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

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

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

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 24

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!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 26
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p326 Chapter XXV
Union

. . . that Peace may flow unto them as a gentle stream, and that this mighty enterprise may be unto us as the Atlantic of Thy strength and the Pacific of Thy love. . . . Conclusion of Dedication Prayer, Reverend John Todd observation at Promontory Point (May 10, 1869).

James Strobridge and Bull Crocker clumped through camp by starlight on April 28. They had hand picked 848 men and 41 teams of horses for the effort at the tracklaying record. Promontory Point was only 14 miles east; this was the last chance. But if they fell short, Union Pacific could only try for a draw its ironmen were already within 9½ miles of Promontory. Strobridge still wore a patch over the eye blinded by the glycerin blast at Summit. Crocker strode like a conqueror king reviewing his troops. This would be his last day at railhead. He was to ride back to Sacramento that night with Stanford to represent the Associates at the May 8th celebration being organized in Sacramento for Golden Spike Day.

The crews moved out at dawn, Chinese tielayers and loaded wagons in advance, trailed to trackhead by eight Irish ironmen. The roadbed wound around the south flanks of the North Promontory range, then over the Rozell Flats toward Promontory p327Summit. The display was superb ballet. Sam Reed, the Casements, and a cluster of Union Pacific bosses watching it from a hilltop could only curse in admiration. Any criticism and envy they expressed, they realized, would be directed at themselves, because the coolies and Irishmen were demonstrating the time-and‑motion studies and assembly-line formula that the Casements had pioneered by the invention of the work train in 1866, and both lines had perfected through experimentation and open spying on each other.

The Chinese, trotting in quickstep, literally danced ties from wagons to roadbed on a bobbing belt of denim and coolie hats. The eight Irishmen paced behind them — heaving 120 feet of rail a minute from the cart, racing it to the ties — and stepping smartly aside so the spikers and fishplate men could move in. All without one misstep. The hammers clanged against the spikeheads in chorus; the wrenches for lashed four times in full arc above the fishplates. The track aligners chorused crowbars forward until the foreman's arm dropped in the signal for "Hooold it!!" The line of Chinese ballasters flashed shovels and legs in the ludicrous tamping waddle of "the gandy dance." There were no steam-driven tools; no gadgets. This was Man, in primitive unity, demonstrating the ancient efficiency of his skill-of‑the‑hands, while on each horizon the symbol of a machine future fumed from locomotive stacks. The machine would have its day when the cowcatchers touched at Promontory. This was Glory Day for the men who had built the Great Iron Trail with bare hands and coordinated skills.

When Strobridge yelled "Lunch break!" at 1:30 P.M., the new high iron shimmered six miles across the flats. The Casements and Sam Reed cantered back to the Central Pacific's work train for lunch with Stanford, Crocker, Strobridge and Montague. Congratulations blended with jocular arguments about technique. Crocker finally snorted the guess that "Dr. Durant never had meant to show up." The comment was answered with such studied nonchalance that Stanford passed the word along to Central Pacific's Salt Lake City office that p328night to "do some investigating." (The Durant Kidnapping story broke in the San Francisco Bulletin on May 10.)

Strobridge had reserve crews waiting to step into any spot in the race, but the starters were lined up on the mark at 2:30. The ballet-precise march continued, stagelit by the blue shadows on the slopes. The "Lay off!" shout came after 7 P.M. — exactly 10 miles and 200 feet from the dawn starting line. During the 12 hours and 45 minutes of the work day Central Pacific's champions had placed 25,800 ties and 3,520 lengths of rail, driven more than 55,000 spikes, and screwed on 7,040 fishplates. The eight ironmen had carried more than 2,000,000 pounds of rail.

The Casements and Sam Reed rode back to their railhead. If they had only "talked" — then or years later — one of the most mysterious kidnappings in all the West's gun-spry history would have been clarified. Books and articles written about the Pacific Railroad's finale have consistently varied the date of the Durant-Duff kidnapping from May 5 through May 13. But all of these dates are contradicted by a May 2nd letter from Grenville to Anne Dodge, the on‑the-scene dispatches filed by Anon, and the diary of Colonel Leonard H. Eicholtz, Union Pacific's bridge engineer.

Dodge, writing his wife from Devil's Gate on May 2, said:— "I am returning tonight from Promontory Point, writing in a car as I get a chance at the stopping places. Dillon is at Echo, Duff and Durant are at Salt Lake." (Italics are the author's.) Both Anon's reports to the Deseret News and the Eicholtz diary assert that Dillon, Durant and Duff were all the Devil's Gate when spring floods wrecked the Weber River Bridge there between May 5 and May 8. Finally, Chicago and Salt Lake City newspaper reports indicate that Durant made a normal two-day journey east from Ogden to Omaha between May 13 and May 15. Via deductions, then, the indication is that the Durant-Duff kidnapping occurred on April 26 or 27 while p329Durant was en route to Central Pacific's tracklaying on April 28.

Writing from Echo City on May 5, Anon gave Deseret News readers a hint of the anger seething against Union Pacific officials. "The U. P. seems rather disposed to retrenchment," he wrote. "Their pertinacity in clinging to funds is not a very sweet morceau to squads of contractors, some of the enterprise mercantile gents of Echo being also rather crusty over it." But the Deseret News failed to publish an account of the kidnapping — and for good reason. Suspicion points to the involvement of Mormons in the affair. Coincidentally, Union Pacific was more than $1,000,000 in arrears again on those "80‑per‑cent monthly" contracts with Brigham Young and the Latter-day Saints.

The first published report of the 36- to 48‑hour "layover" by the Durant-Duff Palace car on the Bear River Divide alleged that the ransom figure demanded by the graders and the hacks was "$12,000 due them in back wages." On May 13 the Reverend Charles Damon interrupted his transcontinental train journey for a day at Cheyenne and spent part of that evening composing a report on "Dr. Durant's Holdup" for The Friend, the Honolulu, Sandwich Islands, church magazine he edited. Reverend Damon fixed the kidnapping date only as "the week before the Golden Spike ceremony," of May 10, but stepped the ransom demand up to $253,000. J. R. Perkins, in Trails, Rails and War, stated that, "the contractors . . . wired the Union Pacific office sat Boston and said that the vice-president of the road would be held until the company paid its bills. President Ames, frantic lest Durant should meet with violence, wired Dodge at Salt Lake and told him to go and release the officials at all hazards. Dodge hurried a message to Fort Bridger and requested that a company of soldiers be sent to the scene of the trouble. But the soldiers never got there, for the telegraph operator at Piedmont, in sympathy with the men, took the dispatch off the wires. The contractors sent another message to Dodge warning him that the trouble would p330spread to a general tie-up unless the company met its obligations within twenty-four hours. Dodge telegraphed Oliver Ames for $1,000,000 to pay off hundreds of employees, including trainmen, who had received no money for months, and the president of the Union Pacific, alive to the situation, wired the full amount; the men were paid and the wheels began to move."

The New York Sun and the Damon accounts expanded on this by alleging that "if a military force had been sent to rescue Durant and his companions, teams were ready harnessed to have 'spirited' them away to the recesses of the mountains, where they would have been kept hostages until the money was paid."

The holdup must have been carefully planned, with fellow conspirators all along Union Pacific's route. The telegraph demand for ransom money to Oliver Ames in Boston simultaneously tapped its implications to every stationmaster and Army telegrapher along the 2,500 miles between Piedmont, Wyoming Territory and Boston. Army troops were stationed at Fort Bridger, less than 20 miles from the kidnap scene; other rescue expeditions could have been sent out from Echo City, Fort Steele or Fort Sanders.

The Army's failure to enter this showdown between Durant and the railroad workmen could have traced back to the opinions of Durant held by Army officers — especially after Durant's other showdown with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant and Dodge at Fort Sanders in 1868. But equally puzzling are: the Deseret News' failure to report details and the date of the kidnapping; the coincidence of the $1,000,000 in back pay overdue to Brigham Young and the Latter-day Saints; and the missions tour of April 25-May 12 that "prevented" Brigham Young's presence at the Golden Spike ceremony on May 10.

The grand finale of the Pacific Railway was one of the greatest triumphs in Brigham Young's amazing lifetime. He and the elders had fought and pleaded for the Pacific Railway since 1852. Young was the first Far West subscriber to Union Pacific's p331initial stock issue in 1863. He had volunteered the services of Mormon grading crews, surveyors, blasters and tie hacks during the 1863‑64 conference with Sam Reed. And, as Sam Bowles alleged — and Dodge also conceded — Union Pacific could not have won the race into Ogden without the heroic services of the Mormons. Still, between April 25 and May 12, 1869, Brigham Young took a tour of southern Utah.

There is not one shred of evidence to directly involve Brigham Young in the Durant-Duff kidnapping. But there is the unquestionable fact that he was the shrewdest politician and sagest judge of human instinct in the West. Three questions chuckle out a century later: Did Brigham Young suspect, or know, that "some of the boys" could not resist this golden opportunity to collect back-wages? Did he plan the April-May mission trip south so that he would not be involved if anything did happen? Did he stay away from Promontory Point on May 10 because, in St. George or elsewhere, the Deseret telegraph tapped the story of the kidnap to him, and he realized that Durant would still be "madder'n a dunked tom-cat" on Golden Spike Day?

Whatever happened, the Durant-Duff kidnapping did not . . . as the New York Sun and other correspondents assumed . . . cause the postponement of the Golden Spike ceremony from May 8 until May 10. Vanity was solely responsible. Again, Nature . . . or was it Manifest Destiny? . . . adjusted the time-table of the Pacific Railroad and mystically dictated its completion as an anniversary memoriumº to Theodore and Anna Judah.

Central Pacific built its trackage to Promontory Summit on May 1. Union Pacific installed its side track there on the same day, although glycerin crews were still blasting the route through Carmichael's Cut, four miles east, and carpenters hammered up the last golliwog span of the Big Trestle. Tracks were laid across it on May 5. A trainload of rails eased out on it. The structure squealed, swayed — and held. A few hours p332later the last blast banged in Carmichael's Cut. On the afternoon of May 7, Casements' ironmen finished the lay-down to the Promontory Summit side track. Sunset colored the storybook ending as Union Pacific's Engine No. 60, with Jack Casement aboard, hissed into the side track. Central Pacific's No. 66 Whirlwind was parked near its own railhead 100 feet away. Both engines "let go" with a raucous salute. This moment — 6 years, 3 months and 29 days after Central Pacific's groundbreaking ceremony — was the meeting of the rails for the Pacific Railroad.

Meanwhile the layoff of grading gangs increased the crime in north Utah. A series of gang rapes terrorized Ogden and Brigham. The Deseret News reported one such instance:

Some days since, late in the evening, two men who had been working on the railroaded obtained access to the home of Mr. G. Wolverton at North Ogden under present of wanting a night's lodging. Both were in liquor. Mr. Wolverton was away from home at the time, and the fiends taking advantage of his absence, ravished his wife and daughter. The latter is said to be about 13 or 14 years old. News of the affair having reached the police, they succeeded in capturing one of the men, named St. Clair. . . . When the news of this outrage reached the ears of Mr. Wolverton, he determined to rid the world of the monsters who had brought ruin upon his family. The police had confined St. Clair in the county jail at Ogden and Mr. W. watching his opportunity, as the prisoner was passing into his cell, emerged from the place in which he had concealed himself unknown to anyone, and shot St. Clair twice. Both bullets took effect, but did not kill the prisoner at once. Before his death, he acknowledged that both he and his companion forced the girl and her mother, and added that he felt free after having made the confession. He died the night before last.

Another ex-grader, "convicted of rape and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment," was shot and killed by "the husband of the injured woman" while the penitentiary's warden was bringing the prisoner across the Weber River. "The husband," p333said the News, "was indicted by the grand jury for murder, and was tried yesterday. He was acquitted by the petit jury, who brought in a verdict of 'justifiable homicide.' "

On May 14, the Omaha Herald published an account of the experiences of a Henry Wolfe in Corinne on or about May 5.

Mr. Wolfe says that on alighting from Wells, Fargo's coach at the end of U. P. track, about half a mile from [Corinne], on the 5th inst., he was seized and thrown into a wagon . . . The ruffians drove back to the city and conducted him into a small room, when producing a rope, they threatened to hang him unless he gave them everything valuable he possessed . . . he gave them $65 in gold, $7 in greenbacks, his valise, which with its contents he valued at $200, and a U. P. R. R. ticket from Junction City to Omaha. When Mr. Wolfe reached Brigham City, he obtained a warrant, and was directed to the U. S. Marshal in Corinne; he found the deputy Marshal, but he refused to serve the warrant unless he and his aide were paid $100 in cash. Having been robbed of all his means, he was unable to pay the money, and was compelled to go East without obtaining any assistance or redress, carrying his warrant along with him.

In Central Pacific's Camp Victory on May 6, two Chinese began a wrangle about a $15 debt. Sides formed, fist fights began, and by midafternoon a rampant free-for‑all was in progress. "Both parties sailed in with every conceivable weapon," a correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote. "Spades were handled, and crowbars, spikes, picks and infernal machines were hurled between the ranks of contestants." Yung Wo, one of the initial arguers, was killed. Strobridge refuse to comment on the total number of wounded.

[image ALT: A flat, barren landscape, with two parallel ridges in the background, one low, the other much higher. A pair of train tracks head toward them: the one on the right, bordered by a line of telegraph poles, has a small train pulling one or two boxcars, already 50 meters away; the track on the left has a larger train, the top of which takes up a third of the photograph: a man is standing on top of one of the boxcars, and another is crouched near him. Between the tracks, a wooden plank platform with two men standing on it in the foreground osing for the picture, one in a formal 19c suit, the other in work clothes. Behind them a crowd of maybe fifty or a hundred men, tents, another locomotive, a stack of railroad ties, etc. It is a Central Pacific Railroad construction camp near Promontory Point, Utah, in April 1869.]

Camp "Victory" for the Central Pacific Railroad construction forces on April 28, 1869. On that day more than ten miles of track were laid to set a record. "Victory" was just west of Promontory Point, Utah, where the last spike was driven on May 10, 1869. Southern Pacific Historical Collection

Colonel C. R. Savage, a Salt Lake City photographer, had been hired by Union Pacific. His diary tells us of a visit to the Casement camp on May 7: "In sight of their camp was the beautiful city of Deadfall and Last Chance. I was creditably informed that 24 men had been killed in the several camps in the last 25 days. Certainly, a harder set of men were never before congregated together. The company do the country a p334service in sending such men back to Omaha . . . At Blue River the returning 'Democrats,' so‑called, were being piled upon the cars in every stage of drunkenness. Every ranch or tent has whiskey for sale. Verily, men earn their money like horses and spend it like asses."

At Echo City, Anon was writing these details:

The bridges in Weber Canyon are on the rampage. The past few days, sun has sent the liquidizing snows in torrents through their rugged course. First went under the wagon crossings . . . next the . . . railroad crossings. The bridge at Devil's Gate commenced giving way last night. The 300 feet of trestle work at Strawberry Ford next evinced signs of "caving." The first bridge below the Narrows, or Slate Point, next succumbed.

In consequence of these disasters, no train passed through the canyon yesterday and today. "All hands and the cook" have been summoned to the rescue. Car loads of lumber have rolled from the construction yard as on wings of lightning to the point of fracture, and every requisition has been made that could in any way facilitate the work of reparation. Vice Presidents Durant and Dillon and the Commissioners were also at the front to observe the situation and direct the repairs. [Italics are author's.]

The diary of Colonel Eicholtz confirms Anon's report in detail, including the presence of "Durant, Dillon, Duff, Reed and Seymour" at the washed-out bridge. Eicholtz supervised construction of a 50‑foot "strainbeam truss" for the broken span.

Dillon and Reed had been in Echo, negotiating settlement of a strike at Tunnel 3 and calming other back-pay demands. Durant and Duff, as confirmed by Dodge's letter of May 2, had gone on to Salt Lake City, quite possibly to arrange for distribution of some of the $1,000,000 to the Latter-day Saints and their contractors. They planned to meet Dillon at Ogden, then ride in state out to the Golden Spike ceremony.

But the Devil's Gate washout left Dillon's Lincoln car — and probably the Durant-Duff Palace car — stranded on the east bank of the gorge. Stanford and his "nabobs" from California, Nevada and Arizona were riding into Promontory in a luxuriously p335outfitted private train. Neither Durant nor Dillon wanted to face the jibes from Central Pacific and the nation's press if they arrived in a boxcar, or even in one of the Casements' sleeping cars. Vanity held them at Devil's Gate from May 5 until the late afternoon of May 9.

California's wave of enthusiasm that week was a stark contrast. From San Francisco to the Nevada mining camps, old bitternesses against the Associates were laid aside. Central Pacific concentrated all its publicity skills on the two-state celebration. Stanford and Hopkins suggested to David Hewes, one of Central Pacific's largest supplies contractors, that a solid-gold spike would be an appropriate object to highlight the dedication ceremony at Promontory. Hewes paid $350 for it and had it engraved with the names of all of Central Pacific's executives. The San Francisco News Letter, alert to a good promotion gimmick, presented a second gold spike. West Evans, the contractor supplying most of Central Pacific's ties, ordered a "last tie" in laurel wood, hand polished and waxed. Pacific Union Express Company rushed through a silver-plated sledge to be used for the "last blows." Nevadans cast a silver spike and sent it down from Virginia City. A. P. K. Safford, the new governor of Arizona, arrived from Tucson, symbolically smelted from his Territory's iron, silver and gold. The outburst fired David Hewes' enthusiasm. He gave his jeweler a rush order for a number of "Last Spike" gold rings jeweled with moss agates, and for several inch-long gold spikes that could be used as watch fobs. (One of the fobs was purchased by an Air Corps pilot in Panama in 1941. He said he had bought it from a Polish flyer who alleged he bought it in Ethiopia from a French Army officer.)

The Stanford Special shrilled out of the Sacramento Station on the morning of May 6, the gold-and‑silver implements on display in satin-lined cases in the drawing-room car. The guests aboard included General Sherman's brother William, Chief Justice S. W. Sanderson of California and Governor Safford p336of Arizona. The train barely escaped a catastrophe next morning near the California-Nevada line. Chinese lumber men were cutting trestle timbers above the entrance to Tunnel No. 14. A 50‑foot log jumped the skid and fell into the right of way, its 3½‑foot butt against a rail, just as the Stanford Special rounded the tunnel approach curve. The log crippled the engine and ripped the steps off one side of Stanford's private car. The tie-up delayed arrival at Reno until late morning. There, presumably, Stanford first learned about the likelihood of postponement for the Golden Spike ceremony until the 9th or 10th, due to the bridge washouts.

But it was too late to change the plans in Sacramento. More than 25 special trains were bringing crowds into town on the 8th; some had already left. The Sacramento Union reported:

The first delegation arrived as early as five A.M. It was a special train from Reno bringing the Virginia and Golden Hill firemen . . . Next came the trains from Colfax and Lincoln, bringing a vast delegation of military and citizens from Placer, Nevada, Yuba, Sutter, Butte and Colusa counties. Sixty-five extra cars were brought into requisition to accommodate these . . . By nine o'clock the city was crowded in all the principal streets with the largest, most orderly, and eager number of people ever collected here at one time . . . The signal which announced to all the laying down of the last rail and the driving of the last spike at Promontory Point was given by a shot from the Union Boy and simultaneous blasts for twenty-three locomotives on the levee and the ringing of all the bells in the town. This deafening clamor lasted for 15 minutes.

The May 8 signal of "the last blow" came from Charles Crocker rather than from a telegrapher. It set off a mile-long parade, a speech by Governor H. H. Haight, a "delicious collation" of punch and free lunch, and an evening banquet at which Crocker — after six years and four months of slander — was cheered and recheered. His brief, proud speech was the only one of the day that recognized the role of the Chinese. "In the midst of our rejoicing," he reminded the thousand guests, "I wish to call to mind that the early completion of this p337railroad we have built has been in a great measure due to that poor, destitute class of laborers called the Chinese — to the fidelity and industry they have shown — and the great amount of laborers of this land that have been employed upon the work."

San Francisco took the cue from Sacramento and set off a three-day celebration by ringing the fire bell in City Hall Tower while the Army fired a 220‑gun salute from Fort Point.

Back at Promontory, the Casements inherited the chore of acting as official hosts for the Union Pacific. (Grenville Dodge left no hint of his whereabouts on the 8th and 9th. Presumably he was among the official kibitzers at Devil's Gate.) The Stanford Special wheezed up to Promontory Summit in a drizzle that soon pattered into a downpour and alternated with fog and high winds for thirty-six hours. The Casements ordered a banquet dinner with champagne in their diner and sent over a procession of curtained carriages to bring the Stanford party aboard. During the evening General Jack announced an excursion trip next day to Taylor's Mill, Corinne, Ogden and Weber Canyon.

[image ALT: A train consisting of a locomotive, barely visible in the background, three passenger cars and last, a flatcar on which a group of some two dozen well-dressed people are seated, obviously posing for the photographer. The train sits on a small bridge in a wilderness area, and occupies almost the entire left of the bridge. The photograph depicts a sightseeing party in Weber River Canyon, UT, in the year 1869.]

A sightseeing party in Weber River Canyon, Utah, 1869. Union Pacific Railroad

Again, there is no record that the May 9th train excursion got as far as Devil's Gate or that Durant, Dillon and Duff drove down to greet it. Through the lashing rains, meanwhile, the Casements' ironmen laid the last 2,500 feet of track to the Summit, then set out the two final rails, under tarpaulin, that would be used for the Golden Spike ceremony.

May 10th's sky was flawless; the mountain winds promised frost. Two trains shuddered across the Big Trestle in the mid-morning. The first trailed the Lincoln and Palace cars; the second carried excursionists plus three companies of the 21st Regiment.

The Golden Spike ceremony itself was somewhat petty. Not more than 600 gathered around the 30‑foot gap when the two engineers climbed into their separate cabs. Thomas Durant had a raging headache. Dodge and Dillon argued with Stanford p338and Strobridge about details. Several of the workmen were drunk. "The crowd pushed upon the workmen so closely, complained J. H. Beadle, "that less than twenty persons saw the affair entirely, while none of the reporters were able to hear all that was said."

[image ALT: A photograph, taken from a point about 8 to 10 meters off the ground, of a railroad track, barely seen except for a length of about 5 meters between two halted locomotives facing each other: one man stands on the track in the middle of this gap. Along the left and in front of the locomotives, a crowd of about 150 people, all men as far as can be made out; it includes what appears to be a camera tripod 2 meters tall. Along the right, a double file of soldiers standing at attention with their rifles, facing the tracks: behind them four large tents and an assortment of people, horses, and mules. It is the scene at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, a few minutes before the Golden Spike ceremonies were begun.]

The scene at Promontory Point, Utah, a few minutes before the Golden Spike ceremonies were begun.

Several rather different photographs of the event were taken; see elsewhere onsite.

Two bands had boarded one of the Union Pacific trains at Ogden. They struck up a march at noon. Major Milton Cogswell, with crusty General Patrick Conner in review, led his battalion out to a double-file line on the west side of the tracks. A line of grinning Chinese picked up one rail; Casement ironmen lifted the other. Strobridge and Reed walked between them, carrying the polished laurel tie. They laid it in position, stepped back, and gave the signal. The last rails clanged into place.

The Reverend John Todd of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, official correspondent for Boston's Congregationalist and New York's Evangelist magazines, had been drafted that morning to offer a dedicatory prayer. Then someone remembered that John Sharp, the Latter-day Saint "railroad bishop," was there as Brigham Young's representative; he was asked to pray too. At 12:40 P.M. the telegraph operator, W. N. Shilling, impatiently tapped: We have got done praying. The spike is about to be presented. From Salt Lake City to Boston, New York, and Washington, his message sent bell ringers to their posts and swept silence across waiting crowds.

[image ALT: A crowd of about sixty or seventy men in 19c dress, standing for the most part between two locomotives, but two dozen or so have swarmed on the top of the trains; they are all facing the camera. It is a photograph of the Golden Spike Ceremony at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869]

The Golden Spike Ceremony at Promontory Point, Utah. Utah State Historical Society

This historic photograph is also available large enough for many of the faces to be fully readable (1.4 MB).

The final ritual seemed pompously endless. Leland Stanford gave a five-minute speech. The California, Nevada, and Arizona spikes were ceremoniously dropped into bored holes in the laurel tie. Finally an ordinary iron spike was inserted into the holes, and one of the Casements' sledges was handed to Stanford for the first of the symbolic last blows. Stanford swung and missed, grunted, and handed the sledge to Durant. Durant, grimacing against his headache, swung and also missed. The process was too wearying for telegrapher Shilling. He tapped the three dots that set off the national celebration, p339while Strobridge and Reed divided the task of actually driving the spike home.

Whistles shrilled in every city and roundhouse across the continent. San Francisco and Sacramento repeated the May 8th bedlam. Shilling's three dots triggered a magnetic ball hoisted above the dome of the United States Capitol and set off an afternoon of parades and an evening of banquets. The Liberty Bell echoed across Independence and Washington Squares. The choir of Trinity Church at the head of Wall Street chanted a "Te Deum" while the battery at Castle Garden crashed a 100‑gun salute. Chicago cymballed off a four-mile parade followed by a banquet address by Vice-president Colfax.

In New York City, Collis Huntington put down his pen as the gun salute began and Trinity's chimes clanged into the glory of "Old Hundredth." His eyes were misty; he snorted and turned back to the account books. Now the real test was coming. Would the books show that the thing could be made to pay?

In Washington's suburbs spry Asa Whitney ordered up his mare, as usual, and went for an afternoon jog around his estate, Locust Hill. Since 1852 nobody had bothered to consult him about ideas for the Pacific Railway. He saw no reason to remind the world that it now ran just about where he had said, in 1844, that it should run.

At Des Moines, State Railway Commissioner Peter Dey wired his congratulations to Dodge, sighed, and turned back to his work.

In San Francisco, the new editor of Overland Monthly hunched over his desk. A strange elation had seized him as the gun salutes echoed on May 8 and again today. Bret Harte began scribbling the poem that was to lead off his next editorial page:

What was it the engines said,

Pilots touching, head to head,

Facing on a single track,

Half a world behind each back?

A woman rocked in the parlor of a white house at Greenfield, Massachusetts. For some reason, when the news came that the Golden Spike would be driven on May 8, she had smiled disbelief. But today, since breakfast time, she had been serenely aware of the hour and moment that the whistles would begin blowing at the Boston & Maine roundhouse. Her eyes were fixed on the spire of St. James Church and the glimmering greenward of the cemetery beyond. The whistles shrieked. Anna Judah's hands trembled as she put on her hat and shawl and began the walk to her husband's grave. She did not need to look at the clock. Twenty-two years before, at 3 P.M. on May 10, she and Ted Judah had been married. "It seemed," she wrote years later of that afternoon, "as though the spirit of my brave husband descended on me, and together we were there. . . ."


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 16 Oct 13