GOV. STEVEN'S EXPLORING EXPITION.
From the Boston Post, November 22.
FORT BENTON, Upper Missouri,
September 16, 1853.
Since I wrote you from Fort Union, my advance parties from the
Mississippi and the Pacific have met on the ridge of the Rocky Mountain. A
good pass has been found, and there seems scarcely a doubt of the entire
practicability of the great northern railroad. Our subsequent efforts the
present season will be directed to thorough examination of this pass in
the mountains, and all the others in the intermediate range of the
Pacific, viz: the Bitter Root and Cascade rangers [sic]. I have
long been satisfied that between the head waters of the Missouri and
Columbia rivers there must be good passes, lower and more practicable than
the South Pass. Our attention had specially been given to the passes from
the forks of the Missouri—those from the forks of the Marias and the
intermediate one in which my advance parties met. Before leaving
Washington it was determined to direct the explorations upon this past
first, and Lieut. Saxton, a son of Massachusetts, in command of the
advance party from the Pacific, had orders to establish a depot at St.
Mary's village, just west of the mountains and to cross the mountains and
meet me at Fort Benton. I arrived here on the first day of this month and
not hearing from him I sent forward a small party, under Lieut. Grover, to
reconnoiter the pass and ascertain whether he had reached the St. Mary's
village. They met just this side of the ridge. The pass in excellence
exceeds every expectation. The ascent in both directions is gentle and it
would seem that the whole range has been sunk at this point for the
express purpose for allowing the passage of a railroad. According to the
barometer it is more than two thousand five hundred feet below the south
pass; but I would not venture to pronounce it more than one thousand feet
lower until the result is tested by subsequent examinations. To-day
[sic], the main party, under Lieut. Donelson—a son of Major
Donelson, the former editor of the Washington Union—moved forward to
carefully examine this pass from the forks of the Missouri.
But the pass north, leading from the forks of the Marias river to
the Columbia, will, it seems to me, be found to be the best of the three.
I had assigned to Mr. Lander, one of the civil engineers, the duty of
examining this pass; but learning from Lieut. Saxton that Cadot's pass was
excellent, and that much work remained to be done west of the mountains. I
determined to push my whole force through it, in order to insure reaching
the Pacific before the close of the season. Lieut. Mullen had been
dispatched before Lieut. Saxton.s arrival, and the express giving of
information of his coming overtook me sixty-five miles on my way from Fort
Benton to the Blackfoot camp, where I was going with Mr. Londer to procure
guides, and get detailed information as to the best route through the
Marirs [sic] Pass. The great difficulties in exploring the passes
of the Rocky Mountains and the country west is the immense quantity of
timber, obstructing a view of the country and the trails pursued by the
Indians. This is particularly the case with the Marias Pass, and more time
would have been required in the examination than I had at my disposal. It
should be carefully examined another year. The mountains west of the Rocky
Mountains, viz: the Bitter Root and Cascade rangers, are also densely
wooded, and snows on the dividing range occurr [sic] the last day
of October. The Indians cross these mountains with their Families till
early in November, but a proper survey is very difficult at a later
period. Hence the necessity of despatch [sic] in crossing the
mountains and surveying the regions west.
Lieut. Saxton depicts in glowing colors, the magnificent scenery,
fertile valleys, beautiful rivers, and the extraordinary forest growth of
the Washington Territory.—Out of every luxuriance of nature arises
the principal obstruction to the exploration of the country. Vast forests
cover the hill tops and fill the valleys, making it difficult to make
one.s way. The beautiful St. Mary's valley, at the western base of the
Rocky Mountains, is beyond description, has a mild climate, and cattle
keep fat in winter as well as summer, on its nutriiious [sic]
grasses. This valley connects all the passes, and is only five or six days
journey from the mouth of the Missouri River. I am satisfied that the
Missouri is Navigable for steamers to the to the falls; but I am now
having it surveyed to determine this question. Lieut. Donalson has already
made the survey from its mouth to above Fort Union, and Lient.
[sic] Grover will by the close of October, have completed it to the
falls. The data will then be collected for an official report.
Much has been said about the obstructions to railroads from snow,
and this will be the great objection to this route. We shall, the ensuing
winter, collect many facts bearing upon this question by a meterological
[sic] post which I have Established at Fort Benton, under Mr. Doty,
and one which I propose to establish at St. Mary's under Mr. Mullan. But
more is to be done. Lieut. Grover, a man of iron nerve and great
resources, will start in this point in January with a dog train, and will
end in the dead of winter pass over the whole route to the Pacific,
crossing the Rocky Mountains, and the Bitter Root and Cascade rangers. It
seems an impracticable undertaking; but I know Lt. Grover, and no doubt
its successful accomplishment.
In consequence of Lieut. Saxton bringing more men to the work, I
have decided to send back all but three of the dragoons attached to the
expedition, I advised several of the hired men, in my judgment, not good
mountain men enough for the duty before us, to return also. They entreated
me to go on. Not one wishes to turn back. Every man wishes to identify
himself with the work before us, and the utmost confidence prevails.
In the Cascade Range, that gallant and able officer, Capt.
McClellan one of my noble brothers in Mexico, is now ascertaining the most
practicable pass, and in one month I hope to exchange congratulations with
him at the entire success of the undertaking.
Lieut. Saxton will go down the Missouri in charge of the returned
men, and to carry information to the department in Washington of the
condition of the exploration before the session of congress. As an
evidence of my sense of his services, I published an order, of which I
send you a copy.
Lieut. Donelson, in charge of the main party, brings his duty
great force of character, high intelligence, and an unsurpassed diligence
But our experience among the Indians is as extraordinary as
expected. We have traversed the region of the terrible
Blackfeet—have met them in war parties and in their camps, and have
received nothing but kindness and hospitality.
They have brought us fresh meat, guided us on our way, brought
into camp strayed animals, and have guarded us while we slept. Not one of
our men has been touched, not the smallest thing has been taken. We were
wending our way to the northern Blackfeet camps, when I was called back by
the express informing me of Lieut. Saxon.s arrival—a little party
surrounded by our Blackfeet friends, and not even keeping any guard at
night. I treated them as true friends, took them at their word, and
directed all my men to go down to sleep. Lieut. Saxton had precisely the
same experience with the Indians west of the mountains. At this moment,
Mr. Stanley, the artist of the expedition, with four men, is in their
midst, under the 50th parallel, and I am now awaiting his
return, to push forward and rejoin Lieut. Donelson. The government has yet
done no thing for these Indians, and I have invited them to Fort Benton to
give them a message from the Great Father, and to ascertain whether they
will agree for all time to come to treat all whites as they have treated
me and mine.
These Indians range from the Sasteatchawah to the California
trail, and in the Winter here [line destroyed by fold] Milk river,
the principal northern tributary of the Missouri, instead of running north
into British territory as laid down on all the maps, runs nearly due west
to within one hundred miles of the mountains, and then deflecting rapidly
to the north has its sources in the Cypress mountain and the adjacent
spurs of the Rocky Mountains. At the base of the mountains, between Milk
River and the forks of the Missouri the country is a plateau rising gently
to the several passes , in every direction practicable for a railroad.
There are several tributaries flowing thro' it to the Missouri, and
several very lofty buttes, three over three thousand feet above the
The Milk river line affords extraordinary facilities for building
a railroad, and has a natural connection with every pass.
The country south of the Missouri to the Black Hills, and that
between the Milk and Missouri rivers has been explored by Dr. Evans, the
geologist of the expedition, who has not only made great additions to the
topography of the country, but has made a very large geological
collection. He is now in the passes of the mountains on his way to
Before closing my letter, I must notice my obligations to the
gentlemen of both the fur companies in St. Louis, for their uniform
kindness and aid to the expedition. To Mr. Campbell, particularly, I am
indebted for his disinterested and untiring services on our behalf. To Mr.
Sibley and Mr. Culbertson, partners in the American Fur Company, in charge
of the posts on tde [sic] Mississippi and Missouri, am I especially
indebted, the former, both in Washington City and his residence on the St.
Peters, devoted much time and attention to the survey, and rendered us
very valuable assistance.
I met Mr. Culbertson in St. Louis in May, and found his great
experience derived from twenty years residence among the Indian tribes of
the upper Missouri, and his perfect knowledge of men and things in the
country through which we had to pass, fitted him for a most valuable
adviser. I appointed him special agent among the Blackfeet Indians,
subject to the approval of the Indian Commissioner. He has been untiring
and indefatigable in his discharge of duty, and has rendered invaluable
aid to the expedition. At a great loss of time and absence from his
business he has continued up to this time with the expedition, and to his
great influence, with the Indians, and prudent advice, I feel much is due
for the success which has attended all our intercourse with the
His good lady, a member of the blood tribe of the Blackfeet
nation, asked to accompany him on the expedition, fearing difficulties
might occur between members of the survey and some of her people, which
her presence might obviate.
On the night before leaving Fort Union, she said to Mr.
Culbertson: "I will go with you; I will do what I can to settle
differances [sic] and where you die I will die." Her devoted
kindness to us has obtained my friendly regard, and much of the
unpleasantness of the camp life has been removed by her presence.
Truly your friendORDER No. 18
ISAAC I. Stevens.
NORTHERN PACIFIC R. R, EXPLORATION AND SURVEY, CAMP DOBBIN,
The chief of the expedition congratulates Lieut. Saxton and his party on
their safe arrival at Fort Benton from the mouth of the Columbia. For
indomitable energy, sound judgment, and the most crowning accomplishment,
Lieut. Saxton has the thanks of all his associates, and deserves honorable
mention at the hands of all men who seek to advance the honor and renown
of their country.
NEAR FORT BENTON, SEP. 15.
Lieut. Grover, in command of the advance party to open a
communication with the partied west of the mountains, and who met Lieut.
Saxton near the dividing ridge, also receives the thanks and
congratulations of his associates in the great work now so ripe for
Daylight now breaks through the struggles of three months.
On the 8th of June the camp train left Camp Pierce, on
Lake Amelia; and on the 8th of September, the parties from
Mississippi shook hands from across the continent. The pass of the Rocky
Mountains is found to be more than one thousand feet below the South Pass,
and is not only practicable, but expressly made to our hands for the great
(Signed) ISAAC I. STEVENS
Governor Washington Territory, &c., in charge of exploration.