Ruffner Survey

By: T. Lindsay Baker and H. Allen Anderson

Type: General Entry

Published: June 1, 1995

In the spring of 1876 preparations were made at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for a topographic survey of the headwaters of the Red River in the Panhandle. The idea was conceived by Lt. Ernest Howard Ruffner, a Kentucky native and West Point graduate who was chief engineer of the Department of the Missouri. Up to that time the only military report of that area was the one made by Randolph B. Marcy and George B. McClellan in 1852, and the exact distance between the Red and Canadian rivers had never been adequately determined. Ruffner recommended a survey, utilizing the stadia method, to begin at Fort Elliott and follow Palo Duro Canyon to the junction of Tierra Blanca and Palo Duro creeks, the easternmost point of Lt. John Irvin Gregg's 1872 reconnaissance. From there the survey line would be carried southeast to Tule Creek, another major tributary, and back to a point on the original line. In addition Ruffner proposed running a stadia line survey between the Red and Canadian rivers to determine the distance between them. He planned to make celestial observations to calculate longitude and latitude at various points along the route, prepare compass courses and topographic sketches of the smaller creeks and side canyons, and document sources of fresh water in the area.

Ruffner's proposals were approved, and on April 25, 1876, he and other expedition members took the train from Leavenworth to Dodge City and nearby Fort Dodge. Among those with him were Lt. Francis L. D. Baldwin, hero of the recent Red River War, and Carl Julius Adolph Hunnius, a civilian draftsman who had immigrated to the United States from Leipzig in 1861 and had fought in the Union Army during the Civil War. Hunnius kept a detailed diary of the daily activities throughout the expedition. At Fort Dodge, Ruffner's command secured wagon transportation and a military escort before setting out on the military road via Camp Supply to Fort Elliott. There they obtained a larger escort and the services of several civilian scouts, among them William (Billy) Dixon, as guides for the survey's duration. The command left Fort Elliott on May 11, 1876, and spent six weeks in the field surveying the headwaters of the Red River, gathering geological and meteorological data, and cataloging native plant and animal life. The surveyors operated from a base camp on the Prairie Dog Town Fork in Randall County near the site of the present Lake Tanglewood community, and the survey covered portions of eight counties. Ruffner and his crew returned to Fort Elliott on June 21 and arrived in Fort Leavenworth on June 30.

Ruffner's official report described the work, the stadia survey connecting the Red and Canadian rivers, barometric pressures, botany, entomology, and geology. Included with the report were seventeen sheets of detailed maps recording the survey's route and the terrain. Hunnius recorded in his diary his impressions of the Panhandle and its canyons. He noted A. G. (Jim) Springer's road ranch, the dugouts at Hidetown (Mobeetie), and other items. He included several pencil illustrations of personalities and the places he visited, thus compiling a record of the Panhandle just before the advent of free-range cattle businesses and the changes they brought. Despite its historical and scientific merit, Ruffner's 1876 survey report lay forgotten for many years in the National Archives, and his accompanying maps were never published. Many years after his death, Hunnius's diary was donated to the University of Kansas. In 1985 T. Lindsay Baker published the Ruffner report, along with the maps and the Hunnius diary, for the first time in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review (see PANHANDLE-PLAINS HISTORICAL SOCIETY).

  • Exploration
  • Expeditions

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

T. Lindsay Baker and H. Allen Anderson, “Ruffner Survey,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995