The original 1836 Warren Ferris map now digitized!
If you are making your plans to celebrate Pioneer Day, if you live in Utah, or just want to hear stories of hidden treasures, this one is for you!
Now, you may be thinking, “Wait! You have treasure maps in Special Collections!” Well…not exactly. But some of our treasurers are maps, and some of them used to be hidden from the world, often for decades. Such is the case of the original 1836 Warren Ferris map, which Ferris titled “Map of the Northwest Fur Country.” Warren Ferris was one of many trappers, or mountain men, who traversed the Northern and Central Rocky Mountains in the 1820s and 1830s in search for beaver and other sources of fur. Through their travels across these wilderness areas, these men became intimately familiar with the topography of the land, and some, like Ferris, even created maps of the area. While the maps were done with rudimentary means, many were still quite detailed and accurate, to an extent.
In 1835 and 1836, Warren Ferris returned from a five-year sojourn as a trapper in the Rocky Mountains, and decided to draw, by hand, a map of a major portion of a largely unsettled portion of the West, with what would later be Utah at the center. The map spans from the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies and extend west to include the junction of the Snake and Salmon Rivers, now in Idaho. It extends from the upper Missouri River down to the Grand Canyon area. Ferris intended to publish the map along with the journal that he had kept during those years. Most of the journal ended up being published through a small weekly publication out of Buffalo, New York, called the Western Literary Messenger. The map, however, was not published with it, and remained unseen by the public until the publication of Life in the Rocky Mountains in 1940 by Fred A. Rosenstock’s Old West Publishing Company out of Denver, which included Ferris’s journal from 1830-1835 in one publication for the first time. Even then, it only included a copy of the map. So, where was the original?
In the process of creating this publication, the original map had come into the possession of Rosenstock, a collector of documents and books related to Western Americana, and owned Bargain Book Store in Denver. This map was part of a large collection of documents related to Warren Ferris and his family. This collection was purchased from Rosenstock by BYU’s Lee Library in 1982. It is unclear if those who purchased this collection knew what was in the collection at the time. But, the story goes that when going through the collection in Denver, there was a seemingly insignificant paper tube that was near the rest of the collection. When asked if this went with the collection, the Rosenstock staff assumed so, and it went with the papers to BYU. It was not until later that the tube was opened, and much to the surprise and delight of whoever made the discovery, inside was a beautifully preserved, hand-drawn map of the inter-mountain west–the original 1836 Warren Ferris map! This map had barely seen the light of day since it was created in 1836, and a copy of it had only been released to the public about 40 years before.
Since it’s discovery, the map has been thoroughly examined, and even a Master’s thesis has been written on it. But all who have seen it agree that it is undoubtedly the best preserved fur trade map around, and the only existing map from the rendezvous era! It provides amazing details of the rivers and lakes of the region, including some place names, often provided by Ferris himself. Included are early descriptions of the area that is now Yellowstone National Park. Ferris is actually thought to be the
first “tourist” to visit this area, doing so under the guidance of some local Native tribesmen. Much of the area can easily be identified today, although the map may not be to scale or accurate as we see today. More than anything else, it provides a window into the world of mountain men, allowing us to see this region through their eyes.
And, now, this map is available for the world to see online for all to explore! To view this map, click on the linked text to the right, or go to the following website: https://cdm15999.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15999coll31/id/14973.
Maybe this week you can spend some time trying to find features of this area of that you know and love, and get a sense for what it may have been like to see this area as a mountain men, more than a decade before Brigham Young and his pioneer wagon train entered the Salt Lake Valley.