Friday, April 26, 2019

Transcontinental Railroad Sesquicentennial

May 10th of next month marks the sesquicentennial of the joining of the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Point, often known as the Golden Spike ceremony. Over the course of several blog posts, I hope to share bits and pieces of this endeavor. I do have a vested interest in the topic for several reasons. For one, my great-grandfather worked for the Union Pacific Railroad as it cut its way through Echo Canyon in Utah. Also, the history of the Central Pacific Railroad plays a big role in the early history of California, my adopted state.

The First Transcontinental Railroad, known originally as the "Pacific Railroad" and later as the “Overland Route," was a 1,912-mile (3,077 km) continuous railroad line constructed between 1863 and 1869 that connected the existing eastern U.S. rail network at Omaha, Nebraska/Council Bluffs, Iowa with the Pacific coast at the Oakland Long Wharf on San Francisco Bay. The rail line was built by three private companies over public lands provided by extensive US land grants. Construction was financed by both state and US government subsidy bonds as well as by company issued mortgage bonds. The Western Pacific Railroad Company built 132 mi (212 km) of track from Oakland/Alameda to Sacramento, California. The Central Pacific Railroad Company of California (CPRR) constructed 690 mi (1,110 km) eastward from Sacramento to Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. The Union Pacific built 1,085 mi (1,746 km) from the road's eastern terminus at Council Bluffs near Omaha, Nebraska westward to Promontory Summit.

The railroad opened for through traffic on May 10, 1869 when CPRR President Leland Stanford ceremonially drove the gold "Last Spike. " which was later often called the "Golden Spike," with a silver hammer at Promontory Summit.

Historian Stephen E. Ambrose wrote, “Next to winning the Civil War and abolishing slavery, building the first transcontinental railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California, was the greatest achievement of the American people in the nineteenth century….”1

The completion of this railroad proved to be a monumental feat that revolutionized the settlement and economy of the American West. Where before, my pioneer ancestors traveled for months across the plains to reach their destination, the trip on the railroad from New York to San Francisco could be made in seven days. It used to cost about $1,000 (value of that time) to travel by wagon and ox team from New York to San Francisco. Once the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, the cost of a rail ticket was $150.00 for first class and $70 for third, or emigrant, class (hard, narrow benches set close together). Freight rates by railroad were far less than for oxen- or horse-driven wagons, sailboats or steamships. Cross country mail that once cost dollars per ounce and took months to reach its destination now cost pennies and was delivered in a matter of days.

I will end with this quote printed in the Deseret News, the primary newspaper of Salt Lake City, the largest and only city of any size between the Missouri and California:

         “The last tie has been laid, the last rail is placed in position, and the last spike is driven, which binds the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with an iron band. The electric flash has borne the tidings to the world, and it now devolves upon us, the favored eye-witnesses of the monumental feat, to enter our record of the facts…. Never before has this continent disclosed anything bearing comparison with it. The massive oaken-hued trains of the Central Pacific lie upon their iron path, confronted by the elegant coaches of the Union pacific.
         “Thousands of throbbing hearts impulsively beat to the motion of the trains at the front locomotives of each company led on majestically up to the very verge of the narrow break between the lines where, in a few moments, was to be consummated the nuptial rites uniting the gorgeous East and the imperial West with the indissoluble seal of inter-oceanic commerce.”2

Golden Spike Ceremony Recreation - Ctsy Hyrum K. Wright

My most recent book, Virginia’s Vocation, is now available on Amazon. In 1859, when Virginia, escorted by her older brother, Jefferson, travel from Missouri to Ohio, the train that had almost reached St. Joseph, Missouri was the most westerly point served by a railroad east of the Missouri River. This was a mere decade before the east and west were joined by the Transcontinental Railroad. To read the book description and access the purchase link, please CLICK HERE.

1. Taken from the Stephen B. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 369-70. Reprinted in Museum Memories, Volume 1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: International Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 2009), pg. 393-95.

2. Taken from the Deseret News, May 19, 1869, 169; Kate B. Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1969), 12:285. Reprinted in Museum Memories, Volume 1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: International Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 2009), pg. 393.


Museum Memories, Volume 1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: International Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 2009)


(First published on Cowboy Kisses blog using my pen name, Zina Abbott.)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Stay Tuned.....

I have been on vacation for the better part of three weeks. No writing or blogging, only sight-seeing and picture-taking. I lost 200-400 images from my camera, but between my camera and cell phone I still saved 1,800 plus images to my computer. Not all are high quality, but enough are that I should have blog material for months to come.
Locomotive in from the Ogden, Utah, Union Station
Ogden Union Station today

Old Caboose in front of Ogden Union Station

What I did do this week is update my website and my blogs as far as format goes. I may come up with something better, but the train I added to the banner was taken on our trip.  It was in front of the Union Station and museum in Ogden, Utah.

My website I updated can be found at
Inside the Ogden Union Station
 Here are some other images from that station. I love the interior.

Why Ogden?  Ogden is the closest sizable city to the Golden Spike location at Promontory Summit, Utah, where the First Transcontinental Railroad was joined in 1869. Since one of my great-grandfathers, Edwin Brown, was hired to work for the Union Pacific Railroad once it reached Utah, I have been interested in this event in history for some time. He was present at the original Golden Spike ceremony.

Mural depicting the building of the Central Pacific Railroad

Mural depicting the building of the Union Pacific Railroad

The first train station in Odgen

Sunday, June 1, 2014

New Nom de Plume

I have taken the big plunge -- or plume, as the case may be. I have decided to write my historical novels using the pen name of

Zina Abbott

For more details on my decision, read my post on my Zina Abbott blog:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cowboy Conversation and Clothing

 It was almost like Christmas the other day when I received four packages in the mail. Even though the Postal Service regards them as flats, not parcels, I'm sure my rural carrier would have loved to have seen these show up during the mail count.

I recently ordered four books for research. One is Cowboy Slang. The other book on western speech patterns, Cowboy Lingo, I received a day or two before these three. I have the book about life in the 1800s, but these books focus on the West. Of the two, I prefer Cowboy Slang. It is organized in a manner that pleases my brain more.

The other book is titled I See by Your Outfit. It shows photos of working cowboys from the 1870s up through about the 1920s. I gleaned a few interesting facts from this book:

1. Back when most stirrups were thick and still made of wood, cowboys wore regular work boots or shoes. The development of the two inch high cowboy heel on what we today recognize as cowboy boots did not come about until around around the mid-1870s. Stirrups became narrower and the higher heel was needed to prevent the cowboys' foot from slipping.

2. The pants of choice for years were made out of wool. Although the farmers and miners liked canvas and denim pants, it took a long time for those fabrics to catch on with cowboys. As for overalls--very few cowboys wore them. They were considered farmer garb. Only when  the cowboys were desperate for new pants and the only thing available at the mercantile was overalls did most cowboys buy them.

3. Many cowboys preferred to wear Army clothing that they bought as surplus from the Army or off of a soldier who needed the money. They believed Army clothing held up better than most of the commercial clothing available. So, for those guys who think buying from an Army-Navy surplus store is a new thing....

This little jewel, How the West Was Worn, I did not order through the mail. I think I picked it up from a bookstore on one of my forays to either Yosemite National Park or Mariposa. It has a lot of good photos and descriptions of clothing worn by men, women and children living in the West.

Oh, and F.Y.I.--I tidbit I picked up from my internet research: most early cowboys, railroad workers and westerners preferred a narrower-brimmed hat. Hats with a wide brim got caught by the wind and blew off their heads too easily. Although a lot of men wore the slouch hats that were popular during the Civil War (Many military units wore slouch hats instead of forage caps.), what was called the bowler in Britain and the derby in the United States was a very popular hat in the West.

The Stetson "Boss of the Plains" first became available in 1870. It did become quite popular in the next few decades and was offered in the mail order catalogs. Since most cowboy photos I've seen are from the 1880s and later, this style of hat shows up in them quite often. But, look at your photos of westerners taken in the earlier decades, and you will see hats with narrower brims.

A Short History of Reconstruction I ordered for research for another novel set post-Civil War, but not necessarily in the west. As for the splash of blue in my top photo, that was some fabric I ordered for a nautical youth quilt. No relation to the topic of this blog post.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Serendipity- The Indiana and Kansas Connection

I am partial to making connections that help make my novels believable if not exactly historically correct. Serendipity connections, such as the one I experienced when writing Aurora Redress (See my post under my Aurora Rescue blog: add joy to my writing experience.

Yes, in Abilene Gamble I could manufacture a connection out of blue sky to explain the hatred Harry Bradford has for Wilfred Osprey. I probably could be like many writers who give no background at all, but just say, okay, here's my villain. However, I like to make believable historical connections when I can.

I placed Harry Bradford in the 10th Indiana Cavalry. Wilfred Osprey served in the 13th Indiana Cavalry. Those two regiments formed about the same time around December of 1863 and on occasion served in the same general region. What is so special about that?

The 13th Indiana Cavalry was partially made up of 84 former members of the Independent Scouts Indiana Company. I find it interesting that this regiment was formed not in Indiana, but in Leavenworth, Kansas. The mission of the Independent Scouts: "assisted the provost marshal in arresting deserters, enforcing the draft, and guarding river border against invasions from enemy cavalry and guerrillas." I don't know what that says to you, but it screams GUERRILLA FIGHTERS to me.

That is connection number one.

Then my good friend and fellow genealogist, Joe Powell, who has a family connection to William Quantrill, the infamous Missouri guerrilla fighter, loaned me a couple of books. The book to the left was published in 1959, long before the internet. It contains many interesting accounts of not only Bill Quantrill, but of other bushwhackers, Jayhawkers, Union and Confederate soldiers and generals including a Union general named James Henry Lane.

This photo of General Lane was taken from the book, Quantrill and his civil war guerillas written by Carl W. Breihan. Before the Civil War, James Lane was a leader of the Jayhawkers, a Kansas guerrilla group that fought against Missourians striving to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state.   

During the Civil War, Lane raised the Kansas Brigade, also known as a strong brigade of Jayhawkers, made up of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Kansas Volunteers. His brigade fought to return Missouri to the Union. He is known for the sacking of Osceola in 1862. Nine men were killed and the town pillaged, looted and then burned. Criticism about how he handled this military action eventually led to him being discharged from the Union Army.

It was in retaliation to this incident that Quantrill's guerrillas attacked the city of Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863 killing 164 men and destroying the city. One of the goals of the guerrillas was to find and kill James Lane who was in residence there at the time. Lane managed to flee and hide in a nearby cornfield.

What is connection number 2? 

James Henry Lane was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana in 1814, He studied law under his father and was admitted to the bar in 1840. He served as a U.S. Congressman from Indiana from 1853-55, after which he moved to Kansas to become involved with the leadership of the Jayhawkers which was part of the Free-Soil movement.

Would it be any wonder that Wilfred Osprey, son of a poor, abusive, alcoholic part-time dock worker in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (Lawrenceburg was a port along the Ohio River) escaped his family circumstances by following a local hero to Kansas where his tendency for lawless violence was encouraged among the Jayhawkers serving under Lane? Isn't it reasonable that he fought under Lane in the Civil War until the general was discredited? Needing a place to go to continue his proclivities for violence, what better opportunity for the Indiana native might there have been than to join another unit from his home state being formed in Leavenworth, Kansas, a unit where his history was not known and where he might be welcomed to continue the kind of fighting he relished against those he had for years viewed as his enemies?

Did I need to put together this kind of background for this character? No. Much of it came about because of serendipity while doing basic historical research, not because I spent a lot of time searching specifically for a plausible explanation. But, I like the depth created in my novel when I can make these connections to explain why this particular villain became the man he was who commited the crimes he did.