05 August 2008

Blazing the Mullan Road: Reminiscences

Reminiscences of the Mullan Military Road Expedition
By Ken Robison

This continues the series of historical sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton.

In August 1860, 148 years ago and before there was a Montana Territory, Army First Lieutenant John Mullan, Jr. led a military expedition to construct a wagon road from Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory to Fort Benton, the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Departing Walla Walla in June 1859, Lieut. Mullan’s men carved the road through the mountains of Idaho into Montana, arriving at Fort Benton in August 1860.

One of Lieut. Mullan's hard working men was Charles Schafft, an immigrant born in Berlin, Germany in 1838, who enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1853 at the age of just 15years old. He was promoted to Sergeant, and served in Company D, 3rd Regiment, U. S. Artillery. By 1858, Schafft was out of the Army and living in San Francisco. When news came to California that Lieut. John Mullan would lead a road-building expedition across the Northwest, and Charles Schafft decided to sign on. Many years later, when Schafft began working for the first Fort Benton newspaper, the Benton Record, he wrote a series of "Literary Contributions”. Schafft's first contribution was a reminiscence of his time with Lieut. Mullan, building the Mullan Military Wagon Road. As you read Schafft’s account, remember that it was written long ago and printed in the January 2, 1880, Benton Record Weekly. Charles Schafft wrote:

Commencing at Walla Walla in Washington Territory, and terminating at Fort Benton, in Montana, is located one of the oldest public roads in the Territory. Its construction was commenced and consummated nearly a quarter of a century ago, and although much of it is as yet a public convenience, and was to within a year or two, the only wagon-road connecting at least one county with its neighbors and the outside world, much abuse has been heaped upon the superintendent [Lieut. John Mullan] of its original location, when instead, he should have some credit with honor upon the pages of our history. From time to time short, but erroneous articles related to the "Mullan Road" have appeared in the local papers, intended as "Bits of history," and many inquiries have been made by private parties in regard to the road and its builder, with no satisfactory answer. As most every early event in our history is of some interest, the writer was induced to prepare an article from personal experience and memory on the subject in hand.

It should be remembered that twenty-five years ago [1855] very little was generally known of what was eastern Washington Territory, and of what is now Montana, except and mainly from the official and necessarily brief report of Lewis & Clarke and the vague accounts given verbally by unlettered employees of the fur companies. The whole country was looked upon as a primeval wilderness, fit only for the Indian, the trapper, the hunter, and no least of all the zealous missionary. The section called Montana was then deemed far more remote from civilization than Alaska is now.

Under the administration of Jeff. Davis, as Secretary of War, several expeditions were organized 1854-55, to explore the various Territories, make topographical surveys, and report upon the feasibility of constructing railroads. Col. Williamson, of the Engineering Corps, had charge of the central part. Lieut. John G. Parke, also of the Engineers, surveyed and explored the southern portion between San Diego, California, and El Paso, Texas, while Gov. I. I. Stevens, of Washington Territory, was placed in charge of the northern reconnaissance and surveys. Among the officers assigned to duty under the latter, were Lieut. Doleson and Lieut. John Mullan, of the 4th Artillery. Governor Stevens, who was Ex-Officio Superintendent of Federal Affairs for his Territory, was advised by his instructions to make treaties with Indian tribes, and report upon the general resources of the country visited, with the view of inducing the formation of settlements. The country was thoroughly explored, and scarcely any Indian tribe was left without a treaty of some kind. During the winter 1854-55 the expedition cantoned in the Bitter Root Valley, near the present site of Stevensville, and in July the following year a treaty was made with the Flatheads, Pend 'Oreilles and Kootenays, who confederated as one nation, with the Flathead, Victor, as head Chief. The year terminated the work, and the Governor made a detailed report to the Departments, which was duly printed and published. Among the recommendations made, was the construction of a military wagon-road from the Columbia to the Missouri, which was to serve not only for the cheaper transportation of troops and military supplies to far western posts, but also for the benefit of enterprising emigrants who might select homesteads in some of the beautiful valleys on the line of the road. This recommendation was approved of, and an appropriation for the purpose was made by Congress 1857-58. Lieut. John Mullan, who ranked Lieut. in the army, as an engineer of ability, was selected to open up the road.

The writer hereof, who was in San Francisco in April, 1858, with Frazer river as his objective point, reading one day in the papers the arrival of Lieut. Mullan and a corps of assistants en route to Walla Walla, felt induced to approach the Lieutenant when already on the Oregon steamer, and seek for employment on the expedition. Mullan's arrival and his departure for Oregon to open up a wagon-road to the Missouri river, created some excitement in San Francisco at the time, and the expedition was looked upon much the same as a trip to the North Pole is looked upon now.

The Dalles, in Oregon, being the last place connected then with steamboat transportation, was selected as the rendezvous, and the expedition started from thence and reached its real point of departure without mishap. Work was then commenced and proceeded from Walla Walla for a distance of about fifty miles to the mouth of Tricanyon creek, as which point operations were suspended on account of the retreat of Col. [Edward] Steptoe, who had been up the Palouse on a military reconnaissance, with a force of troops lightly armed and mounted on horses unbroken to stand fire. The Indians were unwilling for the whites to penetrate their country, and had advised Steptoe to return; but upon his insisting to go on, fire was opened by the Reds, more as a defiance and a warning, than to kill. In trying to return the fire, some of the recruits were thrown from their horses. A panic was created which resulted in a hasty retreat. Of course the road expedition could not go forward in the face of defeat, nor was it proposed to fight its way through unknown numbers of apparently hostile Indians, and consequently had to await further events.

General [William S.] Harney, who was then at Vancouver trying to settle the San Juan question, took prompt measures to punish the Indians, and Col. [George] Wright with all forces that could be collected, was dispatched against them. The campaign resulted in the utter defeat of the Indians, who had congregated quite an army out of nearly all the tribes between the Rocky mountains and the Columbia, and it also resulted in opening the Walla Walls country, which had heretofore been Indian territory, to settlement.

As the war consumed the whole summer, the road expedition had been disbanded, to be reorganized in the year following, and a small extra appropriation was made by Congress in 1858-59 to cover and make good losses sustained in stock and supplies.

In the spring of 1859 the expedition had its rendezvous again at the Dalles, where Captain [Thomas] Jordan, Post Quarter-master, furnished the necessary supplies and transportation for its escort of fifty men drawn from the 3rd Artillery at Fort Vancouver. Lieut. Mullan hired about one hundred men who were bound to serve by certain conditions, the ordinary wages paid being $50 per month, and the old army ration. To break his men a little to the labor required, some work was done improving the old emigrant road between the Dalles and Walla Walla, the latter place being reached in June. And now the expedition fully equipped and organized, was really ready to commence operations in earnest. We left Fort Walla Walla in June 1859, a few days after the departure of Major [Pinkney] Lugenbeel, who had gone with two companies of the 9th Infantry to establish Fort Colville, and proceeded to the mouth of Tricanyon, where a rock breastwork called Fort Taylor, had been built during the Indians war. At this point we crossed the Snake river, and the conditions of service were once more read to the men, while the settlements were easy of access.

A day of twenty miles travel, early in the hot month of July, took us from Snake river to the left bank of the Palouse, immediately above its picturesque falls; thence the road was located up the Palouse and over to the St. Joe valley. Little hard work had so far been required, except the occasional grading of a side hill or a crossing, but the descent to the St. Joe needed the construction of a heavy grade and some corduroy work. In this beautiful valley (now a reservation for the Coeur D'Alenes) we made a time camp. Two ferry boats had to be built, one for the St. Joe and the other to be taken around by the lake to the Coeur D'Alene river. Swampy bottoms had to be corduroyed, and a road had to be cut through the timber over the Coeur D'Alene range, which divides the two valleys. When we reached the Coeur D'Alene river, it was at a point twenty miles below the Mission, and the expedition crossed in the boat built on the St. Joe. To follow up the river required time and work, on account of timber, swamps and grading, and it being already in September continuous rains made it disagreeable for the men. Arriving at the Mission, we had the Bitter Root mountains in our immediate front, and the difficulties to be encountered through them, a distance of 75 miles to the Missoula river, were painted so formidably, even by the missionaries, that winter quarters began to look a long ways off. Had the object of the expedition been solely to construct a road for the accommodation of travel, and had not official instructions prevented, it is probable that Mullan would have diverged here and built the road around Pend 'Oreille Lake, which would have avoided the mountains, but lengthened the distance over eighty miles. There had been a difference of opinion between Stevens and Mullan in regard to the feasibility of railroad construction through the mountains, and the facts in the case were to be determined definitely by a party of engineers taking a line of levels from old Fort Walla Walla as the starting point.

Mud Prairie, eleven miles above the Mission, was fixed upon as a depot camp. This prairie, naturally a swamp, was made more so by the previous heavy rains, and had to be partly bridged to get the wagons to its upper end. An examination of the surrounding hills found them full of springs and impractical for grading. We were now at the main barrier of the entire road, and it was a serious one. The pass on both sides was obstructed by an almost impenetrable heavy growth of pine, cedar, tamarack and fir, long since thinned out by frequent firs occurring almost annually for the past twenty years. The mountains hugged the streams so closely that numerous crossings or time-consuming or laborious grades, were unavoidable. The timber on the line of the road had been set on fire, probably by Indians, and everything looked smoky, dismal and discouraging; but gloves had to be laid aside now, and working parties provided with eight or ten days' rations were pushed ahead to cut out, inch by inch as it were, the timber marked by the engineers, who were crawling through the undergrowth, unable to see more than a few feet before them. The road followed the bottom of the canon, because it would have taken nearly a whole summer's work to grade the hills, even if that were practicable; as it was it took nearly the whole month of October to open a merely passable way for the wagons from Mud Prairie to the summit, a distance of only twenty-five miles, and the men were working hard from the earliest dawn till dusk. Mullan, who did not hesitate to put his shoulder to the wheel, was ever among them, to instill courage and hurry up the work. A fall or two of snow began to warn us of the approaching winter. While at Mud Prairie a Quarter-master's train brought out the winter supplies for the military escorts, which necessitated double tripping on part of our teams to the next depot at the foot of the mountains.

Early in November the next depot was established on the east side of the mountains, at what is now called Packer's Ranche, on the Reguis Borgia river [St. Regis River near today's Superior, MT]. The work down this steam was somewhat lighter, because the timber was more open, but headway was made slowly on account of the numerous crossings. Winter having now set in for good, made it still harder on the men, and the indispensable work cattle began to suffer for want of feed. It had been thought all along that we could find winter quarters in the valley of the Missoula, but it as impossible to get there, and reluctantly the order was given for the building of a winter camp at the leaving of the Reguis Borgia, about thirty miles above its mouth. The camp was called "Cantonment Jordan."

Mullan, who had his winter supplies shipped to Benton, with the expectation of having easy access to them from the Missoula valley, found himself disappointed, and had to begin making drafts on the Quartermaster for stores. The citizens of the expedition having exhausted and worn out their supplies of clothing and other necessaries, began to suffer for want of shoes and bedding, and anxiously began to look for the arrival of Messrs. Friedman & McClinchy, Sutlers to the outfit, who were on the road from Walla Wall with a pack train of one hundred animals loaded with merchandise. These merchants had started for the camp rather late in the season, and with overloaded animas, and after they passed the Coeur D'Alene Mission and began to enter the mountains, their animas gave out and perished for want of feed or owing to the effects of the cold. Their merchandise had to be abandoned, and was promiscuously scattered all along the road from Mud Prairie to the foot of the mountain. Friedman reached the camp with only two or three packs, and a few loose animals. The loss of the train was felt severely by all concerned, and the owners of it were at a clear loss of $10,000. Mullan, it was said, was interested in the loss. Some few of the abandoned goods were got to camp by soldiers, who hauled them over the mountain in hand sleds.

Winter quarters being established, and it being likely that the supplies would run short, some of the men were released from their engagement and allowed to proceed to the valley. The others were kept steady at work.

During the winter an order arrived from Washington that the War Department advised it would send four or five hundred men as recruits up the Missouri the following spring, for Forts Walla Walla, Colville, etc. and specified that Mullan was expected to be at Benton in time with his wagons to furnish transportation for those troops. This order necessitated the prosecution of the work more vigorously than ever, and the soldiers who had heretofore performed no labor, were called into requisition, and sent ahead to aid in road building. It was necessary to have the way open for travel necessary to have the way open for travel as far as Hell Gate Ronde, with the earliest spring, and most of the grades up the Missoula river were dug out of the deep snows of mid winter. Most of the work animals perished, and a new supply had to be sent for to Camp Floyd, in Utah. There was not much enjoyment in this winter camp. As early as possible in the spring of 1860, the expedition moved over the laboriously made road to Hell Gate; thence as rapidly as wagons could be got over obstacles up the Hell Gate canyon to Deer Lodge, and thence over a comparatively open country to Fort Benton, and arrived there in due time to furnish the desired transportation to Major Blake and the recruits. On the return to Walla Walla some important work was done by the soldiers, and the road had been opened and the wagons had rolled over it both ways; but it was like all new roads, a hard one to travel.

Upon recommendations made by Major Blake, who was authorized to inspect and report upon the work done, and who reported very favorably, Mullan was sent again into the field early in 1861 with a new [second road-building] expedition to do more necessary work and improvements. This expedition had with it only about fifty hired laborers, and an escort of one hundred men from the 9th Infantry. The road this time crossed Snake river at the mouth of the Palouse, and thence followed the Colville road twenty miles to Cow creek, and thence over an open prairie to Antoine Plants, on the Spokane river; thence up the Spokane around Coeur D'Alene Lake to the Mission, abandoning entirely the road made the previous year from Snake river via the Palouse and St. Joe valleys. There was no difference in distance on the new route taken, but it was entirely a prairie road, with the exception of thirty-five miles between the Lake and the Mission, where considerable work had to be done over spurs of mountains. The main part of the labor to be performed lay in the Bitter Root mountains, and between the Missoula river and Deer Lodge, (the only portion of the country where the Mullan road is yet distinctly marked, and where it was always be known by its proper name.) A careful examination of the pass revealed the fact that either a continuous grade would have to be made for a distance nearly fifty miles, or that the road would have to remain along the bottoms of the canyons. Grading was found impracticable for the want of means and time, therefore the old road had to be retained. Much work was required and done to clear it of fallen timber, and to level standing stumps with its bed. The many crossings of the stream were a serious draw-back, and Mullan tried the experiment of bridging. Timber being plenty, rough bridges were easily and quickly constructed, but in most instances the embankments were very low, and it was not expected that the bridges would withstand any high freshet, as at most they were only intended for temporary structures. Leaving the mountains proper, many repairs and improvements were made along the Missoula river, and to save crossing it, and establishing of ferries, it was decided to retain the road made before. The Hell Gate canyon, where but little work had been done the previous year, had yet to be attended to, and winter quarters were built on the left bank of the Big Blackfoot, near its mouth.

The camp was called Cantonment Wright. Most of the soldiers were distributed in small parties along the canyon, and the grades on the Hell Gate were broken from the ground during the winter of 1861-1862, one of the severest known in the history of this country, and the work went along very slowly. A fine bridge, covered with whipsawed lumber, was thrown over the Big Blackfoot, but being severely damaged by the unusually high freshet of 1862, it was soon after replaced by a private toll bridge. Late in December two horse thieves, Butler and Williams, were followed and arrested in Deer Lodge Valley, by authority of Lieut. Mullan. They received no jury trial, but were both fastened together by the legs, and rendered efficient service in digging out rock for the filling of the piers of the Blackfoot bridge. In the spring they were set at liberty with some good advice for their future guidance.

In January 1862, a citizen connected with the sutler store, while en route to Deer lodge, had his feet frozen, and medical assistance being unable to reach him in proper time, the amputation of both legs became a necessity.

Near the ending of May 1862, Mullan, who had just been promoted to a Captaincy, having fulfilled his instructions, disbanded the expedition; many of the citizens going East via Benton, and the soldiers returning West. Captain Mullan, on account of private affairs, found it necessary to resign his commission in the army.

It was customary while constructing the road to set up posts or brand trees, at convenient points, with the letters "M. R." military road, and the number of miles from each terminus. Those brands were intended as guides, and also to keep off trespassers. Notwithstanding some of the best portions of the road were "taken up," and toll was collected, while the most sections requiring much labor for improvement were severely left alone for free public use. So outrageous became the trespassers at last, that the legislature of Montana found it necessary to enact a law declaring the Mullan road to be a "free public highway."

That the portion of road between Walla Walla and Deer Lodge, (upon which much money and time had been expended,) fell into disuse, was the result of various apparent causes. Owing to the Eastern war no troops or military supplies were sent over it; the discovery of gold in Montana and Idaho diverted emigration from it, and in western Montana there were no markets to tempt freighters to try it. Mullan expected the road would be used, and by use improved. In many of the swamps, and where grass was scarce near camping places in the mountains, he had caused grass seed to be scattered to provide good feed in the future, and fine timothy patches can now be found as the result. It was one of his projects to have a mail route established between St. Paul, via Benton and Portland, Oregon, with a branch coming in from Leavenworth and connecting in the Missoula valley. It being claimed that by this route Oregon would receive its mails quicker than by the old routes. A part of the road he built will probably long remain in public use, notwithstanding the fault-finders who never saw the principal part of the work, and whose imagination can't picture the hardships endured by those who toiled upon it. General Sherman, who traveled over it, did not condemn it, nor did he advocate the building of a new one, but he found the old location good and important enough to cause it to be reopened, if only as a military necessity. It is not reported that the troops who worked on it last summer had more efficient engineers than Mullan but they had to obey orders likewise, and could not deviate from the assigned track, which is yet and long will be a subject for much improvement.

Mullan was one of the pioneers of this country. His name became permanent by a public work of peculiar difficulties, and those that are acquainted with the circumstances well know that he rather lost than make a fortune during the time he was employed upon it. There certainly is some credit due him.
[Signed] C. S.

So, what became of Charles Schafft after the expedition? As he related in his account, in January 1862 "a citizen connected with the sutler store, while en route to Deer lodge, had his feet frozen, and medical assistance being unable to reach him in proper time, the amputation of both legs became a necessity." That "citizen" was Charles Schafft! In the words of Lieut. John Mullan:

"I here mention, with regret a sad accident that occurred to a citizen in passing from one to another of our camps, and which will tend to show the degree of cold we experienced during January [1862]. He (Charles Schafft) had left one of the camps with the intention of going to the Deer Lodge valley. Night and severe cold overtaking him before he could reach another camp, he halted to build a fire, and being wet endeavored to slip off his moccasins, when he found them frozen to his feet. He became alarmed, and retracing his steps reached the point he had started from, late at night, but with both feet frozen, and on their being thawed in a tub of water all the flesh fell off. The poor fellow suffered intensely, and his life was only saved by his suffering the amputation of both legs above the knees; the operation performed by Dr. George Hammond, U.S. Army. A purse of several hundred dollars was raised for him, and he was left to the kind charity of the Fathers of the Pend d'Oreille mission, where he remained up to the date of our leaving the mountains."

Despite the handicap of the loss of his legs in March 1862, Charles Schafft remained active in Montana as the new Territory was formed, and by 1864 he served as a county officer in Missoula County. Two years later he became postmaster. In 1880 Schafft moved on to Fort Benton where in addition to his literary contributions to the Benton Record, he worked as a bookkeeper for Robert Mills of the Centennial Hotel. Later, Charles Schafft returned to Missoula, where this remarkable man died March 2, 1891 and was buried with a Union veteran's headstone to mark his grave.

As we near the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Expedition at Fort Benton and the completion of the Road, we can value the unique perspective of Charles Schafft's account of the Mullan Military Road Expedition.

Sources: Benton Record Weekly 2 January 1880, p. 4; U.S. Army Register of Enlistments 1798-1914, p. 240; 1870 U. S. Census Missoula County; 1880 U. S. Census Choteau County; Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Vets; Mineral County Museum "Blazing the Mullan Road."

Photos: (1) Lieutenant John Mullan, leader of the difficult road-building expedition from Fort Walla to Fort Benton [OHRC Photo]

(2) Colonel Edward Steptoe, whose disastrous military defeat in 1858 delayed the Mullan Expedition for one year [OHRC Photo]

(3) Wagon master John A. Creighton assembled his wagon trains at The Dalles to provide logistical support for the Mullan Expedition [OHRC Photo]

(4) The Mullan Road cut along the Bitter Root mountains near Superior, Montana. This May 2008 photo shows the difficult task of road building through the mountains [OHRC Photo]

(5) The route of the Mullan Wagon Road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton [From Pioneer Trails West]

Our Historic 5,000,000th Tractor

The International Harvester Model F-1066 Farmall 5,000,000th Tractor
By Ken Robison

On February 1, 1974, at 9 a. m., International Harvester made history, producing its 5 millionth tractor. When this historic tractor, Serial #2610172U035153, was produced at International Harvester's Farmall Plant in Rock Island, Illinois on February 1, 1974, IH became the first manufacturer to claim the production of 5,000,000 tractors. The orginial press release photo caption reads: "In special ceremonies at International Harvester's Farmall Plant, Rick Island, IL, Stanley F. Lancaster, vice president, marketing, Agricultural/Industrial Equipment Division, Chicago, and local beauty, Valerie Robb, 22, hail production of the company's record 5,000,000th Tractor on Friday, February 1. IH is the first tractor to claim this distinction and marked the event with an assembly line commemorative celebration." [see two internet images from the unveiling: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/results.asp?keyword1=66&keyword2=farmall&subject_broad_id=1&subject_broad=Agriculture&subject_narrow_id=39&subject _narrow=Tractors&search_type=advanced&sort_by=date&boolean_type1=and

The tractor came equipped with nearly every option IH offered along with a special paint scheme, chrome exhaust, grill and rims. The following two years, the historic tractor was featured at fairs, conventions, and shows across the United States.

On September 26, 1976, this tractor was offered at auction to all International Harvester [IH] dealers attending a new series 86 Tractor announcement in Chicago. Of 177 entries, the winning bid of $40,086.86 was submitted by the Montana IH Dealer group. The keys to the tractor were presented to these dealers on November 5, 1976. It was immediately announced that the proceeds from the auction would be used to establish a Research Program under the direction of Montana State University for a study to further improve tractor operating efficiencies. The Montana IH Dealer group at that time consisted of thirteen implement dealers across the state of Montana. In the years following, the tractor was rotated around the state for showing by IH dealers.

By the early 1990s, only three of the Montana dealers remained in business. These dealers, the Musick Implement Company of Denton, the Big Sky Equipment Company of Conrad, and the Kamp Implement Company of Belgrade, decided to present the 5,000,000th Tractor to the new Museum of the Northern Great Plains in Fort Benton. This museum is designated by the Montana State Legislature as the official "Montana Agricultural Museum." On the 15th of June 1995, the tractor arrived in Fort Benton, where it remains today on display at the Museum of the Northern Great Plains.

This historically significant tractor is an important part of agricultural history, not only in Montana but also across the United States.

The 5,000,000th IH Tractor as it appears today: