The Mullan Road

Biographical Sketches of Indian Guides

Aeneas, the Iroquois

Stuart Gimblin

John Mullan's engineering skill and stoic determination could not have brought the Mullan road project to fruition without some help from the indigenous population. Mullan and his work crew had all of the modern construction tools and abilities necessary build a mountain road. However, when Mullan was planning the route through the Rockies, he employed local Indians who knew the area and the best trails over the mountains. One Indian guide who worked for Mullan was "Ignace Chapped Lips," whom Mullan identified as Aeneas in his report. Aeneas had been involved in guiding white missionaries and travelers through the mountains for many years.

Aeneas was an Iroquois living with the Flathead. It is suspected that he traveled from his homeland with Hudson's Bay Company trappers to the Pacific Northwest, and decided to remain with the Flathead. In the 1830s, Aeneas and a group of Indian emissaries traveled from the Bitterroot area to St. Louis. Their purpose was to convince the Jesuits to start a mission in their area. Aeneas was the only Indian to survive the arduous trek.1 Years later when Father De Smet journeyed to Flathead territory, Aeneas was one of the Indian guides who accompanied De Smet and his group over the mountains to where the Jesuits established an historic missionary presence among the Pacific Northwest Indians.2
Aeneas worked for Mullan through the winter of 1853-54. In his report, Mullan speaks highly about Aeneas's knowledge and skills:
I learned through an old Iroquois Indian, called Aeneas, now resident of the Bitterroot Valley, whose wanderings amid the mountains had often thrown him with parties traveling with wagons at the southward thereby rendering him capable of judging of the requisited [sic] of a wagon road, that a line could be had through a gorge-like pass in the Coeur d' Alene Mountains. Our later explorations proved this to be Sohon's Pass.3

Aeneas was of great service to Mullan, the original route of the Mullan Road did cross the Coeur d' Alene Mountains at Sohon's Pass. This pass has been renamed St. Regis Pass, and can be seen from the Interstate 90 eastern vista point on Lookout Pass, to the southwest.4 In retrospect, Mullan was not satisfied with the Sohon Pass route due to severe winter weather, and in his report wrote:
I would state that had I known in 1854 what I did not learn until 1859, I should have recommended that the section of the road from Antoine Plant's to the Hell's Gate should have followed, at any cost of construction it called for, the Clark's route instead of the section via the Coeur d'Alene mission.5

What Mullan specifically learned in 1859 was accurate snowfall depth information along the route. Mulllan's displeasure with his chosen route is not a reflection on Aeneas's advice. It was Mullan's responsibility to gather all pertinent data before committing to a route.
Indians came to the aid of many distressed pioneers and settlers, but they rarely receive credit for their humanitarian deeds. Mullen is an exception by mentioning his Indian guides in his report. The assistance Aeneas provided Mullan helped make the northern route across the Rockies a reality. Aeneas proved his dedication to assisting his fellow man by guiding many travelers through the treacherous Rocky and Bitterroot Mountains. He deserves a prominent place in the history of the Pacific Northwest.