the preliminary lines joining astronomic stations, and
only those left which were on the final line. The circumstance
that this was not done added to subsequent mystification,
but the finding of the original records and final report cleared
up everything.
It may be interesting to continue the story and recount
what happened in Washington. Marcus Baker, cartographer,
made a report on June 9, 1900, to the director of the U. S.
Geological Survey on this boundary line. He searched the
various departments in Washington for documents pertaining
to the survey and had personal interviews and correspondence
with men then living who had been officially connected with
the boundary survey, with a view to throwing light, if possible,
on "the most important document of all," the final report,
but failed, as had Captain George M. Wheeler, U. S. A., in
a previous search in 1889. Baker adds to the above: "The
search above mentioned I have now repeated and with like
result. The manuscript has not been found." Further on
Baker writes:     "But the report, unfortunately, was   not 9
published, and the manuscript has for many years been lost
to view. Its whereabouts are still unknown. The reason it
was not published, I am informed, is that Mr. Fish, Secretary
of State at that time, deemed its publication too expensive.
The war had brought a mountain of debt, and under these
conditions he refused to sanction so costly a publication."
Such were the vicissitudes of the 1857-61 survey. Within
recent years the whole boundary line, from Point Roberts on
the Gulf of Georgia to the summit of the Rocky Mountains,
has been opened up, a "sky line" cut through the forests,
and additional monuments erected by the joint action of the
United States and Canada.
Otto Klotz *
# J*
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