Monday, July 13, 2020

Race for the 100th Meridian on the Platte River by Zina Abbott

In 2019, I did a multi-month series of blog posts across several blogs about the first transcontinental railroad. Much to my surprise, I recently learned some information about the 1862 Railway Act of which I was unaware. Because the Union Pacific Rail Road was the ultimate winner of the race toward the 100th Meridian on the Platte River – the point where the eastern portion of the Transcontinental Road began – it was only this past week I realized there had been another contender.
Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railway depot at Miltonvale, Kansas
The railroad with its roots in Kansas was a federally chartered railroad, backed with government land grants. It began in 1855 as the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad, and was later reorganized in 1863 as the Union Pacific, Eastern Division. 
Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division headquarters in Wyandotte, Kansas
The UP Eastern was authorized by the United States Congress as part of the Pacific Railway Act, in order to create, alongside the Union Pacific, a second southerly branch of the transcontinental railroad. The name "Kansas Pacific" was not adopted until 1869. The original intent of the railroad was to build a line west from Kansas City, Kansas across Kansas to Fort Riley, then north to join the Union Pacific main line at Fort Kearny in Nebraska. The construction of the line was motivated in part by the desire of the U.S. government to extend transportation routes into Kansas, which had been the scene of ongoing conflict between Union and Confederate sympathizers even prior to the start of the American Civil War.

As early as 1861 the territorial legislature of Kansas had chartered no fewer than 51 railroads. Practically see all of them were just that – charters. 

Samuel Hallett
On July 1, 1862, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific were authorized, and expectations of rail travel began to escalate. Not much was accomplished to make it a reality until two men, Samuel Hallett and John C Fremont, acquired controlling stock in the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad Company at the end of May 1863.

Hallett was a young banker with offices in New York City. He helped build the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad in the east. Fremont was the big name in exploration in early Kansas and had made a great deal of money from the sale of his ranch in California. Fremont was elected president of the new company and Hallett the general superintendent. The name of their rail company was changed to the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division.

John C. Fremont
Although creating competition between rail lines might not have been intentional, the law of July 1862 brought it about. This law, which established the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads, provided that the Union Pacific be built from the 100th Meridian Westward and the Central Pacific from the Pacific coast eastward. They were to meet at the California-Nevada state line. If either got there before the other, it was to build on until the lines were joined.

That provision left the strip of land between the 100th Meridian and the Missouri River without specific authorization. It was generally accepted that the first railroad to reach that 100th Meridian on the Platte River would get the contract to build on the rest of the railway to meet the Central Pacific.

Although the section between the Missouri River to the 100th Meridian was scheduled to be built west from Omaha, Fremont and Halleck felt confident that if their company reached the 100th Meridian first, they would get the contract for the balance of the job. Based on that, they named their company the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division. Their plan was to build west from the Missouri along the Kansas River, then turn up the Republican River. From there, they intended to continue northwest to Fort Kearney on the Platte River in Nebraska, then westward to the 100th Meridian. The railroad would cut right through the inhabited part of Kansas, and no one objected the tracks turning North into Nebraska. They were better organized than the railroad company at Omaha, they had the people of Kansas behind then, and they moved forward with confidence that they would win the race.
Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division depot at Wamego, Kansas
On July 2nd Congress pass an amendment to the railroad law granting the builders 12,800 acres of land on either side of the roadway for each mile of road built. This amendment also practically assured that the first railroad to get us rails to the 100th Meridian would get the right of way to build to meet the Central Pacific. No one in eastern Kansas had any doubts that Hallett would win the race easily he. He was far ahead of a line starting from the Omaha. Halleck moved to Wyandotte, Kansas and set up the company’s headquarters there.

The company soon ran into trouble. Fremont and Halleck sharply disagreed on several issues. When it came time for elections, there were two meetings of stockholders. At the meeting in the railroad company’s office, John D. Perry, president of the Exchange Bank in St. Louis, Missouri, was elected president. In the other meeting held at another site in town, Fremont was elected president. However, Halleck pointed out that the eligibility to hold office depended on the strength of the shares of stock held in the company. Four months before either election, the company had assessed a ten percent payment on all stock. None of those at the meeting that elected Fremont had paid their assessment, which rendered the vote for Fremont ineligible.  
The Seminole, a UPRWED engine
On July 27, 1864, Hallett was killed by Orlando Talcott who had been brought to the railroad construction work by Fremont. However, when Fremont lost out on spring election, Talcott lost his job. After Samuel Hallett’s death, his brother, John, took over the project. However, Hallett’s death and the process of settling his estate, including the lawsuit brought by John D. Perry for the shares he had been promised by Hallett as part of his accepting the position of president, put a damper on the project.

Delay after delay held up the work. Most of the work was being done on the bridge over the Kansas River and on the line that would reach from the Pacific Railroad of Missouri to the Union Pacific, Eastern Division. The war was absorbing both men and materials, preventing John Hallett from getting the rails or the men he needed to lay them. Another problem was a heavy investor in the project, Thomas Durant, who also had a larg interest in the Union Pacific Railroad running out of Omaha. He diverted most of the available material to that line. The Kansas newspapers that followed the progress of this project closely expressed relief when Durant’s representative, Silas Seymour, was dismissed from the work in Kansas.

It soon became apparent to the Kansas Branch of the Union Pacific that it was not going to reach Fort Kearny ahead of the Omaha branch. Perry, then president of the Kansas Branch proposed to make the best of a bad situation. He asked Congress for permission to build his railroad up the Smoky Hill River to Denver – basically following the route of the Butterfield Overland Despatch Stagecoach Company – rather than up the Republican River to meet Nebraska line at Fort Kearney. Part of his arguments included that the Smoky Hill Valley route was 134 miles closer to Denver then the Republican route would be plus it had other benefits. On July 1, 1865, Congress finally let a new contract for the line to go to Denver, Colorado.

That change pleased the residents and businesses of Denver to no end since it gave them a more direct line to the east. In 1869, the company adopted the name of Kansas Pacific Railway. Its main line furnished a principal transportation route that opened up settlement of the central Great Plains of Kansas and Colorado Territory between Kansas City and Denver.

The Kansas Pacific Railway was consolidated with the Union Pacific in 1880, and its main line continues to be an integral part of the Union Pacific network today.

Although I refer to stagecoach travel, particularly along the Smoky Hill Trail in all three of my novels in the Widows, Brides & Secret Babies series, in my third book, railroads play a role. In September of 1867, my heroine, Penelope, finally leaves Lawrence, Kansas to marry the man she met through correspondence. She is able to ride the train to the end of track which, at first, is Buffalo Springs, a stagecoach station which, in 1867, is run by Wells, Fargo & Company. The tracks soon arrive at Fort Hays where my hero is temporarily assigned. However, between the availability of the railroad, Penelope still travels by stagecoach. What an adventure!

Trails of the Smoky Hill by Wayne C. Lee and Howard C. Raynesford;
Caxton Press; Caldwell, Idaho: 2008

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting Thank you so much for posting and sharing about it. I Love trains. Have a Great week and stay safe.