Photo of the Rocky Mountains near Elliston, Montana

Weekly Gem #252, Hump Day, every day

Published 3/20/21

Location: This hidden gem is located next to Mullan Road (Hwy 12) just west of Elliston, MT (see the Clue Me! Map). 

Mullan Road was the first road over the Rocky Mountains in the northwestern United States. If you could garner some cooperative mules, it made for a relatively easy wagon ride from Fort Benton (near Great Falls, Montana, and the end of the line for steamboats coming up the Missouri) to Fort Walla Walla Washington and the Pacific Northwest.

In only one year, John Mullan and about 150 soldiers constructed the "military road" over the Continental Divide. They built hundreds of bridges, cut through forests, made road cuts on sides of hills, and moved tons of earth daily. They survived −40 °F weather (with only a few frozen digits. The road was finished in 1860, but because the Civil War began the next year, the road was hardly used by the military in the early years. On the other hand thousands of civilians used it as they moved to and through Montana.

Things really picked up when prospectors found ‘color’ in Montana and northern Idaho. The open road suddenly became a thoroughfare. People needed supplies and a lot of them! Fast!

Anywhere in the world, Wednesday is "Hump Day.” However, in 1865 on the Mullan Road, every day was Hump Day. It was the year of the great camel experiment! What better animal to transport flour to the Sourdoughs than the camel? Hard working. Incredible stamina. Can go without food and water for extended periods. World-renowned spitter. What could go wrong?

It worked really well … until they came upon the first mule! One whiff of camel, and the mules bolted. Every time. This was tolerated for a while. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when a whole mule train load of whiskey was lost after the mules panicked and ran without regard to their valuable cargo!

So like many experiments, the great camel experiment failed, and the camels of Mullan Road were sent packing.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


A certain road named after a certain man


The Mullan Road

Why It's Interesting

This is a road loaded with historical irony. It was built on a trail used by Native Americans for hundreds or thousands of years to cross the Rockies. The military expanded this old trail into a road that connected forts, which were used to subjugate those indigenous people.

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