Thursday, March 18, 2010

This Day in Idaho History, 18 March 1859

March 18, 1859 The United States War Department appropriates $100,000 for the actual construction of what would be known as the Mullan Road.

As early as 1852 proposals were made to build a railroad to the Pacific and many routes were considered.  One was a northern route from the Great Lakes to Puget Sound.  In 1853, Washington Territorial Governor General Issac Stevens was ordered by Congress to find a possible route from the Missouri River to the Columbia River.  One of those in that exploration party was Lt. John Mullan.

In 1854 Congress appointed Mullan to survey a route between Ft. Benton (MT) to Ft. Walla Walla (WA).  Mullan and his team crossed the Continental Divide six times and traveled over a thousand miles picking the best route.  In 1855 Mullan went to Washington, DC to make his report and secure funding.  Politicians favoring a southern route and lack of money held it up until 1857.

The threat of Indians in the eastern part of Washington Territory spurred Congress to action and directed Mullan to make a final survey and make plans for construction.  Mullan refined the survey and served as topographer while a member of Col  George Wright's forces when they fought the Nez Perce, Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, Palouse and Yakima tribes.  

Finally in 1859, March 18th, funds were allocated for the road's construction.  On July 1 Mullan started the road work in Walla Walla.  Completed in 1862, the "Mullan Road" was passed over for the route of the first transcontinental railroad (though the northern route was later used) but became a major road for settlers and prospectors.

General William T. Sherman crossed the road in 1877 on a tour to locate possible forts.  It was on that trip that Sherman picked the site for Fort Coeur d'Alene.  Later the name was changed to Ft. Sherman and that site is now the home of North Idaho College.

Interstate 90 follows Mullan's road.

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