Pathfinders – John Mullan

Lt. John Mullan

If I wanted to I could write forever on this topic because there’s so much and I find it so FASCINATING.

Pathfinders. That’s the nickname for Kit Carson and he was famous in his day in dime novels, the stuff of legends.

These men who opened the west.

I’m researching a book right now that I want to set near Lake Tahoe and it’s just led me down bunny trails until I’m reading all about these bold men.

Do you realize there really was no way across the Rocky Mountains? I mean sure, there were many Native Americans who lived there and knew how to avoid falling off a cliff, but it was completely unexplored territory when Lewis and Clark set out. Much is made (in my world) of Sacagawea meeting by purest chance, her brother, who showed Lewis and Clark a way across the Rocky Mountains. And this way was treacherous, no good path, they did get their horses across but no wagon could have made it.

Lewis and Clark were going in blind and found their way.

This is just one example of the bravery and curiosity…and the near miracle necessary to get across those mountains.

Mullan Road
Mullan Military Road
Oregon Trail Wagon Train 6
Oregon Trail

What caught my attention just now was The Mullan Military Road. I just bought a book about it and, let’s face it, this has NOTHING to do with Lake Tahoe, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to get background out of it. I can’t wait!

I know, I’m weird. Or maybe writers are weird, that this book about a 180 year old road has me excited.

The Mullan Road was the first road built across the Rockies in the Pacific Northwest. Lieutenant John Mullan, a surveyor and engineer was put in charge of making a narrow trail across the Rockies passable by wagons. This was in 1852, after the Oregon Trail had meandered north to a less treacherous pass.

Lt. Mullan went in with a wide view of what he wanted to accomplish. He was already, in 1852, thinking of a trail that could handle a railroad. Highly educated, a West Point Graduate, highly honorable, his clear, detail records of his explorations were invaluable to the others exploring the area.

Lo Lo Pass
Lo Lo Pass

I just included this map of another pass Mullan found called Lo Lo Fork or Lo Lo Pass because of Hell Gate…what in the world did that river do to earn that name? Yikes.


Anyway, back to Mullans. He was able to learn the Flathead and Pend d’Oreilles languages quickly and worked well with the Indians in the area. He had the assistance of a guide named Gabriel Prudomme who was the son of a a Cree woman and French-Canadian trapper. Prudomme had been adopted into the Bitterroot-Salish tribe, at the time called Flatheads. Lewis and Clark had been so focused on a water route through the Rockies that they hadn’t asked the right questions of the Indians, who knew of other, less difficult passes, but never mentioned them because there was no river. Then later kept secret out of distrust and dislike of the explorers. (and seriously, who could blame them?)

Prudomme trusted Mullan enough he led him to passes that Native people had previously kept secret from white explorers. The Mullan Trail led from Ft. Benton, now in Montana, at the time in Dakota Territory, and led to Ft. Walla Walla in Washington. And one of these days I’m going to set a book along here!

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Runaway Bride

Runaway Bride

$1.99 –ebook only

Big John Conroy is a Texas Ranger asked by a friend to assist Carrie. He catches up to Carrie and her brother Isaac and races away from a dangerous man who will stop at nothing to make the beautiful young woman his wife. Soon Big John’s feelings for Carrie turn to more than simply protective, and Carrie finally feels that she’s in the presence of a man she can respect–something she’s never known. Fans of Mary’s

BODEN BIRTHRIGHT smThe Kincaid Brides and Trouble in Texas series will enjoy catching up with those characters.

Runaway Bride is my contribution to the already released novella collection With This Ring?

The Boden Birthright

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After the death of his wife, prosperous businessman Chance Boden heads west along the Santa Fe Trail with his son to escape the powerful, controlling hands of his in-laws. He has plans to establish his own ranch, but instead he finds work with Frank Chastain, owner of a vast amount of land.

Chance doesn’t want to work for anyone, but Frank’s beautiful daughter gives him reason to delay buying his own holdings. With winter coming, no home in which to live, and Veronica’s offer to care for young Cole while Chance learns the ways of successful ranching in the desert, Chance has little choice but to accept the Chastains’ offer to stay on.

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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

65 thoughts on “Pathfinders – John Mullan”

    • Tonya, I love reading about these really EARLY explorers.
      Lewis and Clark first among them but so many other bold, wandering men.
      I can’t imagine the guts this took.
      I really CAN’T IMAGINE. And trust me I think about it alot. (too much 🙂 )

  1. Very interesting. Thank you. I’ve never heard of The Mullan Military Road before. For one summer vacation we followed the Lewis and Clark Trail across the country–as close as a car can follow it, that is–and then on the return trip, we followed the Oregon Trail in the reverse direction. Lots of wonderful landmarks to see, including the memorable sights of the still visible wagon ruts that cut deep into the ground.

  2. We just recently took a trip along I-90, north of that area, but still through the mountains west of Missoula. That’s really rugged country–narrow passes and sheer cliffs– and it’s amazing that anyone made a road through there.

  3. We writers are strange creatures! I’m researching 1860’s along the Missouri River (for the Bertrand story we talked about years ago) so I’ll have some back story for the time travelling fantasy in my mind. I’m going to have to go back and revisit De Soto Bend to gather more information. Like when did the river change paths. What happened to all those people on the Bertrand after it sunk? Do they still have that cheese in the cooler? Yep. We’re strange creatures, us writers.

  4. Thanks for the great info. Since most of this country was unexplored by the white man I figure there was no easy way in the west before the migration of people. Interesting how the native americans got around with little to no problems they knew the territory quite well.

  5. I’ve always loved reading books that deal with the expansion into the American west. I can’t imagine being Lewis and Clark and making it out to the West Coast with no path to follow!

  6. Mary, your post has some very interesting historical facts, thanks for sharing. I want to travel along the Oregon trail one day and imagine what they saw as they traveled.

  7. Oh I just love coming across old historical roads/paths like that. I cannot imagine trying to find a path through mountains. I’d get frustrated and quit. Of course I wouldn’t have even thought that maybe the Indians knew of paths. 🙂

  8. That really is fascinating! Often when we are driving in the mountains I wonder what it took to create a road in such wilderness. And back then they didn’t have nearly the resources we have today.

    • I never run out of fascination with these pathfinders. I need to study it m ore, study Kit Carson and John C. Fremont, so many of those wild mountain men found their way around in those mountains and not a GPS on the iPhone to be found anywhere!

  9. Wow great history! I grew up in Washington all my love fe and now live in Oregon! We learned so much about Lewis and Clark growing up. Even had field trips on parts of the Oregon trail. If you ever get a chance to make it this way please do. It’s so much fun to learn and see the great beauty of the Northwest!

  10. This is so interesting! It is on my bucket list to head out that way (I’m here in Central Alabama) and check out all those trails and the history. I love learning while sight-seeing!

  11. Now you’re talking my language Mary! I’m familiar with Lewis & Clark since I live on the Oregon coast and have read up some on their history of forging West 🙂 The Mullan Road is something new to me & I hope you get to learn more about it as you research it. I’m sure there were more than one way to cross the Rockies and the American Indians were quite familiar with them. I love learning history of my area (Pacific Northwest). As far as Walla Walla WA, they produce some of THE BEST sweet onions around! You can’t have a burger without one topped without them 🙂 My opinion only of course 🙂

    Thanks for the shot at the Amazon card. Happy researching, Mary!!

  12. Absolutely amazing info. One could spend hours and hours reading through all this awesome bits of history.
    You should look up the horse named Reckless that served in the army. Great stuff!

    Thanks Mary for this great article!

    jennydtipton at gmail dot com

  13. I love all the information you are finding. I had never heard of the Mullan road. I love learning about history especially the Old West history.

    • Jewell I always grieve over so many history classes being so dry. History is HEROES, it’s WARS and DRAMA and the stuff of great fiction, only true.
      How could anyone think it’s boring, and yet many school text books do a darned good job of draining all the fun out of it.

  14. I can’t get a copy of “The Boden Birthright” without a credit card, and it’s supposed to be free!

  15. I love the name of that river – I do wish we could find out what happened there! thanks for the chance to buy more books on amazon! =)

    • Elizabeth I’ve been doing research and I can’t find it, but it’s on both maps.
      There’s a Hell Gate near New York City and they said that’s a muddled translation of a Dutch word hellecat or something. Which has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE NETHER WORLD!

  16. I had never heard of that road! Looks like I will be doing a little bit of researching. Love looking at the old maps. Looking forward to reading your new books!

  17. With all the netherworld-related natural attractions around (Devil’s Tower [WY], the Devil’s Punch Bowl [CO], the Devil’s Kettle [MN], Devil’s Lake [ND]), I’m not overly surprised to learn there’s a Hell Gate in the sort-of vicinity.

    Regarding the Hell Gate in NY, hell/helle generally means ‘light’ in the Germanic languages, leastwise for sure in German and Swedish; I’d assume that Dutch carries the same meaning as well.

  18. I love being able to learn real history even though I’m reading fiction. I also like when the author includes a map so I can “see” the story. I have also enjoyed reading your books! Thanks for the opportunity to win a gift card!

  19. Always loved history and that information you share was so interesting. Love your books and have read most of them. Keep on writing and sharing pictures of calves and mothers.

  20. The article is interesting.
    I love reading historical novels. When I was in school, years ago,,,,, I read lots of biographies and liked American history class. Now my favorite books are set in the 1800’s—wagon trains, gold mining towns, early ranches, homesteads, mail-order brides.

  21. Maybe you need to do the trek across the trail yourself, Mary! It would be great research and a really fun vacation too!

  22. Wow what a great post, I loved it. I tried to pre-order your book but for some reason Amazon will never let me pre-order. I always have to wait until the book comes out.

  23. I love your books. Spunky women and adventure! Thanks for writing clean funny books. My mom and i race to buy your new books, fighting over who gets to read them first.

  24. Excellent post, Mary! I can relate to going off on a tangent with research – I always end up doing so! But you find out so many interesting things. Thanks for sharing!

  25. If there was time travel I would go back to those days of the exploration of the West! Thanks for letting me go there at least in my reading! ?

  26. Great information Mary! So interesting! I’d think research would be one of the perks of writing! Just kind of keeps drawing you in like a good mystery.
    Thanks for using your gifting and writing such excellent books.
    I love them.

  27. I just love history. I’ve tried writing and I always get sidetracked with my research. Such fun and exciting things waiting out there to explore when you study history. Waiting on the book!

  28. The Mullan Road goes through our county but I don’t know much about it except that it was a military road from Walla Walla to Montana.I-90 goes through Mullan Pass on the Idaho Montana border. There is an historical marker where Washington hwy 26 crosses the Mullan road east of Washtucna, WA. It is a beautiful area along the Palouse river. I always enjoy the history I learn from Petticoats and Pistols.

  29. Sorry to be late to the party… crunching a deadline and just helped with a big fundraiser at the horse rescue. I know Tahoe very well if ever need to pick my brain. I never admired Kit Carson after I learned he spitefully chopped down an orchard just to spite the Navajo. Grrrr.
    I enjoyed learning about Mullan Trail…I always enjoy learning new things.

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