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As It Was: Early Surveyor Butler Ives Dies in Fall from Train

In 1871, authorities found the body of a man floating in shallow water near a railroad bridge in Vallejo, Calif.  He was dressed like a gentleman, with a diamond ring on his finger and money in his pockets.  He was later identified as Butler Ives, a surveyor of the Oregon Territory during its rough-and-tumble, early days.
Ives began surveying with his older brother, William.  After passage of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, they worked on federal contracts surveying the Oregon Territory.  Ives later surveyed Southwest Oregon, including the Table Rocks, and other landmarks of the Rogue Valley.

Early surveyors worked with little more than an ax, a compass and a chain.  Their pay was based on mileage, so speed and a good mule or horse team determined whether they made a profit.  In 1866, Ives worked for the Central Pacific Railroad and described himself as “a sort of vagabond pioneer.”

Ives was 41 years old when he died while on assignment, falling from a rail car between Yreka and Sacramento.  He hit his head and drowned with his attached surveying instruments.  His brothers buried him in Detroit, Mich.
 

Sources: Atwood, Kay. Chaining Oregon: Surveying the Public Lands of the Pacific Northwest, 1851-1855. Blacksburg, Virginia, The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, 2008, pp. 214-15. Miller, William M. History Snoopin', True Tales of Oregon and Northern California. William M. Miller, 2018, pp. 25-27.        

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.