The Hood River News, Hood River, OR., May 28, 1943, page 1

By Arline Winchell Moore

     Frequently, during the past decade, someone has asked me if I have any knowledge of an early-day military road through this section of the mid-Columbia. I do not think such a road ever existed in this area and offer the following data from the Oregon Historical Records Survey, No. 33, which is an inventory of the County Archives of Wasco County, from pre-territorial days to February, 1941. This work is one of "a number of guides to historical materials prepared throughout United States by workers on Historical Records Survey Program of the Works Projects Administration," and is as authentic as the records in our county files could make it. The only thing it would not cover would be the records in the files of our Army Engineers. However, I am of the opinion that had a road or even a trail existed, constructed and maintained by military funds, that some mention would surely in our state and county files. I offer these excerpts, which substantiate my theory.
     On page 50 of this Historical Sketch, I find: "The present day highway system of Wasco county was evolved from the primitive roads laid out by the emigrants on their way to the Willamette Valley in the 1840's and 1850's. The earliest route of wagon travel to The Dalles region was the Oregon Trail … the emigrant route from the Missouri river to the Willamette valley … From The Dalles westward the river provided the means of transportation until 1845.
     "In 1845, some effort was made to find an all-land wagon road to the Willamette Valley. Several parties made attempts to find a suitable route over the Cascade Range. The successful builder of the first road into the Willamette Valley was Samuel Kimbrough Barlow, who, as captain of an Oregon party in 1845, determined to find means of bringing his wagons over the Cascades.
     "Barlow decided to develop the steep, torturous Indian trail south of Mount Hood into a wagon trail. September 24, 1845, Barlow, with the party of about 19 persons, seven wagons and livestock, left The Dalles. As the party did not reach the summit of the Cascade Range before winter snows set in, they were forced to leave their wagons and part of their goods at a place called Fort Deposit to the lonely vigil of William Berry, while the remainder of the company, using their oxen and horses as pack animals, moved ahead.
     "Barlow, early in December, 1845, applied to the Provisional Legislature then in session in Oregon City, for a charter to open a road across the Cascade Range … May 18, 1846, Barlow formed a partnership with Phillip Foster … for purposes of construction and operation of a toll road. With the aid of 40 men, the road was completed in 1846… in time to capture some of the emigrant trade of that year… from 1846 to 1862, Barlow leased the road to various operators … who did little to improve the route, merely collecting the tolls. Consequently the road fell into disrepair. In 1862, the Mount Hood Wagon Road Company was organized, presumably for the purpose of improving the Barlow Road, but was a failure. The Cascade Road and Bridge Company was formed in May, 1864, and made extensive improvements in the route ….Until the railroad was constructed along the Columbia, the Barlow Road was a much-used route. In fact, this road continued to be operated as a toll road until 1919, when it was opened for travel without toll as a part of the State Highway System. Today, part of the course is followed by the Mount Hood Loop Highway.
     "The second important land route from Wasco County to the Willamette Valley is today in the scenic Columbia River highway, opened in 1915. This modern highway was preceded by a number of attempts to open a road along this route, financed in part by private initiative, in part by county funds, in part by state appropriations. The earliest wagon road along the Columbia River followed the north bank, reached by ferry from The Dalles.
     "Early interest in a road on the south side of the Columbia is evident in a petition by C.W. Shung for a road from the Cascades to The Dalles, placed before the Wasco County Commissioners, September 17, 1855… viewers were appointed … but it is probable that the county did little to improve this route.
     "County road building facilities did not prove at all adequate to care for the traffic resulting from the gold rush in the 1860's. A proposal in 1861, for a pack-train trail between Portland and The Dalles lead to the incorporation at Portland, October 16, 1862, of the Columbia Road Company, with Joel Palmer as president. This company opened at toll trail to pack trains and cattle early in 1863. Ferries were operated at Sandy and Hood River (then called Dog River). The section of The Dalles-Portland road east of Hood River was declared by Wasco County commissioners to be a public highway in 1867, thenceforth maintained by county funds.
     "After the decline of the gold rush activities, small profits discouraged the use of private capital in building toll roads … Efforts resulted in the Oregon Legislature appropriated, October 23, 1872, $50,000, and again, October 21, 1876, another $50,000… toward the construction of a crude wagon road up the Columbia River."
     This, I believe, covers the data contained in this work on early roads along the Columbia. Further, I believe possibly the idea of an early military road may have originated from the fact that in 1853, the Army Engineers made a preliminary survey of a route through the Cascades by General George B. McClellan, under the supervision of Isaac by Stevens, Governor of the Washington Territory. General McClellan reported as his estimate for a railroad along this route a cost of $117,121,000. No action was ever taken on this report. This survey was made in answer to extensive agitation for something besides the river route from The Dalles to the Willamette Valley.
     Added to this recorded data is the more or less well-known fact that the Oregon Rangers and other troops stationed in this area for the protection of immigrants from forays of hostile Indians, frequently used the old Indian trail that traversed Hood River valley from the Mosier hills, and crossed the mountains in the vicinity of the present Lolo Pass trail. Somewhere, not at the moment clear in my mind, mention is made of troops from Fort Vancouver been camped at Government Camp on the southeast slope of Mount Hood for the purpose of improving that route. The date has eluded me at this time, but I have added this vague item as another possible source of the idea of a military road. There is, also, the possibility that, like the route of the railroad survey by General McClellan, a survey was made by the Army Engineers for an all-land wagon route, and that it was never constructed. I do not have any data on such a project, and believed that it also would have appeared in the county records as the railroad survey did.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer