29 March 2010
Mullan Trail Blazer
[From: Anaconda Standard Sunday Morning Mar 20, 1910]
[Note: Despite the impact of Captain John Mullan on Montana, his death 28 Dec 1909 passed with little notice in the press of Fort Benton or Great Falls. This article in the Anaconda Standard in March 1910 by James U. Sanders of Helena, oldest son of Senator Wilbur F. Sanders, serves as the best "obituary" this author has found in the Montana press.]
The recent death of Capt. John Mullan, jr. Washington at the advanced age of 79 marks the passing of about the last member of that band of explorers of this region. He was a man to whom Montana owes much, and it would be a credit to us if in the not distant future some new county to be carved out of our imperial domain should bear his name.
Lieutenant Mullan’s activities in this part of the Northwest began in the year 1853 as a member of Gov. Isaac I. Stevens’ expedition to explore a route for the Pacific railroad from St. Paul to Puget sound. General Stevens on the creation of Washington territory in 1853 was appointed governor of the new territory and was at the same time placed in charge of the exploration for the Pacific railroad by the northern route.
In 1853 provision was made by congress for explorations for railroad routes from the Mississippi river to the Pacific ocean to be under the supervision of the secretary of war.
Jefferson Davis, then secretary, organized five expeditions, the first to explore a line near the thirty-second parallel of north latitude, the second near the thirty-fifth parallel, the third near the thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth parallels, the fourth near the forty-first and forty-second parallels and the fifth near the forty-seventh and forty-ninth parallels. The reports of those surveys published by the government fill 13 royal octavo volumes, one of the most valuable publications of the government printing office. Thirty-five of the 70 full-page colored illustrations of the volume containing the report of the exploration of the northern route are of scenes in what is now Montana, and from one, the view of Cantonment Stevens and Fort Owen in the Bitter Root valley, adorning the walls of the house of representative in our state capitol, was copied.
Secretary Davis in submitting the reports to congress in 1855 expressed a preference for the southernmost route, desiring the Pacific coast to be commercially allied to the gulf states.
It is a matter of interest that Governor Stevens, in crossing the summit of the Rocky mountains at Cadotte’s pass in the present county of Lewis and Clark and entering the confines of the territory of Washington on the 24th day of September, welcomed the members of the party to the new territory and issued a proclamation establishing civil government therein. This incident is worthy of commemoration and the spot should be marked by the Historical or Pioneer society.
Governor Stevens’ memory is also worthy of commemoration by Montana. Lieutenant Mullan adds his testimony to the value of his labors, which he says have left to the country a very correct outline of the geography of the Rocky mountain sections examined.
As a preliminary to railroad construction, Stevens appreciated the necessity of a wagon road and emphasized in his introductions to Mullan the problem of a proper connection through a practicable mountain pass of the plains of the Missouri with the plains of the Columbia between the forty-fifth and forty-eighth north latitude. so Mullan considered that his connection with this great national highway dated from that time.
The expedition under Governor Stevens along the norther route is the only one of interest to us. it was divided into two divisions, the main one operating under Stevens from St. Paul west. The western division, under Gen. George B. McClellan, was to proceed to Puget sound and work east through the Cascade and other mountain ranges and meet Stevens. Lieut. R. Saxton was to repair in the Columbia river, organize a party and establish a depot in the Bitter Root valley.
Governor Stevens considered for a time the proposition of chartering a boat, sending a party up the Missouri river and throwing it into the mountains immediately. But he gave this up, not being fully satisfied that a boat, for which he had secured a conditional charter at Pittsburg, could go up that river. So the party proceeded overland.
In this party besides Governor Stevens were several men whose names are familiar as those of pioneers in what later was to be the state of Montana: Lieut. John Mullan, Second Artillery, six years later detailed to construct a military wagon road from Walla Walla to Fort Benton on the Missouri river; F. W. Lander, who later constructed that great highway known as the Lander cutoff, which left the main overland trail in the South pass above old Fort Aspenhul and proceeded direct to Fort Hall, Thomas Adams and Fred H. Burr, remembered by many old-timers, were also in the party. The services of Alexander Culbertson were also secured to acquaint the Blackfeet Indians with the purposes of the expedition.
Lieutenant Mullan was assigned to a party to survey the Missouri river and establish a depot at Fort Union. His party left St. Louis on the American Fur company’s boat May 21, with instructions to make as complete a survey of the Missouri river as circumstances would permit and to establish a supply depot at Fort Union. From Fort Union Mullan was detailed to survey the valley of the Yellowstone river, which he ascended to a point near the present city of Billings. From there he turned northward and explored the valley of the Musselshell and Judith basin and rejoined the main party at Fort Benton on Sept. 1.
Mullan was left in command of a party to explore the mountain regions of eastern Washington and the northwest part of Missouri territory, for this was before the creation of the territory of Nebraska, which came to the summit of the rocky mountains. He established his headquarter in the Bitter Root valley near Fort Owen, and explored the mountain regions, as he expressed it, “which included the sections whence flow the sources of the Columbia and Missouri rivers in a network of babbling brooks.”
Mullan states that the only information of this great region of country was the map left us by Lewis and Clark in 1805, with addenda given him by the more intelligent employees of the Hudson Bay company or chance travelers in the country.
Governor Stevens had employed a wagon train from St. Paul to Fort Benton, but there he had decided that he would be compelled to employ pack trains.
At this time the only overland wagon road t the Pacific was via the South (Pacific) pass, which still probably remains the great highway across the continent.
The question of the navigation of the upper Missouri and Columbia rivers was then a subject of discussion, one or two small steamboats at that time meeting the necessities of the commerce of the Columbia, with the head of navigation at The Dalles. On the Missouri it is recorded that a solitary steamer engaged in the fur trade made an annual trip up that stream.
The region covered by Lieutenant Mullan and his party in 1854-1855 [actually 1853-1854] extended from the Kootenai river on the north to Fort Hall on Snake river, covering the mountainous portions of Montana. Mullan, at this early date, determined that the Bitter Root mountains presented greater difficulties than the Rocky mountains in the matter of wagon and railroad construction, so that perhaps its adoption 10 years later as the boundary between Idaho and Montana territories is not strange.
Lieutenant Mullan, with a small party, left the Bitter Root valley May 1, 1854 and, crossing the summit of the Rocky mountains on the 10th, arrived at Fort Benton on the 14th. There he remained two days fitting up a wagon train, and started on his return on the 17th, against reaching the Bitter Rot valley on the 31st of that month. On this trip, in traveling along the Blackfoot, he said it was a misnomer to call it the Hell Gate, as the sun does not shine on a better spot on earth.
The actual construction of the military road from Fort Walls Walla to Fort Benton was deferred until 1859-1860, when the expedition was placed in the immediate charge of Lieutenant Mullan, and the Mullan road will live in history, although the iron horse has paralleled it for the greater part of its length.
J. Wiessner, the astonomer of the expedition, in submitting his report of the stronomical and meteorological observations to Captain Mullan, closed with the following remarkable state:
“While I was drawing a profile of the road, and by attempting to represent all known heights of the mountains, of settlements and camps along the rivers, in valleys and prairies of Gov. (the late lamented general) I. I. Steven’s Northern Pacific Railroad district, between the longitude of the mouth of the Columbia on the west and Fort Union on the east, and within the parallels of 45 degrees and the northern boundary, your signature was found most wonderfully written by the pen of nature. From the Pacific, along the Columbia up to Mount Adams, down to the Cascades, up to Mount Hood and, down to The Dalles, the profile is an ‘M’; along the Columbia, the Walla Walla, the Touchet to the head of Reed creek, down to the Tukonon to where Lewis discovered the Snake river, up the Pelouse on to the high plains of the Columbia and down to the St. Joseph, the profile is a ‘U’; up the Coeur d’Alene to Sohon’s pass and down the St. Regis Borgia to the Bitter Root, the profile is an ‘L’; by the Medicine Rock, Dearborn, Sun river, over the plains to the right of the Teton, to Fort Benton and along the winding Missouri to Fort Union, the profile is a ‘N.’”
From the foregoing it will be seen that the M of this remarkable profile is written in Oregon and Washington along the Columbia river; the U is written within the state of Idaho, the first L representing the summit of the Bitter Root mountains, the Rocky mountains representing the second L and the A N being written along the Dearborn, Sun and Missouri rivers across the state of Montana to Fort Union on the east. Let the profile of the White mountains look to his laurels.
We have mentioned the Oregon trail. This old highway in its time was without doubt, the best traveled highway of history and was followed for two-thirds of its length by the Pacific Argonauts from 1848 till the completion of the first Pacific railroad in 1869. Along the Oregon trail again old Ezra Meeker, over 80, in arranging to take a rip this summer, retracing the trip which he took 58 years ago, a feat which he accomplished in 1906, visiting President Roosevelt at the White House and driving his oxen into New York city.
A bill is pending in congress providing for the marking of this old trail at prominent points and seeking to interest the historical societies of the states through which it asses, in the matter, surely a worthy cause. The sympathy which this proposition has aroused suggests that similar action should be taken with reference to the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition 44 years before the dedication of the Oregon trail.
the line of the Verendry’s expedition, which penetrated the wilds of our own state 168 years ago and discovered the Shining (Rocky) mountains January 1, 1743, as authenticated in Vol. 1, and in the forthcoming Vol. 7, of “Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana,” might also to advantage be marked at important points by the historical society or some authorized commission.
J. U. SANDERS.
Helena, March 14, 1910.
In 1882 Mr. Sanders received this letter from Captain Mullan:
Washington, D. C., Aug. 30, 1882.
“J. U. Sanders, Esq., Helena, Mont.:
“Dear Sir: I acknowledge the receipt of you very full and satisfactory letter of the 20th inst., containing so graphic an account of the operations going on at this time at both ends and in the middle of the Mullan tunnel,, and for which please accept my thanks.
“It would afford me exceeding great pleasure to be present next year at the celebration which you speak of in anticipation of the completion of this great work through the Rocky mountains, and if circumstances enable me to be present on that occasion I shall conceive it my duty to make an effort to visit you in Western Montana and see the result of the growth of that region, where 30 years ago I pioneered the first wagon across that section of the Rocky mountains. I have always had a most abiding confidence in the future growth and development of that, to me, most interesting portion of the Northwest and to travel through that country again at the rate of 500 miles a day, where we thought we were making a fair day’s work when we journeyed five miles a day on foot, will be to me a pleasure which can only be described by the enjoyment thereof.
“My advices from Oregon are to the same effect as you attest, to wit: that the western section of the road will reach Missoula some time about the end of the year.
“J. K. McCaminna, assistant attorney general for the interior deparment, some three weeks ago left Washington for the purpose of making a visit to the Flathead Indian reservation to secure from those Indians the right of way over their Jocko Indian reservation.”