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Color lithograph, “Dalles,” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

The Pacific Railroad Expedition surveys included information about many American Indian nations. The Dalles, a narrows on Oregon’s Columbia River, was an important fishing and trading site. American Indians were helpful to the surveyors, but the impact of the transcontinental railroad often proved devastating to Native Americans’ traditional ways of life.

Art by John Mix Stanley; lithography by Sarony, Major & Knapp Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Color lithograph, “Dalles,” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

A Railroad to the Pacific - 2

Settlement of the western territories in the 1850s increased the need for efficient rail transport to the Pacific Coast, but members of Congress could not agree on what route it should follow. Northern members wanted a northern route; southern members sought one advantageous to their region's interests. To inform this debate, in 1853 Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to survey four potential rail routes. Intense sectionalism blocked further legislation until southern states seceded. In 1862, a northern-controlled Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act.