Scope and Content
Title: Montgomery Meigs Papers
Bulk Dates: 1869-1874
Collection Number: mssHM 78105-78234
Meigs, Montgomery, 1847-1931
The Huntington Library,
Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Manuscripts
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108
Phone: (626) 405-2191
Abstract: The majority of the collection consists of correspondence sent by American civil engineer Montgomery
Meigs Jr. (1847-1931) to his parents, Montgomery Cunningham Meigs and Louisa Rodgers
Meigs, while he worked as an engineer on the Northern Pacific Railroad in Minnesota
and the Dakota and Montana Territories from 1870-1873. Also included are sketches
made by Meigs during the same period and his own later typescripts of his letters,
along with a few pieces of family ephemera.
Language of Material: The records are in English.
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The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the
[Identification of item]. Montgomery Meigs Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Purchased from Michael Brown Rare Books on June 20, 2012.
Montgomery Meigs Jr. (1847-1931), known as "Monty" Meigs, was born in Rouses Point, New York, in 1847. His father,
Montgomery C. Meigs (1816-1892), was a civil engineer and Quartermaster General of
the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Meigs Jr. attended the Lawrence Scientific
School at Harvard University, as well as the Royal Polytechnic School in Stuttgart,
Germany, and completed his college education in 1869. From 1870-1873 he worked as
resident engineer surveying the Northern Pacific Railroad before becoming an
engineer for the U.S. government. The majority of his career was spent working to
improve the Mississippi navigation system from St. Paul to the mouth of the Missouri
River. Meigs retired in 1926 and died in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1931.
Scope and Content
The majority of the collection consists of letters sent by Montgomery Meigs to his
parents, Montgomery Cunningham Meigs and Louisa Rodgers Meigs, and his sister,
Louisa Rodgers Meigs Forbes (known as Loulie), while he was working as a surveyor
and engineer on the Northern Pacific Railroad in Minnesota and the Dakota and
Montana Territories from 1870-1873. The correspondence begins in May 1870, when
Meigs was traveling by rail to Minnesota by way of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and
continues with his impressions of St. Paul and his visit to Saint Anthony Falls,
including a description of an 1869 bridge collapse there. In June 1870 he
accompanied a surveying party to the Old Crow Wing area, where he wrote of Ojibwa
Indians, the particulars of running a railroad line, his hunting of prairie
chickens, and conflicts between homesteaders and the railroad. In September Meigs
went on an expedition through the Detroit Woods, running a line from the Oak Lake
area toward Georgetown, Minnesota. During this time Meigs wrote of camp life and the
progress of the railroad line, before he was sent back to St. Paul and later the new
railroad headquarters in Brainerd. In April 1871 Meigs accompanied new chief
engineer Thomas Lafayette Rosser to the Dakota Territory. Although they made some
progress past Fort Rice, Meigs wrote that by June the threat of Sioux attacks had
forced them to turn back. In the fall of 1871 Meigs went on the Whistler Expedition
to the Yellowstone River, and in April 1872 he was made a resident engineer for the
railroad line heading east. His letters frequently mention his difficulties with his
new position, including his continual conflicts with the contractors and the
slowness of his party's work (Meigs blamed a shortage of men and supplies for their
lack of progress). By the end of May he was considering leaving the railroad, and in
September 1872 wrote extensively of the Northern Pacific's ongoing economic and
management issues. In a December 1872 letter sent from Fargo, Meigs wrote to his
parents that "the N.P.R.R. appears to be hard up...[and] they have so disbanded the
fine engineer corps we had and were so proud of that I scarcely care whether I stay
or go." But in June 1873 Meigs still held his position, and was preparing to serve
as chief of party for another Yellowstone Expedition, this one accompanied by the
7th Cavalry ("Custer's Cavalry...present a fine appearance on the march," Meigs
wrote admiringly). In September they had established themselves at Camp Thorne in
the Montana Territory, and Meigs' final letter of the trip, dated September 9, 1873,
was written shortly after he had explored the Musselshell Valley. Meigs' next letter
was written in August 1874, when he was in Rock Island, Illinois, waiting to go on
an expedition up the Mississippi River. He had apparently left the railroad and was
employed in making leisurely surveys to estimate the cost of deepening the channel.
His final letter was written on May 17, 1875, and in it he wrote to his father that
"I think I may someday work into the place of U.S. Civ. Engr." Individuals Meigs
met, worked with, or wrote of throughout his correspondence include Walter Atwood
Burleigh, George Washington Cass, Ignatius Donnelly, Thomas Lafayette Rosser, and
General Ira Spaulding. Also included in the collection are original sketches made by
Meigs during his expeditions; typescripts of his letters, some with extended
accounts, made by Meigs in 1929; and miscellaneous Meigs family ephemera.
The collection is arranged chronologically.
Burleigh, Walter A.
(Walter Atwood), 1820-1896.
Custer, George A.
(George Armstrong), 1839-1876.
Railroad Company--History--19th century.
Frontier and pioneer
Territory--Description and travel.
(Pa.)--Description and travel.
Otter Tail County
Saint Anthony Falls
(Minn.)--Description and travel.