Montana Public Radio recently featured an item about the famed Mullan Road that departed from Fort Benton, Mont., and worked its way westward to Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory near the Columbia River and beyond.
Edward O’Brien reported that the legacy road was built between spring 1859 and summer 1860 by U.S. Army Lt. John Mullan.
The wagon road was the first to traverse the Rocky Mountains into the Inland Empire. Over time, Fort Benton, at the navigational head of the Missouri River, was in Dakota Territory, which became Idaho Territory in July 1863 and Montana Territory in May 1864.
Missoula residents use a stretch of the road to go shopping, eat out or get home (on Reserve Street), and the Missoula County Detention Center is there.
A group of history buffs gathers annually to talk about its contributions to the region. In 2012 they met in Walla Walla and the 2014 Mullan Road Conference was in Missoula.
Wikipedia adds that the Mullan Road approximated the route followed by modern-day Interstate 15 and Interstate 90 through Montana, Idaho and Washington.
The original road didn’t last long, however, as sections were flooded out the year it was finished.
Mullan Road was closed in 1861. However, other sections of the route continued to be used for decades. Parts of the Mullan Road can still be traveled. One such stretch is near Washtucna.