The individuals listed below lived during the time period of The Open Road and are mentioned in the book. John Wesley Powell is the only person who appears as a character.
Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden—American geologist (1829–1887). Hayden led geographic and geologic surveys between 1853 and 1860, served as a surgeon in the Civil War, returned to surveying the West, and was appointed Geologist-in-Charge of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories in 1867.
Win first hears about Hayden in Chapter 18, and finally gets hired on to one of his expeditions in Chapter 40.
John Wesley Powell—American geologist and naturalist (1834–1902). Powell became famous when he led an expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. He was the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey, and directed the Bureau of Ethnology. Powell was curious about native languages and culture, and was among the few at the time who respected indigenous peoples and their right to live according to their traditions. Under his leadership, the Smithsonian Institution published a classification of North American Indian languages.
In Chapter 29, Win and Jeb meet Powell and are hired by him to escort his students while they finish their field work so Powell can prepare for his trip down the Colorado River.
King and Wheeler, the two remaining leaders of the Four Great Surveys, are mentioned in Chapter 41.
Clarence King—American geologist and mountaineer (1842–1901). King received federal funding for what became known as the 40th Parallel Survey, was the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey, and explored the Sierra Nevada. He is also known for exposing the famous fraudulent scheme known as “the Diamond Hoax of 1872.”
George Wheeler—American explorer and cartographer (1842–1905). Wheeler was authorized by Congress to map the area west of the 100th meridian using a scale of 8 miles to the inch. In the process, he reported on sites for military installations, for future railroad paths and common roads, water sources and agricultural potential.
Little Raven, also known as Hosa, was a chief of the Southern Arapaho (born ca. 1810–died 1889). He continuously attempted peace between Native Americans and whites. He signed the Fort Wise Treaty of 1861 and the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867, seeking peace even after the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864.
In Chapter 12, Gray Wolf reflects on Little Raven’s peacekeeping efforts.
Left Hand, also known as Chief Niwot, was a tribal leader of the Southern Arapaho (born ca. 1825–died 1864). An intelligent and peaceful man, it was said he learned English, Cheyenne, and Sioux so he could communicate with white settlers and other tribes. It is generally believed that he died at the Sand Creek Massacre. Left Hand also signed the Fort Wise Treaty.
In Chapter 12, we learn that he had been a friend of Gray Wolf.
Red Cloud, an Oglala Lakota chief (1822–1909), fought to protect Indian land in what is now Montana and Wyoming from gold seekers and settlers trespassing via the Bozeman Trail. He led attacks on travelers and later fought the U.S. Army in what has become known as “Red Cloud’s War.”
Chapters 26-27 mention Red Cloud’s influence: passengers on a stage coach fear running into him, and some of Gray Wolf’s kin fight with him.
Inkpaduta—leader of a small band of Wahpekute Santee Dakota Indians (born ca. 1800–died ca. 1880). He led a raid against white settlers around the border between Minnesota and Iowa in March of 1857. He was never captured, and became legendary among both whites and Indians.
In Chapter 2, Win teases Jeb about running into Inkpaduta when they head West.
George Armstrong Custer (1839–1876) caught the attention of his superiors during the Civil War. His military career in the West against the Plains Indians has been described as lackluster, however, and only became legendary when his wife pushed to memorialize him after he was killed at the Little Bighorn.
In Chapter 41, Win is riled by Custer’s presence on the plains and Gus predicts that Custer’s life will not end well.
Eleanor Dumont (born ca. 1829–1879) was a famous gambler during the California Gold Rush. In the years after, she eventually partnered with David Tobin to build Dumont’s Palace in Nevada City. Later—after she was swindled out of all of her money by Jack McKnight—she moved from place to place setting up her gambling table. By the 1860s, she operated a brothel and had acquired the nickname “Madame Moustache” due to the thin line of dark hair that grew above her lip.
In Chapter 21, Win tries to distract Meg with this story while Jeb is showing her how to shoot a revolver.
Ben Holladay, aka The Stagecoach King (1819–1887), dominated freight, mail, and passenger transport in the West, controlling over 2,500 miles of stage lines between the Missouri River and Salt Lake City. He was one of the country’s biggest employers at the time.
In Chapter 17, Win and his old friend, Clint Sanders, discuss how to compete for a portion of Holladay’s business.
The black and white photographs featured above are all in the public domain.
Photo by Chris Casper
There are hundreds of books written about the American West. These I found particularly interesting:
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian by Wallace Stegner
Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
The American West by Dee Brown
Exploration and Empire: the explorer and the scientist in the winning of the American West by William Goetzmann
Indian Country, God’s country: Native Americans and the National Parks by Philip Burnham
Great Surveys of the American West by Richard Bartlett