During May 20-22 2010, the River & Plains Society in Fort Benton will host the National 150th Anniversary Mullan Road Conference. This conference celebrates the completion of the Mullan Military Wagon Road in 1860, the first wagon road from Fort Benton to cross the Rocky Mountains to Fort Walla Walla, Washington Territory, into the Inland of the Pacific Northwest. The 624-mile long Mullan Road joined the Missouri River with the Columbia River, blazing the path through the plains and valleys westward from Fort Benton into the rugged mountains of western Montana and Idaho. The road was built by US Army 1st Lieutenant John Mullan between the spring of 1859 and August 1860 with an expedition of some 230 combined military and civilian men. Parts of the original Mullan Road can still be traveled today, and, weather permitting, the Conference will included a field trip from Fort Benton into the Sun River valley past Birdtail Rock to the Dearborn River.
The 150th Anniversary Conference will begin late Thursday afternoon with a tour of Old Fort Benton, the reconstructed American Fur Company fur and robe trading post built in 1846-47 at the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Resident Mountain Man “Burnt Spoon” will lead the tour into the 1850’s past to see the original Block House (Montana’s oldest permanent structure), the newly reconstructed log Stockade and Bourgeois House, and into the Trade Store and Warehouse where the River & Plains Society will host an evening reception in the fur trade museum. The River & Plains Society is the non-profit that operates the museums complex in Fort Benton and the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center.
Friday will be held at the Montana Agricultrual Center-Lippard Auditorium beginning with regional Mullan Road activity reports from Washington state, Idaho, and Montana. Morning presentations will include: “Going to the Mountains: Major Blake’s Army Dragoons on the Upper Missouri” by Washington State University doctoral student Marc Entze; “Artists Gustavus Sohon and John Mix Stanley Images Along the Mullan Road” by Dr. Paul McDermott of Maryland; “Early Travelers Along the Mullan Road” by Lee Hanchett, author of Montana's Benton Road; and “Natural Resources along the Road” by Dr. John E. Taylor of Helena. The luncheon speaker will be Cultural Historian Bob Doerk discussing “Inni - The Buffalo of the Plains.”
Friday afternoon talks and demonstrations will include: “Mullan Road On-Line Resources Including a Google Earth Mullan Road Fly-Thru” by Dr. Bill Youngs of Eastern Washington University, and Ron Hall; “Sampling the Minckler Mullan Road Collection” which includes unique photographs, diaries, and material from Mullan's wagonmaster John A. Creighton, by Art Historian Thomas Minckler and Ken Robison; “Through Indian Country: Native American Perspectives on Mullan and Regional Development” by Dr. Richard Scheuerman of Seattle Pacific University; and “Actions to Designate the Mullan Road a National Historic Trail” led by Courtney Kramer, Gallatin County Historic Preservation Officer. Friday evening will feature a reception and dinner with Bruce Druliner aka “Burnt Spoon” bringing to life “Old Fort Benton in the 1850s through stories and songs.
Saturday morning begins with “Surveying along the Mullan Road” by Montana surveyor re-enactor Bill Weikel, followed by a field trip into the Sun River valley with bus guide commentary about the route of the Mullan Road and key historic, cultural, and geological features. Stops will be made at Sun River Leaving (Vaughn), Sun River Crossing, St. Peter’s Mission, and a box lunch at Bird Tail Stage Stop. Weather permitting the tour will continue on over Birdtail Divide to Dearborn Crossing and on to Fort Shaw. At this historic fort, the Sun River Valley Historical Society will show General Gibbon’s original Military Quarters and will talk about valley history including the military at Fort Shaw and the later famed Indian School.
To join in this celebration go to our Mullan Road Conference web site: www.fortbenton.com/mullan or call (406) 622-5316. Registration is required by May 17th, and space for the Field Trip is limited.
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