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Mojave Indian Ethnography & Ethnohistory
Military and Pioneer Period (Military in the Mojave)

Whipple Expedition

1854

The Whipple Expedition, a large scientific expedition led by Lt. Amiel Weeks Whipple, Brevet Lt. J. C. Ives, and 2nd Lt. D. S. Stanley, which was the next official expedition to come through, was more fortunate in that the years 1852-1853 preceding their trip had been bountiful in the desert, and that the expedition was better equipped than its predecessors to begin with. It was to leave a better impression. This expedition was sent out to find a "practical route for a railroad along the 35th parallel from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean" (Sherer 1994:41). The expedition included scientists interested in astronomy, meteorology, biology, and minerals. It also included H. Baldwin Mollhausen, a German who was not only a topographer, but also an artist and something of an ethnographer, whose drawings, paintings, and text make his diary of the expedition a treasure trove of information about the Mojave and their country. Whipple's official report (1856) gives additional details (Sherer 1994:40-44).

This expedition reached the Colorado River via the Bill Williams Fork, and thus came upon it near the place where the Parker Dam would later be built. The western valley of the river was occupied by the Chemehuevi, who tried in vain to get the expedition, which was ascending the eastern side of the river, to cross the river to trade with them, but the western side was Mojave territory, and the expedition waited to trade with the Mojave, who met it, on February 23, 1854, at a place 1 I or 12 miles up the valley. They left Mojave territory on March 2, 1854, after more than a week of intermingling with the Mojaves in both formal and informal modes. They were met, as they entered Mojave territory by a Mojave chief and some of his band, who offered to trade a basket of maize for two strings of white porcelain beads. After this exchange was completed, general trading commenced. The entire nine days spent with the Mojaves were characterized by constant close comingling of the two groups, except that the Indians were not allowed in camp at night. Trading was active and constant. The assistance of the Mojaves proved to be invaluable to the surveyors, as well as to the scientists who were gathering information about plants, animals, and minerals. More than once the leaders of the expedition were formally introduced to various Mojave chiefs. At length, the chiefs held a National Council and (1) "approved a proposed plan for a road for travel and trade through their country; (2) they decided to show Whipple their secret trail to the ocean," along which "there was water and grass; (3) and they elected a high-ranking Mojave to guide the expedition over the route" (Sherer 1994:54). The Whipple Expedition's visit appears to stand out in Mojave tribal memory as a time when the people met "government-to-government" with the United States, and jointly made plans for an accommodation with each other. The Mojaves, always great traders, were optimistic about having a great route for travel and trade pass through their country.



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Tribes of the 35th Parallel

UNDER the 10th and 11th sections of the Military Appropriation Act, approved 3rd March, 1853, directing such explorations and surveys to be made "as might be deemed necessary in order to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a ...

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