755 Myra Road, Walla Walla
Walla Walla businessman Ron Klicker will breathe life into historical figure U.S. Army Lt. John Mullan during the 2 p.m. Living History portrayal Sunday at Fort Walla Museum, 755 Myra Road.
Mullan was tasked with building a wagon-road link between frontier forts in the West, and creating a connection between the Missouri and Columbia rivers to unite the continent.
In the 1850s Northwest, travel generally was via river transportation or overland on the trails Indian people had used for centuries.
As conflicts arose between the area’s homeland tribes and immigrants to this country, the U.S. military sought ways to move people and materials across the largely unpopulated lands. One way was the road Mullan was assigned to build.
A native of Virginia, as a determined 16-year-old, Mullan walked into President James Polk’s office to request an appointment to West Point, which he received. Upon graduation in 1852 he began soldiering and was assigned work in the western part of the country.
The 655-mile road which bears his name began with an existing leg from old Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia River at Wallula, and went from the military fort in Walla Walla to Fort Benton on the Missouri River.
Upon its completion in 1862, the Mullan Road became the first engineered wagon road to cross the Rockies to the Inland Northwest, and ensured the future of the fledgling settlement of Walla Walla.
Although conceived as a military road, in the end the Mullan Road proved to be far more important to settlers, tradesmen and gold miners than for military use.
Even during construction, Mullan and his men found “continual indications of gold” in Montana. By the time the lieutenant and his men were making improvements and repairs to the road as they worked their way back to Walla Walla from Fort Benton in 1860, pioneers were already overtaking them.
Despite the promise of the Mullan Road, it proved difficult to maintain. Shortly after its completion, it was in such disrepair that only foot travelers and pack animals could follow its course, especially through the mountains.
Still, settlers came, and in 1862 Walla Walla was already prospering as the terminus of the road, bustling with commerce and building.
Promoted to Captain, Mullan wrote: “The wilderness of yesterday has to-day given place to homes.” E.B. Whitman, elected in April, 1862 as Walla Walla’s first mayor, will speak with John Mullan about those times. Mayor Whitman will be portrayed by Walla Walla attorney and civic activist Dan Clark.
Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is free to members and children under 6; $3 for children 6-12; $6 for seniors and students; and $7 for adults. For more information call 509-525-7703 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.