James H. Simpson

James H. Simpson

James Hervey Simpson was an officer in the U.S. Army and a member of the United States Topographical Engineers. 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 served in the Second Seminole War.

In 1849 he surveyed areas in the American Southwest, between Santa Fe and the Navajo tribal lands. In 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 Basin and Range Province, to Genoa (in far western Nevada). Although Simpson's detailed survey results were not published until 1876, the Army immediately realized the value of this more direct route to California, and contracted Frederick Lander to improve it for use by wagons.

Simpson's Central Route played a vital role in the transportation of mail, freight, and passengers between the established eastern states and California, especially when hostilities of the Civil War closed the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach route that ran along the southern border states. George Chorpenning immediately switched to Simpson's route to run his existing mail and stage line, and the 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.

Simpson was a first lieutenant during the 1849 survey and a captain during his 1859 expedition. He served (and was captured and released) in the Civil War, and was eventually promoted to a brigadier general and 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, and the Simpson Springs Pony Express Station are all named after him.


"Dictionary of American Biography", vol. IX, p. 179.

Further reading

"Navajo Expedition: Journal of a Military Reconnaissance from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Navajo Country, Made in 1849"by James H. Simpson, Durwood Ball, and Frank McNitt. ISBN 0-8061-3570-0

"Report of Explorations across the Great Basin in 1859" by James H. Simpson. ISBN 0-87417-078-8

"Essay on Coronado's March in Search of the Seven Cities of Cibola", by J. H. Simpson (1869).

External links

* [http://www.hq.usace.army.mil/history/Vignettes/Vignette_81.htm Biography of James H. Simpson]
* [http://www.hq.usace.army.mil/history/Vignettes/Vignette_81.htm U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Historical Vignettes]

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