Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
THE RAILROAD-BUILDERS

LIKE THE STAGE and the telegraph, the railroads as a rule came as a part of the civilization that was ever pushing westward behind the frontier line, but the earlier transcontinental lines were drawn across vast unsettled spaces by the magnet of population on the west coast and in isolated gold-fields. It was this that led to the building of railroads through thousands of miles of uninhabited plains and mountains where there was no permanent settlement and no traffic anticipated for years to come.

Since the Union Pacific was the first, it has remained the outstanding and typical example of a railroad built before the frontier came. As early as 1850 railroad conventions looking toward a Pacific railroad were held, and many men with prophetic eyes were talking of replacing the old overland wagon-train with the railway. But hardly half a dozen men in the country, perhaps, anticipated building a transcontinental line connecting the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean within the short space of twenty years.

The Civil War hastened the beginning of construction. Military necessity, the dictator in wartime, seemed to require that the western part of the Union be connected with the East. Over the vast intervening space there came rumors of a separate Pacific republic, and then, too, the isolated Pacific coast was an extremely weak link in the American defense scheme. Congress, callous to voting large sums by reason of the Civil War expenditures, passed the Union Pacific bill giving the company a charter and large land and money subsidies. Likewise within the next few years the Kansas Pacific and the Northern Pacific were chartered with

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