Hiram M. Chittenden

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Hiram Martin Chittenden
Hiram M. Chittenden, 1916
Born(1858-10-25)October 25, 1858
DiedOctober 9, 1917(1917-10-09) (aged 58)
Seattle, Washington
CitizenshipUnited States
EducationUnited States Military Academy at West Point
Parent(s)William Fletcher Chittenden (1835-1923)
Mary Jane Wheeler Chittenden (1836-1924)
Engineering career
InstitutionsArmy Corps of Engineers
ProjectsChittenden Memorial Bridge, Grand Loop Road Historic District, Roosevelt Arch, Chittenden Locks

Hiram Martin Chittenden (1858–1917) was a leading historian of the American West, especially the fur trade. A graduate of West Point, he was the Seattle district engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers (April 1906 – September 1908) for whom the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington, were named.

He was one of the first three elected Port Commissioners at the Port of Seattle, he also helped found the Pacific Coast Association of Port Authorities (PCAPA), later known as the Association of Pacific Ports (APP) in 1913.

Historian Gordon B. Dodds maintained, "His works on the Yellowstone, the fur trade, and on Missouri River steamboating were long recognized as definitive....His style was formal, clear, and undramatic, his works contain a mass of detail. He was typical of the Progressive era of American history in his strong belief in progress and in 'the divine mission of the Anglo-Saxon.'"[1] Chittenden also wrote the noted work, History of early steamboat navigation on the Missouri River : life and adventures of Joseph La Barge.[2]

Early life[edit]

Hiram Martin Chittenden was born on October 25, 1858, in Yorkshire Township, New York, near Buffalo He was the oldest child of William Fletcher Chittenden (1835-1923) and Mary Jane Wheeler Chittenden (1836-1924) who owned a farm. Chittenden had a younger brother, Clyde (1860-1953) and sister Ida (1864-1954).[3]

He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in June 1884. In 1878 Chittenden accepted a scholarship to Cornell University and an appointment by his congressman to the United States Military Academy at West Point. After attending Cornell for two terms he studied literature, languages and history briefly at Ithica, New York before transferring to West Point in 1880. Steaming down the Hudson River on the Vibbard Chittenden arrived at West Point, he found its atmosphere quite different than at Cornell, with its rigorous schedule and emphasis on discipline, and the constant drilling. Chittenden graduated on June 15, 1884, ranking first in his class in the area of discipline and third overall. Shortly after graduation Chittenden was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers. In September, 1884, he continued his education at the University at Willets Point in New York City, an engineering school serving the Corps of Engineers. On December 30 of that year he married Nettie at Arcade, her home town, they marriage brought two sons and a daughter. After completing his education his tours of duty were mainly located in the West, including two terms of service in Yellowstone Park (1891–93, 1899-1904), his service at Yellowstone sparked his lifelong interest in history and conservation.[4][3]


Engineering projects[edit]

1903 colored postcard image of the Chittenden Memorial Bridge

With the Army Corps of Engineers, Chittenden was in charge of many notable projects throughout the United States:

After the Spanish-American war in 1899, Chittenden was again sent to Yellowstone National Park, and was in exclusive charge of the road work and general improvements, basalt arch at the northern entrance and the single-span bridge Chittenden Memorial Bridge, formerly the Melan arch bridge) across the Yellowstone River.[5]

Chittenden served as an engineer in two terms of service at Yellowstone National Park in 1891-1892 and again in 1899-1906. In 1891 he was commissioned as an assistant to the officer in charge of road construction. From 1899 – 1906 Chittenden held several posts concurrently and was assigned to a number of different projects that kept him moving around to different regions that finally brought him to the far west to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite was in need of having its boundries definitively and officially established, as the national park was created in stages in piecemeal fashion. Chittenden was commissioned by the Secretary of the Interior to determine boundary changes, because of his expertise in such matters. Of greatest concern to the government was the various private land claims in and around the park. Chittenden was requested by Secretary of the Interior Ethan A. Hitcock, to take on the task and assume the role of senior member on the commission to study the Yosemite region; the chief of Engineers approved the choice of Chittenden, asserting that his "service would be of more value than any other officer" because of his extensive experience. Along with Chittenden, R. B. Marshall, a topographer, and Frank Bond, from the United States General Land office were also members of the commission.[6]

In the spring of 1906 Chittenden moved to Seattle, Washington; that year the developer James A. Moore offered to complete a canal to link Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Salmon Bay, at a cost of half a million dollars. Calls for such a project had been in the works for years. Since the Federal government had jurisdiction over the navigable waters congressional approval was necessary to commence work on the project and would inevitably require Chittenden's involvement. Chittenden in May 1906 was directed to review Moore's plan for canal work. Having found it inadequate he duly reported his findings on May 26. However, on June 11 President Taft signed a bill approving Moore's proposal. Disappointed, Chittenden prepared an extensive report on how to accomplish the task of completing the canal work, he submitted several proposals that called for alterations to Moore's plan, some of them proving to be controversial, calling into question the required number of locks and their locations.[7][3] An issue that had bothered Chittenden from the beginning was the location of the locks on Salmon bay; either location would compromise the interests of the various parties involved, including residents and mill owners, and steamboat owners, he came up with a proposal calling for both a large and small lock, which would be constructed of concrete and masonry work where it would be constructed next to each other and situated at the narrow foot at the west end of Salmon Bay, rather than using Moore's proposal for a single lock constructed of wood at the head of the bay. Chittenden found himself in an uncomfortable position and didn't want to shoulder the responsibility of making the difficult choice, he ultimately contended that the decisions be made by the various local interests since they were providing the financing required for the work involved.[8][3] On March 18, 1907, the Washington legislature passed a bill permitting the construction of locks on the western end of Salmon Bay. Chittenden got right to work and prepared a full report on the existing canal to the Chief of Engineers, knowing that if the plan and its financing were supported by the people he could complete the canal before the winter of 1909 set in.[9] Chittenden reached the rank of Brigadier General in February 5, 1910 – five days later he retired.[10][11]

Facing the future with anticipation, Chittenden's outlook over his remaining years in the service changed because of an order issued by President Theodore Roosevelt, a famous veteran cavalry man himself, that the annual physical exam required each officer must pass a fifty mile test on horseback, or face retirement. Chittenden was anxious of the test because his health was not the best due to his arduous service, fraught with perils, including typhoid fever, causing gradual paralysis of his legs and attacks of nervous exhaustion. At forty-nine, he had to take the ride or be forced to retire, with only the prospect of a small pension to support his wife and children. To ready himself he began taking practice rides successfully. On his birthday in 1907 Chittenden was examined by military doctors who discovered his precarious physical condition. Of the three officers on the health board, two refused to let him take the long ride. Alarmed of the looming consequences, Chittenden pleaded with the board to reconsider and permit him to take the ride; the board subsequently referred the matter to senior officer General Adolphus W. Greely who left the decision to Chittenden who immediately set off to his horse. Upon completion of the test he suffered a major physical setback that caused a partial paralysis in his legs.[12][3]


Chittenden'ss 1902 history of the fur trade has been highly influential among historians of the West,[13] his first major work and publication was Yellowstone National Park: Historical and Descriptive, published in 1895, which he authored during his first years working at Yellowstone.[14] He also authored a two volume book on the life of Joseph LaBarge and his life as a fur trader and steamboat captain on the Missouri River.[15] In 1896 Chittenden decided to publish an account of steamboat wrecks that occurred on the Missouri River in an attempt to determine which types of improvements for navigation were needed. Searching for information he met the retired Joseph LaBarge, who had an extensive and often first-hand knowledge of steamboat history on the Missouri River. Though LaBarge was willing to forego any pay, Chittenden hired him as an assistant. While working with LaBarge, Chittenden soon discovered how knowledgeable and involved LaBarge was with Missouri River history and asked him to compile his memoirs and documents involved with his lifetime career as a riverboat captain involved with the river trade on the Missouri River. Work was going along nicely but was interrupted when Chittenden was called away during the Spanish-American War of 1898. While stationed in Huntsville, Alabama, Chittenden received news from Saint Louis that Labarge was dying. Chittrenden immediately telegraphed Labarge's son asking him to assure LaBarge that "...I shall faithfully finish his work. it will take me a long time, but I shall not fail to do it." Chittenden's telegraph reached Labarge only one and a half hours before he died.[16]

Historian Gordon Dobbs maintains that no other historian before or after Chittenden has gone through the "half carload" of documents and manuscripts from the American Fur Company.[14]

Later life[edit]

In June 1916, Chittenden penned a letter to the editor of the New york Times, praising the U.S. Congress for Passing the Randall-Humphreys bill by a huge margin. In international matters, his views during his last years became more nationalist towards the idea of war readiness and its effect on peace, a departure to what he espoused in his book, War or Peace, that preparing for war would prevent war, sentiments he had expressed in another letter to the N. Y. Times editor. In 1917 he condemned President Woodrow Wilson's famous speech, "Peace without Victory. When Germany continued its unrestricted submarine campaign he wrote expressing, "I hope so", to the prospect of the United States entering the war; this would prove to be Chittenden's last public cause. One of the great events for Chittenden during his last years was the opening of the Lake Washington Canal, which was officially inaugurated before a huge crowd.[17][10]

On October 9, 1917 at the age of 59, Chittenden died in Seattle, Washington, shortly after midnight. Funeral services were held two days later in his church, with Reverend Mark Matthews delivering the service; because the country was at war, there was no military service conducted. The service was simple with a prayer and two hymns sung, in accordence with Chittenden's wishes.[17]


  • Chittenden, Hiram Martin (1902). The American fur trade of the far West: a history of the pioneer trading posts and early fur companies of the Missouri valley and the Rocky mountains and the overland commerce with Santa Fe ... F.P. Harper. (Three volumes)


  1. ^ Gordon B. Dodds, "A Dedication to the Memory of Hiram Martin Chittenden, 1858-1917," Arizona and the West (1963) 5#3 pp 182-186
  2. ^ Chittenden, 1903, front cover
  3. ^ a b c d e Caldbick, 2017, Essay
  4. ^ Dobbs, 2015, pp. 3–5
  5. ^ Chittenden, 1918, pp. iii, 243
  6. ^ Dobbs, 2015, pp. 60–61
  7. ^ Dobbs, 2015, pp. 130–131
  8. ^ Dobbs, 2015, p. 135
  9. ^ Dobbs, 2015, pp. 135–138
  10. ^ a b Scott, March, 1918, The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, pp.73-87
  11. ^ Dobbs, 2015, p. 154
  12. ^ Dobbs, 2015, p. 138
  13. ^ Dodds, 1961
  14. ^ a b Dobbs, 1963, p. 185
  15. ^ Chittenden, 1903, Volumes I & II, front covers
  16. ^ Dobbs, 2015, p. 87
  17. ^ a b Dobbs, 2015, pp. 204-205
  • Dodds, Gordon B. "Hiram Martin Chittenden, Historian," Pacific Historical Review (1961) 30#3 pp. 257–269 in JSTOR
  • Dodds, Gordon B. "A Dedication to the Memory of Hiram Martin Chittenden, 1858-1917," Arizona and the West (1963) 5#3 pp 182–186
  • Morgan, Dale L. "The Fur Trade and its Historians," Minnesota History, (1966) 10#4 pp 151–156,
  • Walker, Don D. "Philosophical and Literary Implications in the Historiography of the Fur Trade," Western American Literature, (1974) 9#2 pp 79–104
  • Le Roy, Bruce, ed. (1961). H.M. Chittenden-A Western Epic-Being a Selection from his unpublished Journals, Diaries and Reports. Tacoma, Wa: Washington State Historic Society.


Chittenden is best known as a scholar who has authored historical volumes on the Early American North West and its fur trade, Yellowstone Park, and riverboat Captain Joseph LaBarge.

  • Life and Letters of Father de Smet’  with A. T. Richardson, 1905. (Four volumes)
  • War or Peace, 1910.
  • Dodds, Gordon B. (1963). "A Dedication to the Memory of Hiram Martin Chittenden, 1858-1917". Journal of the Southwest, Autumn, 1963. Journal of the Southwest. 5 (3): 183–186. JSTOR 40167070.

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