Lt. Marshall Discovers Marshall Pass
(U.S.G.S. Bulletin 707 1922)
Marshall Pass was discovered in 1873 by Lieut. William L. Marshall, later chief of
engineers in the United States Army, not as the result of systematic exploration, but in
order to find relief from toothache. The following account of the discovery is condensed
from a recent article on the subject by Thomas F. Dawson in " The Trail "
(Sept., 1920), the official organ of the Society of Sons of Colorado.
In 1873 Lieut. Marshall, in charge of the Colorado branch of the Wheeler Survey, had spent
the summer and autumn in the San Juan region, but on the approach of winter the snow
became too deep for mountain exploration and he decided to abandon work and go to Denver.
It was arranged that the party should follow the regular route by way of Cochetopa Pass,
but as Lieut. Marshall had a very painful toothache, he decided to strike out on some
shorter route so as to reach Denver ahead of his party and to find relief from his
suffering. He accordingly started with one companion, Dave Mears, on mule back and with
one pack animal to find a short cut. He first tried to cross the range west of Twin Lakes
but found the snow too deep; then he tried an entirely new route at the head of Gunnison
River, and after a hard struggle through fallen timber and deep snow he reached the summit
in a pass which he had seen from a distance but never crossed. Lieut. Marshall realized
that the pass he had discovered was one over which a road or even a railroad could easily
be constructed, so despite the toothache and the icy wind the party spent a day and night
on the summit making observations of the temperature and barometer and preparing a profile
showing the approaches on both sides.
When the observations were completed the party pushed on to Denver, where a dentist soon
relieved the toothache. In a short time the news of the discovery of the pass became
noised about and Lieut. Marshall was waited upon by a delegation of prominent citizens
who, with true western push, organized the Marshall Pass Toll Road Co. and in a few months
completed a wagon road through the pass.
What would the traveler of to-day think of making a mule-back journey of 300 miles in the
snow across the mountains of Colorado to find relief from a toothache! Such a trip would
be bad enough to make under present conditions, but what must it have been through an
unbroken wilderness and across the backbone of the continent!
Truly the " winning of the West " called for courage and endurance of which the
traveler of to-day, with all the comforts and even luxuries of travel, can have little