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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Great Iron Trail

by
Robert West Howard

G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York, 1962

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!


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Chapter 2

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p9 Section One
The Far Pacific Shore

All hail, thou western world! by heaven designed
Th' example bright to renovate mankind.
Soon shall thy sons across the mainland roam
And claim, on far Pacific shores, their home;
Their rule, religion, manners, art convey
And spread their freedom to the Asian sea.
— Timothy Dwight, "Greenfield Hill" (1794)

p11 Chapter I
Predestination, 1836

Intimates are predestined . . . Henry Brooks Adams.

During 1836, the American passion for individual freedom and home rule exploded across the Far West. Texas declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, tortured through the massacres of the Alamo and Goliad, defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto in April, and inaugurated General Samuel Houston as first president of the Texas Republic in October.

That same summer the ranchers and herdsmen of Taos, New Mexico, organized a revolt that swept on to a massacre of Mexican officials in Santa Fe and the inauguration of a full-blooded Indian as governor of an autonomous State of New Mexico. During November another ranchers' revolt drove Mexican officials out of Monterey and San Francisco and proclaimed "the Free and Sovereign State of Alta California."

Far to the north, between April and September of 1836, the Reverend Marcus Whitman and a group of Congregational missionaries drove the first wagon train across the Rocky Mountains' South Pass, then walked northwest through the Snake and Columbia river valleys to establish the Oregon Trail.

The governments of the New Mexico and Alta California p12revolutions survived only a few months. But their meaningfulness was as clear to Boston and New York shipmasters and New Orleans cotton factors as it was to the fur dealers, Santa Fe traders and frontier farmers hoping for the renomination of Thomas Hart Benton for a fourth term as United States Senator from Missouri.

In 1818, as the boyish editor of the St. Louis Enquirer, Benton had written a series of editorials about "The Passage to India." The rivers emptying into the "big and muddy Missouri," he forecast then, would become "what the Euphrates, the Oxus, the Phasis and the Cyrus were to the ancient Romans: lines of communication with Eastern Asia, and channels for that rich commerce which, for 40 centuries, has created so much wealth and power wherever it has flowed."

Glibly, Benton adapted the ancient Norse and British dream of Northwest Passage to the Mississippi-Missouri river system. He advocated a series of canal locks up the Missouri to the Great Falls of "the Montana." Westward, a portage road could be built across the Rockies to the valley of the Snake. This, he envisioned, assured "the road to India" and a throughway for trade between Europe and the Orient. St. Louis would, of course, become its eastern portal and remain the "Queen City of the West."

Benton's editorials, like his speeches in the Senate, presumed that the United States would somehow annex the Far West territories of Mexico. This vision of a Union of American States extending across the midriff of the continent — 3,200 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific — elicited an "Amen" from Maine to Georgia. Nantucket's whalers were already commonplace sights from the Siberian Coast to the Indian Ocean. New England missionaries in Hawaii and the other Sandwich Islands routinely shipped converts back to Connecticut for schooling in Christian ethics. That summer of 1836, the brig Pilgrim was one of the score of New England ships trading for hides and furs along the California Coast. (One of the Pilgrim's deck hands was a Harvard student p13named Richard Henry Dana. He spent off-duty hours scribbling details about the brutal life of the American sailor. The book he planned would be titled Two Years Before the Mast.) Ships out of Salem, Newburyport and Boston had been on the Canton run for two years. Their owners were financing a Washington lobby to persuade Congress to send a commissioner to Peking and open negotiations for an "open-ports" treaty with the Che'ing emperor. Down south, cattlemen from the Tennessee highlands and cotton planters from the coastal plains ferried the Mississippi to pioneer new territories into states. The fierce "Mountain Men" out of St. Louis and Mackinac had pushed their search for beaver, mink and otter pelts southwest to Tucson's Presidio, due west to San Francisco's Presidio, and northwest to Oregon's Astoria.

Thus most Americans believed that this vision of a transcontinental United States — the great New Greece of the Western world — was right and natural. Yet disaster might follow unless roads were built and systems of intercommunication established between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Senator Benton's daring proposals for a canal-and‑portage between St. Louis and Oregon would achieve more than a "trade route to India"; the peace and harmony of that future "United States of North America" would depend on some type of throughway across the Rockies and the Great American Desert.

Amos Eaton, John Stevens, John B. Jervis and other professional engineers endorsed the theory. But they were beginning to realize that this Westward destiny of the United States seemed to operate on a strange new system of timetabling. A code had shaped, invention by invention, for four decades. Unlike the hour-and‑minute timetables of the stagecoaches, canalboats, packets and mail carriers, the United States' surge West was being scheduled by a timetable of new machines.

The Yankee tinkerer, Eli Whitney, first demonstrated this in 1793 when his invention of the "cotton (en)gin' " enabled a speedy processing of short-staple "upland" cotton, so sent p14thousands of planters into the virgin deltalands of Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky. Again, in 1797, Whitney shaped another timetable tool of Western destiny by inventing a rifle with interchangeable parts. The succeeding development of the machine tool and the assembly line influenced both commercial and military ventures west across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Young Robert Fulton levered the frontier on to the fall lines of the Mississippi, Red, Arkansas and Missouri rivers in 1807 when his steamboat Clermont successfully chuffed up the Hudson from New York to Albany in thirty-two hours.

After 1815, civil engineers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio created a fourth machine digit in the timetable by constructing the crushed-stone tollway of the National Road over the Alleghanies to the Ohio and Indiana prairies. Promptly the wagon builders of Pennsylvania adapted their great-wheeled, boat-bodied Conestoga wagons for use as freight carriers on this "pike." By 1830, Missourians were using them, under the nickname of "prairie schooners," to haul goods on the Santa Fe Trail.

In 1825, New Yorkers made new farms and trade centers possible as far west as Wisconsin and the Lake Superior borderlands of the Sioux by dredging the Erie Canal up their Mohawk River Valley and creating a shipping route between the Hudson and the Great Lakes.

In 1834, Cyrus McCormick and Obed Hussey invented reaping machines that permitted the rapid harvesting of grain and opened the prairies west from Indiana to the potential of the world's largest and richest wheat belt.

Concurrently, scores of machine tinkerers searched for two other machines that could enable McCormick-Hussey reapers to swirl on across all the West. The first would be a plow sturdy enough to rip though the prairies' tough shield of grass and weed roots. The second must be a windmill, or similar pump, that could tap the water known to exist 50 to 300 feet below the prairies. A sod-buster plow and a deep-level water pump p15would enable Americans to transform the Great Desert to a 2,000‑mile vista of rich farms and trade centers.

Eaton, Jervis, Stevens and a growing corps of professional engineers were convinced that the creation and perpetuation of a transcontinental United States would come via this technologic timetable of new machines. This would enable the economic development, quick communication, high living standards, and the enrichment of individual freedoms essential to a strong union of states and territories. And right now, they suspected, the greatest of all machines for Western destiny and the coherencies of true union might be about to appear.

Currently it was little more than a toy — an expensive, dangerous toy that spread fire and terror along its right of way, was constantly capable of blowing its crew and passengers to kingdom come, and could haul only insignificant cargoes on costly and unreliable roadbeds. But the first models of Whitney's cotton gin had been little more than parlor toys, as were the steamboats that numerous young men had tried out on the Delaware and Hudson rivers in the 1790's. In 1836, there were only 100 miles of railroad and not more than 10 steam locomotives in the United States. West Point Foundry, opposite the United States Military Academy in the mid-Hudson Valley, was our only manufacturer of steam locomotives. In 1834, upon delivery of a second locomotive to the ambitious South Carolina Railroad, the West Point Foundry's engineers had advised the use of a barrier car, loaded with cotton bales, between the engine and the passenger coaches. "The barrier car," they explained bluntly, "will afford greater protection to the passengers when the locomotive explodes."a

Yet Henry Farnam, as chief engineer of Connecticut's Farmington - New Haven Canal, was trying to secure options and cash for construction of a New York-New Haven-Boston Railroad, while John B. Jervis, as chief engineer of the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad, promoted plans for a line that would parallel the Erie Canal to Buffalo, then clang on along the shores of the Great Lakes to the Mississippi Valley. Robert p16Mills, the architect commissioned to design both the Washington and the Bunker Hill monuments, was as obsessed about the Western destiny of the railroad as Thomas Hart Benton was about the canal-and‑portage road to Oregon. Via letters and speeches Mills urged Congressional backing for a railroad from the Mississippi Valley over the Rockies to the Pacific.b

Opposite Troy, New York, in 1609, Henry Hudson had concluded that the majestic river he was exploring did not afford a navigable channel to the South Sea and the Indies; he veered the Half Moon south to report his discoveries to the Dutch East India Company. But the legend persisted. During the next 175 years scores of Dutch, English and French explorers clambered the bluffs at the Hudson-Mohawk junction to search for the "waterway to the Pacific" so persistently reported by trappers and traders.

Only two generations before, Yankee immigrants had founded Troy as a Hudson River ferrying place for their new short-cut wagon road to the eastern terminal of Mohawk River bateaux at Schenectady. Now, since 1817, the old dream of Northwest Passage had glimmered again. DeWitt Clinton, Stephen Van Rensselaer and Gouverneur Morris lobbied a bill through New York's Legislature for construction of a $7,000,000 Lake Erie Barge Canal along the Mohawk's natural water-level route through the Alleghany escarpment. In seven years, pick-and‑shovel gangs, powder-stained blasting crews, 10,000 "bogtrotters" imported from Ireland and 5,000 human-and‑mule teams, gouged the "big ditch" — 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep — across the 350 miles of New York State to the shore of Lake Erie at Buffalo. It earned the construction costs within two years.

In 1836 more than 15,000 barges cleared the east terminal locks of Watervliet, opposite Troy. A standard canal packet, sloshing three miles an hour behind a tow team of Spanish mules or shaggy Schoharie mares, carried thirty tons of freight and passengers. Utica — Syracuse — Rochester — Buffalo — Detroit p17were booming cities. Cleveland, as the Lake Erie terminal for Cuyahoga Valley-Erie Canal trade, received its city charter in 1836. That fall the first shipment of Illinois wheat was barged through Watervliet from the bog-ridden port of Chicago at the foot of Lake Michigan.

The Mohawk-Hudson junction became an experimental laboratory for the new railroad. One year after the Erie Canal opened, a group of Schenectady and Albany merchants obtained a charter for construction of the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad across the sixteen miles of limestone bluff and sand plain between the two cities. The road operated its first train, with Chief Engineer John B. Jervis as engineman, in August, 1831. Three years later Troy began construction of its own railroad — the Rensselaer & Saratoga — to operate daily freight and passenger service from the Hudson's ferry terminal northwest across the Adirondack foothills to the hotels clustered beside the mineral-water springs of Ballston Spa. Now, like chuffing young dragons from this Mohawk-Hudson seedbed, railroads were surveying in every direction: east across the Berkshires toward New England; south down the Hudson Valley to New York City; north along the Champlain Canal to Canada; and most importantly, west on the Mohawk's water-level route toward that wonderland of prairie, high plains and mountains that raised a 2,000‑mile barrier against the ancient dream of Northwest Passage.

No hillside in the United States offered as clear a perspective of Western destiny as the ridge that lifted the Greek Revival home of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute above the Troy skyline. What with the clangs, hisses and grunts from the new stove factories and iron foundries, the endless thumps, curses and mule whinnies from the barge terminal, the musky odors of beaver pelts, wheat, cheese, ginseng and all the earthy treasures of the Michigan and Wisconsin Northwest wafted upstream from the Albany piers, the Institute's students literally heard, breathed, and touched it every hour.

p18 Thus Stephen Van Rensselaer organized his Institute with keen regard for both causal awareness and western Destiny when he purchased the Vanderheyden mansion and offered the distinguished scientist, Amos Eaton, a lifetime post as senior professor if he would develop the United States' first curriculum for a professional degree in Civil Engineering.

As upperclassmen, the first civil engineering candidates were entitled to use the rocking chairs and benches on the mansion's front porch. Each morning and late afternoon a three-ton locomotive clanked the Rensselaer & Saratoga's train of two or three box wagons and a stagecoach over the track through the Vanderheydens' former bull pasture. These trains averaged a speed of ten miles per hour, including stops to refuel at woodyards; stops to shoo cattle and pigs off the right of way; stops to enable the engineman and fireman to sprint back to the coach with leather buckets of water and douse passengers whose top hats or capes had been ignited by the carbon chunks spewed out of the smokestack.

Senior Professor Eaton avowed, as vehemently as did John B. Jervis, that the railroad was the wave of the future. He varied his lectures about it with field trips to the Mohawk & Hudson and Rensselaer & Saratoga enginehouses and teeth-jarring excursions over the routes. Several civil engineering students were assigned, on Saturdays and during summer recess, to assist the survey crews on the routes for the Schenectady & Troy, Troy & Albany, Utica & Schenectady railroads. So they were as familiar as Jervis and Eaton themselves with the railroad's shortcomings and the multitude of inventions necessary before it could become a tool comparable to Whitney's cotton-gin, Fulton's steamboat, the Conestoga covered wagon, the Erie Canal and the McCormick-Hussey reapers.

Currently, railroad trains ran on a giddy contraption of stone blocks, planks and L‑shaped strips of iron. The stone blocks, spaced every three to five feet, supported the wood planks at a wavy level one foot above the ground. The p19L‑shaped strips of iron were bolted atop the planks, with the high side of the L forming the outer edges of the track. The locomotive, box wagons and stagecoaches — linked by iron bars — ran in this perilous trough, veered from derailing only by the brittle flange of the L‑irons. A stone or stick washed or dropped inside the L‑angle of the rail could fulcrum the locomotive wheels over the flange, usually capsizing the entire train and sometimes exploding the boiler. The same sequence of catastrophe could be achieved by speeding the engine around a curve.

A host of other shortcomings made the railroad a helpless infant in this boisterous surge toward transcontinental union. Its trains could travel only by daylight; they could not grope through the night like horses, mules or boats. And although trains wandered willy-nilly along streets and across public highways, the only means of warning pedestrians and vehicles of their approach was a tin megaphone, or brass trumpet, carried by the conductor. Worst of all, the laws of matter explored by Professor Eaton and other scientists indicated that a railroad must be built on level — or almost level — terrain; a locomotive could not push up grades that were steeper than one or two degrees from the horizontal.

Nevertheless, the locomotive was the fastest vehicle yet invented by man. Fulton's steamboat averaged only 4¾ miles an hour on its upstream runs between New York City and Albany. An ox team averaged 2 miles an hour, a canalboat 3 miles an hour, a stagecoach 6 to 8 miles an hour. Theoretically a railroad train could travel 150 miles during a summer's day, hence offered the wonderous potential of a shad-roe breakfast in Albany and a late dinner of planked whitefish and salt potatoes at a Syracuse inn. The Mohawk throughway would present no insurmountable problems to the railroad. A few tunnels could assure a tablesmooth gradient along the shores of the Great Lakes. The limitless horizons and gentle swells of the Western prairie, Professor Eaton lectured, were fashioned p20as though the good Lord intended them for railroads. But farther West. . . .

"Intimates," the Boston aristocrat, Henry Brooks Adams, would point out a generation later, "are predestined." The allegation had so much circumstantial evidence at the Mohawk-Hudson junction during 1836 that it would have been judged a "miracle" or "witchcraft" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is still presumed, during the last half of the twentieth, to be a form of electronics probably related to extra-sensory perception.

Some of the Institute students, daydreaming about the Troy-Erie Canal that year, saw a small, tousle-haired boy similarly musing on the steps of St. Paul's rectory and a bull-necked adolescent hawking newspapers alongside the Rensselaer & Saratoga Railroad's station. They could also make out the bleary bull's-head symbol painted over the doorway of Josiah Stanford's former tavern on the Watervliet shore.

The ten-year‑old boy huddled on the steps of St. Paul's was Theodore Dehone Judah. He had been born on March 4, 1826, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1833, his father, the Reverend Henry R. Judah was assigned to the pastorate of St. Paul's in Troy. He had transformed the move into a thrilling adventure by engaging accommodation for his family on the overnight packet from Bridgeport to Manhattan's East River. He then toured them up Broadway to Greenwich Village and bustled them off to the Albany steamer for the majestic 24‑hour cruise past the Palisades, the highlands and the Catskills.

The three years at the Mohawk-Hudson junction had been an idyll. Father Judah possessed a keen awareness of the New West, applied his scholarship to its potentials, and during afternoon strolls and bedtime chats transformed the grubby canal-boats, the clanking locomotives, and the dissonance of tow mules, stove factory and iron foundry into a gallant American saga. Snuggled in Father Judah's lap, Ted had drifted between p21dreams of becoming an explorer . . . or a railroad engineer . . . or a minister who would preach sermons as wise as Father's.

But now Father was gone. Just gone. He could not bring himself to use that other word for it. Hunched on the rectory steps those afternoons, Ted Judah endured the helplessness that only a child can know in trying to accept the lonely reality of death.

Three blocks away, those same afternoons, fourteen-year‑old Charles Crocker hawked newspapers. Big-nosed, squat "Bull" Crocker was a native of Troy and as pugnacious as any mule skinner. His father Ike had operated a saloon on the waterfront for several years, but had recently decided that the Indiana frontier offered greater opportunities for a man who yearned to get back to farming. After Ike and his elder sons floated off up the Erie to locate a homestead somewhere southeast of Chicago, Bull became the man of the family. The eagerness of his foghorn bellows and the readiness of his fists established him among the peddlers at the Hudson River ferry and the Rensselaer & Saratoga terminal.

Sidney Dillon, a dapper, mustached foreman for the railroad, was one of Bull Crocker's customers. Born at Northampton, Long Island, in 1812, Dillon became intrigued by newspaper stories about the railroads. At nineteen he signed on as a barge-tow crewman in order to get to Albany. John Jervis hired him as an errand boy for the Mohawk & Hudson's engineers, then promoted him to apprentice. A veteran railroader at twenty-two, Dillon moved over to the Rensselaer & Saratoga as a construction foreman. He was considering another move — either to the proposed Schenectady & Troy or to the Schenectady & Utica — provided he could wangle a post as at least an assistant superintendent of construction.

The bleary sign of the Bull's Head Tavern near the ferry dock on the Hudson's Watervliet shore was a victim of the railroad. Josiah Stanford sired seven sons and one daughter p22there during his decade as the Bull's Head's owner-manager. His fourth son Leland was born there on March 9, 1824, exactly one month after Jedediah Strong Smith discovered the South Pass across the Rocky Mountains. When Leland was six, construction of the Mohawk & Hudson across the Albany-Schenectady plateau seeded a bold plan in the innkeeper's mind. The Elm Grove Hotel operated as a halfway house for wagonmen and stagecoaches on the Albany-Schenectady Pike. The property included a 300‑acre forest that, propitiously, extended to the Mohawk & Hudson right of way. The elm, pine, birch, beech and maple on that acreage would provide a ten-year supply of fuel for the locomotives. And it was an ideal spot for a refueling station, with the long grades of the river bluffs at each end of the railroad.

Josiah sold his idea to Jervis and borrowed enough cash to purchase the Elm Grove Hotel. He put his sons to work as timberjacks and sawyers on the 300 acres. When their energies surpassed the locomotives' needs the boys peddled firewood in Albany. In 1836, any Albanian had the privilege of observing twelve-year‑old Leland Stanford as he drove a wagonload of logs and kindling along the streets of Rose Hill. He was pudgy, with a long jaw, deep-set eyes and jug ears, and had learned to mask emotion with the popeyed stare of a startled owl. He rarely spoke except to answer questions, and gave these such ponderous consideration that most customers concluded he was "touched."

Creaking along Lark, Swan, Dove and Hawk Streets, the Stanford wagon may have passed, at one time or other, four — and perhaps eight — other youngsters who would play critical roles in the railroad's Northwest Passage.

John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan brought their little family via the filth of a three-master's steerage from County Cavan, Ireland, to Albany sometime in 1830. It is generally accepted that on March 6, 1831, Philip Henry Sheridan was born in one of the goatyard tenements on the northeast slope of Rose Hill. p23By the summer of 1836, little Phil could cope admirably with any freckle-nose on the hillside. As an Irisher with a fey love for horses and mules, he assumed the right to pat any horse that clumped down the alley. It was equally proper that he occasionally whoop — in excellent imitation of a banshee — along the hill to State Street or Washington Avenue where the freight vans and carriages paced by. Possibly he stood on a corner when the Gansevoort's landau passed, and his eyes met those of the Gansevoort's seventeen-year‑old grandson, Herman Melville. Herman was living with his grandparents that year. His father had taken another flyer on the New York Stock Exchange, and couldn't support his family. Promptly, then, it would have been logical for little Phil to dart to the gutter, grab a fistful of pebbles, and pelt them at the coach wheels. But Phil Sheridan was ignored in "Moby Dick," and Herman Melville never enlisted in the United States Cavalry.

Up State Street, too, John A. Dix hurried home to his invalid wife each afternoon. As New York's Secretary of State and General Superintendent of Schools, Lawyer Dix was creating a national reputation as a statesman and capable executive. But that summer of 1836 he was more concerned about the state of Mrs. Dix's health and debating the advisability of seeking a year's leave of absence in order to take her abroad.

Henry Harte was equally worried. Son of a New York merchant, Henry had brought his bride, Elizabeth Rebecca Ostrander, to Albany in 1834 or 1835, and opened a School For Literary and Artistic Instruction. He announced his availability, too, as a lecturer and as a translator of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and French. However, all the literary or artistic instruction the Albanians wanted was available at Albany Academy, Madame Emma Willard's School and Van Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. And now there was a baby, born on August 25, 1836, and baptized Francis Brett Harte.

A professional interest in that baby's crying might have been p24felt by one young medical student strolling past the Harte home. Thomas Clark Durant of Hinsdale, Massachusetts, was a sixteen-year‑old freshman at Albany Medical College. He was lean and had black eyes, a sprouting mustache, a quick mind and a pit viper's temper.

For part of a day, the previous spring, William Tecumseh Sherman, too, had wandered Albany's streets. He was waiting for the steamboat to West Point. "Cump" Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on February 8, 1820. His father died in 1829, and Cump went to live with Thomas Ewing, an attorney and family friend. In the spring of 1836, Ewing negotiated the boy's appointment to the United States Military Academy. So that May, thin, red-headed Cump slung his carpetbags aboard a Columbus-Toledo stage, transferred to a Lake Erie schooner for Buffalo, then traveled at mule pace on a passenger barge to Albany.

Collis Potter Huntington would not have indulged in such extravagant modes of transportation, even if he could have afforded them. Son of a village tinker, Collis was born at Harwinton, Connecticut, on October 22, 1821. His father revered Ben Franklin's observations about thrift. Collis had arrogant eyes, narrow lips, ears set tight against his skull, and a disposition as tart as a green cranberry. He left Harwinton in 1835 to hire out as a farmhand. A year later he walked off the farm with $84 in savings, and headed for the grocery store his brother had opened in the Catskill village of Oneonta. He reached Oneonta with the $85 intact, plus a dollar or two picked up along the way. That summer of 1836, Collis went to Oneonta from Connecticut, via Albany, and became a grocery clerk.

Another day that summer, the wagon of Richard Montague teetered down the Berkshire Trail to Troy ferry landing. Richard and Content Montague were finally succumbing to New West fever. Their farm at Keene, New Hampshire, had p25brought barely enough to pay for provisions on the two months' drive to the prairie homesteads around Rockford, Illinois. Their route through Troy took them past St. Paul's rectory. Six-year‑old Samuel Skerry Montague rode, in the pioneer tradition, on the wagon's tailboard.

Was Ted Judah on the rectory porch when the Montague wagon passed? Did Ted and Sam size one another up with typical small-boy belligerence? In view of the timetable for Northwest Passage being readied at the Mohawk-Hudson junction that summer and fall, the questions are an appropriate prelude to Ted Judah's decision, reached in Sacramento, California, on February 12, 1862, to hire Samuel Skerry Montague as his assistant engineer.

By late fall the massive developments in the United States' Western destiny dimmed the usual excitements of the Presidential election campaign. Texas voted in favor of its new republic's annexation by the United States. Arkansas, as the Union's newest state, pushed central government and homesteading four hundred miles west of the middle Mississippi Valley. The prairie port of Chicago, urged on by the promises of subsidies from the Illinois Legislature and the War Department, began construction of the Illinois & Michigan Canal that would connect Lake Michigan with the Mississippi — another new horizon of water transportation between the Atlantic seaboard, the falls of the Yellowstone, and the Mississippi Falls of St. Anthony at St. Paul in the northwest wilderness of the new Wisconsin Territory.

The students at Rensselaer Polytechnic scuffed the scarlet-and‑gold leaf carpet on their front lawn. This term, Professor Eaton was quoting from Washington Irving's new book, Astoria, and urging it as essential reading for every junior and senior. Glory! Could a railroad ever be left to Astoria and that misty Beulahland of the Pacific's shore? Would gunpowder blast the ledges and tunnels that would permit a locomotive to hiss over and through the Rocky Mountains on a 1 or 2 p26per cent grade? How could fuel wood and water be secured for crossing the thousand-mile deserts described by the explorers? Could a system be devised that would permit railroad trains to travel at night? And what about the Indians and — equally savage — cyclones and blizzards of that "Great American Desert"? Perhaps. . . .

Theodore Dehone Judah, Charles Crocker, Sidney Dillon, Leland Stanford, Philip Henry Sheridan, John A. Dix, Francis Brett Harte, Thomas Clark Durant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Collis Potter Huntington, Samuel Skerry Montague. This was the roll call of Western destiny at the Mohawk-Hudson junction that year. Here each encountered the challenge of the railroad for the first time and unconsciously began his role in the railroad's achievement of Northwest Passage. This was Predestination, 1836.


Thayer's Notes:

a This was based on experience: see Waugh, West Point: The Story Of The United States Military Academy . . ., pp95‑96.

[decorative delimiter]

b John Galloway, in The First Transcontinental Railroad (p32), believes this project to have been for a road, not a railway. I have not seen Mills' original memorial to Congress.


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