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Week Ten: Railroad Surveys and Transportation

"Main Chain of the Rocky Mountains, as seen from the East" Lithograph by John Mix Stanley,
after painting by Gustavus Sohon. Washington State Historical Society.

The focus this week is on the railroad surveys of the Pacific Northwest in the 1850’s. Professor Fritz’ lecture (~40 minutes) sets the scene by providing an overview of the types of transportation that were available, looking at the ways in which the federal government became involved in promoting transportation into the Northwest, and describing the methods Stevens used to carry out the surveys.

On the Maps page, we’ve highlighted three maps that were produced in the course of the surveys. These maps are incredibly detailed and include proposed routes for travel as well as existing Indian roads. Also, we’ve included an 1865 map of the region as a whole, with evidence of the surveys.

In Tribal Perspectives you will find three interviews with representatives of different tribes which illustrate the ways in which the surveys (and the plans for a trans-continental railroad) were at cross purposes with the Indians’ culture, and their understanding of the treaties. Leah Whitford’s comments, in particular, call into question the real intent behind the 1855 treaties.

This week on the People page, we’ve included another list of people who were active during this period – some will be easy to find in the public record, others will not. Under Art and Literature you’ll find examples of some of the extraordinary artwork that was produced in the course of the surveys. Without cameras to document their findings, the surveys relied on artists to capture the lands they traveled through.

On the Research page, we’ve assembled a number of websites that will bring you to the primary sources generated by the survey. Take some time to dig into the actual text of the survey reports and see if you can find their descriptions of landmarks you are familiar with!


Lecture Maps People Research Unit 1 Unit 2 Unit 4 Unit 5