Solomon Meredith and the Initial Point of Montana (3 of 13)

During this time he became ill with what at the time was called "bilious fever," and by the time he had recovered, the Civil War had started, and the sixty day limit in which he might leave the state had expired. He was detained in the south for the remainder of the war, so that his expertise might not be put to good use by the Union forces. He occupied his time by studying, and at the close of the war was given the chair of mathematics at Soule University in Texas. After earning enough to pay his way to his home in the north, he traveled through Indiana to see friends, and was engaged as principal of public schools in Cambridge City, Solomon Meredith's home town. After one year of service there, he was recruited by General Meredith to accompany the general to Montana to handle the technical aspects of the proposed rectangular survey system in Montana.

Col. Walter Washington de Lacy
The third and last player who we will consider was Col. Walter Washington de Lacy, who was engaged by Gen. Meredith as a draughtsman. Col. de Lacy was born on 22 February 1818 at Petersburg, Virginia, the descent of a distinguished line dating back to the Norman conquest of England. He attended St. Mary's Catholic College near Emmetsburg, Maryland, and graduated from that school in 1839. Although not formally enrolled at West Point Military Academy, he was privately instructed by Professor Mahan, the head of the academy, in surveying and related studies. He worked for a while as a young man on the Illinois Central Railroad and the Iron Mountain Railroad. He was subsequently appointed professor of modern languages and mathematics in the U. S. Navy, and taught midshipmen aboard the men-of-war Pennsylvania, Marion, and Ohio. He then was employed in survey work on Lake Superior, and later in a search for abandoned silver mines in Texas, in which he was not successful. After travels in Mexico and Texas, he returned to New Orleans, where he was appointed to survey a railroad across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Subsequently he was employed in New Orleans on railroad work, and in 1854 was engaged in surveys in southern California, and in 1855 in surveys in the Puget Sound area, where he was involved as a volunteer in the Yakima Indian war. Col. de Lacy came to Montana with the expedition to locate what came to be known as the Mullan Road, from Fort Benton to Walla Walla, in 1859, and served with that expedition until 1860. In 1861 he prospected for gold in Montana, and in 1862 outfitted a pack train which he took to Gold Creek, Bannack, and Fort Owen. In 1863 he explored the Snake River, prospecting unsuccessfully for gold, and visited the lower geyser basin in present Yellowstone Park. This resulted in the first authentic reports of the natural wonders of the park. In 1864 he laid out the townsite of Fort Benton, returning to Bannack in time for the session of the first territorial legislature. By an act of 6 February 1865 of the territorial legislature he was commissioned to prepare the first map of the territory, for which he was paid $625. He completed a second map in 1867. In 1865 he laid out the towns of Deer Lodge and Argenta.

Apparently Col. de Lacy had served in some military capacity with the territorial militia since his early days in the territory. On 25 March 1867 John Bozeman wrote a letter to Acting Governor Meagher warning of a general Indian uprising with widespread destruction of the Gallatin Valley -- this caused considerable alarm, and initiated increased activity with the territorial volunteer militia. As a result, Col. de Lacey was ordered to report to Brigadier Thomas Thoroughman at Bozeman City for orders as chief of engineers. By July Governor Smith was back in the territory, and by his Order No. 1 of July 1867 reduced many of the commissions of the officers in the territorial volunteers. That of Col. de Lacy was reduced to major; there was general dissatisfaction, needless to say, among the officers, and some resignations resulted. About this time Col. de Lacy was engaged by General Meredith for work on the public land surveys.

Historic Correspondence
The correspondence on the following pages traces the progress of the location of the initial point. The letters are taken from hand-written copies obtained through the BLM office at Billings, and originally from the National Archives. Those of Joseph Wilson at least were office copies for the file, and may or may not exactly reflect the letter which was sent. I have transcribed as carefully as I was able all of the handwritten correspondence, retaining all spelling, capitalization, and punctuation as I found it, so as to retain the style and flavor of the times.

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The Best Kept Secrets in Montana Surveying Law
Curtis M. Brown, Land Surveyor and Author
How to Live in the Woods
Land Boundary Monuments, Past and Present
Solomon Meredith and the Initial Point of Montana