Updated:
Original:
Year
1853
Month Day
October 25

Native Americans attack transcontinental railroad survey crew in Utah

On October 25, 1853, Paiute Native Americans attack U.S. Army Captain John W. Gunnison and his party of 37 soldiers and railroad surveyors near Sevier Lake, Utah. Gunnison and seven other men were killed, but the survey party continued with its work and eventually reported its findings to the United States Congress.

Gunnison was a West Point graduate who had led several previous topographical surveys before being assigned to conduct this survey of potential railroad routes across central Colorado and Utah. Gunnison’s mission was only one of four surveys dispatched by the U.S. Congress in an attempt to break a sectional deadlock over which route the proposed transcontinental railroad should follow. The whole idea of a transcontinental railroad was jeopardized by a bitter dispute between northern and southern politicians, with both factions stubbornly insisting that the line should have its terminus in their respective regions. Congress hoped that by turning the question over to the impartial and scientific surveyors of the topographical corps, a clearly superior route would emerge and break the deadlock.

Following Gunnison’s death at the hands of the Paiute, his lieutenant, E.G. Beckwith, assumed command. Beckwith eventually found a potential railroad route through Weber Canyon in the Unita Mountains and discovered two feasible passes over the northern Sierra Nevada. The survey also provided valuable information on the geology, flora, and fauna of the West and set a high standard for subsequent explorers to follow. However, the results of neither the Gunnison/Beckwith survey nor any of the others succeeded in breaking the deadlock in Congress. Since no clearly superior route emerged from the volumes of maps and data gathered, the decision remained a political rather than scientific one. The issue would only be settled after the southern states seceded from the Union, leaving the matter in the hands of northern politicians.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Battle of Agincourt

During the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, Henry V, the young king of England, leads his forces to victory at the Battle of Agincourt in northern France. Two months before, Henry had crossed the English Channel with 11,000 men and laid siege to Harfleur in ...read more

Charge of the Light Brigade

In an event alternately described as one of the most heroic or disastrous episodes in British military history, Lord James Cardigan leads a charge of the Light Brigade cavalry against well-defended Russian artillery during the Crimean War. The British were winning the Battle of ...read more

Pablo Picasso born

Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century, is born in Malaga, Spain. Picasso’s father was a professor of drawing, and he bred his son for a career in academic art. Picasso had his first exhibit at age 13 and later quit art school so he ...read more

First kamikaze attack of the war begins

On October 25, 1944, during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf, the Japanese deploy kamikaze (“divine wind”) suicide bombers against American warships for the first time. It will prove costly–to both sides. This decision to employ suicide bombers against the American fleet at Leyte, an ...read more

John Adams marries Abigail Smith

On October 25, 1764, future President John Adams marries Abigail Smith. This devoted couple’s prolific correspondence during their married life has provided entertainment and a glimpse of early American life for generations of history buffs. Future first lady Abigail Adams was ...read more

United States invades Grenada

President Ronald Reagan, citing the threat posed to American nationals on the Caribbean nation of Grenada by that nation’s Marxist regime, orders the Marines to invade and secure their safety. There were nearly 1,000 Americans in Grenada at the time, many of them students at the ...read more