Geological Survey Bulletin 611
Guidebook of the Western United States: Part A
SHEET No. 7.|
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Elevation 1,880 feet.
St. Paul 402 miles.
Elevation 1,895 feet.
St. Paul 413 miles.
The same rolling topography occurs in the vicinity of
Steele and as far west as the western margin of the moraine. Outwash
gravel is also abundant about Steele, as is indicated by the hills of
gravel and by the pits from which the railway has procured gravel for
At Driscoll (see sheet 7, p. 54) is the highest land
that is crossed by the Northern Pacific Railway east of Missouri River.
Near milepost 163 an old drainage channel, including a chain of shallow
lakes, crosses the moraine obliquely in a southwesterly direction. West
of this gap and north of Sterling the hills rise again in a narrow
morainic ridge which extends to the northeast for a long distance.
Beyond Driscoll the railway gradually descends to Missouri River, which
in the early days was the great highway to the northwestern part of the
United States and which was first thoroughly explored by Lewis and
1One of the most noteworthy explorations
that was successfully carried out in the nineteenth century was that of
the headwaters of Missouri and Columbia rivers by Meriwether Lewis and
William Clark in the years 1804-1806, and as the Northern Pacific
Railway follows in a general way a part of the same route and is the
indirect result of their efforts it seems appropriate to give here a
brief sketch of the expedition and of the commanders. It is so easy now
to cross the continent in comfort and even in luxury that the
difficulties and hardships of such a journey in 1804 can not readily be
Meriwether Lewis was born August 18, 1774, near
Charlottesville, Va., of one of the distinguished families of the State.
He had been for two years the private secretary of President Jefferson
and was serving in that capacity when he was selected by the President
as commander of the exploring expedition to the Pacific coast. Upon the
completion of his long trip Capt. Lewis returned to Washington, but soon
afterward (Mar. 3, 1807) he was appointed governor of Louisiana and
departed for St. Louis to assume the duties of that office. These
occupied his attention for two years, when he again found it necessary
to visit Washington. He first planned the trip by water, but after going
as far down the river as Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis) he changed his mind
and started east across the country. On the way he committed suicide or
was murdered October 11, 1809, in Lewis County, Tenn.
William Clark was born in Caroline County, Va.,
August 1, 1770. He had a number of brothers and sisters, of whom George
Rogers Clark, an elder brother, achieved distinction as a military
commander. When William Clark was 14 years old the family moved to the
place then called the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville, Ky. The town at
that time consisted merely of a few cabins clustered around a
fortification which had been erected by Clark's elder brother. When the
exploring trip to the Pacific coast was undertaken Clark was selected by
Lewis as joint head of the party. Soon after his return he was made
Indian agent for Louisiana, with headquarters at St. Louis, and on
February 27, 1811, he was appointed by President Madison brigadier
general of the militia of Louisiana. On July 1, 1813, he was made
governor of Missouri, an office which he held until the Territory was
admitted to the Union in 1821. In May, 1822, President Monroe appointed
him Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and he held that post until his
death at St. Louis September 1, 1838. His funeral was the most
impressive that had ever been held in that city.
When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated President of
the United States, in 1801, our country did not extend west of
Mississippi River, and already much friction had arisen between Spain
and the United States regarding the navigation of that stream. Jefferson
fully-realized that for the complete development of the Mississippi
Valley it was necessary that we should control the mouth of the river.
Accordingly he began negotiations with Spain for the purchase of New
Orleans and the Floridas.
Louisiana was originally a French possession through
the discoveries of La Salle. It had been an expensive and troublesome
province for France and for this reason it was secretly conveyed to
Spain in 1762. In the year 1800, however, it was by an other secret
treaty ceded back to France. It was therefore a surprise to our
negotiators to find that it was France and not Spain with which they
would have to treat.
At the time negotiations were opened Napoleon was
expecting a declaration of war by England and the seizure by her of the
mouth of the Mississippi. This threatened his supremacy in America as
well as in Europe, and in order to anticipate this move he decided to
cede to the United States not only New Orleans and the Floridas but the
entire province of Louisiana, which was an empire in extent. Out of it
has been formed the States of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, North
Dakota, and South Dakota; nearly all of Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas,
Wyoming, and Montana, about one-third of Minnesota, and one-third of
Colorado. The treaty by which all of this territory was acquired was
executed in Paris April 30, 1803. The compensation was $11,250,000 and
the assumption by the United States of the "French spoliation claims,"
estimated to amount to $3,750,000. It is an interesting fact that some
of these claims are still in process of adjudication.
The extent and boundaries of the province of
Louisiana were never definitely stated. In the treaty the territory was
described merely as being the same as that ceded by Spain to France by
the treaty of San Ildefonso. From this it appears that the territory
sold to the United States comprised that part of the drainage basin of
the Mississippi which lies west of the river, with the exception of such
parts as were then held by Spain. The lack of precise definition was not
objected to by the American commissioners, as they probably foresaw that
it might prove of service in future negotiations with other powers.
At that time all the territory on the Pacific coast
now included in the State of California was claimed by Spain, and the
great region later to be embraced in the States of Oregon, Washington,
and Idaho was a sort of no man's land. Subsequently, in treating with
Great Britain regarding the northern boundary of the United States, this
region was claimed by the United States on three grounds: (1) Discovery
and occupation, (2) Louisiana purchase, and (3) cession from Spain. At
first none of these claims were recognized by Great Britain, and by the
treaty of peace in 1818 it was agreed that the country immediately south
of the forty ninth parallel and west of the "Stony" (Rocky) Mountains
should remain open to both parties. In 1846 the Webster-Ashburton treaty
with Great Britain fixed the northern boundary of the United States west
of the Rocky Mountains at the forty-ninth parallel as far as the Strait
of Fuca, and thus Oregon, Washington, and Idaho finally were recognized
as belonging to this country.
On the acquisition of Louisiana an expedition was
planned by President Jefferson "to explore the Missouri River and such
principal streams of it as, by its course and communication with the
waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon [another name
for the Columbia], Colorado, or any other river, may offer the most
direct and practicable water communication across the continent for the
purpose of commerce." After receiving the requisite instructions Capt.
Lewis left Washington July 5, 1803, and proceeded to Louisville, where
he was joined by Capt. Clark. They arrived at St. Louis in December, but
found that the Spanish commandant of the province, not having received
an official account of the transfer, was obliged by the general policy
of his Government to prevent strangers from passing through Spanish
territory. The party therefore camped on the east side of the
Mississippi, where they passed the winter in making the necessary
preparations for setting out early in the spring, but they did not leave
until after the cession of Louisiana had been formally announced.
The party when it left St. Louis comprised, besides
the two officers, nine young men from Kentucky, fourteen soldiers of the
United States Army who had volunteered their services, two French water
men, an interpreter and hunter, a black servant belonging to Capt.
Clark, and a corporal, six soldiers, and nine water men who were to
accompany the party as far as the Mandan villages.
The party finally embarked on the momentous voyage of
discovery up Missouri River on May 14, 1804. The letter from President
Jefferson instructed them to gather information on a great variety of
subjects, including "the soil and face of the country, its growth and
vegetable productions; the animals of the country, and especially those
not known in the United States; the mineral productions of every kind,
but more particularly metals, limestone, pit coal, saltpeter, salines,
and mineral waters * * *; volcanic appearances; and climate." They were
particularly advised to cultivate friendly relations with the Indians
and to make exhaustive notes regarding their habits and customs, their
family and tribal relations, and the extent and limits of their
territorial possessions. They carried out these instructions so fully
that the summer was passed and the autumn well advanced before they
reached the North Dakota region. By October 26 the weather had become so
severe that they went into winter quarters 7 or 8 miles below the mouth
of Knife River and 50 miles or so above the present town of Bismarck.
Here they built a stockade which they called Fort Mandan, after the
tribe of Indians inhabiting this part of the country.
They spent the winter in procuring supplies for the
camp, in friendly intercourse with the Indians, and in visiting the
scattered French and English traders who were dealing with the Indians
on both sides of the Canadian line. On April 7, 1805, the permanent
party, which had been increased by the interpreter, Toussaint
Charboneau, and his Indian wife, Sacajawea (sak-a-ja-we'a, meaning bird
woman), again set out on their journey up the great river. They were
soon beyond the range of the fur trader and they saw no white man until
they returned to this region the following year. All went well until
they came to the Great Falls of the Missouri, which the Indians had
described to them. After a laborious portage around the falls they
proceeded onward, searching for a path through the "Shining Mountains,"
which lay in rugged masses before them.
Their instructions were to explore the best route
from the Missouri to the Columbia, but, although they had fairly
reliable information from the Indians regarding the headwaters of the
Missouri, they were completely at sea regarding the source of the
Columbia. For this reason they desired very much to find Indian guides
to pilot them across the mountains. Sacajawea, a member of the Snake
tribe, who had been captured by the Mandans when she was a young girl
and carried off to the Indian towns in North Dakota, hoped that she
might see some of her people inhabiting the mountain region at the head
of the Missouri and procure from them the necessary information and
Above Great Falls the river swings far to the west,
approaching the mountains, and the leaders looked anxiously for signs of
Indians, but none could be found. To make the matter worse, the river
here changes its course and they were forced to travel away from the
mountains for a long distance; but on coming to the three forks of the
Missouri Sacajawea remembered the country and saw the spot where she had
been captured many years before. The expedition proceeded up Jefferson
River to its head and crossed the Continental Divide (at Lemhi Pass)
into Idaho. Here they met the Snake Indians, Sacajawea even finding her
brother and sister, but after repeated efforts they decided that it was
impossible to make their way down Salmon River to the Columbia, so they
turned northward, crossing the range again, and followed down the
Bitterroot Valley until on September 10 they came within 8 miles of the
place where Missoula, Mont., is now situated. Here they turned to the
left up what is now known as the Lolo trail and crossed the Coeur
d'Alene Mountains, arriving at the mouth of Snake River October 16. From
this point they rapidly drifted down the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean
and went into winter quarters December 7 in a stockade which they named
Fort Clatsop, near the site of Astoria, Oreg. They remained here,
without seeing any vessel from which they could obtain supplies, until
March 23, 1806, when they left Fort Clatsop on their eastward
The party returned over practically the same route to
the Bitterroot Valley, where it was divided, Capt. Lewis making his way
by Missoula and up Blackfoot River, along the route followed by the
Indians in going to the plains to hunt buffalo, and Capt. Clark going
back to the head of Jefferson River to recover their canoes, which had
been cached at that place. Capt. Lewis crossed the Continental Divide at
Lewis and Clark Pass and then made an attempt to explore the pass at the
head of Marias River (now utilized by the Great Northern Railway), but
trouble with the Indians prevented him from reaching the mountains, so
he embarked on the Missouri and floated down to the mouth of the
Yellowstone, where the two parties were to meet again on their homeward
Capt. Clark crossed through the Bighole country and,
after getting the boats, floated down Jefferson River to Three Forks,
where his party again divided, some going on down Missouri River to join
Lewis, while Capt. Clark and a few others, including the faithful
Sacajawea as guide, started across the country to Yellowstone River.
They crossed Bozeman Pass July 15, 1806, and reached Missouri River at
Livingston the same day. They passed rapidly down the stream, reaching
the mouth of Tongue River (Miles City) on July 29 and the mouth of
Yellowstone River August 3. They were slightly ahead of Capt. Lewis and
the party was not united until August 12, when they all came together at
the mouth of Little Knife River, N. Dak. The rest of the journey was
uneventful and they reached St. Louis September 23, 1806.
Elevation 1,834 feet.
St. Paul 421 miles.
The village of Sterling is situated at the outer
border of the Altamont moraine, at the western limit of the great ice
sheet that occupied this region in the last stage of the glacial epoch.
Below it and stretching far to the west is a plain which was formed of
clay, sand, and gravel that were accumulated by the ice and swept along
to its outer margin. From Sterling may be obtained an extended view of
the outwash plain, toward the south, and far beyond the more rugged
country bordering Missouri River.
Elevation 1,725 feet.
St. Paul 427 miles.
The outwash plain with its silty soil is well adapted
to the raising of flax, wheat, oats, and barley and supports a thriving
farming community, the center of which is McKenzie, the junction point
of a branch line of railway running south to Linton, 45 miles distant.
West of McKenzie the railway follows down Apple Creek to Missouri River.
The width of the Apple Creek valley, which is much greater than that of
even larger streams in the vicinity, indicates clearly that at some time
in the past this stream must have been much larger than it is at the
present time. The increased volume of water in Apple Creek was due to
the fact that it received a large part of the drainage of the ice sheet
that piled up the Altamont moraine. Much of the clay, sand, and gravel
washed out from the ice was carried down to Missouri River and swept
southward by its mighty current, but a large amount was dropped along
Apple Creek, filling the valley to a considerable depth. Since the
disappearance of the ice the stream has cut a channel in this material
70 or 80 feet deep. The uplands on both sides of the valley of Apple
Creek have only a thin veneer of glacial drift. (See footnote on p.
The great amount of cutting done by Apple Creek when
it was flooded by water from the melting ice is shown by the width of
its flood plain where the valley joins that of Missouri River. At the
State penitentiary 2 miles east of Bismarck the valley of Apple Creek
has a width of 4 miles, whereas the width of the Missouri Valley rarely
exceeds 3 miles. On this flood plain, known as the "second bottom," is
Fort Lincoln, to the left (south). This is the only military post now
maintained near the Canadian border between Fort Snelling, at St. Paul,
and Fort Assinniboine, at Havre, Mont. Opposite the penitentiary the
Northern Pacific crosses a branch of the Soo Line which extends up the
river as far as Washburn.
Elevation 1,692 feet.
St. Paul 446 miles.
Bismarck, the capital of the State, was named in
honor of the great German chancellor. This town was the western terminus
of the Northern Pacific Railway from 1873, when all construction work
was stopped by the financial panic, to 1878, and was originally called
Edwinton, for Edwin F. Johnson, the first chief engineer of the
Those who are in the habit of reading the daily
weather reports may have noted that Bismarck has about as great a range
of temperature throughout the year as any other place where observations
are recorded. In summer the thermometer occasionally registers 100°
or more, and in winter it is frequently as low as 40° below zero.
The precipitation is only 18 or 19 inches a year, compared with 28
inches at Minneapolis. This difference in the amount of moisture
received is largely the cause of the difference in the appearance of the
West of the station at Bismarck the railway skirts
the eastern bluffs of the river for a distance of 2 miles upstream and
then crosses on a steel bridge to the west side.1
1At present Missouri River has little
effect on the commercial and industrial life of the northwestern part of
the United States, but before the construction of the transcontinental
railways it was a most important factor, first in the exploration of
that part of the country and second in its commercial development.
The country about Bismarck and Mandan was formerly
inhabited by the Mandan Indians. The surviving remnant of this tribe
occupies the Fort Berthold Reservation, some 60 or 70 miles farther up
the river, but almost every day groups of these Indians can be seen
about the station at Mandan or on the local trains of the river
The earliest recorded visit of a white man to these
Indians was that of Verandrye in 1738-1742, when he attempted to cross
the continent to the Pacific coast. David Thompson, of the Northwest Fur
Co., was here in 1797, and Lewis and Clark wintered about 50 miles north
of Bismarck in 1804-5. After that date many explorers and traders came
this way, gradually extending their operations westward until they
finally overran the whole region, even including the rougher parts of
the Rocky Mountains. Supplies were sent to the fur-trading stations by
boat up the Missouri from St. Louis, and the furs obtained from the
Indians found their way to the outside world by the same route. The
river at that time was a silt-laden shifting stream, just as it is
to-day, and great difficulty was experienced in getting supplies to its
upper waters. The river traffic was greatly stimulated by discoveries of
gold in Montana in 1863, and light-draft steamboats were employed in the
trade. This traffic continued to increase until the completion of the
Northern Pacific Railway, when the slow and unsatisfactory method of
boat transportation was abandoned, so that to-day vessels are seldom
seen upon the muddy waters of the river.
The Missouri is one of the great drainage channels of
the United States. Its total length is about 2,400 miles, and that part
above the crossing of the Northern Pacific has a length of about 1,160
miles. The total area drained by this river is 527,155 square miles, a
territory as great as that embraced in the States of New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia,
Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama,
Although Missouri River may never again be utilized
as a means of communication and transportation, it is destined to play a
most important part in the better development of its drainage basin by
furnishing water for irrigation and for the development of power.
Elevation 1,667 feet.
St. Paul 451 miles.
The town of Mandan, named for the tribe of Indians
that formerly occupied this part of the country, is on the west side of
the Missouri. It is essentially a railway town, being a division
terminal. In coming from the east the traveler has had very few
opportunities to see the rocks underlying the glacial drift, but west of
Mandan the drift is thin or lacking and the bedded rocks are much more
conspicuous than they are east of that place. In places about Mandan
they are exposed in badlands, as shown in Plate IV, A.
A deep well that was drilled at Mandan a number of
years ago with the hope of obtaining water for railway and town use
penetrated sandstone and shale much like the surface rocks to a depth of
470 feet and then nothing but shale like that seen at Jamestown to a
depth of 2,000 feet. The drill probably went nearly to the Dakota
sandstone, which furnishes artesian water farther east in North and
South Dakota, but as it did not reach that rock the exact depth of the
Dakota is not known.
In 1876, when the railway extended westward only as
far as Bismarck, this town was a mere frontier settlement with a wide
stretch of Indian country to the west. On the west side of the river was
Fort Abraham Lincoln, one of the important military posts of the time.
Although the days of Indian warfare in this vicinity had passed, it was
the starting point for many military expeditions into the Indian
country. An expedition of this kind which left the fort in 1876 was the
most eventful in the history of the border warfare of the region, as it
resulted in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the slaughter of Gen.
Custer and his immediate command. The Northern Pacific Railway has been
built along or closely parallel with the route followed by the troops.
(Seep. 71.) At Mandan the railway changes from Central to Mountain time,
and the westbound traveler should set his watch back one hour.
West of Mandan the railway follows the valley of
Heart River, and for the first time in North Dakota the westbound
traveler can see the hard rocks well exposed. These consist of shale and
sandstone (Lance formation), partly of marine origin, and represent the
bottom of the sea that through later Cretaceous and part of Tertiary
time covered the region.1
1The rocks exposed along Missouri River
from the vicinity of old Fort Pierre in South Dakota to and beyond the
crossing of the Northern Pacific Railway at Bismarck dip slightly to the
north or northwest and are encountered in going up the stream in
ascending order. First is the Pierre shale, which consists of a great
mass of fine dark shale that carries marine shells wherever it has been
found from the Canadian line to New Mexico. It was doubtless laid down
when the entire Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions were sunk below
the level of the ocean.
This formation is overlain by a coarse, generally
clean white or brownish sandstone, called Fox Hills, which was evidently
at one time the sandy shore that followed the retreat of the Pierre sea.
Sandstone as a rule is not good material for the preservation of
fossils, but here and there the Fox Hills sandstone contains marine
shells and almost everywhere the casts of sea weeds, which now resemble
fossil corncobs. Until very recently this has been regarded as the last
formation in this region that was laid down in sea water.
The Fox Hills sandstone is followed by the Lance
formation, which consists of sandstone, shale, and coal beds. Few shells
occur in the Lance, but those that have been found in the larger part of
the area are fresh-water forms. The presence of many coal beds (composed
of vegetation that once grew on the land and was buried in swamps) and
of fossil leaves and trunks of trees in the sandstone and shale shows
clearly that the Lance formation accumulated above sea level as material
either brought down by streams and spread out over the even surface of
the land or deposited in lakes. This formation covers much of the
mountain and plains country north of Colorado, and in most of this broad
area it contains nothing but fresh-water material. Recently, however,
marine and brackish-water shells have been found in the upper part of
the Lance in south-central North Dakota and also along Little Missouri
River in the southwest corner of the State, which indicate that after
the recession of the sea to the east at the close of Fox Hills time it
reappeared and reached as far west as the Montana line. Then at the
close of Lance time the sea again disappeared from this region, never to
return, as all succeeding formations are of fresh-water origin.
For many years the age of the Lance formation has
been in dispute. The fossil shells and the great dinosaurs (see p. 73)
indicate that the formation is Cretaceous in age, but the fossil plants
are Tertiary in their relations, almost identical with those of the
overlying Fort Union formation. Although the question is not finally
settled, it seems probable that the Cannonball member of the Lance
formation is Tertiary and that the Cretaceous fauna which occurs in it
is merely a surviving remnant of an old Cretaceous fauna which formerly
lived in the open sea but which as this sea became more and more
restricted and eventually inclosed by land preserved its old form even
into Tertiary time.
Elevation 1,971 feet.
St. Paul 473 miles.
The railway follows Heart River for some distance and
then turns to the right and climbs to the upland along Sweetbriar Creek.
Here large bowlders of granite and other similar rocks may be seen on
both sides of the track. These are particularly numerous and very large,
some as much as 8 feet in diameter, in the vicinity of Judson, but
scattered bowlders can be seen from the car window beyond New Salem.
Rocks of this kind are not known to crop out in the
State, so it is supposed that the bowlders must have been brought here
by ice, but as little or no other drift accompanies them, they are
supposed to represent an earlier ice invasion than that which brought
the drift east of Missouri Riveran invasion so long ago that most
of the clay in the drift has been washed away, leaving only the coarser
1West of the Altamont moraine, which marks
the greatest extension of the glacial lobe that occupied the Red River
valley in Wisconsin time, there is only a thin veneer of drift on the
upland and in some of the valleys. This outer drift is not bordered by
any well-marked moraine, but here and there indications of such a
feature occur along its outer margin on the west side of Missouri River.
In the vicinity of the Northern Pacific Railway the moraine is
characterized by a low bowldery ridge which trends nearly south from
Judson. Outside of this moraine there is a marginal fringe of bowlders
which extend as far west as Almont.
The general thinness of the drift west of the
Altamont moraine indicates that the material which was brought by the
ice has almost all been washed away, except the large bowlders; and this
means that a much longer time has elapsed since it was deposited than
there has since the material east of the Altamont moraine was laid down.
Some geologists have argued that this outer drift represents a stage of
glaciation very much older than the Wisconsin and have assigned it
provisionally to the Kansan (one of the earliest stages known). Others
have maintained that the granite bowlders which can be seen from the
Northern Pacific Railway are too fresh and unweathered to have been
dropped here during the Kansan stage, many thousand years ago; but the
unweathered condition of the granite is due to the dryness of the
climate and therefore is not a reliable criterion as to the age of the
From all the facts at hand it is evident that the
glacier which crossed Missouri River was older and thinner than the one
which occupied the Red River valley, but the difference in age is
Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006