Field notebooks of the Wheeler Survey

Identifier: NC319

Scope and Contents

The forty-two notebooks in this collection date from 1869 to 1878. All but four were produced during the "Wheeler Survey" in Nevada from 1871 to 1878. The following list records information from the labels affixed to the notebook covers. Measurements for each notebook are provided. Only pages containing written information are numbered.

Information regarding the Wheeler Survey can be found in the following publications in the Special Collections Department:

United States. Army. Corps of Engineers. Preliminary Report Concerning Explorations and Surveys Principally in Nevada and Arizona... Conducted under the Immediate Direction of 1st Lieut. George M. Wheeler, Corps of Engineers. 1871. F 841 .A33.

United States. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian. Annual Report upon Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Montana by George M. Wheeler. 1874. 917.8 Un581a.

United States. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian. Progress Report upon Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian, in 1872, and under the Direction of Brig. General A.A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers, United States Army by First Lieut. George M. Wheeler. 1874. QE 74 .W5.

United States. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian. Report Upon United States Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian, in Charge of First Lieut. Geo. M. Wheeler... Under the Direction of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army. 1875-1889. 7 vols. QE 74 W6

United States. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian. Topographical Atlas Projected to Illustrate U.S. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian of Longitude under the Authority of the Honorable the Secretary of War... 1st Lieut. Geo. M. Wheeler. 1874. Oversize shelf 21.

"The Wheeler Survey in Nevada," Harper's New Monthly Magazine. June, 1877, pp. 65-76. 979.3g .H23 1877


  • 1869-1878



Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Historical Note

The geographical surveys west of the 100th meridian of the United States operated under a general plan issued by the Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and were under the supervision of First Lieutenant (later Captain) George M. Wheeler. The first expedition took place in 1869; the last in 1879. According to the general plan, Wheeler's main objective was to survey the parts of the U.S. territory lying south of the Central Pacific Railroad in order to obtain correct topographical knowledge and prepare maps of the region. In addition he was to ascertain everything related to the physical features of the region; discover the numbers, habits, and disposition of Indians in the section; select sites for future military installations; determine facilities available for making rail or common roads; and note mineral resources, climate, geology, vegetation, water sources, and agricultural potential.

The survey's basic method to accomplish these goals was to establish base camps and then use a transit, theodolite with compass attachment, cistern barometer, and odometer wheel to determine the geographical features and produce a map of each region. The total area covered by all survey expeditions to the area west of the 100th meridian was 1,443,360 square miles in the states of what are now New Mexico, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, and Texas. As a result, 164 topographic maps were produced and 41 publications issued.[i]

Wheeler's survey teams varied from one year to the next, but the expedition of 1871 was probably typical. Included on the team were a topographer, naturalist, geologist, surveyor, meteorologist, zoologist, collector in natural history and mineralogy and their assistants; surgeon and two hospital stewards (who doubled as assistants to the above); photographer (the well known Timothy O'Sullivan); cook; and 30 guides, packers, and laborers. Transportation was accomplished with two mule teams of forty and fifty pack mules, an instrument wagon, two instrument carts, two odometer vehicles, and riding animals for the entire party. Troop I, 3rd U.S. Cavalry provided the escort service for all the expeditions. The cost for the 1871 expedition was $50,000; Wheeler asked for an additional $25,000 for the 1872 survey.[ii]


1.2 Cubic Feet (42 volumes in 3 boxes)

Language of Materials



Astronomical, meteorological, and topographical observations made by the "Wheeler Survey." Most of the notebooks contain observations made in Nevada, but there are also notes for Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah.,Among the Nevada sites observed are American Flat, Austin, Battle Mountain, Camp Halleck, Carlin, Carson City, Como, Eastgate, Lake Tahoe, Pioche, Ragtown, Stillwater, Sutro, Wadsworth, Winnemucca, and many others. Included are two additional volumes of observations made by Wheeler in 1869 in southeastern Nevada.


Organized by survey area.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Notebooks from an unknown source.

A Guide to the Field notebooks of the Wheeler Survey
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)