Report of historical and technical information relating to the problem of interoceanic communication by way of the American isthmus

Material Information

Report of historical and technical information relating to the problem of interoceanic communication by way of the American isthmus
Added title page title:
The Problem of interoceanic communication by way of the American isthmus
United States -- Bureau of Naval Personnel
Sullivan, John T.
unknown ( endowment ) ( endowment )
Place of Publication:
Washington, D. C.
U.S. G.P.O.
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
219 p. : maps (part fold.) plates. ; 31 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Canals, Interoceanic ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
federal government publication ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Bibliography: p. 214-219.
General Note:
Issued also as House ex. doc 107, 47th Cong., 2d sess.
Statement of Responsibility:
by John T. Sullivan, by order of the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
This item is a work of the U.S. federal government and not protected by copyright pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §105.
Resource Identifier:
026407618 ( AlephBibNum )
23366255 ( OCLC )
AAX7831 ( NOTIS )
N 17.2:In 8 ( sudocs )


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Lieutenant, U. S. Navy.


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Washington, May 2, 1882.
SIR: I have the honor to communicate to the Senate, in compliance with its resolution of the
17th.of March last, "such information as has been collected by the Bureau of Navigation relating
to the problem of interoceanic communication by the American Isthmus."
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Secretary of the Navy.
President pro tem. of the United States Senate.

Washington, D. C., April 28, 1883.
SIR: In fulfillment of the duty to which I was assigned by the Department, I have the honor
to transmit herewith a report on the problem of interoceanic communication by way of the
American Isthmus.
The plan which I adopted for the preparation of this report is intended to meet the wants of
those who do not understand the conditions of the problem, and to refer those who desire a fuller
knowledge to the sources of information. While a full development of the subject involved the
necessity of entering into many descriptive and historical details, the arrangement is such that
the seeker after purely technical information can refer directly to the concluding chapters for a
comparison of the leading canal routes. To add to the value of this comparison, it is based upon
the opinions of others and not upon my own. These opinions have been gleaned from official
documents and from the various discussions which have taken place before scientific societies.
Prof. J. E. Nourse, U. S. N., who assisted in the preparation of Rear-Admiral Davis's report
on interoceanic canals and railroads in 1867, and who has since that time maintained a most inti-
mate connection with the literature of the subject of interoceanic communication, was assigned by
the Department to the duty of preparing the present report, but, unfortunately, through sickness
and his subsequent retirement, the duty devolved upon me. At the outset I was selected to render
such assistance as could be derived from my Isthmian experience. I am indebted to Professor
Nourse for having placed at my command his valuable collection of authorities, and also for the
use of his manuscripts, from which I have made selections and included .them in the historical
portion of the report.
Of Ensign J. H. L. Holcomb, U. S. N., who was associated with me for a short period, it gives
me pleasure to state that he was not only zealous in assisting me, but that he brought to the work
a knowledge of engineering science which made this assistance very valuable.
Trusting that in the execution of this duty I have met the requirements of the Department, I
am, sir, very respectfully,
Lieutenant, U. S. Navy.
Con. JOHN G. WALKER, U. S. N.,
Chief of Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department.
H. Ex. 107- 1



CHAPTER I ............................ ................................ .. .... .............. 5
Westward tendency of commerce-The "Secret of the Strait"--The discovery of the South Sea-Renewed
efforts in the search for the Strait.
CHAPTER II ............. .................................................. .... .............................- 11
Earliest proposals for a canal-Action of Philip II and its result-Historical associations of the Caledonia
route, the parent -of Isthmian routes-Paterson's grand project-Efforts to execute it by coloniza-
tion-The Scotch colony of Darien-Milla's reconnaissance.
CHAPTER III..............-...................................... ............................. ............... 18
SInterest in the subject of interoceanic communication awakened by Humboldt-Distinctly marked eras in
the development of the problem-Efforts of the Spanish-American republics to effect its solution-
Early interest taken by the United States of America and other countries.
CHAPTER IV..........----.. ---...............................-----------------.....- -..............-----..... 24
Influences which affected the development of the problem.
CHAPTER V. ................................................. ...--- ......-- .......------- ............---- 32
The American Isthmus; its physical characteristics, area, and population.
CHAPTER VI ............................-...... ... ....................--- -..---.----.... -------..-------..... 36
SDarien and the valley of the Atrato; physical features, peculiar orography, animal life, inhabitants, &c.
CHAPTER VII........-- ......----......... .....----------.. .......-.....----------------......---...-- ..---.. 45
The Caledonia route-Cullen's project and the resulting expeditions-Strain's expedition and the operations
of the English and French parties in the vicinity of Caledonia Bay-The search for Strain-Strain's
journey-Bourdiol's survey.
CHAPTER VIII........------------..................-----------....-------..----..----------------------------.....---- 65
Kelley's projects, including Lieutenant Michler's survey-Various projects in the Tuyra Valley.
CHAPTER IX..--.......---..............--------- --------....... --- ...------ -----...........---...------------...... 72
Explorations and surveys on the Isthmuses of Panama, Nicaragua, and Tehuantepec, prior to those exe-
cuted by United States Isthmian expeditions.
CHAPTER X ..... ......-..............---------- -----...-.. ..----.... ----....--.. .-----------.... ----....... 80
United States Isthmiau expeditions: the work before them and the special fitness of the Navy to per-
form it; their organization; methods of executing the surveys, routine of work; obstacles en-
countered; incidents attending explorations on the Isthmus; the work accomplished.
CHAPTER XI ...............-------------------------....---------------------------------------------...........--........... 94
The Wyse surveys and the Paris Conference.
CHAPTER XII -------............-...--- ----.------ ----------------------------------- -- --------........... 101
Technical description of the Napipi-Atrato, Truando-Atrato, and Tehuantepec Canal routes-Eads' ship-
railway project.
CHAPTER XIII ..............---------------....------------------------ ----------------------...--.. ........ 112
Technical discussion of the leading canal routes: San Blas, Panama, and Nicaragua.
CHAPTER XIV..-......- -.-------- ----- ------------------...---........------ ---.........-------. 134
The importance of the problem of interoceanic communication-The benefits which are likelyto accrue to
commerce from the construction of an interoceanic ship-way-Collins' estimate of gain in time and
distance in using a canal-Ross's estimate showing increase in earnings in one year by vessels using
canal instead of Horn route-Commercial statistics bearing upon the probable tonnage which would
pass through the canal.


A.-Report of United States Canal'Commission .........................-.. --................................ 143
B.-A comparison of the Panama and Nicaragua routes, showing the gain in time for a sailing vessel using the .
latter, by Lieutenant Collins, U. S. N.................................................................. 145


C.-Maury's estimate of the resources of the Gulf of Mexico and of the Caribbean Sea, and of the importance
of intero ceanic communication............-- ..-- ..............---..---.....------................---.... 149
D.-Report on Greytown Harbor, by Prof. Henry Mitchell, United States Coast Survey .....-....-- .......-... 159
E.-Testimony for and against the Tehuantepec ship-railway project..................-- .....--- ........----- ..-- .. 165
BIBLIOGRAPIHY ................................................ ......-.............. .... ... .....---------.. 214


[AUTHOaRITIES.-The maps are reductions from United States Hydrographic Office charts; from the general maps contained in the report
of Admiral C. H. Davis, United States Navy, on interoceanic canals and railroad; and from maps accompanying the reports of the officers
commanding United States Isthmian expeditions.*]
1. General map of the American Isthmus and its adjacent coasts.
2. Map of the Isthmus, showing the localities which have been made the subject of study or exploration, and also the
position of the "divide" with reference to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
3. The Isthmus of Darien and the adjoining province of Choco, in the valley of the Atrato, showing the different
localities that have been made the subject of study or exploration.
4. Cullen's map of the Caledonia route.
5. Gisborne's map of the Caledonia route.
6. Outline map of the Caledonia route reduced from map of United States Darien survey.
7. Map of the Caledonia route, showing the localities examined by the Darien expedition of 1870.
8. Map of the San Bias route, showing the localities examined by Mr: Kelley's engineers and by the Darien Expedi-
tion of 1870.
9, 10. Maps S and K are tracings from the map of the San Bias route accompanying the report of Captain Selfridge
and from that prepared by Mr. Kelley's engineers, with additional delineation.
11. The Atrato-Peranchita-Tuyra route.
12. The Napipi-Atrato route.
13. The Truando-Atrato route.
14. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, from the Gulf of Campeche to the Gulf of Tehuantepec, showing the line proposed
for the canal, and the projected line for a ship-railway.
15. Plan of a ship-railway patented by Dr. W. F. Channing.
16. Plan of the Honduras ship-railway project.
17. The Isthmus of Panama, from Limon or Navy Bay to the Bay of Panama, showing the valleys of the Chagres and
Rio Grande, and the lines of canal located therein.
18. A portion of Nicaragua, showing the line of actual location for a ship-canal, and the routes that have been
19. The western division of the Nicaragua route.
20. Profile from Brito to the mouth of the river Lajas.
21. The valley of the San Juan, showing line of location for a ship-canal.
22. Chart of Greytown Harbor, showing the direction and extent of the movement which resulted in the destruction
of the harbor.
23. Chart of Greytown Harbor before this movement became extensive.
24. A chart of the port of Brito, showing the plan proposed to protect the entrance to the-canal.
25. A profile of the Nicaragua route, showing the sites selected for the location of the locks and dam.
26. A set of profiles of different routes, projected on the same scale for the purpose of comparison.
27. Map of the world. Mercator's projection, showing the central position of the American Isthmus, with reference
to the great water surface of the globe, and also the present routes for sailing vessels and those that would be
available if a canal existed.
28. Chart of steamer and sailing-vessel routes between ports on the Pacific.

The tinted maps are intended to illustrate the text, and while sufficiently accurate for this purpose it must be
understood that the topography of the Isthmus is but little known except in the immediate vicinity of the lines of
survey. The orological features are developed with a view to show not only the mountainous character of the coun-
try, but to give an idea of the general features of the systems which prevail in different localities. As the delineator
of this series of maps I am responsible for their imperfections.-J. T. SULLIVAN.

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General map of the American Isthmus and its adjacent coasts.




"The problem of interoceanic transit across the American continent has been said 'to possess
not only practical value but historic grandeur.' Its partial solution is being attained by the con-
struction of those railways which are bringing nearer to us so much of the eastern world; but it
can be fully solved only when such a work has been made as will prove a maritime highway for
America and Europe to the western shores of the continent, to the new world of Australia and its
surroundings, to Eastern Asia, and to Japan. To meet tle requirements which commerce, sup-
ported by all the advanced appliances of this day, imperatively demands, the transit must offer
the allurements of a full, uninterrupted, safe, and speedy transportation. It must be a water high-
way through which the largest sea-going vessels, with a tonnage-of even 6,000 or more, may pass
without breaking bulk. And it must be remembered that all experience proves the justice of the
statement that railways and canals are supported by the carriage of different species of merchan-
dise, products of great value and small bulk voluntarily selecting the more rapid channel of the
railway, while others choose the maritime route.
"History invests the problem with an interest surpassing that of its usual records. In this
effort to secure a western route to Asia and the Spice Islands it is linked back to the age of the
great discoverer; and since the object held by Columbus for his sovereigns was the same with that
of the ages preceding, the problem thus reaches back to the story of the coveted wealth of Asia
and of the old highways to it.
India and China! what tales of marvelous endeavor to secure their riches remain on the pages
of authentic history! both countries, from time immemorial, famed for the richness and variety of
products secured by the caravan which sought them by weary routes from- the west. These were
the storehouses of product and luxury, drawn upon more and more as the facilities of commerce
and land travel enlarged themselves, yet ever, as to-day, without sensible decrease. The labors
of the Old World were to reach them by an eastern route; the labor of the New World is to reach
them by the west. Through the whole period of history, ancient and modern, it is the same drawing
upon the resources of the east. It was their traditional inexhaustibility that stimulated the prog-
ress of discovery in the Middle Ages, opened up the New World itself, and has left for our day the
problem of the new transit. It has been reserved for our age, however, to crown the motives of
the past with the higher purpose of extending over the East the highest types of civilization and
V Christian enlightenment, hopefully to be conferred upon it by thus advancing the closer intercourse
and fellowship of men.
"The student of commercial history is instructed that during the last 3,000 years the steady
tendency of commercial enterprise has been toward the West, and that 'civilization has followed
*The first part of this chapter, to the line of asterisks, is quoted from the MSS. of Prof. J. E. Nourse, U. S. N.


the sun in its course.' The steps of that progressive tendency are links in the earlier history of
our problem; a reference, therefore, to them will not be misplaced.
"To look through the chapters of ancient history is to recall without difficulty the fact that
each of the great empires of antiquity owed its supremacy to the conquests of commerce as well as
war. Neither Tyre nor the Assyrian, the proud Macedonian nor the Roman, could have secured,
or maintained supremacy without the products of the East for the sinews of war, nor, it may be
added, without these could they have reveled in those luxuries which, unrestrained brought their
decline and fall. Phconicia, the earliest in commerce, was long the great center between the East
and West. She brought the products of India, as well as of Persia and Arabia, westward by her
caravans, constituted in the same way and performing the same part in trade as at this day. At a
later period forming her alliance with the Hebrews and securing harbors at the head of the Red
Sea, she fitted up fleets which traded more extensively with the countries of Ophir-a name, accord-
ing to Heeran, applied as a general designation to the distant coasts of India, Serica,' China, and
Africa. As a single instance of the richness of that commerce, it may be remembered that from
one voyage the fleets of Solomon brought back gold equal in value to nearly fourteen and a half
millions of dollars.
"The Babylonians for many ages were second only to the Phoenicians. 'Situated between the
Indus and the Mediterranean, with a productive soil, and commanding, by means of the Euphrates
and the Tigris, every communication with the interior, and by the Persian Gulf with India, Baby-
lon, by her caravans, canals, and rivers, became the chief entire pt in the West, where the mer-
chants of many countries assembled to exchange their goods. remained for ages.'
"In the fourth century before Christ, Alexander early in his career not only established the
port of Alexandria (wresting from Tyre her trade), but entered on a course designed not more for
conquest than for commerce. In all his plans he never lost sight of making commerce to be more
extensive than his empire. He opened the navigation of the Euphrates and Tigris, built more
than seventy cities in the far East in places adapted for trade, and created new wants and new
hopes for every country he overran, drawing westward the commodities which the natives of the
West required.
In the days of Augustus the amount of the precious metals sent to India to pay for products
for which there was no corresponding exchange by the produce of the West, was estimated at
100,000,000 sesterces, or $40,000,000. The consignments which reached Alexandria from the East
were directed to every port in the Mediterranean. Pliny calls India the sink of silver.'
"The caravans of Justinian traversed in two hundred and forty-three days the whole latitude
of Asia from the Chinese Ocean to the sea-coast of Syria; they ascended the Ganges and the Indus
and crossed the highways of Thibet. Silk, long before considered a necessity at Rome and at
Constantinople, was delivered direct to the Romans by the Persian merchants who frequented the
fairs of Armenia and Nisibis.
"Before the awakening of Europe from the sleep of 'the dark ages,' the Italians by their,
intercourse with Constantinople and the other cities of the Greeks having obtained a knowledge
of the East and cultivated a taste for its precious commodities, were not slow to embrace and
develop direct intercourse with India, and, in the course of the twelfth century Venice established a
regular trade through the ports of Egypt, which she maintained for four centuries.
The marvelous ascendency which the Mistress of the Isles thus acquired aroused and stimu-
lated the next great commercial enterprise of the world's history. The Portuguese, who for gener-
ations had sought to discover the realms of-gold, in 1498 established a maritime ascendency which
extended over the coasts of Africa and Asia, from Mozambique to Japan; whilst their famous
cities of Goa, Malacca, and Macao became emporiums of trade with India and China, which had
previously enriched Venice and Genoa.
From that date, eastern commerce, falling successively into the hands of the Dutch and the
English, has at length assumed proportions which bear no comparison with those of the earlier
ages. A new title has been jeweled into the crown of England, while the great highway-the
realized dream of ages-is freighted daily from the same storehouses of the East, enriching not only
Europe but the shores on our side of the globe.



"The first bold crossing of 'the sea of darkness' links the commercial activities of the Old
World with the New in the person of the great discoverer. The expectation of being able to sail
westward to the Spice Islands without interruption was the principal motive of Columbus in
undertaking the voyage which first marked the limits of the Atlantic. He was, as is well known,
happily prompted by a geographical error of gigantic magnitude, in adopting the idea of Ptolemy's
geography, which left about one-third of the globe between the supposed limits of China and
A remarkable confirmation of this is given by Irving when he tells us that on one of those
splendid voyages the opinion of Columbus that he was coasting the continent of Asia and
approaching-the confines of ancient civilization of the East was shared by all his fellow-voyagers,
among whom were several experienced navigators; and that after fully exploring the coast toward
the southwest, every one declared that there could no longer be any doubt on the subject, for it
was impossible that so vast a continuity of land could belong to a inere island.
Th4 chief object of his last voyage indicates, in a marked degree, his idea of Asia, since it
was undertaken with the single purpose of seeking along the coast of the Caribbean sea the strait
which he imagined formed a communication between his discoveries and India. When off the
coast of Veragua, he received some accounts from the Indians of a great and civilized people liv-
ing in the country Ciguare; and he understood from them that ten days from that country by sea
would bring him to the Ganges. He supposed that Ciguare must be some province of the Grand
Khan; and as the sea. was said to reach this country, it would be found on the opposite side of a
peninsula bearing the same relation to Veragua that Pisa does to Venice in Italy. By proceeding
further eastward, therefore, he must soon arrive at a strait like Gibraltar, through which he could
pass into another sea and visit this Asiatic Ciguare, arriving at the banks of the Ganges. He
therefore examined the coast of Central America from the Bay of Honduras to the Spanish Main;
and although on the borders of countries far richer than those he sought, of which several strik-
ing indications were presented to him, all was lost sight of in the vain pursuit of the desired
strait. Irving adds, 'He had been in pursuit of a chimera of a splendid imagination and a pene-
trating judgment. If he was disappointed in his expectations of finding a strait through the
Isthmus of Darien, it was because nature lferself was disappointed. For she appears to have
attempted to make one, but to have attempted in vain.'
"This search for the secret of the strait marks the first era in the history of direct efforts for
interoceanic communication across America. From this date it is a record of continuous and
unavailing efforts to find the strait, and on a failure of this, a record of numberless canal and
railroad projects for an artificial transit."


Although Columbus attempted to establish a colony on the coast of Veragua in the early part
of 1503, no settlement was made on the American continent until about seven years later, when
Encisco effected one on the shore of Darien, near the mouth of the Atrato. It was called Santa
Maria de la Antigua.
After the sailing of the expedition which was to establish this colony, a man was found stowed
away in a barrel on board of Encisco's ship. "His name was Vasco Nunez de Balboa, an advent-
urer, a skillful master of the art of fencing, who, as he was in debt, and as indebted people could
not leave the Island of Hispaniola without the permission of the authorities, had secretly contrived
to get into this barrel, and to form a pait of Encisco's stores."*
Such was the strange manner in which the courageous and enterprising explorer commenced his
ascent to the pinnacle of fame. Possessing the necessary qualities of a great commander, his influence
in the colony was soon appreciated, and in 1512 he was elected governor. Anxious to secure a
Conquerors of theNew World and their Bondsmen.


conlirmation by the Crown, he determined to gain favor by a brilliant exploit. An opportunity
was soon furnished, as a result of a visit to an Indian tribe with whom friendly relations had been
established. The Spaniards were not only delighted with the welcome they received in the sub-
stantial form of presents, including gold and slaves, but were surprised to find the tribe surrounded
by comforts and evidences of civilization to which other tribes'they had thus far encountered were
strangers. While dividing the gold which they had received, after allotting a fifth part for the
Crown, there arose a dispute among the Spaniards about its division. A young cacique of the
tribe, observing this quarrel, became indignant and overturned the scales, saying, "What is this,
Christians ? Is it for such a little thing that you quarrel ? If you have such a love for gold that
to get it you disquiet and harass the peaceful nations of these lands, and suffering such labors
banish youselves from your own lands, I will show you a country where you may fulfill your desires,
but it is necessary for this that you should be more in number than you are now, for you would have
to fight your way with great kings, and amongst them, in the first place, with King Tubanama, who
abounds with this gold, and whose country is distant from our country six suns." He then indi-
cated that a journey to the south would bring them to another ocean, and, traversing that to the
southward, they would be brought to the shores of the kingdoms abounding in gold.
Elated with this news, which developed the prospect of his being able to achieve success where
Columbus had failed, he immediately set about organizing a sufficient force and making necessary
treaties with the neighboring caciques for aid. His preparations finished, he set out by sea from
Santa Maria de la Antigua on the 1st of September, 1513, and landed his band of hardy adventurers
in the vicinity of Caledonia Bay. His force consisted of 190 Spaniards, 1,000 Indians, and a num-
ber of fierce dogs, which latter were deemed highly serviceable on account of the fear the Indians
had of them.
To enter an unexplored country, dependent upon guides whose very object might be treachery,
and the certainty of exposure to many dangers which could not be provided against, entitles this
enterprise to consideration as one of the boldest ever undertaken by man.
Entering the wilderness with his band, Balboa commenced the march, which, amidst great
suffering, was prolonged for twenty-five days instead of six, as had been indicated. Beset on one
hand by the hostility of the natives through whose territory they were'advancing, and on the
other by the rugged character of the country, with its pestilential climate, and an absence of food,
it was no wonder that his followers became discouraged. Nothing short of the indomitable will
of their leader, and the possession of their confidence and affection, could have enabled him to
control them in their state of discouragement. Finally, as their endurance was tested to nearly.
the utmost limit, the Indians promised a view of the sea from a neighboring hill.
Arriving near the summit, Balboa advanced alone to meet the -view of the great South Sea, and,
animated with a feeling of gratitude that it had been reserved for him to confer upon his country
the benefit of so great a discovery, fell upon his knees and fervently returned thanks to Heaven.
His followers were soon at his side to participate in the grand emotions caused by the magnificent
spectacle, and to share in the joy resulting from a happy consummation of their wishes.
Continuing on their journey, they soon reached the sea, in the vicinity of the Gulf of San
Miguel, where Balboa entered its waters and took possession in the name of his King.
Balboa now'received definite information regarding Peru, and soon commenced preparations
for the purpose of attempting its conquest, but was continually thwarted and humiliated by
Pedarius Davila (Pedro Arius de Avila), described as a suspicious, fiery, arbitrary old man," who
came out from Spain as the newly appointed governor of Darien. Balboa's rewards consisted of
empty titles. His influence with the troops and native. was unlimited, and could have been
directed against his persecutor had he so desired, but he quieted his partisans and submitted
without a murmur. Before he was ready to sail on his voyage of conquest, Davila's jealousy was
aroused against him, and on false charges, before a court of his own creatures, he had Balboa con-
deinned and brought his head to the block.
The pictures of the glory of these early achievements present a strong contrast when viewed
with those showing the pain and misery which accompanied them. Las Casas remarks that the
sufferings of the Spaniards in the New World, in search of wealth, have been more cruel and severe
than ever nation in the world endured." In the case of the followers of Pedarius Davila, it is


said that the provisions had suffered deterioration on the voyage, and, as a result, men in silk and
brocades absolutely perished of hunger, and might be seen feeding like cattle upon herbage. One
of the principal hidalgos went through the streets saying that he was perishing of hunger,
and in sight of the whole town dropped down dead. In less than a month seven hundred men
perished." Irving states that the perils that lay in the discoverer's path, and the sufferings he
had to sustain, were scarcely inferior to those which beset the knight-errant. Hunger, and thirst,
and fatigue, the deadly effluvia of the morass, with its swarms of venomous insects, the cold of
the mountain snows, and the scorching sun of the tropics, these were the lot of every cavalier who
came to seek his fortunes in the New World. It was the reality of romance. The life of the
Spanish adventurer was one chapter more, and not the least remarkable, in the chronicles of
knight-errantry." t
Pedarius Davila ultimately regarded the locality of the settlement of Santa Maria as unsuit- -
able for the prosecution of contemplated voyages in the Pacific, and, moreover, on account of its
unhealthfulness, sought and obtained permission to remove the colony. This was done in 1519,
the new locality chosen being an Indian village, near the site of the present city of Panama. It
was here that Francisco Pizarro, availing himself of the knowledge he acquired about Peru while
a companion of Balboa, fitted out the expedition for the conquest of that kingdom. The rich com-
merce resulting from this successful exploit sought an expeditious transfer from ocean to oeean,
and to meet this want a road was soon opened and paved from Panama to Porto Bello. At a
stated time every year the richly laden ships from Spain would rendezvous at Carthagena, on ac-
count of its better climate, and await news of the arrival at Panama of the galleons from Peru,
when, proceeding to Porto Bello, a fair would be held for sixty days, during which all the ex-
changes would be made under the supervision of the governor of Panama and the general of the
galleons. The fair was attended by all the merchants of the Spanish Main, and it is said that
none in the world was equal to it.
Granada, named after one of the richest provinces of Spain, was the modern Ophir, while
Porto Bello represented the Tarshish of the most brilliant period of the Hebrew monarchy. As
in Tyre and Sidon, its merchants were princes,' but like all other ancient emporiums to which
commerce was compelled, or which obtained an adventitious and illusive importance, Porto Bello
has fallen, and the route between it and Panama Harbor wholly abandoned. The extreme unhealth-
fulness of the city, which gave to it the appellation of the 'grave of the Spaniards,' led to its
abandonment, and the mart of Spanish America and the receptacle of the wealth of the Indies is
now scarcely visible from the anchorage, owing to the dense jungle which has grown up in tropical
luxuriance over the ruins of the city."$

"The discovery of the Pacific by Balboa, and its entrance by Magellan, kept alive for more than
a quarter of a century the erroneous ideas of the strait. Since it was now certain that the new
lands were not the Indies, the next thing was to carry forward the search for the narrow passage
which must lead to them. The very configuration of the Isthmus strengthened the belief in the
existence of such a passage by the number of its openings, which seem to invite entrance in the
expectancy that some of them must extend across the narrow breadth of land. For this great
purpose, and in full expectancy of success, the whole coast of the New World on each side, from
Newfoundland, as visited by the Cabots, on the northeast, and thence south around the whole sweep
of the Mexican Gulf, and the Caribbean Sea, around South America, and up the Pacific to Behring
Straits, was searched and researched with diligence. Men, says Humboldt, could not accustom
themselves to the idea that the continent extended uninterruptedly from such high southern to such
high northern latitudes.

"The Conquerors of the[New World, and their Bondsmen."
t Irving's "Life of Columbus."
t Paper on Interoceanic Communication, by Lieut. I. C. Strain, U. S. N.
From MSS. of Prof. J. E. Nourse, U. S. N.
H. Ex. 107- 2


"The year after the discovery of the South Sea, the King of Spain had given secret orders to
D'Avila, governor of Castila del Oro, and to Juan de Solis, the navigator, to determine whether
Castila del Oro, a part of Columbia, was an island; if a strait could possibly be found; and to
send a chart of the Isthmus to Cuba. De Solis passed along the whole coast of Brazil, but, entering
La Plata, was there massacred by the natives.
"In 1516 Ponce de Leon sailed 140 leagues along the west coast from Panama, discovering the
port now called Nicoya. In 1517 the Spaniards founded Nata, on the west side of the Bay of
Panama, their first settlement on the shores of the South Sea, and in a year or so later they estab-
lished themselves at Panama. The design of prosecuting discoveries thence towards the Spice
Islands then assumed a regular form. Ships were fitted out, and a commander-in-chief appointed
by the court of Spain to oversee their construction and equipment; but the undertaking failed in
consequence of the wood of which they were built becoming worm eaten within a month after their
launching into salt water.
The continuous search for the strait, made under the orders and direct superintendence of
Cortez, at length resulted in putting an end to all hope in that direction. Charles V had urged the
search. In a letter from Valladolid, in 1533, he enjoined the most careful inquiry for the passage
which would connect the eastern and western shores of the New World, and shorten by two-thirds
the route from Cadiz to Cathay;' and Cortez, in his reply, expressed the highest hopes of success.
'It would render the King of Spain master of so many kingdoms that he might call himself
Lord of the World.' The instructions of the court and the subsequent letters of the conqueror, as
well as the correspondence of men of science, were always full of the idea. For the proximity of the
two oceans in certain parts of the Isthmus having been by this time ascertained, it could not yet
be believed that nature had worked on a plan so apparently repugnant to the interests of humanity
as to interpose, through the whole length of the new continent, such a barrier to communication
between the great seas.' The conqueror of Mexico never abandoned this leading object in his
reverses, nor forgot it in his triumphs. His fleet fitted out for exploration on the Pacific side being
burned in the dock-yard of Zacatula, he quickly got ready a second, a third for exploration in the
direction of Florida, and a fourth for the coast of Honduras.
"Again, in 1530 and in 1532, two other squadrons were sent on a voyage of discovery to the
northwest, and, on their failure, Cortez made his own search from the port of Santa Cruz in a fleet
fitted out at Tehuantepec. He crossed the Gulf, but was driven to the last extremity of famine;
again crossed it, was tossed about by terrible tempests, without a pilot to guide him, and was
thrown upon the rocks, when his vessel nearly went to pieces. Yet he brought back his crazy
ship into port. These expeditions were well planned, and he was liberal in his experiments,
although they ended disastrously in a pecuniary point of view. But on a subsequent voyage he
discovered California, and his fleets, conducted in part by himself, determined its whole extent
and its junction with the continent. The Gulf for a long time was known by the name of Mar de
Cortez. The Pacific was coasted from the Bay of Panama to the river Colorado. The vast tract
which had been supposed to be an archipelago was discovered to be a part of the continent, and
its general outline, as appears from the maps of the time, became nearly as well understood as at
the present day. He ascertained that, instead of the outlet before supposed to exist towards the
north, the unknown ocean was locked up in the arms of the mighty continent. The hope of finding
a short passage across the Isthmus thus perished.
"Voyages for discovery, for commerce, for possession of the soil, and in search still of a western
route continued to be made by the English, French, and Portuguese throughout the century.
Through ignorance of the breadth of North America, a faint hope of reaching the South Sea by a
short route seems to have lingered long in the minds of the English, for Bancroft tells us 'that it
was expressly enjoined on the Virginia colonists of 1607 to seek a communication with that sea by
ascending some stream which flowed from the northwest,' and that the captivity of Capt. John
Smith was the result of Smith's obedience to his instructions by his following up the Chickahominy.
But Cortez and his followers had long before consigned to mythic realms 'the secret of the strait."'

Map of the Isthmus showing the localities which have been made the subject of study or
exploration, and also the position of the "divide" with reference to the Atlantic and Pacific

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"The barrier to a direct route to India being recognized, it was natural that attention should
be turned to the problem, which now offered itself, of securing an artificial communication, and
that its solution was to be found in that long and narrow isthmus which was now shown to connect
the two continents of America.
SThe Spanish historian, Gomara, seems first to have proposed an artificial opening through
the Isthmus. In 1551, representing, doubtless, the general feeling in Spain and in the New World,
he urged on Philip IIqthe union of the oceans by three of the same routes which at this day are
still before the world, Tehuantepec, Nicaragua, and Panama; and had Spain remained what she had
been under Charles V, what had been in vain sought from nature might have been in some degree
supplied by man. Her men of science had urged the work, and all Spain had awakened to it.
"'How majestic and fair,' says Chevalier, in his L'Istlime de Panama, 'was Spain in the six-
teenth century. Never had the world seen such energy, activity, or good fortune. Hers was a
will that regarded no obstacles. Neither rivers, deserts, nor mountains, far higher than those in
Europe, arrested her people. They built grand cities; they drew their fleets, as in a twinkling of
an eye, from the very forests. A handful of men conquered empires. They seemed a race of giants
or demi-gods. One would have supposed that all the work necessary to bind together climates
and oceans would have been done at the word of the Spaniards, as by enchantment, and since
nature had not left a passage through the center of America, so much the better for the glory of
the human race; they would make up the loss by artificial openings.'
"' It is true,' said Gomara to the Emperor, 'that mountains obstruct these passes, but if there are
mountains, there are also hands. Let but the resolve be made, there will be no want of means; the
Indies, to which the passage will be made, will supply them. To a King of Spain, with the wealth of
the Indies at his command, when the object to be attained is the spice trade, what is possible is easy.'
"But the sacred fire had burned itself out. The Peninsula had a ruler who sought his glory in
smothering free thought among his own people, and in wasting his immense resources in vain
efforts to repress it also outside of his own dominions through all Europe. From that hour Spain
became benumbed and estranged from all the advances of science and art, by means of which other
nations, and especially England, developed their true greatness.
"Even after France had shown by her canal of the South that boats could ascend and pass
the mountain crests, it does not appear that the Spanish Government seriously wished to avail
itself of a like means of establishing any communication between the Antilles and the South Sea.
The mystery enveloping the deliberations of the Council of the Indies has not always remained
so profound that we could not know what was going on in -that body. The Spanish Government
afterwards opened up to Humboldt free access to its archives, and in these he found several me-
moirs on the possibility of a union between the two oceans; but he says that in no one of them
did he find the main point, the height of the elevation on the Isthmus, sufficiently cleared up,
and he could not fail to remark that the memoirs were exclusively French and English. Spain
herself gave it no thought. Since the glorious age of Balboa, among the people, indeed, the pro-
ject of a canal was in every one's thoughts. In the very wayside talks, in the inns of Spain, when
a traveler from the New World chanced to pass, after making him tell of the wonders of Lima and
Mexico, of the death of the Inca Atahualpa, and the bloody defeat of the Aztecs, and after asking
SThe first part of this chapter to the line of asterisks is quoted from MSS. of Prof. J. E. Nourse, U. S. N.


his opinion of El Dorado, the question was always about the two oceans, and what great thing
would happen if they could succeed in joining them.
"The Spanish Government alone cared nothing for it. For years there was not one publica-
tion upon the subject which the humblest of our civil engineers would not now deem beneath his
study. It became a mere idea and legend. The long wars of the Spanish monarchy and its fearful
decline almost consigned the very idea to oblivion."
The most serious complaint in this historic statement lies against the unwillingness of Spain
to improve even her interoceanic land-routes. She had need of the best mode of conveyance for
her treasures across the Isthmus, yet those from Peru came by the miserable route from Panama
to Porto Bello, while her European wares for her colonists toiled up the Chagres River, and farther
north only the roughest communication continued to connect the Coatzacoalcos and the Chimalapa,
trade being restricted to one port only on each side. To the selfish policy of Philip II is to be
attributed this unwillingness to improve the existing routes or to search for better. Viewing with
a jealous eye the wealth of the newly acquired kingdoms, he feared that a more accessible route to
them would enable other nations to dispute with Spain for their possession, and to provide effect-
ually against such a contingency it was prohibited, under pain of death, to seek or make known
any better route for the existing traffic; and as the Atrato was supposed to lead to a point from
which there were superior facilities for communicating with the Pacific, it was decreed that death
would be inflicted upon any person whatever attempting its navigation. Influenced by this same
policy, Spain guarded carefully all the acquisitions to her geographical knowledge, particularly of
such as Darien possessing gold mines, resulting from researches made in this direction during the
end of the last and beginning of the present century.
Of the work of these periods prominent writers agree that the surveys were accurate, and
Admiral Fitzroy, R. N., states that 'no surveys need be better.' The interior of Darien could not
be developed, owing to the hostility of the Indians, but very good maps of much of the Spanish
territory existed at the time she gave up her American possessions, but in the repeated copyings
so many errors have crept in that work originally good has been rendered almost worthless.
"This exclusive policy of Spain was manifested as late as 1775, when, on the presentation of a
memoir by the citizens of Oaxaca for improving the Tehuantepec route, the memorialists were cen-
sured as intermeddlers, and the viceroy fell under his sovereign's displeasure. Later in the century
the attention of the Spanish Government was once more called by Goday, the Prince of Peace, to
the alleged practicability of a canal, and a reconnaissance of a route was made under his direction,
the documents in regard to which, Mr. Squier tells us, still exist in the archives of Guatemala.
Nothing practical was done, however, nor were further plans or projects submitted during the
remainder of the iron rule of Spain over her colonies, except a partial examination of a route across
Tehuantepec, made under the orders of the viceroy by Cramer and Corral. At the date of 1814 the
Spanish Cortes did, indeed, decree the construction of a canal, but the execution of this decree was
not even attempted.
"Yet it is perhaps scarcely necessary to remark on the character of any canal which might
have been constructed within the times referred to, that such a work as would have been built
could have secured little beyond a local and inland traffic, and that it would have been utterly out
of proportion to the demands of commerce of later days."

A source of real regret, however, is found in the policy of Spain which stifled geographical re-
search on the Isthmus. The early successes of the Spaniards had stimulated them to the highest
degree of adventure; through a ceaselets activity and enterprise the New World was rapidly giving
up its secrets, and, had this activity continued, the problem of interoceanic communication would
not have been handed down to the present century with so many unknown quantities.

Notwithstanding the efforts which Spain made to reserve to herself all knowledge of favorite
routes for interoceanic transit, it was impossible for her to prevent the buccaneers from acquiring
From MSS. of Professor Nourse.


some of it, aided as they were by the Darien Indians. These latter, appreciating the effective
manner in which these adventurers harassed the Spaniards, advised them of localities rich in booty,
and accompanied them in expeditions against their common enemy. The route lying between
Caledonia Bay, on the Atlantic, and the Gulf of San Miguel, on the Pacific, the one followed by
Balboa in 1513, was used in 1680 by a party of English buccaneers in an expedition directed against
the settlement of Villa Maria, on the Tuyra River, the depot for all the gold collected in the neigh-
boring mountains. The party, consisting of 300 men, under Captain Sharp, accompanied by a large
force of Indians, set out from Caledonia Bay on the 5th of April, 1680, and on the ninth day of their
journey they came near Villa Maria, which they stormed and sacked the following morning. They
were disappointed in their hopes of a rich booty, as most of the gold, three hundred pounds, had
been shipped for Panama three days before, and only twenty pounds remained. Here, as a result
of dissensions common to such organizations, the party divided, one portion proceeding in canoes
to Panama, where they captured some Spanish vessels, the other returning to the Atlantic coast by
a somewhat different route than that followed in crossing.
A few years after this adventure of the buccaneers, the Caledonia route was brought into prom-
inence through the exertions of William Paterson, who conceived the grand idea of establishing at
this portion of the American Isthmus a distributing center for the commerce of the world.
"It was Patterson's original and ostensible design," says Malcolm Laing, a Scottish historian,
"to establish an East Indiin trade with Scotland, to which foreign merchants, impatient of the
exclusive companies in England and Holland, might subscribe. But a secret and magnificent
plan was engrafted by Paterson upon his original designs."
The modification of his scheme resulted from experience gained as a merchant in the West
Indies, and from information respecting the Isthmus received from the buccaneers. A new line of
development was thus opened for his grand idea, and after study and reflection he matured the plan
of colonizing Darien, to unite the commerce of the two Indies, and, in his own language, to give to
Great Britain "the keys of the world", that she might order matters so as may best shake and
overturn the present tyranny in the Indies, that the nations everywhere may get an opportunity
and be induced to set up for themselves, and be for the future enabled to maintain the freedom
of their governments and trade, under the glorious and easy protection of His Majesty," as the
command of "these doors of the sea and the keys of the universe would, of course, be capable of
enabling their possessors to give laws to both oceans, and to become arbitrators of the commercial
world, without being liable to the fatigues, expenses, and dangers, or of contracting such guilt and
blood as Alexander and Caesar."
His conception of the good to come was not limited to that which would redound to Great
Britain alone, but extended to all nations, and he appealed to her to control the commerce of the
world in the interests of free trade.
Referring to incidents in Paterson's life, Bannister* says his biography might be extended
with advantage over the important period from the reign of Charles II to that of George I. He
was a great authority upon trade and upon finance, an eminent political economist, a practical
statesman, and a sagacious colonial projector; a powerful writer, a true patriot, and a thoroughly
honest man. * His active mind embraced all the great questions of an unusually eventful
age. * All that he accomplished he owed to the resources of his own clear intelligence,
and to his character, without the help of high birth or fortune. His extraordinary influence over
men's minds sprang from his personal superiority. A stranger in London, and a Scot, he com-
bined the rich English elements of the bank, of which he was one of the first directors.t A wan-
derer from home, he roused all Scotland to take part enthusiastically in a trading and colonizing
scheme, then quite new to the experience and habits of his cautious countrymen; he was one of
the leaders of the enterprise in its destination beyond sea, when it was destroyed through the
jealousy of rivals and the hostility of Spain; and he came home a ruined man, but preserved the
affectionate respect of all."
While it is unnecessary to enter into a history of this scheme, it will be of interest to do so,
Central America, by William Paterson, the merchant-statesman. From a MS. in the British Museum, 1701.
Edited by S. Bannister, M. A., Queen's College, Oxford.
tHe was the founder of the Bank of England.


and, moreover, it has some claim to attention, as its object was so closely allied to that of the con-
templated interoceanic canal. This history, however, while comprehensive, should have the merit
of brevity, and as it is hardly possible to satisfy these requirements more fully than Lieutenant Strain
has in his paper already referred to, his compilation will be quoted. An additional object will be
to recognize the merits of this brave officer in a field in which he is but little known.


The discoveries of the Spaniards in America, theovercolored narratives of the buccaneers, and
the immense profits of the English East India Company, which, availing itself of the discoveries
of Vasco da Gama, the intrepid Portuguese navigator, sent annually its immense fleets to the
peninsula of Hindostan and to the neighboring islands, infected the Scotch, perhaps the least en-
thusiastic people of Europe, and in 1695 a company was formed in Edinburgh for the purpose of
trading with Africa and the Indies.
The company, as constituted by the Scottish Parliament, held an exclusive privilege for thirty-
one years, was possessed of full administrative and judicial powers, and in consideration of its
charter was bound to pay to the King of England one hogshead of tobacco annually. In the
original plan one-half the stock was to be reserved for citizens of Scotland, and the subscriptions
limited between one hundred and three thousand pounds. After a thorough organization, sub-
scriptions for stock were opened in London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, in each of which com-
mercial cities it was rapidly taken. In Hamburg alone 200,000 were soon subscribed, and in
London, nine days' subscription amounted to 300,000.
"The progress of this trading company excited the jealousy of that stupendous monopoly, the
East India Company, and representations against it speedily flowed in upon the ministry. Nor
was this selfish opposition confined to those interested in the preservation of the East India
monopoly; the English Parliament also made representations against it to the King, and.declared
the principal promoters of it guilty of a misdemeanor. The Government was not behindhand in
their efforts against the company, and after compelling the London merchants by threats of im-
peachment to withdraw their subscriptions, protested against the subscriptions of the citizens of
Hamburg, and warned them through its minister not to proceed or continue to give pecuniary aid
to the Scotch project. The answer of the citizens of this free town to the protest and threats of
the English representative was worthy of their reputation. 'They considered it strange that the
King of England should dictate to them, a free people, how or with whom they should engage in
arrangements of commerce.' Notwithstanding the bold independence of their reply, believing
that William would take measures to thwart the company, their subscriptions, as well as those of
the Dutch, were withdrawn, and the Scotch left alone to struggle against the united hostility of
England and Spain. The enthusiasm of the Scotch had been aroused, and inexcusable opposition
developed that obstinacy which is an important element in their character. In about one year
400,000 were subscribed in Scotland alone, and the list of subscribers and directors, which is still
extant, contained some of the most distinguished names in the kingdom. To appreciate fully the
value of this pecuniary risk, it ought to be remembered that this 400,000 was one-half the circulat-
ing medium of Scotland. It was, in fact, the first attempt of Scotland to colonize, and the national
pride was aroused. Volunteers flocked in from all sides, and when the expedition was ready to
sail, many who had been refused for want of accommodations were found hidden in the holds of
the ships. The first colony consisted of twelve hundred choice men, among whom were two hun-
dred belonging to the best families in the kingdom, and sixty officers whom the peace had thrown
out of employment. For their conveyance, three stout ships and two tenders were provided.
"On the 26th of July, 1698, enthusiasm in Scotland rose to its highest, and all Edinburgh
came out to witness the sailing of the expedition. Nor was the excitement confined to Scotland,
for, says Dalrymple, 'Neighboring nations saw with a mixture of surprise and respect the poor-
est nation in Europe sending forth the most gallant colony which had ever gone from the Old to
the New World.' On the next week after the sailing of the expedition the Scotch Parliament con-
vened, and forwarded an unanimous address to the king, asking his support and countenance;
but he, actuated by a general prejudice against the nation which still retained a love and respect


for the unfortunate Stuarts, by the selfish representations of Parliament and the East India Com-
pany, and the remonstrances of the Spanish minister, peremptorily refused, and caused orders to
be expedited to the Governors of New York and Jamaica to withhold supplies from the new settle-
ment. In this order were involved the germs of the destruction of the Darien colony.
The colonists arrived safely at Darien, and landing about seven miles from Golden Island,
on a small peninsula which formed a secure harbor, commenced the erection of habitations and
fortresses for their protection. To the adjoining bay they gave the name of Caledonia; to their
harbor, Scotch Port; and to their town, the ruins of which are no longer visible, New Edin-
burgh. With the Indians, who were found to be friendly, a perpetual treaty of peace and amity
was duly signed, and deputations were received from the Spanish colonies of Carthagena and
Panama, which did not feel confident to cope with so formidable a force of hardy Scotchmen. Soon
after landing, the council, which was in charge of the administration of the affairs of the colony,
issued a proclamation conceding to all nations the same privileges as to Scotch subjects, and
declared an unlimited freedom of commerce. Religious toleration was also proclaimed, but with
certain reservations which bore the impress of their Scotch Presbyterian origin.
"In April, 1699, a Parliament was assembled and laws were passed for the government of the
colony, which, as transmitted to us, bear the impress of the liberal and benevolent spirit of the
gentle Paterson. The protection of the Indians against the young and reckless, who saw no harm
in 'spoiling the heathen', was amply provided for by these laws. No person could be confined for
more than three months without a trial, and in all criminal cases the accused, as in Scotland, was
entitled to a jury of fifteen of his countrymen. No imprisonment for debt was permitted, unless
upon proof that fraud was intended. At the instance of Paterson, servitude was abolished, and
each one became a freeholder by the division of land, thus making the colonists independent, and
depriving the colony of the advantages of combination in labor. This was the first great error,
as afterwards that concentration and singleness of purpose which is essential in a new country
could not be attained.
A member of the council, writing home, says it would have been 'better to have three years'
servitude, and a division of land afterwards;' and in speaking of the colonists, says: 'They had
no true notion of liberty. The thought of it made them insolent, and ruined command.' Even
under the disadvantages which this premature concession entailed upon the colony, it yet might
have flourished if they had been controlled by a competent leader. Paterson, as the projector, a
director, and prominent member of the council, enjoyed the greatest consideration and influence;
but although great in conception, his gentleness and modesty made him an inappropriate ruler of
the turbulent elements by which he was surrounded. Of his honesty and integrity of purpose he
had given many evidences. Among others was the voluntary resignation of 2 per cent. on stock
and 3 on profits, which, in consideration of his services, had been conceded by the company and
assured by the Scotch Parliament. These sacrifices and his mild deportment contributed to
his personal popularity, but not to his authority; nor did it inspire his subordinates with that
respect and confidence without which no leader of men, and especially of discordant elements
held loosely together by recent laws of their own making, can ever be successful.
"The time occupied by the colonists in erecting houses and fortifications prevented them from
tilling the land, and their principal dependence for the means of sustaining life was upon supplies
from abroad. Much of the provisions which they brought from Scotland proved to be bad, and
the use of them produced sickness, which rapidly diminished their numbers.
"The cruel proclamation of the King of England now began to produce its bitter fruits. From
English colonies they could obtain no supplies. Scotland was distant, and its people unaware of
the sufferings of their friends; while the Spaniards of Panama, Porto Bello, and Carthagena
looked with satisfaction on the sufferings of a colony which had threatened to prove formidable
to their interests. In this extreme emergency, the Indians, more generous than the English, who
owed it protection, contributed aid from their scanty stores. Insubordination, in which some
of the members of the council were implicated, made its appearance, and a plan was laid by the
mutineers to seize a single ship and make their escape from the threatened famine. The exploits
of the buccaneers, which were then so recent as to infect by their example, pointed out a means
of escaping from approaching death and of grasping that wealth which the colony had failed to


produce. The younger men, incited by the young nobles, proposed to seize some of the most
effective ships and retrieve their fallen fortunes by descents upon Porto Bello and Carthagena.
For a while this mutinous spirit was quelled, and a vessel was dispatched with an humble
petition to William for his countenance and protection, and an urgent request to the directors for
provisions. Meanwhile the board of directors had not been idle or neglectful, and, in view of the
proclamation of the King of England, had dispatched a brig laden with stores, which unfortunately
never reached its destination. A reinforcement of three hundred men was also sent but before
they could arrive the fate of the first Scotch colony was decided. Paterson, ill with the fever and
broken in spirit, could not resist the general determination to abandon the Isthmus, and on the
22d of June, 1699, or less than eight months after their arrival, the remaining colonists embarked
for the English West India Islands and North America. In September of the same year the
unfortunate projector of this ill-fated expedition was in Boston, and his mental condition may be
inferred from a passage in a letter written by a friend: Grief has broken Mr. Paterson's heart
and turned his brain, and now he is a child; they may do what they like with him.' He subse-
quently recovered and returned to England, but appears to have taken no further part in the
affairs of the company.
"The Scotch, with their characteristic pertinacity of purpose, and regardless of previous mis-
fortunes, dispatched a reinforcement of one thousand three hundred men in four ships; but upon
their arrival they found that the vessels that had preceded them, after touching at Caledonia Bay,
had sailed for Jamaica. The condition of the town of New Edinburgh was most discouraging.
The huts had been burned, the forts dismantled, the tools and agricultural implements taken away,
while its site was overgrown with a dense jungle, which sprang up like the gourd of Jonah, in a
moist, tropical climate. Many of the councillors became dejected at the condition of things, and
there was a general cry to be taken home. In view of their misfortunes the Spanish displayed
hostility, and Drummond, availing himself of a temporary enthusiasm, produced by an advantage
which had been gained by a detachment of the colonists, proposed that they should anticipate
attack and supply their wants by a descent upon Porto Bello.
Drummond, who was an old officer of the army, assumed for a time the position to which
his ability and energy entitled him; but the colonists were discouraged, timid councils prevailed,
and lie was placed under arrest. About this time Colonel Campbell, of Finab, arrived from Scot-
land with three hundred of his own men, and, releasing Drummond, temporarily restored order,
and gained a victory over one thousand six hundred troops who had advanced upon them from
the Spanish colonies, he himself receiving a serious wound in the action. This advantage, how-
ever, was gained too late to restore the fallen fortunes of the colony, as the harbor was now blocked
up by a Spanish fleet of eleven vessels, which had arrived under the command of the Governor of
Carthagena, and the fort invested by troops which had been landed and had effected a. junction
with those who had arrived by land.
"The garrison, discouraged and mutinous, loudly urged their leader to capitulate. This was
finally agreed to by Veitch, Campbell being ill with the endemic fever. With all their stores they
weighed anchor on the 11th of April, 1700, and took their final leave of the fatal shores of Darien,
after an occupation of four months. During the voyage to Jamaica, Veitch died, and soon after
the vessel, which he owned and commanded, was wrecked on the coast of Cuba. A vessel of the
company was lost near Carthagena and the crew made prisoners. Another was lost, with a
large number of her crew, while leaving Caledonia Bay; and it is said that of three thousand
men who sailed for that unfortunate colony not more than twenty returned to their native land.
The projector of the grand enterprise, after one more effort to retrieve his fallen fortunes, died in
obscurity, pitied, but respected. It has been said in his praise by a contemporary, that' He was
void of passion, and that he was one of the few of his countrymen who never drank wine.' Such
were the unfortunate results of the only attempt ever made by Scotland at colonization, and of
one of the earliest and most comprehensive schemes for opening an interoceanic communication.
On account of the fact that its history is little known, I have, perhaps, here devoted to its con-
sideration more time and space than its importance merited. It is, moreover, a subject of interest,
as the same subject has been so recently revived and met similarly disastrous results."

* a

+ X X


After the departure of the Scots the Spaniards established the military post of Agla in Cale-
donia Bay, and until 1790 were active in creating similar establishments and missions on the rivers
which enter the Gulf of San Miguel, with the hope of securing supremacy over the Indians. At
this time, recognizing their inability to gain this without an expenditure incommensurate with the
object, a treaty of peace was concluded, by which they agreed to abandon all their garrisons in the
Indian country.
A few years before the making of this treaty an attempt was made by the Spaniards to bring
their Atlantic and Pacific posts into communication by means of a military road. With this view,
a fort called Puerto Principi was built and garrisoned on the Savana River, and a trail cut thence
to the Chucunaqua, striking it somewhere in the vicinity of the mouth of the La Paz. This was
called Ariza's road, after the governor of the province of Darien. In an interval of peace existing
with several tribes, their consent to the continuation of the road was obtained, and the services of
the Sucubtis secured to aid in opening it. In 1788 Manuel Milla, adjutant of the post of Agla, accom-
panied by Suspani, a Sucubti chief, left Caledonia Bay to pass over the Cordillera and report upon
the practicability of constructing this road. He arrived safely at Puerto Principi, but being alarmed
at a rumor that his movements were watched by some of the Indians who still remained hostile, he
returned to his post by way of Panama and Porto Bello. This undertaking claims attention only on
account of its being one of the first which had for its direct object interoceanic communication, and
not from any valuable results arising from the young officer's observations, although his performance
was regarded highly by his superiors. In his report he says that in crossing the "Montana Grande"
there is not a difficult pass, "with the exception of a ravine at the commencement, which four men
could level off with spades in less than an hour." It must have been an extraordinary ravine. In
another place he mentions the chief obstruction in the road to be a large tree which has fallen across
the trail, and very ingeniously suggests that the difficulty of cutting it in two may be avoided by
walking around it.
Two years after Milla's reconnaissance (1790) the Spaniards abandoned the Indian territory,
and no attempt was made to study this route until more than sixty years later.
H. Ex. 107- 3


The long repose which settled upon the subject of interoceanic communication was well broken
by the energetic labors of the illustrious Humboldt, who, in 1808, attracted the attention of the
world to this important problem, and indicated the localities which he deemed worthy of study.
Feeling the want of sufficient and authentic data for a comparison of even the best known routes,
and the almost complete absence of data respecting those of Darien, he urged the necessity of
proper investigation, and stated his belief that in either Darien or the valley of the Atrato would
be found the solution of the problem.
Gaining their independence, the Spanish-American states were thrown open to citizens of all
nations, and during the first years of their existence praiseworthy attempts were made in the line
of exploration and geographical research; but the unstable character of the states prevented an
undisturbed study of their territory, and particularly of Darien, as their weakness rendered them
powerless against the Darien Indians who had successfully resisted the conquering arm of mighty

"In 1823 the new 'Republic of the Center of America' evinced an interest in the construction
of a canal almost immediately on acquirement of independence from Spain. Senor Manuel Antonio
de la Cerda, afterwards Governor of the State of Nicaragua, urged the matter upon the Federal
Congress, but without effect. The states, exhausted by their effort to overthrow their former gov-
ernment, and still more by their intestine commotions, could not be expected to undertake, with-
out the assistance of foreign capital, a work of such vast magnitude. They have nevertheless
demonstrated their sense of its importance to their own prosperity, as well as to that of the com-
mercial world; and, what redounds still more to their honor, have expressed their readiness to
receive the aid of other nations towards this enterprise, upon conditions which manifest a disposi-
tion to waive, for the welfare of mankind, every narrow and unsocial suggestion of local interest.
The chief movements towards the work from that date refer themselves to a few marked eras,
specially to the years 1824-'26, 1828-'30, 1835-'38, 1846-'47, and to the much more important progress
made since the year 1849. The last-mentioned date being that of the acquisition of California, and
the discovery of its vast mineral wealth, is the era from which public attention in America and
Europe began to give the problem practical form.
"The earliest of these movements connect themselves with Nicaragua and Tehuantepec. Feb-
ruary 8, 1825, Senior Antonio Jos6 Cafaz, minister of the Republic of the Center,' addressed a
note to Mr. Clay, the Secretary of State, calling the attention of the United States to the object
of uniting the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans by a canal through the province which he repre-
sented. He assured the Secretary that his government if placed in different circumstances would
not part with the least portion of the distinguished honor of executing a work of such importance
to the prosperity of the two worlds, the omission to construct which, he said, ought to fill with
shame the previous government of his country. But 'the Republic of the Center was in the first
moments of its existence, and nothing would be more grateful to it than a co-operation by this
generous nation, whose noble conduct has been a model and a protection to all the Americas; it
would be highly satisfactory to have it a participator, not only of the merit of the enterprise, but
of the great advantages which that canal of communication must produce, by means of a treaty,
ihich may perpetually secure the possession of it to the two nations.'

SThe remainder of this chapter is quoted from MSS. of Prof. J. E, Nourse, U. 8. N.


"This overture, which had been occasioned by propositions to the Republic of the Center from
Messrs. Barclay & Co., of London, and from merchants of the United States, asking, each, for a
concession, was immediately entertained with interest by the President; and Mr. Clay, as in-
structed, replied to the minister that in view of the importance of a work that would form 'a great
epoch in the commercial affairs of the whole world,' a newly appointed charge d'affaires, Mr. Wil-
liams, would investigate with the greatest care the facilities which Nicaragua offered, and remit
the information he acquired to the United States. It would be then necessary to consult Congress.
The only trace, however, of information which appears to have come from the envoy was the fol-
lowing extract from a letter of Mr. Williams, charge d'affaires of the United States to Central
America, to Mr. Clay, dated 24th November, 1826: 'I met with Mr. Cainaz. He returned to the
United States by the river San Juan and Lake Nicaragua. He entertains no doubt of the practica-
bility of the contemplated canal.'
"In regard to the overture made by the minister from Nicaragua, Mr. Squier remarks that-
'Although the administration of Mr. Adams did not at once fall in with the proposition, this was
not from want of interest in it, but simply because the Government did not wish to commit the
country to any specific course until the feasibility of the enterprise and the leading facts concern-
ing it should be better known and understood.'
The principles on which the work should be executed had been announced by Mr. Clay in his
letter to the commissioners of the United States to the famous Congress of Panama. Mr. Clay
said: 'A canal for navigation between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans will form a proper subject
for consideration at the congress. That vast object, if it ever should be accomplished, will be in-
teresting in a greater or less degree to all parts of the world; but especially to this continent will
accrue its greatest benefits; and to Columbia, Mexico, Central America, Peru, and the United
States more than to any other of the American nations. What is to redound to the advantage of
all America should be effected by common means and united exertion, and not left to the separate
and unassisted efforts of any one power. * If the work should ever be executed so as to
admit the passage of sea-vessels from one ocean to the other, the benefits of it ought not to be ex-
clusively appropriated by any one nation, but should be extended to all parts of the globe, upon
the payment of just compensation or reasonable tolls.' The canal was thus, in Mr. Clay's judg-
ment, to be executed by the parties most interested and to be under their control, but not therefore
"In the same year, Don Guadaloupe de Vittoria, the President of the Mexican Confederation,
caused a reconnaissance of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to be made. It was a brief but decided re-
port which the President received from General Don Juan Orbegozo, the officer appointed for this
purpose; the survey was carried out with confessedly imperfect instruments, and contributed little
to the work. The report stated that 'the canalization of the Isthmus was problematical and gigantic;
and the roadstead of Tehuantepec was being more and more abandoned daily by the ocean.' A
commission appointed on the same date with that of Orbegozo, by the separate State of Vera Cruz,
reported through its chief, Don Orteo Ortiz, upon the bar of the Coatzacoalcos, and this in connec-
tion with a plan for a railroad across the Isthmus.
"In the years 1828-'29, under a commission from General Bolivar, President of the Republic of
New Granada, Mr. John A. Lloyd, with the assistance of Mr. Falmarc, a Swede in the Columbian
service, made a reconnaissance of the narrowest part of the Isthmus of Panama, with a view chiefly
of ascertaining a route for land communication, and incidentally to determine the difference o
level between the two oceans. A partial survey of this part of the Isthmus had been ordered by
the Spanish court as early as 1528, the intention being to commence a small artificial canal at
Cruces, but until the survey of Lloyd neither the relative height of the two oceans, nor the eleva-
tion of the highlands between, nor the geographical points of the Isthmus had been determined
with any degree of mathematical accuracy. Lloyd's papers were communicated to the Royal
Society of London, through Colonel Sabine. They will be found in part in the Philosophical
Transactions for the year 1830, from which they are quoted, and in the Report of the House Com-
mittee (H. R. 145), 1849. He recommended, as a substitute for the old Porto Bello road, a new
line from the Bay of Limon, essentially that of the existing railroad; and in reference to the rela-
tive level of the two oceans reported, contrary to the belief entertained up to that time by almost


all minds, except such as that of Humboldt, that the mean height of the Pacific at Panama is but
3.52 feet higher than that of the Atlantic at the port of Chagres.
"The next efforts for an interoceanic work were based upon propositions made by an association
in the Netherlands, under the special patronage of the King. September 21, 1830, a plan which
had been agreed upon with General Verveer, the plenipotentiary of the King, was ratified by the
Congress of Central America. The chief features of this contract were as follows: The canal to be
opened on the same terms to all nations at peace with Central America, but armed ships were not
to pass without express consent, and this never to be given to a flag at war with another nation.
The Government was to use its utmost efforts to have the neutrality of the canal and that of the
ocean to a certain extent around its termini recognized by all the maritime powers. No charge
was to be made for the land used by the canal or for the raw material necessary for its construction.
The work was to be of sufficient dimensions to admit the largest ships. The execution of the canal
was to be entirely with and at the expense of the contracting parties. The interest on the capital
expended was permitted to be 10 per cent., with a mortgage on the lands on both sides as security.
for capital and interest. The rate of tolls was to be regulated by the Government and the con-
tractors jointly, but always in such a manner as to give the canal a decided advantage over Cape
Horn. In respect to navigation and commerce generally, the Netherlands to be put on an equality
with the United States.
This concession, modified and largely extended, was ratified by the Congress of Guatemala.
December 18, 1830. A copy of the full 'decree' was communicated to Mr. Van Buren by Mr. Henry
Savage, United States consul at Guatemala, who stated that he had represented to the parties
the impolicy of certain conditions which conveyed to the Dutch Company the rights of the coast-
ing trade. The 'decree' will be found in full in Report No. 145, second session, Thirtieth Con-
gress, together with an extract from a letter from Mr. Livingston, Secretary of State, dated July
20, 1831. The chief of Mr. Livingston's instructions in this letter to Mr. Jeffers regarded three
points, viz:
1. That he should represent to the Government that the United States must be entitled to all
advantages accorded to other nations.
"2. That if the grant to the Dutch Company should not be completed, he should endeavor to
secure for the citizens of the United States, or for the Government itself, if Congress should deem
the measure proper and constitutional, the right of subscribing for the stock.
"3. That he should procure and transmit any surveys, estimates, plans, or other information
relative to the work which would enable the United States to judge of the feasibility of the canal.
"This whole movement, however, failed. The revolution in Belgium came on, and the subsequent
separation between that state and Holland put an end to the propositions which have been named.
Consul Savage, in a letter to Mr. Van Buren, referring to this revolution, said: 'All conbur here,
and every one seems tacitly to look forward to the United States for the completion of this grand
project. They say that the United States, identified in her institutions with this Government, is
the only power that ought to have the preference.'
"Two years later endeavors were made to renew the negotiations with Holland, and Nicaragua
passed resolutions agreeing to the propositions of the Dutch envoy, but nothing was accom-
"It appears from the voluminous document transmitted March 13, 1838, by President Jackson,
through Mr. Forsyth, to Hon. C. F. Mercer, chairman of the Committee on Roads and Canals, of
the House of Representatives, that during the previous four years new interest had been awak-
ened in the matter of the canal. Mr. Mercer's report, made March 3, 1839, was in answer to a
memorial from Aaron Clark, Mayor of New York, W. A. Duer, H. Radcliff, and others of that
city, and from Matthew Carey, and other citizens of Philadelphia, praying the aid of Congress in
the construction of the canal.
"Mr. Mercer, in the beginning of his report, said: 'It is obvious that if the contemplated com-
munication from sea to sea be practicable, the nation which has the right to appropriate its
exclusive use to itself might lawfully control the richest commerce of the world, or prescribe to all
other nations the terms upon which they be admitted to share its enjoyment. The policy is not less
apparent which should prompt the United States to co-operate in this enterprise liberally and


efficiently. * If other considerations did not prompt this decision, it should suffice for its
confirmation to contrast the continuous voyage of the same vessel across the two oceans, divided
by the Isthmus, with the transshipment of a heavy cargo between vessels of equal burden, and the
intervening expense of land transportation, double port duties, and commissions, added to the dam-
age of shifting and exposing very valuable commodities to waste and depredation. The United
States, whose territory extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, cannot but regard with solicitude
any enterprise which if practicable, will so greatly approximate their eastern and western
"The committee closed their report by recommending to the House of Representatives the
adoption of a resolution similar to one which had passed the Senate March 3, 1835, and which read
as follows:
'Resolved, That the President of the United States be respectfully requested to consider the
expediency of opening negotiations with the Governments of other nations, and particularly with the
Governments of Central America and New Granada, for the purpose of effectually protecting, by
suitable treaty stipulations with them, such individuals or companies as may undertake to open a
communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by the construction of a ship-canal across
the Isthmus which connects North and South America; and of further securing forever, by such
stipulations, the free and equal right of navigation of such canal to all nations, on the payment of
such reasonable tolls as may be established to compensate the capitalists who may engage in such
undertaking and complete the work.'
"In compliance with that resolution, President Jackson appointed, May 1, 1835, Mr. Charles
Biddle, of Philadelphia, a special agent to proceed to the Isthmus, for the purpose of making all
necessary inquiries in reference to the work. Mr. Forsyth's letter of instructions directed him to pro-
ceed by the most direct route to the port of San Juan, Nicaragua, and, ascending that river, cross
thence to the Pacific, making all inquiries as to plans, surveys, and estimates, and procuring at Gua-
temala copies of all public documents regarding the subject. From Guatemala he was to proceed
to Panama, make as thorough an examination as possible of the route there, and at Bogota, obtain
copies of public documents in reference to a projected railroad, and especially any information in
regard to a concession said to have been made by the Government of New Granada to a certain Baron
Thierry. Furnished with a circular letter to all the United States consuls in the countries referred
to, and also in Mexico, Mr. Biddle set out on his journey, but, as it appears from the difficulties
of obtaining at that time direct conveyance to San Juan, Mr. Biddle went first to Panama, never
reached Nicaragua, and died soon after his return to the United States, 1836, without making any
full report.
In regard to the concession to Baron Thierry, he had reported from Bogota that the Congress
of New Granada had made a grant to that person of an exclusive privilege of constructing a canal
to connect the waters of the Chagres and Rio Grande. The Baron, however, never viewed the
ground through which it was contemplated it should pass. He had no pecuniary resources or
friends engaged in the project, and the real purpose of his application for the concession appeared,
undoubtedly, to have been to obtain by that means an acknowledgment by the State of New Gran-
ada of his title of sovereignty over the island of New Zealand. The sketch of his application
had contained this title, and he had vigorously opposed its being omitted from the grant. It was,
at the time of Mr. Biddle's writing, considered a dead letter, and was afterwards annulled.
The two points of singular note in this matter are: the act of the Government of New Granada
in granting a concession to such a mere adventurer, and the obtaining by Colonel Biddle, while at
Bogota, a grant for himself and friends for the construction of a railroad across Panama. Thierry
had been one of the ushers of Cambridge University, England, and when some of the natives from
New Zealand had been its visitors they had elected him sovereign, confirming their act by tattooing
his title on his body. After disdaining the grant from New Granada, passing over toward his
supposed territory, he was refused a landing at Tahiti, at the instance of Commander Fitzroy, H.
M. S. Beagle. The chiefs of New Zealand had also assembled in council and pronounced him a
foreign enemy. Colonel Biddle's act was entirely disapproved by the United States, through Mr.
Forsyth, who caused a protest to that effect to be made at Bogota, when his mission was again
represented to have been for the purpose of collecting information only.


"While Mr. Biddle was absent from the United States on his mission, General Morazin, Presi-
dent of Central America, in 1836 employed a Mr. John Bailey, R. M., who had long resided in the
country, to make a survey for a canal. Bailey made a survey of the narrow isthmus intervening
between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific, and also some observations on the river San Juan. These
observations and his proposed route from the lake to San Juan del Sur were thus criticised by the
late Admiral Fitzroy, R. N., before the Royal Geographical Society of London, 1850: 'This
favorite idea of cutting a canal from the lake to the nearest point on the ocean is checked by the
fact that a range of hills intervenes, through which it would be necessary to tunnel, and there is
no sheltered harbor where numerous shipping may anchor. San Juan is only 1,100 yards across,
open to the ocean swell; the elevation of the proposed tunnel will be at least 120 feet above the
lake, and the lowest level over it would be some 600 feet above the sea.' Mr. Bailey made no report
upon the river San Juan.
"Within the same period, by a convention between the States of Nicaragua and Honduras, M.
Rouchaud was authorized to conclude an agreement for the formation of a canal company in France,
but no results attended his efforts or those of the Bishop of San Salvador, sent on a like errand
by Guatemala to Rome. The same is true in regard to the contract entered into with Nicaragua,
which had become an independent State, between Mr. Holdship and Mr. Soul6, agents for a com-
pany formed in New York and New Orleans.
"In 1838 the Government of New Granada, which had continued to lay before the world its offers
to grant concessions for a canal, issued a grant to a French house of trade, under the firm of Sol-
omon & Co., with the privilege to construct either macadamized roads, railroads, or canals across
the Isthmus. Messrs. Solomon & Co. proposed to build a canal by a newly discovered route, on
which the summit level did not exceed forty feet; the canal to require no locks and form an open
cut of sufficient dimensions to admit the largest vessels. Nothing practical, however, was effected.
No exact levelings, no observations whatever were made, with the exception of some isolated
barometrical measurements on an entirely different line from that which had been published, those
who had visited the Isthmus having judged the height by simple visual observation.
"June 10, 1843, M. Guizot, prime minister under Louis Philippe, addressed the Chamber of
Deputies of France in a speech in which he referred to the consequences of opening a canal across
the American Isthmus as involving necessarily the most important results in respect to the com-
mercial relations between Europe and Asia; and he admonished the Chamber that France should,
iot remain an indifferent spectator at a time when Great Britain had already taken a position in
Central America on all the points where the passage might be cut off. He made the fair conclusion
that such a work as an interoceanic canal across America could be satisfactorily accomplished
only by the cordial co-operation of the great maritime powers.
"The French Government sent M. Garella to explore a route which had been most favorably
represented by the agents of Messrs. Solomon & Co., but he found the report of that company
wholly unfounded. He made a full examination of the route from Limon Bay to Panama and
ascertained the lowest elevation of the divide to be 120 meters in place of the 12 only represented
by the agents of Solomon & Co., and for a canal admitting ships of 1,200 tons, a tunnel of 5,350
meters. The full cost of the work would be nearly 200,000,000 francs.
"As far as regards any action on the part of the United States or its citizens for interoceanic
communication, it was directed during the next ten years to the opening of a route across Panama,
resulting in the negotiation of a treaty by which the neutrality of the Isthmus was guaranteed by
the United States, and New Granada conceded free transit. Under this treaty, the first steps
towards which would appear to lie in Mr. Biddle's mission, the existing Panama Railroad Company
was organized.
In 1844 Seiior Don Francisco Castellon, the minister from Nicaragua to France, entered into a
fruitless contract with a Belgian company, and in 1846 Marcoleta, charge d'affaires from Nicaragua
to Belgium, entered into a like unfulfilled contract wlth Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, then a prisoner
in the fortress of Ham.
"In 1848 it was evident that the war between the United States and Mexico would secure at its
close a large extension of territory to the former power. The certainty, therefore, of the develop-
ment of new and valued interests arising out of this event awakened both in the United States


and abroad new investigations. In Executive Document 69, First session, Thirtieth Congress, it
will be found that the State Department instructed Mr. N. P. Trist, its agent in Mexico, that, in
arranging the terms of a treaty of peace, 'in place of the $15,000,000 offered for an extension of
the United States boundary over New Mexico and Upper and Lower California, he might increase
the amount to any sum not exceeding $30,000,000, to secure the right of transit across the Isthmus
of Tehuantepec.' This offer was, however, absolutely rejected by the Mexican Government.
"In the year following, under contracts respectively with the Governments of Nicaragua and
New Granada, sanctioned by treaty stipulations, attention was directed anew toward these routes.
The first success was made by the Panama Railroad, in the year 1849. The route for that road
was laid out by engineers under Col. George Hughes, of the United States Topographical Corps,
who found a yet more favorable line than that discovered by Messrs. J. S. Stephens and J. L.
Baldwin, to whom is due the credit of securing this route. The road was at once in process of
construction. The late Admiral Fitzroy, in his paper before alluded to, said of this work that
its progress was such only as United States men- could have accomplished in defiance of all
In Nicaragua, by the agency of Mr. E. G. Squier, charge d'affaires of the United States, under
a treaty of commerce and friendship, a very liberal charter between the Government and the
American Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company, of New York, was ratified August 27, 1849.
Under this contract Col. O. W. Childs made an instrumental examination of a route from the port
of San Juan to Brito, closely examining the short line on the Pacific side. The judgment of engi-
neers in England was not, however, sufficiently encouraging to secure in England the capital
ne eded to begin the work. The company therefore lost its concession from Nicaragua, but shortly
after obtained the use of their conceded privileges for the purposes of local trade and the transit
of passengers, of whom a very large number passed over this rough route to the gold fields of Cali-
fornia and its industries.
"The occupancy of the Mosquito territory by Great Britain, and the consequent disturbed rela-
tions of the parties interested, until the conclusion of the well-known Clayton-Bulwer treaty, April
19, 1850, had threatened for a time the entire prevention of any work in this region.
"In 1853, under the Gadsden treaty, the right to construct a railroad across Tehuantepec was
granted by Mexico, but the uncertain political state, and the terms of the grant, deferred for some
years the practicability of securing even such an improvement of communication."



While the grandeur of the problem always secured for it special students, its development
necessarily depended upon its practical character, and a widespread attention to its solution could
not be attracted until this element was manifested. In the acquisition of California by the United
States, the discovery of its gold fields, and those of Australia, and in the development of the Pacific
coast of North America, are to be found the chief causes which led to an awakened interest in its
reality, and an increased appreciation of the importance of its solution. The labors of Paterson,
Humboldt, and a host of others, to impress upon the world the importance of the subject were
feeble and ineffectual when compared with the influence of the magic word "gold."
In the California gold lies the potent charm which brought the Panama Railroad into existence;
and the necessity which placed thie iron-horse upon the Isthmus awakened thought to the increased
practical value of a ship-way, and, as a consequence of the attention thus attracted, there resulted
a remarkably active attack upon the interoceanic canal part of the problem.
The era which followed is noted not only for the activity displayed, but also for its being, with
the exception of Moro's instrumental examination ofTehuantepec and Garrella's survey of Panama
in 1843, the beginning of the era of exact determinations. In Hughes' survey for the Panama Rail-
road, 1849, Childs' survey in Nicaragua, 1850-'51, and the Barnard-Williams survey in Tehuantepec,
1851, are to be found the first data approaching accuracy and fullness.
While the new interest thus excited extended to studies of different portions of the American
Isthmus, the field of greatest activity was in Darien and its vicinity. This was due to several
reasons. The other isthmuses each possessed a single route, subject to modification. Darien held
forth promises in at least six routes. The Tehuantepec, Nicaragua, and Panama routes were
known to present grave obstacles, while those in Darien, being unexplored, were more attractive
to the enthusiast, for the very reason that facts, particularly stubborn ones, were few regarding
their character, thus leaving an unrestricted path for the most hopeful expectations. Other impor-
tant reasons are to be found in the attractions presented by its narrowness, its excellent harbors,
the very mystery which ruled its interior, and, finally, in the hope held forth by Humboldt that
Darien held the secret of the hidden way.
The eagerness with which a word bearing upon this country was seized, if uttered by any one
having the least claim to the public ear, is an evidence of the general ignorance respecting it; and
with no other motive than to give a measure of this ignorance Humboldt's misconception will be
noted. The primitive idea of the existence of a strait between the two oceans was naturally fol-
lowed by that of a break or pass in the Cordillera, which could easily be reduced to an artificial
strait. Of such passes there was no lack in the legendary lore of the country, and the very
ignorance respecting its interior aided the notion of their existence, and permitted free play to the
imagination respecting them. One of them was placed at the headwaters of the Napipi River,
and the following extract from Humboldt's Personal Narrative of Travels shows how fully con-
vinced he was of its existence; and the fact, developed by governmental surveys, that the Cordil-.
lera is unbroken, that its altitude varies from six hundred to two thousand feet in this vicinity,
shows how far wrong he was :
The erroneous idea which geographers, or rather drawers of maps, have so long propagated,
of the equal heights of the Cordilleras of America, their prolongation in the form of walls and con-
tinued ridges, and, finally, of the absence of any transversal valley crossing the pretended central
chain, has caused it to be generally believed that the junction of the seas is an undertaking of
greater difficulty than there has been hitherto reason to suppose.
It appears that there are no chains of mountains, not even a ridge of partition, or any sensi.

The Isthmus of Darien and the adjoining province of Choco, in the valley of the Atrato,
showing the different localities that have been made the subject of study or exploration.

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ble line of demarkation between the Bay of Cupica, on the coast of the South Sea, and the Rio
Naipa, which empties itself into the Atrato, fifteen leagues above its mouth. A Biscayan pilot,
M. Gogueneche, called the attention of government to this point in the year 1799.
"Persons worthy of credit, who have made the passage with him from the Pacific sea to the
embarcadere of Naipi, assured me that they saw no hill in that isthmus of alluvial earth which
they were ten hours in crossing. A merchant of Carthagena, South America, deeply interested
in all that regards the statistics of New Granada, Don Ignacio Pombo, wrote to me in the month
of February, 1803: Since you ascended the Rio Magdalena to Santa F6 and Quito I have never
ceased to take information respecting the Isthmus of Cupica. There are only from five to six
leagues from that port to the embarcadere of Rio Naipi, and the whole territory is a plain (tMreno
enteramgnte llanos).' From the facts I have mentioned, it cannot be doubted that this part of
the northern Choco is of the highest importance for solving the problem under our consideration;
but in order to form a precise idea of this absence of mountains at the southern extremity of the
Isthmus of Panama, we must bear in mind the general outline of the Cordilleras.
The chain of the Andes is divided at the second and fifth degrees of latitude into three
chains, and the two longitudinal valleys that separate those chains from the basins of the Magda-
lena and the Rio Cauca.
"The eastern branch of the Cordilleras inclines towards the northeast, and joins itself by the
mountains of Pamplunis and Guita to the Sierra Nevada de Merida and the chain of the coast of
Venezuela, and the intermediate and western branches of Quindis and Choco run into one another,
in the province of Antioquia, between the 50 and 70 of latitude, and form a group of mountains
of considerable breadth, stretching by the Valle de Osos, and the Alto del Viento, towards
Cazeres, and the elevated savannahs of Tolu.
Farther west, in the Choco del Norte, the mountains lower to such a degree that, between
the Gulf of Cupica and Rio Naipi, they disappear altogether."
In support of this theory of a break of the Cordilleras in the vicinity of Cupica Bay, it is
stated by Watts that au enterprising Spanish merchant opened a road for the transportation of
merchandise from the head of canal navigation in the Napipi to the Pacific; and again, that in
1820 a boat of the Chilian war vessel Andes was hauled from the Pacific to a navigable point on
the Napipi in ten hours. There is no doubt of there having been a mule road or trail, as evi-
dences of such remain to this day, and the fact of the transportation of the Andes' launch is
attested by Cochrane in his Travels in Columbia; but the element of time is altogether out, as it
would require nearly all of the interval stated to perform the journey unimpeded. The inference
was that the transportation of the boat was an easy matter, whereas it must have been a labor
requiring much time and toil.
Other localities of the Isthmus disputed with the Napipi for an almost uninterrupted water
communication across, having but an insignificant carry from canoe navigation on one slope to that
on the other, and that the canoes were hauled over this short distance with ease. Undue impor-
tance was attached to this performance, as the fact bore no evidence to the altitude of the atravesia,
or carry, above the level of the sea, it being possible to transport light canoes over high ridges.
These legends received additional value from Humboldt's reference to some of them in point-
ing to the Isthmus of Darien and the valley of the Atrato as the proper field for future explora-
tion. In the absence of a personal experience of the country he was forced to rely upon the
statements of others, and gave such as influenced him to look in that direction for what they were
worth; and while not pretending to write authoritatively of this region, his general reputation
was considered and undue weight given to his utterances, which have been quoted again and
again, as though possessing the full value of a personal observation made by the illustrious
For the reasons given, and allured by the will of the wisp," the break in the Cordillera,
Darien became the scene of a marked activity which was participated in by citizens of England,
France, and the United States; but to those of the latter country is due the honor of a more
active exploration and of the accomplishment of better results. Individual efforts, however,
availed but little; in fact a prominent feature of these early expeditions is embodied in the word
" failure." From the time Columbus abandoned its shores, after a vain search for the strait, until
H. Ex. 107- 4


within the past decade, of the many attempts which have been made to explore Darien and its
vicinity, but few were attended with any success; the majority of them, conducted by enthusiastic
searchers after a route which would be theirs, were not only unsuccessful, but, what is worse, fur-
nished results which were in fact the flimsiest of illusions, and only added a multitude of contra-
dictions to the existing uncertainties.
It is natural, in a region which places her secrets beyond the reach of all methods save those
of exact science, that the explorer, with a concession in his pocket, or with a desire to render his
name famous, should be so far carried away as to overcolor apparent advantages, and not only
underestimate but be entirely blind to disadvantages which are really much more apparent. Such
fanciful results, presented to the world through the press and learned societies, acquire a certain
dignity which has its influence in extending the errors.
Efforts of this character resulted in widely conflicting statements, and the greater the number
of such explorations the greater became the number of uncertain elements in the problem which
had to be eliminated by accurate surveys. Even after these had been executed and the results
given to the world there still remained champions of visionary schemes, adhering so tenaciously
to them that to have been honest in their convictions they must have been invincibly ignorant of
facts. It is for their negative value, and to the persistency on the part of pseudo-experts in advo-
cating such routes, even to a late day, acquiring for them an unmerited importance, that it is
necessary to record these futile attempts at exploration.
Among these individual efforts, however, those instituted by Mr. F. M. Kelley, of New York,
stand forth prominently as being of great value; and it was through his exertions that the United
States Government interested itself in making an official survey of the Truando route, previously
explored by his direction. This was in 1857, and the interest thus developed would no doubt
have been continued were it not for the unsettled state of the country, soon followed by the War
of the Rebellion.


The leading students of the problem, seeking its full and not partial solution, sought this end
by recommending a system which it was expected would develop all the elements involved in the
height and character of the Cordilleras. Humboldt once gave an opinion upon this in substance
thus: "Do not waste your time and money in running experimental lines across. Send out a party
fully equipped, which, keeping along the dividing ridge from the Atrato Valley down the whole
length of the Isthmus as far as the Cordillera of Veragua, will give you a complete knowledge of
the hypsometrical and geological condition of the dam that obstructs the travel and commerce
of the world." V. A. Malte Brun, editor of the publication of the Soci,6t6 de Geographie, of
Paris, in 1866, freely expressed himself in the same way, after a thorough study of what had been
done. "It is to be desired," he writes, "to have an exploration from the Atlantic Ocean, having
for its object the whole Cordillera from the Gulf of San Blas to Cape Tiburon. True, that would
require energy and money."
To these requirements an eternity would have to be added, for although the plan is simple
and seems easy of execution, it is not so, and is in reality impracticable. To ascertain the eleva-
tion of the crest of the dividing ridge at all points would, of course, involve the necessity of follow-
ing it throughout its length, but owing to the physical characteristics of the country this is so
difficult as to be almost impossible. This was demonstrated during the Darien survey of 1870-'71,
when an attempt was made to find the elevation of the Cacarica Pass, a few miles to the northward
of the point where the main line of survey crosses the Cordillera, by running a line of levels along
the crest of the divide until the depression was reached. Nearly three weeks were consumed in
this attempt, and the actual progress made along the crest of the divide was less than a mile.
This slow advance in the desired direction was due to the density of the forest, in which the vision
was limited to a radius of a few feet, and to the repeated changes in direction of the dividing ridge.
Owing to these changes of direction the line of survey was constantly running off from the divide to
its spurs, and it often happened that the labor of several days of a supposed advance was wasted
on a spur before that tantalizing fact would be made manifest. Unable to judge how much of this

CC C* '



H, EX. 2-7_, 2, 47.


work was on the spur and how much on the divide, or, in other words, at what point the divide
had been lost, it was necessary to go back to a point known to be on the divide, and from there
undertake a system of laborious and wearisome reconnaissances to ascertain the locality of the
divide further on. Several days at a time were frequently spent in such a search, and then, after
following it a short distance, the former experience would be repeated.
The difficulty of keeping the "divide" can ber better understood by referring to the accom-
panying sketch. Considering the ridge and spurs raised so as to be detected by the touch, it will
be clear that with closed eyes, and no previous knowledge of the tracing, a person commencing
either at A or B to follow the ridge would be sure to run off by the spurs 1 or 3.
Fortunately it is not necessary to follow the crest of the divide to learn of its depressions, as
the watercourses on either side lead to them. The bed of a stream or river furnishes the line of
lowest levels in the basin drained. This axiomatic statement formed the basis of a plan for'sys-
tematic explorations developed by Lieutenant (now Rear Admiral) Ammen nearly twenty-five years
ago, and in the history of the problem there is no effort fraught with such great and practical
results. It was the early dawn of the light which now rests on the problem, and has linked its
author's name permanently in a most honored position to the grandest project of modern civiliza-
Reading with a melancholic interest the account of the Derien expedition under Lieutenant
Strain, U. S. N., in 1854, Admiral Ammen was attracted by a paragraph which seemed to point
to a strong probability of the existence of a low line of levels between waters adjacent to Caledonia
Bay and the waters of the Sucubti at the point reached by Strain after three days' travel down
that river. When encamped on an island whereit seems the river was no longer a mountain stream,
Strain supposed that he heard the evening gun of the Cyane, the vessel he had left four days pre-
viously. Assuming as a fact that the evening gun had been heard, it seemed to Ammen an indi-
cation of a low line of levels lying between the vessel and the encampment. In explanation he
stated that every observer who has stood on a mountain peak has doubtless been struck with
the many sounds which have reached his ear, coming up from the valleys beneath with surprising
force and distinctness; the song of birds, the lowing of cattle, and the voices of men, curiously
commingled, fill the air; the line of least resistance carries sound in a constantly increasing
upward angle, never, of course, to come down again to its former level."
The loss of life and the absence of instrumental results in the Strain expedition, and the sup-
position of Strain, when encamped for the first time and near the crest of the divide, that some
of his party who had separated had followed up the valley which he felt sure existed on his left,"
together with the supposed hearing of the evening gun before alluded to, led Ammen to consider
how to overcome the difficulties of exploration in that country. Presenting his views to Mr. Toucey,
Secretary of the Navy, in 1856, he requested to be furnished with authority and the necessary,
but inexpensive, means to examine the Isthmus of Darien. Failing to receive countenance and
support, he went to duty on the Pacific Station, and did not return from his cruise until 1860, when
he laid the following paper before the American Geographical Society on the 7th June of that year:

"It is believed that the learned Geographical Society of New York will readily concede that
the topography of Darien is still almost unknown, and that it presents a question whose solution
is much desired, namely, the possibility of constructing a ship-canal between the two oceans.
"The various expeditions to that region have furnished only partial maps of any accuracy;
and, in view of the very incomplete results, it may be asked whether it is not possible to explore
thoroughly a district of such limited extent.- Nevertheless, these expeditions have furnished very
useful information touching their causes of failure, and it would be wanting in justice not to
acknowledge particularly the hardships and perils of that under Lieutenant Strain, U. S. N., in
1853, and the endurance and courage shown by himself and others. To profit by the experience
of those that have preceded, in the organization of another expedition, may insure its success.
"Although there are facts which appear to favor the existence of a low line of levels between,
the two oceans, a great object would still be gained were the reverse fully established. Capital-
ists will entertain seriously this project of constructing a ship-canal between the points already
pronounced practicable only after it has become a certainty that the best line of levels has been


Colonel Totten, the able superintendent of the Panama Railroad, pronounces a line practi-
cable for a ship-canal near that of the railroad. The whole territory from the Isthmus of Panama
to that of Darien is as yet so imperfectly known that the character of much of the topography is
only conjectured, and therefore may present yet more favorable conditions for the construction of
a ship-canal than that above mentioned. It will be borne in mind that the region alluded to has
never been entirely under the dominion of the white man, and that at this time no stranger is per-
mitted to traverse or reside in the country.
The maps made by the Jesuits some two centuries ago show at least three points where the
waters flow into the Pacific from the south and west slopes of mountains which rise immediately
on the borders of the Caribbean Sea. The expedition of Strain verifies one point; and with the
summit level so near one terminus the possibility of finding gaps in the mountains, or of there
being favorable localities for tunneling, will be readily admitted.
The account published of Strain's expedition states that finding a mountain path which they
followed on leaving the bed of the Caledonia River, on the Caribbean slope, his party separated,
and that in the afternoon he halted and fired guns to indicate his locality, and at this point Strain
speculates on the probability of the missing men having followed up a valley which he felt sure
was on his left. The waters here flowed into the Pacific. The next day they followed a streamlet,
and soon reached 'a considerable river,' down which they followed. That night at their encamp-
ment they supposed they heard the 9-o'clock gun of the Cyane, the sloop of war they had left four
days before.
"A tradition has long existed that the Indians go from ocean to ocean with their canoes. If
such is the fact, the portage is no doubt short and the hills low. There is no positive knowledge
in relation to the Isthmus of Darien which precludes the existence of a low line of levels. On the
other hand, we have the facts before stated, showing that the summit level borders the Caribbean,
and that Strain was convinced that he heard the evening gun of the Cyane, which in itself, if true,
appears to make the existence of a low line of levels almost a certain y, for he was then at a point
where the river Sucubti was no longer a mountain stream. It is not believed possible that the
sound of a gun at such a distance will pass over an unbroken mountain chain and descend into
the valley below.
"Having been in the forests of Central America, I appreciate the difficulty of a proper recon-
naissance, such as would settle the practicability of a route for a ship-canal or the reverse. I beg,
therefore, that the learned Geographical Society will pardon my zeal, if not presumption, in offer-
ing a few suggestions in relation to the organization of a party and to the mode of operations
which may be adopted for the attainment of the proposed object. The journals of the expeditions
alluded to indicate their defective organization and reveal many causes of failure; but as the
object of this paper is to acknowledge and profit by the information received through them, we will
pass at once to the consideration, in a practical form, of further explorations.
Twenty young men accustomed to labor and to the use of the ax and the rifle, provisioned
with a light supply of pemmican and of parched corn, and supplied with proper arms, axes, fish-
hooks, &c., and provided with a portable boat, would be able to reach the Pacific with ease and
to live in these forests without the possibility of suffering from want of food. In our country the
organization of such a party .would be an easy matter. Once upon the ground, they could proceed
as follows:
"1. Aided by boats, to make a geographical determination or unification of the coast line, if
found correct, from the Bay of San Bias to the port of Santa Maria Vieja, a distance of some 120
miles; also making examinations and reconnaissance of harbors and inlets of which no charts
"2. A thorough examination of all the considerable ravines to the summit level of the Coast
range, chaining the distances, or using the sextant by measuring the height of the measuring staff,
or by the use of a micrometer telescope, taking also lines of levels and compass courses. Where
mangrove swamps exist it would be necessary to examine with particularity the hard ground
inside of them, as a great waste of debris from a valley would probably cause a swamp in that
almost tideless sea.
"3. On the Pacific slope, to ascend the various arms of rivers falling into the Bay of San Miguel,


as high as possible, taking lines of levels, courses by compass, distances by micrometer telescopes,
and from time to time making geographical determinations; also to make the same observations
on the river Chepo, between the headwaters of which and the streams falling into the Gulf of San
Blas there is great reason to believe may be found a most favorable point for the construction of
a ship-canal.
"4. To observe with particular care, on ascending these rivers, localities where a near approach
of massive hills might afford the possibility of the formation of artificial lakes; also the superficies
that may be overflown, as well as the height and extent of the embankment required. It is not at
all improbable that large districts could be flooded with little labor, and the distance shortened
very materially over which it would be necessary to make excavations.
These observations, when complete and plotted, would form a skeleton map which would
show the canals dug by nature, and their relative depths, and would point out also the bearings
and distances of the various localities with reference to each other. Thus it would be made easy
to connect the watersheds of the two oceans by the most practicable line of levels between any
desired points, and to consider the feasibility of a tunnel, if necessary, as will probably be the case
in the construction of a ship-canal.
The forests are so interminable, so matted together by vines and choked by undergrowth,
that once beneath their foliage it is literally groping in the dark. The exploration of even a few
miles is attended with much labor; a fact attested by all who have actually tried it. As a primary
step to a satisfactory determination of the topography of the Isthmus of Darien, a skeleton map,
as above proposed, appears to be an actual necessity.
"The boats now in use on the Chagres River would be well adapted to exploring the river
alluded to; and by the use of two of them, carrying up lines of levels would not be a slow opera-
tion. As they are usually propelled by use of poles, and draw but little water, they can ascend
almost any stream not a mountain torrent.
It would be essential to cultivate the best relations with the coast Indians, and have them
communicate the fact to their friends in the interior. By judicious conduct towards them, their
repugnance to visitors might be overcome, and perhaps even their co-operation secured; at all
events, after awhile they would feel assured of the good faith and kind disposition of the explor-
ers and finding our people never off their guard, the natives would feel the danger of initiating
The discussion of the subject by your learned society cannot fail to promote a disposition on
the part of our Government and that of other Governments interested in extending commerce to
set at rest all doubts through the organization of such expeditions as will be able to effect the
object, namely, the determination of the topography of the Isthmus of Darien, with reference to
the practicability of constructing a ship-canal between the two oceans."
This paper was read before the American Geographical Society during a period of great polit-
ical excitement, which, as time passed, grew sectional and more intense until the following-spring,
when our country found itself in the toils of civil war, which precluded any action upon the valu-
able suggestions presented.
When in Washington, in the winter and spring of 1866, Admiral Ammen had frequent oppor-
tunities for discussing the canal question with General Grant, whose life he saved when a boy,
and for whom he entertained a high regard and friendship. In these studies an old Spanish map
was used, and, at General Grant's request, Rear-Admiral C. H. Davis, Superintendent of the Naval
Observatory, had it enlarged, and the correct coast lines and other parts of the topography better
known were substituted. The interest which the General took in this important subject is shown
in the following letter:
Washington, D. G., July 7, 1866.
"DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 3d July, alluding to the interest which I have heretofore
expressed in favor of a canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is received. I firmly believe
the scheme practicable, and if it is, there is no doubt but that in this age of enterprise the work
will be done. I regard it as of vast political importance to this country that no European Govern-


ment should hold such a work. For this reason I have endeavored for the last year to get such a
thorough survey made by the Government of the United States, through the territory of the
Colombian Government, as would fully determine whether such a project is feasible, not doubting
but that on the presentation of such feasibility American capital and an American company,
under some treaty that could be easily arranged between the two Governments, would undertake
it. * *
"At the instance of Captain Ammen, U. S. N., and myself, the Secretary of State has put him-
self in communication with the Colombian Government, with the view of obtaining the authority
to make a survey through the territory for the purpose of determining the practicability of an
interoceanic canal.
"Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
"Lieutenant- General.
SRear-Admiral C. H. DAVIs, United States Navy."

The subsequent indifference shown by Mr. Seward, Secretary of State, caused General Grant
to refrain from having anything more to say to him in relation to further examinations of the
Recognizing the value of an official answer to the question whether the Isthmus had been
satisfactory explored and was sufficiently well known to make it possible to decide upon the best
location for a canal, General Grant and Admiral Ammen secured the passage of the following
resolution, introduced by Senator John Conness, of California:
"Resolved, That the Secretary of the Navy furnish, through a report of the Superintendent of
the Naval Observatory, the summit levels and distances by survey of the various proposed lines
for interoceanic canals and railroads between the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; as
also their relative merits as practicable lines for the construction of a ship-canal, and especially as
relates to Honduras, Tebuantepec, Nicaragua, Panama, and Atrato lines; and also, whether in
the opinion of the Superintendent the Isthmus of Darien has been satisfactorily explored, and if
so, furnish, in detail, charts, plans, lines of levels, and all information connected therewith, and
upon what authority they are based."
In compliance with the resolution, the report was made by Rear-Admiral C. H. Davis, in July,
1866. As the result of his investigation, he reported that the Isthmus of Darien had not been
satisfactorily explored, and further that there does not exist in the libraries of the world the
means of determining, even approximately, the most practicable route for a ship-canal across the
Isthmus. Our really authentic information amounts to this: That at that part of the American
Isthmus where the oceans approach each other nature has supplied harbors of unsurpassed excel-
lence on both sides, and navigable rivers that invite the traveler to penetrate into the wilderness;
while on one side she has established a tidal condition in the highest degree favorable to the
needs of a commerce which traverses the great seas."
These prominent features of Darien were too important to be disregarded, and as long as its
interior remained a terra incognita the question of location for an interoceanic canal could not
claim a wise determination. Recognizing the importance of filling this gap in our information,
Senator Conness obtained from Congress an appropriation for the necessary surveys, and in the
latter part of 1869 the first active steps were taken by the United States, through her Navy, to
efface this blot upon the knowledge of the world.
In the mean time General Grant had been elected President, and did not fail to take an active
interest in the solution of the problem. Admiral Ammen was recalled from the Asiatic Station
and appointed Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Navy. Department, and was charged by the
Secretary of the Navy with the duty of organizing the surveying expeditions and directing their
efforts. He was charged "to give special attention to the selection of the most efficient officers
for this work; to look closely to the proper supply of articles of subsistence, and for the best in-
struments found by experience to be suitable; to formulate orders for his examination and ap.
proval; to examine closely the results of surveys; and to supply whatever deficiencies might be
found to exist for the full investigation and determination of this question."


Under a resolution of Congress, President Grant appointed a Commission, on March 13, 1872,
to study the results furnished by the United States expedition and other reliable sources. This
Commission was ordered to consist of the Chief of Engineers, United States Army, the Superin-
tendent of the Coast Survey, and the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. The officers filling
these positions at the time were, General A. A. Humphreys, C. P. Patterson, and Commodore
Daniel Ammen. After the appointment of the Commission all orders and instructions for surveys
in progress were, in effect, in accordance with its wishes and requirements.




The distinguished geographer, Carl Ritter, was the first to invite attention to some marked
peculiarities presented to an eye which rests on a map of the two continents. These are: In each
continent a peninsular form, trending southward, either in a mass, as Africa or South America, or
in broken peninsulas, as Southern Asia and Europe; secondly, the existence of island groups on
the right hand of the southern limits of each land mass, as the West Indies and the Falkland
group for America, and Australasia, with the various peninsulas of Southern Asia; and, as a third
and more marked characteristic, the narrow neck of land which in each continent joins the land
masses and separates two seas-the Isthmus of Africa, Suez; the Isthmus of America, Tehuante-
pec, and the yet narrower neck joining the two Americas.
The two isthmuses, African and American, themselves strongly contrast with each other.
Physically, Suez is a hundred-mile arid depression, of which more than half is on a level with or
below the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. But the American Isthmus is for a long extent a ridge
of the Cordillera. To cross Suez is to pass elevations scarcely above 50 feet. To cross our Isthmus
is to encounter, if in Tehuantepec, the lowest elevation on a practicable line of transit, 754 feet; if
in Honduras, elevations from 2,000 to 3,000 feet; if in Panama, the lowest summit level, 287 feet
above the mean tide level of the Atlantic.
The American Isthmus exhibits a character more marked than any other on the globe. It
presents the distinctive points of a narrow breadth from sea to sea, out of all proportion to its
length, with a wide diversity in such narrow limits of physical structure and climate, and conse-
quently of natural products. A glance at the map will impress the first of these points. Measure-
ments on the Isthmus confirm it. From the mouth of the Coatzacoalcos, where the Isthmus joins
the expanse of North America, to the Gulf of Darien, where it joins South America, the line is
about 1,230 miles. Compare with this the line across Tehuantepec, 143 miles, or from Puerto-
Caballos, in Honduras, to Bay of Fonseca, 161 miles; from Aspinwall to Panama, 47J miles; the
mean of these will give for the breadth of the Isthmus but about one-ninth of its length.
Other isthmuses show no such disproportion. They are but from one-fiftieth to one-hundredth
of the length of our American neck. They are found between two gulfs or between a sea and a bay.
Ours separates the two great oceans. It has been called an immense causeway, separating the
seas while uniting the continents. It is to be noted that the Isthmus of Suez is but the center of
the old continent; the American Isthmus is the center of the oceans. The opening of navigation
through Suez gives a short route inland for Western Europe to the east of the old continent; but
open a neutralized strait across Central America, and we open one-half of the globe to the other.
The general trend of the coast line is from west-northwest to east-southeast, presenting on
the Atlantic side two marked projections-one, the peninsula of Yucatan, which, with Florida and
Cuba, incloses the Mexican Gulf; the other, curving in an extended semicircle, is the country of
the States of the Central Confederation.
Central America," says Squier, in respect of geographical position almost realizes the ancient
idea of the center of the world." She joins the two continents and opens her ports on both oceans.
Bathed on the one side by the Gulf, on the other by the Pacific, and binding herself on the

From MSS. of Professor Nourse.


north by Tehuantepec to the Mexican plateau, and on the south by Darien to the highlands of
New Granada, she seems destined to concentrate the world's interests. For, besides her favored
geographical position within a few hundred square leagues, she has every climate and natural
product. She is not, then, like Suez, nature's waste, incapable of colonization, but inviting it, and
offering supplies for sustenance and the construction of public works.*
Within the ten degrees of latitude, 80 to 180 north latitude, from Panama to Tehuantepec, with
the exception of a few. irregularities, a nearly right line is maintained on the coast from east 350
on the south to west 350 north, between 809 and 950 of west longitude, especially on the Pacific
side. This coast may, indeed, be considered as made up of two nearly right lines, intersecting at
the Gulf of Fonseca, the first line running northeast and forming the coasts of Costa Rica and
Nicaragua, the second inclining somewhat from the first and running west 200 north along Sal-
vador and Guatemala. Indentations are found on the first of these lines; on the second the coast
line has an almost monotonous regularity.
The Atlantic coast is more broken. It shows three successive indentations, including between
them corresponding projections, which result from the general relief of the country; for close atten-
tion here shows that the birth, if we may so say, of these was coeval with those mountain peaks
that shoot up from the sharp ridge which marks out the backbone of Central America.
This region differs from Mexico in its elevations. It is not an immense plateau, elevated from
6,000 to 7,000 feet above the sea-level.
The great mountain chain of the Isthmus intersects this section in a direction more or less par-
allel with its northwest coast, closer to the Pacific than to the Atlantic, to which, however, also its
lateral ranges approach. Some of the prominent peaks rise nearly to 14,000 feet, and there are a
number of volcanic cones, mostly inactive. Not one,of these is in the interior nor con'iguous to the
The orology of Nicaragua differs from that of all the rest of the Isthmus in its having two nearly
parallel mountain ranges running at a considerable angle from the coast line, and discharging their
streams into the great reservoir, Lake Nicaragua.
Branches from the main ridge diverge in so many directions that an incessant alternation of
mountain and valley is found. The temperature is thus greatly modified, causing such variety of
climate that, in the language of the inhabitants, the distinction of "cold," "hot," or "temperate"
is applied to districts bordering close upon each other. It is not uncommon to pass through each
of these modifications in a distance of ten leagues.
The Prussian geographer Berghaus, in a memoir published in 1838, divides the mountains of
Central America into three systems-the groups of Costa Rica, of Nicaragua and Honduras, and
of Guatemala. The first of these is separated from the second by the great transversal valley from
sea to sea, within which is Lake Nicaragua; the second is separated from the third by the Leanura
de Comaygua, in a direction northeast to southeast, a fact conjectured by Humboldt in 1825, and
verified by Don Galindo ten years later. The third group is that of Guatemala, filling the whole
western part of Central America and the eastern States of Mexico.
The volcanic character of some of these systems is very marked. In a paper read before the
American Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1850, by our former charge in these
countries, Mr. E. G. Squier, he says:
"No equal extent of America, perhaps of the globe, possesses so many active volcanoes or
exhibits so many traces of volcanic action as the region between Panama and Tehuantepec. They
are all on the Pacific coast. The eastern slope, consisting of broken mountain ranges, exhibits
few traces of volcanic action. Only ten or twelve give signs of life, although the plain itself is
traversed by a succession of cones, from the gigantic Momotombi to the memorable Coseguiria.
In natural connection, earthquakes have not been'infrequent. They occur more violently at the
change of the tropical seasons, the 'wet' and the 'dry.' "
Mr. Squier gave his opinion at the close of his paper that the general effect of volcanoes had
SFor details in proof, see Squier's Central America; Trautwine's, Childs', and Michler's Reports, and Shufeldt's,
Selfridge's, and Lull's Reports of recent Government surveys. See also a pamphlet published in 1874 by Hon Mr.
Benard, minister resident for Nicaragua.
H. Ex. 107- 5


been much overrated; that their permanent influence was comparatively local; and that on their
line throughout Nicaragua volcanic force had probably exhausted itself. From the general features
of the country, it is evident that no material change has taken place in the lakes or their plain for
centuries. "The objection raised against a ship-canal from this source was entitled to no serious
As regards the rivers of this region, it may not be amiss to be reminded-
1st. That the narrowness of the Isthmus forbids, in most sections, the existence of a transverse
stream of much length.
2d. That all tropical streams present the greatest differences in volume according to the season.
Those which in the month, say, of February may be crossed without water to the knees of a horse
are massive floods in September. From the earliest days of the adventurous buccaneers, the
explorer has fled for his life by a change in the river's volume as rapid as unexpected.
The word "river," therefore, has in many cases no fixed idea here, as it has in extra-tropical
zones. Mere ravines, quebradas in the dry season, are apparent "rivers" in the wet. For a line
of 1,400 miles the number of permanent streams is small.


The figures for area and population in regard to the countries making up this Isthmus must
be given only as estimates. From their unsettled political state and other causes, no reliable surveys
have been reported of such character as those in the other countries of North America. And as
regards the taking of a census in any one of these districts, it has been so far found to be wholly
impracticable, a large part of the population being Indians, and a large portion of the mixed
races and whites being known to flee always from their homes at the merest idea of a census-
taking, through fear of its being the basis of taxation or of a military conscription. The following
estimates are made to date of 1874 :

Area. Population.

Square miles.
Isthmus of Tehuantepec ........ 16, 000 50, 000

Central America:
Honduras ................... 50, 000 400,000
British Belize... ............. 13,500 24, 000
Costa ica.................... 22,000 167,000
Guatemala.................... 40, 000 1,180,000
Nicaragua .................... 58,000 400,000
San Salvador.................. 10,000 600, 000

193, 500 2, 771, 000

Panama*...................... 29,750 175, 000

Total estimated ........... 239, 256 2, 990, 000

Including Chiriqui, Veraguas, &o.


I. The contour of the section from Tehuantepec to the Atrato presents an extent of 1,230 miles,
with a narrowness so extreme as to force, at first sight, the belief that an easy crossing must be
practicable for commerce. The breadth reduces itself to 40 and even 30 miles between the waters.
The seeming intention of nature has been so to connect the two Americas that the energy and
enterprise of man shall remove the barriers between the mighty waters.
II. The geographical position of this section is such as to secure every variety in the products
of the warm zone, while its elevated though broken mountain ranges add the climates and products
of eych of the other zones. Its geographical position, further, has in it everything desirable for
securing a commanding commercial position and rule. It is as true to-day as when written by Pater-


son, nearly two centuries ago, that this door of the seas, and key of the universe, with anything
of a reasonable management, will enable its proprietors to give laws to both oceans and become
arbitrators of the commercial world."
III. The physical character of this section in regard to the arrangement of its mountain
ranges is as marked as it is in regard to their volcanic cones or in regard to its earthquakes, and
still more remarkable as regards the indentation of its coasts and the character of their harbors
on each side of lines where the intervening elevation is more or less favorable for interoceanic
In illustration of this peculiar orography in itself, and in its relation to the coast indentations
and harbors, let it be considered-
(1) That the Isthmus of Tehuantepec offers a comparative plain or table land of moderate
elevation, the highest on a feasible line being but 754 feet-Tarifa. But, to say nothing of the
openness of this very depression in the hills to the violent north winds, often for many days, there
is no satisfactory evidence of finding or of establishing approaches to or safety in secure harbors
inviting commerce.
(2) That in the section next to be considered southward, where the greatest depression and
most favorable water supply exist-Nicaragua-the coast lines present inferior harbors.
(3) The direction of the mountain ranges continues throughout nearly the whole of the Isthmus
to be in a line parallel with the coast line, changing, however, in the southern section from a near-
ness to the Pacific shore, as in Nicaragua and San Salvador, to a nearness to the Atlantic through-
out Darien. A glance at the physical map of the last-named section, bringing before the eye such
river courses as those of the Bayano, the Savana, Tuyra, and Chucunaqua, seems to force upon
every one, by their volume and by their extent westwardly across this narrow 30-mile intervene, that
a pass must be discoverable. But the Cordillera arrests the surveyor's hopes almost at the outset
of his journey from the lower courses of these streams.
The general impression, therefore, upon which one is forced back, in regard to the whole
Isthmus, is this, that a great depression in the Cordillera on this narrow neck has a corresponding
delta and shoal shore in place of harbor on the coast; and that where depth of anchorage within
shelter is found, it is a depth born, as one might say, out of the upheavings of the Cordillera
which intervenes to frown on man's mightiest efforts for free crossing between the seas.
Yet the geographical position of the Isthmus in its relation to inter-oceanic communication is
so marked that the world has unceasingly demanded the fullest explorations of the regions in
question, especially that of Darien, known for so long a time under the Spanish designation "El
Istmo," and practically hidden from anything like even exploration until the middle of the present



Darien, geographically considered, is a province of the State of Panama. Its Atlantic coast
line is included between Point San Bias and Cape Tiburon; that of the Pacific from'the mouth of the
Bayano to Point Ardita. The eastern boundary is determined by the main Cordillera in its sweep
across the Isthmus from a position of close proximity to the Pacific, near Point Ai dita, to a similar
position near Tiburon, on the Atlantic. The valleys of the Mandinga and Mamoni-Bayano deter-
mine its western limit.
In the province of Choco, State of Cauca, immediately adjoining Dalien, lies the valley of the
Atrato. Its proximity to Darien, and sharing with that province some part of several lines of
exploration, has caused it to be referred to as on the Isthmus of Darien, but, geographically con-
sidered, both physically and politically, it is not, as the Isthmus terminates at the Gulf of Darien,
and the valley of the Atrato exists as a part of the South American continent.
A glance at the map will convey a cle.irer idea of the configuration of the coast lines of Darien
than a description would, and will serve to show the highly attractive feature which this district
possesses in its excellent harbors; a feature which it almost monopolizes, as there is no other portion
of the American Isthmus so well provided forin this respect, and its wealth of terminal points makes
the poverty of favorable internal features still more aggravating.
Continuing a study of the maps to gain a knowledge of the, pIincipal topographical features,
it will be seen that the country is essentially one of rivers, and while they appear in great numbers,
there a e but few which have great length, the principal of these being the Atrato, Chucunaqua,
a nd Tuyra.
The presence of so many watercourses-and if all that exist were accurately represented on
a map of large scale, a complicated network would appear-will suggest extraordinary conditions
of climate and marked orological features. Fiom the narrowness of all valleys, and from the short
distance between headwaters, it can be inferred that the ridges which lie between them, if they
have height, must be very steep. That they have height can be inferred from the evidences of
excessive rains in the multitude of streams, and that this immense rainfall, acting for ages, certainly
caused deep erosion. Falling upon steep escarpments, heavy rains would find the most favorable
conditions for carrying on the leveling process, and these ridges would not appear if they had not
been protected in some manner. This protection is furnished by a dense forest, which not only
breaks the fall of the rain, but through the infinite interlacings of the roots of its trees and under-
growth the surface soil is held quite firmly in place, and is thus enabled to resist in a measure the
erosive action of falling water.
The energy displayed by these heavy rains in carrying on the work of denudation would, if
acting uninterruptedly, prevent the formation of the forest, which now tends to diminish their
power, and therefore it must have found in an abatement of such an active opposition the means
of development. The existence of these two antagonistic forces, although each in a measure favors
the other, will be found to depend upon the same cause-the movements of the Atlantic trade
In the equatorial region, where the northeast and southeast trades approach each other, there
is a conflict of winds, resulting in a belt of calms. The air of this belt having its temperature
raised, and being pressed on each side by the whole force of the opposing trade winds, is forced to
ascend. The trades pour their moisture-laden air into this current, which, as it ascends, expands


and becomes cooler; condensation then takes place and precipitation follows. This action being
constant, we find this region to be one of incessant rains.
The trade winds, depending upon the sun, are influenced by its movements in declination, so
that the whole trade-wind system travels a certain distance north and back again south every year.
The zone of calms, which in itself varies from 50 to 70 in width, thus travels through 170 of lati-
tude, coming as far north in summer as 120 or higher, and in the winter receding to 50 south of the
equator. All places within this are come under its influence at certain periods of the year, and, as
a result, we have the well-marked rainy seasons of these latitudes. It can be readily seen that
localities near its northern and southern limit feel its effects for a single period each year, while
those occupying a more central position on the arc come under its influence as it passes them going
north and again when returning south, thus causing two rainy and two dry seasons each year.
Darien comes within this bi-rainy zone, and has for its driest months January, February,
March, part of July, August, and part of September, the rainy seasons occurring in April, May,
June, part of September, October, and November, there being, generally speaking, five dry
and seven wet months each year. The .dry seasons are not, however, entirely free from rain, but,
when compared to the excessive wetness of the other seasons, they well deserve the title. The dry
months are rendered very pleasant by the trade winds which prevail, and vegetation advances
with wonderful'strides under their favoring influence, but during the rainy season there is little or
no wind, and, as a consequence, the warm, humid atmosphere is stifling. This disagreeable condi-
tion is rendered still worse when, during intervals between showers, the sun appears, and with all
its tropical power converts the moisture of the air into a vapor, which may be seen sluggishly rising
from all exposed surfaces.
Keeping in mind these climatic conditions, imagine that the barrier between the two oceans,
when first upheaved, consisted of an immenlmound of clay, with a moderately broad, undulating
surface. The rains would fill up all the depressions, and the result would be an immense number
of lakes, ponds, and pools; these overflowing, the work of abrasion commences, and is carried on
with an energy depending upon the fall and supply of water. The most elevated and deepest
lakes possess these advantages in the greatest degree, and consequently the erosive power of their
waters, exerted with more energy and during a longer interval, results in the deepest abrasion,
which becomes the bed of the largest river in that basin. Meanwhile, the waters of a neighboring
lake, in seeking their way to the same ocean, have determined the bed of another river, which may
follow a course generally parallel to that of the first. Between them there will be a mound or
divide, which, acted upon in the same way, will have its slopes scored out in shedding its waters
into the rivers at its base. The tributaries thus determined have in turn their mound or divide,
which, obeying the same influences, has its slopes scored out in pouring its waters into the tribu-
taries, and so on almost indefinitely; the system of waterways thus produced resembling in plan
the arrangement of veins in a leaf, the principal vein representing the main river or deepest
depression; its branches the tributaries, and so on.
As long as the supposed clay mound remained unprotected, the constantly increasing power of
the waters from increased slopes, while scoring out a deeper bed, would wash away the bases of
adjoining slopes, and eventually, in the descent of their beds to the ocean level, the whole barrier
would disappear. But at the end of the first rainy season, relieved from the constant washing
down, vegetation would advance slowly at first, and on the return of the rains resist in a measure
their denuding effect, but it would not be until many dry seasons had intervened that the roots
would be sufficiently strong and matted together to retain the inclosed soil. Its early development
would be most rapid where it was least disturbed. A line of least disturbance would be determined
by following along the mound or divide the points of greatest altitude, and from this center line
of strength vegetation would work downward on the now rapidly increasing slopes and eventually
cover them. The mound thus acted upon, protected at the top and undermined at the bottom,
while retaining generally its altitude, loses greatly in bulk, and becomes a well-defined sharp ridge.
Instead of a clay mound, one of rock has been subjected to these forces, and in this case, while
the work of erosion was much slower, it was largely aided by the decomposition of the surface rock,
due to excessive heat and moisture. The ultimate result has been the formation of these sharp
ridges as a prevailing feature, and this is true not only of the main divide itself, but of all the


ridges which exist between rivers, their tributaries, the streams which flow into these, and down to
the little ridge which divides two small brooks. The crests of these ridges are generally only a
few feet wide, occasional broadening out considerably, but even the highest of them may be fol-
lowed for long distances on a crest so narrow as to be easily straddled.
Taking up again the leaf used to illustrate the plexus of watercourses, a correct idea of the
peculiar orology of Darien will be found by considering its parts included between the veins as
raised into such ridges as have been described. The mountain system thus presented will repre-
sent the main Cordillera, or divide, its huge branches, the ridges which shoot out from these, and
the spurs from the latter, which in turn branch off into minor spurs.
A knowledge of this thoroughly connected system would have saved the reputations of many
explorers, but, unfortunately for them, it was only acquired during recent explorations undertaken
by the United States. This discovery resulted in much good, not only in adding to the certainty
of results obtained by a comprehensive system of reconnaissances, but in saving the heavily taxed
strength of the explorer making them. A trail along the crests of these ridges would ascend and
descend by comparatively easy slopes, but if a bee-line were followed the greatest exertion would
be required in climbing and descending the steep slopes of a succession of these ridges, and in the
end the horizontal distance gained would not be much if any more than half of that actually
walked. The profile of such a path, represented by the serrated edge of a saw; will make this
manifest. This rugged feature exists throughout Darien to the exclusion of undulating surfaces,
and the only level lands encountered are those formed between the bases of projecting spurs by
deposits of gravel, clay, and alluviums. Overlying the rock formation is a stratum of firm, yellow-
ish-red clay, varying in thickness from a few feet on the crests of ridges to twenty feet at their
bases. This, when wet, necessitates additional exertion in traveling over the steep slopes, as its
surface becomes very slippery and its unyielding natre refuses a good foothold.
Having had a glimpse of the surface, as it would appear if exposed, it will now be regarded
with its mantle of an almost impenetrable forest, extending from the bottom of the deepest ravine
to the crest of the highest ridge, and so dense that within it the view is limited to a radius of a
few feet. Its grandeur offers a splendid field for writers possessing the poetic element, and many
descriptions in this vein have been rendered so elaborately as to convey the idea that it is a fairy
land instead of the reverse. The energy with which nature works, and the resulting forms and
combinations, framed in by such solitude, are sure to attract attention from even an exhausted
explorer, but it is seldom he can relapse into the reflective mood, as the many distracting annoy.
ances comprehended in weary legs, a perspiring and insect-tormented body, are prone to develop
the weak rather than the poetic side of his nature, and it is always when far away from the scene
of his travels that the pent-up emotions are released. For the present purpose a matter-of-fact
description will be better, and, if competently given, it would have the special advantage of per-
mitting free. play for individual reflections.
Standing within this forest, the elements which first attract attention, and which from their
oppressive nature seem to outweigh any charms it may possess, are its deep gloom, the motionless
air, its damp, musty, wood-decaying smells, the thick carpet of vegetable mold, moist and black,
suggesting slimy inhabitants, its tormenting insects, the profound silence, made manifest by the
least movement, and, above all, its intense solitude. From the feet upward and in every direction
is a dense mass of vegetation, a green canopy which completely shuts out a view of the heavens,
tempers the bright sunlight which falls upon it with its own greenness, and prevents the refreshing
wind which blows over i* from agitating the prison-like air within. Noticing the surrounding
forms, the graceful family of palms, in its endless varieties, is conspicuous, and furnishes, with the
myriads of parasites, which seek existence from living and even prostrate trees, the chief distinc-
tive elements of the scene. Trees of every conceivable diameter, from the giant of twelve feet or
more to the stripling of a few inches, tower upward, and the latter, in its eagerness to reach the
realms of sunlight, attains a height out of all proportion to its girth. Generally devoid of branches
except at the top, many of these trees resemble stately columns, and one, the bungo or cotton-
wood, giant of the forest, is strikingly attractive in this respect. Covered with an even, granite-
colored bark, its trunk widens into quite a bulge near the ground, and, returning quickly to its
original diameter, thence tapers gradually as it proceeds upwards for over one hundred feet. In


marked contrast to this simple form, there occurs a large tree which appears as though made up
of vines, so ribbed is its surface, and from its manner of growing develops architectural features
which would entitle it to be called the cathedral tree. Proceeding from the ground like so many
individual trees are a large number of trunks, which, by curving more or less abruptly, converge
to a point overhead, from which springs the main body of the tree. It is thus supported by a
number of arches, through some of which a wagon-load of hay could pass easily, and in form many
of them are quite perfect, while the architectural effect is heightened by the fanciful traceries
resulting from the appearance of the deeply ribbed surfaces. Looking in another direction, trees
of various sizes appear supported at their bases by board-like roots or buttresses which in the
largest trees may extend from twenty feet above the base to a greater distance from it on the
ground, thus forming around them large triangular stalls. 0
The very noticeable feature of a general absence of branches, except near the tree-tops, is
more than made up for in the immense number of vines, varying in size from that of a piece of
cord to the mammoth of many inches in diameter, which display themselves in every direction.
They travel everywhere and in every conceivable way; they run along the ground, climb straight
up the side of a tree, or twist around it, and sometimes with sufficient force to imbed themselves.
Reaching the branches, they work out and drop down in loops of a hundred feet or more; they
struggle with and entwine each other until a large cable is formed; they work unceasingly, and,
aided by numerous other parasites, destroy the victim to which they cling.
To move forward from this post of observation, a way must be cut through the jungle. Prog-
ress is slow and the ordinary exertion of walking causes profuse perspiration; attention is con-
tinually called to the safeguards against parasites and animals with which certain plants and trees
are provided, and is generally attracted by the pain which these nettles, spines, and thorns cause
when unconsciously run against; a dense mass of cactus, growing eight or ten feet high, in clumps
of grass-like blades, with strong, sharp thorns along their edges, is now encountered, and the diffi-
culty of cutting through it may be increased occasionally by disturbing a wasp's nest; passing this,
the path may come upon a mass of matted vines so high and so thick as to defy cutting. All this
while it has been necessary to climb over or crawl under, according to position and size, the many
prostrate trees, and in doing this it is observed that a puncture like that of a red-hot needle is the
common form of introduction to different varieties of insect life. The path now follows one of the
spurs, and the exertion of climbing up its steep slope tells heavily; the warm, humid, motionless
air seems of no use to the gasping mortal; bathed in perspiration, with a heart pulsating like a
trip-hammer, with weak knees and lead-like feet, the top is reached. Then, as in the ravine below,
all vision is limited to the few surrounding trees, and although the crest may be so narrow that a
single tree occupies its whole width, no vista can be obtained. Continuing on, the descent is be-
gun, and now the body is subjected to a jarring, racking process which seems to be all that is
needed to utterly demolish the almost used-up human machinery. Emerging from the forest seems
like coming from a dungeon of torture, and the by no means bright light of the closed-in river
seems dazzling.
Of the species of animal life which here abound, the higher forms, contrary to what would
generally be expected, are few as regards varieties, and comparatively so as regards numbers.
The gloomy surroundings of the forest, aided by preconceived ideas of the number and ferocity of
its wild animals, would naturally tend to some uneasiness, but if all the other forms of life inter-
fered with the explorer as little as these higher forms, existence then would be rendered much
more endurable. The jaguar, or tiger of the natives, while frequently seen, has rarely been known
to act on the offensive. Monkeys and peccaries rank first in point of numbers, and uptn them the
hunter depends largely for his meat supply. The tapir also adds to this store, but not to any ex-
tent, as it is rarely encountered. Of the feathered tribes, the family of parrots is the most numer-
ous. A few wild turkeys, partridges, and ducks are to be seen, but all game is quite secure in the
high tree-tops, and if brought down by a lucky shot, the difficulty of recovering it from the jungle
still remains. Reptile life, as would naturally be supposed, is very abundant, and many of the
snakes are venomous.
All the indifference to man's presence on the part of the higher forms of life is more than com-
pensated for by the unremitting attention of the insects. Abounding in marvelous numbers and


surprising variety, from the microscopic yavis, which penetrates the skin and produces troublesome
itching, to the giant tarantula, there seem to be a complete assortment of varieties, each of which
pursues some specialty in the art of torture, and has its own time and field for operations. The
result of this incessant attack, night and day, moving or resting, may fittingly be called agony.


With such an environment it seems strange that any branch of the human family could suc-
cessfully contend, yet such is the case, and even Darien has its sons who love their native land,
and can even boast of heroes who have successfully defended it.
Our historical knowledge of the Darien Indians is very limited, and of their language and cus-
toms comparatively little is known. Having a traditional distrust of the white man, particularly
of the Spaniard, they maintain a policy of non-intercourse, and, whenever it is within their power,
exclude all strangers from their territory. When this is impossible, owing to inferiority in numbers
or weapons, they desert their villages and retire to localities where they and their families are be-
yond the reach of the intruders. This practice of hiding away the women and children is invariably
followed, even if they have assurance that no conquest is contemplated. Their traditions, in
recounting the deceptions and cruelties practiced by the conquerors of the New World upon the
tribes which came under their power, teach them to place a low value upon the character of the
white race, and in this view they are certainly justified when the barbarities of the Conquistadores
are recalled. Referring to these excesses, Irving says: "Our admiration of the dauntless heroism
displayed by the early Spanish navigators, in their extraordinary career, is much qualified by a
consideration of the cruelties with which it was tarnished, too great to be either palliated or passed
over in silence by the historian. As long as Isabella lived, the Indians found an efficient friend
and protector; but her death,' says the venerable Las Casas, 'was the signal for their destruction.'
Immediately on that event, the system of relpartimientos, originally authorized, as we have seen, by
Columbus, who seems to have no doubt, from the first, of the Crown's absolute right of property
over the natives, was carried to its full extent in the colonies. Every Spaniard, however humble,
had his proportion of slaves; and men, many of them not only incapable of estimating the awful
responsibility of the situation, but without the least touch of humanity in their natures, were indi-
vidually intrusted with the unlimited disposal of the lives and destinies of their fellow-creatures.
They abused this trust in the grossest manner, tasking the unfortunate Indian far beyond his
strength, inflicting the most refined punishments upon the indolent, and hunting down those who
resisted or escaped, like so many beasts of chase, with ferocious bloodhounds. Every step of the
white man's progress in the New World may be said to have been on the corpse of a native. Faith
is staggered by the recital of the number of victims immolated in these fair regions within a very
few years after the discovery, and the heart sickens at the loathsome details of barbarities recorded
by one who, if his sympathies have led him sometimes to overcolor, can never be suspected of
willfully misstating facts of which he was an eye-witness." *
Possessing traditions filled with the details of these barbarities, it is no wonder that the Isth-
mus tribes should regard with a jealous eye the movements of all foreigners, and that they should
have assumed such a warlike character as to draw forth and merit the Spanish title of Bravos."
It is not likely that they were naturally warlike, but with such a serious fate before them if they
yielded to the adventurers in any degree, it is easy to understand their determined resistance, and
it is safe to presume that, with all their bravery, they too would have fallen under the conquering
arm had it Vot been for the protection afforded them by the rugged nature of their country.
The Darien, or, as they are frequently called, San Bias, Indians inhabit all of the Isthmus of
Darien as far eastward as the mouth of the Atrato, excepting the lower portion of the Bayano
and Tuyra Rivers. While designated under this general title, there does not seem to be any evi-
dence of a single tribal organization, but rather a number of tribes, with the same habits and

This reference is to Las Casas, who affirms that more than 12,000,000 lives were wantonly destroyed in the
New World within thirty-eight years after the discovery, and this in addition to those exterminated in the conquest
of the country.


customs, living independently of and peaceably with each other. They each have their head-mn,.
or chief, to whom all pay great deference. The majority of these tribes are located on the Pacific
slope, on the tributaries to the Bayano, Chucunaqua, and Tuyra, and receive their distinctive
name from the valley they inhabit. Thus we have the Chepos, Mortis, Navigandis, Chuounas or
Chucunaquas, Sucubtis, and Payas. These, with the Tanelas on the Atlantic slope, are the tribes
which have received the title of "Bravos," but it is particularly applicable to the tribes in the
Valley of the Chucunaqua.
The coast Indians, being more exposed to the advances of foreigners, have come well under
their influence, and for this reason they are distrusted by the mountain tribes, of whom they stand
greatly in fear. While willing to give any information in their power regarding the interior, and
to act as guides, they will refuse to enter the territory of their powerful neighbors with a stranger.
They are particularly fond of the English-speaking race and adopt English names. This discrimi-
nation, also made by the Bravos, but not to the same extent, is due to the respect engendered for
the Buccaneers in their successful raids upon the life and property of their common enemy, the
Any statement as to their number depends solely upon guesswork, but it is probable that
there are not less than seven thousand. They possess the general characteristics of the Indian
race, and, while otherwise well developed, they are undersized, rarely exceeding five and a half
feet in height. They are strong, however, and in their movements exhibit activity and grace
While able to endure great physical exertion, if necessary, they generally yield to a mental weari-
ness which unfits them for a continued effort.
Their arms, originally the bow and arrow, have been largely supplemented by the ordinary
shot-gun of a very poor quality. These and other articles, such as cotton cloth, beads, iron pots,
&c., they receive through traders who visit the coast, in exchange for ivory nuts and rubber.
Their wardrobe is generally limited to a cloit for the men, and a piece of cotton cloth, falling
from the hips to the knees, for the women. In displaying gold and silver ornaments from the nose
and ears they exhibit the usual fondness of the savage, and also add to the adornment necklaces
made up of beads and teeth of animals. They seldom tattoo, but frequently smear their bodies
with a black fluid. This blacking process is not carried on so as to cover the whole body, but
generally extends from a well-defined line at the height of the nipples down to below the knees.
The effect produced is that of a snugly fitting, seamless undergarment.
Of their forms of religious belief nothing is known more than that they recognize a Supreme
Being and believe in evil spirits, over whom their pawawas, or medicine-men, claim to have control.
Whatever their belief may be, they seem to have a good code of morals, as evinced by their mod-
esty and honesty. They are certainly treacherous to the foreigner, but in this they are justified by
the well-grounded fear they have of him.
The Indians of the Atrato Valley were evidently less fortunate than their Darien neighbors
in escaping the Spaniards, as would be inferred from the scattered remnants of the Cholos now
existing without any semblance to a tribal organization. The immense mineral wealth of the
Atrato Valley could not escape the adventurous Spaniard, and it is likely that -the Cholos, brought
to subjection, added largely in swelling the total of lives crushed out by their greedy taskmasters.
In their reluctance, at this day, to search for gold or to give any information respecting it, they
exhibit the fear that the barbarities inflicted upon their ancestors might be repeated upon them.
Regarding their origin, Lieutenant Collins, U. S. N., says: "It is somewhat uncertain which
of the great semi-civilized nations of America these people have descended from. They are thought
by some to possess many characteristics indicating a relationship with the Aztecs or Toltecs.
Their nearest neighbors must have been the powerful Chibchas or Muiscas, and if the boundaries
of the territory of that nation are correctly given by Acosta, it must have included the headwaters
of the Atrato; and if it be true that the name Chibcha' was given by the Spaniards on account
of the frequent repetition of the syllables chi' and cha,' the continued recurrence of the same
syllables in the language of the Cholos would appear to indicate, if not establish, a claim to rela-
tionship in that direction. But there is nothing in the appearance or condition of the Indians of
the present day to indicate a descent from powerful and cultivated ancestors, however remote.v
H. Ex. 107--


The possible relationship indicated receives additional support from Dr. Seeman,* who states
that the wide range of country over which the Cholos are diffused (from 20 north to 80 30' north)
explains an historical puzzle." * "When reading of the discovery of Peru, how the
Spaniards gradually pushed southwards along the shores of America, everywhere inquiring after
the empire of the Incas, and even obtaining information of the city of Cuzco, we are at a loss to
explain how the discoverers could understand the stories related to them, how the parties could
make themselves intelligible. Even the best historians have not explained this puzzle. But the
fact that the same language is spoken from San Miguel to the northern boundaries of Ecuador,
where the Ouichua commences, and that it was familiar to the Spaniards before starting on their
expedition, renders the proceeding intelligible."
Of this once numerous tribe there remain but few representatives, and these are found scat-
tered over a large extent of country, each family living by itself. They bear evidence of being a
completely subdued race, and in yielding to the negroes as superiors show how complete this sub-
mission is. In disposition they are timid, and not given to quarreling, except when under the influ-
ence of liquor, and even then do not go to excesses. They are kind, hospitable, and faithful. Their
honesty is quite phenomenal. The property of a stranger needs no safeguards, and might remain
exposed for an indefinite period and not a single article would suffer displacement.
Of their religious belief hardly anything is known. They are so averse to communicate on
the subject of religion," says Lieutenant Collins, "that I found it impossible to draw from them
directly anything relating to it. I learned, however, the following particulars from a very intelli-
gent young negro, who had been much among them and was acquainted with their language. If
his account of their daily anticipation of the arrival of a god to set up a kingdom on earth is cor-
rect, the fact is certainly a most curious one. According to his account, the Indians worship a god
whom they call Jay (pronounced ha-ee), and whom they represent by a rude figure of an animal. I
have seen them wearing these in their hair, but was unable to make out what animal they were
intended to represent. Their priests they call Jaybanas. They have no stated season for holding
religious services, but generally hold them on the serious illness of any one, or such special occa-
sions. These services are always held after nightfall and without lights. Thejaybana recites in a
monotonous chant certain legends, and the people listen in silence. Women are admitted to the
priesthood, and young boys and girls are kept in* training, learning the legends. They expect
daily a god inferior in power and dignity to the great Jay, who is coming to establish a kingdom
on earth."
A large portion of the Isthmian population is made up of negroes, descendants from African
slaves employed by Spain in her colonies as early as 1501. This slavery existed in New Granada
until the year of independence, 1821, from which date a gradual emancipation took place, and in
1850 the Government redeemed all slaves not yet free.
S The negroes of the Isthmus are to be found chiefly along the banks of the Atrato, near the
mouths of its tributaries, and along the banks of the rivers which enter the Gulf of San Miguel.
They are tall, well-formed, and very strong, the muscular development in many cases being mar-
velous. They can carry very heavy loads on their backs for long distances over rugged mountain
trails, and, when necessary, can accomplish a great deal in the way of endurance, but soon weary of
continued work, even of a light character. They make good woodsmen and fair hunters. In the hand-
ling of their canoes they are very expert, and from the use of the long pole, which is needed to guide
and propel the canoe through the shoals and rapids of a river, they acquire a movement of body
which is characterized by ease and grace. In dress they conform generally to the Indian fashion,
but frequently appear clad in one or more garments which are general in more civilized communi-
ties, and it is only then that they seem to be undressed. For subsistence fish and plantains form
the staples, to which they add rice when well enough off to buy it. To procure money for such lux-
uries as rice, salt, cotton cloth, guns, ammunition, and rum, journeys are made to the mountains,
where rubber is collected. When a sufficient supply has been secured, they return to the hamlet
and have its storekeeper, banker, &c., generally a white man, place its value to their credit. In

SVoyage of H. M. S. Herald, Dr. Seeman.


doing this the patron, as he is called, takes care to keep them on the debtor side of his ledger, and
thus retain his power over them. This system keeps them always in debt and makes them virtu-
ally his slaves, and while calling themselves his peones, or laborers, they regard highly their title
of Libres.
Their moral character is generally good, and they, in common with the Indians, enjoy a reputa-
tion for honesty. This has often been proven, and, as an instance, it can be stated'that a Govern-
ment officer in paying certain canoe-men during one of the United States expeditions was advised
by one of them that a mistake had been made in his account. The disbursing officer was quite pro-
voked and declared that it was impossible, but the peon persisted that one had been made, and
went into particulars, explaining the circumstances under which he asked for and received two
dollars during the early part of the expedition, and that the disbursing officer had evidently failed
to charge them against him. This same officer, with the funds of the expedition in his camp-
chest, mostly silver, traveled for several weeks through the country with no other companions than
his two canoe-men, and they not only knew that the chest contained money, but from its weight
had an exaggerated idea of the amount. When stopping for the night at a hut, the advent of the
stranger would attract quite a crowd of native visitors, and when in their presence one of the canoe-
men landed the heavy chest on the floor and called attention to its being filled with money, there
was an universal exclamation of surprise. Far from feeling any uneasiness, the officer enjoyed a
sense of perfect security, not only as regarded himself and money, but, down to the most insignifi-
cant of his personal effects; he knew that they were safer there than if surrounded by civilization
and the best system of burglar alarm and police telegraph.
The Spanish is, of course, the language of the country, and all its polite forms of expression
are constantly in use by all classes in their intercourse with superiors and with each other. A
request made is gracefully fulfilled with a Con much gusto, senior" ("With much pleasure, sir"),
and "Si, sefor" and "No, senor" take the place of a rude "Yes" or "No." It is true they are not
pressed for time, and are thus freed from the necessity of resorting to briefer forms suited to the
pace of busy throngs.
Of time they take no more notice than that days come and go; as to its other intervals their
ideas are very crude, and the same estimate may be placed upon their conception of distances.
Any information given by them regarding these elements of a journey is invariably wrong, and
better results would be obtained by taking the average of a number of wild estimates made by
one's self.
The proverbial slowness of the Spanish American attains its fullest development in this region,
and, in consequence, an explorer with limited time and much to perform is doomed to many vexa-
tions. This characteristic is humorously described and philosophically considered by Trautewine
in his Rough Notes of an Exploration in the Atrato and San Juan Valleys." He says: "I had
supposed, like a simpleton, that in order to start on my pilgrimage nothing more would be neces-
sary than to go down to the landing, engage a canoe and two or three paddlers, tell them to put
my traps and a few plantains on board, and be off at ten minutes' notice. Consequently, early one
morning, following the example of my thermometer, I rose with the sun, went to the landing, and, ac-
costing the owner of a canoe, bade him gird up his loins and bring his boat around to our landing
place in order to load up with more facility. He very courteously asked me for a light, and, after
having gravely set his cigar in operation, told me he could not comply. The voyage was a long
one, and required a good deal of deliberation and consultation among his kinsfolk; provisions
were very high just then; himself and his family were victims to all sorts of distressing maladies;
his canoe leaked and would require repairs; it was going to rain (a truism at all times in Quibd6);
and, besides, to-morrow or next day would be time enough.
"The inexperienced traveler on the Spanish Main is very apt to be continually annoyed by the
dilatory habits and procrastinations of all with whom he has business to transact. This should
not (as is usually the case) be imputed to them as a fault, but rather as a natural consequence
resulting from the heat of the climate and the absence of those incentives to activity engendered
by a more extended commerce or a general devotion to agricultural pursuits. The traveler from
colder regions should therefore make ample allowances for these considerations, and temper his
impatience down to the standard of inactivity which prevails in all tropical climates. Otherwise,


he will be kept in an incessant fidget and ill-humor; for no matter how pressing may be the occa-.
sion, how solemn the promises, how urgent his importunities, he is constantly met with the eternal
'Poco a poco,' 'Manana' ('By and bye,' 'To-morrow'). 'Take it coolly'; 'Don't hurry yourself';
SDon't do to-day what can be done to-morrow'; Time comes as fast as it goes,' constitute the grand
fundamental axioms of business operations from the most important down to the most trifling
incidents of every day's occurrence. Do you complain? You are consoled by the assurance that
it is the costumbre del pais (the custom of the country). And so it is; therefore, the sooner you
learn to conform to it, the sooner will you be relieved from a most prolific source of irritation."





2 Bde Carachi7te



In 1850 the project of a ship-canal across the Isthmus of Darien, between Caledonia Bay and
the Gulf of San Miguel, was placed before the world by Edward Cullen, M. D., F. R. G. S., of
Dublin, in communications to the press, in a paper to the Royal Geographical Society, read at the
Edinburgh meeting of the British Association in July, 1850, and in a report to Lord Palmerston,
January 15, 1851. Subsequently, in December, 1851, his views were laid before Messrs. Fox, Hen-
derson, and Brassey, of London, who were led to believe from his statements that the route desig-
nated was favorable to the location of an interoceanic ship-way, and with a view to its development
they engaged the services of Mr. Lionel Gisborne, C. E., and directed him to ascertain the prac-
ticability of interoceanic navigation for the largest ships at all times of tide." He left England
for this purpose in April, 1852, and returned the following July. His report, which was highly
favorable, will be referred to further on.
While Gisborne was on his wayto make an examination of the route, Dr. Cullen was in Bogota,
and, in the names of Fox, Henderson, Brassey, and himself, obtained a concession from the Colom-
bian Government, granting them the exclusive privilege of cutting a ship-canal across the Isthmus
of Darien, between Caledonia Bay and the Gulf of San Miguel. Subsequently, Cullen prepared
a work entitled "Isthmus of Darien Ship-Canal" in which much space was devoted to matters of
general interest relative to Darien and the ship-canal project, but upon the important subject of
the route itself very little was said. With the exception of a description of the terminal harbors,
the following quotations contain all that he offers regarding the characteristics of the proposed
route, and it will readily be inferred that, if the country were such as he described it, there could
have been but little difficulty in securing such data as would have supported his general asser-
that the river Savana was not delineated in the maps which Humboldt saw. Such, indeed, was the
case with the map which I had on myfirst journey into Darien, in 1849, so that I was totally ignorant
of its existence until I actually saw it, after entering Boca Chica, when, finding the great depth
of water at its mouth, and that it flowed almost directly from the north, I became convinced that
I had at last found the object of my search, viz, a feasible route to the Atlantic, and thereupon
immediately ascended it, and crossed from Cailasas to the sea-shore at Port Escosces and back, and
subsequently, in 1850, and also in 1851, crossed and recrossed, at several times and by several
tracks, the route from the Savana to Port Escosc6s and Caledonia Bay, notching the barks of the
trees as I went along with a machete or cutlass, always alone and unaided and always in the
season of the heaviest rains.
"From the sea-shore [Atlantic] a plain extends for nearly two miles to the base of a ridge of hills
which runs parallel to the coast, and whose highest summit is about 350 feet. This ridge is not quite
continuous and unbroken, but is divided by transverse valleys through which the Aglaseniqua,
Aglatomate, and other rivers have their course, and whose highest elevations do not exceed 150 feet.
The base of this ridge is only two miles in width; and from its south side a level plain extends for
thirteen miles to a point on the river Savana, called Cafiasas, which is about twenty miles above
its mouth."
With one or two repetitions of the substance of the above quotations, this is all he had to
say, in a work of 200 pages, upon the vital and really only unknown part of the question. It is


somewhat surprising that this disparity did not receive the attention it deserved as indicating how
little Cullen knew about the route he proposed; as it seems reasonable to suppose, from his pro-
fuseness upon matters incidental to the subject, that if he had had the means of substantiating his
assertions he would certainly produce them at length; failing in that, he boldly launched his state-
ments, clothed in a simplicity that was attractive, and with a directness of statement that was in-
tended to carry conviction.
This absence of data to sustain his assertions was very much regretted by several prominent
writers on the question of interoceanic communication, notably Admiral Fitzroy, R. N., but, owing
to the zeal and persistence with which he advocated this route, and having no means of refutation,
they were inclined to believe the conditions to be as presented by him, but in the light of subse-
quent developments it will be seen how imperfect was his claim to consideration.
As already stated, Gisborne made a favorable report of the result of his examinations, and,
while not exactly in agreement with Cullen, he presents a route that is essentially the same and
equally attractive. Quoting from that portion of his report which describes his operations on the
Isthmus, we have the following, which certainly characterizes his work as the crudest kind of a
reconnaissance :
"At Carthagena we obtained informatic a which fully confirmed what we had been led to
expect from the little we gathered in England; that no strangers had been allowed to visit
the interior since the Buccaneers assisted the natives in repelling the Spaniards, nearly two
hundred years ago; that it was vain to think of obtaining from these jealous savages permission
to enter their territory, and that to do so without their permission was hazardous in the extreme.
Yet, as it was generally supposed that the summit level between the two oceans was near the
Atlantic coast, and it was therefore important to ascertain whether that was a fact, we determined
to make the attempt. From the schooner, the Cordilleras appeared to run in an unbroken range.
We lauded on the morning of the 17th of June, and crossed this range without any obstacle, ascer-
taining the lowest point visible from the seaboard to be 276 feet high. Beyond this point we
followed a small stream, which led us to a larger river flowing from the southwest, in a semi-
circular sweep toward the north. A flat plain extended to the southwest, in the direction of the
Gulf of San Miguel, as far as the eye could reach; looking over the tops of trees from a bluff,
about 100 feet high, which we ascended for the purpose, we obtained an uninterrupted view for at
least six miles in that direction.
"We followed the course of this river to the north until dark. Early the following morning
two Indians in a canoe came in sight, who, upon perceiving us, instantly landed and fled to the
woods. Preceding on our journey, we met a few hours afterwards a woman and two children
(one an albino), from whom we were unable to derive any information. We had scarcely passed
her, when a canoe suddenly appeared with five well-armed Indians in it, who made us understand
that we were to follow them, which we thought it prudent to do. They led us fortunately along
the course of the river, which gradually assumed a more easterly direction, winding among the hills
that overlapped each other, until we reached a village at its mouth, in Caledonia Bay. We were
thus singularly assisted in our object by the discovery of a passage through the range of the
Cordilleras, which had been heretofore supposed to be unbroken.
Here an Indian who spoke a little English, and seemed a principal man in his tribe, ques-
tioned us as to our object in entering their territory. Thereupon a meeting was held of the chief
men, who detained us prisoners. After several hours, and with great difficulty, we prevailed on
them to allow us to return to our vessel, on the condition, however, that we should set sail instantly,
and upon the understanding that if we were again caught in the'interior more summary measures
would be adopted. Five or six Indians accompanied us to Port Escosc6s, about five miles off (where
our vessel was lying), and they remained until the afternoon, when we were well off the coast.
Our great object had, however, been obtained, in finding that the Cordilleras, which appeared
from the sea a continuous range, had an intervening valley, and that the summit between the two
oceans must be the center of the Isthmus, if not nearer the Pacific coast."
Leaving Port Escosc6s, Gisborne and his assistant, Mr. Forde, proceeded to Aspinwall, crossed
over to Panama, and there hired a small schooner to convey them to the Gulf of San Miguel. On June
29 they arrived at Boca Chica, the entrance to Darien Harbor, and on the following day proceeded




I ',I -
: II.'''

- Al






'.3 S~
tC C)


H. EX.,_-I., 2, 47.

H, EX, J-0.., 2, 47.

zT S. Dei.

Outline map of the Caledonia route illustrating Gisborne's error, Strain's journey, and recon-
naissances made by Milla, Prevost, and Bourdiol.



with an examination of the Savana River. "At its mouth we found it two miles wide, narrowing
for seven miles above to a width of half a mile, and skirted by hills from two to three hundred
feet high, running within a mile or two of its banks. The depth of the river varies from nine to
six fathoms at low water, and soundings gave us a soft muddy bottom. From this point to the
junction with the river Lara the depth diminishes till the bottom becomes level with mid-tide. The
tide rises for five miles further up the Savana, to a fall of about two feet over a stratum of rock
crossing the stream diagonally northeast by east at a dip of 600. The point marked I in the
accompanying map shows how far we were able to ascend in a canoe. The same class of rock
appears both at the bottom and the sides. The course of the Savana beyond tidal influence is
tortuous, the width of the water-way being sixty feet at I.
"On the morning of the 2d July we began our land journey to the northeast in the direction
of Caledonia Bay. For the first two miles the country was level and less overgrown than on the
Atlantic side, which made our progress comparatively rapid. * We then crossed a range
of hills which we ascertained to be 100 feet high, forming the summit between the Savana and
Caledonia Rivers; at the foot a small stream flowed nearly due east. We followed it for two miles,
which led us to a larger one, the course of which we traced to the point marked D on the map.
At this point a clear view to the northeast in the direction of the point marked E, towards Caledonia
Bay, showed a flat plain with no intervening hills. The points D and E being only six miles apart,
our view from D towards E, and our still more commanding view, for at least six miles from an
elevation of 100 feet at E, in the direction of D, overlapped and were perfectly conclusive with
regard to the few miles seen and not actually walked over. We therefore accepted the admonition
of a foot-path and a bridge formed by the trunk of a tree placed across the river at this point, that
we were again in the territory of the Indians into whose hands we had fallen at Caledonia Bay,
and that, our object being accomplished, it was unwise to incur further risk from the Indians by
walking over these six miles, thinking it best for the sake of the undertaking to retrace our steps
at once."
From these observations, Gisborne arrived at the following conclusions: That the actual
breadth of the Isthmus between the tidal effects of the two oceans was 30 miles; that the summit
level was ascertained to be 150 feet, and that it was formed by a narrow range of hills having a
gradually rising plain at its foot on each side. He also believed that a more detailed examination
of this dividing ridge would reveal a much lower summit.
All these conclusions were wide of the mark, and a comparison of Gisborne's map with one
compiled from authentic sources will show at a glance what an imperfect conception he formed of
the topographical features of the country. It will also appear that Port Escosces being plotted 7
miles too far west, and the mouth of the Savana 10 miles east of its true position, brings them
nearer to the same meridian than they should be, the difference in longitude being 12 instead of 29
miles. From these errors it will be seen that his fields of view not only failed to overlap by many
miles, but that his lines of sight did not bear upon the points he supposed.
His great error was in his conclusion regarding the dividing ridge. He started out with the
conception of a Cordillera unbroken by intervening valleys, and considered it important to ascer-
tain the position of the summit of the divide relative to the coast lines. He states that it was
generally believed to be nearer the Atlantic than the Pacific shore, and this is a fact, but when,
after leaving Port Escosc6s and crossing the ridge which lies between the shore and the eastern
branch of the Caledonia River, he encountered the small stream which afterwards led him to a
larger one," he altered his views concerning the unbroken character of the Cordillera, and was
misled into believing he could trace the valley of the river six or seven miles to the southwest,
and judging from its size at the point of observation, that its headwaters must be ten miles away.
If this were the case, he concluded that the river did not have its rise in the Cordilleras, but flowed
through them in a sudden break from a low ridge nearer the center of the Isthmus. His reason
for considering the ridge a low one was because the only hills he could see being to the eastward,
he judged that the lands to the south and southwest were low, and that no mountain range formed
at the head of this river. During his examination on the Pacific side he made a similar error, and,
although he certainly did not intend it, he was in reality only giving form to a supposititious case
he had conceived on shipboard.


Dealing with the conditions as he supposed them to exist, he proposed two plans for the canal,
one with and the other without locks. Both plans were generally above criticism and were boldly
designed to meet the fullest requirements of the commerce of the world, and it is to be regretted
that such talent was wasted upon a fallacious assumption of facts. Gisborne has been harshly
handled for his unfortunate mistake, but it is highly probable that one as great would have been
made by any one entering into the examination under the conditions which then existed.
On his return to England he had his notes of the journey published under the title of "The
Isthmus of Darien in 1852," which furnishes information relative to his methods not otherwise
attainable. A consideration of these methods will be beneficial in showing that he and many
others who have gained the unwholesome title of distorters of facts do not strictly deserve the
In this work he treats in a running style upon financial, political, religious, and scientific ques-
tions suggested by the incidents of the journey, and in such a manner as to produce a very favorable
impression upon the reader as to the extent of his knowledge and the soundness of his views. Re-
ferring to the uses to which electricity would be applied, he says.: "Before this century has closed,
electricity will replace the pen, if not guide articulation, and will convert night into day. All that
is wanting for the former is to make an instrument sufficiently delicate to indicate waves of sound;
and for the latter, one that will preserve an uniform intensity in the evolution of electric light."
These predictions, so happily fulfilled at the present day, give a value to his opinions, and at the
same time increase the disappointment and regret that he was not equally happy in his conclu-
sions regarding the character of the Isthmus of Darien.
The fatality that seems to be attached to the individual examination of the Isthmus is in no
case more strikingly manifested than in that of Gisborne, and this fact suggests a consideration of
the influences which misled these individual explorers. The great importance of a communication
between the two oceans naturally incited motives of ambition and gain in many persons, but of
the many a few only sought a personal solution of the problem; and it can be readily understood
that these dreams of fame and fortune were more potent in producing imaginary than practical
results. These influences, sufficient to warp the judgment under ordinary circumstances, produced
virtual blindness to unwelcome facts in the case in question, and their effect is manifested by the
glaring errors into which their victims fell.
As the result of his search for information regarding the country he was about to explore,
Gisborne states that scarcely a single fact relating to this Isthmus can be relied on; the writers
seem to vie with each other in a series of contradictions, laying themselves open to the same
charge of want of consistency by their obstinate and one-sided view of the particular scheme they
have made their hobby."
With such a clear conception of the errors of others, it was to be expected that he would guide
himself more carefully, but, in spite of all, he is found plunging into the same current; and while
acknowledging the danger of inductive reasoning, he nevertheless allows himself to follow, as he
says, "this false system," and with no better result than to find himself consigned to the class he
so lately condemned.
Very unfortunately for these enthusiasts there could hardly be a place less suited to inductive
reasoning than the Isthmus of Darien, for here nature's sway is so great that man is forced to slow
and toilsome labors in fathoming her secrets. As far as the use of judgment is concerned in
determining the orological features of the country, it is of no more avail than it would be in deter-
mining the contours of the bottom of a bay; the barrier being in the one case a dense forest, and
in the other, of course, water; facts in either case being obtainable only by measurements.
Previous to his landing on the Isthmus, Gisborne formed a supposititious case of a route involv-
ing two good harbors as termini, and a summit level of 100 or 150 feet, with other equally favora-
ble conditions. Subsequently he congratulates himself on his good fortune in finding that these
conditions exist, but it will be seen from the limited extent of his examination that his observa-
tions on shore were hardly any more practical than his speculations on shipboard. Evincing, as
he does in the work referred to, an ability to treat professional and other subjects fairly and to
arrive at correct conclusions, his going so wide of the mark in the present case can only be
explained by his reliance upon methods which were not applicable to a study of the Isthmus;: but-


while his error may be considered as the result of his accepting as facts the product of his reason-
ing, Dr. Cullen is less fortunate, as it is impossible to relieve the mind from the impression that he
was guilty of gross misrepresentation. This impression is strengthened by his failure to appear in
the examination which Gisborne made, and evidently without any reasonable excuse for his
absence. It had been arranged in London that Cullen was to meet Gisborne at Carthagena on the
first of May, but owing to a delay in obtaining the concession, the appointment could not be kept;
and as Cullen's services were considered valuable, it was decided to await his arrival from Bogota.
Three weeks later the negotiations were concluded, ending the necessity for Cullen's presence in
Bogota, and after an additional delay of three weeks, the prospect of his appearing upon the scene
being as remote as ever, Gisborne sailed from Carthagena in a chartered vessel without him. He
was exceedingly chagrined at Cullen's action, and was clearly of the mind that the latter was
suiting his own convenience- causing him to dance attendance; but in this view he was no doubt
wrong, as the action can be better understood in the light of Cullen's fear of exposing his ignorance
of the country about which he had written so boldly and of which he knew nothing.
The importance given to the Caledonia route by Gisborne's favorable report to his principals
led to arrangements for a detailed survey; and as the attitude of the Darien Indians was such as
to cause fear for the safety of a small party, it was decided to overawe the Indians by a display
of force, and then, by treating them in a conciliatory spirit, gain their assistance. For this pur-
pose, and with the broad view that the undertaking should possess an international character, it
was determined to seek from the leading naval powers such co-operation as would facilitate the
object in view. The result of these efforts was to secure the presence of the following vessels at
Caledonia Bay in January, 1854: U. S. S. Cyane, Commander G. F. Hollins; H. B. M. brig
Espeigle, Commander Hancock; H. B. M. schooner Scorpion, Master Commanding Parsons; H. I. M.
steamship ChimBre, Lieutenant Commanding Jaur6guiberry. H. B. M. steam sloop Virago, Com-
mander Marshall, was on the Pacific side, in the Gulf of San Miguel, having arrived there on the
17th of December. Colonel Codazzi, chief of the topographical department of New Granada, was
the representative of his Government.
Gisborne arrived in Caledonia Bay on board of the Espiegle, and was accompanied by Lieuten-
ant St. John, R. E., and Dr. Cullen. His engineering staff, under Mr. Forde, was instructed to
proceed via Panama to the Gulf of San Miguel and commence the survey from that point.
Although the above-mentioned vessels were present to assist in the undertaking, it does not
appear that there were any stipulations between their respective Governments regarding co-opera-
tion. It is certain that the United States Government did not issue any instructions to the com-
manding officer of the Cyane of such a character; and the honorable Secretary of the Navy, J. C.
Dobbin, rather permitted than directed the organization of Lieutenant Strain's party, the members
of which he insisted should all be volunteers.
Gisborne's favorable endorsement of the Caledonia route attracted a wide attention, which was
the more easily secured owing to the awakened interest in the subject of interoceanic communica-
tion resulting from the discovery of gold in California and the construction of the Panama railroad.
Many eyes were turned towards Darien, and among the first to seek a confirmation of Gisborne's
statements was Rear-Admiral Fairfax Moresby, R. N., who issued the following order to that end:
"PORTLAND," AT CALLAO, August 4, 1853.
SIR: I inclose you a report addressed to Messrs. Fox, Henderson, and Brassey by Mr. Lionel
Gisborne, C. E., also a book recently published by Dr. Cullen, both relative to the locality through
which the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans may be united by a ship-canal.
On leaving Panama you are to take the opportunity of ascertaining, as far as may be in your
power, the extent of the advantages set forth in these publications by proceeding to the Gulf of
San Miguel and ascending the Savana to the point indicated by Mr. Gisborne's report, then cross-
ing the Isthmus as far as you can without causing a hostile feeling on the part of the Indians.
The particular point on which further information is desired is on that portion of the Isthmus
not actually trod by Mr. Gisborne.
If canoes are required they are to be found in the Bay of Garachin6. I send you an American
chart of the locality, published in 1851 by Dr. Autenrieth, at New Orleans. You must be cautious
H. Ex. 107- 7


in entering the Gulf of San Miguel. I recommend your not risking the navigation beyond the Bay
of Garachin6 before it is examined by your boats. Much prudence will be required in the perform-
ance of this service. Should the time prove unfavorable, or a prospect of delay beyond a week, it
must be abandoned.
I am, &c.,
Rear Admiral, Commanding in Chief.
Commander J. C. PREVOST,
H. M. Sloop Virago.

Acting under these instructions, Commander Pievost proceeded in the Virago to the Gulf of
San Miguel, where he arrived on the 17th December, 1853, and two days later started up the Savana
with a party consisting of seven officers, twenty-one sailors, and seven natives, in a cutter, gig, and
canoe. The party was well armed and supplied with fourteen days' provisions. He ascended the
Savana to a point about twenty-two miles above its mouth, and being unable to proceed farther
with the boats, disembarked his party on the left bank of the river, and made preparations for the
land journey.
The object of this reconnaissance being, as indicated in the orders, to extend the examination
of Gisborne's route so as to include the six (?) miles he had not walked over, it was intended to
commence operations from the point which Gisborne marked D on his map. There being nothing
to guide them to the location of this point, it was subsequently decided to lay off a straight course
from Fuerte del Principi to Caledonia Bay, and, in following it, estimate distances. This course,
taken from the maps, was noi th-northeast, but unfortunately it was not known that the terminal
points weie potted with errors, both in latitude and longitude, so that the course selected was
nearly 600 noith of what it should have been, and, if followed to the Atlantic coast, would strike
it at a point more than thirty miles away from Point Escose6s.
Prevost's plan was to push forward as rapidly as possible on this course, and open a well-marked
trail, which could not be mistaken, and which would be of benefit to future explorers, Soon after
the line had been started it was discovered that an estimated distance of three miles did not in
reality exceed one mile. "This difference of opinion as to the actual distance gone over," says Pre-
vost, "fortunately led to the measuring system. Had we not adopted it we might have been greatly
puzzled, so easy is it for the most experienced to be deceived, owing to the density of the forest,
the labor of cutting a road, and the total exclusion of the sun and sky from the path-besides the
exertion of lifting the feet so high to clear the tendrils that even to the last day, notwithstanding
a foi tonight's experience, we could not judge our distance correctly within a half; and Mr. Kennish,
who had been for years traveling in these countries accompanied only by Indians, was equally
The system of measurement adopted was by using a line one chain in length, and, though crude
enough, it was the first that had ever been applied to this route; and the party was the first which
possessed the valuable elements resulting from an organized and disciplined body.
Progress was slow and laborious, as can be judged from the fact that it required fifteen days
to cut through twenty-six miles of the forest. By this time, having exceeded the limit of his stay,
and having come nearly to the end of his provisions, he was compelled to retrace his steps without
being rewarded by a sight of the Atlantic, although he had, during the last few days of his advance,
momentarily expected it would burst upon his view. Had he been able to continue in the field,
he would have been still further disappointed, as it would have required much hard work and
nearly a week, at the rate he was proceeding, before he would have reached the desired shore; and
then, as stated, not at Caledonia Bay, but many miles beyond it.
During the reconnaissance many attempts were made to gain a knowledge of the country
beyond the sides of the narrow and hard-earned footpath,by sending men into the tree-tops, but from
the confused reports of such observations it became evident that no dependelne could be placed
upon them. In the vicinity of their eighth encampment a view was obtained from a lofty tree and
a depression reported bearing about east. This was, in fact, the depression of the Caledonia Pass,
the point he wished to reach, but having no misgivings about the correctness of the course he was


following, there was nothing to indicate that he should change it to one leading to this gap. The
only circumstance to raise doubts in his mind occurred a few days afterwards, when he encountered
the Chucunaqua, at Rancho 10, which, as he says, should have been left some distance to the east-
ward, steering the course he had, according to the maps then in hand.
At this river he divided his party, taking the most active with him and ordering the others to
await his return. He hoped in the short time left to him by these steps to facilitate his reaching
the Atlantic, but after reaching the heart of the Cordillera he was compelled to return.
On arriving at Rancho 10, where he had divided his party, he found no one there, and all the
provisions and stores gone. The place had the appearance of having been ransacked, but there
were no traces of Indians to be seen. "At first I concluded," says Prevost, "that the guard had
gone back to No. 9, a quarter of a mile distant. Rancho 9 was soon passed, and in Indian file we
came to the swamp, and then plainly distinguished the marks of Indian feet. Still, we were
undisturbed, and had reached within a quarter of a mile of No. 8, when, in taking a short turn in the
road, to my horror we came suddenly upon the bodies of three of our shipmates, lying dead in the
pathway. My first impression was that they had fallen down exhausted with the weight they were
carrying, as each had a load of provisions, so unprepared was I for so sad a termination to all our
hopes. But in this I was soon undeceived, and the melancholy fact of the cold-blooded murder
was too evident. Apparently they had not moved, but died without a struggle, while falling to the
ground, mortally wounded by gunshot fired from the left-hand side of the road from an ambush,
the densityof the forest here, as everywhere else, making every tree a hiding place and shelter for
as many Indians as chose to collect. The bodies of our poor fellows appeared in a sad, putrid
state; apparently they had been dead about forty-eight hours. Nothing had been taken from them
except their muskets, not even their bayonets or ammunition, and a quantity of rum carried by
llyde was untouched. Not a trace could we find of poor Robins, the fourth man.
"To linger longer in the neighborhood of such a dangerous ambush was only to risk other
valuable lives, and although we had the desire, God knows, to give our late shipmates Christian
burial, we had not the means, and believing it probable that the Indians had merely returned to
collect a strong force and cut off our retreat, and might at that moment be pursuing us, we turned
from the heart-rending sight and sought our own safety."
Pushing on by forced marches extending into the night, the party gained the ship on the
following day. Retaliatory measures were entertained by the commanding officer of the Virago,
but were not executed, as it was feared such a course would imperil the parties who were about
entering from the Atlantic side. This action of the Indians, it was afterwards learned from the
chief of another tribe, was owing to the fact that they had no intimation of the presence of foreigners
in their country until they suddenly came upon them, and, not knowing their purpose, had treated
them as all invaders had been treated.
Although Prevost failed to accomplish what he hoped for, he rendered a good service in stating
only what he knew to be facts, and from the limited amount of information thus furnished showed
how little could be gained from a reconnaissance without instrumental aid.


The Secretary of the Navy, Hon. J. C. Dobbin, appreciating the magnitude of the work of an
interoceanic canal, and the influence which its successful execution might exert upon the commerce
of the world, accepted, December 12, 1853, with the consent of President Pierce, the services of
Lieut. Isaac C. Strain, U. S. N., who volunteered to explore the route which, as has been shown,
had been represented in England by the engineering reports of Lionel Gisborne, C. E., and by the
previous statements of Dr. Edward Cullen, to be entirely practicable.
Lieutenant Strain had passed through several years of exploration in South America and in
Lower California. The route now proposed to him for exploration, so attractive and so highly
commended in England, by not only capitalists and merchants, but by statesmen, offered to satisfy

SThe account of Strain's expedition is the joint work of Professor Nourse and myself.-J. T. S.


all the conditions required for a ship-canal on the grandest scale," and Lieutenant Strain, with his
friend, Passed Midshipman W. T. Truxtun, received additional assurances of its practicability
from an agent of an English company, who resided in the United States.
After several conferences at the Navy Department the Secretary of the Navy issued his instruc-
tions to Commander George N. Hollins, commanding United States sloop Cyane, to the following
effect, viz: That he should receive on board the Cyane Lieutenant Strain, Passed Midshipmen
Charles Latimer, and W. F. Truxton, with Assistant Engineer J. M. Maury, and any other persons,
not exceeding twelve, whom Strain might desire to join him; and, giving them passage, proceed to
the port of Carthagena, New Granada, and then deliver to the local authorities a letter from Senor
Paredes, the minister from that State, resident at Washington; and that if the authorities of New
Granada should confirm the opinion expressed in that letter the Cyane should receive on board
such additional men, not exceeding twenty, as might then be selected; and, proceeding to Port
Escosces, in Caledonia Bay, land the party, with such of the Cyane's crew as might volunteer and
be accepted for the expedition. Commander Hollins was instructed to place in the hands of Lieuten-
ant Strain the orders of the Department, which required him to make as speedy a reconnaissance
as possible of that part of the Isthmus of Darien which lies between Caledonia Bay and the Gulf
of San Miguel, but that if any difficulty should be interposed by the Indian tribes Strain should
resort to all just and proper means to persuade them to abandon their opposition, but avoid all
infractions of international law, and retire from the undertaking unless it could be accomplished
without unfriendly collision. The Department left with Commander Hollins the decision as to
whether he should, in the absence of the explorers, make hydrographical surveys in the harbor of
Caledonia or a cruise for the healthfulness of the ship. She was to bring the party back to the
United States. In giving these instructions the Secretary considered that "the Cyane, which
belonged to the Home Squadron, might, with great propriety, cruise in the region of Caledonia
Bay, and, at the same time, convey any party who might volunteer to engage in an arduous
exploration, which might prove beneficial to the commerce of the world, settle an interesting ques-
tion, and, ultimately, exert a happy influence by bringing into closer commercial and naval proximity
our Atlantic and Pacific coasts." In consideration of the views presented by Lieutenant Strain,
the Department gave its sanction to the expedition and extended to it every facility. It was, how-
ever, to be purely voluntary, no orders being given for its organization, neither does the least
intimation appear on record that it was designed to act in concert with any other exploration.
December 20, 1853, Lieutenant Strain reported to Commander Hollins, accompanied by the
following volunteers, viz: Passed Midshipmen Charles Latimer, W. T. Truxton, and H. MI. Gar-
land; First Assistant Engineer J. M. Maury; civil engineers and assistants, W. S. Boggs, of Ohio;
J. G. Kettlewell, of Baltimore; Sterret Hollins and G. U. Mayo, of Norfolk; Surgeon J. C. Bird,
of Wilmington, Del.; and Messrs. Theodore Winthrop and Holcomb, who would also per-
form the duties of engineers, but without pay.
The Cyane sailed from Philadelphia December 20, arrived at Carthagena on the 4th of the
month following, and immediately communicated with the governor of the province, Senor Juan
Jos6 Nieto, who replied that he was ready to give to the expedition all the assistance which "his
legal attributes would permit, besides that which would be expected from a friendly nation," but
suggested that it might be convenient to await the arrival of Col. Augustine Codazzi, Chief of the
National Commission, destined by the Government of New Granada to explore the Isthmus, which
would give to the expedition not only a national character but much useful assistance.
The Cyane having awaited the arrival of this officer nine days, and receiving the thanks of the
governor for the delay, sailed for Caledonia Bay with an assurance from him that he would place
the New Granadian explorer in connection with the American party seasonably on the Isthmus.
Mr. Frederick Avery, a native of New York, residing at Carthagena, had joined them there, and
Messrs. Ramon Castello and Bernado Polanco preceded them as Commissioners from New Granada,
to explain the peaceable character of the expedition to the Indians.
The Cyane arrived at Caledonia Bay on January 17, five days before any of the other vessels
mentioned, and a conference was sought at once with the chiefs of the Darien tribes residing near
the coast. On the 18th a council with the Indians was held on board the Cyane, and although at
first they tenaciously opposed the landing of the party, they finally gave their seeming consent,


on condition that property and persons be inviolably respected. On the following day Strain
received from Commander Hollins the Department's instructions, and immediately landed his party.
The march, however, was delayed, owing to a loss of provisions sustained in the capsizing of a
boat, and the night was passed in a deserted village on the beach. The company now consisted
of the officers before named (except Garland, incapacitated by sickness), the two New Granadians,
and thirteen men, volunteers from the Cyane; in all, twenty-seven. Each was armed with a
carbine or musket, with forty rounds of ammunition; the officers having also Colt's pistols and fifty
rounds. Every one carried a blanket and a haversack containing provisions for ten days, which
Strain, depending upon the statements of Gisborne and Cullen, most unfortunately, believed would
be sufficient to carry his party across the Isthmus and back. He had reason to expect that, once
over, he could supply any deficiency from H. M. S. Virago, which he knew to be stationed in
Darien Harbor, in connection with an English exploring party. The reconnaissance on which he
now entered was to be only preliminary to a fuller one, the equipment for which was in part left
on board the Cyane.
January 20 his work began, a small party exploring for paths on each side of the Caledonia
River. At noon he loaded a boat with provisions and took it up stream, while the main body cut
a path one and a half miles through the woods and canebrake. Continuing, they followed the
windings of the river, which was generally shallow and clear. Three and a half miles from the
beach the canoe was, of necessity, left near a deserted hut, which already gave signs of the distrust
to be fully experienced on the part of the natives. The estimated descent of the river had increased
from 5 feet for the first mile to 15 for the second, and to 30 for the third. The stream was also
yet more rapid and clear, indicating its source in the mountains.
Early next morning the men crossed a ford, waist deep, and found the river divide, its eastern
branch appearing the larger. (This was the stream which Gisborne followed down when he met
the Indians.) Much to Strain's surprise, he already saw that the whole valley was inclosed by a
semicircular range of mountains abutting on the Coast range, and forming a barrier with heights
from 1,000 to 3,500 feet. Carefully examining the country, he could see no opening in any direction;
yet, as Mr. Gisborne had stated over his professional signature that there was an elevation to be
overcome of but 150 feet, and his maps were in hand, Strain was confident there must be some
lower summit which he had not approached. He therefore continued at first to follow the eastern
branch-the larger, and appearing the most likely to cut the Cordillera-until he found, at sunset,
that it was leading him, by a series of rapids and cascades, away from the Pacific and into the
highest of the ranges. While ascending this branch he had passed through a second deserted
village, which he thought would hold as many as 800 men. Above this he met three Indians, one
of whom endeavored to persuade him to leave the eastern branch and follow him towards the
southwest, but Strain did not think this man was to be trusted. He soon, however, found himself
compelled to return, as the stream became more and more rapid, tumbling over a rocky bed, and
diverging still more to the east. An advance party came to banks yet higher and higher, with
elevations of 200 feet, while the distance from the beach by windings was about 9 miles. This
branch was at once seen to be utterly useless for any canal project.
Returning to the southwest branch, and ascending it the next morning, all progress there was
effectually barred by a canon too deep to be forded and having high precipitous banks. Two
Indians here met them, bringing a letter from Commander Hollins, informing Strain that he had had
an interview with an Indian called Robinson, a messenger from the San Blas tribes, and that the
bearer would guide them to the Pacific; but either there had been some deception practiced, or, as
seems more probable, Strain, in his distrust of the Indian, misunderstood him, and thought that
the bearer of the message was desirous only that he should return with him to the beach. He
took a letter back to the commander. Strain subsequently believed that this man would have led
him to the Pacific.
The progress of the party now became more and more difficult, the rocks larger, the descent 70
feet to the mile, and the hills almost precipitous. Word was then given to scramble up the hill as
each one best could, and rejoin on the stream beyond the gorge. The party, therefore, took dif-
ferent routes, some climbing the steep banks near the cation, while Strain, with a majority of the
officers, sought an easier ascent about 100 yards below. While ascending he discovered a faint


Indian trail, which he felt confident led to the Pacific. He immediately made the customary recall
of all his men, and, hearing the answer as coming from some distance up the river, supposed the
answering party were only looking for an easier ascent to rejoin him, and so continued on the
westward trail, which carried him over the divide; descending its westward slope, he came to a
stream which, according to the maps of Gisborne, was a branch of the Savana; it was the Forti,
tributary to the Sucubti. He had crossed three peaks on the trail, the highest of which was esti-
mated to be 1,500 feet, and the lowest 1,000; this lay on his left, and was utterly impassable. One
of his men climbing a tree to obtain, if possible, a view of the country, could report nothing in
sight but mountains on mountains. On the Sucubti he awaited until the following morning the
coming of the five for whom he had signaled, but, despairing of their joining him, and "feeling
the importance of pushing on as rapidly as possible," he left a note for them and continued to
follow the stream; it led him into the depths of the forest.
The five who had been unable to rejoin him, Holcomb, Winthrop, Bird, Hollins, and the
seaman Roscoe, crossed the hills and regained the river beyond the gorge. Awaiting here for
some time the arrival of the main body, whom they supposed to be following, they continued to
ascend the stream on which they were, three miles farther, when, coming to a division of the stream,
they left a note for Strain, and took the west branch. On the following day, finding this now be-
coming a mountainous torrent, tumbling in cascades through a wild gorge in the porphyritic rock
of the chain, and assured that the main body could no longer be in advance of them, they encamped.
The distance they had made was estimated to be by its windings about 17 miles; the elevation
gained, 700 feet. Engineer Winthrop's notes read:
"We have here impenetrable forests, dense and dark; lofty mountains; no Indians; very little
animal life; no game; no snakes; no mosquitoes.
"Hoping to have an extended view of the country, we cut to the summit of the Cordillera, 800
to 1,000 feet; but, from the top of a tree there, saw nothing but similarly wooded mountains, broken
only by the valley of the stream. As we have no compass in our party, we decided in council that
it would be only daring to start off into the forest. We therefore retrace our steps down the
stream; we find our notes untouched. Returning to the gorge, we find no clew to the meaning of
their having turned off from the nain route appointed. We judge it necessary for us to return to
the ship, by way of the river, and reached it at sunset."
On the beach they met the English and French parties who had landed on the 24th from the
Scorpion, the Espiegle, and the Chimbre. The parties combined numbered forty-nine persons,
thirty-six of whom were armed. The officers were Lieutenant Preston, Mr. Edwards, and Assistant-
Surgeon Edwards, from the Espiegle; Lieutenants Jaur6gueberry and Oron from the Chimbre;
Colonel Codazzi; Lieutenant St. John, R. E.; Dr. Cullen, and Mr. Gisborne. They received Win-
throp's report with great surprise, but the returning party, although they had advanced but about
eight miles inland, having each evening heard the Cyane's gun, had learned enough of the Isthmus
to report to these new-comers, and to the commander of the Cyane, that the plain described by
Gisborne does not exist; that they had found the Cordilleras a broad mass of porphyritic rock,
heavily wooded, from the highest point of which no open country could be seen. Both branches
of the Caledonia followed up had been found to be rapid streams having their sources in great
Winthrop's report occasioning grave fears for the safety of Strain and his men, Commander
Hollins on the following day equipped a small force under Lieut. C. M. Fauntleroy, well supplied
with provisions, to relieve and recall the party,'if possible; suggesting to Strain, in a letter sent,
that he would do better if he returned, and, if necessary, renew the attempt with a fuller equip-
ment. When writing of this afterwards to the Secretary of the Navy, Commander Hollins gave
as his chief reasons for sending this party out, that he was satisfied from his own personal obser-
vation, as well as from the accounts received, that erroneous statements had been given to Strain,
and that he had taken a wrong route.
On reaching the upper forks of the Caledonia, beyond the gorge, Fauntleroy detached seven of
his party, including Winthrop, Holcomb, and Bird, well supplied with provisions, to search for
Strain up the west branch. They followed this to the divide, and crossing over soon came into
the bed of the Forti, and on the 26th, while following it, came upon the letter which Strain had


left for them. In it he directed that if the separated party should not reach that place until late
in the evening of the day of their separation, they would do better if they should return to-the ship,
for he would be too far ahead for them to overtake him. This, as has been seen, they had of their
own judgment wisely done. Lieutenant Fauntleroy, with Mr. Hollins and eleven seamen, sought
Strain by the eastern branch; his instructions also were to cross the Isthmus, if possible, by an
unexplored branch of the Caledonia.
On the second day out he overtook the English and French parties who had started in with
Colonel Codazzi; and, at the solicitation of Mr. Gisborne, Fauntleroy accompanied him and the
chiefs of the other parties to the summit of a neighboring hill for a view of the whole country
beyond; the sight was most unsatisfactory to all. Resuming the march, accompanied byLieutenant
St. John, they found the sources of the branch trending too far to the south and east to be hope-
fully followed; yet they pushed on, for now having entered the mountains there was no other way
of penetration. Arriving at the direct source of the river, and then ascending the Cordillera, they
found its summit not less than 3,000 feet; from a point 500 feet lower, a view offered itself of the
Cyane in the offing, distant about 15 miles, estimated, the compass bearing being north 50 west.
The sight of the country from the west side of the range now decided their future course; for
as far as the eye could see southward and westward, nothing came within a view which extended
from 20 to 30 miles but ranges of mountains upon mountains. It was deemed totally useless to
explore farther in this direction. Fauntleroy returned to the Cyane, which he reached in two days,
taking back with him a store of provisions that Lieutenant, now Commodore, Pickering had left
on his trail for the use of his party, should it have been needed.
The operations of the combined parties under Colonel Codazzi were limited to the valley of the,
Caledonia, and after three days Gisborne became convinced that the river did not pass through a
break in the Cordilleras, but that they, on the contrary, formed a continuous range. My original
anticipations on this point," says Gisborne, "were thus disproved. It then became my duty to
explore the main ridge of the Cordillera to search for a break through them. With this object the
valleys of the Caledonia and Aglaseniqua Rivers and their tributaries were carefully examined,
and several attempts made to cross the Cordilleras, but the extreme difficulty of moving about a
large body of men among steep hills thickly covered with wood and intersected by deep ravines,
made it evident that the Isthmus could not be thus crossed without great risk and danger, or suf-
fering from want of provisions. After eleven days' exploring, the whole party (increased to one
hundred and twenty by the addition of seventy New Granadian soldiers and convicts) returned to
the ships."
The experience gained during this reconnaissance, proving the unwieldy nature of a large party,
was particularly applicable to the force then in the field, as the number of different elements com-
posing it must have added largely to its unwieldy character. In view of this experience, Gisborne
determined to procure a guide and proceed on his reconnaissance with a small party. After many
conferences, he succeeded in securing the services of the Indian Robinson to accompany Lieutenant
St. John and himself, with two men, as far as the confluence of the Savana and Lara Rivers, where
Mr. Ford had his headquarters. It was about this time that news was received of Prevost's
attempt and its disastrous consequences, and it was feared that the contemplated exploration into
that region would have to be abandoned; but Robinson gave assurances that no act of the Indians
was to be feared, as they had entered into a treaty and guaranteed the explorers safety from
molestation, which was not the case with Prevost.
Gisborne's plan received the sanction of the English and French commanding officers, and the
party started on the 7th of February, carrying five days' provisions. He reached Ford's head-
quarters without accident, and during the reconnaissance received additional confirmation of the
erroneous conclusions he had arrived at as a result of his first examination of the country. He
ascertained the height of the pass in the Cordillera at the headwaters of the Caledonia to be 930
feet, and that the route was unsuited to such a canalization as would satisfy the demands of com-
merce. Arriving at the mouth of the Lara, he found that Ford had been obliged to leave the field
on account of sickness; and, in consequence of the fear caused by Prevost's loss, it had been
impossible to induce the inhabitants of Chipigana or Yavisa to assist in forwarding the surveys.


The engineers were even abandoned by the sailors of the vessel which had been chartered at
Gisborne and party having crossed in safety, and the fact of having the Indian Robinson with
them, inspired confidence to a degree, and arrangements were finally made at exorbitant rates for
canoes and men to assist in the surveys. The country was examined on the line of Prevost's track and
for one day beyond, in a northeasterly direction, without being able to reach the top of the Cordillera
or any point from which the Atlantic could be seen. Deeming it imprudent to continue the recon-
naissance in that direction, as they considered it probable that the Indians into whose country they
would penetrate were uninformed of their presence, and might become alarmed, they returned to
the Savana, all the party suffering from fatigue, and Gisborne quite disabled from the bite of a
scorpion. Notwithstanding his condition, he made an effort to recross to the Atlantic by the route
they had come by, but owing to a misunderstanding on the part of the Morti Indians, they did
not have canoes at the mouth of the Morti at the appointed time, so he was obliged to retrace his
steps and proceed to the Atlantic side by way of Panama.
Meeting with no traces of Strain, and convinced that he was not on his way to the Savana,
Gisborne endeavored to induce the Morti Indians to give him canoes to descend the Chuchunaqua,
as he felt sure Strain was lost along its banks. "Mr. Bennett had, by my instructions," says Gisborne,
" arranged to proceed on this service, but when the time came, the Indians from Morti, who returned
according to their promise to the Chucunaqua end of Prevost's track, refused to descend the
Chucunaqua, stating that the country belonged to New Granada, with whom they were not on
friendly terms. The authorities at Chipigana and Yavisa would in no way countenance an expedi-
tion to ascend the Chucunaqua, nor could men or canoes be engaged for this service on any terms.
The arrival of the Virago renewed my hopes of finding Strain. Commander Marshall had received
instructions to seek redress for the loss of four men of the Virago in January last, and to assist and
protect the surveys. These duties were incompatible, and at his desire I wrote a letter urging the
abandonment of 'seeking redress' and substituting 'the search for Lieutenant Strain and his
party."' Commander Marshall acceded to this request, and, after landing Gisborne and his assist-
ants at Panama, returned to the Gulf of San Miguel, where a relief expedition was formed under
Lieutenant Forsyth, who volunteered for the service.


In the long interval elapsing since January 22, the latest date of any tidings from Strain, the
efforts which had been made by Commander Hollins are best learned from his dispatches, includ-
ing the reports rom his officers. Their action had been substantially as follows:
March 3, Commander Hollins wrote to the Navy Department that several attempts had been
made to communicate with Strain, both by detachments from the Cyane and through the agency
of apparently friendly Indians, but without success, and that his last dependence had been on Mr.
Gisborne, who left Caledonia Bay on the 7th ultimo, but on the fourth evening of his absence he
wrote to Commander Hancock, of the Espiegle, that he was somewhat alarmed by a report received
from an Indian runner that the French steamer Chimere had gone to sea, taking several Indians
captive. On the rumor the guide had deserted the party, and they were surrounded by excited
Indians, though Robinson was remaining with them. They could gain no satisfactory information
of the missing party from the Indians, some saying that Strain was across the Isthmus, others that
the whole party were devoured by wild beasts. Commander Hollins further said to the Depart-
ment that, under these circumstances, he had determined to endeavor, by proceeding to Aspin-
wall and crossing to Panama, to clear up the mystery by instituting search, with the help of a few
of his officers, on the Pacific side, and that Lieutenant Jaur6guiberry, of the Chimere, had kindly
placed his vessel at the disposal of Lieutenant Strain, if by any possibility that officer should
make his appearance in Caledonia Bay during the absence of the Cyane.
For the decision to leave the Bay and search on the Pacific, Commander Hollins had the addi-
tional reasons that the Indians, who had generally appeared friendly and frequently visited the
Cyane, had recently ceased their visits; that in no instance when parties from the ship had attempted
to penetrate their country had they found any villages not burned or Indian property not abandoned;


and that the New Granadian, Colonel Codazzi, who had gone inland five or six miles with a party
of 120 men, had returned to say that he could not renew the attempt unless his force were increased
to 500 men. The Secretary of the Navy, on receiving this dispatch, immediately ordered the com-
mander of the Cyane to use all possible means and haste in the search, adding that he could not give
credence to the rumor of Strain's party having been destroyed by wild animals, and that he was
confident, from the intelligence possessed by that young officer, he would be found to have accom-
plished something of his important work. The Secretary's order was being virtually and effectually
obeyed while it was on its journey to the Isthmus.
Commander Hollins, on crossing to Panama, deemed it advisable to send Lieutenant Faunt-
leroy to the Gulf of San Miguel to make a thorough search of its shores and the rivers emptying
therein, giving him authority to charter a vessel, with men and provisions. At the same time Com-
mander Marshall, of the Virago, officially informed Hollins that he purposed to proceed immedi-
ately to the Gulf and make careful search, sending boats up the Chucunaqua to the point which
Strain had been last heard from by rumor. Commander Hollins having effected, as he believed,
the best possible arrangements for the search on the Pacific, and being prompted to return to
Caledonia Bay for new inquiries, left Aspinwall March 23, and, arriving at'his anchorage on the
27th, immediately sent Lieutenant Pickering to endeavor to procure guides at the village of Sassardi.
On the day following, Pickering, with i party consisting of Passed Midshipman W. K. Mayo and
ten men, volunteers, proceeded up the Caledonia River under instructions to reach the headwaters
of the Chucunaqua, and, if possible, obtain some news of the lost command. The search, on account
of the scarcity of the ship's provisions, was limited to ten days. During the absence of this party
Commander Hollins received a second rumor of harm to Strain's party in a letter from Lieutenant
Fanntleroy, stating- that an Indian had -reported, from Chepo, eleven of Strain's men certainly
devoured by wild beasts. By the 29th March Lieutenant Pickering had gained a point twelve
miles down the Sucubti, when he was recalled.
In the mean time, Fauntleroy, at Panama, had met with a messenger from the Chepo Indians, who
had come in to ask the protection of the governor for the friendly Indians, who, they feared, would
be implicated in the massacre of Prevost's men. As the Virago was to institute a search in the
vicinity of the Gulf of San Miguel, and believing it would be wise for him to seek news of Strain
through the Clhpos, who had communication with the tribes of the interior, endeavored, with
Consul T..W. Ward, to assist the Indians' errand with the governor, but failed to find that officer
true to a professed willingness to furnish the desired guarantee.
On the 14th of March, however, Fauntleroy left Panama on the search, accompanied by Mr.
Charles Zachrisson, the Swedish consul, "a gentleman of family and fortune, who, forsaking the-
comforts of home, joined in the search as a volunteer." Arriving at Chepo, they found that the
friendly Indians had passed through, avoiding observation. The natives of the village knew nothing
of the massacre. The men, however, were now thoroughly alarmed at the news brought by Faunt.
leroy, and refused their assistance. He could get help from two boys only to convey them in a
canoe up the Chepo, which they followed for 75 Qr 80 miles. All the way along information was
obtained of the fugitive, and, at one place, of his taking with him all the young Indians indentured
to the whites, and leaving word that any party following him would be killed should they meet.
Proceeding a short distance above the river Canito, and finding all the settlements deserted, it was
deemed fruitless to prosecute the search further in that direction. Returning, he arrived at Panama
on the evening of March 26, and received the news that Strain had come out on the Gulf of San
Miguel, and immediately communicated it to Commander Hollins through the United States consul.
Commander Hollins, receiving the dispatch by a chartered vessel from the consul at Aspinwall.
Mr. G. W. Fletcher, recalled Pickering, and sailed on the 31st of March for Carthagena for a supply
of provisions not obtainable at Aspinwall, detaching, however, from the Cyane Assistant Surgeon
(now Medical Director) Peck, to take passage on the vessel returning to Aspinwall, and to report
to Strain for duty. He bore orders for Strain to report on board the Cyane at Carthagena.
On reaching Aspinwall Surgeon Peck learned that no communication could be had with Car.
thagena until the 23d of the following month, and that as provisions could now be obtained at that
port, wrote to Commander Hollins, suggesting that the Cyane should come to Aspinwall, and the
suggestion being approved, the ship arrived there April 14. On the 16th Strain himself reported.
H. Ex. 107- 8



Strain, in the interval, had followed the Sucubti until the 25th of January, on which day he
passed a deserted Indian village, the natives having continually hung around his path without
opposing his march. Fording the river, he met on the opposite bank five natives. The leader,
who spoke Spanish, I recognized as having been on board of the Cyane, and among the men to
whom I had offered a large sum of money if he would act as our guide. I had, therefore, every
reason to believe that he had met us for the purpose of accepting our conditions, and had tendered
his services in good faith. This opinion I have had no reason to change; but as they led us by a
path from the Sucubti, I secretly gave orders that our route should be scrupulously noted by the
officers, and that the trees should be marked by the rear guard, in order to facilitate our return in
case they abandoned us."*
The next day's march was the most trying one they had yet endured. At its end they encamped
on an island in a river which proved to be the Chucunaqua. They here met the Chucunas in force,
and were refused a passage through their territory. The thief addressed a long speech to Strain,
but the guide refused to interpret it, and stated that he must return to Caledonia Bay; that the
Chucunas would guid4 the party to the Savana, which would be reached in two days, and would
then supply canoes, in which they could reach Darien Harbor at the end of the third day. He
not only refused compensation, but also refused to take a letter to Commander Hollins, and, with
his four companions, suddenly disappeared in the forest, overawed by the Bravos.
On the 27th of January they were eight days from the beach, and Strain was informed that some
of the men were totally without provisions; the two New Granadians had, during the first days of
their journey, cast their supplies aside, unable to bear the burden. Ascertaining the truth of this,
he ordered the officers to divide their food with the men, and then found that for the whole party there
remained provisions for one day only. Plantains and bananas were abundant in the vicinity of
the camp, but the Indians would neither sell nor give, and feeling bound by his promises to the
chiefs on board the Cyane he determined to await a greater emergency before taking them by
Early in the morning five Chucunas appeared, armed with metal-pointed arrows, which they
use only in warfare, pointed arrows of hard wood being used for hunting. From the moment they
appeared Strain suspected them of treacherous intent, but did not deem himself justified in declin-
ing their services. They led him down the Chucunaqua about two miles, and then took a trail on the
right bank which led to the westward. Guiding the party by this trail for some distance into the
forest, they suddenly disappeared. The path was followed until it terminated at a deserted hut;
from this point Strain retraced his steps, and with much difficulty found his way back to the river,
where he determined to obtain the opinions of the officers and engineers in council. We had no
guides, but we had, on the other hand, seven days' hard march between us and the ship, and had,
moreover, every reason to expect Indian hostility on our return. The moral effect of a retrograde
movement upon our own party, whose pride revolted at the idea of a failure, had its influence upon
the decision. We had served out our last provisions; but up to that time we had always found
plantains upon the banks of the river, and had every reason to believe that the supply below would
be ample for all our wants; for after the flagrant treachery of the Indians we felt ourselves no
longer bound by the stipulations made on board the Cyane. In this respect our expectations were
measurably realized, as for three days we obtained an ample supply of plantains and bananas
from deserted plantations. The question which the council was called upon to decide was whether
it was most expedient to march through the forest direct for the Savana, and thus incur the danger
of perishing from thirst either on the march or among the mangrove swamps, which we were
aware fringed its banks for more than forty miles above Darien Harbor, or to adopt the more
cautious course of a tedious journey by the river on which we then were, and on the banks of which
we expected to meet white inhabitants above the point at which the mangroveswamps and brackish
water would be found. It was unanimously decided to follow the Chucunaqua, and all our subse-

*This quotation,,and those which follow, are from Lieutenant Strain's paper on interoceanic communication,
which contains nuch matter relating to the journey not found in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, called forth
by ungenerous criticisms made by Codazzi.


quent information proves that this decision was the salvation of the party. No proposition to
return to the ship was made, and I believe that every one felt that a transit from sea to sea would
satisfy the world as to the impracticability of the project for constructing a ship-canal and make
our work complete."
From the date of the desertion of the American party, January 27, its record is that of journey
protracted far beyond their expectations; of privations, extreme sufferings, and even death, born
with heroic fortitude. .From the 27th to the31st of January they proceeded along the tortuous course
of the Chucunaqua, following its right bank, cutting their way with great labor through the jungle.
and subsisting upon the products of the deserted plantations. Encouraged by the seemingly rapid
rate of progress, they attempted to shorten the journey by following compass courses across the
bends of the river, and on their first attempt lost the river for three days. During this period
subsistence was obtained only from a few wild turkeys, some smaller game, and a monkey. A
small quantity of palmetto, or cabbage palm, and some acid palm nuts, the latter proving disastrous -
to the enamel of the teeth and the coating of the stomach, served to eke out the scant supply of
On the 4th of February a halt was made and two days spent in the construction of a raft,
which, when completed, had sufficient buoyancy to support Truxtun, the two New Granadians,
Messrs. Boggs and Kettlewell, and one of the seamen. Strain, with the main body, followed the
banks until sunset, when a signal of distress called him to the raft. To his disappointment, he
found it blockaded by a palosada-a dam of driftwood; he reluctantly ordered its abandonment.
From that time until the 12th of February they continued cutting their way through the thick
jungle. Game was scarce, and life was sustained principally by the acid palm nuts. Want of
proper food and severe labor was now telling rapidly on the party. The rate of progress had
diminished by the necessity for frequent halts. Feeling aware that all must perish before emerging
from the forest at this slow rate of traveling, Strain took advantage of a halt rendered necessary
by the condition of the New Granadians and devoted the afternoon of the 12th of February to the
construction of a raft. The wood selected was the lightest that could be obtained, but upon trial
it was found that though it would float it would support no additional weight.
At length, on the 13th, Strain determined, in order to save the main body, to advance in person
for assistance, and called for volunteers, from six of whom he selected Mr. Avery, Golden, and
Wilson, the strongest. Placing the party formally under Truxtun's command, he set out on his
journey, and by the end of the day was gratified by thinking he had advanced 18 miles. This
distance was greatly overestimated. On the 14th swamps and an impenetrable jungle impeded
his progress, and in the evening he halted near some driftwood, from which he constructed a raft.
Here he also found some acid nuts, which was the first food he had eaten for two days. Wrecked
several times, and twice narrowly escaping with their lives, they were compelled to abandon the
raft on the 16th and continue the journey by land. Boils and sores now made their appearance,
and attacking their legs and feet, rendered their progress slow and painful. Mr. Avery suffered
very much from this cause, but all were much debilitated, and Golden kept up with the greatest
March 2, the river being found freer from rapids and snags, a raft was again constructed,
with which they started on the 3d. At the end of the journey of the following day they were
encamped near a shallow rapid, which, as they were thinking of the uncertainties still before them,
suddenly ceased its murmurings and by its silence announced the incoming Pacific tide. Buoyed
up by this happy revelation, the journey was hopefully continued. On the 9th of. March, at a point
20 miles .above Yavisa, some friendly Indians encountered the party and brought them into the
settlement, originally an Indian mission established in 1747 by the Jesuits. The men who now
sought its shelter, after twenty-four days' separation from their comrades, were almost totally
exhausted through want of food and rest, their bodies wounded and sore, and scarcely covered
with the remnants of clothing left to them.
Strain here learned that the Virago was in Darien Harbor, but expected to sail in three days
for Panama. As it was all-important to intercept her, he accepted Mr. Avery's offer to return for
the relief of Truxtun, and at once proceeded to engage men and canoes for this service. The diffi-
culty in obtaining provisions prevented the relief party from setting out until 9 p. m. the following


evening, March 10. The main party having had orders to follow the river by easy marches, Strain
had no doubt of their being relieved and brought down before he could return from the Virago.
A scarcity of canoes compelled Strain to wait until the 11th of March before he could-obtain
transportation to Santa Maria, and at that place he obtained a canoe of sufficient size to navigate
the lower waters of the river. On the 12th he arrived at Chipagana and learned that the Virago
had sailed for Panama on the 10th, to be absent six days. He was also informed that the Atlantic and
Pacific Junction Company, whose engineers and employes were under the control of Mr. Gisborne,
had a depot of supplies on the Savana, at the mouth of the Lara. The violent wind that dayprevented
his obtaining boatmen willing to take him across the bay, but he was enabled to set out before day.
light the next morning, and in the afternoon arrived at the depot, where he obtained provisions and
money from Mr. W. C. Bennett. Returning, he arrived at Yavisa on the night of the 14th of Mareh
and awaited intelligence from the relief party. That night and the next were passed in sleepless
anxiety, but I was helpless. I could obtain no canoes or men, and by following up the river I was
placing myself in a position where I would be powerless. Before daylight on the second night Mr.
Avery suddenly burst into the house of the padre where I was domiciled. My first question was,
'Have you brought the party?' He replied, 'I have brought one; I have brought Parks.' His
story was soon told. lie had reached the point where we had encamped the first night after the
separation, and which Truxtun had reached with the main body in four days; there, suspended on
a cross which marked the grave of the first victim, Holmes, was a letter addressed to me, stating
that as twenty days had elapsed, all hopes of my safety had been abandoned, and that, yielding
to the solicitations of the party, he had determined to regain the Indian country, and, after recruit-
ing, to attempt to reach the ship. Their condition was vividly portrayed by the'expression, 'For
God's sake, hasten after us, for we are nearly starving.'"
Avery had gained "hospital camp," when the sight of Holmes's grave alarmed the canoemen.
Fearing the Indians, they refused to proceed; entreaties and pecuniary offers were unavailing,
and the relief party, which was certainly within eight hours' journey of the main body, returned
unsuccessful. On their descent, and about ten miles below the last camp, Parks, who had been
accidentally separated from Truxton's party, was found in the last stage of exhaustion. He was
almost delirious, and soon after arriving at Yavisa became thoroughly so, and died within a few
Before it was yet light, Strain made arrangements with the authorities to send back the canoes
with another party, which he demanded should be placed under military discipline, to insure, if
possible, their obedience. Notwithstanding this precaution, he was unwilling to trust the safety
of his party to such men as the natives had proved themselves to be, and leaving Mr. Avery and
the padre to superintend the funeral of Parks, and the former with orders to push up rapidly with
canoes and provisions as soon as the party could be collected, he hastened to seek aid from the
Virago, which was expected to arrive in Darien Harbor. Eighteen miles below Yavisa he dis-
covered the Virago's boat ascending the river with all the rapidity obtainable from oars and tide.
I now felt that my party was secure from danger, as savages could not intimidate so gallant a
people as the English when bound on an errand of charity and mercy. It was to the promptness,
energy, and kindness of heart of the generous Bennett that we were indebted for this prompt
assistance, as the night previous, upon the arrival of the Virago, he had paddled himself some
twenty-five miles in a canoe to give information of my arrival, the position of the party, and to
request that men should be dispatched to our assistance. While alluding to this gentleman, whose
liberality and generous services entitle him to the complimentary letter of thanks written to him by
the Secretary of the Navy, gratitude demands that I should allude, at least briefly, to another evi-
dence of his self-sacrificing disposition and anxiety to serve us to the utmost. The English officers,
perhaps in view of the disasters of their previous expedition into the country, were instructed not
to leave the river or their canoes; and as it at one time appeared probable that we would not
overtake the party at a navigable point, he privately offered to load himself with provisions and
accompany me through the forest until we had overtaken them, and this, too, although-he had
been expressly prohibited by Gisborne from attempting to cross the Isthmus, and was suffering
severely from the gusano del monte, or wood worm, which had perforated his foot. This was
the man to whose efforts we owe most for assistance, and, although not in a position to be bene-


fited, as were the officers of the Virago, by the good offices of our Government, he will live long
in the grateful memory of what Colonel Codazzi is pleased to call the 'unfortunate Darien expe-
dition of the North Americans."'
Strain embarked in the Virago's boat and arrived that night at Yavisa, where, after much diffi-
culty, he obtained some canoes, and the next day pushed up the river. Having now obtained
reliable coadjutors," says Strain, I was less anxious for the services of the New Granadian levy,
but left orders for them to follow as soon as they could be collected. Eleven joined us the next
afternoon, and soon after, meeting a rapid which the boat could not pass, she was left in charge
of some eight men, while the united parties followed up the river with all the speed which could
be induced by an exalted enthusiasm." The prospect was encouraging until the morning of the
23d of March, when the New Granadians again showed their fear, and notified Strain that they
would on no account proceed further than that day's journey, end where it might. Reserving
until occasion should call forth such means as he had to overawe them into obedience, Strain
continued the journey, and soon after starting came upon the grave of Sefor Castello, and
stretched upon it was the dead body of his countryman, SeBor Polanco. Saddened by this
sight, and with misgivings as to the fate of the party, the relief pushed rapidly on until sunset,
when, on turning a bend of the river, they discovered a portion of the party on the bank. "Three
hearty cheers passed along the line of canoes, which was instantly responded to by a similar
Anglo-Saxon expression of joy and welcome from the suffering party."
Upon landing, those who were immediately upon the bank crowded around Strain to express
their satisfaction at the arrival of relief, and of his own safety, of which they had despaired. Only
one showed much excitement, occasioned by a high and noble anxiety to know whether, in his dire
position. and with the responsibility of the party resting upon him, he had done what was best for
the general welfare. "Immediately after landing, Mr. Truxtun rushed toward me, threw his arms
around my neck, and sobbing from the effects of concentrated emotion, said, My God, captain, did
I do right in coming back ?' Several were enfeebled to the last degree, and at least four ivould
never have marched from the spot, but all had made a march of several hours that day, and there
was nowhere an evidence of despair. The two who were most feeble, and subsequently dipd,
expressed their gratification at my safety, and, with a noble generosity seldom paralleled, appeared
to merge their own sufferings and dark prospects in the satisfaction they felt at the relief which
had arrived for others, accompanied as it was by one who, whether deserving or not, possessed
their confidence and was mourned for as dead. It is difficult to restrain my indignation when
reading such an attempt to -brand the members of my party as despairing imbeciles and lost to all
feeling save the animal instinct of self-preservation, when I remember that dying men who could
scarcely raise their attenuated arms to take my hand concealed their own danger and suffering to
avoid giving me additional pain. One who survived, but was unable to rise from the ground,
respectfully touched his hat and expressed his pleasure at my return, remarking at the same time
that it was fortunate for him and four others that I had returned, as they would not have been
able to proceed the next day. Another, two days after, asked me to shake hands with him, and
apologized in a feeble voice for not being able to raise his arm from the ground, but expressed him-
self hopefully as to his recovery. When I knelt by the side of my old and tried friend, Mr. Boggs,
and begged him not to feel dispirited, as we had all of us now the means of safety, he replied, with
a feeble pressure of his hand, I do not think I shall die now, captain, but it is fortunate for me
that you have arrived, as I should not have been able to go on to-morrow.' Upon our arrival, the
journal of the day had been written, and in it was expressed the expectation of making a long
march on the morrow. The five whom I had first greeted on the river bank had gone down with
the intention of bathing. The camp-fires had been lighted, one for the men and the other for the
officers, and fuel provided for the night. Even in their extreme distress, distinction of rank was
carefully preserved, and though the officers assisted in forming a camp for the men who were less
able to endure extreme fatigue and deprivation, common misery had not leveled distinction, as is
so generally the case in extreme suffering. The condition of things elicited from the English
officers the remark that this was the perfection of military discipline.' If I write with feeling upon
this subject, I beg that I may be pardoned, and that it be remembered that I am not writing of
myself, but of the gallant and enduring band who had been confided to my care."


Those who had died were Holmes, Parks, Costello, Polanco, and Lombard. The death of the last
named casts perhaps the deepest shade on the whole picture. Stern necessity had brought
about the unanimous decision that he who should, from time to time, prove totally unable longer
to march, must, for the common safety, he abandoned, and it came to the.turn of Lombard, once one
of the strongest of the Cyane's crew, to have this decision against himself. Strain says: "That last
scene in life's drama of a faithful servant of the Government, and a just man, deserves a pen
superior to mine. I can appreciate, but cannot describe it. Lying on the bank within reach of the
water of the river, with a tin pot to supply his wants, and a fire near him, he awaited a decision
which involved not his life only, for that he was aware was well-nigh sped, but the companionship
which had thus far sustained him, even in the depths of misery. Although it had been unanimously
determined many days before that those who could not march with the party should be abandoned
to secure the common safety, it was hard to part with an old and tried companion, and a council
was called to decide upon his fate. Each man, commencing with the lowest in rank, was called
upon to give his opinion, and as each gave his fatal vote he took an eternal leave of the suffering
man, with whom he divided his scanty food. Of all the party the victim was the most calm and
self-possessed. His will had been already made, and being duly signed, was committed to the charge
of Mr. Truxtun, when all the party withdrew, save one who remained to pray with him. These
last offices concluded, his last comrade tearfully wrung his hand, fell into the ranks, and the word
'Forward!' was the last human sound that reached the ear of the dying man."
The wants of the survivors were attended to promptly, with certain judicious restrictions,
and nurses were appointed to attend to them during the night. They were separated from each
other to prevent a too exciting conversation, and every means taken to prevent excesses. Tobacco,
was the thing most craved for, and Strain remarks that it was the first thing asked for by himself
and other members of the advance party upon their arrival at Yavisa. The survivors were all
on their: way down to the river early next morning, and the reunion of all was effected at Yavisa
on the 27th. Another victim, Philip Vermilyea, was, however, buried the same evening. The
rest of Truxtun's men, quartered in the little village of Palmas, near Boca Chica, were carefully
attended to by Surgeon Ross and other medical officers of the Virago. After making the fullest
provisions for their immediate necessities, Strain proceeded to Panama to arrange for their trans-
portation. As previously stated, he reported to Commander Hollius on the 16th of April, and
having received the funds needed to complete his arrangements for the sick, he hastened: his
return to Palmas; on his way down, however, he met them coming up in one of the Virago's boats.
Arriving again at Panama on the 23d of April, he sent the sick forward to Aspinwall, with the
advantage of an easy journey of at least two days, while he remained at Panama with Mr. Maury
to await the result of the illness of Mr. Boggs, who died at the American hospital on the 24th.
On the following day Strain and his companion returned on board the Cyane, which vessel soon
set sail for New York, where she arrived on the 17th of May. The officers and men belonging to
the expedition had recruited as rapidly as could be expected of men who had spent sixty six days in
the forests of a tropical climate, and had been subjected to the extreme privations which have been
related. Commander Hollins immediately received from the Secretary of the Navy his congratu-
lations on the safe return of the survivors, with the testimonial that "his zeal in carrying out the
orders of the Department, and his activity in endeavoring to tender aid to Lieutenant Strain and
his party, met with the warmest approbation of the Department."
The crew of the Virago's cutter each received $ 00 in gold from the Department in remem-
brance of their services in the relief expedition; their commander, Lieutenant Forsyth, was, on
the official representation to his Government, promoted. The services of Mr. Bennett and those
of the medical officers and of Paymaster Hills, of the Virago, were gratefully acknowledged first
by a letter from Strain and afterwards by the Department.
As to the results of the expedition, Strain says: We claim to have clearly dispersed a mag-
nificent and dangerous fallacy, which had already cost many lives and swallowed up a large
amount of capital. We further claim that our difficulties and sufferings have prevented even a
greater loss of life by continued expeditions, saved immense pecuniary losses, and caused the
quiet dissolution of an association combining the first names in Europe, with a capital stock of


The value of this very hasty attempt will be differently estimated, according as the decision
is formed as to how much was thereby effected toward eliminating the route from future explora-
tion. History is full of seeming failures, not always failures, since they clear the path for other
and subsequent examinations. In so far as this was accomplished by Strain, his dashing journey
cannot be said to have been fruitless. It. was not, however, of that character safely called even
a reconnaissance which would satisfy the public mind or the formation of new plans for this part
of the Isthmus.
Gisborne had, in the meanwhile, returned to Caledonia Bay and found the Espeigle, the only
vessel there. With his engineering staff a reconnaissance was carried forward by the Aglaseniqua
over,the divide and into the valley of the Asnati. The only detail of this work given in the sum-
mary of his report is the height, 1,013 feet, of the lowest point of the dividing ridge between the
sources of the above-mentioned rivers. It is not mentioned by what means the data were obtained,
but it is presumed they were furnished by barometrical measurements. Arrangements were made
to cross from Sassadi Village over to the Morti River, but it subsequently transpired that the
headman of Sassadi collected forty or fifty of his men and refused permission to enter by that
route. The lateness of the season rendered it unwise to take up the work in any new field, and
arrangements were made for the return to England. The unfavorable results obtained were
treated by Gisborne in a professional spirit and accepted as proving the impracticability of the
route for the purpose intended.
Cullen's scheme received a blow which should have been its death, but its author had the bold-
ness, in face of facts, and of the misery and loss of life for which he was largely responsible, to
reassert, with certain modifications, the practicability of this route.


Notwithstanding the evidences of Cullen's unreliability, furnished from so many sources, M.
Roger, of Paris, enthusiastic over the Caledonia route, called him to his side and entered into
arrangements for the development of the line and formation of a company. Soon after the con-
cession was obtained and the preliminary preparations made for the survey of the line, M. Roger
found his scheme and credit imperiled by Cullen's demand for 60,000 francs, in hand, before he
would reveal the locality where the depression in the Cordilleras existed. Fortunately for M.
Roger he was enabled to sever his connection with Cullen, and maintain the dignity and honesty
of his own purpose.
In the interest of interoceanic communication by the Isthmus of Darien, M. Roger founded
and administered the Soci6t6 d'Etudes. Under the direction of this society an attempt at explora-
tion was made in the vicinity of Caledonia Bay, but nothing was accomplished.
Subsequently, in April, 1861, Mr. Bourdiol, as engineer-in-chief, joined a party of fourteen
persons sent out by the society to make an actual survey from the Pacific side to Caledonia Bay.
This was the first expedition to this region which employed instruments of precision. Work was
commenced at the mouth of the Lara, and a course (N. 490 E.) followed which it was supposed
would strike the Chucunaqua near the mouths of the Sucubti and La Paz. The progress of the
work was interfered with by the roughness of the country, and rarely, under the most favorable
circumstances, could they advance more than 1,500 meters in a day. The party remained five or six
days in the same camp, and, day by day, moved forward to fix themselves in one which they were-
constructing farther inland. The season was unfavorable, the rains often forcing them to suspend
work. In the midst of this rough life the negroes, whose services were very precious, began to
tire, and became daily more and more afraid of Indians, whose trail had been already recognized.
The instruments used were a compass, chain, and level, and the principal line was worked out by
the transverse levelings of a measured length. The party was soon reduced in numbers through
fatigue, hardship, and sickness; some returning to the Balandre, their little vessel, and others to
Panama, and on the 9th of May the negroes deserted in a body, alarmed by indications of the
presence of Indians. "Their abandonment of us," says Bourdiol, "left us in a very difficult posi-
tion, not as to our security, for we knew we could not count upon them in case of danger, but
because the strength of their arms was wanting to go before us, open up the route, and transport


our food, instruments, and necessary materials. Nevertheless, we continued to advance so long as
we should not be arrested by insurpassable obstacles. Every one of us took up the most laborious
work without regard to persons, and our good-will made up for our loss of numbers. But our
strength was giving out; occasional injuries and the insect bites, more serious than they had at
first appeared, compelled us to rest in consideration of our grievous sores. The levelings and dif-
ferent operations were not interrupted, so that after twenty days we had finished the work of
getting over the basin of the Savana and Chucunaqua, the altitude of which is about 65 meters.
"More than a month of our forest life had now passed. Our party, composed at first of twenty-
five men, was now reduced to seven, of whom several began to be at the end of their strength.
Lost in the immensity of the forest, thrown upon our own resources, with no hope of assistance,
counting only on ourselves, or, I should say, rather, each counting only on himself, we were com-
pelled, by force of circumstances, to learn to endure everything. Men accustomed to the influences
of civil society experience, when thus thrown upon themselves, sensations strange, but not lacking
in a charm which enlivens still more the splendor of nature. In these unremitting conflicts, the
body is hardened, the senses acquire an astonishing acuteness, the energies are exalted, and man
becomes conscious of the reality of his powers. A life of adventures in these rude countries offers
some compensation, always to be remembered, sometimes regretted."
The work was now in the vicinity of the Chucunaqua. The rains were fully set in and inter-
fered with progress; the streams and. ravines overflowed, forming real torrents, and threatened to
cut off their retreat. Desirous of carrying their line to the Chucunaqua every effort was made,
but the accumulation of water flooded their path and made it difficult to avoid straying from it.
A vigorous effort to effect a reconnaissance was made, and in order to find their route on the return
over the inundated plain, the members of the party were placed at intervals within hearing "as
so many living beacons," and an advance in this way attempted. The efforts were vain, as night
approached and they were obliged to cease operations. A few days later, the floods having sub-
sided, they were enabled, after a comparatively easy march of some hours, to reach the Chucuna-
qua. It was estimated that they struck the Chucunaqua a little above the Sucubti and La Paz,
but they really came out below the former and much above the latter. The elevation of the Chu-
cunaqua at this point, as given by Bourdiol, 29 meters (95 feet), is substantially the same as that
given by Cadozzi and Gisborne, but does not agree with the elevations subsequently determined by
Selfridge, who found the elevation of the mouth of the Sucubti to be about 146 feet. The difficul-
ties which Bourdiol encountered in prosecuting the survey and the fact that the level line was
not complete to the Chucunaqua may account for the error.
The exploration ended here; it was impossible to go farther-; the party was used up and the
supplies exhausted. Returning to France, M. Bourdiol, who evidently appreciated the necessity
of full data by his attempts to secure them, made the common and fatal mistake of using the few he
had obtained to unfold a project and estimate its cost. His canal was to be 31 miles long,-and to
overcome an elevation of 144 feet (?). Twenty-two locks were required. eleven on each side. The
total cost was to be $34,000,000.

To Baron von Humboldt belongs the honor of calling attention to the Atrato routes, but the
credit for their earliest investigation belongs to Mr. Frederick M. Kelley, of New York, a gentleman
whose name is honorably and inseparably connected with the problem of interoceanic commu-
nication, who, while still a young man, with an acquired fortune, sought through study the means
of making useful to mankind his wealth and leisure. In 1851, while studying the scientific history
and geography of Central America, he became impressed with the force of Humboldt's observations
on the subject of interoceanic communication, and appreciating the importance of the problem,
determined to apply his time and means to its solution. He entered upon his researches with the
conviction that a canal without locks, if practicable, would be the only one that could satisfy the
demands of commerce, and to this conviction he remains steadfast to the present day.
Humboldt's legend of the Raspadfira Canal, which, it was claimed, connected the headwaters
of the Atrato and San Juan Rivers, and was navigable for canoes during the rainy season, led him
to believe that this locality merited close study. With this view he sought and secured the assist-
ance of other gentlemen, and they together engaged the services of J. C. Trautwine, C. E., a gen-
tleman of high professional attainments and with an extended experience of engineering works
in Central America, to make a study of this route with reference to the practicability of construct-
ing a canal available for steamers of about six feet draught.
In executing this work Trautwine had two assistants, Dr. Mina Halsted and Mr. Henry Mc-
Cann, and made use of the following instruments, viz: Aneroid barometer, thermometer, compass,
tape-line, Locke's hand level, and the spirit-level. His examination included a careful study of the
Gulf of DarieiT, and the bars which impede the entrances of the several streams which form the
delta of the Atrato, also an account of these streams and of the river itself to its headwaters.
From here he crossed the dividing ridge at three different points, and examined both the Baudo
and San Juan Rivers throughout their length. Between the Pato and Baudo the dividing ridge
was found to be over 500 feet high, and between the Santa M6nica and San Juan the line of levels
"showed that the bed or bottom of the San Juan at San Pablo was 103 feet below that of the Santa
M6nica at the Tambo of San Pablo, or head of canoe navigation; and that the lowest intervening
ground at the summit between the two is about 183 feet above the former, or 80 feet above the
latter." In view of these results Trautwine says that "it must be self-evident that the idea of a
ship-canal cannot be entertained for a moment. * Among the principal difficulties to be
encountered in the construction of even acanal for small boats, of say three feet draught, is, first, that
the San Juan is 103 feet below the head of canoe navigation on the Santa M6nica; and that the
lowest depression in the dividing ridge between the two streams is about 183 feet above the former,
and about 80 feet above the latter. We therefore should have (on the most economical mode of
proceeding) 103 feet of lockage, in connection with a long cut of some 80 or 90 feet in depth at the
center, and a reservoir for supplying the summit level. Besides these, the Santa M6nica would
require a good deal of improvement, as before hinted; as would also the upper portion of the San
Pablo, before they would be available for a tolerably regular system of navigation by boats of
even three feet draught."
The canal of Raspad(ra was in reality a hill, across which canoes were dragged, as they now
are, not only at that point, but at many others in this region. A canoe was so transported at
one of the partition points at which I crossed, and at the same time. I was at San Pablo in 1852,
or but sixty-four years after the date given to Humboldt as that at which the Cura's canal was dug;
yet persons living near the spot, both before and ever since that period, told me they had never
heard of it; nor did I meet with one out of more than fifty persons familiar with the Raspadfira
H. Ex. 107- 9 65


locality that had. This is not to be construed into a proof that no ditch was dug, but merely that
it was a work of such entire insignificance as to create little or no impression even in a region
where internal improvements are entirely unknown."
Trautwine's results were secured by excessively hard work and under the unfavorable condi-
tions of being obliged to depend upon the resources of the country for food and transportation, but
their accuracy and fullness indicate his ability, energy, and conscientiousness. As an observer
and reporter of facts, whether for or against, he has not been excelled by any explorer on the
Isthmus. The discouraging results, however, caused Mr. Kelley's associates to abandon the scheme,
but he retained the hope that a more extended examination of the region between the headwaters
of the Atrato and San Juan would reveal better conditions connecting the two oceans. Taking the
burden of expense upon himself, he caused two studies of the region to be made in 1853; one by
Mr. Porter and the other by Mr. Lane, but with no better results than were obtained by Trautwine,
whose work was entirely confirmed.
Baffled in this direction, he turned his attention in 1853 to the western tributaries of the Atrato,
between its headwaters and the Truando. He says : "I left nothing untried in these directions,
sparing neither expense nor scientific resources, but, being baffled again, at the suggestion of Mr.
Lane I fell back upon the Truando, convinced that there or nowhere in the whole range of Central
America were the proportions of a ship-canal to be found. This river was explored by Mr. Lane
as far as the Saltos, but his health failing he was compelled to return. I then fitted out another
party under Captain Kennish. Their instructions were to search for a good harbor on the Pacific,
and, if possible, for a favorable place where, by a clear cut or tunnel, that harbor might be connected
with the Truando and Atrato Rivers, at such a level as to admit of nearly still water all the way,
with depth and width sufficient to enable steamers, men-of-war, and merchant ships of heavy burden
to pass from ocean to ocean without detention and upon an even keel.
Those only who have embarked their fortunes, time, and hopes of honorable distinction in great
enterprises, can imagine the tremulous anxiety with which I waited for tidings from this party under
Captain Kennish, which went out in 1854. Franklin was not more delighted when he drew the
lightning from the clouds, or Columbus when he discovered America, than I was when it was
demonstrated, by instrumental measurements, that the two oceans could be united; that all the
science, industry, enlightened enterprise, and generous expenditure lavished upon this great field
of investigation had not been exhausted in vain. Men of the highest intellect and moral elevation,
such as Columbus and Humboldt, had foreseen the importance of this passage, sought and prayed
for it; Cortez, Pizarro, and Balboa, as they pursued across the Isthmus and along the shores of
both oceans their schemes of discovery and of conquest, could scarcelybelieve that the great Creator
had not somewhere provided a highway between the Atlantic and Pacific through that narrow
thread of land which seemed hardly to divide them. From their day to ours, in all commercial
countries, deep solicitude had been shown for the discovery of this passage. Men of science had
searched for it; brave and energetic men had perished in those enterprises; governments and pub-
lic companies had vied with each other in endeavoring to secure facilities for the annually increas-
ing commerce of two mighty oceans, which the stern aspects of the Cordilleras had hitherto turned
aside. How could I believe that the Disposer of Events had crowned my humble labors with suc-
cess? How could I fail to fear that my engineers might be deceived; that the resources of the
scientific world might yet dispel the illusions to which, as though they were realities, I fondly clung?
I England and submitted my plans and reports to the Royal Geographical Society of Lon-
don, and to the British Institution of Civil Engineers. I invited the searching criticism of those
most competent to judge in the mother country. I went to France, and, knowing how deep an
interest the Emperor Napoleon had taken in the promotion of similar enterprises, and how profound
a knowledge he had displayed of the general subject, at a time when correct views were confined
to a limited circle, I laid my plans and surveys before his Imperial Majesty, and invited to their
consideration, in the most public manner, the highest science in the service of the Government and
people of France. I went to Berlin, and frankly explained to that illustrious sage, the pioneer of
all scientific knowledge of Central America, the general views which I entertained, and the nature

*The Union of the Oceans by Ship-Canal without Locks via the Atrato Valley. Frederick M. Kelley.


of the evidence by which they had been confirmed. In those three enlightened countries I was not
treated as a stranger. There was a grandeur in the design of which I was the bearer, a dignity in
the mission with which I was charged, that won for me courtesies which, on mere personal grounds,
no stranger going to Europe for a first time could have anticipated or claimed. From the Emperor
of the French, from Lord Clarendon, from Sir Richard Murchison, from Baron Humboldt, from Rear-
Admiral Beechy, from Robert Stephenson, Admiral Fitzroy, and the members generally of the Royal
Society and Institute, I received great kindness; and, what was of more importance, they applied
to my plans and reports in a catholic and courteous spirit, but with a rigid exactness due to science
and their own high reputations, those tests suggested and fortified by their great experience. A
friendless and unknown American citizen was treated by these men as though he was k brother,
not because he was eminent in science, but because they recognized in him the zeal, the prophetic
hope, and self-devotion which are ever the handmaids of science.
"While the honest criticism or kind consideration of those elevated and enlightened men
strengthened and encouraged me, I felt that they had laid upon me a new obligation; I was bound
to give to them, even more than to the world at large, the best evidence of the sincerity and honesty
of my purposes, and of the skill and integrity of the agents I had employed. I could only furnish
this evidence by the aid and through the instrumentality of the Government of my country. The
Hon. James Buchanan was then our minister to England. That distinguished man not only dis-
charged towards me the duties of hospitality and courtesy to which perhaps as an American
citizen I was entitled, but he encouraged me to hope and to apply for the verification of my own
Government; and one of his first acts, when the suffrages of the nation had placed him at its
head, was to facilitate the passage of the law under which that verification has been obtained.
"To secure, upon the authority of officers pledged by their reputations, no less than by'the
obligations of their official positions, to accuracy and good faith, a confirmation of my views, and of
the accuracy of my engineers, was the last and highest duty which I pwed to the scientific world,
to the engineers who had aided and advised me, and to those friends who, in Europe and America,
had shown me countenance and given me support. That duty has been discharged."
The Congress of the United States realizing the importance of the enterprise, and stimulated
to take the lead in prosecuting the necessary explorations, passed an act, which was approved
March 3, 1857, by President Buchanan, making an appropriation for that purpose. Section 10 of
that act reads as follows:
"And be it further enacted, That the Secretaries of War and Navy be authorized, under the
direction of the President, to employ such officers of the Army and Navy as may be necessary for
the purpose, to make exploration and verification of the surveys already made of a ship-canal, near
the Isthmus of Darien, to connect the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic by the Atrato and
Trundo Rivers: Provided, That the expense shall not exceed twenty-five thousand dollars, which
are hereby appropriated therefore out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated."
The project which had been reported upon favorably by Kennish, depended upon the practica-
bility of turning a portion of the waters of the Atrato into the Pacific, thus forming a new arm or
river flowing with a moderate current through a tunnel under the Cordillera. The principles on
which this was to be executed are:
First. That the mean level of both oceans is the same.
Second. That the tidal wave at the mouth of the New River, on the Pacific shore, oscillates
12 feet 6 inches at spring tides, and 10 feet 11 inches at neap tides; while at the mouth of the
Atrato (the terminus of the passage on the Atlantic) the tidal wave does not exceed 2 feet at any
phase of the moon.
Third. That the waters of the Atrato, at the point of junction with the New River, are 15.2
above the mean tidal level of either ocean..
Fourth. That the junction or summit of the New River is, therefore, 9 feet above the Pacific
at the highest tide, and thus the water will flow down it with a velocity equal to that head; while
at the lowest tide the velocity will be equal to 21.45 feet head.
In accordance with the act of Congress, a portion of which is given above, Lieut. Nathaniel
Michler, Corps of Topographical Engineers, United States Army, and Lieut. T. A. Craven, United
States Navy, were detailed to execute the work of verification. This arrangement was a clumsy.


one, as it left the question of command unsettled, to which each officer, jealous of his rank, laid
claim. The direction of the survey was placed in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy. On the
return of Lieutenants Michler and Craven, he decided in reference to the claim to report results
that, as they had been appointed to co-operate together, as a joint commission, they should report
severally if unable to concur in a joint report. The former course was adopted, Michler favoring
the route while Craven condemned it. Of these two opinions, Michler's was certainly entitled to
first consideration, not only on account of professional fitness to interpret the data bearing upon
the immediate line of canalization, but because these data had been secured under his direction
and supervision, whereas Craven had been engaged in the hydrographical work of the survey, and
not having access to Michler's field-notes and measurements, his knowledge of the line was limited
to that gained in passing over it to and from the Pacific side. His judgment was not at fault,.
however, in estimating the obstacles to the work, and while he felt that human ingenuity and per-
severance might overcome them, he was of the opinion that the construction of the proposed canal
was "impracticable, as involving an expenditure of treasure not easily estimated, and a sacrifice
of life from which the stoutest heart may shrink." The actual physical difficulties were summed
up by him under the following heads:
1. A cut through some five miles of submerged mud at the mouth of the river, with the. pros-
pective certainty of constant dredging to keep it open.
2. The herculean labor and incalculable expense of cutting through the lagoons of the Truando
and the imbedded logs of the Palosadas, where the whole country is inundated during at least nine
months of the year, and where the floods of a day may destroy the work of weeks.
3. The immense expense attending the removal of basaltic rock, in a country where labor and
provisions must all be imported at most extravagant rates.
4. The want of an anchorage on the Pacific coast.
5. The fatal climate, which it may safely be estimated will disable, at all times, one third of
any force sent there.
The result of Michler's work is a general verification of the feasibility of the project proposed
by Kennish. In points of detail many of the latter's measurements were found to be in error, but
inasmuch as Kennish had been unable to use instruments of precision on a great part of the line,
this was not so surprising as that he should have estimated so closely. He placed the mouth of
the Truando at 15.2 feet above the mean level of the sea. In the computation which gave this
result he used 67.75 miles as the distance from the mouth of the Truando to the Gulf of Darien,
whereas the correct distance is 75.25 miles. Making the correction due to this difference in distance,
the resulting height obtained is 23.9 feet, while that found by Michler's survey was 25.75 feet.
This height is for a low stage of the Atrato, and at an extremely high rise of water, or freshet, when
the banks are overflowed, it reaches to 36.5 feet.
The route proposed by Michler differs materially from that suggested by Kennish. By refer-
ence to the map, it will be seen that the general course of the Truando, from its mouth for a dis-
tance of about 23 miles by its meanderings, is nearly parallel to the Atrato. A straight line drawn
from the point where the Truando makes a considerable bend to the northward, and perpendicular
to the general direction of the Atrato, is about 7.5 miles in length and strikes the latter river at a
point 22 miles above the village of Sucio. This is considered the summit point, and is computed
to be 32 feet, at a low stage of the Atrato, above the level of the sea. In extreme high water it
would be 10.77 feet higher, or 42.77. On account of distance saved, and because the current in the
New River would not exceed that of the Atrato, but rather fall below it, Michler selected this sum-
mit as the initial point of the canal cut. It was proposed that this cut should follow the line above
described, across the swamps to the Truando, then follow the general course of the river to the
mouth of the Nercua, a tributary of the Truando, and thence a short distance up the Nercua to the
mouth of one of its tributaries, the Grundo, where it leaves the Nercua Valley, and, after piercing
the Cordillera with a tunnel 12,250 feet in length, strikes the Chuparador, on the Pacific slope, and
follows that stream to the Paracuchichi, which leads it to the ocean.
The dimensions of the canal were to be 100 feet at surface of water and 30 feet deep; the.height
of tunnel 100 feet above water surface. Michler estimated the cost would be $134,450,154.
The labors of Michler and his able scientific staff were not only accompanied by the many hard-

The Truando-Atrato route.

o I

H. EX,.1r._, 2, 47.


ships incident to the country, but, owing to the unsuitable packages for transportation into which
the provisions were made up, and to a deficiency in quantity and quality, much embarrassment
and some distress resulted. Notwithstanding these drawbacks, the work was pushed to completion,
and the resulting line was the first in the Atrato Valley that could base its claim of practicability
upon full and reliable data, and, moreover, was the first line pronounced feasible for a canal without
locks or dams.
An important and disappointing result established by Michler's study of the Truando route
was, that the cost of the contemplated work would amount to nearly twice that estimated by Maj.
E. W. Serrell, on the data furnished by Kennish. This unwelcome fact, together with a knowledge
of many difficulties which would attend the development of the project in that locality influenced Mr.
Kelley to seek elsewhere for better conditions. His chief objections to the route were similar to
those advanced by Lieutenant Craven. They were: "Its great length; the necessity of creating
a harbor on the Pacific coast; the almost impossibility of controlling the flood waters of the
Truando Valley, and the difficulty of effecting and keeping open an entrance into the Atrato River
by any system of engineering without the prospective certainty of everlasting dredging.
"In addition to the foregoing objections," continues Mr. Kelley, "the more deeply I studied
the subject, the more clearly I saw that the increasing size of ships, the vast and rapid accumula-
tions of wealth, the gigantic growth of trade all over the world imperiously demanding the shortest
and most direct lines of travel, would, sooner or later, demand and cut a deep, wide seadevel canal
across the narrowest part of the Isthmus, cost what it may; therefore, what was the use of wasting
time and money on any long route either with or without locks?"
The narrowest part of the American Isthmus inviting his study was that lying between the
Gulf of San Bias, on the Atlantic, and the mouth of the Bayano, on the Pacific. There was hardly
any doubt as to the mountainous character of the intervening country, but the usual legends existed
about low passes and of communication by canoe from one shore to the other. Before commencing
a survey of the San Bias route, Mr. Kelley sent his oldest engineer, Mr. Rude, to make a baromet-
rical reconnaissance of the Tuyra route. The results not being encouraging, he sought through
Col. G. M. Totten, then chief engineer and superintendent of the Panama Railroad, information
relating to the feasibility of making an open and thorough cut on the Panama route. Colonel
Totten stated that it would be impossible to build a canal by that route without introducing ten or
twelve locks, and that the Chagres River could not be turned from its bed out of the way of a canal.
This opinion being sustained by Mr. Kelley's engineers and others who had been on the ground,
he gave up the idea of a canal at Panama without locks, and proceeded to ascertain the character-
istics of the Isthmus in the vicinity of San Blas.
The only previous attempts to survey this route were made by Mr. Wheelwright, in 1837, and
by Mr. Evan Hopkins, a few years later, but were not carried far enough to be of any value, the
attitude of the Indians in each case preventing extended explorations. Some information, how-
ever, was gained, and, profiting by it, Mr. Kelley sent Mr. Rude, in 1863, to make a barometrical
reconnaissance, in order to obtain approximate heights and distances. This was followed in 1864
by a regular survey executed by Messrs. A. McDougal, C. A. Sweet, J. E. Forman, and N. Rude,
under orders from Messrs. Kelley, Cyrus Butler, and Luke T. Merrill.
The line of survey was from Chepillo Island, in the Bay of Panama, to the mouth of the Bayano;
up that river to the Mamoni, which was followed to its junction with the San Jose. The line was
carried up the last named river to the divide, crossing which it entered the valley of the Mandinga
(?) and proceeded towards the Atlantic until within an estimated distance of about 2 miles from the
Gulf of San Blas, when the work was abandoned on account of the hostile force of the Indians and
the desertions which occurred from the party. This unfortunate interference of the Indians has
been the source of much annoyance, as the uncompleted line could not satisfy all questions relating
to this interesting section. However, many attractive features were developed, and it was con-
sidered that the canal would not be longer than 27J miles, but the tunnel involved would be 7 miles
long. In view of an apparent difference in the results claimed for this route by this survey, and
by that subsequently executed by Commander Selfridge, the details of the line will be considered
in connection with those shown by the latter survey, and later in this work it is proposed to make
a technical comparison of the routes which merit such attention.


The San Bias survey ended the series of field studies under Mr. Kelley's direction, which gave
to the world for the first time positive data from the mysterious regions of Darien and the Valley
of the Atrato. To have thus advanced the development of the problem entitles him to the highest
consideration in connection therewith, and it must be added, as a measure of his public spirit, that
in his researches he expended from his own means the sum of $125,000.


In closing the subject of the earlier explorations in Darien, a brief reference only will be made
to the projects of De Paydt, Gogorza, De Lacharme, and Flachat, involving a line of canalization to
connect the Gulf of San Miguel with the Gulf of Uraba or Darien. These explorations were of a
very imperfect character, and belong to the Gisborne class of failures.
De Puydt, in 1861, when making an examination of the Tuyra and of several of its tributaries,
came to the conclusion that in the eastern part of that valley the elevation was sufficiently low,
or else the rents in the mountains sufficiently deep, for the construction of a navigable water-way
suitable for all kinds of vessels of whatever tonnage." Subsequently, in December, 1864, in the
interests of the "Columbian Canal International Company," he undertook an exploration from the
Gulf of Darien, by the Tanela River, to find this pass. His examination was a brief one, and the
only measurements which he reports are those taken to obtain the velocity of the river at different
points, with a view to a determination of its rate of fall, from which he could estimate the height
of the "threshold of division." The result of calculations based upon these valueless data made
the height 101 feet, but, allowing for the insufficiency of details furnished, he was of the opinion
that the correct height above the level of the sea would be found to be above 150 feet. As might
he expected, this elevation is very much lower than that which really exists.
In 1865, Seinor Gogorza discovered a map and documents in the Spanish archives which indi-
cated the existence of a pass through the Cordillera, at the headwaters of the Panusa, a tributary
of the Tuyra, which would be suitable for the purposes of an interoceanic canal. Obtaining the
co-ol)eration of capitalists in Paris, an expedition was organized and placed under the charge of
M. De Lacharme, C. E. M. Flachat was appointed by the 'f Compagnie Generale Transatlan-
tique" to verify the work of this survey. Not finding the party ready for the field ou his arrival
at Panama, and pleading the limited time at his disposal for the work, he started off on an explo-
ration of his own. This was regarded by Gogorza as an usurpation of his rights to the discovery
of the pass.
M. Flachat made a hurried reconnaissance up the Tuyra, first to the mouth of the Pucro, and
later up as far as the Panusa. His facilities for securing information regarding the country were
very limited, but he made good use of such as he could command, and succeeded in gaining suffi-
cient knowledge of the locality to satisfy himself of the immense obstacles which would be encoun-
tered in any project for canalizing the Tuyra route.
M. De Lacharme was instructed to examine the indicated passage by the river Panusa. Senor
Gogorza intended to accompany him, but he finally resolved to remain at Panama. Arriving
at the confluence of the Paya and Tuyra Rivers, De Lacharme was led by several considerations
to abandon the route marked out for him and to select that by way of the Paya River to the divide;
thence by the Cacarica River to the Atrato. His confidence in the course decided upon was
increased by an incident which occurred shortly after entering the Paya River. He says: "Having
killed a pisisi duck, I heard one of my interpreters, who had lived for some time at Paya, say that
at a certain season of the year flocks of these ducks passed over Paya, directing their flight toward
the sun-rising. I asked some questions on this point, and was satisfied that these ducks, according
to their habit, were seeking a lake where to pass the summer; and as these water birds never fly over
high ground if they can proceed by way of valleys and water-courses among the hills, there remained
to me no doubt but that at this place I should find the desired passage."
M. De Lacharme proceeded up the Paya, and followed the route indicated to the confluence of
the Chelepo with the Cacarica; here he felt obliged to end his excursion, not having boats to con-
vey him to the Atrato. He was satisfied that a canal could be advantageously located on this
route, and that it would be only 50 miles long; that 14 miles on the Pacific side and about 6 miles


on the Atlantic side would be excavated through alluvial soil; and that the summit level near the
village of Paya would be only 190 feet above the level of the sea. He placed the height of the
divide at 290 feet above the sea, and gave its base the modest dimension of not more than 656
feet through from slope to slope. Judging from the results of De Lacharme's observations,it would
seem that the pisisi ducks had proven themselves good guides, but, unfortunately the observations
were imperfect, as was proven later by precise methods, and this ruined the reputation of the



The possibility of a canal across this narrow part of the Isthmus had been before the minds
of men perhaps most prominently of all the lines from the time of Balboa's crossing to the South
Sea to Garella's survey in 1844. Until the explorations and surveys by Lloyd and Falmarc, in
1828, and the more complete surveys by Garella, no survey was made during the intervening three
centuries; neither the relative height of the two oceans, nor that of the highlands between them,
nor the geographical points even of the Isthmus had been determined.
The surveys to be noted are those made by Lloyd and Falmarc, for General Bolivar, in 1828;
by Garella, under sanction of Louis Philippe, 1844; by Mr. J. C. Trautwine, C. E., and Col. G. W.
Hughes, in 1849, and by Mr. G. M. Totten, in 1857. The last-named three were made in the inter-
est of the Panama Railroad Company.


In May, 1828, under a special commission from General Bolivar, Mr. Lloyd, in connection with
a brother officer, a Swede in the colonial service, commenced their work, although the rainy season
had already set in, at a point in the suburbs of Panama, from which he followed the old road to
Porto Bello until he struck the Chagres River. This was effected after 732 pairs of levelings in
a distance from Panama of 1,828 chains (224 miles). The greatest elevation he had passed over
was 633 feet.
On February 7, in the next year, during the dry season, work was resumed and the line
advanced to a point in the Chagres 12 miles from its mouth. The survey was arrested at this
point because, although its primary object was to ascertain the most eligible line for communica-
tion between the two seas (by road or canal), a secondary but important object was to "determine
the relative height of the ocean on either side." The point reached, La Bruja, was considered to
be the high-water level of the Atlantic at Chagres. In regard to the relative levels of the two
oceans Lloyd reported:
I, The mean height of the Pacific at Panama, 3.52 feet above that of the Atlantic at the mouth
of the Chagres.
II. At high water the Pacific is raised above its mean level 10.61 feet, and the Atlantic above
its mean level .58 feet.
III. At low water both seas are the same quantities below their respective mean levels.
As regards interoceanic communication he reported that "the spot where the continent of
America is reduced to nearly its narrowest limits, being distinguished by a break for a few miles
in the great chain of mountains (otherwise extending to the northern and southern limits of the
Isthmus), points out a peculiar fitness for establishing a communication across."
The details of Lloyd's work, with his plans and maps, were deposited in the library of the
Royal Society, but not published. A large part of his work was reconnaissance merely.
It is proper to state here that a series of observations made by Colonel Totten, the superin-
tendent of the Panama Railroad, show that there is really no difference between the mean levels
of the two oceans. A system of careful levelings older the finished road-bed of the railway, from
sea to sea, in connection with a series of tidal observations at the terminal ports, showed that the
mean level of the Atlantic was from about one-tenth of a foot to seven-tenths of a foot lower than
SThe contents of this chapter were derived mainly from the manuscripts of Professor Nourse.


the mean level of the Pacific, and this difference, Colonel Totten says, is probably owing to local
circumstances alone.
There is, however, a very great difference in the range of the tides at the terminal ports. At
Aspinwall the highest tide amounts to only 1.6 feet, while at Panama the greatest rise is 21.3 feet
The result of this difference in the range of the tides is that sometimes the Pacific is higher than
the Atlantic and sometimes lower, but at mid-tide they are on a level.

In consequence of representations from Messrs. Salomon & Co. that a route was practicable
across this section for a canal without locks, by an open cut from sea to sea, M. Guizot, when
premier of France, "decided to study the problem on the same line in regard to which they had
received such surprising accounts from Salomon," etc. The French Government, therefore, sent
over M. Garella and his assistant, M. Courtines, Conducteur des Ponts et Chaussees," with instruc-
tions to study the question chiefly in regard to the nature of the obstacles to be surmounted, the
means to be employed, and the cost of such an enterprise. The chief points therefore reported
upon were:
I. The depression in the Cordillera,-between Porto Bello and Panama. upon the representation
made as regards the summit level of 12 meters, said to have been found by Morel. Garella says
he despaired of finding this long before approaching the point. He reported from successive obser-
vations elevations from 120 to 160 meters as the lowest on the line.
I. The water supply could be secured by means of two lateral canals.
III. In order to save expense of lockage a tunnel of 5,350 meters was found necessary. This
was proposed at an elevation of 99 meters, 325 feet, below the highest point of the mountain, the
summit line for a distance of 25,361 feet being 135 feet above high-water of the Pacific. The
number of locks was thirty-five. The estimated expense for a canal 66 feet wide at bottom, 98 feet
at surface, and 12 feet deep, was $6,600,000, designed to accommodate vessels of 600 tons.


On the completion of the contract between the Government of New Granada and the Panama
Railroad Company, an experienced party of engineers under Col. George W. Hughes, United States
Topographical Engineers, was sent down to survey and locate the road. Colonel Hughes con-
firmed the reconnaissance previously made by the engineers, who had been under Messrs. J. L.
Stephens and J. L. Baldwin, in their discovery of a gap of not more than 300 feet elevation. A yet
lower opening was also found and the line located from Navy Bay to Panama.
The summit grade on this road is 258 feet above the assumed grade at the Atlantic, and 242.7
feet above the assumed grade at the Pacific terminus. It is 263 feet above the mean tide of the
Atlantic Ocean, and the summit ridge is 287 feet above the same level. The maximum grade is 60
feet to the mile.
The total length of the road is 47 miles, 3,020 feet; of this distance 23- miles are level and 28-
straight. Some curves are very abrupt. To cross the numerous streams and rivers it was neces-
sary to build 134 culverts, drains, and bridges of 10 feet and less, and one hundred and seventy
bridges of from 12 feet to 625 feet span. The track is a single one, but has four sidings. Work
was commenced in January, 1850, and the, last rail was laid on the night of January 28, 1855. The
original contractors for the work were Messrs. G. M. Totten and J. C. Trautwine. Previous to
entering into this contract, they were engaged in constructing the Dique Canal, to connect the
Magdalena River with Carthagena. Soon after undertaking the work of constructing the railroad
they were released from their contract at their own request, and retained as the engineers of the
road, the company itself taking the responsibility of construction.
In regard to the mortality which occurred during the progress of the work, it is almost impos-
sible to make any certain statement. No doubt the number of deaths was very great, and for that
reason has been exaggerated. The president of the road in 1855 said, in relation to this matter,
that "the first blow was struck in January, 1850. Since then a strict record has been kept of
deaths which have occurred among the white men employed by the company, and up to the time
H. Ex. 107-10


of opening the road, on the 28th January, 1855, the number was 293, of which many are known
to have been caused by diseases not incidental to the climate. How many white men were con.
nected with the work during the period cannot be accurately detailed, but the number was at least
6,000. No record was kept of the mortality among other classes of laborers; but the proportion
was greater among coolies, and less among Jamaica men and natives."
Although the number of recorded deaths is not very great, it must be remembered that few,
if any, of the laborers who were employed escaped without contracting disease, and that many
deaths of whites even remain unrecorded.

This route lies in the State of Panama, between the Chiriqui Lagoon, on the Atlantic, and
the Gulf of Dulce, on the Pacific. It is noticed, not because it claims any attention as a route for
a ship-canal, but to show why it has no such claim.
In 1860 it was made a subject of study by a Commission directed by Congress to examine
into and report upon the quality and probable quantity of coal to be found there upon the lands
of the Chiriqui Improvement Company; upon the character of the harbors of Chiriqui Lagoon
and Golfito; upon the practicability of building a railroad across said Isthmus, so as to connect
said harbors; and generally upon the value of the privileges contracted for in a conditional con-
tract made on the twenty-first day of May, eighteen hundred and fifty-nine, between Isaac Toucey,
the Secretary of the Navy of the United States, and Ambrose W. Thompson and the Chiriqui
Improvement Company."
The members of the Commission were: Capt. F. Engle, U. S. N.; Lieut. W. N. Jeffers, U. S.
N.; Lieut. J. St. C. Morton, of the Topographical Engineers, U. S. A.; and Dr. John Evans,
geologist. The time and means at the disposal of the Commission were not sufficient to permit
the execution of a full survey. An elaborate series of barometric observations, taken at the sea.
level hourly during the absence of the exploring party, served as the standard for the reduction
of all observations taken in the field.
The altitude of the most practicable pass for a railroad through the Cordillera, which is here
made up of extinct volcanoes from 7,000 to 11,000 feet high, is 6,270 feet above the sea-level. In
concluding his report to the Secretary of the Navy, Captain Engle states that the results of the
explorations and surveys made by the Chiriqui Commission are thus demonstrated: By Lieutenant
Morton, that a practicable route for a line of railroad has been found between the two oceans, on
the Isthmus of Chiriqui; by Lieutenant Jeffers, the hydrographer, that the great and grand har-
bors at its termini afford every requisite for the protection of naval and commercial marine, and,
for all practical purposes, to an unlimited extent; and by Dr. Evans, the geologist, that the best
coal for steam navigation exists at and near the Atlantic harbors of the Chiriqui Lagoon."

Any valuable knowledge of the proper topography of this isthmus is of recent date; although
doubtless its general features were early known to the Spaniards. Their leaders, Gonzales, D'Avila,
and Hernandez de Cordova, partially explored it, when they named it Nicaragua, from the Cacique,
so called, who aided them in its conquest. In 1854, D'Avila and Cerneda, commanding a squadron
of discovery under Cortez, announced the existence of an interior fresh-water sea at only three
leagues from the coast-a sea which they said rose and fell alternately, communicating, as was
believed, with the North Sea. Various reconnaissances were made under the idea that, by this
communication existing with the Gulf of Mexico, an easy transit could be established between
the Spice Islands and Spain. It was even laid down on old maps that a communication by water
existed from sea to sea. Other and later maps represented a river, under the name of Rio Partido,
as giving one of its branches'to the Pacific Ocean, and the other to Lake Nicaragua. The archives
of Madrid contained French and English memoirs on joining the Pacific and the lake, based on
these crude ideas-memoirs opened to Humboldt in the end of the eighteenth century. A knowledge
of the country obtained by an exploration by the engineer Bantista Antonelli, under orders from
Philip II, served to correct these false ideas. Surveys previously ordered by royal decrees in 1524


and 1537 were never executed, "the Castilian captains of Nicaragua being fully occupied by their
own rivalries and by their search for gold."
The report made at a later date, 1779, to Charles III of Spain, by Cramer, Ysasi, and Muestro,
was unfavorable; they represented that in place of the supposed communication between the lake
and the Pacific, high mountains intervened, and that the lowest part of the bottom of the lake was
43 feet higher than the level of the Pacific. Don Manuel Galisteo, in 1781, reported the same to be
55 feet lower than the Pacific, and the surface of the lake to be 35 feet higher. He made the
distance-from the Pacific to the lake 18.5 miles; the elevation of the summit 284 feet above the
ocean and 151 feet above the lake, thus giving the height of the lake above the ocean 133 feet.
A canal by this route, he reported, would require a tunnel, as open cuts exceeding 65 feet in depth
were not ordinarily made.
This was an enterprise of greater magnitude than the commerce of that day would justify, but
it was by no means beyond the skill of Spanish engineering talent bold enough to project and exe-
cute the great work of the Mexican Desague to secure the City of Mexico from the effects of floods.
Humboldt refers to it as "' one of the most gigantic hydraulic operations ever executed by man,"
and Admiral Fitzroy says: This wonderful work, 200 feet deep and 300 feet wide for nearly 1,000
yards and above 100 feet deep through an extent of 3,000 yards (making altogether two miles of
distance in which that vast excavation would be capable of concealing the masthead of a first rate
man-of-war), executed within the last three centuries within Central America, should induce us to
listen respectfully to the plans of modern engineers, however startling they may appear at first."
The successful acquirement of independence by the Central American States almost immedi-
ately prompted plans and memorials to them from English and American capitalists for constructing
a canal. Companies were formed and negotiations entered into for this purpose, among which
latter was a proposal by Minister Canaz to the United States Government, through Hon. Henry
Clay, Secretary of State, in the year 1825, asking co-operation in constructing a canal. Mr. Clay
instructed our representative, Mr. Williams, February 10, 1826, to ascertain if surveys had been
made, if confidence could be placed in their accuracy, and what facilities of construction were
offered. No detailed report appears ever to have been made, doubtless prevented by the unsettled
political state of the country; no survey was furnished, none renewed.
In 1830, after the failure of the American house of Palmer, in connection with Barclay & Co.,
of England, to enter upon their concession from Central America, General Verveer, of Holland,
visited Nicaragua for King William, who two years before had announced his intention of sending
two engineers to make a survey for a canal. The perpetually recurring revolutions in Central
America and the war between Belgium and the Netherlands prevented additions to a knowledge of
the country.
The favorable disposition of General Morazan, President of Central America in 1836, toward a
canal, induced him to employ on a survey Mr. John Bailey, R. M., long a resident in the country.
His exploration, begun in 1837, was interrupted by the revolution which within ten years displaced
Morazan. It was also confined to the Pacific side and the lakes.
In the month of August, 1850, under appointment from the American Atlantic and Pacific
Ship Canal Company, Col. 0. W. Childs, a distinguished engineer, accompanied by Messrs. J. D. Fay
and S. H. Sweet as assistants, began a survey on the Pacific side. The instructions which he received
favored his examination of the route from Salinas Bay, but, as he was not strictly bound to these,
he made reconnaissance of other routes also, preferring finally that which terminates in Brito.
His reconnaissance between the lake at the mouth of the Sapoa River and the Pacific at Salinas
Bay gave these results: elevation of the summit, 534 feet above the bay; elevation of a summit
which might be established by means of a low dam, 432 feet; depth of cut required, 119 feet;
ascending lockage from the Lake, 320.5 feet; descending lockage to the Pacific, 432 feet; permanent
supply of water from Sapoa River, 4,000 cubic feet per minute, and sites for reservoirs for additional
supplies very favorable. The disadvantages of this line, are: depth of cut; length of distance
necessary for deposit of excavated material; large amount of lockage; expense of water-supply,
and a cut through rock for three-fourths of a mile from margin of the bay to deep water.
In regard to the route from the lake to Realejo, advocated by the late French Emperor, and
for the construction of which a decree of the Congress of Central America had passed in 1846 and


Napoleon had been invited to take charge, Colonel Childs reported: The canal between Lakes
Nicaragua and Managua would be 20 miles long and would have to be constructed without any
advantage from the Rio Tipitapa; an ascending lockage, from one lake to the other, of 281 feet
would be required; from Lake Managua, in the direction of the Pacific, the summit-level would
occupy about 26 miles, upon which a depth of at least 55 feet of cutting would be required; the
length of canal needed to open communication between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific would be
46 miles, and it would involve an excess of 57 feet of lockage beyond that required in the plan of
making Lake Nicaragua the summit-level of the canal.
Colonel Childs concluded, after examining the whole strip of land contiguous to the Pacific
and Lake Nicaragua, "that the line leading from the mouth of the Rio Lajas to the Pacific at Brito
presented more favorable conditions for the construction of a canal than any other." He maje of
this and of the whole eastern section a most careful and thorough survey. In this connection it
is proper to state that the chief points of Childs' survey seem to be fully confirmed by the surveys as
reported by Commander Lull, who says (while preferring to accept a line from Lake Nicaragua to
the Pacific by the Rio Medio in place of the Rio Lajas),* Childs' description was found to be cor-
rect in the main, and his route was ever after taken as a standard of comparison for all others."
His survey was the first one ever made for the location of a ship-canal route on the American
Isthmus that conformed to the requirements of engineering science.
Capt. Bedford Pim, Royal Navy, after several years' study of Nicaragua, developed a project
for a railroad transit through this isthmus from Monkey Point, on the Atlantic, to Port Realejo,
on the Pacific, in the interests of peace and the commerce of the world, on the broad basis of free
trade." The line included 180 miles of railway and 85 miles of lake navigation. The estimated
cost was $3,000,000, and the time required in transit twenty-three hours.
By an article in the contract between Nicaragua and the Central American Transit Company,
a survey of the harbor of San Juan del Norte (Greytown), and of the river San Juan, was made in
1865. The instructions of the company were that the engineer should determine upon the practi-
cability of permanently improving the San Juan River and of reclaiming the harbor of San Juan
del Norte so as to admit ocean steamships into the latter and to allow steamboats of not less than
four feet draught to navigate the former." On application to Hon. W. H. Seward, Secretary of
State, by Don Louis Molina, minister from Nicaragua, and on reference of said application to the
Secretary of the Treasury, Capt. P. C. F. West, of the Coast Survey, was permitted to undertake
the work under appointment as chief engineer of Nicaragua. The examination which he made,
and one made a year later by a committee appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, showed
the causes of the deterioration of Greytown Harbor, and suggested the means for its partial restora-
tion. The-committee consisted of General A. A. Humphreys, U. S. A., Rear-Admiral C. H. Davis,
U. S. N., and J. E. Hilgard, Acting Superintendent of the Coast Survey, They were assisted in
their investigation by Mr. Henry M. Mitchell, United States Coast Survey.


The northwestern extremity of the American Isthmus takes its name from one of the small
districts of the old Spanish:Empire "Tecoantepec" or. "Teguantepec." Its topography appears to
have been for a long time unknown or to have been forgotten after having been learned by the
Conquistadores. They certainly knew something of it. In 1520, in consequence of information
given by Montezuma to Cortez, Diego Ordaz reconnoitered the Coatzacoalcos, and in the next
year Sandoval explored this river and the Chimalapa. The western section, the ancient "Teho-
antepec," was conquered by the first expedition sent by Cortez in this direction to explore the
South Sea; and, although it was ascertained by the pilots that no strait existed connecting the
two oceans, the route between the two river mouths continued to be regarded of great importance
on account of the nearness of the two oceans, and because the river Coatzacoalcos afforded such
facilities for transporting the materials for ship-building from Vera Cruz to the Pacific. The

Preferred on account of greater security from surface drainage, but now rejected for the Lajas route since it has
been ascertained that the flood waters of the Rio Grande can be avoided by diverting the river from the Pacific to
the lake.


materials for building Grijalva's fleet, sent in 1534 to conquer California, and for that in which
Cortez himself set sail, for the same destination, in 1535, were thus brought from the Gulf of Mexico
to Tehuantepec, a port still promising in the sixteenth century to hold the place since taken by
Acapulco. The forests of Tarifa, midway on the Isthmus, themselves furnished ship timber for
both coasts; they kept the dock-yards of Tehuantepec and Havannah supplied. The river Corte,
the headwaters of the Coatzacoalcos, took its name from the cutting of ship timber on its banks.
From these circumstances the general topography of this isthmus must have been early known.
But, for a time, it died with the conquerors. The death of Cortez, the establishment of Vera Cruz,
the viceroys taking up their abode in the city of Mexico, and especially the strange pawnings of
the Moluccas by the Spanish Emperor, and consequent temporary passing of their trade from the
Spanish to the Portuguese, withdrew attention from the Isthmus. From the latter part of the
sixteenth century Acapulco took the place of the open roadstead of Tehuantepec, and became the
seat of commerce. The spirit of monopoly in Spain limited the trade to a single port in each sea,
Acapulco and Vera Cruz. This isthmus ceased to be the trade route except in time of war.
The traditions of its topography soon became exaggerated and otherwise falsified. It was even
pretended that it was almost a level plain; that in the rainy season the Indian bateaux could
cross from sea to sea; that the Coatzacoalcos had its source near the Pacific; that as it approached
the Cordillera the mountains were depressed; and that the Ostuta or Chimalapa rolled its waters
equally into both oceans.
In 1771 the well-known discovery of bronze cannon in the castle of San Juan d'Ulloa, Vera
Cruz, served at first to renew these false ideas, and then to destroy them. The question started
itself, by what route the ordnance had come from Manila, where they had been cast ? It could not
have been by either Cape, no trade having thus been carried on between Vera Cruz and the Phil-
ippines; nor could they have come to the Gulf coast from Acapulco, climbing the Cordilleras of
New Spain. The conclusions, verified by records and traditions, gave them to the Tehuantepec
The Viceroy, Don Antonio Bucarelli, therefore ordered two engineers, Don Antonio Cramer,
governor of San Juan d'Ulloa, and Don Miguel Corral, to examine again the topography of the
Isthmus, to ascertain whether any natural communication existed by interlocked river branches,
and at the same time to report upon the practicability of locating a canal. Their exploration was
very imperfect. No elevations were determined, but they reported that the Coatzacoalcos did not
rise near the Pacific; that the evenness of the ground plainly indicates that it would not be a work
of great difficulty to effect a communication between the seas, and that a'canal could be built with
neither locks nor inclined planes.
The topography of the Isthmus was again examined at the close of that century by order of
the Viceroy Revillagigedo, the successor of Bucarelli, who desired the construction of a small canal
for batteaux between the Chimalapa and the Alaman, a tributary of the Sarabia. His death pre-
vented the prosecution of the work.
Soon after Mexico had acquired her independence, the Government charged General Juan
Orbegozo to explore the route. This able officer made a careful instrumental examination and
reported that the canalization of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was problematical and gigantic,"
and that the roadstead of Tehuantepec was being more and more abandoned daily by the ocean
A yet more elaborate survey was executed in 1842-'43 by a Commission appointed by the pro-
jector, Don Jose de Garay, who had received a liberal concession from the Mexican Government,
under Santa Anna. The chief officers of the Commission were: Don Gaetano Moro, an Italian
engineer, who had long been a resident in Mexico; Lieutenant-Colonel Trouphliniere, Captain
Gonzalez, and Don Manuel Robles, professor at the Military College, Mexico. They employed
instruments of precision, but some of them appear to have been injured before beginning their work.
They reported the route as favorable for the location of a canal for small steamers, or of a railroad,
either of which was permitted by the grant. The height of the summit at Tarifa Pass was deter-
mined to be 684 feet, and they reported that the difference in level between the beds of the Chicapa
and the Ostuta is so inconsiderable that there is no doubt of the possibility of a junction of these
rivers, and there is no obstacle in the short intervening distance to prevent it. They proposed to
feed the summit level of the canal by a feeder line from these two rivers. The length of the canal


proper was estimated at 50 miles, and the length of the feeder 15 miles. The elevation of the
summit was to be overcome by the use of one hundred and sixty-one locks, and the cost of the
canal it was estimated would be less than $17,000,000.
By two decrees successively, Santa Anna extended the time for the commencement of work
under Garay's concession, and Salas, in 1846, further extended it to 1848. In 1846-'47 Garay assigned
his concession to Messrs. Manning & McIntosh, of England, who again assigned the claim to Mr.
P. A. Hargous and others forming the Tehuantepec Railroad Company. This company, in 1850,
received passports from the Mexican Government for their engineers, the United States minister, Mr.
Letcher, having advised Mexico that the company desired to make a thorough resurvey," as full
confidence was not reposed in that made in 1842. Hence the survey by Williams, 1851-'52, for
General Barnard, arrested, however, by Mexico, June 3, 1851.
Mr. Williams is the first to recognize officially the three natural main divisions of this Isthmus.
The first of these, distinct in its general characteristics, embraces the part from the Gulf of Mexico
to the Cordilleras' base; the second embraces the mountainous districts in the center; the third,
the level country bordering the Pacific. The first, the Atlantic plains; the second, the mountain
region; the third, the Pacific plains. The first is from 40 to 50 miles in breadth, made of alluvial
basins, and draining the northern slope of the Cordilleras. The second belt is from Jaltepec River
on the north to within 25 miles of the Pacific, a belt about 40 miles wide. The third division, from
the base of the mountains to the. Pacific, has an inclination of from 10 to 15 feet per mile.
The chief points in the reported reconnaissances," as Mr. Williams styles his interrupted
work, are:
I. That Coatzacoalcos is the chief hydrographic basin.
II. That with few exceptions the entire country embraced in the northern division presents the
appearance of a broad plain, densely covered with forests.
III. The chain of the American Cordillera traverses the middle division from east to west, but,
instead of the lofty volcanic peaks elsewhere found, there is a sudden depression of the range in
its passage across the Isthmus, at a point directly in the line of shortest communication between
the two oceans. The table-lands in this section comprise an area of about 1,400 square miles. By
a narrow opening, or gap, in the mountains which on the south bound the plains of Xochiopa,
Chivela, and Tarifa-mountains of 1,500 to 2,000 feet above the Pacific-the descent is suddenly
made from the elevated table-lands to the Pacific plains.
IV. These plains generally present a remarkably smooth, even surface, with a uniform gentle
slope towards the seaf. Of the eight rivers which drain this slope, seven empty into the lagoons
connected with the sea by a narrow outlet called Boca Barra; the eighth, the Tehuantepec, emp-
ties directly into the sea at La Ventosa.
V. The most important of these streams, as regards length and volume, are the Ostuta, Chi-
capa, and Tehuantepec. The fact that they always rise and fall simultaneously has originated the
belief in their having a common source. The true reason is, no doubt, to be found in the fact
that they proceed from the highest points in the Sierra, and through the upper part of their course
are in close proximity."
VI. The lagoons extend nearly 40 miles along the southern coast, and comprise an area of more
than 200 square miles; they are generally shallow.
VII. The Bay of La Ventosa is only partially sheltered.
VIII. The mouth of the Coatzacoalcos is 115 miles west from the river Tobasco and 110 from
Vera Cruz. Its width is about 1,500 feet. The depth of either pass on the bar diminishes to 11 or
12 feet in the month of May. Seven miles from the Gulf the lead shows a depth of 40 feet. The
least depth below Minatitlan is 12 feet. "The soundings made on the bar at the mouth of the river
give about the same with those given by Cortez in 1520; the material of the bar, therefore, not
appearing to change its position, gives promise of permanency in any work designed for improving
the depth."
The survey which has been now referred to had for its object "to establish an available route
for the great flood of travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts." It was for a railroad. No
observations were made specially directed to the practicability of a canal. Instead of passing over
Moro's Summit, Tarifa, the passes of Chivela and Masahua were surveyed. In 1857 the railway


project was resumed under a new survey executed by W. H. Sidell; and at the present time a rail-
way transit across Tehuantepec is actually supported.
In regard to the Isthmus of Honduras it is proper to state that a knowledge of its physical
features has been gained from the surveys instituted by the British Honduras Interoceanic Rail-
way Company. Its excellent harbors-Puerto Caballos, on the Atlantic, and La Union, on the
Pacific-and its internal features offer many attractions as a route for railway transit, but it pos-
sesses no merit as a route for canal communication.


It will be remembered that Admiral Davis declared Darien to be almost a terra incognita," and,
further, "that there did not exist in the libraries of the world the means of determining even
approximately the most practicable route for a ship-canal across the Isthmus." In the light of
what has been ljresented regarding the early explorations on the Isthmus, the force of this state-
ment can be readily appreciated.
To deliver the problem from the chaotic state in which it had been placed, and remove a blot
from the record of the nineteenth century, was the work before the United States Isthmian Expe-
ditions. To effect this, exact and systematic methods replaced those of speculation; a process of
elimination weeded out the routes possessing no merit and left for the inspection of the world those
that were worthy of comparison.
Although the early explorers generally failed to furnish satisfactory results, their labors were
not in vain, as many lessons were to be gained by studying the causes of 'their failures. These
studies developed a proper appreciation of the difficulties attending these explorations, and it
became clear that to obtain satisfactory results it was not only necessary to use instruments of pre-
cision, but that the party using them must be well organized and backed by a substantial commis-
sary department. Provisions in small, water-tight packages suitable for transportation in a wilder-
ness, an abundance of shoes, clothing, and medical stores, a well-organized provisioning party,
and a party of native macheteros to cut through the forest, were essential to success.
The selection of the Navy to perform this work must be regarded as wise and economical.
Here was a single organization which had in itself all the resources for such work. The immediate
object was to secure reliable data upon which the engineer could base his calculations and make
his comparisons. By education and familiarity with instruments of precision, the naval officer was
competent to do this, and the general handiness and adaptability of the sailor, qualities constantly
called into requisition, fitted him specially for the work. Beyond the collection of instrumental
data, there was a field for the employment of the expert talent which was furnished by the scien-
tific staff assisting in the surveys.
To insure the best results a harmonized party was necessary. Without discipline and a
military spirit, this harmony can rarely be attained in a work involving such extraordinary
demands upon the physical and mental resources. The climate and the many annoyances of the
country tend to produce a mental weariness and irritation which have generally proved destructive
to the harmony of all parties unschooled in the art of performing a duty for duty's sake. The rec-
ords of the expeditions show with what zeal, energy, and ability the surveys were executed amidst
hardship and exposure of a painful character; and it is a fact of which the United States can feel
proud that the work could not have been more ably performed.
As already stated, Admiral Ammen, the active spirit in developing the project of systematic
exploration, was made the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, where, under the
authority of the Secretary of the Navy, he superintended all the important features and many
details of the organization of the several Isthmian expeditions, and directed their efforts, as far
as possible, during the surveys.
The Darien Expedition, the first to enter the field, was placed under the command of Com-
mander T. 0. Selfridge, U. S. N. Guided by general instructions and notified of the resources
placed at his disposal, the duty of organizing the field parties, directing their work, maintaining
them in the field, and of overcoming almost insurmountable obstacles, was left to him. The
resources of .the expedition were abundant, both in personnel and material, but an economical

Map of the Caledonia route, showing localities examined by U. S. Darien Expedition of 1870.

,7 T S Del

H. EX. .07. 2, 47.


and successful employment of them called forth qualities of a high order which were found in the
judgment, zeal, wonderful energy, and executive ability of Commander Selfridge.
The work of the Darien expeditions extended over a period of five years, from 1870 to 1875,
and as the object of the expeditions was to clear away all doubts respecting this Isthmus and its
vicinity, all the routes were examined, excepting the Truando and Atrato-San Juan, and their
practicability or impracticability authoritatively established.
From one to three vessels of war were employed during the surveys, as necessity required;
the officers and men entering upon the field duties. The resources of the first two expeditions,
those of 1870 and 1871, were further increased by an able scientific staff. The instrumental outfit
was complete for astronomical, topographical, and hydrographical work.
The general plan pursued in the examination of a route was to make a barometrical recon-
naissance first, and, if the result justified it, a level and transit line was run to develop a correct
profile. In most cases this line followed the bed of a stream as far as possible, in order to avoid
the necessity of cutting a wide trail through the forest for the instrumental line. If the resulting
profile was unfavorable, it was then known that a better one did not exist in that basin, and con-
sequently the route was eliminated. If, on the contrary, the profile thus obtained appeared
favorable, the route merited further study, and a level and transit survey for actual location was
made. Of all the valleys examined during the Darien expeditions, that of the Napipi.was the only
one meriting this second study.
All the results obtained by the expeditions were gained in the face of innumerable obstacles
arising from the character of the country, its climate, and its pests. In a preceding chapter enough
has been written to give an idea of the disagreeable environment of an explorer on the Isthmus,
but when the exigencies of the service requiring severe manual and mental labor are added, it can
be inferred that his lot is not a happy one. The absence of roads of any kind and the impassable
nature of the country made it a very difficult matter to forward supplies to the parties in the
Held, as all provisions had to be carried by natives employed for the purpose, and in some cases
the journey to a party in the field would involve a period of five days. These circumstances made
it necessary to reduce the number in each working party to a minimum, and each officer and
man became the bearer not only of his personal effects, but each had his share of camp equipage,
provisions, and instrumental outfit to labor under on the march and on camp moving days. To
lighten the load as much as possible, therefore, became a great object; and with this view the per-
sonal effects were reduced to what was absolutely essential, and only two suits of woolen under-
garments were carried. One suit bein r nearly always wet, the other was carefully guarded, and,
if possible, kept dry to sleep in. In the morning, sooner than run the risk of having two wet
suits, the dry one would be removed, carefully stowed away in the knapsack, and the cold, wet suit,
after a preparatory wringing out, reluctantly adjusted to the shivering body. No matter whether
at work in the hills or in the swamps or on the open river, there are hardships all around. To
follow a trail avoiding rivers is to stiffer thirst; to follow one crossing streams is to pass, while
overheated, into the cool waters of the river; if in the swamps, freedom is circumscribed for days
by the limits of a small flat-boat; and if on the open river pursuing a canoe journey, sitting
tailor-fashion on the bottom of the canoe in an inch or more water, for hours, may at least be
regarded as monotonous. When to this list is added the general result, fever, it will be readily
conceded that Darien placed a heavy tax upon those who struggled to learn her secrets.
While a detailed description of the operations .of the Isthmian expeditions would be interest-
ing, it would be difficult to include such an account within the limits of a single chapter, and,
moreover, it is rendered unnecessary by the existence of elaborate reports made by the officers
commanding the different expeditions. The present purpose will be to point to the localities that
have been examined, to state the results of such examinations, and to show the character and suf-
ficiency of the information upon which a final comparison of practicable routes depends.
The Darien expedition of 1870, operating from the Atlantic coast, examined the Caledonia,
Morti, and San Blas routes. Notwithstanding the unfavorable reports of Strain and Gisborne
respecting the Caledonia route, Dr. Cullen persisted in stating his belief that a pass such as he
had described really existed. This persistency left a doubt in the public mind as to the sufficiency
of information relating to this route, and it was therefore necessary to make such explorations and
H. Ex. 107-11

Full Text