You can still find Stevens' footprint across the West. One of the most studied chapters of his life is the railroad survey, a cross-country exploration through the wilds of the last frontier. Already appointed Washington Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Stevens pushed for a third responsibility: to command the North Pacific Railroad Survey.
In 1853, Stevens and multiple survey crews set off for the last frontier, conquering mountain peaks and valleys in search of an ideal railroad route. The first transcontinental railroad, dubbed the iron highway, would connect both coasts for the first time and transform the nation. As commander, Stevens explored terrain between the 47th and 49th parallels. He produced a comprehensive report documenting the land, interaction with Indians, plants, and animals.
Stevens earned a reputation as a contentious negotiator after he was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs. The Superintendent persuaded Indians of Washington Territory to cede their land to the federal government, but promised to protect their right to hunt and fish in their "usual and accustomed" places. Tribes were taken aback by Stevens' quick pace and conduct during the negotiations. War broke out. Eventually, the language in the treaties triggered court cases, the first in 1905, as Indians and non-Indians clashed over fishing rights. Finally, a landmark decision in 1974 awarded tribes 50 percent of the harvestable catch. But the decision spurred violence on the water and outrage. The United States Supreme Court upheld Judge George Boldt's opinion in 1979. Although major issues of the case have been settled, aspects of the "Boldt Decision" remain in court to this day.