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The Washington University
State Historical Society
Officers and Board of Trustees
CLARENCE B. BAGLEY, President
JUDGE Roger S. GREENE, Treasurer
JUDGE THOMAS BURKE
PROFESSOR EDMOND S. MEANY, Secretary
Seattle Department of Printing, University of Washington
ANALYSIS OF THE PACIFIC RAILROAD REPORTS*
The reports known familiarly as the Pacific Railroad Reports are a storehouse of information to the student of Pacific Coast history. The reports together with notes, letters, maps and plates fill thirteen quarto volumes and represent years of labor on the part of men who won distinction in their country's service. The accounts were the result of the western surveys made shortly after the discovery of gold and the acquisition of the Mexican cession turned the attention of all classes of people to the Pacific region.
Eugene V. Smalley in his "History of the Northern Pacific Railroad” gives an interesting summary of the situation preceding the surveys. He states that during the period of twenty years prior to 1850 there had been more or less agitation in an effort to arouse the interest of the public and the action of Congress in the building of a railroad to the Pacific. At that time the only route spoken of was that followed by Lewis and Clark. When the peace with Mexico added to the United States the vast area now comprised in the states of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, the project assumed greater proportions. The South which controlled the government had taken little interest in the proposed line, but the conquest from Mexico opened the possibility of a line which should be of advantage to the Southern States and which should extend through the newly acquired territory to the gold region of the West. It became a generally acknowledged sentiment that a transcontinental road must be built and that the government would have to aid its construction. Quoting still further from Mr. Smalley's history, we find that one of the great engineers of the time, E. F. Johnson, prepared and published a pamphlet favoring a road to the Pacific from St. Paul. The reading of Johnson's article is said to have spurred the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, to immediate action to set on foot government surveys of all proposed routes. The historian explains that the sectional jealousies of the time rendered it impossible for Congress to
Prepared for the Seminar in State History, University of Washington, 1918.
secure any action looking to the survey or the opening of any particular route, but it was feasible to throw together all the suggested routes and obtain an appropriation of money to survey them all. This was done and provision was made for the surveys in a section of the Regular Army Appropriation Bill approved March 1, 1853. The Secretary of War was authorized under the direction of the President of the United States to employ such portion of the corps of topographical engineers and such other persons as he deemed necessary to make surveys to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. The Secretary of War, Davis, had full charge of the organization of the expeditions and the selection of the routes. Early in the spring of 1853, he put five separate expeditions in the field to explore the country adjacent to the proposed routes, the first near the 32d parallel, the second near the 35th parallel, the third near the 38th and 39th parallels, the fourth near the 41st and 42nd parallels and the fifth near the 47th and 49th parallels.
Of the five explorations that of the northern route is of most vital interest to students of Northwest history. The survey for this continental line was the one lying near the 47th and 49th parallels and was in charge of Isaac I. Stevens, an experienced engineer and army officer who had served in the Mexican war. The story of his remarkable achievements in the organization of the expedition is best told by his son and biographer, Hazard Stevens. “Early in the year of 1853, Major Stevens, who for a number of years had held a position in the Coast Survey Office, applied for the governorship of Washington Territory, to which was attached ex-officio, the superintendency of Indian affairs, and also for the charge of the exploration of the Northern route. He set forth his views in such a convincing manner that within four days his proposal to lead the expedition and all his suggestions were adopted. . . . . With characteristic energy Stevens organized, outfitted and started in the field an expedition for the survey of two thousand miles of wilderness, accomplishing the momentous task within two months. In obtaining assistants a delicate question arose as to the placing of army officers under the command of a civilian, a thing almost without precedent in military usage. However, Stevens found no difficulty in securing the voluntary service of as many able officers as he needed. There is probably no similar instance in our history where twelve army officers came under the command of a civilian." Among those assigned to the survey were Captain George B. McClellan, Lieutenants C. Grover, J. Mullan, A. J. Donelson and R. S. Saxton, army officers; A. W. Tinkham and Fred W. Lander, civil