Malcolm M. Renfrew Interdisciplinary Colloquium Web Archive

Preserving access to past MRIC web content.


Collections A-Z

In Search of John Mullan, the Northwest's Road Builder
MRIC 2015/16

Please note: this is archived content harvested from a web page and may not display as originally intended. Some images, links, and functionality may be broken or out of date.

In Search of John Mullan, the Northwest's Road Builder

In Search of John Mullan, the Northwest's Road Builder

Presented by Kether Petersen, former Idaho State Historian

Keith Petersen

Former Idaho State Historian

Presented with support of the Provost’s Office and University Honors Program


John Mullan’s celebrated road, a 625-mile link that connected the Missouri and Columbia rivers and eventually became a significant component of Interstate 90, established the West Point graduate as an accomplished engineer. Although the road’s significance in settling the Northwest is mentioned in nearly every book about the region, Mullan himself has remained an enigma: A dashing young Army officer who came west and built an important highway, but then disappears from the written record. But Mullan lived to see automobiles traveling his former wagon road. Petersen traveled to repositories from coast to coast in his search for the real John Mullan. This new biography reveals a complex personality who skirted legal and ethical boundaries to gain fame and wealth.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase after the talk.


Keith Petersen retired earlier this year as the associate director of the Idaho State Historical Society and Idaho’s state historian. Petersen is the author of numerous articles and books on Idaho and the Northwest, including “This Crested Hill: An Illustrated History of the University of Idaho,” “River of Life, Channel of Death: Fish and Dams on the Lower Snake,” and “Company Town: Potlatch, Idaho and the Potlatch Lumber Company.” The first-ever recipient of the Idaho Humanities Council's Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities in 1986, Petersen also received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Idaho in 2014.

Original url: