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Fisk’s Route


During the winter of 1863-64, Captain James Fisk was a busy man. Fisk was a visionary who foresaw travelers by the thousands heading for the West but not along the Oregon Trails as so many had done. Fisk was promoting a northern route through Dakota Territory that would shorten the distance by as much as eight hundred miles. It was a route through the high grass prairie of northern Dakota, breaching the rugged Bad Lands and proceeding through the hills and up-slope high plains of Montana to the gold fields of Idaho.

On this date in 1864, the St Paul Chamber of Commerce backed Fisk’s plan with a Memorial to the President of the United States requesting a route that would establish communications with distance territories, and which would be used to establish to line of military posts. The route would travel through good agricultural country which is destined to be settled within a few short years. It was only a year earlier that Fisk, with the stirring words of "Ho, for the gold fields!" had left Fort Snelling and had returned with tales of great wealth that had been found and only needed to be carried back. St. Paul would be the staging area for these wagon trains and they were predicting an immigration of 70,000 the following year.

Fisk also had his critics. One man put it that they should beware, for "...the vultures who fatten on the folly of fools want to see half a million of gold hunters rush across the plains to squander their time and money."

Fisk did lead the wagon train in the summer of 1864 only to end in disaster being encircle by Indians at Fort Dilts and many were induced to turn back when rescued. But it didn’t end that summer. Thousands more would come, following near the route that Fisk had traveled as he had envisioned- not necessarily seeking the "New El Dorado" in the gold fields of the Northwest, but a thoroughfare of migration on, perhaps you might say, an Interstate Highway?

So the next time you’re traveling down Interstate 94, briefly turn Dakota Datebook down on your radio, hold your ear against the window and listen very carefully. You might still be able to catch the fading echo rebounding through the hills of those thrilling words of Captain James Fisk as he broke camp for the day shouting, "Ho for the gold fields!"

By Jim Davis


St. Paul Pioneer February 20, 1864

St. Paul Pioneer February 25, 1864

Ho! for the Gold Fields by Helen M. White, MN Historical Society 1966