Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 1999


Published in Great Plains Research 9 (Spring 1999). Copyright © 1999 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


This slim volume contains a reprint of Lt. E. H. Ruffner's 1876 official survey of the sources of the Red River of Texas, along with civilian draftsman C. A. Hunnius's journal and maps, and the ornithological notes of Lt. C. A. H. McCauley. The book is a great deal more than its size or the seemingly obscure nature of its subject matter would indicate. At the beginning of the Ruffner survey, the Red River was one of the few major American rivers still unsurveyed to its sources-an incredible affair in light of Thomas Jefferson's noting in 1803 that locating the sources of the Red and Missouri river tributaries of the Mississippi was the most critical goal of western exploration during his administration. Jefferson had sought unsuccessfully to pursue a Red River survey at the same time that Lewis and Clark were dispatched to locate the head of the Missouri and "whatever river heading with that" flowed westward to the Pacific. But what Lewis and Clark had done to great fanfare for the Missouri in 1804-06, no explorer throughout the ensuing nearly three-quarters of a century had done for the Red River of Texas. For this reason alone, the little-known survey of Lt. Ruffner represents the ending of an era of exploration begun with the opening of the nineteenth century and is more than worthy of being brought before the public.