Mullan Road Terms and Glossary

Glossary by Amanda Van Lanen and Marc Entze


Bitter Root Mountains – The range of mountains that divides Idaho from Montana. This range is named for the Bitter Root flower (Lewisia redeviva), which grows throughout the range. Indians used this plant’s root as a food source. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Clark(e)’s Fork River – Originating in the Silver Bow Mountains, southwest of Butte, Montana, this river crosses northern Idaho and empties into Lake Pend d’Oreille. Named after William Clark of 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Clearwater River – A tributary of the Snake River that joins the Snake at Lewiston, Idaho. Its name is translated from the Nez Perce word Koo-Koos-Kai-Kai, which refers to the river’s naturally clear water. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Coeur d’Alene – The name given to the region of Northern Idaho that includes Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, and the Coeur d’Alene River. Named by French fur trappers. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Coeur d’Alene Mission – Established in 1840 by Father Pierre Jean De Smet, a Jesuit missionary from Belgium. Also known as Cataldo Mission, the church is located outside of present-day Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, along the St. Joe River and during the era of the Mullan Road, could be reached by steamboat from Coeur d’Alene. The Cataldo Mission is the oldest standing building Idaho. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Columbia River – Captain Robert Gray discovered and claimed this river for the United States in 1792 and named it for his ship the Columbia. Important to Indians for its salmon runs, the Columbia provided a vital transportation link between Astoria near the coast and Fort Walla Walla. Navigation of the Columbia River beyond The Dalles, known as the “upper River,” was first made in 1859; part of the cargo was supplies for the construction of the Mullan Road. Today the river forms part of the boundary between Oregon and Washington. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Fort Benton -  The American Fur Company began construction of Fort Benton in 1846. Built near the Missouri River, this outpost was part of a network of fur trading forts located throughout the West. Fort Benton was chosen as the eastern terminus of the Mullan Road because of its location as the furthest navigable reaches of the Missouri River. In 1860 the first steamboat landed at Fort Benton from St. Louis. The steamboats transported supplies as far as Fort Benton before being off-loaded for overland transport. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Fort Colville – Located near the present site of Colville, Washington, the Hudson’s Bay Company constructed this fort in 1825 as a fur trading outpost, one of many the company maintained in the region. When Washington Territory was established in 1853, the British company withdrew from the fort, and in 1859, the U.S. army constructed a military outpost, also called Fort Colville, near the same site. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Fort Dalles – Established in 1850 to provide protection to settlers on the Oregon Trail. Located on the Columbia River, Fort Dalles marked the end of the Oregon Trail. From here, settlers would transport their goods down the Columbia River to the Willamette River and Oregon City. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Fort Hall -  Located on the Snake River near present-day Pocatello, Idaho, Fort Hall was constructed by Bostonian Nathaniel Wyeth in 1834 to serve as a supply outpost for fur trappers and local Indians. In 1838, Wyeth sold the fort to the Hudson’s Bay Company, and it remained an important supply post for trappers and overland travelers until its closure in 1856. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Fort Vancouver – Established in 1825, Fort Vancouver is located on the Columbia River was the administrative headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company. As large numbers of settlers began arriving in Oregon in the 1830s and 1840s, Fort Vancouver served as an important supply post for newly arrived emigrants. In 1849, the U.S. army established barracks near Fort Vancouver. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Fort Walla Walla – Founded in 1856 near the site of present-day Walla Walla, Washington by the U.S. military during a period of unrest and Indian wars. An earlier Fort Walla Walla was located at the Wallula Gap on the Columbia River, and was used by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a fur outpost. Fort Walla Walla became a trading center for a vast area and the town of Walla Walla formed near the fort in 1859. Because of its significant regional importance, and its location near the navigable reaches of the Columbia River, Mullan logically chose Fort Walla Walla to be the western terminus of the Military Road. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Palouse Falls – Located on the Palouse River, six miles above the confluence with the Snake River. The term “Palouse,” which is also used for the Palouse River and the Palouse region of Eastern Washington, derives from “La Pelouse,” a word used by French-Canadian fur trappers that meant “grassland country.” Palouse Falls is now a Washington State Park and as a landmark, virtually unchanged from the time pack trains used the nearby Mullan Road. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Palouse River – Originating in northern Idaho, this river flows westward through eastern Washington before joining into the Snake River. It drains the Palouse region of eastern Washington. The term “Palouse,” which is also used for the Palouse, derives from “La Pelouse,” a word used by French-Canadian fur trappers that meant “grassland country.” The mouth of the Palouse River is one location where Mullan used a ferry to cross the Snake River. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Snake River – The Snake originates in Idaho, west of Yellowstone National Park and is the largest tributary of the Columbia River. It crosses Idaho, and flows north along the Oregon-Idaho border through Hell’s Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America. At Lewiston, Idaho, the river turns west into Washington, and joins the Columbia River at present-day Pasco, Washington. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Sohon’s Pass – Named for Gustavus Sohon who served as a guide and interpreter during the construction of the Mullan Road. This site has been renamed St. Regis Pass and is located in present-day Montana. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Washington Territory – Originally part of the Oregon Territory, Washington Territory was created by act of Congress on May 2, 1853. Isaac I. Stevens served as the first territorial governor. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Other Places:

Lo-Lo Pass
Lower Pend d’Oreille Mission
Missouri River
Nez Perce Trail
Oro Fino
Big Horn River
Fort Spokane
Pend d’Oreille Lake
St. Joseph River
St. Paul, Minnesota
St. Regis Borgia
Salmon River
Steptoe Butte

Individuals and Peoples

Adams, Thomas – Accompanied the 1853 Stevens expedition as a topographer. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 5. (M.E. - A.V.L.)

Aeneas – An Iroquois Indian who often traveled through the Bitter Root Mountains and provided information to the 1853 Stevens expedition. In March 1854, he guided topographer Thomas Adams across Sohon Pass. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 5. (M.E. - A.V.L.)

Chouteau, Charles P. – Son of Pierre Chouteau Jr., founder of the Chouteau & Co., a St. Louis firm that controlled navigation on the Missouri River. Charles accompanied the steamboat Chippewa on the first passage above Fort Union in 1859. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Chouteau, Pierre Jr. –  See Pierre Chouteau Jr. & Co. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Coeur d’Alene Indians – One of the tribes encountered by the Mullan expedition, the Coeur d’Alene Indians are part of the Salishan language group that includes the Pend d’Oreille and the Flathead tribes. Traditionally, they lived in northern Idaho, near the headwaters of the Spokane and Clearwater Rivers and Lake Coeur d’Alene. Although generally hospitable towards fur traders, the tribe joined other Plateau Indians and fought against Colonel Steptoe in 1858. (M.E. - A.V.L.)

Engel (Engle), P.M. – Served as a topographer during the construction of the Mullan Road, 1858-1862. Accompanied Major Lugenbeel of the U.S. Army to Fort Colville in the capacity of topographer to map the route for Mullan. (Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 10-11) He also explored alternate routes for the Mullan Road along the south fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and the Clark’s Fork. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 18. (M.E. - A.V.L.)

Finkham, W.W. – Accompanied the 1853 Stevens expedition as a civil engineer. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 4. (M.E. - A.V.L.)

Gazzoli, Father – A Jesuit missionary stationed at the Coeur d’Alene (Cataldo) Mission who Mullan met in 1854 during the Stevens expedition. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 5. (M.E. - A.V.L.)

Hoecken, Father Adrian (1815-1897) – A Dutch Jesuit missionary who worked with the Lower Pend d’Oreille Indians and provided information for Mullan during the 1853-1854 Stevens expedition Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 5. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Joset, Father Joseph (1810-1900) - A Jesuit missionary stationed at the Coeur d’Alene (Cataldo) Mission who Mullan met in 1854 during the Stevens expedition. The Jesuit fathers knew little about the geography of the region; however, Joset accompanied Mullan to nearby Indian encampments in an attempt to gather information about potential routes through the Bitter Root Mountains. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 5. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Kolecki, Theodore H. -  Topogapher during the construction of the Mullan Road. In 1860, Mullan sent Kolecki to Washington D.C. with the expedition’s field notes to begin compiling maps for the War Department. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 28. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Mullan, John (1830-1909) – First came to Washington Territory in 1853 to participate in the Pacific Railroad explorations. Later secured funds and approval from Congress to construct a military road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton, a distance of 624. Work on the road started in 1858. Mullan’s final report to Congress on the road construction was published in 1863. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Pierre Chouteau Jr. & Co. (Choteau & Co.) – Founded in 1834 when John Jacob Astor sold his interest in the American Fur Company to Bernard Pratte, Sr. and Pierre Chouteau Jr. For the first four years, 1834-1838 the company was known as Pratte, Chouteau & Company, when Chouteau took control of the company and renamed it Pierre Chouteau Jr. & Co., becoming the largest trading company on the upper Missouri River. Although the fur trade was a very important aspect of the business, Pierre Chouteau knew the Missouri River and the region intimately. As a result, Chouteau & Co. received several government contracts for the transportation of Indian annuities and government supplies to points along the Missouri River. From their headquarters in St. Louis, the Chouteau & Co. controlled steam navigation of the Missouri River, and for years the head of navigation was the American Fur Company’s post, Fort Union, located at the mouth of the Yellowstone River. In 1859 the Chouteau & Co. steamboat, the Chippewa, became the first boat to successfully navigate the upper Missouri River, to a point twelve miles south of Fort Benton. The successful navigation of the upper Missouri River allowed Fort Benton to become the eastern terminus of the Mullan Road. Mullan, 1863 Report, p.8. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Prudhomme, Gabriel – Prudhomme is described as a “half-breed . . . who had been a voyageur and a traveling companion to earlier Jesuit fathers” through the Rocky Mountains. He provided geographic information to the Mullan party during the 1853 expedition. Indians and fur trappers who had a working knowledge of the terrain provided valuable information to surveyors. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 4. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Ravalli, Father Anthony (1812-1884) - A Jesuit missionary stationed at the Coeur d’Alene (Cataldo) Mission who Mullan met in 1854 during the Stevens expedition. (Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 5) He came to the mission in 1848 and designed the church at the mission. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Sohon, Gustavus (1825-1903) – Sohon came to the U.S. in 1842 from Germany. He enlisted in the army in 1852 and was stationed at Fort Dalles. In 1853 he served as a guide and interpreter for the Stevens expedition and joined the Mullan expedition on May 21, 1859. In addition to his linguistic skills, Sohon is known for his artwork depicting scenes throughout the Pacific Northwest, that were originally published with the Pacific Railroad Reports and in Mullan’s official report of 1863. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Steptoe, Lieutenant Colonel Edward J.  – In May 1858, Steptoe led a detachment of troops from Fort Walla Walla to look into the reports that the Palouse Indians had run off stock and killed miners in the Colville area, north of present day Spokane. After encountering a large band of Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Palouse Indians, Steptoe withdrew to a defensive position on a hill that is now known as Steptoe Butte, a signature landmark in eastern Washington, named for him. He successfully retreated back to Fort Walla Walla with minor casualties, but the incident sparked additional conflicts between Indians and white settlers. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Stevens, Isaac (1818-1862) – First governor of Washington Territory, 1853-1857. Led an expedition in 1853-54, in which John Mullan participated, to determine a route for a railroad to the Pacific. After the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Stevens served as a Brigadier General with the Union army. He was killed in action near Chantilly, Virginia, during the second Battle of Bull Run, on September 1, 1862. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Weisner, John -  Meteorologist and astronomer for the Mullan expedition during the construction of the Mullan Road. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Wright, Colonel George – Born in Vermont in 1803, and a graduate of the United States Military Academy in 1822, in 1855 Wright was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and he was in command the northern district of the Department of the Pacific until 1857. In 1858 he led an expedition against the Coeur d’Alene, Palouse and Spokane Indians, during which he ordered the killing of 800 Indian horses. This was the last major conflict between Indians and whites in the Pacific Northwest. Wright was later promoted to brigadier general and on June 27, 1865, placed in command of the Department of the Columbia, covering Oregon state, and Idaho and Washington Territories. While enroute to his new post, Wright and 221 other passenger aboard the steamship, Brother Jonathon, were killed when the vessel struck a rock and sank off the California coast, near Crescent City. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Events and Concepts

Chippewa– First steamboat to navigate the upper Missouri River, owned by Chouteau & Co., and captained by John LaBarge. Known as a “mountain boat” because it was specially designed for swift and shallow rivers, the Chippewa was 135 feet long, 30 feet wide and with a full cargo – 350 tons -- drew just 31-inches of water. The first attempt to reach Fort Benton, in 1859, failed due to low water in the Missouri and lack of wood for fuel, and the Chippewa was forced to land twelve miles short of Fort Benton; much of the cargo was supplies, including rations, for the construction of the Mullan Road. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Colonel Wright – A 110-foot long sternwheeler named after Colonel George Wright, it was the first steamboat to navigate the upper Columbia River as far as Wallula and the lower Snake River as far as the mouth of the Palouse River, in 1859. The boat, under the charge of Captain Leonard White, transported supplies for the construction of the Mullan Road. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Hudson’s Bay Company – Founded in 1670 by King Charles II as a fur trapping company. Faced with competition from rival companies, in the late eighteenth century, the company began moving operations westward. For a time, the Hudson’s Bay Company had a monopoly on fur trapping in the Pacific Northwest. The company maintained a network of forts and supply outposts to support its trapping operations. Fur trappers were familiar with local geography and peoples, providing information to expeditions such as Mullan’s. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) – Led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, this expedition, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, reached the Pacific Northwest in 1805. Though Lewis and Clark were not the first Euro-Americans to travel to the region, their reports and incomplete maps were the only information about the Northwest available to Isaac Stevens and John Mullan prior to their own explorations of the region. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Mormon Uprising – Having faced persecution in New York, Illinois, and Missouri, the Mormon community founded by Joseph Smith decided move West after Smith’s death at the hands of a Missouri mob. The Mormons established a settlement on the Great Salt Lake in present-day Utah. The federal government still viewed the Mormons with suspicion, and in 1857, President James Buchanan ordered troops into Utah after Mormon leaders had been accused of harassing federal officials. The conflict between the federal government and Mormon leadership was settled peaceably; however, in August 1857, a wagon train was attacked by a band of Mormons as it crossed southern Utah, resulting in the deaths of 130 people. According to Mullan, these uprising emphasized the need to open communication and transportation routes in the West. Mullan, 1863 Report, p. 7. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Pacific Railway Act of 1862 – Passed by Congress on July 1, 1862, this act authorized the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean “to secure the safe and speedy transportation of mails, troops, munitions of war, and public stores.” (U. S. Statutes at Large, Vol. XII, p. 489 ff.) Congress provided bonds and land grants to railroad companies to finance construction of a transcontinental line. The need for a transcontinental line had been recognized as early as the 1850s when Congress authorized a series of railroad surveys to determine feasible routes. John Mullan participated in the 1853 northern survey led by Isaac Stevens. Despite the need for a railroad, Congress was unable to agree upon a route, and the passage of this legislation was postponed until after the start of the Civil War. Full-text of the Pacific Railway Act can be found at the Library of Congress.
(M.E. – A.V.L.)

Pacific Railroad Construction – The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 authorized the construction of a transcontinental railroad, and work on this project began in earnest after the Civil War ended. Although the government had surveyed several routes, ultimately the central routes was chosen for the first transcontinental railway. The Union Pacific built west from Omaha, while the Central Pacific built east from Sacramento. The two lines joined at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Pacific Railroad Surveys – During the 1850s, the federal government recognized the need for a transcontinental railroad to connect settlers in the West with the rest of the nation. The discovery of gold had increased western settlement, and by 1848, California had become a state. Between 1853 and 1855, Congress authorized a series of railroad surveys to explore possible routes. The Army’s Topographic Bureau organized a total of six expeditions that explored Oregon, Washington, California, and the Great Plains. The northern survey was commanded by Isaac Stevens, the first governor of Washington Territory, and explored the 47th parallel between St. Paul, Minnesota and Puget Sound. John Mullan was part of this 1853 Stevens expedition and refers it in the beginning of his 1863 report on the Mullan Road. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Missions  -- In the early 1830s, four Nez Perce and Flathead Indians traveled to St. Louis to inquire about white religion. This small encounter prompted a number of missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, to journey to the Pacific Northwest. In 1834, the Methodists sent missionaries Jason and Daniel Lee to the Willamette Valley. This was followed by the arrival of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and Henry and Eliza Spalding in 1836, who set up missions at Walla Walla and Lapwai respectively. The first Catholic missionary to the region was Jesuit priest Pierre Jean De Smet, who helped create a number of missions among the Coeur d’Alene, the Pend d’Oreille, and the Flathead Indians in Montana and Northern Idaho. Missions, especially the Jesuit missions of Northern Idaho, were important to the Mullan expedition. (M.E. – A.V.L.)

Sources Consulted

Boone, Lalia. Idaho Place Names, A Geographical Dictionary. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1988.

Hitchman, Robert. Place Names of Washington. NP: Washington State Historical Society, 1985.

Lamar, Howard, ed. The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West. New York: Thomas Y. Crowe Company, 1977.

Michno, Gregory F. Encyclopedia of Indian Wars: Western Battles and Skirmishes, 1850-1890. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2003.

Milner, Clyde A. II, Carol O’Connor, and Martha A. Sandweiss, eds. The Oxford History of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Mullan, Captain John, U.S.A., Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton. Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1998.

Schwantes, Carlos. The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.


M.E. = Marc Entze

A.V.L. = Amanda Van Lanen