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Detailed map of the Northern United States, illustrating the route of the Northern Pacific Railroad from Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean.

The route of the railroad line is illustrated in red, with an elevation profile view across the top.

The map accompanied the report of Edwin Johnson on the progress of the railroad.   An explanation is provided by Eugene V. Smalley, who in his History of the Northern Pacific Railroad (New York, 1883), says that the ideas of Asa Whitney “were taken up in 1852 by one of the ablest of the world’s great engineers, Edwin F. Johnson, and given practical form and value by the aid of his genius and technical skill.” Smalley observes that the Northern Pacific, the first projected and the last completed of the three great transcontinental lines, evidences the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson in causing the route it follows as the best natural highway for commerce from ocean to ocean, and the foresight of Whitney and the engineering skill of Johnson in claiming in advance of its actual survey that it offered the best line for railroad construction and traffic.

Smalley tells of Johnson’s promotion of a northern route in 1853, even before the Stevens explorations and his being named chief engineer for the Northern Pacific Railroad in May, 1867. Johnson was ordered,

to commence surveys and locate a line between Lake Superior and the Red River of the North; also to explore the western end of Lake Superior, with a view to the location of the Eastern terminus of the road. He was further instructed to locate the line from Portland toward Lake Pend d’Oreille, to make a reconnaissance of the country between the water connected with the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Columbia River, and thence eastwardly towards the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, to make a measurement of the practicable passes in the Cascade Range, and to report the results of such surveys before the 15th of November.

The map includes an unnamed Wyoming . A wealth of military detail is found on this map. In Dakota we see Ft. Sully and New Ft. Sully below and above old Ft. Pierre, with Ft. Rice beyond the Cannon Ball R. to the north. Farther west is the significant chain of military posts, Forts Reno, Phil Kearney, and C. F. Smith. In Montana we see familiar trading posts, Braseaus House and Ft. Sarpy on the Yellowstone, and Forts Charles, Galpin, Cook, Benton, and Labarge along the Missouri, with Ft. Union and Ft. William (the latter marked “Ruins”) just east of the Territorial line at the mouth of the Yellowstone. Washington has its share of military posts, a new one called Camp Osoyoos being added to older establishments like Ft. Colville, Ft. Simcoe, Ft. Steilacoom, and Ft. Vancouver. In Oregon...Ft. Henrietta is added to previously noted posts like Camp Dalgren, Camp Marcy, Camp Gibbs and Camp Watson.

The map also includes the exploration routes ofFrémont, Mullan, Stevens, Stansbury, Warren, and others, wagon roads, overland mail routes, existing and proposed rail lines, Pony Express routes, tribes, trading posts, military establishments, landforms, waterways, presidios, missions, etc. This sharply delineated map is a superb example from Colton’s cartographic establishment.

G.W. & C.B. Colton Biography

G. W. & C. B. Colton was a prominent family firm of mapmakers who were leaders in the American map trade in the nineteenth century. The business was founded by Joseph Hutchins Colton (1800-1893) who bought copyrights to existing maps and oversaw their production. By the 1850s, their output had expanded to include original maps, guidebooks, atlases, and railroad maps. Joseph was succeeded by his sons, George Woolworth (1827-1901) and Charles B. Colton (1831-1916). The firm was renamed G. W. & C. B. Colton as a result. George is thought responsible for their best-known work, the General Atlas, originally published under that title in 1857. In 1898, the brothers merged their business and the firm became Colton, Ohman, & Co., which operated until 1901, when August R. Ohman took on the business alone and dropped the Colton name.