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James H. Simpson

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Title: James H. Simpson  
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Subject: Tule Valley, Pony Express, Oregon Trail, Simpson (name), New Brunswick, New Jersey
Collection: 1813 Births, 1883 Deaths, American Explorers, American Surveyors, United States Military Academy Alumni
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James H. Simpson

James H. Simpson, 1857.
James H. Simpson, circa 1878.

James Hervey Simpson (1813-1883) was an officer in the U.S. Army and a member of the United States Topographical Engineers.


  • Early years 1
  • Topographical Engineers 2
  • New Mexico Expedition, 1849 3
  • Other Duties 4
  • Utah Expedition, 1858-59 5
  • Civil War 6
  • Later career 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early years

He was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on March 9, 1813, the son of John Simpson and Mary Brunson. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1832 and was initially assigned to the Third Artillery. He served in the Second Seminole War and was promoted to first lieutenant in 1837.

Topographical Engineers

In 1838, a separate department known as the U.S. Army's Topographical Engineers was created (not to be confused with the Corps of Engineers with whom they were merged during the Civil War). Lieutenant Simpson was one of the officers transferred to the newly created bureau and assigned as an assistant to Captain W. G. Williams who was in charge of harbor construction on Lake Erie. The following year, he worked on road construction in Florida and then lake surveys in Wisconsin and Ohio. From 1845 to 1847, he was in charge of the harbor of Erie.

New Mexico Expedition, 1849

In 1849, Lieutenant Simpson surveyed areas in the American Southwest, between Santa Fe and the Navajo tribal lands. He had recruited wilderness artists Edward and Richard Kern to record the expedition in watercolors, oils, drawings and maps. He surveyed a road from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Sante Fe, New Mexico and then served for a year as the Chief Topographical Engineer for the Department of New Mexico.

Other Duties

After six months sick leave, Simpson returned to duty and was transferred to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1851 where he spent the next five years overseeing the roads of the territory. During this period, he was promoted to Captain. From June 1856 to February 1858, Simpson was engaged in coastal survey of Florida.

Utah Expedition, 1858-59

Crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert, 1859
Captain Simpson’s Utah Expedition arrived at the Mormon settlement of Genoa near Lake Tahoe in 1859

In early 1858, Captain Simpson was ordered to join the Army's reinforcements for the Utah War. He and his team resurveyed the trails from Fort Leavenworth to Utah and his photographer, Samuel C. Mills, produced the earliest surviving photographs of features along the trail. Upon his arrival at Camp Floyd, he was directed to open a new road between that post and Fort Bridger. Simpson and his team also surveyed the military reservation at Fort Bridger, at Camp Floyd and in the Rush Valley.

In May 1859, he headed an expedition to survey a new route from Camp Floyd (south of Salt Lake City) across the Great Salt Lake Desert of Utah and through the Great Basin to Genoa, Nevada near California. The Army contracted Frederick Lander to immediately to develop the more direct route to California for use by wagons, and Simpson's survey was later published in 1876.

Simpson's Pony Express used it as well. In 1861 the Transcontinental Telegraph was laid along the route, making the Pony Express obsolete. Afterwards, Wells Fargo & Co. hauled mail, freight, and passengers along Simpson's route until 1869, when transportation and telegraphy were switched to the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad.

Civil War

He served (and was captured and released) in the U.S. Civil War, and was eventually promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

Later career

Simpson was named chief engineer of the Interior Department. He oversaw the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the completion of which made his Central Nevada Route obsolete. In 1880 he retired to St. Paul, Minnesota, and died there on March 2, 1883.

The Simpson Park Mountains in central Nevada, a small range in west-central Utah (Simpson Mountains), and Simpson Springs Pony Express Station are all named after him.[1]


  • Navajo Expedition: Journal of a Military Reconnaissance from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Navajo Country, Made in 1849 (1852)
  • The Shortest Route to California: Illustrated by a History of Explorations of the Great Basin of Utah with its Topographical and Geological Character and Some Account of the Indian Tribes (1869)
  • Essay on Coronado's March in Search of the Seven Cities of Cibola (1871)
  • Report of Explorations across the Great Basin in 1859 (1876)


  1. ^ Van Cott, J. W., 1990, Utah Place Names, ISBN 0-87480-345-4
  • "Dictionary of American Biography", vol. IX, p. 179.

External links

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