THE “MISFIT’S” STORY: JAMES PETIGRU CARSON’S PERSONAL JOURNAL FROM FERDINAND V. HAYDEN’S 1868 GEOLOGIC SURVEY OF THE WYOMING TERRITORY
Carson’s narrative confirms and amplifies previous historical studies that the expedition was a fast-moving, reconnaissance survey that suffered financial and logistical hardships, and was very dependent on outside support from military and railroad officials. Other details indicate that Hayden’s wagon crew and most of his assistants provided very little support to Hayden’s work in the field and sometimes were more of a burden than an asset. Hayden often performed most effectively by having the wagon crew stay in Laramie, while he and an assistant surveyed by horse west along the railroad, which was being actively-built across southern Wyoming. Hayden was able to maintain contact with his party via the telegraph and used the railroad to transport samples, horses, and personnel back to Laramie.
Carson has been largely viewed as a “misfit” assistant because he was unable to perform his duties and was sent home early from the survey. Carson can be considered a “misfit “because he was politically appointed, arrived late to the survey, seemed unprepared for outdoor living, and did not perform his duties as well as the other assistants. Most importantly, it was during Carson’s night-watch that six riding animals were stolen, causing Hayden much angst and forced him to drastically change his plans. However, there were two circumstances beyond Carson’s control that contributed to his early departure. One was his medical condition of acute facial neuralgia that was triggered by cold wind. This condition, at times, completely incapacitated him. Secondly, due to the dire financial condition of the survey, Hayden simply could not afford to pay the expenses of all of his assistants and had to send several of them home, and Carson was an obvious candidate in this regard.