Frank Tweedy’s four-years of Adirondack surveying under Verplanck Colvin prepared him for a 43-year career as Topographical Engineer with the US Geological Survey (1884-1927).
After completing his survey of the Beaver River Basin and the Totten & Crossfield Purchase’s western line (1876-79), Frank served as Sanitary Engineer in Newport, R. I. (1880-81) before signing on with the Northern Transcontinental Survey based in Newport (1882-83). His contributions to mapping the Rocky Mountains stand as a big part of his legacy.
Life of Frank Tweedy: Confessions of a Tenderfoot
Kate Tweedy was my source for the Frank Tweedy autobiography, an unpublished typed account with hand-written edits throughout. Confessions of a Tenderfoot is focused mainly on his two-week dream assignment in 1882 with the Northern Transcontinental Survey, traveling the precise route taken by Lewis and Clark. Tweedy work, penned just eleven years before his death, includes a few selected formative experiences to illustrate the temptations that tested his faith and shaped his character.
A good portion of Tweedy’s 73-page reflection on his life centers around a “wild and woolly” western town the Union Pacific engineer dropped him off at after signing on with the Northern Transcontinental Survey. The name of that town was Woolly, Washington, and when he arrived in 1882 it had a saloon, a store, and tents as far as one could see housing the crew completing this transcontinental railroad. Tweedy soberly but humorously recounted seven events on that trip, which nearly ended his life. The first which happened in Woolly, WA, the rest while traveling with the crew to the Cascade Mountains in western Washington state:
1. Brained by a bottle in a dance hall.
2. Back broken by being thrown from a stage.
3. Frozen by a winter day in June.
4. Shot by a drunken cowboy.
5. Drowned by a drowning man.
6. Torn to pieces by a grizzly bear.
7. Crushed by falling from a cliff.
These “seven attempts in fourteen days” afforded him “opportunity for retrospection,” musing about whether some “Circean sorceress” had lured him into her wilderness lair, or the following alternative:
“Do not these seven attempts and all different indicate a hand more than human, a sinister influence that had placed these pitfalls directly in my pathway? But this influence had not reckoned on the tenderfoot’s uncanny way of crawling out of holes that had been dug for him. Of course, it was not the tenderfoot himself, it was his guardian angel.”
Tweedy found inspiration from English poets, a handful are quoted, including Tennyson, Longfellow, Milton, Coleridge, Landor, and Kipling. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Explorer” later look on added meaning for Tweedy as he recalled the drunken stagecoach driver piloting his passengers through a freak summer snowstorm in Montana:
Something hidden. Go and find it.
Go and look behind the Ranges.
Something lost behind the Ranges
Lost and waiting for you. Go!
The double meaning here for Tweedy began with the real possibility of sliding off a cliff in a whiteout, but reached far beyond to the direction his life had been taking since his work assignment in the Adirondacks. Exploring wild new frontiers perfectly captured Tweedy’s sense of calling and purpose.
Confessions also tips off the reader to Tweedy’s lighter side (his Adirondack field notes were all business). The Northern Transcontinental Survey was headquartered in Rhode Island, sending three units west, six men in each group covering different regions of the Rocky Mountains. Tweedy was Assistant Topographer for one of the groups and he continually teased and sparred with another group’s Assistant, whom he tagged “Jones,” offering the following humorous introduction for the reader:
“His family had been with Noah in the waste of waters and perhaps for that very reason his tales of ancestral grandeur were fishy. In his own mind he would soon become the head of all the parties. His father owned blooded horses and he, Jones, was going to show the westerners how to ride.
Later as the units pitched camp on the Flathead River near today’s Glacier National Park, Jones asked a series of irritating questions, such as “what if it rains?” and “who is going to cook?” Tweedy brought up his many camp-outs with no blanket or shelter in the Adirondacks, leading to this exchange:
“Turning to me my chief said, ‘Have I not heard that you at one time won a medal as a cooker of hot cakes?” “Flapjacks,” I corrected, “in the Adirondack Mountains.’ I was proud that my reputation had carried so far.
Tweedy added that his flapjacks were a complete success, with Jones’ coffee just “hot water with a slight greenish tinge.” One of the ways Frank connected with his Adirondack crew had been hot morning flapjacks topped with melting butter and maple syrup.
His “Chief” on that trip was one Richard Urquhart Goode, who kept a diary that included with many comments about Tweedy’s ingenuity and character. For example:
“Mr. Tweedy is always rather quiet and reserved, is slow in action but is extremely accurate and careful in all that he does and is one of the most generous and unselfish men I ever knew. In camp he is always willing to do not only his own work but seems always anxious to help somebody in theirs. He would divide his last crumb and if you would let him would give you the larger portion…He is my assistant in the topographical work and his chief duties will be making sketches of the country, taking barometrical, thermometrical observations etc. His greatest difficulty last summer was in learning to ride and I can’t honestly say that he has learned yet, and whenever he could keep up by walking would always do so and lead his horse. He is a splendid climber and never seems to get tired at all.”
Life in the West, and certainly in the Adirondacks too, was a clash of cultures for Tweedy. He honestly admitted that “in one way I was a tenderfoot, never having been in touch with the social aspect of the Far West.” This became evident for him in the Woolly saloon where he was confronted by his trinity of temptations — drinking, gambling, and dancing. This clash came to a head as he faced down that drunken cowboy in the Bitterroot Mountains near Missoula, Montana. Refusing his mounted rider’s flask of whiskey, Tweedy recounted this rant in response to his repeated refusals:
“[Cowboy] Hev a nip, pardner… [Tweedy] No thank you;
[Cowboy] Better had, pardner, if yer know what’s good for yer… [Tweedy] No!
[Cowboy] Yer don’ no nuthin’ ‘bout good likker an’ I ain’t goin’ t’ waste it on such a damn ——.”
Tweedy was shocked by the drawn revolver resting on the saddle pointing directly at him. He welcomed the “wild and woolly” in nature, but not in a man whose humanity “had been submerged.”
Tweedy enjoyed imitating this western drawl. His autobiography retold his traumatic “frozen by a winter day in June” episode. Here is the solution proposed by the stagecoach driver as Tweedy stammered “N-n-n-not v-v-v-very” to the driver’s question about whether he was cold?
“Look-a-hear, I ain’t goin’ t’ hev eny stiff long side me agin. Last winter feller frose t’ death ‘side me. Numony mighty bad in dese diggings an’ yer beginnin’ t’ favor thet stiff. I got sum dope doc give me fer numony…Jest think it be med’cin an’ let her go at thet, if yer don’ want t’ call it sumthin’ else.”
“Numony” is western slang for pneumonia. Tweedy overcame his scruples over alcohol to “gulp down three mouthfuls.”
Kate Tweedy keeps an up-to-date family tree for the Tweedy’s and filled me in on his family and heritage. This helpful background offered insight on his reaction to the “wild and woolly” West. Their ancestors derived their name from the River Tweedy in Scotland, arriving in New England on the Mayflower with other dedicated Puritans. Frank Tweedy’s father Oliver Burr Tweedy (1806-1898) took the family fur hat business from Danbury, CT, to his mother Maria Lord’s home in New York City, where young Frank spent his earliest years. His early connection with the Adirondacks is uncertain, though there is some evidence his family had a summer residence in Lewis or St. Lawrence County, not far from Number Four and Beaver Lake, where his first reported plant specimen was collected.
The Discarded Confidante and Other Stories
A most unexpected discovery during my research opened another window into Tweedy’s inner life and character. He had published a collection of short stories in 1918 titled “The Discarded Confidante and Other Stories.” Although all the names were changed, these short stories appear to be based on his own experiences in the family circle, prefaced this way: “To my wife this volume of stories is affectionately dedicated.”
“Money,” the fifth story, begins as a morality tale about marriage for wealth and status, but then morphs creatively into a tribute and hymn of praise to the woman, Alice Ethel Ravenel, who after many intriguing trials unexpectedly won the heart of the crass protagonist, Sidney Page.
Paralleling Frank’s situation, Sidney exclaims, “I’m a Cavalier on my father’s side and Puritan on my mother’s side…can’t get the Puritan leaven out of my system.” After the last climactic “test,” Sid is confronted by Alice’s blunt question: “You’re stupid! Don’t you know when a girl is proposing? Don’t you want me?” Sid’s transformation from selfish egoist into a contented and appreciative husband and father ends this tale on an unexpected and uplifting note.
These morality stories completely took me by surprise, having come to know Tweedy the Topographical Engineer. The maps shown above represent the Geology of the Quadrangle for Three-Forks, Montana, for which Tweedy performed the topography (left), and the Tweedy, WA, Quadrangle named in his honor (right). The following quote illustrates the impact he made as part of Rocky Mountain surveying and mapping:
“All in all, over the course of three field seasons, Post, Bannon, and Tweedy established and occupied 60 triangulation stations spanning almost 200 miles [in Wyoming and Montana] and setting the control for over a dozen new topographic quadrangles.”
Tweedy’s topographic contributions in the Western United States are extraordinary. A simple search for these topographical maps turns up dozens for the Rocky Mountain states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
A Late Tribute to Frank Tweedy
Sometime in 1894, Verplanck Colvin pulled one of Tweedy’s Adirondack Survey field books off the shelf, opened it to his sketch of the corner of Townships 42 and 41 on the Totten and Crossfield line, and calculated the distance from that point at Station 390 southward to Station 610 just below Big Moose Lake’s southern shore. The distance was exactly 10,995 feet. That calculation was written on a note taped to Tweedy’s sketch.
That add-on really perplexed me until I connected it with Colvin’s addendum at the end of this journal. There, in the legal language of a deed, Colvin described a triangular section of Township 41 bounded by the corner we discovered, the footage on his later note, and then a line due north back to the western border of that same township, for a total of 2,250 acres or 3.5 square miles. Signed “Verplanck Colvin,” it was dated 1897, a full 18 years after Tweedy completed Volume 159.
The red outline on the map included here was produced by Nate Vary, keeper of an online collection of Stillwater Reservoir maps, showing “Verplanck’s Triangle” against Township 41 of the Totten & Crossfield Purchase. The purpose of the Colvin addendum is up for debate. Richard Scott, Senior Land Surveyor for New York’s Office of General Services, suggested that Colvin was trying to mark off that part of Township 41 that was located in Herkimer County, as his N-S line is very close to the line between Herkimer and Hamilton Counties.
My hunch is that Colvin was drafting a statement for a sale or lease to one of several lumber interests that harvested thousands of tons of timber in this time frame. Be that as it may, Colvin treated Tweedy’s Adirondack survey work as “gold,” enabling him to accurately calculate feet, chain-length, and acreage in preparation for a legal document like a deed or lease arrangement, or for some other important purpose. Pictured here are “Remarks on the Triangle,” Signed by Verplanck Colvin. What higher compliment could be paid an employee than this?
Frank Tweedy, as gratified as he was with his years on the Adirondack Survey, had his sights on the West. His life’s calling is well summed up in Confessions of a Tenderfoot:
“I shut my eyes and see again in mental vision what I saw then and so impressed me. The great open spaces – the rushing waters – the virgin forests – the mighty mountain ranges.”
Illustrations, from above: Two Topo Maps–Geology of Three-Forks, MT Quadrangle (left) and Tweedy WA Quadrangle (right); “Verplanck’s Triangle” Addendum to Frank Tweedy’s Vol. 159 Field Book, 1879, created by Nate Vary, author of the Stillwater website; and Verplanck Colvin’s “Remarks on This Triangle” in Frank Tweedy’s Field Book Vol. 159, 1879.