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North Platte

And Its Associations.





Exploration and pioneer settlement of Nebraska. -- The Morman invasion. -- The gold seekers of 1849, -- Nebraska becomes a Territory. -- The bill for the construction of the U. P. Railroad passed. -- Ceremony at breaking ground. -- Speeches. -- Durant calls for a million ties and gets laughed at. -- First rail laid. -- Arrival of first locomotives and first engineers. -- Perils of track laying. -- Track reaches North Platte.

     Less than a century ago, Nebraska was considered to be nothing more than an inviting wilderness with few streams, an for the most part consisting of treeless, waterless plains unfit for cultiva-





tion, and consequently useless to civilized man. Indian tribes, living in the most primitive manner, occupied the region, and vast herds of buffalo roamed the trackless waste, living luxuriously upon the withered-like grass that clothed the barren soil. Deer and antelope were numerous, and the Indian, a born hunter, lived by the chase in comparative comfort, the buffalo supplying his wants; the hide furnishing clothing and shelter, the flesh, food, and from the bones and intestines he fashioned implements and useful articles. One Coronado, a Spanish cavalier, is credited with being the first to explore the region constituting Nebraska. He came in 1541 expecting to find cities, and silver and gold in abundance, but was disappointed. Hakluyt, an ancient chronicler, states that he came from the southwest accompanied by a large body of men, and that "when they came to Quiuira. they found Tarrax who they sought, an hoarie-headed man, naked, and with a jewell of copper hanging at his neck, which was all his riches. The Spaniards seeing the false report of so famous riches, returned to Tiguex, without seeing either crosse or shew of Christianitie; and thence to Mexico."




      Two brothers, Perre (sic) and Paul Mallet explored the valley of the Platte in June, 1739, tracing the river as far west as the forks, and were followed by other adventures and hunters.

     In 1804, President Jefferson commissioned and fitted out an expedition under the command of Captain Meriweather Lewis, and Lieutenant William Clark, "to explore an expanse of country shrouded in mystery," west of the Missouri river.

     In 1819, an exploring and scientific expedition headed by Major S. H. Long, penetrated the wilds and followed the Platte river to its source.

     In 1842, John Charles Freemont, statesman, soldier and explorer, accompanied by a party, was commissioner by the government "to explore and report upon the country between the frontiers of Missouri and the south pass of the Rocky Mountains, and on the line of the Kansas and Great Platte river." He passed along the Platte valley and has left an interesting account of the journey. It took a year and a half for him to reach Sutter's mill in California, and the journey is now made in less than three days amidst practically all the comforts of home. Senator Benton, so noted for wisdom, declared at the time




that God himself had set up a barrier to the advance of the white man's civilization, and he doubtless believed it to be so, but many barriers have been swept away, and the unmapped wilderness of his day has become the home of several million people.

     Nebraska long continued to be exclusive Indian country, but the tide of immigration began to flow westward, and its outposts gradually reached the banks of the Missour river and white settlers invaded the soil of Nebraska.

     In 1844, when the Mormons were compelled to leave Illinois, they moved west, and endeavored to establish colonies on the Nebraska side of the Missouri river. The main colony squatted about six miles north of where the city of Omaha now stands and named the settlement "Winter Quarters," and in two years the population numbered over ten thousand. The requirements of such a concourse of people were great, and the slaughter of game and destruction of timber so disturbed the Indians that they appealed to the United States Government, and as the land was theirs, the Government compelled the Mormons to go elsewhere. Many, although indifferently equipped, entered upon the perilous journey to




an expectant home at Salt Lake, leaving quite a number to become settlers and test the adaptability of Nebraska soil to cultivation.

     Another item in the colonization of Nebraska is the gold panic which seized the people of the East in 1849 when it was announced that gold had been discovered in California. The valley of the Platte being a natural avenue to the mountains, especially from the northern states, great number of people arrived at fords of the Missouri river, and for a time they were crowded, there being no available means to gain the opposite bank. A shrewd observer named William Brown, seeing an opportunity to make money, organized a company, and soon had a ferry in operation from Council Bluff to the Nebraska shore. This same gentleman conducted a hotel in Council Bluffs, and in 1853 took a claim which nearly covered the town site of Omaha as it was afterwards laid out; marking its boundaries by blazing trees with a hatchet.

     The gold seekers were a diverse crowd composed of all classes, making their way across the plains as they best could. Some had mules, other ox-teams, some rode horse back, and not a few went on foot,




and being ill prepared, many perished on the long weary marches. Not a few gave up the attempt at acquiring wealth in such a way and began life as pioneers in the new country, despite the fact that the Indians looked upon all settlers as invaders of their domain, and harassed them by thefts of stock and pilfering.

     Notwithstanding unfavorable criticism, the wealth, and population of Nebraska increased so rapidly that it was considered advisable to elevate it to the dignity of a territory, and it was so organized, February 2, 1853.

     Prosperity being assured, a railroad was wished for, and it was hoped one would be constructed through the valley of the Platte to the Pacific coast and open up the new country. The Legislature, and every Governor from Cumming (sic) to Saunders advocated the measure, and it had the support of a majority of the people, although many laughed at the proposal, considering the whole scheme wild and visionary.

     It is needless to go into details regarding the passage of the bill for the construction of the Union Pacific railroad. Suffice it to say, that after run-




ning the gauntlet of amendments, postponements, and other parliamentary experiences, it was finally adopted, and became law, July, 1862. On December 2, 1863, Peter A. Dey, the chief engineer of the proposed road, received a telegram from New York, announcing that the President of the United States had authorized him to formally break ground, and that it had been decided to make Omaha the initial point of the proposed railroad.

     Omaha and Council Bluffs were little more than sprawling settlements at the time with no bright future before them, but the assurance that a line of railway to the Pacific coast would be constructed changed the aspect of affairs, and property suddenly increased in value, and an excited crowd of would be homesteaders besieged the Land Office. Businessmen and leading citizens being hurriedly called together, agreed to appropriately celebrate the event of breaking ground, and fixed the hour for the ceremony at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The day was pleasant and the sun shone brightly, and at the hour named, a crowd of fully 1,000 people assembled and marched to the place where ground was to be formally broken. Flags fluttered, people cheered, and can-




non boomed on both sides of the river in honor of the event. Every body felt happy, for the day was one to be remembered. The exercises were opened with prayer by the Rev. T. B. Lemon, in which he invoked a blessing upon the great work about to be inaugurated. Afterwards, the chief engineer, assisted by Augustus Koutze, of Omaha, George Francis Train of New York, Dr. Atchinson, of the Western Stage Company, and William E. Harvey, Territorial Auditor, with pick in hand, commenced to clear the ground preparatory to removing the first shovelful of earth, which was done amid the roar of artillery from either shore of the Missouri, and shouts of the assembled multitude. These proceedings were followed by addresses by Governor Saunders, Mayor Kennedy, A. J. Poppleton, George Francis Train and others. Mr. Poppleton said in part "On the 13th of October, 1854, about seven o'clock in the evening, I was sent down by the Western Stage Company of yonder city of Council Bluffs. At the rising of the the following morning, I climbed to the summit on one of the bluffs which overlook that prosperous and enterprising town, and took one long and linger-




ing look across the Missouri at the beautiful site on which one sees in full vigor of business, social and religious life, the youthful but thriving, and this day, jubilant city of Omaha. Early in the day I crossed the river, and along a narrow path cut by some stalwart man through the tall rank prairie grass, I wended my way in search of the Postoffice. At length I found an old pioneer seated apparently in solitary rumination upon a piece of hewn timber, and I inquired of him for the Postoffice. He replied that he was the postmaster, and would examine the Postoffice for my letters. Thereupon he removed from his head a hat, to say the least of it, somewhat veteran in appearance, and drew from its cavernous depths the coveted letters. On that day the wolves and Omahas were the almost undisputed lords of the soil, and the entire post system was conducted in the crown of this venerable hat. Today radiant faces gladden our streets, and the postal service sheltered by a costly edifice, strikes its Briarean arms toward the north, the south, east and west, penetrating regions then unexplored and unknown, and bearing the symbols of values then hidden in the mountains and beneath the streams, of which the world in its wildest




vagaries had never dreamed. Then it took sixty days for New York and California to communicate with each other. Today, San Francisco and New York, sitting upon the shores of the oceans, three thousand miles asunder, holds familiar converse. Iron and steam and lightning are daily weaving their destinies more closely with each other and ours with theirs as the intervocalic city whose commerce, trade and treasures leave the last great navigable stream in their migration from the Atlantic to the Pacific sea board. It is natural, therefore, that you should lift up your heart and rejoice. And although we have watched for nine long years, during which our fortunes have been, like Antonia's treasures, 'mostly in expectancy,' we at last press the cup in full fruition to our lips."

     Mr. Popeleton was followed by Judge Larimer, who, after the cheering subsided, said; "The heavens are reverberating around us and above us from cannon planted on either shore of the river near by, which divides the State of Iowa from your Territory, but they are not deluging the soil with blood of fellow countrymen. No, it is another cause in which they are speaking; it is the cause of progress, of civil-




ization and peace, and this the day we celebrate, is one of its days of triumph. Although I have thought and hoped with you for years for the consummation of the event we are here today to celebrate, and with which the interests of the people of Omaha and Council Bluffs have ever been so intimately identified, yet it has remained until this hour a subject of which we could not speak with any degree of certainty. But it is that the President, as he was authorized to do, has designated this a point, and that there, on the bank of that turbid stream which rolls at our feet - which takes its course thousands of miles above us, where it is so small that a single ox could drink it dry of a summer day, is to be the crossing of that great national thoroughfare which is to unite and bind together with bands of iron the Atlantic and Pacific. We look upon this an event in the history of this country and of our people as worthy of commenoration. As yet this a sparsely settled country, but with all the elements for the creation of agricultural wealth which is the basis upon which all others rest, we may now, by the location of this road, expect a large accession in numbers. With such a country as we have here, with such a future as there




is before it, the odious relations of landlord and tenant, which is only another name for that of master and slave, now existing in the older States, will be placed in progress of gradual extinction."

     A stirring and witty speech was delivered by the somewhat erratic George Francis Train, in which he stated that he happened to be lying round loose in the locality and had availed himself of the opportunity of being present at the inauguration of "the greatest enterprise under God, the world ever witnessed."

     The statement of Train in this speech that the Union Pacific Railroad would be completed before the year 1870, was received with a burst of derisive laughter. The statement seem extravagant, but the prediction came true, the last rail being laid, and the last spike driven on the 10th of May, 1869. When Mr. Train concluded his address the crowd dispersed, well satisfied with the proceedings, and in the evening Omaha was brilliantly illuminated and a banquet and ball took place at the Herndon House; there being great rejoicing that before a long a railroad would open a way for immigration into the valley of Nebraska.

     Preparatory arrangements were immediately en-




tered into for the construction of the road, and T. C. Durant's call for one million cross ties for immediate use, and three million more within two years was received with derision, as no person believed that such a quantity could be procured. Mr. Durant, however, was not to be deterred by apparent impossibilities, and emphatically declared they must be had.

     Every source was applied to and good prices offered, and very soon a perfect torrent of ties began to come in.

     Some grading was done in the Autumn of 1864, but it was not until the 10th of July, 1865, that the first rail of the Union Pacific Railroad was laid along the bottoms between Cut-off Lake and the grade leading through the hills our of Omaha, and it may be remarked, that it was the first rail of the first railroad in the State of Nebraska. Toward the end of the same month, the first locomotive arrived. It was named the "General Sherman," and was brought up the Missouri river by steamboat in charge of Thomas Jordan who put it together on the track and ran it for some time. Jordan was an expert engineer, but becoming unsettled, drifted away from the Union Pacific, and after a variety of fortune died




it is said, in Denver. Two weeks later the second locomotive arrived in charge of Luther O. Farrington. It was named the "General McPherson," and was brought from St. Joseph, Missouri on the steamboat "Colorado." Mr. Farrington put this engine together on the track, and commenced running it on August 3, 1865. There was but one and one-half miles of track built out of Omaha at the time, and the country was almost exclusively inhabited by Indians, and herds of buffalo, deer and antelope roamed the plains.

     Mr. Farrington remained in the employ of the Union Pacific Company until February, 1905, when he was retired and placed on the pension list. He was born in Calledonia County, Vermont, March 12, 1840, and became a member of Division 88 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers when it was organized at Grand Island in July 1867. He was an early citizen of North Platte, and ran a passenger train between it and Grand Island for many years. He enjoyed a comfortable leisure up to about the close of 1909, when broken it health, he went to Excelsior Springs, Missouri, for treatmen, and from thence to a hospital at Omaha. Being sick unto




death, he longed to be at his home at North Platte, and in an endeavor to reach it, was conveyed on board a train, but died when it neared Brady, on the night of June 12, 1910.

     When the building of the Union Pacific Railroad was entered upon; General Grenville M. Dodge was chief engineer of construction, and General Jack Casement and brother Dan had charge of the track laying. They were men of undoubted ability and courage, and well qualified to carry on the work intrusted to them.

     The working force was almost entirely composed of retired soldiers whose experience during the Civil War admirably fitted them for encounters with hostile Indians and to endure the privations of camp life on the plains. At an alarm, when hostile Indians were seen approaching the camp, these men would fall into line and prepare to meet the attack with the readiness and decision of veteran soldiers.

     To General Dodge belongs the credit forwarding the work of track laying with unwonted rapidity. Being an enthusiast, he not only communicated his spirit to his working forces, but skillfully managed hostile Indians, laborers, and the ruffians




and gamblers who followed the camp. Having disintuited himself during the civil war, he was intimate with commanding officers of garrisons and military posts along the route, and was enabled to avail himself of military aid against marauding Indians, and also frequently to maintain order when worthless camp followers became unruly. His system of track laying was unique. In the lading of construction trains with material brought up on boats from St. Joseph, each car was assigned a certain number of spikes required to lay them. When the scene of track laying was reached, the rails were thrown off; the train backed, and the rails transferred to small cars. Horse power was used to move these to within a couple of feet from the end of the rails already laid down; and before the car had well stopped, a dozen men grasped a rail on each side, ran it down on the already laid ties, gauged it, and before the clang of its falling had ceased to reverberate, the car was moved ahead and another pair of rails drawn out. Men followed up and dropped spikes, and some thirty others drove them. The moment a car was emptied of rails, a number




of men seized it and threw it off the track, and a second one followed with its load of rails. By this process, it was estimated, that on an average, eight hundred feet of track was laid in the brief space of thirty minutes.

     The first government inspection of the track took place on January 26, 1866, and at that time about thirty miles had been laid, and it is worth of remark that the equipment consisted of four locomotives, five box cars, and thirty flat cars. By the Fall of 1866, two hundred and sixty miles more of track were completed. Grand Island was reached on July 8, 1866, and the construction train was run to that point; the train being drawn by the engine "Osceola," which was captured by the Indians west of Plum Creek about two years afterwards.

     At that date, the road was finished so far, and in operation, with depots and water stations, and substantial bridges spanned streams which were the terror of emigrants in days when the slow, toiling team carried the family and household goods to the mountains, or the green valleys of the Pacific Slope.

     The track was completed to North Platte in November, 1866, and there the terminus remained until




the following year; continuance of the work being delayed by Indian hostility.

     Few have any idea of the difficulties under which the line of the Union Pacific was constructed. Chief Engineer General G. M. Dodge in a statement to the eastern owners, said: "During the entire construction of the road, a relentless, determined war has been waged all along the line by the tribes of the plains, and no peach found until we had long passed the hostile country and got beyond their reach  *  *  *  Every mile had to be run within range of musket, and there was not a moment's security. In making surveys, numbers of our men, some of them the ablest and most promising, were killed; and during the construction, our stock was run off by the hundred; I might say by the thousand. As on diffaculty after another was overcome in the engineering, running and construction departments, a new era in railroading was inaugurated. Each day taught us a lesson by which we profited for the next, and our advances and improvements on the art of railway construction were marked by the progress of the work."

     Everything was done at enormous cost. None of




the Iowa railroads had reached the Missouri river, consequently all material, machinery, fuel, provisions, men, everything in fact, had to go to St. Louis and be transferred by boat to Omaha. The treeless plains of Nebraska furnished no ties, and they had to be transported from remote points at great expense, sometimes costing as much as $2.50 apiece. The cost of labor and provisions was also greatly enhanced by lack of direct communication with markets; and in the absence of wood and coal; therefore, all honor to the men who constructed the Union Pacific railroad and braved danger and almost insurmountable difficulties, to blaze the way for civilization.

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