CHAPTER XX. BUILDING THE UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD.
In this story of the Salt Lake Trail, our account would not be complete without including the history of the great "Iron Trail" that now practically, for a long distance, follows the grassy path of the lumbering stage-coach, the slowly moving freight caravans drawn by patient oxen, or the dangerous route of the relatively rapid Pony Express.
No better story of the construction of the Great Union Pacific Railroad can be found than the address of its chief engineer, General G. M. Dodge, before the Society of the Army of the Tennessee, at Toledo, Ohio, on the 15th of September, 1888. He had been over the whole region which extends from the Missouri River to Salt Lake in the early '50's, and, as has been said of him by a distinguished jurist, now dead: He was an enthusiast who communicated enthusiasm to his working forces, and he showed his skill in the management of hostile Indians, and the ruffians and gamblers who followed the camp. The close of the war, in which he distinguished himself, left him at liberty to accept this position of chief engineer, and his intimate relations with Grant and Sherman put him on such terms with commanding officers of garrisons and military posts along the route, that he was enabled to avail himself of military aid against marauding Indians, and also frequently in maintaining order when worthless camp-followers become unruly.
The authors of this work have deemed it advisable to quote the greater part of General Dodge's address, as a more complete account of the construction of the road than anything to be found elsewhere on the subject: -
Turn with me to the first volume of General Sherman's memoirs, page 79, where he says: -
"Shortly after returning from Monterey, I was sent to General Smith up to Sacramento City to instruct Lieutenants Warner and Williamson, of the engineers, to push their surveys of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, for the purpose of ascertaining the possibility of passing that range by a railroad, a subject that then elicited universal interest. It was generally assumed that such a road could not be made along any of the immigrant roads then in use, and Warner's orders were to look farther north up the Feather River, or some of its tributaries. Warner was engaged in this survey during the summer and fall of 1849, and had explored to the very end of Goose Lake, the source of Feather River, when this officer's career was terminated by death in battle with the Indians."
He was too modest to add, as I have no doubt was the fact, that those instructions were sent at his own suggestion; that was the first exploring party ever sent into the field for the special purpose of ascertaining the feasibility of constructing a railway on a portion of the line of one of the transcontinental routes, and that the exploration preceded by at least four years the act of Congress making appropriations "for explorations and surveys for a railroad route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean," the earlier fruits of which were embodied in thirteen ponderous volumes, printed at the expense of the government.
And still further. The interest thus early manifested continuing with unabated force was signalized in the closing days of his official life by a summary of transcontinental railroad construction up to that date, 1883, so exhaustive as to the leading facts that I am at a loss touching the scope he expects me to give to this paper. This summary may be found in General Sherman's last report to the Secretary of War, including the exhaustive statistics of Colonel Poe. (Ex. Doc. 1, Part 2, Forty-eighth Congress, 1st Session, pages 46, 47, and 253-317.
Under all circumstances, therefore, I must assume that he expects me to confine my remarks to something of an elaboration of the details of the construction of those lines with which I was personally identified, more especially that which first of all linked the two oceans together. . . .
When I first saw the country west of the Missouri River it was without civil government, inhabited almost exclusively by Indians. The few white men in it were voyageurs, or connected in some way with the United States army. It was supposed to be uninhabitable, without any natural resources or productiveness, a vast expanse of arid plains, broken here and there with barren, snow-capped mountains. Even Iowa was unsettled west of the Des Moines River.
It cost the government in those days from one to two cents per pound to haul freight one hundred miles to supply its posts; and I was at one time in the country between the Humboldt and the Platte nearly eight months without seeing a white man other than my own employees.
Now, from the Missouri River to the Pacific, from the Red River and the Rio Grande to the British possessions, the territory is all under civil law.
The vast region is traversed its entire length by five great transcontinental lines of railroad. There is hardly a county in it not organized, and it is safe to say that there is not a township that is without an occupant. Its plains teem with all the products grown east of the Missouri River. It has become the great corn and wheat producing belt of the United States; its mountains are the producers of millions upon millions of the precious ores, and from every range and valley iron and coal in immense quantities are being mined.