TWO thirds of the United States lie west of the Mississippi River. This vast domain has already exercised a tremendous influence over our political destiny. The Territories were the immediate occasion of our civil war. During an entire generation they furnished the arena for the prelusive strife of that war. The Missouri Compromise was to us of the East a flag of truce. But neither nature nor the men who populated the Western Territories recognized this flag. The vexed question of party platforms and sectionel debate, the right and the reason of slavery, solved itself in the West with a freedom and rough rapidity natural to the soil and its population. Climatic limitations and prohibitions went hand in hand with the inflow of an emigration mainly from the Northern States,-—an emigration fostered by political emotions and fevered by political injustice. While the South was menacing and the North deprecating war, far removed from this tumult of words the conflict was going on, and was being decided. And it was because slavery was doomed in the great West, and therefore in the nation, that rebellion ensued.
It is worthy of note that the same generation which witnessed the growth of the Calhoun school of politics in the South, and of the Free Soil and (afterward) the Republican party in the North, and which followed with intense interest the stages of the Territorial struggle, witnessed also the employment of steam and electricity as agents of human progress. These agents, these organs of velocity, abbreviating time and space, said, Let the West be East; and before the locomotive the West fled from Buffalo to Chicago, across the prairies, the Rocky Mountains, the desert steppes beyond, and down the Pacific slope, until it stared the Orient into a selfcontradiction.
It was on the part of our government a sublime recognition of the power of steam, that, while it was struggling for existence, it gave its sanction to the Pacific Railroad enterprise. Curiously enough, it is through Kansas and Nebraska— the Epidaurus of our Peloponnesian war —that the two great rival Pacific Railroad routes are to run.
In the summer of 1861, the project of a trans-continental railway connecting our Pacific communities with the older population of the East first assumed a practical aspect. For nearly three decades the nation had been dreaming of the scheme, but it had done little more than dream. Almost with the earliest track-laying in America, a visionary New-Yorker startled a sceptical generation by proclaiming the age of steam, and pointing at the locomotive as the instrument whereby men should yet penetrate the mysterious depths of the Far West, and secure for our growing commerce the prize of Asiatic wealth. Curious readers will find in the New York Courier and Enquirer of 1837 an article by Dr. Hartley Carver, advocating a Pacific Railroad ; and in view of how little was known at this time of the country beyond the Alleghanies, — so little, indeed, that the Territories of the extreme West had no definite outline, but were measured from the crest of the Rocky Mountains, — the audacity of the proposition might justly have inspired suspicions of the sanity of its author. But if Dr. Carver was chimerical, he was at least courageous in his persistence. Ten years later, this lineal descendant of old John Carver transferred the question from the arena of newspaper discussion, and boldly memorialized Congress. Here he found a rival advocate in Asa Whitney, whose brain throbbed with the glowing possibilities of the Chinese trade, while his specious statistics and contagious eloquence arrested public attention. Neither of these projectors, however, found the atmosphere of Washington propitious. Failing there, they once more had recourse to the press. The discovery of gold in California gave fresh vigor to the agitation. In 1850, that notable railroad king, William B. Ogden, lent his name to the enterprise, and by his cogent and well-considered appeals excited confidence in statesmen and capitalists. Three years after, Congress yielded to the popular pressure, and ordered those surveys, the result of which lies in eleven bulky departmental volumes, and bears the name ot “Pacific Railroad Reports.” Then came the Fremont campaign, with its burning enthusiasm, the Pacific Railroad plank in the Republican platform, and the defeat which was almost a victory. The succeeding year a strong effort was made to secure a national charter ; but though supported by the Senate, the measure failed to carry in the Lower House.
This disastrous rebuff at Washington produced a profound indignation throughout wide sections ; yet it may be questioned whether the arguments on which the railway scheme was based were sufficiently solid to justify such encouragement to the investment of floating capital as the passage of the bill would have implied. Beyond the Missouri River, even on the line of Western travel, population was as sparsely scattered as in an Indian reservation. Neither the gold reaches of Colorado nor the silver-bearing “leads” of the Washoe district had as yet been discovered. California was known only as a region of placer-digging, and its agricultural capacities were very inadequately comprehended. Nor had the Pacific Steamship Company ventured to create its China line. A railroad certain to cost one hundred and forty millions, as the War Department asserted, had in prospect for an immediate revenue only the meagre trade of Salt Lake City, and the freightage of bullion from the Pacific shore. Indeed, the prevailing faith in the enterprise almost passes belief, when it is remembered that no satisfactory survey had been made of the Sierra Nevada. That terrible pile of snowcrowned peaks, of deep-sunk ravines, of jagged ridges and perilous chasms, where the winding bridle-track scarcely permits a driver to walk beside his mule, seemed to defy the skill of our boldest engineers. Overland travellers reported depths of snow varying from twenty to fifty feet. Fearful stories were narrated of luckless wagon-trains caught in the narrow defiles by sudden mountain storms, and perishing helplessly amid these Alpine rigors. It was surely a legitimate question whether a railroad were possible in the face of such embarrassments ; and it is fair to attribute the adverse action of Congress to these considerations, rather than to occult and scarcely explicable sectional motives.
At the commencement of the next decade, all this, however, was changed. California had developed into a rich grape-producing country. Its cereals were beyond the demands of local consumption. A considerable trade had sprung up with Oregon, the Sandwich Islands, and latterly with China. The production of quicksilver was on the increase. Valuable copper mines had recently been opened. Moreover, the immense gold seams of Colorado, the vast silver deposits in Nevada, and the auriferous quartz of Idaho, were disclosed almost simultaneously, diverting population to the interior table-lands, and calling loudly for an economical method of transit. Upon the Pacific shore, the desire for a through road suddenly became intensified, while the profitableness of a railway, at least to the Humboldt Sink, became more and more apparent. If only the Sierra might be pierced ! That appalling obstacle still threw its shadow over the enterprise. Fortunately, at this very crisis there wandered down from the mountain, in the pleasant summer days, a railway surveyor and engineer, Theodore D. Judah, who had had extensive Eastern experiences, and Californian as well. He was a thin, short, light-haired Massachusetts man, enthusiastic, conscientious, cautious, and with a quick eye for discovering the opportunities of science amid the obstacles of nature,— a trait which in an engineer is rightly named genius. While engaged in the survey of private claims, he had worked out what appeared, on a hurried examination, to be a perfectly feasible route through the hills. At Sacramento he modestly stated this belief; and in a resident merchant, Mr. C. P. Huntington, he found a willing listener. Mr. Huntington, who is to the California end of the Pacific Railroad what Durant is to the co-operating Nebraska branch, describes in graphic language the earnest consultations, prolonged for several weeks, which he and a few other friends held in Leland Stanford’s store after the day’s business was through. There were seven of these men all told, not one of them worth less than half a million, and each ready to stake his entire property in the enterprise, if it promised success. The maps of the new-comer were consulted, the lines carefully studied, and the result of their deliberations was the temporary organization of what is now known as the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California. The engineer in whose representations so much confidence was placed soon proved that he was worthy of that confidence ; money was forthcoming ; an adequate surveying party was sent out; and in the summer months of 1861, Judah demonstrated the existence of a route by the South Yuba River and the Donner Pass greatly superior to all other projected lines, with no insuperable engineering difficulties, and capable of defence against all interruption by freshet or snow. In the mean while the State Legislature had granted a charter to the incorporators in July; and at the first stockholders’ meeting Stanford was elected president and Huntington vice-president of the company. It was evident, however, that an undertaking of such vast dimensions could not be completed without government help ; and the Sacramento party, confident that in Mr. Judah’s surveys lay the solution of the Pacific problem, repaired at once to Washington, and opened anew the railroad agitation.
While the energy of the West was still engaged in penetrating the secrets of the formidable Sierra, a movement meaning work began to develop itself on the Eastern border. As a general statement, and without reference to individual routes, it may be said that in the Northern cis-Mississippi States there are two separate railroad systems, running in lines about parallel from east to west; the upper combination of routes debouching at Chicago, the lower, or central, at St. Louis. These lines are slightly entangled with the roads concentrating at Cincinnati and Indianapolis ; but the division into an upper and lower route is sufficiently preserved to admit of distinct classification. The capitalists of both the great cities which form the terminal points of these systems had long been equally alive to the vast possibilities of the Pacific trade, and were eager, not only from local pride, but also from knowledge of the simplest principles of commercial policy, to secure to their respective communities the main bulk of this immense prospective traffic. With this view, Chicago had projected three lines across the State of Iowa, all of which were ultimately to converge at Council Bluffs. Thence across the coffee-colored Missouri, over rolling prairies, and up the slowly curving line of the Platte, stretched an easily rising ascent, which, engineers affirmed, had been graduated by nature as the most direct and practicable route for the interoceanic railroad. As yet no one of these Iowa lines was complete ; but they all had a corporate existence, and their stockholders formed a nucleus for a distinct Pacific movement.
St, Louis, on the other hand, aided by the State of which it was the commercial capital, had as early as 1851 commenced the construction of the Missouri Pacific Railway, whose line shot straight as an arrow westward across the State, curving slightly to the north at its terminus, which was fixed at Kansas City. Four years later, the Territorial government of Kansas incorporated the Leavenworth, Pawnee, and Western Railroad, with privilege to build from Leavenworth to Fort Riley, and thence westerly. It is apparent that the two companies might readily connect, and thus form a rival grand trunk Pacific road.
Both the upper and the lower enterprises, however, remained for many years after their inception in a quiescent state, serving simply as topics of newspaper discussion, or of buncombe addresses from local rostrums. But in 1860-61 the unexpected discovery of large deposits of the precious metals in Colorado and in Nevada gave an enormous impulse to the carrying trade of the plains, and the same argument which proved so cogent in California aroused the Western capitalists from their lethargy. Rumors of the new line over the Sierra also found their way East; and the Legislature of Kansas, now a young and vigorous State, passed a joint resolution in March, 1862, urging on Congress the immediate creation of a national Pacific Railroad Company. In anticipation of this action, the agents of the lower route had already proceeded to Washington, where they found themselves suddenly in the presence, not only of the representatives of the Central Company of California, but also of the Chicago projectors and their New York friends.
It will scarcely be profitable at the present time to descend into the particulars of the rivalry which interests in many respects so divergent necessarily entailed. A gentleman who had singular opportunities for arriving at an unprejudiced judgment recently informed the writer of this article that one company alone employed the element of “influence to the extent of three millions of dollars, or its supposed equivalent, Facts of this nature, however, are outside of our purpose ; and we shall limit our illustration of the character of the struggle to a brief glance at the curious tangle of compromises which the charter itself presents. Passed in the Lower House by a catch vote, and pushed with difficulty through the Senate by appeals to party pledges, by unimpeachable proofs of the feasibility of the scheme and the financial integrity of its advocates, and above all by intimations amounting almost to threats of a possible secession of the Pacific communities, the act of 1862 bears the evidence of a conflict of purposes in almost every one of its sections. It is evident, for example, that, with the tide of civil war beating fiercely around the national capital, Congress was still under the spell of the past, and severely distrustful of any avoidable increase of public obligations. Bonds were loaned to the enterprise at the rate of sixteen thousand dollars per mile for the easy work, with treble aid for the mountain division and double for the Salt Lake Valley; but this loan was made a first mortgage, twenty-five per cent was reserved till the completion of the road, and the transit business of government was to be paid solely by the extinguishment of the bonded debt. The land grant also was but six thousand four hundred acres per mile. The clashing interests of St Louis and Chicago are shown in the ignoring of any special eastern terminus, and the location of the initial point of a new trunk road upon the one hundredth meridian, at some equidistant station, to be designated by the President. As the Kansas party was already possessed of an organization, the charter modified this advantage by incorporating the Nebraska line,1 under the name of the Union Pacific Company, and gave it a predominant place in the specifications of the act. The aid of government, however, was proffered in equal degree to the road which was to cross the mountains from Sacramento, and to both the Eastern lines; the last two being required to complete a hundred miles each within two years after they had respectively filed their assent to the terms of the act, while the Central was to build at the rate of twenty-five miles a year up the ridges of the Sierra.
In hard-currency times, and with the labor and iron market easy, these terms might have been sufficient to invite the ready aid of capital. But the close of 1862 and the year succeeding were the darkest periods of the war. Gold vibrated from 140 to 180. Iron, which in 1859 sold for $ 35 a ton, was now selling for $ 130. Moreover, while money was tight, labor was also scarce. The two great agencies on which a vast public work like this must inevitably depend proved utterly inadequate to the emergency. Nevertheless, both the companies which had already an organic existence bent themselves with no inconsiderable vigor to their task. The Central Pacific accepted the responsibilities and obligations of the charter six months after its passage, and commenced the work of grading in the succeeding February. Rails, chairs, and rolling stock were forwarded by sea, involving heavy expenditures for freightage, and a ten per cent war risk on insurance. The company endured further embarrassments from the lack of capital, and the fact that in California a metallic currency formed the only circulating medium. Nor was it the least of its difficulties that the enterprise met with an ambiguous reception in many portions of the State, San Francisco especially regarding it with cold indifference. The zeal with which the road was pushed amid these embarrassments is a striking evidence of the thorough faith of its projectors. Although it soon became apparent that further legislation would be needed to relieve them from the disabilities inherent in the meagreness of the government subsidy, they nevertheless succeeded by the 6th of June, 1864, in cutting their line through to New Castle, and in laying thereon a solid and continuous track.
In Kansas, the Leavenworth, Pawnee, and Western Railroad Company, or, as they were beginning to style themselves, the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, had contracted for an immediate and rapid construction of their line as early as September 30th. By the spring of 1863, the contractors, Messrs. Ross, Steele, & Co., had involved themselves to the extent of five millions of dollars, and were in full operation with an adequate corps of laborers, grading, quarrying stone, building culverts, etc. Suddenly, however, all this busy movement ceased. By one of those strange revolutions that occasionally occur in the management of corporations, a man notorious throughout the whole border, familiarly called Sam Hallet, assumed control of the company, denounced the contract as in nowise valid, and peremptorily ordered the agents of the contracting party to abandon the work. The agents refused. Affairs now assumed the aspect of war. Hallet procured a company of United States dragoons from Fort Leavenworth, and rode down upon the contumacious contractors. The result of this cavalry dash is rather picturesquely described in a letter of this novel railroad general, dated August 15, 1863 : —
“ I have had an awful row with Carter, a battle on the works, and a sharp ‘ pitch in ’ to get possession ; we drove them back, and into the river, until they cried enough. S. S. Sharp, my foreman Section No. 1, led Carter to the riverbank by the collar ; and but for his begging, he would have ducked him. I expect Steele and Carter on again with reinforcements. Let them come ! We will put them into the river the next time. We have had to use strong force, quick and bold. We have taken all their ties, houses, and works, and shall hold them.”
Triumphant on the battle-field, Hallet now made a rapid counter-movement, and effected a transfer of the ownership of the company to a new set of capitalists, putting them into immediate possession of the entire property of the old corporation. Of the legal merits of this singular manoeuvre we are not prepared to give an opinion ; but it is proper for us to add, that it met with vigorous resistance on the part of the former stockholders, at the head of whom stood Fremont. Sharp litigations and stormy altercations ensued ; and for many months most vital to its interests the whole Kansas enterprise was shut from view.
While these two companies were moving forward, the one steadily overcoming financial and engineering difficulties, the other plunging into an inexplicable imbroglio of contested management and contested contracts, that great combination of capitalists which held the destinies of the Union Pacific met at Chicago in September, 1862, and took the preliminary steps for the formation of a company. Books for stock subscriptions were opened in every loyal State and Territory. In June of the next year the acceptance of the charter by a provisional direction was filed at Washington. Nevertheless, an annoying apathy filled the public mind. Capital was shy of the enterprise. The terms of the act of 1862 were deemed unsatisfactory. Up to August, 1863, only about eighty thousand dollars had been subscribed.
At this point, Thomas C. Durant, whose connection with Western roads had inspired so much faith in the Pacific project, threw the weight of his capital and influence so determinately into the scale, that by October the subscriptions had reached two millions, and the company was in a condition to organize. Major-General John A. Dix was elected president, Dr. Durant became vicepresident and general manager, and the preliminary survey which he had ordered at his personal expense was approved and officially adopted by the direction. As, however, a wide-spread feeling existed, not only that additional legislation was necessary, but that it might also be obtained, the company contented itself that year with the selection of its eastern terminus. President Lincoln was consulted ; and, acting upon his unofficial sanction, the Union Pacific broke ground for the railroad at Omaha, then a struggling village in Nebraska Territory, nearly opposite Council Bluffs. The inaugural ceremony took place December 2d, and with this event the year closed.
For the next few months the efforts of all the companies converged upon Congress. The Union Pacific Company appeared at Washington in great force. The Central, equally urgent, presented arguments that amounted to demonstration ; the chief points being the energy with which they had striven to comply with the terms of the charter, and the painful failure that had attended their endeavor, — a failure clearly imputable to the insufficiency of the original bill. The Kansas Company, though rent in twain by rival boards of directors, was also on the ground, animated by very ambitious purposes, and with a determination to win its ends in spite of internal complications. The vigor with which the latter body took the field gave a complex character to the struggle, and very much prolonged it. On vital points, however, all parties were in accord, and in the main results of the campaign each achieved a splendid success. The supplementary bill, approved July 2, 1864, as much surpassed the legislation of two years previous as the sixteen hundred million national debt of 1864 exceeded the fivelmnclred million debt of 1862. The colossal expenditures of the war had led Congressmen to accept the estimates of railroad men with implicit credence, and to second their demands with generosity. The land grant was doubled, the government bonds were made a second lien to the roads under construction, the twenty-five per cent reservation was removed, and one half of government business was to be paid in money.
The Union Pacific Company effected an important modification of the charter in respect to their particular interests. Their maximum capital was still fixed at one hundred millions, but individual shares were lowered from a thousand to a hundred dollars each. Furthermore, the hitherto unwieldy board of direction was limited to fifteen members. On the other hand, the Kansas organization obtained the privilege of making their own road the grand trunk route, connecting with the Central Pacific, in case they should anticipate the Nebraska line in reaching the one hundredth meridian, and the latter road should not appear to be proceeding in good faith.
As the act which bestowed such signal favors had granted an extension of a year for the completion of the first division of each road, the Union Pacific was under no absolute compulsion to hasten its work. Nevertheless, surveying parties were kept in the field, and the contract for the construction of the road to the one hundredth meridian was signed in August. This agreement, though nominally known as the Hoxie contract, derived the guaranty of its performance from the Credit Mobilier, —an organization with an actual capital of two millions and a half, recently created upon the model of the great Paris corporation, and in the hands of a few moneyed men whose enterprise and energy were admirably proportioned to their large wealth. Its heaviest capitalists were also stockholders in the projected road ; and as payment was to be made in bonds and shares, the Credit Mobilier at once became an overshadowing stockholder in the Union Pacific. The arrangement at a subsequent period may not have been wholly beneficial; but at the date of the contract the alliance was of incalculable importance. Although two millions of stock had been subscribed, the Nebraska line had in reality only twenty thousand dollars in its treasury. Without the Credit Mobilier, it would have faltered on the threshold of success. Even with this powerful auxiliary, it was not yet strong enough to prevent an unexpected and vexatious delay.
The first forty miles west from Omaha had been intrusted to Peter A. Dey, an engineer of some experience in the West. This gentleman, whose ideas seem to have been limited to a straight line, had constructed a track satisfactory in its alignments, but with a maximum grade of eighty feet per mile, and involving a temporary grading of one hundred and sixteen feet at several points of the route. A later survey, made under the supervision of Colonel Seymour, demonstrated the existence of a far better line, with forty-feet grades and but nine miles longer. Placed upon abstract grounds, there was no question of the relative advantage of the two routes. The combined opinion of several of the most skilful railroad managers in the country was unanimous for the lower grade, as essential to rapid and economical transportation. But there was another element in the case which gave a different aspect to the affair, Dey’s line terminated at Omaha ; Seymour’s, at Bellevue. If the new route were selected, all the magnificent dreams of the Omaha land speculators would be summarily dispelled. The territorial population caught the alarm. Public meetings were called. A committee was sent post to Washington. It was asserted, on grounds that were not destitute of plausibility, that the change was attributable quite as much to motives of a stock-jobbing order, as to economic considerations. To this charge Dr. Durant indignantly replied, but this did not appease the clamor. Nor was the dispute ended until after five months of tedious investigation, and a guaranteed promise on the part of the company, that, in adopting the newline, there should be no alteration of terminus.
While Omaha was still in the whiteheat of excitement, the contractors had been steadily employed in collecting material for a grand industrial campaign. Distant, in the line of travel then open to them, more than sixteen hundred miles from New York, with the Missouri River as their main avenue for the transportation of rolling stock and machinery west of St. Louis, the men who had undertaken to build the road bent themselves to the task with a vigor and celerity heretofore unequalled in railroad history. Iron from New England, shipped in coasting-vessels, and working its slow way through the Gulf of Mexico and up the knotted bends of the Mississippi; iron from Pennsylvania by the lower route, and from New York by upper lines ; iron in all conditions and shapes, from rails, chairs, and spikes, to car-wheels and steam-engines, — came pouring in week by week, a tonnage beyond all estimate or comparison, and involving, from the want of rail connections, unparalleled expenditures. The transportation of one class of freight alone cost thirteen hundred thousand dollars. All other expenses were upon the same magnificent scale. Nebraska, though admirably adapted for agriculture, is singularly destitute of woodland. The lumber for building, and the cross-ties for track-laying, could only be obtained in small quantities and at great distances. Many of the sleepers travelled two hundred miles before they found repose on the road-bed. The labormarket also was but scantily supplied, and agents for procuring navvies were despatched east, west, and south. But the splendid energy of the contractors had been fruitful of success. A vast aggregate of forces stood ready at the melting of the winter’s snow and the click of the telegraph key to spring into enormous activity.
About the middle of April, 1866, the message came, and the work began. Along the dead level of the Platte Valley, through endless reaches of prairie, and behind the meagre shelter of outlying hills, the rails are still falling in place, — a continuous belt of iron outrolled over black loam and arid sand, — mile after mile, day after day ; and with the close of the present year there will stretch an unbroken line of five hundred and twenty miles of rail across the Plains to the foot of the Black Hills. There is no occasion to dilate upon the wonderful systemization of labor which has characterized the work of construction. The public is already well apprised of the details, from the pens of industrious and graphic newspaper correspondents. The company itself has been by no means laggard in celebrating its enterprise. Excursion parties of capitalists, editors, and Congressmen have severally given in their testimony; but, after all, the one fact that in less than twenty months American energy has brought the Rocky Mountains within two and one half days’ journey of New York — though the distance is two thousand miles — tells the whole story. One of the chief difficulties ol this Nebraska route has been, as we have intimated, the scarcity of suitable material for cross-ties, and of fuel for the engines. The employment of Burnetized cottonwood, and the discovery of a very considerable quantity of cedar in the interior, have, however, effectually solved one phase of this problem ; while for the production of steam science now offers petroleum as a practical substitute for wood and coal. But independently of this, the road has already reached the bituminous beds of the Black Hills, where it will probably find a plentiful supply for its necessities. Water also is obtained in sufficient quantities by digging from ten to twenty feet down to the sand which filters the waters of the Platte.
Shortly after the Nebraska Company had thrown off the drag-weight of local embarrassment, the Kansas line began to disentangle itself from legal complications ; and on July 1, 1865, the enterprise passed into the hands of a management which, if powerless to retrieve the past, was at least determined to make the future secure. At the head of this new organization was John D. Perry of St. Louis ; and associated with him were a body of capitalists in Missouri and Pennsylvania whose financial ability was unquestioned, and who have since evinced a vigor and commercial prescience which elevate them to the level of their Eastern rivals. Perceiving that the miserable Fremont-Hallet quarrel had effectually frustrated all rivalry in the construction of a track to the one hundredth meridian, they made application to Congress for an extension of their line to Denver, by the Smoky Hill Fork, with the privilege of connecting at that point with the Union Pacific. The request was readily granted, and the usual land gift of twelve thousand eight hundred acres per mile accorded for the entire route. No further issue of government bonds was allowed ; but as the company was now possessed of adequate capital, and as the loans to the other companies must all eventually be paid back, there was really very little difference in financial advantage on the side of the Nebraska line. Moreover, the slight balance against the Kansas route was quite made up in the greater fertility of the soil which it would traverse, and the large preponderance of its local business, the population along the line being treble that of the upper road. These considerations gave an elasticity to the Kansas project, and under the new management the work of construction has gone on rapidly. The present year will probably find the road halting at not less than three hundred and fifty miles west of Wyandotte, now the junction-point of the Union Pacific, Eastern Division, with the Missouri Pacific Railroad. But this company is not satisfied with a simple connection with the Nebraska road. It proposes, after making this connection, to continue its main line to San Francisco by an extensive detour southward, avoiding the difficult mountain systems between Denver and Sacramento, and at the same time availing itself of that immense trade which lies visible or latent throughout Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California. Escaping the overwhelming snows of the Rocky Mountains, this route will pass through a salubrious region abounding in timber and bituminous coal.2 By intersecting the Rio Grande at Albuquerque, it will hold out to the Southern States a tempting invitation to form connections, and share to the fullest extent in the benefits of this great national enterprise. In this way the Pacific Railroad stands ready to second Congress in the work of “ reconstruction.”
Of the Central Pacific Road we have not as yet spoken adequately, and shall now be compelled to give the history of its achievements in a wholly insufficient space. Unlike the Eastern roads, it has allowed no pause in its work from the day of the first tracklaying to the present moment. Unlike these roads, also, it has had to contend with great engineering difficulties from the start, while the material for its construction required to be brought over distances to which the transportation annoyances of the other lines offer no parallel. All the rolling stock, rails, etc. doubled Cape Horn. The timber for the trestle-work of bridges was brought from Puget’s Sound. For laborers it had recourse to China. To reach the crest of the Sierra, they were obliged to pierce the hillsides fifteen times, the tunnelling alone amounting in continuous line to 6,262 feet. The eight-hour labor movement was an additional embarrassment. Embankments built up with incalculable labor, and protected by every device of engineering science, settled in many cases, and were repaired only after much delay and vast expense. Nevertheless, the Indomitable projectors of the enterprise have proved themselves equal to their task. The Summit Tunnel was cut through in August of this year ; and by November the road will have been extended, not only to the crest of the mountains, but far down the eastern slope. Hunter’s, which is the wagon depot of the Nevada miners, two hundred and seventy-four miles from San Francisco, and one hundred and fifty miles from Sacramento, is the point which the locomotive is certain to reach by the close of 1867.3
Thus far there have been built six hundred and fifty miles of completed road. Adding the water route to San Francisco, there are about eight hundred miles of continuous steam communication. Despite also the bleakness of the Plains in winter, and the protracted rigors of the Sierra, it is demonstrated that snow can be no more an obstacle to the railroads than icebergs have proved to the Atlantic cable. Including the Eastern connections with New York as the Atlantic terminus, we have, therefore, two thousand two hundred and fifty miles of the interoceanic railroad already in actual operation.
From Hunter’s, in Nevada, to the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, stretches the long space of unfinished work, ten hundred and fifty-four miles of railroad line, with three sharp crests and a gently rolling intra-mountain desert, where the dew never falls, where the twilight lingers long into the evening, and the eye wearies of the wastes of sage-bush, and the tracts of scant grass between arid breadths of dazzling white alkaline sand. A glance at the grades discloses one of the difficulties with which the Union Pacific has now to grapple. From the Black Hills, within thirty miles the track must rise to its first and loftiest ascent, 8,242 feet above the sea-level. Then comes a descent of a thousand feet for the same distance, succeeded by equal alternations of rise and fall for eight successive points. Beyond Bear River, however, these gigantic mountain waves lengthen, and the vast interior basin rolls broadly and heavily, with an average level of forty-five hundred feet, past Weber Cañon and Humboldt Wells. Here the line strikes Humboldt River, and runs southwesterly to the Big Bend of the Truckee River, along a region singularly favorable in its alignments, and described as well supplied with wood and water. In this respect recent surveys essentially corroborate the testimony of Fremont.
The difficulties to be overcome by the Central Pacific in its route over and through the mountains to meet its eastern branches have already been described. But, notwithstanding these, the company claims that it can readily construct its line at the rate of one mile per day for five hundred workingdays. It has nearly ten thousand laborers at work, most of them Chinese. The portion of the road completed, with its excellent rails, its ties of red-wood and tamarack, and its granite culverts, has elicited praise from government commissioners for the thoroughness of its execution.
Though none of the routes are as yet completed, the net earnings of each of the three companies, over and above the interest on its bonds, have surpassed all expectation. In 1865 and 1866 the net earnings of the Central Road amounted to $ 936,000 in gold, and in 1867 they are estimated at one million dollars; and this surplus is applied to the construction of the road. The net earnings of the Union Pacific (Nebraska) Road for the quarter ending July 31, 1867, were $ 376,589 in currency. Those of the Eastern or Kansas branch, for the month of August alone, $ 235,000. Of course these estimates of the profit of the roads under the present circumstances are but faint indications of the wealth which must accrue to them upon their completion, and after the fuller development of the resources upon which they depend. At the sources of this future wealth we shall glance presently.
There can be no possible occasion for rivalry between these three companies. Each road will take its place in the great work of interoceanic communication, and each will find its capacities meagre as compared with the commerce which awaits it. But apart from a merely commercial view, there are certain points of comparison between the various routes which demand a brief notice. The Kansas route will probably prove most attractive to the tourists, especially in the event of its making the detour through New Mexico above alluded to. The Nebraska route will be more monotonous, running across the level and treeless valley of the Platte for three hundred miles. To the traveller there will always be presented the same swift but shallow river at his side, the same bare, misty hills along the horizon, the same limitless stretch of the plain before and behind, and the same solitary sky above, save as it is varied by sunrise and sunset, until the Black Hills come to his relief, and he enters upon the snowwhelmed Sierra. The Central route is more picturesque, and also has more elements of grandeur, than either of the others. The Nebraska Road, on account of the character of the country through which it passes, will probably derive its main revenue from the through trade ; while the Kansas — if its present purpose be carried out — wall depend upon the local trade and its multifarious connections.
Having traced the history of these Pacific roads, the difficulties which they have met and in a large degree conquered, and their general features, our consideration of them must from this point grow out of their national importance and world-wide significance. For the Pacific Railroad is not simply a gigantic public work, it is the world’s great highway. The world has had several grand routes, along the line of which, for certain periods of time, the life-blood and intelligence of humanity have coursed. Such was the route which history discloses as the most ancient from India overland to the Mediterranean, whence it was continued by that old Phœnician Coast Navigation Company to the shores of Britain. Along this overland line grew up the great cities of Asia, depending upon it for their wealth, refinement, and power ; and when commerce was diverted from the inland, and the riches of India took the ocean path westward, the glory of these cities departed. Such also was that later route which gave the Italian cities their opulence and strength in the Middle Ages. When the Cape of Good Hope was doubled, these Italian centres grew comparatively weak and lustreless. The Roman road to Britain laid the foundation of that power, the full development of which has given to London its present position as the European metropolis. New York City also owes her rapid and stupendous growth to that peculiar conjunction of circumstances which has secured her the control of the grand Transatlantic commercial route of present times. The railroads leading westward from that city, converging upon the termini of the Pacific lines, continue this world-route of the incoming era to San Francisco, and there, through the Golden Gate, we grasp the wealth of Eastern Asia, whence the first great world-route started. Events more powerful than tradition have thus revolutionized the old system of travel and commerce, calling them eastward. America becomes at once interoceanic and mediterranean, commanding the two oceans, and mediating between Europe and Asia. By the Pacific Railroad, Hong Kong via New York is only forty days distant from London. The tea and silks of China and the products of the Spice Islands must pass through America to Europe. In this connection, also, there is a profound significance in our alliance, every year growing stronger, with Russia, whose extreme southern boundary joins Japan, our latest and warmest Asiatic ally.
But the development of American commercial power as against the world is secondary to the internal development of our own resources, and to the indissoluble bond of national union afforded by this inland route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and by its future connections with every portion of our territory. In thirty years, California will have a population equal to that of New York to-day, and yet not be half full, and the city of St. Louis will number a million of souls. New York City and San Francisco, as the two great entrepôts of trade; Chicago and St. Louis as its two vital centres ; and New Orleans at the mouth of our great national canal, the Mississippi, — will become nations rather than cities, outstripping all the great cities of ancient and modern history. As far as the resources of the West are concerned, one Pacific railroad, with two or three branches, will not suffice ; we may need a road along every parallel. The West is still in a large degree terra incognita. We know it only in parts. We are indeed aware that California is already competing with Russia and the cis-Mississippi States in the production of cereals, and that the mineral region of the West now annually yields gold and silver worth one hundred millions of dollars. But California’s agricultural resources are almost untouched ; while the best “leads” of the vast mineral region are not worked, from the fear of a savage race. Missouri extends over thirty-five millions of acres of arable land, two millions of which are the alluvial margins of rivers, and twenty thousand high rolling prairie ; but five sevenths of the soil is yet fallow. We see Denver and other cities of the Far West spring up in a day ; but their growth, marvellous as it is, arises from the circumstance that they are great mineral centres, and is cramped and partial, depending upon a wearisome and insecure overland route, extending over hundreds of miles, via Salt Lake, to Atchison. The Pacific Railroad will quicken this development to its full possibilities ; it will populate the West in a few years ; and along its lines will spring up a hundred cities, which will advance in the swift march of national progress just in proportion to their opportunities for rapid communication with the older centres of opulence and culture.
The Indians also, whose sad plaint against the inevitable civilization of the locomotive is still ringing in all ears, must succumb before the presence of this new power. When we reflect that a single regiment of soldiers costs a million a year, we must see that the railroad as a peace instrument will render more than an equivalent for all government assistance given to it. Moreover, our frontier posts must soon be rendered unnecessary by the operation of commerce. The same influence will also dissipate the power which the Mormons have gained solely by their isolation.
But beyond these immediate considerations arise the magnificent commercial certainties which the logic of history reveals. Space fails us at this point of fruitful speculation; but it will suffice to say that the corollary of the Pacific railroads is the transfer of the world’s commerce to America, and the substitution of New York for Paris and London as the world’s exchange. In the train of these immeasurable events must come the wealth and the culture which have hitherto been limited to Europe. With the year 1866 began the rapid work of this revolutionizing enterprise. The year of grace 1870 will witness its completion. The four years’ civil war is followed by the four years’ victory of peace. Already the Western cities are tremulous with the aspirations which it excites ; and the metropolis of the East, with its new steamship lines to Brazil, its Cuban cable, and its hundred prospective enterprises, awaits the moment which shall lift it to imperial importance.
- The use of this phrase requires explanation. It has been previously stated that Council Bluffs was the point on which the Chicago lines were concentrating. It is now to be added, that beyond this growing settlement, across the Missouri River, lies Nebraska, and the proposed route would necessarily pass through the whole length of this State. As the rival roads are connected to a greater or less degree with the interests of the States in which are their respective eastern termini, and as the legal titles of the two roads are at once ambiguous and disagreeably long, we have preferred to designate them simply as the Kansas and Nebraska lines.↩
- The point suggested for this divergence southward is in the vicinity of Pond Creek, four hundred and twenty miles west of the Missouri River. Thence it will deflect to the southwest, touching the base of the mountains one hundred and seventy miles beyond Pond Creek, near the boundary-line between Colorado and New Mexico. Thus, having passed through Southeastern Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, it finds its way northward, through the marvellously fertile region of Southern California, to San Francisco. It is noteworthy that this project offers to Mexico immediate participation in our commerce, affording the basis of a far more enduring and auspicious alliance than would now result from annexation. It is possible that in no far-distant future, if this scheme is achieved, San Francisco will find a rival in San Diego, — four hundred and fifty-six miles southeast of the former, and a much nearer port for the purposes of this route. The project of a mountain line from Denver to Salt Lake City, connecting at that point with the Central Railroad, is also said to be entertained by the Kansas company.↩
- Up to the present time, the Nebraska line has expended about twenty-five millions ; the Central Railroad, twenty-two millions. On two hundred and fifty-nine miles of the Kansas Road there were also expended, in cost and equipment, eleven millions. All this has been obtained from the sale of bonds, paid-in stock, and the net earnings of the roads. The bonds have been made a popular loan, sold by New York agents, and chiefly taken in New England, New York State, and Eastern Pennsylvania. The purchasing class, though largely composed of heavy capitalists., consists also of those who have small sums of money to invest, and who seek this means as especially secure.↩
- The stockholders of the Union Pacific number from one to two hundred, but most of the shares are in a few hands ; the Credit Mobilier, Durant, and the Ameses being the principal owners. The Central Railroad also exhibits the same phenomenon of few shareholders ; all of them, of course, large capitalists. This gives great power in pushing the work on, and illustrates the tendency of the day toward consolidation. Hereafter, when the Central and Nebraska lines shall have combined, this commanding influence of a comparatively few men will make itself signally felt in our politics.↩