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Henry Larcom Abbot (1831-1927)

Henry Larcom Abbot was a career military engineer who is memorialized on Oregon’s landscape in three places: Abbot Pass, just west of Clear Lake off U.S. Hwy 26, north of Warm Springs; Abbot Creek, a western tributary to the Metolius River some twenty miles northwest of Sisters; and Camp Abbot, a temporary wartime cantonment (1943-1945) near present-day Sunriver. These names on the landscape reflect Abbot’s exploring and surveying work in Oregon as an officer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assigned to the Pacific Railroad Survey in 1853-1855.

Abbot co-led, with Lt. R.S. Williamson, an exploratory trek north from Sacramento to the Columbia River to scout a potential wagon road or railroad routes east and west of the Cascade Mountains. The survey party entered Oregon in early August 1855 from Tule Lake and continued north along Upper Klamath Lake to the Upper Deschutes Basin. One party headed west over the Cascades to the Willamette Valley, and Abbot traveled north to Fort Dalles on the Columbia, which he reached on September 11.

Fighting between Indians and settlers in the upper Deschutes River Basin forced Abbot to find an alternative route north. He enlisted a guide, Sam An-ax-shat, to lead the soldiers on a barely distinguishable trail to the Columbia River.

Abbot continued his survey and proceeded downriver to present-day Cascade Locks, returned to The Dalles, and headed south to Black Butte, where he scouted potential railroad routes and determined that no railroad could be built over the Cascades near Mt. Jefferson. Hiring an Indian guide at two dollars a day to guide him to Oregon City, Abbot headed west over the Cascades through a low pass—today called Abbot Pass—and reached the Willamette River in late October.

From Oregon City, Abbot returned to California by early November, overland through Salem, Eugene, Roseburg, and Fort Lane, surveying potential railroad routes. The report of his surveys appeared in Pacific Railroad Reports in 1857, documenting an early reconnaissance of transportation routes in Oregon.

Henry Abbot was the eldest of seven children born to Joseph Hale Abbot and Fanny Ellingwood Larcom in Essex, Massachusetts, on August 13, 1831. He attended Boston Latin School and West Point, graduating second in his class in 1854. He chose the Corps of Engineers, believing he would work on projects located in the East. Instead, he spent his career in the Far West and on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. During the Civil War, where he earned Brevet Major General rank, he commanded the construction of defensive works on key battlefields.

After 1895, in post-retirement, Abbot served as a member of the U.S. Forestry Commission and as consulting engineer on the construction of the Panama Canal. He lived out his later years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he died on October 1, 1927, at the age of ninety-six.

Written by:William L. Lang

Further Reading:

Abbot, Charles Greeley. “Biographical Memoir of Henry Larcum Abbot.” National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoir. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1929.

Sawyer, Robert W. “Abbot Railroad Surveys, 1855.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 32:1 (March 1932), 1-24, and Oregon Historical Quarterly 32:2 (June 1932), 115-135.

Oregon Encyclopedia - Oregon History and Culture

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