On a government surveying party in the Pacific Northwest eighty-five years ago, nothing was more valuable than a sense of humor. Topographer Alfred Downing had one that happily showed in his sketches

Alfred Downing, a United States government topographer in the 1870’s and 80’s, was a soldier-artist in the fine tradition of those usually attached to surveying expeditions in the American West in the second half of the nineteenth century. From John Mix Stanley, who in 1853 accompanied the Pacific Railroad surveys, to Thomas Moran and Henry Wood Elliott of the great Hayden surveys of the Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in the 1870’s, artists attached to scientific expeditions produced some of our finest pictorial records of western history.