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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
Epic of the Overland

Robert Lardin Fulton

A. M. Robertson
San Francisco, 1924

The text is in the public domain.

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[image ALT: A photograph of a man of about 50 — head and half his shoulders — in a jacket and shirt with high starched collar and a tie. He wears round wire-rimmed glasses; and gazes at the camera with a peculiarly gentle expression. It is Robert Lardin Fulton, the author of a short book of personal reminiscences from the construction of the first U. S. overland railroad.]

 p. xi  Robert Lardin Fulton
by Dr. Herbert Wynford Hill

Robert L. Fulton was born at Ashland, Ohio, March 6, 1847 of Scotch-Irish ancestry. He received his education in the common schools of the State and in the University of life. Gifted with keen powers of observation and impelled by a vivid intellectual curiosity, until the day of his deatha he sought learning covering a wide range of subjects. This learning ripening into wisdom he applied to the tasks set him by necessity and to the larger task of upbuilding his beloved West.

At an early age he decided upon a business career, and after a short period as clerk in a store he entered the service of the Erie Railroad as a telegraph operator. In this field he advanced rapidly to the position of conductor. At this time a group of farseeing men had started the construction of a railroad to the Pacific Ocean. He saw there a splendid opportunity and hastened to volunteer his services. He was given a position as a train dispatcher, a position he held until the completion of the road.

When the road was finished he accepted a position with the company as land agent. In this capacity he had in his charge the examination and settlement of the railroad lands from Colfax to Ogden. Here was the work for which he was preeminently fitted and he went to work with a will. He published a newspaper for a number of years, he delivered addresses throughout the State and before societies and associations, and he wrote many articles setting forth the advantages of the West. The best known of his articles was the one published in the New York Tribune, under the title, "Eloquent Plea — Nevada Only Assailed by Ignorance."b But his work was not merely the advertising of the State. He helped in reclamation projects large and small, encouraged better farming methods, and vigorously supported the extension of educational privileges.

He took an active part in the political affairs of the State particularly where moral issues were concerned. In 1889 he led the fight against the Louisiana Lottery Bill which had been passed by the Legislature, and succeeded in getting it voted down by the people. Again when the same bill came up in 1901 he led the fight to a successful finish.c Later he took a prominent part in the passing of the measure prohibiting all percentage games in the state.

For forty-five years his fortunes were closely bound up with the fortunes of Nevada. His wide experience, his richly stored memory and inimitable gift for expression made him a dominant figure wherever he went. In a review of the life and character of Robert Fulton the outstanding feature is his splendid personality. This personality impressed itself in a thousand ways upon his intimate friends and the State at large. He will long be remembered as a public spirited citizen, shaper of the destinies of the Commonwealth, and delightful friend.

Thayer's Notes:

a Fulton died shortly after delivering his book to the publisher, in the same year 1924. He is the subject of a biography:

River Flows: The Life of Robert Lardin Fulton, by Barbara Richnak (xvi, 188pp; Incline Village, NV: Comstock-Nevada Pub. Co., 1983)

In 1938 a (small) Robert Lardin Fulton Lecture Foundation was established by his widow and his son John, benefiting the University of Nevada.

b According to the biographical sketch in A History of Nevada: Its Resources and People (1904), p682 — available at Google Books — the full title, given by the newspaper, is "Eloquent Plea — Nevada Only Assailed by Ignorance and Malice". That biographical sketch also notes that between his 3‑year stint as dispatcher for the Union Pacific and his later job with that railroad Fulton worked for the St. Paul and Duluth, then as first superintendent of the Visalia Electric Railroad; and tells us that he was a Mason, serving as "the grand high priest of Nevada", and a delegate to the national political convention that nominated McKinley for president: his sister Margaret's husband, Thomas Woggoner, had served under McKinley in the War between the States.

c The Louisiana State Lottery, once purely local to that State, became a celebrated case of financial fraud and corruption involving the whole country: for full details, see "The Lottery", Chapter 31 of Kendall's History of New Orleans. The movement against the egregious Louisiana Lottery was widespread, a boon to opponents of gambling who often used it as the thin end of the wedge to prime more local or more general anti-lottery legislation; see for example (briefly) the case of North Dakota.

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Page updated: 25 Nov 09