Pathways to History:
Roads, Trails and Journeys
The Mullan Road
The History of its Construction and Early Use
"Palouse Falls in Washington
Artist: Gustavus Sohon
Source: John Mullan, Report
on the Construction of a Military Raod from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton
Click here for a closer view of this image --
including modern photography linked to Sohon's drawing.
Click here to see Gustavus
Sohon's view of Cantonment Stevens, the Mullan Party's winter encampment of 1853-1854.
Mullan Road Project Overview:
- The Mullan Road, constructed between 1858 and 1862 was the first wagon
road to cross the Rockies to the Inland Northwest.
- Did we say "wagon road"?! Often it was in such disrepair
that only foot travelers and pack animals could follow its course, especially
through the mountains.
- The building years were a momentous time in American history. In particular:
- The United States Army had just fought the Coeur d'Alene War. The section
of the trail in eastern Washington passed by the sites of recent Coeur
d'Alene War of 1858, including "Pyramid Butte" (site of the Battle
of Steptoe Butte), Hangman Creek (where Col. George Wright summarily executed
several Indians), and "Horse Slaughter Camp" (where Colonel Wright
slaughtered 700 horses, owned by the local tribes). In his report on the
road-building (see below), the reader can discern Capt. John Mullan's concern
that his expedition would encounter still-hostile Indians.
- Before the end of the road-building, the United States was engaged
in the Civil War -- Mullan calls it the "civil troubles."
- The story of the Mullan Road provides a window onto many historical
topics including American road-building, the Indian history of the Inland
Northwest, the American wilderness, the white settlement of the Inland
Northwest, and the story of America at the mid-nineteenth century, including
the Civil War.
The Mullan Report:
- In 1863 the United States Congress published Capt. John
Mullan's. Report on the Construction of a Military Raod from Fort Walla
Walla to Fort Benton. The report was illustrated with drawings by Gustavus
- Gustavus Sohon accompanied
Col. George Wright during his campaign in the
Coeur d'Alene War just before the road-building began.
of the text of the entire Mullan report are available
at a University of Michigan Internet site. The best way to access the images
is to review the text and then click on "view page image." (The
digitized text contains many errors, but this is a useful way to access
pictures of the pages themselves.)
- We are preparing an original digitized version
of the report, which we will make available in several forms.
- -- Click here to access the entire report
in one large file. As of April 19, 2004, we have about 80 percent of the
- -- We will also be developing versions of the report with an outline,
images, and other features.
- Before building the first important wagon road in the Inland Northwest,
Capt. John Mullan needed the assistance of the original inhabitants of
the land. This chapter, "Waiting for the Indians,"
from The Fair and the Falls, provides an overview of Indian-White
relations during the years before, during, and after the building of the
road -- and it shows how dependent the white pioneers were on the original
Indian trail and ferry system of the region.
Lesson Plans: (in progress, links to be added)