Mapping the West: The Pacific Railroad Surveys

Course Dates: 
8 weeks: March 29, April 5, 12, 19, 26, May 3, 10, 17, 2018
Thursdays, 9-11 a.m.
Brad Allen
Course Catalogs: 
2018 Spring

We will explore the forgotten story of the largest continental expeditionary force the United States had undertaken by mid-19th century—the Pacific Railroad surveys of 1853-1854. Exploration, discovery, murder, betrayal, destructive ambition and heroic dedication, all set against intense fighting over the prize of a generation—a rail link to the Pacific. We’ll explore the vast western landscape, America’s hopes and what explorers and Native Americans imagined for the future, before it all was about to change forever.

Course outline

Brad Allen ( is working on a book about the Pacific Railroad Surveys that he began researching in 2012 by travelling across the United States, visiting historical archival collections and retracing parts of several expeditions. He wrote Mapping the West: Isaac Stevens’ 1853 Pacific Railroad Survey Expedition Across the Northern Dakotas, which was published by the North Dakota State Historical Society Journal. Brad is a freelance financial journalist and writes a personal finance column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. His work has appeared in Reuters and Dow Jones among other outlets.