top of page

# 30 From the Mountains to the Mission.

October 9-12, 1853. Before breaking camp near the Bitter Root river, Stevens found that one of his best riding horses had died during the night as a lariat had been improperly fastened around his neck. No mention was made as to who had made the mistake or what was done with the horse’s corpse. They broke camp at 8 o’clock that morning and had a long day ahead. The undergrowth of bushes was impeding progress, so he had the teams move to a trail over the side hill. This was not a massive improvement as the trail “carried us up and down hill successively, and in some instances through woods, occasionally obstructed by fallen timber.”[1] They took a break mid-day near a creek where they encountered a “single Indian family drying venison. For a little tobacco they gave us some fresh meet and trout, which we roasted before the fire, and which made us a substantial lunch…”[2] After a refreshing meal, they continued on their course for another six miles and set up camp for the night next to a stream. The day’s journey covered nineteen miles.

The following day after traveling about ten miles spotted with woods where “larch and spruce and inexhaustible supplies of limestone and marble were met with.”[3] Keeping the river to their right they passed over a high overhanging mountain spur before preparing for their descent to the valley. Fallen timber prevented their continued use of the well-traveled trail and the switched to a smaller mountain path to take them down the mountainside and then up to a ridge. A camp was assembled there for the night as they had plenty of good grasses. Water, while plentiful in the lake, was 1,200 feet below the camp in the pass. The surveying team felt the pass was practicable for a railroad passage and should be explored. During the evening the camp was drenched by rain, which they anticipated would become snow through the evening. They were pleasantly surprised to find they were wrong and had awakened to “one of the loveliest days imaginable. They struck their camp and traversed to the highest point of the ridge and remained for a period to enjoy the magnificent view spread before them.

Far distant in the east the peaks of the Rocky mountains loom up into view, stretched out to a great length, while the Flathead lake and the valley thence to the Blackfood Pass was plainly visible. Nearly the entire range of the Coer d’ Aléne mountains, clothed with evergreen forests, which here and there an open summit covered with grass; numerous valleys intersecting the country for miles around; courses of many streams, marked by the ascending fog, all conduced to render the view fascinating in the greatest degree to the beholder.” [4]

After relishing the scenic beauty, the group traveled another six miles along the ridge before they began their descent down the mountain. Finally gaining the base of the mountain, which they estimated loomed 3,500 feet above them, they entered a valley filled with gigantic ancient cedars complimented by larch, spruce, and vine maple in large quantities. It was around 4 o’clock that they arrived at a stream and set up their camp for the night. Due to the sparse grasses for the animals, they prepared for an early start the next morning and would break when they came to a lusher environment. The sparse grass of their camp caused several of their animals to wander off to find better food, some almost six miles back toward the base of the mountain. Rounding up their cattle delayed their departure until a little after 10 o’clock that morning. They only traveled about 11 miles before they established a camp for the night. Their destination, the Coeur D’ Aléne Mission, was a short journey of 10-11 miles ahead. As camp was being erected, Stevens and the guide Antoine road ahead to the mission, a journey of an hour and three quarters.

Steven’s Pass (Coeur d’ Aléne Pass) – Photographs courtesy:


West side of the Great Northern tunnel beneath Stevens Pass. West side of the Great Northern tunnel beneath Stevens Pass:

Looking east to Stevens Pass:

Our next segment will be about the visit to the Coeur D’ Aléne Mission on the St. Ignatius River.

[1]“ Narrative of the Final Report of Explorations For A Route For A Pacific Railroad”, Isaac Stevens, Page 131 [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid. Page 132.


bottom of page