Union Pacific Railroad


The evolution of a mountain road may seem a far cry from the building of a great railway. In the first we have the trail of deer and buffalo following the path of least resistance as marked out by mountain streams in their journey to the sea, taken up in turn by Indian, trapper and explorer, and they succeeded by horseman and wagon, each doing his part in defining the highway of the future. There may seem but little similarity between the winding road and the steel rails seeking the shortest route between two given points, but the difference is more in degree than in kind. The engineer as well as the wild animal is guided by the water courses. He, too, must seek out easy mountain passes, and though his skill may cut down hillsides and burrow through mountains, he, too, is subject to the allcontrolling features of the country traversed.

Ten separate routes across Wyoming, Colorado and Montana were studied before the course of the Union Pacific was finally decided upon. All of these followed with surprising accuracy the old emigrant trails that had been the growth of the natural agents playing their unconscious part in the development of western civilization.1

The story of the building of the Union Pacific is a romance of itself. The names of Asa Whitney, who, in i 830, first caught the vision ; of Sidney Dillon, Oakes Ames and others associated with them in financing the great enterprise, will go down in history. The charter was granted by Act of Congress in 1862 and the route decided upon, but work did not begin until after the close of the Civil War. The year 1865 saw forty miles of track laid west of Omaha. The following year a great army of workmen was making its way westward. First came the graders in gangs of hundreds, preparing the roadbed, then laborers who placed the wooden ties that had been cut in the mountains and floated down the streams ; track layers followed in cars that ran to the end of the finished track, and after they had passed on, came the ballasting crews to complete the work. A mile a day was the average the first year, but by the time Carter station was reached they were laying nearly seven miles of track each day. From Fort Bridger soldiers came out to guard the workmen, and western Wyoming was spared the awful tragedies that occurred farther east at the hands of the Indians.

Tent towns sprang up in advance of the work, and there was much speculation in land, but, as one boom after another collapsed, investors grew cautious. Bryan, the first big camp west of Green River, achieved more permanency than most of these railroad towns, as it was the starting point for South Pass trade. Here a wye was built by the railroad and several stores were opened, some of which were later moved to Evanston.

In November, 1868, the graders reached Bear Town, about forty miles west of Green River. McGee and Cheeseborough had the grading contract for this stretch of road, and employed between four and five hundred men, most of them raw Irish emigrants. A Frenchman named Alex Topence had the contract for furnishing beef, and he put up a slaughter house and shack south of the track, while the so-called town was north. It consisted of some roughly constructed rooming and boarding houses and a row of business buildings comprising the California Clothing Store, Nuckles' General Merchandise, a Jewish shoe store, and a generous sprinkling of saloons and gambling houses. On the same side of the track as Mr. Topence, but some distance below, was the office of the Frontier Index, of which Lee Freeman was editor. The paper was published daily and moved west with the work of construction.

There was a rough element here, as in all grading camps, gamblers and confidence men flocking in wherever there was a payroll. A vigilance committee was organized, and on the loth of November several arrests were made and the rioters were imprisoned in a temporary jail built of logs. The Frontier Index came out the next morning approving of the action of the officers and sounded a fearless warning against further lawlessness. No sooner did the edition reach the graders than, incited by the lawbreakers, they left their work and, armed with picks and shovels, marched upon the town. Their first halt was at the jail, where they released the prisoners and set fire to the building. Then Topence from his place, saw them in a noisy mob heading for the printing office. He rode down to Freeman's and urged the animal on the editor with the advice to "go while the going was good." His counsel was acted upon, and none too soon, for the mob marched across the gully, ransacked the premises and destroyed all of the contents, including the type, and burned the building to the ground.

Dr. Frank H. Harrison, a young physician who kept pace with the building of the road, kept an office in the town as well as a hospital tent on the Muddy. He was returning from the latter place, where he had been attending some patients, when the picture of Freeman caught his eye. To use the doctor's words "He was traveling so fast that you could have played checkers on his coattails," and was making for Fort Bridger to get help.

On the outskirts of the town the doctor was met by a picket, who told him that strangers would not be allowed to enter. It did not take the doctor long to convince the man who he was, and that if there was any bloodshed his services would be needed. He describes walking up the street where fourteen men had been shot dead, or lay mortally wounded. The citizens had barracaded themselves behind sacks of flour and bales of merchandise in Nuckles' store, a substantial building made of green logs. When a spokesman had opened the door for the purpose of parleying with the rioters he had been shot dead on the doorstep. Inflamed by liquor, the rioters raged up and down, and one man named Tom Smith brandished a big six-shooter, which he shot off as fast as he could pull the trigger. A bullet from the opposing side shattered the knuckles on his right hand, but this did not deter his activity, for stooping, he seized with his left hand the fallen weapon and continued his exciting work. The next day the doctor counted eight bullet holes in the leg of one of the hightopped boots in front of the Jewish shoe store, it had not been made a target but had simply been in the way of that many of the deadly missiles. Miss Kate Smith of Evanston has an ironing board that was in the battle and bears the scars.

The following week was a busy one for the doctor, as the wounded numbered more than the dead. At eight o'clock the morning after the riot troops arrived from Fort Bridger to find order, restored and most of the desperate outlaws moved on to pastures new. We have Mr. Topence's authority for the statement that three outlaws were lynched at Bear Town, a number so small as to cause him real regret, as most of them lived to make trouble in other camps. There was much sorrow among the better people over Lee Freeman's losses, but no means of redress were at hand and he moved back to Laramie. Later he made Ogden his home, and for several years published a weekly known as The Ogden Freeman. Mr. Freeman died in Idaho.2

Evanston was the next town located. It was named in honor of J. A. Evans, surveyor on the Union Pacific. The first building was put up in the cut east of town by Harvey Booth. Mr. Booth had been selling provisions at a temporary camp between Bear Town and Evanston, and was moved on to the new location by a man named J. U. Eldridge. The trip was made in a blinding snowstorm on the twenty-third day of November. Mr. Eldridge, in the early '70s, ran the stage from Evanston to Randolph. He is now clerk of the court in Salt Lake City.

On the 16th of December, 1868, the first train arrived in Evanston. E. S. Crocker, who had followed the building of the track from Nebraska, was the first telegraph operator at Evanston. The office was in a building opposite the freight house, where the section house was later put up. Dr. Harrison bought the first lot on surveyed land. It was near the corner where the federal building now stands, and cost him $200. Five hundred people were soon on the scene, and the building of the town was in full swing when a sudden change of plans on the part of the railroad moved the town to Wasatch, with the idea of making that the permanent end of the division. Here machine shops of wood were hastily constructed, so-called "rag houses" of canvas and wood were hurriedly put up, and two thousand people flocked in. They included all the early arrivals of Evanston, with the exception of Harvy Booth and a saloon man by the name of Frank Moore, who remained to cater to the section men and such chance travelers as came along.

Wasatch was one of the wildest camps on the road. Out of the fourteen graves on the hillside, only one was occupied by a man who didn't "die with his boots on." Tom Smith, the crack shot, who had terrorized Bear Town, was the marshal. Dance halls paid $200 a night for the privilege of running, but history is silent as to whose pocket it reached.

Dr. Harrison was given the privilege by Land Agent Williamson of exchanging his Evanston lot for one at Wasatch, and he moved his office in the dead of winter into a tent that was boarded up three or four feet from the ground. Fuel was a great problem, and he tells of paying $3o for a load of wood, all of which disappeared before morning, not all of it up his own chimney !

Frank H. Harrison was born in Toronto, Canada, April 20, 1842. He studied medicine in the Belville School of New York City. At the outbreak of the Civil War there was a shortage of army physicians, and a corps known as "Medical Cadets" was formed from the students. Dr. Harrison volunteered for this service, and remained in the army until the close of the war. In 1866 he drove a four-horse team to Denver, then a town of about four thousand. When the railroad was built as far as Cheyenne he moved to that place and was given a contract for caring for the workers of the grading camps. He opened the first doctor's office in Laramie, May i, 1868. From here he traveled west with the advance of the work, and many were his gruesome experiences on the frontier, where human life was held so cheap as to make death a matter of jest. From Wasatch Dr. Harrison went to the thriving mining camp of South Pass, and was elected representative of Sweetwater County to the first Legislature of the Territory of Wyoming. He was a supporter of the first woman's suffrage law ever enacted. After a visit to the home of his childhood he came once more to Evanston, and was soon joined by C. G. Morrison, a South Pass friend. They opened a drug store on Front Street between Ninth and Tenth, with Mr. Morrison in charge, while the doctor devoted his time to the practice of medicine. He has ever been the beloved physician of our town and county. No night was ever so dark or no storm so severe, as to keep him from his errands of mercy, and never was he known to ask, "What is there in it for me?" During the "flu" epidemic of 1917, though he had practically retired from active practice, he could be seen on the streets far into the night with his black medicine case, bent on relieving our overworked physicians. His interest in the general good, as well as the personal welfare of all, has been recognized, and he has held many positions of trust in the city and county. We are proud to claim Dr. Harrison as one of our foremost citizens, as well as the first settler of Evanston.

On the tenth of May, 1869, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific met at Promontory, Utah. Among those who witnessed this historic event was a youth by the name of Ben Majors. In a letter to the author, written from his home in Headrick, Oklahoma, July 2, 1922, he says that he stood at the side of his father, Alexander Majors, that veteran freighter who had done more than any other man in the field of overland transportation, and to whom the driving of the golden spike connecting the eastward with the westward track was the consummation of the dream of a lifetime. Both father and son had taken their places in the active army of railroad builders. They had constructed two miles of grade east of Green River, had furnished the piling for the bridges across Green River and Bear River, and had supplied six thousand cords of wood and one hundred thousand ties. Mr. Majors was sixty-five years old at this time. He remained in the West f or many years and showed his faith in its future by promoting the development of every legitimate industry. He was well known in Evanston during the '70s and '80s.

After entering Uinta County the course of the Union Pacific is almost due west as far as the junction of the Muddy with Black's Fork. The first station, Verne, consists only of a section house and tank. About five miles west is Church Buttes, so called from the cathedral-like appearance of a mass of rock a short distance to the south, that was a landmark from the early days of western exploration. From here the road follows up the valley eroded by the Big Muddy. In the summer months this is a small stream, so clear as to belie its name and to make us wish that the original name, Washakie Creek, had never been changed, but it is swelled to a turbid torrent in the spring from the melting snows of the Uinta Range.

About six miles west of Church Buttes is Hampton, so called from a ranch owned by a man of that name who settled there in an early day, and six miles farther on we come to Elkhurst. Carter, about the same distance farther to the southwest, has been from the time of the building of the road, an important shipping place for Fort Bridger supplies and for all travel to the south. A little town of two stores and a school has grown up. It was named for Wm. A. Carter of Fort Bridger, and his brother, Richard Carter, was for many years its leading man. His hospitable home was well known in territorial days, and the family was prominent in the social and political life of the county.

West of Carter we find the red sandstone of the Wasatch group, which grows coarser as we travel westward until, at Evanston, it is a coarse conglomerate.3 The station Antelope, five miles beyond Carter, like Elkhurst, was named from the wild animals so common at the time of the building of the railroad. Bridger, six miles to the southwest, is the only railroad point to remind us of the famous scout whose name is perpetuated in mountain passes, trails and lakes in various parts of the Rockies, as well as in Fort Bridger, fifteen miles south of the railroad. At Bridger the rocks of the Cretaceous and Jurastic ages come to the surface, though through the Bridger Basin they are found below the tertiary beds.4

As first laid out, the road from Bridger followed the Muddy, climbed the divide and came down to the now abandoned Bear Town. On its line were the little towns of Piedmont, Hilliard, and Aspen, each important in its day as a shipping point for cattle and other interests. A man named Moses Byrne settled at Piedmont in 1867, and the station was first called Byrne, after him, but it was deemed advisable to change the name because of its similarity to Bryan. The sisters, Mrs. Byrne and Mrs. James Guild, wife of another early settler, were natives of Piedmont, Italy, and they bestowed this very appropriate name on the town at the foot of the mountain slope. The divide itself was known to the early emigrants as Quakenasp Hill, because of the groves of these trees found in every ravine, and this gave rise to the name of Aspen. Hilliard was so called from Reuben T. Hilliard, one of the earliest conductors on the Union Pacific.

The grade over the divide was steep, and there were many curves, so that helping engines had to be used on every heavy train. In 1901 there was opened through this section a new route following the course of the old Mormon trail, but instead of climbing Aspen Hill it pierces the mountain by a tunnel five thousand nine hundred feet long, the longest on the Union Pacific. The construction was attended with much difficulty, as gas from .the oil-bearing strata and the crumbling formation caused many accidents. The highest point is seven thousand two hundred ninety feet above the level of the sea. It is lined with concrete. This cutoff cost the company twelve million dollars. Besides shortening the route ten miles, it eliminates many steep grades.5

East of the tunnel is Spring Valley station, so called from the numerous springs in the neighborhood. There is an exposure of the Frontier formation near by, a coal-bearing sandstone. Some forty miles north this vein reappears and furnishes a fine grade of coal. This vein is one of the largest in the world. Engleman, the United States geologist, collected fossils from Sulphur Creek in the valley in i858.

The waters on the east of the Aspen ridge flow to the Green River streams and on to the Gulf of Mexico, while those on the western slope, with sources almost identical, find their outlet in the Great Salt Lake.

A soft rock known as Hilliard shale is seen in the open valley through which the road runs west of Altimont. A short distance farther on it reaches what geologists call a "fault", that is, a rock pushed up from a deep underlying strata.6 This is called the Beckwith formation and is the oldest exposed rock in Western Wyoming. Unlike the Bear River formation, the next to be entered, it contains no fossils. The Bear River strata consists of conglomerate sandstone with layers of opal and many fossils, and from here runs north to the Salt River Range. A little farther on the Almy, Fowkes and Knight formations, all coal-bearing, crop out. South of ,bullis begin the red sandstone bluffs of the Knight formation, deposited before the river had cut down to its present bed. They are topped with gravel and soil, where native trees have taken root. A conspicuous landmark for miles around is Medicine Butte. It is what is known as an "overthrust", having been pushed up from the rocks of the Tertiary age. The old wooden railroad bridge was about a mile east of the present steel structure. East of it is the station Knight, which takes its name from the ranch extending along the river that was owned at one time by Jesse Knight, an early citizen of Evanston. Three miles farther on we come to Millis, named for J. W. Millis, a conductor on the road in the early '70s. Evanston lies six miles farther west. The elevation at the station is six thousand seven hundred thirty-nine feet. A sidetrack branches off from the main road about a mile west of town to Almy, and five miles farther on, at Wyuta, the road passes out of Uinta County into the state of Utah.


  1. Warman, "The Story of the Railroads."

  2. Wm. T. Shale, Editor.

  3. Guidebook of Western United States."

  4. Veatch, "Government Report."

  5. Union Pacific Historian in letter to the author.

  6. Ibid.

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