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Chapter 22

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Great Iron Trail

Robert West Howard

G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 24
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p297  Chapter XXIII
The sons of Deseret

But for the pioneer­ship of the Mormons, discovering the pathway, and feeding those who came out upon it, all this central region of our great West would now be many years behind its present development, and the railroad instead of being finished, would hardly be begun. . . . Samuel Bowles, The Pacific Railroad — Open, How to Go; What to See (1869).

The Ames contract assumed responsibility for construction of Union Pacific "667 miles west of the 100th meridian." Testifying before a Congressional committee six years later, Oakes Ames claimed that the trans-Rockies route had not been determined when the contract was approved by the railroad's directors in October, 1867. But Union Pacific's timetable maps for 1870‑1871 show a trackage, excepting the extra 20 miles of the Seymour loop to Carbon Summit, of exactly 667 miles between the 100th meridian and the Wyoming-Utah border.

Was the Ames contract of September, 1867, deliberately written to end on the threshold of Utah Territory and the Latter-day Saints' "empire"? Did Congressman Oakes Ames, for political and perhaps even ethical reasons, insist that the construction contract bearing his name end at the Wyoming-Utah border because Crédit Mobilier was already developing  p298 plans to hoodwink Brigham Young and the Latter-day Saints in a sequential trans-Utah contract? The financial crises created in Utah by Crédit Mobilier during 1868 and 1869 make both questions logical.

A contract to use Mormons to perform $1,000,000 worth of grading and bridge construction across Utah was signed during the last week of May, 1868. The Deseret News of May 27th stated in its lead editorial that "a contract for the grading of the road from the head of Echo Canyon to this city has been closed between S. B. Reed, Esq., acting in behalf of the company, and President Young." Young, in turn, subcontracted with Latter-day Saints church members, "capable and responsible," who would organize crews among their ams and friends to build a mile or two of grade, blast out the tunnel approaches, or prepare the masonry for being abutments and piers.

The prices to be paid the subcontractors by Young ranged from 27¢ for cubic yard of earth excavation and $3.60 a cubic yard for granite removal, to $13.50 for a cubic yard of "masonry in bridge abutments and piers, laid in lime mortar or cement, beds and joints dressed, drafts on corners, laid in courses." The Reed-Young agreement stated, and the Deseret News stressed the fact, that "Eighty per cent of the above prices will be paid monthly as the work progresses, the remaining 20 per cent will be paid when the entire job is finished and accepted."

Negotiation of such a contract emphasizes the involved financing of Union Pacific — a legal nightmare in contrast to the brash monopoly of Central Pacific's Associates — and again poses the question of a deliberately rigged scheme by Durant, the Ames Brothers and their Crédit Mobilier allies to use Latter-day Saints Church credits to finance the right of way through the Wasatch canyons. Sam Reed signed the contract as superintendent of construction. The sequential master contract for Union Pacific's construction from the Wyoming-Utah  p299 line to "junction with the Central Pacific" was not approved by Union Pacific's board — and reassigned to Crédit Mobilier — until October, 1868. This was more than four months after the Mormon gangs went to work in the canyon.

The Utah economy that spring was in dire need of new sources of revenue. The Latter-day Saints' experiments in cotton farming, sericulture, wine grapes and even sugar-beet processing, had proved expensive failures. And other agricultural production had not kept pace. Utah needed more wool, flax and grain and far larger beef and dairy herds to feed, clothe and provide employment for the thousands of converts migrating into the Promised Land.

"Just think how many things could be raised and manufactured here that would fetch very remunerative prices," General Daniel H. Wells, the Utah War hero, complained in a sermon he delivered at the New Tabernacle. "Butter that at the present time is selling for a dollar and a quarter a pound, in a country like this should not bring more than twenty-five cents. Cheese the same. These two articles are imported twelve to fifteen hundred miles, and then the Territory is not near supplied . . . Wheat is selling today at four dollars the bushel, when it should not be more than half that price. It is so with every other article of our own consumption."

The Deseret News' editorials about the contract with Union Pacific could "see great cause for thankfulness," because "Now, no man need go East, or in any other direction, in search of employment. There is enough for all at our very doors and in the completion of a project in which we are all interested. Coming as it does when there is such a scarcity of money and a consequent slackness of labor, it is most advantageous . . . Those who owe may pay their debts, and have the necessary funds to send for machinery and establish mercantile houses in the various settlements."

In joyous anticipation, storekeepers opened their stocks for credit buying by the subcontractors Young approved. Sam Reed had promised that the railroad would deliver "all the  p300 necessary supplies . . . to the terminus of the Railroad, which those who take contracts can make arrangements for obtaining in any necessary quantity." But railhead was still 300 miles east of Echo. Wagon trains had to be organized to bring the stuff in. Meanwhile the subcontractors ran up local bills for provisions and other supplies needed at the canyon camps.

The Latter-day Saints' response was so speedy and their organization so prompt that some of the camps were forced to wait a month or longer for Blickensderfer and his surveyors to drive location survey stakes and tell the crew bosses where and how to grade their sections. Most of the tent and shack colonies had been built before Grenville Dodge rode into Echo during early July. On the day of the Durant-Dodge showdown at Fort Sanders, Edward Sloan rode to the head of Echo to establish what the Deseret News called the "Railroad in the Canonsº Bureau." The reports he sent back to Salt Lake City during the next eight months provide the best panorama extant of the Great Iron Trail's gargantuan routine. On July 31 he wrote:

The line runs along the mountain on the east of the little cañon and the side rolls with dips and spurs which make a succession of heavy fills and cuts. Bishop Sheets has about three quarters of a mile which commences with a high embankment where it joins Bishop Young's 2800 fill . . . There is a cut and fill along the side of the mountain in this contract, 350 feet long, where the ground is so precipitous that it has to be terraced to hold the earth thrown down, or there would be danger of the whole sliding away when melting snows and Spring loosen the earth. Then follows a cut 300 feet long, which is thirty-seven feet deep on the upper side and 13.5 on the lower side, most of it through decomposing rock. A small fill of 100 feet and a cut of 250 feet and about ten feet deep, is followed by a fill of some 1,550 feet, of which Bishop Sheets does 150 feet, J. W. Young doing the other 1,400. There is a culvert under this 110 feet; and another 120 feet will come in the heavy fill further down. The Bishop has sixty-five men and eighteen teams at work and wants more help.

 p301  He visited Tunnel No. 1 and found "about 150 men at work . . . who work in shifts, and thus keep at it night and day. The contractors expect to get through it by the first of March; and the intention is to cut through with machinery, driving the drills by steam."

The "absence of profanity, disorder or quarrels was highly gratifying," he continued. "In but one camp of less than one hundred men, out of between two and three thousand working in the two cañons, did I hear profanity; and it is not likely to be tolerated there long . . . Order governs, harmony reigns and the best of feelings exist. After the day's work was done, the animals turned out to herd and the supper over, a nice blending of voices in sweet singing proved that the materials exist among the men for a capital choir, and there is some talk of organizing one. Soon after the call for prayers was heard, when the men assembled and reverentially bowed before the Author of all blessings."

Three thousand men digging and blasting through the gloomy red gorges of Echo Creek and Weber River proclaimed that Utah would become the battleground for the final handouts of Federal bonds and grant-land deeds to the Pacific Railroad builders. Leland Stanford arrived from Central Pacific's railhead sometime during June, 1868, engaged a suite at Hotel Newhouse, and bustled up to the Lion House. His letters to Mark Hopkins indicate that he was in Salt Lake City most of the time until December and was soon on a first-name basis with Young.

Grenville Dodge, Mrs. Dodge and Sidney Dillon reached Salt Lake City on August 12. J. R. Perkins alleges, in the official Dodge biography, Trails, Rails and Wars, that Dodge and Dillon immediately made an appointment with Samuel Montague to seek an agreement on a Central Pacific-Union Pacific meeting point west of Salt Lake. "The chief engineer of the Central Pacific shook his head," Perkins wrote. "He did not possess the authority in dealing with his road that Dodge assumed in constructing the Union Pacific. But he did convey  p302 the pleasing information that the Central Pacific had also decided to build north of Salt Lake." Dillon was in Salt Lake City with Dodge, thus Dodge could not have "assumed authority" in suggesting a junction point agreement to Montague. Dillon and Dodge spoke with the approval of the Ames Brothers and the Crédit Mobilier majority. Furthermore, Leland Stanford was in the same hotel and would have been consulted, just as Huntington could have been queried by telegraph or through a conference with Oakes Ames in Washington. What seems more probable is that Dillon, Stanford, Dodge and Montague met several times during mid-August to argue about the trans-Utah "route plan" that Huntington had filed with the Department of the Interior. It was also logical to consult on the route around Salt Lake, then determine who would break the news of Salt Lake City's by-pass to Brigham Young.

Either Dodge or Dillon decided to make the first announcement of the northern route to Young, or Stanford passed along the insinuation that Central Pacific was being forced to build north of the lake, too, because of Union Pacific's decision to by-pass the City of the Saints. Dodge, at eighty, recalled a fiery sermon in the Tabernacle during which Young denounced him for "influencing the Union Pacific Company to build north of the lake."

But there were deeper reasons for Young's outburst. Three months had passed since Reed and Young had signed the grading contract. The Echo Canyon subcontractors had finished the thirty miles of tortuous embankment between Wasatch and Echo City and were putting the finishing touches on bridges and working double shifts on the tunnels. But Union Pacific was just getting around to the master contract for James Davis. Not a nickel of the "80 per cent a month" payments had been seen in Salt Lake City. The Canyon workers were complaining; their families were complaining; the Eastern jobbers were harrying the storekeepers who harried the subcontractors, who in turn rode into Temple Square  p303 and harried Young. Any thundering Brigham Young did about the Salt Lake City by-pass had the heady steam-up of Union Pacific's no-pay tactics to push it into a Sunday morning sermon.

Leland Stanford either heard the sermon — with silent glee — or picked up its Monday-morning reverberations. He wired Huntington. Huntington pressured both the White House and Secretary of the Interior Browning for the two-thirds "advance payment" on the bonds for Central Pacific's trans-Utah route. Secretary Browning veered to Huntington's views and began urging the Treasury Department to hand over the bonds.

Coincidentally, Charles Crocker was experiencing a series of segregation threats about "that damned coolie labor." On December 1, 1867, a mob of 150 white miners at French Corral, Nevada, had assembled on the claim of Scharden & Bell, driven off all the Chinese employed there, and burned their shacks. Warrants were issued for 88 of the mob. On the day of the hearing the 88 marched through Nevada City to the courthouse with a hired band and a color guard. The judge fined David Norrie, the alleged ringleader, $100 but postponed the trial of the other 87 "indefinitely." When Crocker's 12,000 Chinese deployed across the Truckee Meadows three months later, threats to "burn 'm out" began to burgeon down from Virginia City saloons. The Chinese grade camps would extend 200 miles beyond railhead. One mob of half-drunk Vigilantes from a mining camp could trigger a race war that would cripple construction for months and forfeit all of Utah to Union Pacific. Crocker and Trowbridge appealed to the Army. From May on, United States Cavalry patrolled the work camps.

Stanford feared a spread of the Anti-Coolie Labor Association's propaganda into Utah. Forthright editorials in the Deseret News against the "exploitations of Chinese labor" revealed the Latter-day Saints' attitude. Huntington reported excellent progress in his efforts for trans-Utah bonds. And Union Pacific was in disgrace on Temple Square because of the delinquencies  p304 on the Reed-Young contract. Early in September, Stanford closed with Young on a Mormon grading contract for Central Pacific to build right of way between Weber Canyon and the Nevada Line. He guaranteed $3 to $6 a day for manual and skilled labor and $10 a day for wagonmen. And he gave a cash down payment.

News of the contract traveled to New York. Early in October, Grenville Dodge returned to Salt Lake City with Thomas Durant. They appeared, in public, to be on amiable terms. The suite they engaged at Hotel Newhouse was near Stanford's. Presumably this was a first meeting for the two ex-Albanians. But there is no evidence that either was in the mood to reminisce. Durant paid off part of the $500,000 overdue on the Sam Reed contract, then began negotiations for a second grading contract with Young. He was of course consistent in his double dealings. And he seems not to have shared Stanford's scruples about using "coolie labor" for the Union Pacific embankment that was to parallel Central Pacific's across Utah. On October 10 Durant sent a telegram to Ted Judah's co-founder of Central Pacific, D. W. Strong, at Dutch Flat, California. It authorized Dr. Strong to "contract with Ah Him or Ah Coon or any responsible party" for 2,000 Chinese laborers to be delivered to Union Pacific's agent at Central Pacific's Nevada railhead. Durant offered wages of $40 in gold for a month of 26 working days, free transportation of tents and cooking utensils, and "soldier protection." Strong did not answer the telegram or its sequels. Grudgingly, Durant signed a second contract with Young for Mormon grading.

The three contracts meant a total of $3,000,000 worth of construction labor for the Mormons. The largest problem, Young now knew, would be to collect the money. Beyond that it was a battle between giants. The land they would blast and gouge was largely desert. Again the call went out for subcontractors on the Pacific Railroad. Durant wanted a mile or two of bank thrown up near the Nevada line in order to substantiate Union Pacific's claim to land grants and loans across  p305 Utah. Stanford feinted back by ordering a few miles of Central Pacific grade up Weber Canyon toward the bleak cliffs of Devil's Gate.

But the earnest race developed that fall across the waste lands north of the lake. There for 200 miles Mormon friends and neighbors built rival base camps 100 feet apart and began work on two embankments that had been deliberately surveyed to crisscross each other. Stanford complained to Mark Hopkins that Blickensderfer's surveyors were running so many lines, "some crossing us and some running within a few feet of us, and no work on any, that I cannot tell you exactly how the two lines will be." Later he grumbled that, "The U. P. have changed their line so as to cross us five times with unequal grades between Bear River and Promontory. They have done this purposely as there was no necessity for so doing . . . We shall serve notices. . . ."

The Mormon crews entered into this fox play with zest. A gang of Union Pacific graders "borrowed" dirt from a Central Pacific embankment to fill their own; the Central Pacific gang stole out before evening prayers and shoveled it back into their line. The sport became dangerous when gangs began to work on parallel rock cuts. "The two companies' blasters work very near each other," the Deseret News reported, "and when Sharp & Young's men first began work the C. P. would give them no warning when they fired their fuse. Jim Livingston, Sharp's able foreman, said nothing but went to work and loaded a point of rock with nitro-glycerine, and without saying anything to the C. P., 'let her rip.' The explosion was terrific . . . and the foreman of the C. P. came down to confer with Mr. Livingston about the necessity of each party notifying the other when ready for a blast." (Thirty years later, Grenville Dodge recalled that "the laborers upon the Central Pacific were Chinamen, while ours were Irishmen, and there was much ill feeling between them. Our Irishmen were in the habit of firing their blasts in the cuts without giving warning to the Chinamen on the Central Pacific working right above them. From this  p306 cause, several Chinamen were severely hurt. Complaint was made to me by the Central Pacific people, and I endeavored to have the contractors bring the hostilities to a close but, for some reason or other, they failed to do so. One day the Chinamen, appreciating the situation, put in what is called a 'grave' on their work, and when the Irishmen right under them were all at work let go their blast and buried several of our men. This brought about a truce at once. From that time on the Irish laborers showed due respect for the Chinamen, and there was no further trouble." The General Dodge story, like many Old West legends, appears to be apocryphal. Neither "Anon" nor any of the reporters gathering for Pacific Railroad's finale published anecdotes about an Irish-Chinese blasting feud. The Dodge story appears to have had its origin in the Deseret News episode about the Mormon grading gangs.)

Stories about "the rowdies, the gamblers, the patrons of drinking salons" pacing Union Pacific's railhead in from the states created fear in all the communities of Utah. Hell on Wheels and its bloody sequel of "necktie parties" and Vigilantes proclaimed the wave of the future for Ogden, Logan, Farmington and perhaps even Salt Lake City and Provo. "Such people," warned the Deseret News as early as June 8, 1868, "think the world owes them a living. They hatch mischief and breed trouble wherever they go. Vice and vicious indulgences are congenial to them. We have no room for such characters, much less sympathy."

"It is a capital idea for our citizens," Editor George Cannon later advised his readers, "to have loaded firearms in their dwellings in all localities where there is the least reason to suspect or anticipate the visits of such characters. A gentleman of this city has written us a letter containing a good suggestion on this subject. He advocates the idea of a shrill whistle, something like those used by policemen in the East, being on hand in every house in localities infested by this lawless element, so that in case of alarm the blowing of the whistle, never to be  p307 had recourse to except in such cases, would speedily call assistance."

The approach of the East's "rowdies" was the more ominous because of the 5,000 husbands and sons working on railroad contracts, 50 to 200 miles from home. Mormon wives were used to frontier hardships. Most of them were as skilled as their husbands in operating homesteads; some were deft herdswomen. But, as the News deplored with unconscious male superiority, guns were "not of much avail in the hands of women, from the fact that many of them have not nerve and pluck enough to use them."

That winter, too, the prices of farmstuffs soared. Both Central Pacific and Union Pacific were working in desert wilderness. It was cheaper to haul hay, grain and foodstuffs out of Utah than it was to interrupt the flow of construction materials along the single tracks out of Omaha and Sacramento. The railroaders' bids sent hay to $100 a ton, potatoes to $7 a bushel, oats to $10 a bushel. But, in the American tradition, most of the profits went to jobbers and middlemen. And they were forced to "put it on the books." Crédit Mobilier was reneging again on payments for the grade contracts, as well as the provisions. Thus the realization of the Pacific Railroad, urged by leaders of the Latter-day Saints for a generation, was heralded by inflation, family hardships and widespread dread of the Era of the Rowdies.

The week before Christmas, 1868, the word came. Edward Sloan was writing another series of work-camp reports for the Deseret News. He wrote from Echo City on the 20th:

The stubborn facts are before us. But thirty days since, one stone dwelling-store . . . an inn, with an outhouse, one tippling shanty, Wells Fargo & Co.'s rude quarters, a telegraphic operation, and a half-occupied log cabin or two . . . were the "teeth and toe nail" of Echo City. Today I have counted . . . exclusive of the U. P. R. R. buildings, some fifty structures, most of them true enough, mere duck tenements . . . Under this vigorous spread of cotton luxuriate wholesale and retail groceries, dry goods,  p308 general merchandise, clothing, hardware . . . bakeries, blacksmith and wagon shops, cheap Johns, carpenter shops . . . saloons, doggeries, whiskey-holes, dram-barrels, gambling-hells . . . restaurants, eating places, lunch covers, pie and gin resorts, corrals, hotels under shingles and dimity, "private dwellings," whence feminityº stalks out with brazen publicity . . . expressly denominated here as nymphs du grade . . . This is but the beginning. Since it has become so certain that the locomotive will reach the mouth of Echo, the whole paraphernalia of Terminitish-Babylon has disgorged itself towards this fated spot. They are coming, coming, coming.

That same day Central Pacific's coolies were finishing the warehouses of a new base camp at Carlin, Nevada, while railhead clanged toward the mining-boom town of Elko, 90 miles from the Nevada-Utah border. The day of the Railroad was at hand for the Promised Land, and all the "gluttonies of the flesh" that paced it.

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