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Chapter 18

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 20

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p237 Chapter XIX
In Darkest Nebraska

At night new aspects are presented in this city of premature growth. Watch-fires gleam over the sea-like expanse of ground outside the city, while inside soldiers, herdsmen, teamsters, women, railroad men are dancing, singing or gambling. I verily believe that there are men here who would murder a fellow creature for five dollars. Nay, there are men who have already done it, and who stalk abroad in daylight unwhipped of justice. Not a day passes but a dead body is found somewhere in the vicinity with pockets rifled of their contents. . . . Henry M. Stanley at Julesburg (August, 1867).

West of Iowa, spring was the time when winter and summer fought their annual duel. The river ice turned gray, exploded into massive stilettos, then eddied across the flatlands on yellow foam. The buffalo wallows became lakes. A sultry, sun-speckled morning could prelude an afternoon of arsenic-tinged cloud banks that swelled to dragon shapes and ushered in a half hour's deathlike silence before the inferno of tornado columns. By the time winter withdrew, still snarling, to the Rockies' crests, summer had daubed its greens from the Missouri to the Black Hills. Nebraska's spring of 1867 was no exception.

p238 Only one train came in after [us]," Samuel Reed wrote from Omaha on March 25. "A severe storm commenced at North Platte, blockading the road as it progressed eastward. Twenty-four hours after its commencement, the storm had traversed the entire length of our road [and blocked the railroad] as far east as Marshalltown. The Missouri River is still fast frozen. I have six locomotives on the east side of the river and would not hesitate to cross them on the ice if we needed their services on this side."

Three weeks later he was in Omaha again with a dismal report of havoc along the line. "Fifty thousand dollars," he wrote on April 18, "will not repair the damage done by the flood. The ice broke first at Loup Fork. The bridge sustained the immense pressure and caused the ice to flow out on both sides cutting away the embankment about one mile on each side . . . Between North Platte and Kearney the water flowed from the Platte in a stream about half a mile wide, cutting the road its entire width . . . taking off iron, ties and embankment. At Prairie Creek the bridge was carried downstream. East of Shell Creek there are from four to six miles with nothing but ties and iron left. At Elkhorn River, about half a mile of track is gone. . . ."

North Platte was ready for the emergency. The hillocks of rails, ties and hardware had grown through the winter. Alongside them were stacked more than 15,000 tons of freight waiting transport to Army posts and the new frontier towns in Idaho and Montana. "Encamped in the immediate vicinity of this town," a newspaper reported during May, "are 1,236 waggons, divided into trains of 27 waggons, each train officered by 29 men and a superintendent. There are Mormon emigrants bound to Utah, settlers for far Idaho, and pilgrims to mountainous Montana . . . The prairie around seems turned into a canvas city."

The Casement work train split itself into two sections. One half rumbled east to repair flood damage. The second half followed the ironmen up the north shore of the South Platte p239toward the Cheyenne-Sioux hunting grounds and Lone Pine Pass. During November and December, Dodge and Evans had made a final effort to locate a 2‑per‑cent grade through the Rockies behind Denver. On the basis of their report Union Pacific would by-pass the Pikes Peak Region, cross the Black Hills via the Lone Pine Pass, then build a branch line south to Denver from its Crow Creek Crossing. There was no reason to hold grade gangs, bridge teams and supply wagons off that Lodgepole Creek route veering north out of Julesburg; Denverites were already cursing the Union Pacific and cheering the Kansas Pacific's dig across Smoky Hill.

This year, too, the Casements needed a long work season. Their new contract with Durant might be as catastrophic to their bank balance as a massive Indian raid. The agreement the general manager had forced on them read:

We the undersigned propose to lay and fill the track of the Union Pacific R. R. [the word "Co" was written, then inked out] during the next year according to the instructions and subject to the acceptance of the Chief Engineer and as fast as required (not to exceed three miles per day) for Nine Hundred Dollars per mile and upon the following terms and conditions — The Railroad Company to furnish all the materials for the track at or west of the new base of supplies three hundred miles west of Omaha, or at the most convenient point for transferring in that vicinity — Also to furnish all the locomotives cars wood and water necessary to be used in hauling and distributing the track materials west of said new base — To transport free of charge all men and supplies needed to carry on the work. And to pay us for all delays of more than one day caused by want of motive power track materials or any default of neglect of the company. The track to be laid in a workmanlike manner and filled with materials from the side of the road. The track to be accepted upon the completion of every twenty miles and an approximate estimate made by the Engineer in charge of the work and paid monthly.

We will furnish all engine and trainmen, also oil waste and tallow for all trains in our employ — We will receive track material within one hundred feet of the track — Will make no extra p240charge of cutting or filling in beveling ties which does not exceed six inches or for putting in all the necessary frogs and switches and will place the labor of all our men at the disposal of the company during the time of all delays for which they are charged and we will charge only the amount of our expenses — All trains in our employ to be subject to regulation by the company and under the general control of the superintendent of the company. We will at option of the company, on ten days notice reduce our gang of track layers to a force sufficient to lay one half mile per day.

J. S. & D. T. Casement

The details of the Casement contract dictated by Durant in November, 1866, reflected a new crisis that was developing in Union Pacific. The Casements' construction feat during 1866 won the race to the 100th meridian and assured a profitable future for Crédit Mobilier. Yet Durant greedily held the Casements' fee to "$900 a mile." Although the Casements deducted an average of $1 per employee a day for board and bunk, crew wages and supply costs brought their overhead to $700 or more a day, without consideration for "acts of God" or the constant threat of Indian raids. The work train would operate at a loss if construction slowed even to three-quarters of a mile a day.

Worse than that, the Casements would have no legal recourse if anything did happen. The Hoxie Contract, held by Crédit Mobilier, was fulfilled when the rails reached the 100th meridian. The 35 miles into North Platte were laid without a master-contract assignment by Union Pacific; and this situation still existed. The Casements, grading crews, bridge builders and surveyors were pushing west toward the Sioux-Cheyenne heartland on Durant's say‑so alone. And it was touch and go whether his waspish orders would continue. His temper flare-ups and stock market trickery had generated a power struggle within Union Pacific. The railroad was building without the approval of its directors.

The headquarters' crisis traced back, as the more observant bankers suspected it would, to the election of General Dix as p241Union Pacific's president. Durant had selected Dix as a figurehead. And he was one. The old gentleman's interests were in national politics; he consistently referred decisions on Union Pacific matters to Durant. Thus, to the grading gangs as well as to Wall Street, Thomas C. Durant was "Mr. Union Pacific." His curtness and lone-wolf maneuvers were becoming as distasteful to the Ames Brothers as they were to Sam Reed and Peter Dey, and eventually to Grenville Dodge.

In October, 1866, the White House appointed General Dix United States Ambassador to Napoleon III's court. At the Union Pacific board meeting, just before the Grand Excursion to the 100th meridian, Dix resigned. Oliver Ames and Sidney Dillon were elected to the board that afternoon. During the thirty years since he had bought newspapers from young Bull Crocker at the Troy Station and had given orders to engineer's assistant Ted Judah, Sidney Dillon had made a fortune as a railroad construction contractor. Oakes Ames persuaded him to buy stock in Crédit Mobilier, then sponsored his election to the Union Pacific directorate.

Dillon shared the Ames Brothers' growing distrust of Durant. So, it developed, did other directors. Oliver Ames was elected president of Union Pacific in November. Through the winter Dillon and the Ameses quietly bought up shares of Crédit Mobilier and solicited voting options from stockholders known to dislike or fear Durant. By spring they had a majority. At the May 18, 1867, meeting of Crédit Mobilier, Durant was voted off its board of directors.

Durant's stockholdings were too large and his knowledge of construction details too intimate to remove him as executive vice-president and general manager of Union Pacific. Moreover, the Ameses and Dillon feared he might spill the whole story of Crédit Mobilier to the White House or — worse still — to the Democrats. The power struggle centered on a master contract to succeeded the Hoxie contract. Durant had been negotiating with L. B. Boomer, a Chicago bridge builder and Union Pacific subcontractor, to take over as Crédit Mobilier's p242dummy on the 150 miles west of the 100th meridian. The Ames Brothers-Dillon group refused to accept Boomer and countered first with a 58‑mile extension of the Hoxie contract, then with a bid for a 268‑mile contract to John M. S. Williams. Durant obtained court injunctions against both bids on the ground that their estimated costs were "too high." The feud was carried on through summer and fall while Durant continued his steely rule over the railroad's personnel.

Financially, the Crédit Mobilier plum was ripening. The publicity created by the Grand Excursion, plus assiduous salesmanship in New York and Boston, marketed more than $10,000,000 worth of first-mortgage bonds. This, plus loans on the Federal bonds, enabled payments to the iron mills, relay railroads and locomotive works, and restored credit at Omaha and Council Bluffs banks for the weekly pay rolls.

Fully aware of the crisis at headquarters, Sam Reed, the Casements and Grenville Dodge struggled west toward deadlier crises with the Indians and the rowdies of Hell on Wheels. The Cheyenne and Sioux broke winter camp near Fort Larned, Kansas, in April, massacred at stage stations and ranches along the Smoky Hill and Santa Fe trails, then rode north toward the Platte.

Dodge's survey crews waded through the Platte's floods, under orders to make the location survey west to Lone Pine Pass. One crew, headed by L. L. Hills, reached the base of Lone Pine Pass in early April and began to stake east toward Crow Creek. They were six miles from the Creek when 100 Cheyennes ambushed them. Hills died in the first assault. An axman took command. The party fought off another screaming charge, holed up until dark, then fought its way back to North Platte. Cheyennes yanked out the right-of‑way stakes, raided wagon trains, and chased bridge crews away from the Lodgepole and Crow Crossings. We need 5,000 soldiers east of the mountains and north of the Platte, Dodge wired to General Sherman.

p243 "I regard this road as the solution of Indian affairs and of the Mormon question, and I will help you all I can," Sherman replied. General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant backed him with a message that took a blunt sideswipe at Durant by pledging, "every protection . . . both to secure the rapid completion of the road and to avoid pretexts on the parts of the builders to secure further assistance of the government."

But Congress was weary of war and jittery about the national debt. Assurance by Secretary of the Interior Browning that the Indian problem could be settled with conferences and another set of treaties had convinced Capitol Hill committees. Consequently the War Department didn't have enough budget to recruit 500 cavalrymen — let alone 5,000 — for the Platte. The entire command at Fort Kearney consisted of 12 infantrymen and a band of musicians. Fort McPherson, 120 miles up the Platte, held one company of cavalry, one battery of artillery, and a squad of infantry. Fort Sedgwick, across the South Platte from Julesburg, held 6 companies of infantry, one company of cavalry and a squad of artillery. These three posts, with a total of less than 200 mounted men and 600 foot soldiers, were the only army forces available between Omaha and Denver.

Grading crews and bridge builders had to be strung out over the 250 miles to the Crow Creek Crossing. The Casements' gangs were pounding rail toward Julesburg at an average of two miles a day. Dodge and Jack Casement reached a decision, rounded up a troop of war veterans, and started up-country. At each grade camp and bridge foundation they organized crews into gun squads, rehearsed them in deploying techniques, then selected sites for the construction of timber-lined dugouts that could be used as emergency forts. Every gang was ordered to keep rifles stacked within one-minute reach, and to post lookouts atop each embankment.

But this system could not work for the surveying teams. They were out front and on their own, very much as the Mountain Men had been a half century before them. Percy Browne's p244crew was across the Black Hills on May 12, running elevations fifty-five miles west of Fort Sanders (near present Medicine Bow, Wyoming). Dodge had obtained a detail of cavalry from Fort McPherson to guard them. A war party of more than 100 Sioux sprang an ambush on the afternoon of the 12th. The surveyors and cavalry detail held them off and holed up for the night. The Sioux charged again at dawn. Browne led the survivors back to railhead for more ammunition.

During the last week of May, Dodge escorted three Federal commissioners beyond railhead to a grading camp. The morning was bright and peaceful. At noon the gangs unhitched their teams and headed down the bank for lunch buckets. Dodge and the commissioners lolled chatting beside the dump carts. A fusillade roared across the slope, echoed by a chorus of war whoops. A column of Sioux charged down the right of way. A half-dozen braves veered howling among the horse and mule herds and stampeded them; the others fired mockingly between the workmen and their stacked arms. With the teams in stampede, the warriors fired another volley and raced back over the ridge. At railhead that night the commissioners sent a long telegram demanding more cavalry protection for the railroad. Sherman ordered three companies up the Platte from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The Indian raids throughout Western Kansas and the upper Platte, the mounting feud between the War Department and the Interior's Indian agents, and the spectacular rush of Union Pacific's railhead toward the Black Hills, promised "Wild West" headlines to newspaper and magazine editors from Chicago east. British, French, German and Scandinavian editors were also interested. British investments in the India and China trade were concerned about progress on the Pacific Railroad. French capitalists had large investments in the canal Ferdinand de Lesseps was dredging at Suez; and there were hundreds of thousands of Germans and Scandinavians in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri. From June on, p245North Platte and Casements' railhead were hosts to "special writers" and correspondents stabbing questions, scribbling notes in a dozen languages, and driving the telegraph operators frantic with night dispatches and "urgent" bulletins.

No one in this press corps was more alert or ambitious than the twenty‑five-year‑old Galvanized Yank named Henry Morton Stanley. Born in Wales, he had suffered through a childhood that could have been a prototype for David Copperfield. After a series of Dickensian and dime-novel adventures which embraced New Orleans, the Civil War, Denver, Smyrna and Constantinople, he joined the staff of the St. Louis Missouri Democrat as a "Far West" correspondent and obtained "stringer" assignments from several Eastern dailies. He was with the Hancock-Custer expedition to the Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne at Fort Larned, Kansas, in April, 1867, shipped up the Missouri to Omaha, and reached North Platte in late May. The abandon of the new city shocked even his worldliness: "Every gambler in the Union seems to have steered his course for North Platte," he reported, "and every known game under the sun is played here. The days of Pikes Peak and California are revived. Every house is a saloon and every saloon is a gambling den. Revolvers are in great requisition . . . On account of the immense freighting done in Idaho, Montana, Utah, Dakota and Colorado, hundreds of bull-whackers walk about, and turn the one street into a perfect Babel. Old gamblers who revelled in the glorious days of 'flush times' in the gold districts declare that this town outstrips all yet."

The Casements' train was forty miles upriver. Some of the ironmen rollicked back to North Platte for Saturday night brawls. There were fistfights, a few knifings, and now and then a body or two to fish out of the river. Sunday night brought the routine roundup: the foremen moved from saloon to saloon in squads, blackjacks at wrists and guns ready; work as usual at Monday's sunup. But North Platte was already downcountry — a has‑been town. The bullwhackers would be on the plains by mid-June. And they'd never come p246back. Railhead in 1868 would be out West somewhere. The real problem was Julesburg. That was to be the next division terminal. From September until snowfall, wagon trains would roll in there from the high country, their crews' pockets heavy with six months' pay. Julesburg promised to be really bloody.

The "redskin terror" soon beckoned Stanley, with space rates that could net him ninety dollars a week. He joined the escort of Major General C. C. Augur, commander of the Department of the Platte, on an inspection trip of the ranches and stage stations burned since April. Augur told Stanley about the new Washington ruling that, "No escort shall be provided for Wells, Fargo & Company's coach east of Fort Sedgwick (Julesburg). All passengers and freight must be sent to the end-of‑track from whence sufficient escort shall be provided for all coaches westward . . . Major North will divide his command [Pawnee Scouts] into small detachments to scour the bluffs immediately contiguous to the Platte." He also verified that General Sherman had just wired Governor A. C. Hunt of Colorado: raise a regiment of 500 men and have them ready in case I call for them.

The Sioux and Cheyenne extended the General's trip by chasing Wells, Fargo stages across the unpatrolled twenty miles between Julesburg and railhead on June 1, 2, 4 and 5; four passengers and three Wells, Fargo employees were killed in the running fights. Then the Reverend W. A. Fuller, an Episcopal missionary, provided the week's best escape story by jumping off a stage roof into the Platte and swimming under water to a clump of hazelbush. (The miracle was that the Platte was deep enough for the feat.) The Sioux killed the driver and guard and ran off the horses. Reverend Fuller stayed in the hazelbush until dark before heading back to Julesburg.

Two Lodgepole Creek ranchers, out chasing mules that the Indians had stolen, found a white woman's scalp but no mules. At dusk on June 12 a band of 125 Sioux jumped a wagon train at O'Fallon's Bluffs, ten miles west of North Platte. The p247train was loaded with supplies for Fort Phil Kearny on the besieged Bozeman Trail. Again the raiders' first move was to stampede the 250 mules. The herdsmen had been surrounded and the animals were scattering when the bullwhackers sortied out from their wagon circle, ripped off a few volleys, and ended the fight; they claimed 9 Indian dead, and one animal lost from the train.

The work train entered Julesburg during the last week of June, paused while the crews laid spur tracks to the foundation stakes for the roundhouse and depot, then sidetracked for the freight trains bringing up the portable warehouse and supplies from North Platte. The saloonkeepers, madams and gamblers shipped up their prefabs too. Hell on Wheels rebuilt in a cottonwood grove along the South Platte and was ready to roar again by Saturday afternoon.

Generals Dodge and Casement stalked down the dirt street, scowling at the flamboyant signs. A madam tapped a silver dollar against a windowpane. A Chicago "dandy" strutted past. A "dance-and‑drink" girl slithered out of a saloon tent, kicked her satin skirt waist high, and shrilled, "Raht over heah, dahlin's." They shook their heads, pushed past her to the bar, and ordered beers.

Dodge pulled out a telegram just in from Washington. It was signed by Grant himself. Jack Casement read it. General John A. Rawlins — Grant's neighbor from Galena, Illinois, and now his chief of staff — had contracted tuberculosis. His physician had ordered him to the mountains for a few months. Grant was sending him to Julesburg with an escort of two companies of cavalry under Colonel Mizner. General Grant was deeply grateful, the telegram went on, if Dodge could be Rawlins' host and guide in the mountains. Officially, General Rawlins was under orders to determine sites for new Army posts along Union Pacific's right of way. The itinerary would of course be at General Dodge's discretion.

Jack Casement lifted his mug in silent salute and winked. General Rawlins plus two troops of cavalry meant that Dodge p248could conduct a survey in force clear through to Salt Lake City. And in the process the War Department would gain a far clearer picture of the task confronting Union Pacific.

But — Casement frowned as he handed the telegram back — what would Dodge do about Congress? Council Bluffs had elected him its Congressman last November while he was tramping around Berthold Pass with Evans in a blizzard. The scrap between President Johnson and the radical Republicans was getting ugly. "When," he rumbled, "d'you think you'll find time to go to Washington, Mr. Congressman?"

"October — perhaps November," Dodge said, and sighed. "I didn't ask for the job. Matter of fact, I forgot about it until Evans and I got back to north Platte and saw the stack of telegrams congratulating me on the election. I'm sorry for John Rawlins, but his trip's a godsend for us."

General Augur returned to Julesburg that weekend to await General Rawlins. Sam Reed was in town, too, and wrote his family about the "tour of the gaslights" made by Augur and his staff with the Casements and Dodge as guides. "The first place we visited," Sam wrote,a "was a dance house where a fresh importation of strumpets had received. Such profanity, vulgarity and indecency as was heard and see there would disgust a more hardened person than I. The next place visited was a gambling hell where all games of chance were being played. Men excited with drink and play were recklessly staking their last dollar on the turn of a card or the throw of a dice.º Women were cajoling and coaxing the tipsy men to stake their money on various games; the pockets were shrewdly picked by the fallen women of the more sober of the crowd."

Henry Stanley went along too. He assured the Missouri Democrat's readers that martial law was "the only sure preventative of these murderous scenes" since "the civil law is as yet too new to be an impediment to the unwashed canaille, and it certainly offers no terrors to the women who travel about undressed in the light of day."º

"These women," he went on, "are expensive articles, and p249come in for a large share of the money wasted. In broad daylight they may be seen gliding through the streets in Black Crook dresses, carrying fancy derringers slung to their waists, with which tools they are dangerously expert. Should they get into a fuss, Western chivalry will not allow them to be abused by any man whom they may have robbed."

Western chivalry must have influenced Stanley's copy. Any strumpet aspiring to a "large share of the money wasted" on her would have landed in the Platte with her throat slit. All of Julesburg's bawds worked on commission to saloon operators or cribhouse madams, who in turn were "staked" by liquor wholesalers and sporting-goods syndicates in Chicago and St. Louis. Like their sisters of the trade on North Clark and Fifth Streets, the Julesburg girls operated under the brass-check or sales-receipt system. They earned commissions from bartenders for the drinks they "pushed" on male companions, and received a receipt from the madam for each cash-in-advance trip to a "crib." If they lured a man out behind the tents to a stick-up, it was all in the night's work; another commission job. Pickpockets and gunmen were organized on a kick-back system too; most of them were on pay rolls of the saloons, cribhouses and gambling halls as "spielers," dealers or bar boys.

Prostitution was a taboo subject in the public press of 1867. The Julesburg descriptions that Stanley sent to the Missouri Democrat were daring. He held back one of the most deadly implications of all. Evidence indicates that many, perhaps more than half of Hell on Wheels' women were avid distributors of gonorrhea, syphilis and Phthirius Pubis, the crab louse. The probabilities are that they infected 25 to 50 per cent of Union Pacific's gangs.

Health laws were unknown. The prophylactic had not been invented.b Members of the American Medical Association gave little professional attention to the prevalence of venereal disease until Dr. Marion J. Sims of Alabama, the association's 1876 president, devoted his inaugural address to "syphilis — one of the most fatal diseases we have in this country." The p250only medical group concerned with venereal disease in 1867 was the United States Army Medical Corps. Their records show that almost one-fourth of the total Army personnel were treated for it that year. The total "mean strength" of the Army in 1867 was 47,233 men. Of the 10,153 treated, 5,873 had syphilis and 4,280 had gonorrhea. (Of these, 8,236 were whites and 1,917 Negroes — an infection rate of 204.96 per 1,000 for the whites and 271.91 for the Negroes.)

Since the 1867 outbreak is the highest ratio of venereal infection reported in the entire history of the Army Medical Corps, the cribhouses and camp followers west of the Mississippi must have played a major role in the flare-up. Coincidentally, the only other comparable aggregations of men in barracks that year were the work gangs of Union Pacific and Central Pacific. The Central Pacific's Chinese maintained their own "sporting houses" and assumedly did a better job of health supervision. Army statistics suggest that the infection rate among Union Pacific's crews was at least as high as it was in the Army.

Both Casement and Dodge were familiar with the bulletins on "Venereal Disease" issued by the Army's Sanitary Commission in 1862, and the recommendation that, "the practices of the Belgian Army be followed: (1) Report the woman who gave the infection and remove her from the community; (2) Impose a penalty for failure to report an infection at once; and (3) Get all infected personnel out of quarters and into a hospital." The Army cures then prescribed for gonorrhea included: sulphate of zinc solutions, "alkaline mixes, cubebs, injections of a weak solution of nitrate of silver every two hours, and Epsom salts." The only known treatment for syphilis was to daub the chancres with mercury ointments.

Control of "v. d." as well as a taste of martial law for Hell on Wheels were obvious motives for the raid Casement and Dodge planned. Dodge verified that there was such a raid. It must have occurred in early July. General Rawlins' cavalcade reached Julesburg on June 28. The itinerary Dodge worked p251out called for a Fourth of July celebration at the next division point on the Crow Creek Crossing, and the townsite's christening as "Cheyenne." West over Lone Pine Pass and Sherman Summit, then, the Rawlins-Dodge expedition would follow the survey lines across the desert to the Wasatch passes and Great Salt Lake Valley.

With Rawlins and Dodge jogging up Lodgepole Creek, the Casements and Sam Reed picked a squad of their brawniest ironmen, loaded them into a boxcar, and steamed back to Julesburg. More than a thousand prostitutes, gamblers, bartenders, pimps and shills were readying Hell on Wheels for "big money" over the Fourth. At least 3,000 graders and wagonmen were coming in from the camps. The ironmen deployed out from the Casement warehouse at dusk, guns cocked. A squad of reserves stayed near the boxcar, under orders to "come on the double" if the gunfire got rambunctious. The Sunday night roundups at North Platte had familiarized the Casements with the worst toughs and the filthiest bawds. Months later Jack Casement allegedly told Dodge, "The worst ones went out to the edge of town . . . to the cemetery." The raid that night was a foretaste of the Vigilante hangings and gun battles that would torture every town founded along the Union Pacific through its birth of central government in 1868‑9. The ironmen stalked in, shot down the toughs who pulled guns, marched "the worst ones" out to the cottonwood grove and hung them. It is equally logical that Casement and Reed had a list of girls known to be infected and that they imposed the Army's rule No. 1 for "v. d. control" and shipped them back to Omaha.

Hell on Wheels operated over the Fourth, but with the ironmen on patrol, the "dips" and "grifters" at heel, and fighting restricted to the gouges and groinkicks between graders and wagonmen.

Julesburg stayed on the simmer for another three months while the work train laid iron up the Lodgepole's valley toward Nebraska's west border. There probably was, as Henry p252Stanley indicated, an average of a murder a night during August and September. The wagon trains were rumbling back from Montana and Colorado; the town swarmed with bullwhackers, guards and prospectors "coming out" with pokefuls of gold. But the railroad gangs fared reasonably well on their play nights, with the ironmen on patrol.

The Casement cleanup of Julesburg was still prime gossip along the iron trail when a band of Cheyenne engineered the Indians' most spectacular train wreck. The warriors, led by Chief Turkey Foot, knew that Fort Kearney was all but abandoned and that the cavalry guard supplied to General Rawlins had reduced the complement at Fort McPherson to one or two troops. Moreover, there was great prestige to be gained by capturing an iron horse. During the evening of August 6, Turkey Foot's braves piled ties atop the track a few miles west of Plum Creek, shinnied up the telegraph poles, hacked off a hundred feet of the iron wire and used it to crimp the ties to the rails. Then they squatted behind the bank and waited.

The first vehicle to arrive was a handcar carrying a repair crew out to locate the break in the telegraph line. The Cheyennes fired. William Thompson, the crew chief, went down and was scalped. But in the chase after the rest of the crew, the warrior who had attacked him dropped the scalp. Thompson was still conscious. Just then a freight train's headlight shone downriver. The Cheyenne gave up the chase and again hid behind the embankment. Thompson slithered over to his scalp, picked it up, staggered erect and began running east toward the Plum Creek Station.

The pile of ties and the derailed handcar careened the freight locomotive down the bank. The fireman burned to death in the gush of flame from the firebox. The engineer was thrown free, but the Cheyenne scalped him and threw back into the blazing locomotive. The conductor and brakemen heard the firing and war whoops, scrambled out of the caboose, and sprinted east. They flagged down a following p253train, then stood guard on the cowcatcher and tender while it backed into Plum Creek, picked up the station crew there and retreated to Elm Creek.

Omaha rounded up soldiers and railroaders and rushed out a trainload armed for a major battle. Soon after the train arrived, Thompson stumbled in, still gripping his bloody scalp. A physician promised him that the scalp could be grafted back on his skull, and put it to soak in a bucket of cold water while a locomotive and caboose raced Thompson back to the Omaha hospital. (The grafting didn't take. Thompson lived to be a grandfather — in a black skullcap. His scalp, still afloat in a jar of alcohol, was on exhibit at the Omaha Museum for decades.)

The train Turkey Foot and his Cheyennes derailed had contained a carload of millinery supplies and a carload of whisky, both en route to Julesburg. The Cheyennes build a bonfire, got roaring drunk, decked themselves with ribbons, flowered bonnets and strips of silk and held the giddiest hoedown ever whooped on the Platte. Next morning, when they sighted the relief train and its soldiers, they rode off; the remains of the fireman and engineer fitted into two boxes, 30 by 12 inches.

On August 9, North's Pawnee Scouts caught up with 100 of the Cheyennes near Plum Creek Ranch. They killed 15, and captured 2 braves, one squaw and a thirteen-year‑old boy. The Platte Valley seethed with rumors for weeks. Omaha itself prepared for a siege, but Turkey Foot's raid was the last foray of the year in Nebraska.

Sometime in October the work train eased across the Lodgepole Creek bridge and began the climb out of Nebraska. When the Casements pulled out of Omaha in April, 1866, Nebraska had been a territory with a half-dozen communities along the Missouri River bluffs, a few ranches clustered near the Platte Valley forts, and a population little changed from the 28,000 listed in the 1860 census. Now, less than eighteen p254months later, a score of towns stood along the 464 miles of the Great Iron Trail. Nebraska became a state over President Johnson's veto on March 1, 1867. The 1870 census would reveal a population of 123,000.

George Francis Train's roseate vision for Columbus had already burst. Nebraskans voted the little prairie town of Lancaster, fifty miles west of the Missouri, as their State Capital, and changed its name to Lincoln. Durant's hauteur and Train's boisterousness met head-on sometime during the year; Union Pacific severed relations with Crédit Foncier and created its own, Town Lots Division. "Train said he was sacrificed by the railroad men," Sam Reed wrote home, "and cursed long and loud."

Forty-three miles ahead of the work train as it crossed the state line, the tent city of Cheyenne was already bustling toward a 10,000 population as the acknowledged capital of the new Territory of Wyoming.


Thayer's Notes:

a A more extended quote is found in John Galloway, The First Transcontinental Railroad, p298 f.

[decorative delimiter]

b Not true. The condom is first documented in Europe in the 16c, and from then on is increasingly mentioned in print: the first unambiguous instance of the English word reported by the OED dates to 1706; and the article itself seems to have been in fairly widespread use by the end of the 18c, at least in Europe.


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