28 May 2010

Celebrating the Mullan Road--Conference Wrap-up

Celebrating 150 Years of the Mullan Military Wagon Road 1860-2010
Fort Benton, MT May 20-22

By Ken Robison

During May 20-22, 2010, the River & Plains Society in Fort Benton hosted the national 150th Anniversary Mullan Road Conference. This conference celebrated the completion of the Mullan Military Wagon Road in 1860, the first wagon road from Fort Benton to cross the Rocky Mountains to Fort Walla Walla, Washington Territory. The Conference also celebrated the arrival of the first steamboats at the Fort Benton levee July 2nd, 1860. When the Chippewa, commanded by Captain Joseph LaBarge, and the Key West, under Joseph’s brother Captain John LaBarge. When these steamers moored at Fort Benton’s levee, it heralded the beginning of the steamboat era at the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Aboard the two steamers were Major George A. H. Blake and his First Dragoons, some 300 soldiers who were poised to become the first, and last, direct military users of the Mullan Road on their way to Washington Territory. The Conference featured a Photo Exhibit: “Going to the Mountains: Steamboating on the Upper Missouri 1860-1890.”

The 150th Anniversary Conference began May 20th late Thursday afternoon with a tour of Old Fort Benton, the reconstructed American Fur Company fur and robe trading post built in 1846-47 at the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Resident Mountain Man “Burnt Spoon” led the tour group into the 1850’s past to see the original Block House (Montana’s oldest permanent structure), the newly reconstructed log Stockade and the Bourgeois House (the Factor’s Quarters), and into the Trade Store and Warehouse where the River & Plains Society hosted an evening reception in the fur trade museum.

Mountain Man Burnt Spoon leading the tour of Old Fort Benton

With about 70 participants from New York to Oregon assembled Friday at the Montana Agricultrual Center-Lippard Auditorium, Coordinator Ken Robison began with regional Mullan Road activity reports from Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Highlighting these reports was announcement that the Lewis & Clark County/Helena Historic Preservation Commission will host the 2011 Mullan Road Conference, and that Walla Walla/Cheney, WA will organize to host the 2012 Conference.

Mullan Road Conference attendees from all over the nation

Morning presentations included: “John Mullan Road Builder: An Army Case Study” by U. S. Military Academy instructor and Yale University doctoral student Major Ryan Shaw; “Eye of the Explorer the Images of Artists Gustavus Sohon and John Mix Stanley From the Pacific Railroad Survey” by Professor Paul McDermott of Maryland; “Stories of Early Travelers Along the Mullan Road” by Lee Hanchett, author of Montana's Benton Road; and “Natural Resources along the Road” by Dr. John E. Taylor of Helena. The luncheon speaker featured Cultural Historian Bob Doerk discussing “Inni - The Buffalo of the Plains.”

Major Ryan Shaw, U.S. Military Academy at West Point

Friday afternoon presentations included the following: “Mullan Road On-Line Resources Including a Google Earth Mullan Road Fly-Thru” by Dr. Bill Youngs of Eastern Washington University, and Ron Hall; “Sampling the Minckler Mullan Road Collection” which includes unique photographs, diaries, and material from Mullan's wagonmaster John A. Creighton, by Art Historian Thomas Minckler and Ken Robison; “Through Indian Country: Native American Perspectives on Mullan and Regional Development” by Dr. Richard Scheuerman of Seattle Pacific University; and “Actions to Designate the Mullan Road a National Historic Trail” led by Courtney Kramer, Gallatin County/Bozeman Historic Preservation Officer. Friday evening featured a book-signig reception and banquet with Bruce Druliner aka “Burnt Spoon” bringing to life “Old Fort Benton in the 1850s through stories and songs.”

Muncie & Wally Morger at the Banquet

Executive Director Jack Lepley & Fay Todd at Mullan Road Conference Banquet

Saturday morning began in Fort Benton with “Surveying along the Mullan Road” by Montana surveyor re-enactor Bill Weikel, followed by a field trip into the Sun River valley with bus guide commentary about the route of the Mullan Road and key historic, cultural, and geological features. Because of the rainy weather, stops at St. Peter’s Mission and Bird Tail Rock had to be eliminated. Stops were made at the Fort Benton Overlook, CMR Museum Bison Exhibit, Sun River Leaving (Vaughn), Sun River Crossing, and Fort Shaw. At this historic fort, Dick Thoroughman of the Sun River Valley Historical Society showed General Gibbon’s original Military Quarters and talked about Sun River valley history including the military at Fort Shaw Military Post and the later famed Indian Industrial School.

Sun River Historian Dick Thoroughman in the original Fort Shaw Officers' Quarters

1 comment:

MrCachet said...

I would have enjoyed the gathering and the speakers as well as the photo exhibit, but we had a wedding to attend!