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Montgomery Meigs Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administration Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Papers of Montgomery Meigs
    Dates: 1869-1929
    Bulk Dates: 1869-1874
    Collection Number: Consult repository
    Creator: Meigs, Montgomery, 1847-1931
    Extent: 132 items
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens Manuscripts Department
    The Huntington Library
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2203
    Fax: (626) 449-5720
    Email: manuscripts@huntington.org
    Abstract: The majority of the collection consists of correspondence sent by Montgomery Meigs (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.

    Administration Information


    Collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, please go to the following website .

    Publication Rights

    In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights. In some instances, the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate curator for further information.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Montgomery Meigs papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Acquisition Information

    Purchased from Michael Brown Rare Books on June 20, 2012.


    Montgomery Meigs Jr. 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.
    A detailed container list is available through the Manuscripts Department.

    Indexing Terms

    Personal Names

    Burleigh, Walter A. (Walter Atwood), 1820-1896.
    Cass, George Washington, 1810-1888.
    Custer, George A. (George Armstrong), 1839-1876.
    Donnelly, Ignatius, 1831-1901.
    Meigs, Montgomery, 1847-1931.
    Rosser, Thomas Lafayette, 1836-1910.

    Corporate Names

    Northern Pacific Railroad Company--History--19th century.


    Frontier and pioneer life--Minnesota.
    Homestead law--Minnesota.
    Ojibwa Indians--Minnesota.
    Prairie chickens.
    Railroad engineers.
    Railroad travel--United States--History--19th century.
    Railroads--Dakota Territory--History.
    Railroads--Design and construction.
    Sioux Indians.

    Geograhic Areas

    Crow Wing (Minn.)
    Dakota Territory--Description and travel.
    Dakota Territory--History.
    Harrisburg (Pa.)--Description and travel.
    Minnesota--Description and travel.
    Mississippi River.
    Montana--Description and travel.
    Montana--History--19th century.
    Otter Tail County (Minn.)
    Saint Anthony Falls (Minn.).
    Saint Paul (Minn.)--Description and travel.
    Saint Paul (Minn.)--History.
    Wisconsin--Description and travel.


    Ephemera--United States--19th century.
    Letters (correspondence)--Dakota Territory--19th century.
    Letters (correspondence)--Minnesota--19th century.
    Letters (correspondence)--Montana--19th century.
    Sketches--United States--19th century.
    Typescripts--United States--20th century.