BUILDING THE PACIFIC TELEGRAPH AND RAILROADS.
act of Congress incorporating the Pacific telegraph was
secured by Hiram Sibley, of New York, June 16, 1860, and by
him accepted the 22d of September following. By one of the
provisions of the act it was stipulated that a ten-word
dispatch from Brownsville, Neb., to San Francisco should not
cost over three dollars; and by another, that the line
should be completed and in operation on or before July 31,
1862; also, that Government dispatches should have
precedence over all other business.
prise in pioneer days. Being a thoroughly wide-awake and progressive man, Mr. Sydenham generously consented to allow the operator to come into his building and occupy a corner.
The first operator on the line at Fort Kearney was a Canadian named Ellsworth. Subsequently, when travel across the plains kept steadily increasing and the business of the telegraph company continued to grow accordingly, the operator was allowed an assistant, in the person of a most estimable and capable young man named Frank E. Lehmer, who had been one of the early manipulators of the "key" at Atchison, Kan. Henry Shelden, of Deposit, N. Y., a very pleasant and agreeable young gentleman, was operator in charge of the Fort Kearney office in the spring and summer of 1863.
As an incentive for pushing work rapidly, Congress guaranteed a subsidy of $40,000 a year to the first company that should construct a line across the continent. Work then began in a hurry by both the western and the eastern companies. When the California company had reached a point east only 450 miles from Salt Lake City, Mr. Creighton's line from Omaha was 1100 miles from Salt Lake; yet so rapidly was the work of construction carried forward by him, that it was finished to the Mormon capital and in operation two weeks before the California line reached that point.
On account of the steadily increasing commerce of the plains in the early '60's, and the fact that there were several companies of troops stationed at Fort Kearney, made this the most important office on the eastern division of the great stage line. At this point the telegraph line crossed from the north to the south bank of the Platte, and here was the intersection of the great overland mail route from Atchison, and it also was the western terminus of the Western Stage Company's route, which operated lines to Fort Kearney from Omaha and Nebraska City. There was no telegraph line on the overland stage route along the Little Blue river between Atchison and this prominent military post, and all dispatches from Atchison sent to Fort Kearney and beyond were transmitted up the Missouri river via Omaha.
From Fort Kearney westward the wire followed along the south bank of the Platte, a distance of 200 miles, to old Julesburg (Overland City), in the northeastern part of Colorado. An office was afterwards opened at the station at Cottonwood Springs,
100 miles west of Fort Kearney, and, subseqently (sic), one was opened at Alkali Lake station, about fifty miles west of Cottonwood; and later another was opened at Plum Creek, in the heart of the buffalo region, where Indian outrages afterward frequently occurred, only thirty-five miles west of Fort Kearney.
At old Julesburg, 200 miles east of Denver, the wire was stretched across the South Platte, and the line from there went northwest, where offices were established at the stage stations at Ham's Fork, Fort Bridger, and Salt Lake City.
Before the days of railroads on the plains, the telegraph line appeared to be indispensable for most of the leading overland freighters on their way to Denver and points beyond. With the aid of the wire, they could, after reaching Fort Kearney, at intervals of about fifty miles along the Platte, keep posted on prices of grain, provisions, produce, etc., at Chicago and St. Louis, as well as at the leading outfitting points on the Missouri river.
As an illustration, one Atchison firm alone--still alive and now doing business in Denver--with a large quantity of whisky and other spirits en route across the plains, during the civil war, made nearly $50,000 extra on their supply of liquors in transit simply by adding the special tax Congress had imposed since their shipment from the Missouri river, the news of which reached their ox train by wire from Atchison via St. Joseph and Omaha at one of the stations west of Fort Kearney.
It was steadily becoming known early in the '60's that vast quantities of the precious metals were lying hidden among the hills in Colorado, and that Denver, on account of the discoveries being made--naturally being a tributary of the gold diggings was soon destined to become an important city. None were more keen to see this and grasp the situation than the Pacific Telegraph Company. In the summer of 1863 a branch of the main line was extended west along the right bank of the South Platte, following the stage road from old Julesburg to Denver, offices on the way being opened at Valley Junction and Living Springs stations, which were located at intervals of about fifty miles.
The line was finished to Denver on the 10th of October, 1863, leaving the Platte about 100 miles west of old Julesburg, at Junction, and going from there over what was known as the Denver cut-off, a toll-road laid out from ten to thirty miles south of the old traveled river road (the latter in the form of a semi-
circle), thereby saving, it was alleged, something like ten or fifteen miles in distance. As might naturally be expected, a jollification followed the completion of the line across the plains to the Colorado metropolis. Messages of congratulation on the day of completion of the line to Denver were exchanged between that city and Omaha and other Eastern points. A number of men doing business there, whose families were residing in the States and Canadas, took advantage, and communicated with them from Colorado for the first time by wire.
It cost something in 1863, when prices were on a war basis, to indulge in such a luxury as a telegram. To send a ten-word dispatch east from Denver at that time to New York cost $9.10; and for each additional word sixty-three cents. The rate from Denver to Boston was $9.25; and to Chicago and St. Louis the uniform price was $7.50; to Omaha it was only $4. In 1888, after a lapse of twenty-five years, the rate for a telegram from Denver to New York had gone down to one dollar; for a night message, seventy-five cents.
A few weeks after the line reached Denver it was extended up into the mountains forty miles, to Central City, then one of the busiest and most promising mining camps in the Rockies, where an office was put in and did a large business from the several adjacent settlements.
None appreciated the advent of the telegraph to Colorado so much as did the newspaper publishers. It was a big thing for the Rocky Mountain News, the pioneer journal of the Colorado mining region, when the telegraph line reached Denver and its dispatches were taken fresh from the wire, instead of getting them as they had been doing, from the operator at old Julesburg and from there carried 200 miles in the way-pocket in charge of the messenger and overland stage drivers.
While the telegraph line was under construction, the company was extremely fortunate in finding, near Cottonwood Springs, 100 miles west of Fort Kearney--about half way between there and old Julesburg-- large quantities of cedar poles. The cañons were full of cedars, which were cut and transported on wagons east and west along the route for hundreds of miles. A number of telegraph offices on the plains were built of these logs, as were also several stage stations and stables.
Many buildings for a considerable distance along the Platte,
occupied by ranchmen and traders, were constructed of the material secured from near Cottonwood Springs. Fuel was scarce and expensive between Cottonwood and the mountains. The fire-wood used by both the station keeper and operator at old Julesburg was of cedar, hauled there by oxen a distance of over 100 miles. At Spring Hill, Valley and Beaver Creek stations, the most of the fuel was hauled from Cottonwood Springs, from 150 to 175 miles.
The line from California east was built through to Salt Lake, where it met the line built west from Omaha. During the period of its construction, Brigham Young, the head of the Mormon church, was a prominent contractor in supplying poles, subsistence, and transportation. The renowned prophet lent his invaluable assistance in the rapid construction of the line, and in extending it from Ogden south to Salt Lake City, which was of inestimable advantage to the merchants engaged in business at the Mormon capital. The first dispatch east from Salt Lake was sent during the civil war--October 18, 1861--by Brigham Young, and was addressed to the president of the Pacific Telegraph Company, at Cleveland, Ohio, as follows:
"Utah has not seceded, but is firm for the constitution and laws of our once happy country."
The same day Secretary and Acting Governor Frank Fuller thus saluted President Lincoln:
"Utah, whose citizens strenuously resist all imputations of disloyalty, congratulates the President upon the completion of an enterprise which spans a continent."
The answer flashed back was as follows:
"The Government reciprocates your congratulations.-- A. LINCOLN."
After the completion of the great telegraph line, in the fall of 1861, the charge for a ten-word message from Salt Lake City to New York was $7.50, whereas, two decades later, the rate had dropped to $1.50.
It is somewhat remarkable, but nevertheless a notable truth, that after the telegraph line was completed it was seldom molested by the Indians. Frequently it would be down and out of working order for a number of days at a time, but the trouble was usually caused by storms. Occasionally desperadoes would commit a crime, and throw down the line, so they could make
their escape from the country before the repairs could be made. Although it was often alleged that the mischief was done by the Indians, it is almost certain that they were innocent of the charge. The single wire reaching from pole to pole which passed through their hunting-grounds they considered as something sacred, having been taught that it extended east directly to the White House, and was private property, built by, and belonging exclusively to, the "Great Father," at Washington.
The civil war was raging furiously when the telegraph across the continent was completed. The line was opened for through business to San Francisco October 22, 1861. The first message received in New York from the far-famed city on the western coast was as follows:
"The Pacific to the Atlantic sends greeting; and may both oceans be dry before a foot of all the land that lies between them shall belong to any other than one united country."
Before the close of the year 1866, the long, tedious ride by stage overland between the ends of each railroad was shortened from seventeen to ten days. It was during the year 1865, however, eighteen months after work had begun on the Central Pacific at Sacramento, before the first rail had been put down on the east end of the Union Pacific at Omaha. The foot-hills of the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas had already been reached by the iron horse on the Central Pacific. After beginning work on the east end of the line, the Union Pacific laid 200 miles of track during the first twelve months, and in March, 1866, the line had reached a point some 300 miles west of Omaha.
During the wonderful progress of the road, its contractors put down in one month sixty-five miles of track. Work continued to go forward, and track-laying was kept up summer and winter, but the Central Pacific company, in surmounting the difficulties of getting over the Sierras, was delayed five or six months by snow.
The materials for the Union Pacific at first went to Omaha up the Missouri river by steamboat, a large number of boats being used for the purpose; but after Chicago and Omaha were finally united by iron bands nearly all supplies went forward across Iowa over the Northwestern without delay to the end of track.
The rolling-stock and much of the other materials for the Central Pacific were obliged to make the long ocean voyage around Cape Horn, covering a distance of 19,000 miles. An immense
amount of material was in this way transported. It is a matter of history that at one time no less than thirty vessels, loaded almost exclusively with rolling-stock, aggregating hundreds of thousands of tons, were on the long sea voyage.
The snow-capped summit of the Sierras was reached by the Central Pacific in the summer of 1867, and on the 30th of November following the first passenger-train ran there from Sacramento. At first it appeared like a herculean task to get over the lofty western range. The difficulty was great, for it was found necessary to pierce the mountain by no less than fifteen tunnels, aggregating a distance considerably more than a mile, one at the summit being the longest--1659 feet--and way up 7042 feet above ocean level, or more than a mile and a quarter high.
In building the road, an army of some 10,000 men and more than 1000 teams were steadily engaged, making their way eastward in a sort of zigzag course down the eastern slope of the Sierras. Work across this mighty range, where so many tunnels had to be bored through granite, and where many miles of massive snow-sheds must be constructed, was necessarily slow, while up the Platte valley, on the Union Pacific, with the immense force employed in building, the track was being spiked down at the rate of two and one-half miles a day.
The road progressed so rapidly that in October, 1867, the army of builders employed on the Union Pacific reached the foot-hills of the Rockies, 500 miles west of Omaha, after which further progress was slow, compared with the work already finished.
Sherman, the highest point on the road--likewise the highest altitude in the United States then reached by the iron horse was nestled on the back-bone of the continent, and lay 8424 feet above tide. It was 1382 feet above the highest point reached on the Central Pacific; at the time considered a remarkable feat in engineering. In five years after the first rail was laid on the west end, nearly 700 miles of track, all together, had been put down by the two companies.
Business in those early days was booming, and few men, if any, were idle. Every man capable of work was engaged and sent to the front. At one time the number of men that had been concentrated for the construction of the two lines reached 25,000, and upwards of 5000 teams were employed. Between fifty and one hundred locomotives and hundreds of freight-cars were daily em-
ployed on each road, and more than a thousand tons of material and subsistence were daily being hurried to the front over the two lines. At the head of Great Salt Lake, at what was known as Promontory Point, the two roads finally met. In 1867 the gap between them was a little over 1000 miles.
In the summer of 1866 there was rapid work done by both companies. Never before was there such lively railway construction, in this or any other country, considering the many obstacles that necessarily had to be surmounted. Each company had its army equipped with picks and shovels, bars and sledges, thoroughly drilled for every emergency. With renewed energy work went forward each day, and there was no let up along the route in the mighty task laid out for them.
In the spring of 1869 a comparatively short gap lay between the two roads, and this was rapidly being closed up. The intervening space, that was over 1000 miles two years before, was now less than 200, and day by day this distance was "growing small by degrees and beautifully less." Each company was doing its best to get the most road. When the Union Pacific was finished to a point only five miles east of Promontory, the Central Pacific outfit astonished every one by laying nine miles of track in a single day, beating every previous record known in railway building.
The two gangs of track-layers day by day and hour by hour were steadily nearing each other. They met face to face at Promontory Summit, a little west of Salt Lake, on the morning of May 10, 1869. Then began the closing exercises of the great undertaking that long since made the completion of the line historic. The road-bed had for some weeks been finished, and it was understood that the closing exercises would take place where the track-layers met. The last tie put down was of laurel, cut in the mountains of California. It had been beautifully polished for the special occasion, and was temporarily but carefully put in place in the road-bed; then the last rail was put down and spiked. The two locomotives, panting, were on the track facing each other.
The final exercises finishing the road were quite impressive, viz., the shaking of hands across the track by Governor Stanford, president of the Central Pacific; and Vice-president Durant, of the Union Pacific. These two officials were the heroes of the occasion. After hand-shaking, the event was followed by each driving a golden spike, and the ceremonies ended. The Atlantic,
and Pacific oceans, separated more than 3500 miles by four lofty mountain ranges, were at last joined together by bands of steel. Immediately the telegraph began ticking off the joyful tidings, that were flashed in a twinkling to every part of the United States and to each quarter of the globe. Apparently there was nothing more to be done. The first great transcontinental railway, then the most important enterprise of its kind in the world, was at last completed.
The Deseret telegraph line had been finished from Ogden down to Salt Lake City, and the news of the driving of the last spike at Promontory Point, completing the Pacific railroad, was flashed over the wire simultaneously with its transmission throughout the length and breadth of the Union. On receipt of the news in the Mormon capital, instantly the stars and stripes were unfurled from public buildings and other prominent places, brass and martial bands stationed expectantly at several points struck up lively airs, and artillery salutes were fired. The principal stores and factories, and public and private offices, were then closed and business suspended for the remainder of the day. Eight months afterward, on the 10th of January, 1870, the last spike completing the Utah Central railroad from Ogden to Salt Lake City was driven by Brigham Young.
No part of the country through which the railroad was built enjoyed the enterprise so much as did the Mormons. They had long been wanting more rapid transportation and closer communication with the East and West. Brigham Young, as early as 1853, while governor of Utah, in his message to the legislature of that territory, advocated the building of the Pacific railroad.
People of the present day, as they are being whirled across the Continent from New York to San Francisco at the rate of forty miles an hour, have but little conception of the then gigantic enterprise known as the "Overland Stage." The western terminus of the railroad then was on the eastern bank of the Missouri river, and a vast stretch of nearly 2000 miles of prairie, plains, mountains and desert intervened, across which the Concord stagecoach was the most rapid means of conveyance in the later '50's and early '60's.
The building of the Pacific road at once seemingly annihilated time and space. The long, tiresome, dusty stage ride across the Plains to and from California was an event of the past. Passen-
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