[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 18

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Ioway to Iowa

Irving Berdine Richman

published by
The State Historical Society of Iowa

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p359  That Western Sea

The Mormons
Railroad Dreams
Stagecoach and Pony Express
The Union Pacific Railroad

 p361  Indians from the West — Winnebagoes, Foxes, Sauks, Ioways. And the Ioways bore the bell. Not only were they from the West but from the Far West — a West so far that nobody (least of all their fellow savages, unless it were the Winnebagoes) could understand a word they uttered. A West farther than that of the 'Peoples of the Sunset' (the Foxes and the Sauks). A West so far that, as therefrom, the Ioways were from the Western Sea itself, the sea which spake of Japan and China — and gold.

 p362  Oregon

In March, 1843, meetings were held in Iowa at various points with the object of forming companies of emigrants for Oregon. The route would follow the north side of Big Platte 'by way of the Pawnee villages, to the foot of the Rocky Mountains at the Old Pass, where Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Bonneville passed'. From the Pass the course would be northwest to the Willamette River, making in all thirteen or fourteen hundred miles.256

In 1852 the West was supplying population to the still farther West: Ohio sending 215,000 to the three States beyond her; Indiana attracting 120,000 from Ohio, but sending on 50,000 of her own; Illinois taking 95,000 from Ohio and Indiana and giving 7000 to young Iowa; and that State, though not twenty years redeemed from the Indians, gaining nearly 60,000 by the restlessness of the three, and in its turn, breaking over the too feeble barriers of the Rocky Mountains to supply Utah and Oregon with twelve hundred natives of Iowa.257

In a sense, Oregon was Iowa's satellite — a mass thrown off by gyration of the parent body. The statutes of Iowa actually preceded the immigration  p363 of 1843, having been adopted as law for the Oregon country by the provisional government organized there while the Iowans were yet en route.258

 p364  The Mormons

While Iowa between 1843 and 1847 was projecting itself toward the Western Sea by way of Oregon, other westward movements of population were gathering within its confines. One of these movements was that of the Mormons in 1846‑1847. 'We were happy and contented', says Elder John Taylor, after we took up the westward movement in Iowa, 'and the songs of Zion resounded from wagon to wagon. . . . There were stringed instruments in every company. Prayers, singing, dancing and story-telling, were intermingled around the evening camp-fires'. Assemblies were gathered by the note of the bugle.

On the fourteenth of June, 1846, the travelers camped within what at a later day was to be Council Bluffs. By July, 'fifteen thousand Mormons were said to be encamped or toiling along the Iowa trails westward, with 3000 wagons, 30,000 head of cattle, horses, and mules, and a vast number of sheep. Indeed, at one time no less than two thousand covered wagons could be counted'. At Council Bluffs between 1848 and 1852 polygamy, sanctioned by revelation to Joseph Smith, was practiced. In the former year elder Orson Hyde established a Mormon newspaper,  p365 the Frontier Guardian, which was the first newspaper published in western Iowa. It was followed in 1851 by the Kanesville Bugle, later owned by the versatile Mormon, Lysander W. Babbitt.259

 p366  Gold

You can't fill a man as you fill a pitcher

He always will hold

A little more gold

And never's so rich that he wouldn't be richer

Up to 1848‑1849 the gold visioned by seekers of the Western Sea is gold of the Orient, the gold virtually of Marco Polo, to be viewed only from afar. But with 1848‑1849 this gold in a night (an Arabian Night) has been transferred to the shores of California, now open to the world through the outcome of the war of the United States with Mexico.

After 1848 all that was necessary in order to seize upon this gold was a Pacific railroad, and to this end the needful population had spread itself about the shores of San Francisco Bay. Within a single year from the discovery of gold on the American River (that is to say, by 1849) there were some 300,000 Americans (miners, traders, and settlers) on the Pacific coast. Prospectively $50,000,000 annually was being added to the circulating medium.260 Already California was a land of gold entered by a Golden Gate.

'The "Yellow Fever" ', said the Keokuk Register  p367 of January 11, 1849, 'started by the discovery of gold on the American Fork of the Sacramento River last February, is both general and violent, and the main question is, "Which is the best and cheapest route?" Communication will demand a railroad or a ship canal across the Isthmus. Either event will secure the commerce of the Pacific. Should the gold region prove to be as productive as is reported, emigration will be immense and a necessary result will be not only increased population but a change in the carrying trade of the East'.

In 1849, in February, divers men of Iowa joined in a written compact 'to start, proceed, and emigrate to California'. The subsequent awakening in some instances was rude. 'Don't you ever try it!' wrote from Nevada City a prospector in September, 1850. 'A few get rich — most get nothing. . . . Condition of society is very good — not over one man killed or hung per week! Stand in the streets at night! So thick are the gambling shops, so constant the jangling of change that you would suppose yourself in an extensive counting establishment. There are about ten women in this vicinity — the sight of one is prescribed by physicians as a cure for headache! This is one of the greatest countries I ever lived in — but don't you ever try it!'

 p368  Council Bluffs

The outfitting point for San Francisco was Council Bluffs, and Council Bluffs was on the Missouri River. In 1852 travelers, a few of them, found the Missouri superior to the Ohio or Mississippi, 'its boats being of a much larger and better class, and capable of navigating it at almost all seasons of the year'. These Missouri boats, what were the names of some of them? Avalanche, Time and Tide, Ocean Wave, Prairie State, Troubadour, Sylph, Nymph, Naiad, Creole Belle, Rainbow, Meteor, Star, Storm, Eagle, Falcon, Boreas, West Wind, Zephyr, Antelope, Arrow, Osage, Missouri, Mountaineer, Echo, Trapper, Reveille, Prairie Bird, Dawn, Eclipse, Mayflower, Federal Arch, Pioneer, Western Belle, Maid of Orleans. Well may the Chicago Journal in 1851 note the peculiar attractiveness of the names of steamboats navigating the mad Missouri — boats that helped make Council Bluffs and Sioux City the controlling points respectively for southwestern and northwestern Iowa.

Of Council Bluffs in 1852 a lively picture is drawn by an Illinois lad, Thomas J. Bunn, 'a blue-eyed boy, only nineteen years of age, but full of life, fun and mischief'. Council Bluffs, Bunn writes, 'was then [in 1852] the "wide open" town of the western frontier. . . . It was the last town between the "coast and the states". . . . The buildings were all log cabins. . . .  p369 Supplies came by the river steamers from St. Louis. Most of the inhabitants were Mormons living in tents and log cabins. . . . Besides Mormons there was a motley population of some three or four hundred roustabouts from the river boats, clerks and merchants in charge of the stores, whisky slingers, gamblers, fast women, and the drunken, thieving, riff-raff that usually makes up a large part of the population of such a place. There was a constant stream of gold seekers passing through by all sorts of conveyances, four‑horse and two‑horse, and mule teams, ox teams, horseback and muleback, in all sorts of vehicles from the prairie schooner to the buggy. I have seen as many as a thousand teams encamped there at once completing their outfitting and getting ready for their long journey. Adjoining the town on the east was a large Indian reservation, and the town was always swarming with dirty Pawnee bucks, squalid squaws and their half-naked children'.

Every one', Bunn goes on to say, 'seemed willing, anxious to risk his all on the turn of a card or a throw of the dice'. The king of the gamblers, Bunn tells us, bore the name of Johnson. Young, well-educated, tall, of fine manners, he never used intoxicating liquors or tobacco and never indulged in profane language. In short, it may be said that Johnson was another Ravenal as depicted in Show Boat. The principal drinking  p370 and gambling place, says Bunn, was the 'Gem Saloon', frequented by Johnson. On one occasion, the latter, well-shaven, well-dressed, and looking like 'a college professor', delivered an exhortation on gambling. In the presence of three or four hundred professional gamblers, saloon keepers, and toughs of every description he returned to a couple of youths from Wisconsin $1500 which he had won from them the night before. 'Go on your way and behave yourself', he said to the boys. Nor, privately, did he fail to exhort Bunn. 'Tommy', he said, 'never, never, never touch a card!'

The most cherished episode in the annals of Council Bluffs is the visit to it in 1859 of Abraham Lincoln. From the height behind the town Lincoln gazed across four miles of Missouri flood plain to the Missouri itself and to Omaha beyond. On this height there has been reared in commemoration a lofty shaft with suitable inscription.

Sioux City

Sioux City's earliest white settler was Theophile Bruguier, an Anglo-French fur trader born in Canada. Bruguier procured adoption into the Yankton tribe, was recognized by the Yanktons as a chief, and married an Indian maid — in fact, two Indian maids. Both glorious creatures ('Dawn' and 'Blazing Cloud') were daughters of the Isanti Sioux  p371 Chief 'War Eagle', who, like Bruguier, had become a Yankton.

One night at Fort Pierre (South Dakota) Bruguier fell into a light slumber. He saw a spot on a stream near a big river. He awakened with a perfect picture in his mind which he described to old War Eagle. The Chief at once recognized the spot as the mouth of the Big Sioux which Bruguier had never seen. Thither the latter went and there, about 1849, he settled. — Constant R. Marks.

On stepping from the train at Sioux City, the Easterner finds himself amid vastness. Before his eyes the newsboys flourish not only the Chicago Tribune, the Des Moines Register, the Minneapolis Journal, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, but the Sioux Falls Press, the Omaha-World Herald, the Sioux City Journal, and the Sioux City Tribune. There is thus extended to him an invitation to make himself acquainted with areas as unconfined as the Dakotas and Nebraska. If, responding thereto, he ascends the heights on which in part Sioux City stands, he sees beneath him in the distance the winding Missouri River, with near at hand its alien tributary, the Big Sioux — the one stream broad, tawny and tortuous; the other narrow, clear, and straight from the north as an arrow.

Sioux City in 1856 contained about one hundred 'neat and comfortable dwellings and seven [inevitable]  p372 dry goods stores'. It was 'the most northern and western town in Iowa, one of the advanced outposts of civilization; a town fronting a land inhabited only by savage Indians'; a land of nights red from fires of the plains — nights so red as to be not alone 'grand' but 'terrific'.

By 1857 Sioux City had a ferryboat plying between it and the Nebraska town of Covington. This boat in June made a trip up the Big Sioux to gauge the navigability of the stream. 'After running about two miles', writes a passenger, 'we left "Old Muddy" and soon found ourselves gliding upon the crystal waters of the Big Sioux. . . . On the west of us was stretched out for miles the rich and fertile prairies of Dakota, covered . . . with fragrant flowers of every hue. On the east were spread out the broad and swelling prairies of Iowa, with here, rugged bluffs . . . and there, a beautiful valley. . . . As our boat scudded along we frequently sounded the water, and found it not less than seven, nor more than sixteen feet in depth. After running about 40 miles without the least obstruction, the late hour of the day admonished us that it was time to retrace our steps, when we very reluctantly wheeled about . . . delighted with the excursion trip on the first boat that ever navigated the Big Sioux'.

During this year (1857) a number of boats ran  p373 regularly in the Sioux City trade, coming up from St. Louis once a month. They brought 'almost everything'. The Omaha was one of the most regular. Then there were the American Fur Company's boats on the upper Missouri — 'mackinaws' many of them — which made but one trip a year. Going up in the spring with merchandise, they returned in the fall with valuable furs.

Politically the patron saint of Sioux City was statesman-gallant George W. Jones. His interest, be it said, grew out of the circumstance that as sponsor for the Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad, he owned almost one-eighth of the town. But the advance of Jones's road was that of the snail, and meantime Sioux City sought its emporium, Cincinnati, not so much by Fort Dodge and the stage, as by St. Louis and the Ohio River and steamboat — a journey tedious but relieved by piano, stringed orchestra, the Virginia Reel, and the Polka.

Sioux City had its hotel, 'The Terrific', fabulous for gambling; but it is worthy of note that the town had also its Scientific Association, precursor of the Academy of Science and Letters — a society which in later years secured as lecturer before it Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-discoverer with Darwin of evolution through natural selection. Wallace spoke  p374 three times before the Association once on Darwinian theory, once on the origin and use of colors in animals, and once on oceanic islands.

 p375  Railroad Dreams

It is obvious enough to‑day that no railroad westward to the Pacific Coast could even be begun until that coast was held by a considerable population. Regardless of lack of population in Oregon and California, certain imaginative minds rested in a great vision. It was the same vision which (after Marco Polo) had inspired the trendings of Champlain, Nicolet, Radisson, Du Lhut, La Salle, Jolliet — the vision, that is to say, of the Orient, region to be reached mayhap by a route West from Lake Superior, mayhap by La Rivière des Moines.

In 1844 Thomas H. Benton, in a speech in advocacy of liaison with the West, gave emphasis to his words by pointing westward and dramatically exclaiming, 'There lies the East; there lies India!' That Japan and China lay invitingly westward had, however, already in 1832 been pointed out by Hartwell Carver of Rochester, New York, a grandson of the explorer Jonathan Carver. It was Carver's contention that a track (and telegraph line) might be built from Lake Michigan to South Pass with branches to the mouth of the Columbia River and to San Francisco Bay. The time from New York to the Bay was to be five days,  p376 and travelers might compass it luxuriously in sleeping cars sixteen feet long with saloon and dining car attached.261

But while a New Yorker was earliest in the field with a Pacific railway scheme, he was close pressed by an Iowa man — John Plumbe of Dubuque. Plumbe was full of activity and, together with George W. Jones, the Langworthy brothers, and others, brought forward in 1836 the idea of an Oregon railway, the first link to be from Milwaukee to Dubuque, by which the Great Lakes would be joined to the Mississippi. In Dubuque, at a railroad meeting on March 26, 1838, resolutions were passed memorializing Congress to lend aid to the proposed railroad as a direct link in the great chain across the Mississippi to the Missouri River, and thence at no distant day to the 'headwaters of the steam navigation of the Oregon', a link which was to be completed 'under the name of the Atlantic and Pacific Railway'. And Congress straightway gave heed by appropriating for a survey a sum to be duly expended by the Secretary of War.262

Who by the way was John Plumbe? He was a Welshman, born in 1809. With his family he came to the United States in 1821. Here he became a civil engineer. In 1836 he removed to Dubuque, and in 1849 to California by way of South Pass, remaining in California until 1854.263

 p377  Just as the claims of Plumbe to priority in the conception of a railroad to the Pacific pressed hard upon those of Carver, so in turn Plumbe's own claims were hard pressed upon by Asa Whitney of New York. Whitney had spent years in China where the idea occurred to him of diverting to the United States the 'great oriental traffic with Europe',264 the idea, as he further put it, of 'compelling Europe on the one side and Asia and Africa on the other to pass through us'. His plan, like Plumbe's, was to connect Lake Michigan by rail with Puget Sound or the Columbia River.265 Part of the line was projected across northern Iowa and was traversed by him on foot in 1845.266 Whitney asked of Congress a strip of land sixty miles wide, along the whole length of his contemplated road — '92,160,000 acres with their agricultural, mineral, and lumber products'.

Whitney offered to build the road with no other capital, and, if the government would allow him to charge one-half cent per ton per mile on ordinary freight for all distances over 200 miles, he would carry the same any shorter distances for one-half the price charged on the principal railroads of the United States. Corn he would transport across the continent for twenty cents a bushel, flour for $1.25 per barrel, and passengers for half the usual price during the first twenty years after the road's completion.267

 p378  It is diverting to note that in 1849 a committee of Boston men propounded an interesting question. Assuming that Whitney would build ten miles of road this year, take another year to sell the land, and three years more to get the money, being thus at the end of five years prepared to build the next ten miles, and so on, would it not take him eight hundred and fifty years to make seventeen hundred miles of road?

 p379  Stage Coach and Pony Express

The Coach

By 1856 railroad transportation in Iowa did not reach beyond Iowa City, nor by 1866 beyond Marshalltown, Grinnell, Pella, Des Moines, and Boone. There was still in Iowa a broad field for the stage coach. 'Yes', observes a Mt. Pleasant newspaper in 1855, 'right under our window is a coach labeled "Nebraska". Ere long, stages will be crossing the Rocky Mountains, as they used to cross the Alleghenies. If someone would write the history of the [Western Stage] Company, tell the many scenes through which it has passed, the lives lost, the hearts broken, the runaways, hair-breadth escapes, drunken drivers, bitter imprecations on fine, noble horses they drove, curses heaped upon travelers, mail-bags, bad roads, disappointments, regrets, miseries, happiness, it would make a book that would out-rival Barnum!'

But what was a stage coach? It was a sedan suspended on thoroughbraces of leather. It held nine passengers, and was drawn by four or six horses. Brightly painted throughout, the panels were decorated with scrolls or landscapes.268 The driver, autocrat of the road, was sometimes, as in the case of  p380 Ansel Briggs of Iowa, a governor in embryo. 'Oh for the good old times!' sighed the Anamosa Eureka during the Civil War, 'when we had a daily stage instead of a bare railroad track'.

Pony Express

Important as the stage coach was to the early West, it was be a bungling vehicle for the transportation of mail, and from sheer stress there sprang alive, in 1860, the Pony Express.

A Buffalo, New York, journal had in 1855 laughingly proclaimed air service, daily, 'from New York City to San Francisco, 9 A.M. to 2:30 P.M., with Pekin in time for an early tea'. However, such service was only to begin twenty-five years later. And meantime the Pony Express would project mail (if not passengers) from the Missouri River to Sacramento in not to exceed ten days. The first courier of the Express, said the New York Herald and the Missouri Republican, would leave the Missouri River at St. Joseph on Tuesday, April 3, 1860, at 5 o'clock P.M. and a courier would run regularly every week thereafter, carrying letter mail only. This mail would be delivered in San Francisco in ten days from the departure of the Express. Letters for Oregon, Washington Territory, British Columbia, the Pacific Mexican ports, Russian possessions, Sandwich Islands,  p381 China, Japan, and India would be mailed in San Francisco.269

Buffalo Bill

'Buffalo Bill', once wrote Curtis Guild, Governor of Massachusetts, 'is from spur to sombrero one of the finest types of manhood this continent has ever produced'.

From the start Iowa's connection with the Pony Express was intimate and vivid through one of the State's own sons, a lad of between fourteen and fifteen years, by name William F. Cody — later, 'Buffalo Bill'. Cody's birth (in 1846) took place on an Iowa farm near the little Mississippi River town of Le Claire in Scott County; and in 1860, the father having migrated across the Missouri, the son became an express rider, covering, within two years, divers sectors of the Pony route as far west it may be as the Rocky Mountains.

'Po-ho-has-ka [Long Red Hair] I know you', tauntingly sang out to Cody the big Cheyenne chief Yellow Hand in an encounter in 1876 a few weeks after the Custer overthrow. 'Come and fight me!' And Cody went. He shot the horse of the Cheyenne from under him, his own horse stumbling to a fall, exchanged shots with the Chief on foot, crumpled him up, ran  p382 at him and stabbed him to the heart. He seized Chief's fancy war bonnet, swung it high in the air and shouted, 'The first scalp for Custer!'270

'Had my father remained in Iowa', mused Cody, 'perhaps I might have grown up an Iowa farmer'.

 p383  The Union Pacific

The Union Pacific Railroad (superseding Pony Express no less than Overland Coach) came into being on July 1, 1862. Under and by virtue of its charter, the Company was to begin work in Nebraska at a point on the 100th meridian, 247 miles west of Omaha, and build to the eastern boundary of California.a Here it was to meet a line of road, the Central Pacific, building eastward from Sacramento, and the two lines coalescing would span the continent from the Missouri to the precincts of the Golden Gate. So far as the region between the 100th meridian and the Missouri River was concerned, it was to be served by five digital lines. These five lines were to connect the main line with Kansas City, Leavenworth, St. Joseph, Sioux City, and with some point 'on the western boundary of Iowa to be designated by the President of the United States'. The builder of the digital line last indicated was to be the Union Pacific itself.

In December, 1863, the Road broke ground at Omaha

An inchworm bound for San Francisco Bay

but not until October, 1865, did it complete its first  p384 fifteen miles of track. During the next year the line was pushed to North Platte, Nebraska, a point about 30 miles west of the 100th meridian. By June, 1867, it reached Julesburg, Colorado, (forthwith proudly to become the 'wickedest City in America'), and by November of that year, Cheyenne, Wyoming. The next points were Laramie and Benton in Wyoming, and Wasatch and Ogden in Utah. At Ogden it hailed from afar the Central Pacific and began to exchange with it of pourparlers.271

But the laying of rails on the course of the Union and Central Pacific roads had been anticipated by stringing transcontinental telegraph wires. In 1853 a telegraph office was opened in St. Joseph, Missouri, connecting St. Louis with that point, and in 1860 the line was extended up the Missouri as far as Omaha, thereby ministering to western Iowa. Indeed in 1859, before the Union and Central Pacific roads had a charter, work on a line of telegraph from St. Louis to San Francisco had been begun.272 The St. Louis-San Francisco line, let it be said, was but a link in the gigantic telegraph and cable system which was projected in 1855 by Tal O. Shaffner, editor of the Telegraphic Magazine, to join Labrador and the eastern United States with Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Russia, Kamchatka, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, San Francisco.

 p385  Three Iowans

In both the projecting and building of the Union Pacific Railroad, there were vitally concerned three men of Iowa — Samuel R. Curtis, Peter A. Dey, and Grenville M. Dodge. Each was of striking personality. Curtis, military and massive; Dey, not military, but tall, broad-shouldered, with heavy brows and kindly eyes; Dodge, the berserker of the group, aggressive and relentless.

Curtis's work began in 1860 when, as a member of Congress, he was made chairman of the select committee on a railroad to the Pacific.273 The work of Peter A. Dey began in 1852‑1853 with the survey across Iowa of what later was the Rock Island Railroad. As for Grenville M. Dodge at this time, he applied for work under Dey. 'He [Dodge]', writes Peter A. Dey, 'then developed a great deal of energy and so enhanced my opinion of him that, in May, 1853, when I came out here (Iowa City) to make surveys from Davenport west, I took him with me'.

In 1853 on September 4th Dodge, as principal assistant to Peter A. Dey, started west from Iowa City with a party of fourteen men and six horses. His object was to make as great speed to the Missouri as possible, in order, as he writes, 'to keep ahead of the so‑called Lyons road [North Western] which is nearly parallel with ours west of Iowa City'. 'We shall',  p386 he goes on to say, 'make an examination of the great Platte as far into Nebraska as we think fit'.

Regarding the Platte, writes Dey (the Union Pacific's first chief engineer), 'Dodge and I read up everything on the subject [of the country west of the Elkhorn]; — we read Fremont's opinion and all of the reports; and we read up Stanbury's reports of Salt Lake; and we read all the government reports of everything that had been discovered regarding the routes across the continent. Dodge was deeply interested in them and I was to a considerable extent'.274 By the foregoing it will appear that Dodge's interest in a Pacific railroad was more profound than Dey's — so profound, indeed, as to be fairly passionate.

But after all, what, aside from Nature itself, was it that determined the building of a Pacific railroad west from the Missouri along the Platte River (the forty-second parallel) rather than west from Lake Michigan, Dubuque, and Sioux City, or rather than west from the Mississippi (at Memphis) through the States of Arkansas and Texas? The answer is that the determining force was largely that of the personality of Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. This Douglas who about this time was seeing to it that Iowa Territory, instead of becoming a corridor State ranging north and south, became a full-floor State ranging east and west. The plan of Asa Whitney to  p387 reach the Pacific by an Oregon route — a Dubuque and Sioux City route — was severely criticized by Douglas as early as 1845. It was Douglas's contention that the inevitable road to the Pacific must begin at Chicago and terminate at San Francisco.275

Union Pacific and Central Pacific Meet

On May 10, 1869, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific completed the laying of rails to Promontory Point, Utah, just west of Ogden. Here the two Roads met. At the meeting high railroad dignitaries functioned: on the part of the Central Pacific, Leland Stanford, Governor of California and President of the Road; Mark Hopkins, Treasurer; S. S. Montague, Chief Engineer; J. H. Strobridge, Superintendent; on the part of the Union Pacific, 'Prairie-Fire' Thomas C. Durant, Vice President; Grenville M. Dodge, Chief Engineer; John R. Duff and Sidney Dillon, Directors. Lending picturesque support was a group of soldiers, Mormons, Chinese, Irish, Mexicans, Negroes, Half-Breeds, and Indians.

A golden spike was handed to President Stanford of the Central Pacific, and a silver spike to Thomas C. Durant, Vice President of the Union Pacific. Beneath the rails was slipped a tie of California laurel wood. The engineers ran their locomotives up until they touched, the engineer upon each engine breaking  p388 a bottle of champagne upon the opposite engine. 'Then the telegraphic inquiry from the Omaha office, from which the circuit was to be started, was answered: "To everybody: Keep quiet. When the last spike is driven at Promontory Point, we will say Done. Don't break the circuit, but watch for the signals of the blows of the hammer. The spike will soon be driven. The signal will be three dots for the commencement of the blows." The magnet tapped one — two — three — then paused — Done!'

Thus from Iowa to California there was now in existence a continuous route by rail, and it would seem to have been put immediately into operation. It was only a day or two, says Dodge, before trains bound for the Atlantic and for the Pacific were passing regularly.276

[image ALT: A dramatic drawing of a train — locomotive and eight cars — speeding from right mid-ground to left foreground across a field of wheat. It is night and the locomotive's headlight is on; thick smoke issues from the smokestack; and in the background the entire prairie horizon is burning.]

Along the Union Pacific in 1871

Reproduced from à Currier & Ives print where it appears under the title of
Prairie Fires of the Great West

Pike's Peak Gold and Gold at Home

Unfilled with gold as yet was the pitcher of Iowa. The flush of the excitement of 1849 and 1850 had subsided, but in 1859 a new gold excitement had arisen from discoveries at Pike's Peak. Indeed, in 1859 Iowa beheld gold everywhere — even at home. 'Great excitement', writes the Keokuk Gate City of May 8, 1858. 'The Talk on the streets yesterday was about new mines in Iowa and we understand that the "Clara Hine" which left May 7th for Des Moines was crowded  p389 with passengers most of whom are bent on exploring the diggings. Are they like the boy who chased the end of the rainbow to catch the bag of gold?'

The diggings in question were known as the Keokuk Diggings, but, the Keokuk Gate City said that gold existed also in Clarke County, and if it existed there, it must also exist in Warren, Madison, Marion, Polk, Jasper, and Dallas counties. Even in Decatur County people were prospecting and were finding gold within half a mile of Leon, the county seat, in the amount of one dollar to five dollars a day.

The interest of Iowa in gold (though not in gold in Iowa) lasted into the eighteen sixties and seventies. Virginia City (Montana) and the Black Hills — the one in 1865‑1866 and the other in 1874‑1875 — drew heavily on Sioux City.277

Vaquero Bravo

Rain poured down, beeves ran, wind blew

Iowa, as we have seen, begat a Pony Express rider who at the end of the Civil War became, in connection with the Union Pacific Railroad, a United States Army scout. Did the State give birth to a cowboy — a vaquero?

In 1866 cattle in Texas being numerous, and hence cheap ($10 to $12 a head), were a good speculation; that is, if they could be got to market. George C.  p390 Duffield of Burlington and Harvey Ray, owner of a near-by stock farm went to Texas in March, contracted for a thousand 'Long Horns', and in May, with Duffield in charge, started with their purchase, or part of it, northward for Iowa.

Duffield signalized his departure from Iowa by 'going to church'. Later (in Texas) he balanced to his señorita in the jota later still (in Texas) he bet on a horse race; still later (in Texas), with 'hands' quitting him from exasperation over rains and high water, and with Indians 'holding High Festival over stolen Beef', he found himself 'not blue', but in a 'Helº of a fix.'

May passed into June, June into July, July into August, August and September into October. Texas gave way to Indian Territory (Oklahoma); Indian Territory to Kansas; Kansas to Nebraska. 'Some hope for reaching Iowa yet!' But not yet — quite. Rain upon rain, stampede after stampede, whole nights in the saddle, Indians (Seminoles, Quapaws, Osages, Potawatomi) often kept at bay only by leveled weapon. 'Heat', 'flies', 'thunder and lightning', 'Burning Prairie', 'a Human skeleton', 'dead weariness'! Some hope of reaching Iowa yet? 'Yesterday saw a Meeting House'!278

Iowa Reaches the Sea of the West

In 1867 the State of Iowa, by completion of the  p391 North Western Railroad, had, save for the Missouri River, been brought into contact with the Road to the Pacific. No bridge as yet spanned the Missouri. But in 1873 a bridge was finished between Council Bluffs and Omaha.

Hazard of Transit
(Jesse James)

With the confirming of connection between Iowa and Nebraska by a bridge there began to reach Iowa, in transit to the East, gold from California. Prior to this, a band of outlaws, Jesse and Frank James, Cole and James Younger, and others, had been robbing banks in Missouri — all very much after the manner of A.D. 1930. In 1871 the James band had even robbed a bank in Iowa, at Corydon in Wayne County, securing nearly forty thousand dollars.

But if a mere small-town Iowa bank could be made to yield to robbers a worth-while return, what about a railway train with gold — gold from the treasure coast itself? Just unspike a single rail, attach thereto a cord, and, by a timely jerk from cover, displace it.

A train of the kind mentioned was, it would appear, expected in western Iowa over the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway in 1873, about the third week in July. At 8:30 P.M., on July 21st, a Rock Island passenger train of five coaches (one an  p392 express car) approached a curve of the track just west of the Iowa town of Adair. Here the engineer, slowing down and peering ahead, saw a rail move. Scarce able to believe his eyes he nevertheless instinctively and swiftly threw his engine into reverse. Alas, too late! The engine plunged to one side and turned over, crushing the engineer and bruising the fireman. The coaches bumped together and were shaken. Men rose from bushes beside the track, and, holding up the dazed conductor and dazed passengers, obtained by this, the first notorious train robbery in America, the paltry sum of three thousand dollars.

Meantime and for all time there stood the bridge over the Missouri.

On January 29, 1841, a citizen of Marion, Iowa, delivered a patriotic lecture. 'Should our population', said the lecturer, 'continue to increase in the same ratio as in the past, it will be about 100,000,000 [!] at the close of the present century. The Mississippi Valley will then contain probably 50,000,000. . . . The seat of government will be removed to some point in the Mississippi Valley. The mouth of the Ohio, St. Louis, Alton, Quincy, Bloomington [Muscatine], Davenport will all compete for its location. . . . Mr. Linn, Senator from Missouri, proposes a military road  p393 and military posts. . . . But that road should be a railroad, commencing at some point on the Missouri River at the mouth of the Platte, running up the valley of that river, and crossing the Rocky Mountains . . . enabling a person to travel from Chicago [to the Pacific] in less than five days'.279

And so, be hazards of transit what they might, events had fallen out. The Western Sea — the Sea of France and Louis Jolliet; of Spain and Jean Baptiste Trudeau; of Britain and the Des Moines and Platte River traders; of the United States and Lewis and Clark; of Iowa and Plumbe, Curtis, Dey, and Grenville M. Dodge — that Sea, by the railroad previsioned at Marion, had Iowa reached.

Ere the Union Pacific saw its last spike driven, a band of Iowa Presbyterians with headquarters at Dubuque gathered on Prospect Hill near Sioux City and, looking west over 'vast reaches', planned to send, and did send, missionaries — thirty-two in all — bearing to the Union Pacific stations, Julesburg, Cheyenne, Rawlins; to Egypt, to Syria, to China — the Bible.


The Author's Notes:

(p450) 256 Emigration from Iowa to Oregon in 1843 in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. X, p427.

[decorative delimiter]

257 Report of the Superintendent of the United States Census for December, 1852, as cited in John T. Faris's On the Trail of the Pioneers, p175.

[decorative delimiter]

258 C. H. Hanford's Pioneers of Iowa and of the Pacific Northwest in the Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. X, p335; Hiram F. White's The Career of Samuel R. Thurston in Iowa and Oregon in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIV, pp239 et seq.

Nebraska, too, made use provisionally of the Iowa statues, and so did California, and even Alaska. — Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. IV, p633; The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. I p40.

[decorative delimiter]

259 Jacob Van der Zee's The Mormon Trails in Iowa in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XII, pp3 et seq.; D. C. Bloomer's The Mormons in Iowa in Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. II, pp586 et seq.; D. C. Bloomer's History of Pottawattamie County in the Annals of Iowa, Vol. IX, p528.

[decorative delimiter]

260 R. E. Riegel's The Story of the Western Railroads, p13.

[decorative delimiter]

(p451) 261 H. H. Bancroft's History of California 1860‑1890 Vol. VII, pp498, 499.

'Five days', New York to San Francisco, was the prophecy of the man of New York State, Hartwell Carver. Bostonians were less extreme. In 1839 a Boston man was reported by the Iowa Patriot (Burlington) thus: 'The people of the East have a most salutary dread of steamboat explosions. You of the West have got "used to" these things, you care little for them; but we of the East have more sensitive nerves, and the fear of being blown sky-high by the bursting of a steam boiler, deters many families from seeking their fortunes in the West. . . . All this may be avoided by opening a continuous line of railroad to the East. The whole distance, from the Mississippi, about 1500 miles, may be traveled by passenger cars in five days, probably less; and by freight cars in ten or twelve days at farthest. . . . No stoppage will probably be made eating or sleeping. Cars of two stories having accommodations for lodging have already been put in use in some parts of the United States; and those now ordered for the Western Railroad have the entrances on either end, by which means all the cars in a train are connected together so as to form a general communication throughout, and thus admitting of the arrangement of having the meals prepared and put into a car at a given place and when the train arrives, instead of stopping to dine for instance, the car containing the dinner can be attached to the rear, the train started, and while going at the rate of twenty or thirty miles an hour, the passengers [can] be making a comfortable dinner. All this is practicable, and will undoubtedly be done'.

[decorative delimiter]

262 Iowa News, March 31, 1838.

[decorative delimiter]

263 John King's John Plumbe, Originator of the Pacific Railroad in the Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. VI, pp289 et seq.; H. H. Bancroft's History of California, Vol. VII, pp499, 500.

[decorative delimiter]

264 'The distance from London to China along the route ordinarily followed by sailing vessels was estimated at not less than 17,000 miles. The estimated distance over Whitney's route via water and rail was 11,500 miles, a saving of about 5,500 miles in its favor. . . . Build the road and the United States would not only control the trade with China, but with a small naval force would be master of the Pacific (p452)Ocean; build the road and the country up both sides of it would be filled with industrious settlers wherever it was fit to live; build the road and the territory upon the Pacific Ocean would remain in the Union; fail to build it and Oregon would become a free State, controlling the trade of the Orient and exercising dominion upon the Pacific Ocean'. — N. H. Loomis's Asa Whitney; Father of Pacific Railroads in Proceedings of The Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Vol. VI, pp166 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

265 R. R. Russel's The Pacific Railway Issue in Politics Prior to the Civil War in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. XII, pp187 et seq.; H. H. Bancroft's History of California, Vol. VII, p501; R. S. Cotterill's Early Agitation for a Pacific Railroad 1845‑1850 in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. V, pp396 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

266 A letter from Asa Whitney in the Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. XIV, pp58‑60.

[decorative delimiter]

267 H. H. Bancroft's History of California, Vol. VII, p501.

[decorative delimiter]

268 O. F. Grahame's Stagecoach Days in The Palimpsest Vol. V, pp176‑185.

[decorative delimiter]

269 William Banning and G. H. Banning's Six Horses, Ch. IV et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

270 Richard J. Walsh's The Making of Buffalo Bill, pp16, 203. An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (Colonel W. F. Cody); William F. Cody in the Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. VI.

[decorative delimiter]

271 R. E. Riegel's Story of the Western Railroads, pp79, 86; John W. Starr's One Hundred Years of American Railroading, p221; F. L. Paxson's History of the American Frontier, p496.

[decorative delimiter]

272 Ben Hur Wilson's From Coast to Coast in The Palimpsest, Vol. VII, pp233‑242.

[decorative delimiter]

273 Ruth A. Gallaher's Samuel Ryan Curtis in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XXV, pp331 et seq. As early as 1839 Curtis busied himself concerning a grant of public land for a Pacific railroad.

See also Ellis P. Oberholtzer's A History of the United States Since the Civil War, Vol. II, pp476‑484.

[decorative delimiter]

(p453) 274 J. R. Perkins's Trails, Rails and War, p19.

Peter A. Dey devoted his life to the State of Iowa. In 1878 Governor John H. Gear made him one of the Board of Iowa Railroad Commissioners. The only Democrat who ever served on the Board, his service was of sixteen years duration. He was three times appointed, twice elected, and once defeated. He was one of the commissioners for the erection of the new State Capitol building and in 1895 was named by the Supreme Court of the United States as one of the commissioners to settle the boundary line between Iowa and Missouri.

[decorative delimiter]

275 Frank H. Hodder's The Railroad Background of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. XII, p5; Hodder's Genesis of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the Proceedings of the Wisconsin Historical Society, 1912, pp69 et seq.; Frederick L. Paxson's History of the American Frontier 1763‑1893, pp434 et seq.; Albert J. Beveridge's Abraham Lincoln, Vol. III, pp169‑171; Robert S. Cotterill's Early Agitation for a Pacific Railroad 1845‑1850 in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. V, p410.

[decorative delimiter]

276 Grenville M. Dodge's How We Built the Union Pacific Railway, p69; John P. Davis's The Union Pacific Railway; Edwin L. Sabin's Building the Pacific Railway; Perkins's Trails, Rails and War, pp235 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

277 Albert M. Holman's Niobrara-Virginia City Wagon Road in Constant R. Marks's Pioneering in the Northwest; Erik Eriksson's Sioux City and the Black Hills Gold Rush 1874‑1877 in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XX, pp319 et seq.

[decorative delimiter]

278 George C. Duffield's Diary in Driving Cattle from Texas to Iowa, 1866 in the Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. XIV, pp246 et seq.; Emerson Hough's The Passing of the Frontier in the Chronicles of America Series.

As early as 1815 cattle (500 head) were driven by way of the later Iowa from Missouri to Pembina, the Lord Selkirk settlement on the Red River of the North. The route was up the divide between the Skunk and the Des Moines rivers. — The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XIV, pp339, 340.

[decorative delimiter]

(p454) 279 Iowa Standard, March 12, 1841.

Thayer's Note:

a Several complete books on the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific — the Transcontinental Railroad — are available onsite, in which of course the information is much more detailed: see the American Railroad History orientation page.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 6 Oct 13