A trip in the Badlands, by E. de Girardin,
CD-Rom on line : English
: a Frenchman on the Trail of the Far West
Most of what we know about Eugène de Girardin (1828-1888)
can be traced through his albums of drawings and watercolours
of the landscapes of the American West and portraits of Indian
chiefs and warriors dating from 1852 to 1859. The young Frenchman
dropped out of school and boarded a boat to America as a cabin
boy at the age of twenty. His journey, which followed the opening
of the Northwest Passage, was to last 10 years.
Carrying a rifle in one hand and his pencils in the other, Girardin
was to participate in several geological expeditions on the North
American continent, including the one to trace the future Pacific
railroad line. His journeys led him over the Great Plains of the
Dakotas, across the Rocky Mountains and the uncharted territories
of Oregon and Washington, from Vancouver Island to Salt Lake Valley.
had gone to seek my fortune...
Eugène de Girardin was born in the west of France (near
Angers, Maine-et-Loire) in 1828. He came from a family that had
been in the military for generations. He was sent, in 1840, to
Vendôme College, a former royal military school, and expelled
6 years later. Banished from the house by his father, a former
royal officer, and game for adventure, Girardin hired himself
out as a cabin boy, landing on U.S. soil around 1848, the year
gold was discovered in California (on January 24th on Sutter's
In Saint Louis, Girardin met up by chance with Dr. John Evans,
an American geologist, and joined up with him as draughtsman.
The group set out twice from Fort Pierre Chouteau on the Missouri,
first heading for the Badlands of South Dakota to gather fossils,
then to Fort Union in North Dakota. Girardin's written account
of these travels, subsequently published in a French travel review
(Le Tour du Monde, 1864) is rich in anecdotes and shows the author's
keen sense of observation. He travelled up the wild and rough
Missouri by steamboat, then across Sioux and Crow Indian territory,
through a land as hostile as it was beautiful.
Over the next 10 years, Girardin was to crisscross the Northwest
from east to west, and north to south, from Saint-Louis to Oregon
City and the Columbia basin and from Vancouver Island in Canada
to Salt Lake Valley in Utah, covering thousands of miles. Riding
across mountain ranges, fleeing Indians, bears and wolves, suffering
from heat, mosquitoes, snakes, then cold and hunger, Girardin
recorded the startling images of a yet unfinished new nation.
Pacific Railroad and the Northwest Survey
One can assume that the geologist who retained Girardin in 1850
at Saint-Louis was Dr. John Evans (1812-1861), one of the first
scientific explorers of the northwest part of the United States
who was to spend several years studying the topology and geology
of the Oregon and Washington territories. After several exploratory
journeys in the Missouri basin, Evans was appointed in 1851 to
the Institute of Geological Research in Oregon by the Department
of the Interior. In 1853, he was named chief geologist of the
survey for a northern route by Isaac I. Stevens, governor of the
new Washington territory.
In April 1852, two years after his trip to the Great Plains, Girardin
sketched Mount Adams in Oregon. Although we aren't certain how
Girardin actually got there, we do know that John Evans had crossed
the Rockies the summer before. We also know that the two men remained
linked until 1856, as testified by several drawings done in the
Grand Ronde Reservation (Bushnell Collection, National Archives
According to the records, Girardin was designated as Evans' assistant
by Governor Stevens in his Narrative Report of Exploration
for a Route for a Pacific Railroad between the Forty-Seventh and
Forty-Ninth Parallels of North Latitude, Saint-Paul to Puget Sound,
published in 1855.
At the conclusion of the Railroad survey, Evans remained in the
Pacific Northwest to continue the Geological survey of the
Oregon and Washington Territories. Evans was preparing his
Geological Survey of Oregon and Washington Territories. The Evans
Report did find its way to the government printing office but
for some unknown reason was never published. When the new governor
of Washington took up his position after the Civil War, he could
find no geological chart of his territory.The next few years of
the geologist's life seem to have been spent in Washington D.C.
The 277 page manuscript that Evans worked so hard to produce,
accompanied by 105 illustrations, a number of which can reasonably
be attributed to Girardin, has been lost to history.
The next few years of the geologist's life were spent in Panama
and in Washington D.C.
Eugène de Girardin did not remain in the United States.
He left the country for France about 1860-63, taking along with
him his albums and texts.
According to a genealogical record of Maine-et-Loire, Girardin
died at the age of 59 (1888) and is listed as "settler in
Girardin's life remains, in part, a mystery - all except for the
extraordinary ten years he spent over a century and a half ago
recording the changing face of America.
by Sandra Freland & Geoffrey Taylor