Early History of The Dalles Military Road
Prior to the introduction of the horse in the early 18th Century, human transportation ... was limited to foot traffic. Archaeological and ethno-historic evidence suggests that an extensive network of trails was established on the Forest, and that these trails linked areas containing different resources with one another. These resources included fish, game, plant foods, obsidian and other tool stones, and plants used for fiber and wood. As a generalized model, winter villages were established in relatively mild low elevation locations and a variety of camps were established at higher elevations as the weather became milder and different resources became available. Trails linking the various resource sites together were generally located along ridgelines and open valleys.
Exceptions were made when distance or water availability dictated that steeper routes were more efficient. The distribution of small archaeological sites on the Forest reveals these travel networks. Some segments of merican Indian trails are documented on early maps of the area.
Most of the travel along these trails consisted of use by local American Indian families during their annual resource gathering activities. Much of this travel would have been limited to within 100-200 miles of the winter camps. There is evidence that travel and trade networks extended well beyond the area of local use. Obsidian from local Strawberry Mountain sources has been recovered as far north as North Cascades National Park and sites in western British Columbia. Most of the obsidian recovered from sites along the Columbia River east of The Dalles originated from this area.
Obsidian artifacts from non-local sources have also been identified on the Forest. These have originated from as far to the east as Boise, to the south as Nevada, and to the west as the Cascades west of Eugene. One shell bead that originated from the coast of southern California has been recovered from the Emigrant Creek Ranger District. The introduction of the horse around 1720 increased the distance people would be willing to travel to and from the Forest, but most likely did not significantly alter the location of the trails used.
The first known Euro-American travel in the area now known as the Malheur National Forest were the journeys of Peter Skene Ogden and his parties of fur trappers in the middle 1820's (Davies 1961, Rich 1950, Williams 1971). Ogden led three groups of over 100 individuals through the area as part of the Snake River Expeditions for the Hudson Bay Company between 1825 and 1829. One last Snake River Expedition, led by John Work, moved rapidly through the area in 1831 (Haines 1971). ...During their travels these explorers mostly followed existing American Indian travel routes, generally led by Indian guides. ... In the summer of 1862 a steady stream of miners passed through the John Day valley on their way to the recently discovered gold strikes near Florence, Idaho (Mosgrove 1980). ... These miners traveled informal routes from Yreka California and The Dalles, most likely following existing Indian trails. In June of that year at least two groups of miners discovered gold in Canyon Creek and over 1,000 miners moved into the area within one year. Three main travel routes brought miners and supplies into the area.
[One of three routes] to the Canyon City gold fields originated in The Dalles. This brought miners from the Willamette Valley and Portland. The majority of the supplies packed into the mining camps came along this route. It ran along the Main Stem John Day River after it entered the valley west of Dayville. ... The success of the mines in the Canyon City area necessitated the construction of more significant wagon roads to allow for easier movement of people and goods.
The main freight route was from The Dalles, and by 1864 four-horse stages were regularly carrying mail, supplies and passengers (Mosgrove 1980: 37). Military forts and roads were soon established to intervene between the miners and the local American Indians who had not yet ceded their lands to the government through treaties. Local citizens and the state government pushed for the construction of military roads to meet both military and civilian needs. The most ambitious of these was the Dalles Military Road that went from The Dalles to Fort Boise in Idaho, by way of Canyon City (Mosgrove 1980:49).
After several delays this road was completed in 1869. A portion of the Dalles Military Road crosses the Forest in the Prairie City Ranger District. Part of this segment is the most intact historic wagon road remaining on the Malheur Forest. It is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Another early wagon road went between Canyon City and Fort Harney, east of Burns (Nielsen 1985). This route went through several locations on the Emigrant Creek and Blue Mountain Ranger Districts. Many smaller trails and wagon roads were established to run supplies between Canyon City and the gold mines along the Middle Fork John Day River and to Monument, Long Creek and Fox Valley (Nielsen 1990: 66). ... Through the 1800's most travel into the Forest continued on horseback or by foot along existing trails. Much of the country was open enough that travel in a buckboards or a small wagon was feasible without formal trails.
In summary, much of the existing road system was established long ago, with early roads predating formation of the National Forests. Most roads on the Forest were originally constructed for commercial access purposes including grazing, timber, and mineral extraction. Others were developed to access administrative sites, private property, recreation facilities, trailheads, power-line corridors, or construction for other administrative purposes. As a result, the road system has had many additions, upgrades, and other changes through the years to the present.
Source: Malheur National Forest-Roads Analysis
Location of The Dalles Military Road
“It was in 1860, according to the History of Central Oregon, that Major Enoch Steens, after whom the Steens mountains near Burns are named, made a passable military wagon road from Fort Harney, near Burns via Canyon City, Camp Watson, Mitchell, Burnt Ranch, Antelope, Shaniko, Bakeoven, Sherar’s Bridge, Nansene, Wasco, Boyd, to The Dalles for military supplies and use of miners and the public. The Dalles to Boise Military Road Co. followed some of this Steen Military Road from Shaniko into John Day and were granted land subsidies for what Steen and his soldiers and other later soldiers did.”
“Plats on file show the road commenced at The Dalles, following the Old Oregon Trail to Fairbanks…from Fairbanks they followed up 15 Mile to Brookhouse and up Brookhouse Canyon to the breaks of the Deschutes, thence down to the Deschutes River at a point about 4 miles above the mouth where they constructed a temporary footbridge “to pass inspection.” This bridge was later made more secure and called the Gordon Bridge. The map at Salem shows it was started on the 2 of April 1869 and the points it passed through were: Mud Springs, Hay Stack Creek, Buck Hollow, Cross Hollow (Shaniko), Antelope, Kern Creek, Cherry Creek, Sutton Ranch, Alkali House, Marshalls, Hild’s Ranch, Alten Ranch, Willow Creek, Camp Watson a military camp, Rock Creek Station, Birch Creek, Cottonwood Station, Bassett House, South Fork of John Day River, Aldrich, Bridge Creek, Moore & Weiger, Ingalls, Luce, John Day and Canyon City. The Fort Harney junction was reached May 9, 1869. The Idaho line was completed into Fort Boise, Idaho. It is still a public road and can never be closed, according to Edward Sharp, pioneer surveyor.”
Source: Wm McNeal, “History of Wasco County, Oregon” p. 162.
The oldest and most famous road in Malheur County is the Oregon Trail. It was developed in the 1840s and was heavily used for several decades. It ran from Fort Boise on the Idaho side of the Snake River west between Adrian and Nyssa to East Cow Hollow, then up the Hollow and over the summit to Vale, then up Willow Creek about six miles before turning north past Tub Mountain to Birch Creek and Farewell Bend. Much of the route is now county road.
In the late 1860s, several military wagon roads were constructed in Oregon. Three of them pass through Malheur County. The Dalles Military Road entered the county at the Little Malheur River south of Ironside Mountain and followed South Willow Creek to Cow Valley. Then it ran east to Willow Creek near Brogan, down Willow Creek until it intersected the Oregon Trail, then southeast on the Oregon Trail to Fort Boise in Idaho. The Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Military Road ran from the Crowley area northeast to the Malheur River near Little Valley, then down the Malheur River to the Snake River. The Oregon Central Military Road entered the county near the Whitehorse Ranch, ran northeast to Crooked Creek, down Crooked Creek to the Rome area, then up Jordan Creek to Silver City, Idaho. Parts of these roads were little used, but other segments became part of our current road network. The land grants that went with the military roads probably had more impact on the county's development than the roads themselves.
Source: Malheur County Road Department
Authorization of Construction for
The Dalles Military Road
United States Supreme Court
United States v. Dalles Military Road Co.
“No. 1,218 is a bill in equity filed by the attorney general of the United States, on their behalf, against the Dalles Military Road Company, James K. Kelly, C. N. Thornbury, the Eastern Oregon Land Company, and 12 other individual defendants. The bill sets forth that on the 25th of February, 1867, the congress of the United States passed, and, the president duly approved, an act (14 St. 409, c. 77) granting to the state of Oregon, to aid in the construction of a military wagon road from Dalles City, on the Columbia river, by way of Camp Watson, Canon City, and Mormon or Humboldt Basin, to a point on Snake river opposite Ft. Boise, in Idaho territory…”
Why the Military Road Went Through
Written by the 1972-73 Journalism Class of
Dayville High School - Dayville, Oregon
The Dalles Military Road Company obtained a grant of land from the government to build a road from The Dalles to Fort Boise. A fair road was constructed over which for many years vast amounts of freight were conveyed by pack trains, and by freight companies.
By an act of Congress passed February 25, 1867, the United States was to aid in construction of a military road for the state of Oregons' use. The road reached from The Dalles, on the Columbia River, to Fort Boise. The road was to have 3 sections of land on each side of the road, belonging to the government.
So in October of 1868, Congress passed an act granting the Military Road Company a crew of road builders to build the road. Then when ten sections of the road were completed, the land on the sides of the road could be sold.
On June 23, 1869, the following acceptance was filed by Governor George Woods. This paragraph was taken from the book called "An Illustrated History of Baker, Grant, Malheur, and Harney Counties with a Brief Outline of the Early History of the State of Oregon", p. 407, paragraph 3. Executive Office, Salem, Oregon, June 23, 1869:
"I, George L. Woods, Governor of the State of Oregon, do hereby certify that this plot or map of the Dalles Military Road has been duly filed in my office by the Dalles Military Road Company and shows in connection with the public surveys as far as said public surveys are completed, the location of the line of route as actually surveyed and upon which the road is constructed in accordance with the requirement of an act of Congress approved February 1867, entitled "An act granting lands to the State of Oregon to aid in the construction of a military wagon road from Dalles city on the Columbia River to Fort Boise on the Snake River", and with the act of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon approved Oct. 20, 1868, entitled, "An act donating certain land to Dalles Military Road Company." I further certify that I have made careful examination of said road since its completion and that the same is built in all respects as required by the said above recited acts and that said road is accepted.
On January 12, 1870, the governor issured another certificate like the first stating that the road had been completed.`On December 18, 1869, the governor withdrew the sale of the land along the road. It was not for sale any more. The land that was not sold was given back to the Dalles Military Road Company. Congress, on June 18, 1874, passes an act authorizing patents for lands given to the State of Oregon in certain cases. Under this act the road company selected lands and on May 31, 1876, sold the land to Edward Martin for $125,000 and was invested in Eastern Oregon land company.
This was the status in 1885 for which the public called an investigation into the fraud that was pulled over the government road company. So on March 02, 1889 an act was passed asking the attorney General of the United States to look into it and to bring a suit of forteiture to all the lands granted by the act of Congress of February 25, 1867, on the grounds that the terms had not been complied with. This act also cancelled all the patents issued by Congress under the act.
The following article was taken from the book entitled "An Illustrated History of Baker, Grant, Malheur and Harney Counties with a Brief Outline of the Early History of the State of Oregon."
The road was never completed in whole or in part. ... This suit was held in the District of Oregon before Judge Sawyer, on February 18, 1890. ... The defendants filed 2 pleas as follows: The governor's certificate was made without fraud, and that the defendants were bona fide purchasers from the Dalles Military Road Company, without notice of any fraud or defect in the title. In an opinion rendered February 02, 1890, Judge Sawyer sustained the defendants pleas and dismissed the cases.
Sherman County area
On the Sherman County segment: The Dalles Military Road ran from The Dalles to Gordon’s bridge on the Deschutes, about four miles from the mouth, into Sherman County, along Gordon Ridge and south to Mud Springs (Erskine), to Haystack (Finnegan), and on to Ward’s at Cross Hollows (Shaniko) and Antelope in Wasco County. The stockholders of The Dalles Military Road purchased the bridge over the Deschutes from Tom Gordon. See: Illustrated History of Central Oregon, 1905; The Golden Land by Giles French, and Rails to the Mid-Columbia Wheatlands.