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Transportation

Industry, Politics and Power: the Union Pacific in Wyoming

The construction of the Union Pacific in 1868 gave rise to the towns, geography of settlement and the economy of new Wyoming Territory in 1869. Obstacles to construction were both physical and financial, and the railroad overcame them with sometimes slapdash results—hastily laid track and rickety bridges, watered stock and Congressional corruption. But the Union Pacific contributed enormously to Wyoming’s growth and development, made its modern economy possible and continues today as an economic power in the state.

Independence Rock

People have been leaving carvings and images on Independence Rock in central Wyoming since prehistoric times. When Father De Smet visited in 1841, so many names had already been carved, painted or smeared on the landmark in buffalo grease and gunpowder that he named it the “Great Register of the Desert.” The rock may have been the best-known spot on the emigrant trails, and it remains an enduring symbol of Wyoming's contribution to our nation's heritage and highest ideals.

The Rock Springs Massacre

On September 2, 1885, long-simmering tensions between white and Chinese coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyo. boiled over into a massacre in which whites murdered 28 Chinese, wounded 15 more, and looted and burned all 79 shacks and houses in Rock Springs’ Chinatown. Though the remaining Chinese miners wanted desperately to leave Wyoming, the Union Pacific Railroad, which owned the mines, refused to grant them railroad passes or the back pay owed them. The Chinese finally had no choice but to return to work, which kept wages low and the coal flowing from the mines.

A Kid in Hell on Wheels: Laramie as the Railroad Arrived

Billy Owen never saw a railroad until he was eight years old. His mother had told him about railroads. But in his mind as he traveled east by wagon train across Wyoming in the spring of 1868, he had imagined railroad wheels that looked something like wagon wheels. They rolled in grooves. Each groove was made by two rails. That meant it took four rails, as he imagined it, to make a track.

President Theodore Roosevelt's 1903 Visit to Wyoming

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt included Wyoming in his 25-state tour of the western United States. He spent nearly three weeks in Yellowstone National Park, gave a speech in Newcastle, and on the return leg from California, left the train long enough for a well-publicized horseback ride from Laramie to Cheyenne, and two extra days politicking and socializing in Wyoming’s capital.

Reshaw's Bridge

John Richard’s bridge across the North Platte River near present Casper, Wyo. eased the way for thousands of those who traveled the Oregon, California and Mormon trails during the years 1852-1866. Because Richard spoke with a French accent, many people thought his name was Reshaw and began referring to the bridge as Reshaw’s Bridge. A number of diarists, including world traveler Sir Richard Burton, recorded their experiences and descriptions of the bridge and the mixed-race community that thrived at the nearby trading post.

Protestant Missionaries Cross South Pass

As the beaver trade waned in the 1830s, so did economic reasons for an American toehold in the Oregon country, still under joint British-American occupancy. Religion shifted the balance of power, however, when American Protestant missionaries crossed the Rocky Mountains with an eye toward converting the tribes of the Northwest. Soon these men brought their wives with them as well. In 1836, Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding were the first Euro-American women to cross South Pass, and these people became the vanguard of American settlement of Oregon.

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Encyclopedia | From the high-wheel bicycles of the 1880s through the one-gear racers of the 1890s and tandems of the nineteen-aughts, bicycling grew increasingly popular in Wyoming, with active clubs, long-distance races, bicycle socials and even a Cowboy Bicycle Race at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Encyclopedia | Buffalo Bill Cody supposedly was just 14 when he made his thrilling, 322-mile ride for the Pony Express. In fact, it never happened. The staying power of the story, though, shows a great deal about the fiction-fact mix that makes Wyoming and the West what they are today.
Encyclopedia | Mixed-race families in early Wyoming appear to have sold oil skimmed from seeps to travelers on the emigrant trails, who used the oil to lubricate their wagon axles. It was a small start for what has become the huge petroleum business, so important to Wyoming today.
Encyclopedia | In January 1949, a massive blizzard rocketed through central and southeastern Wyoming and nearby states killing 76 people and tens of thousands of animals and leaving memories in its wake that are still vivid more than 65 years later. 
Encyclopedia | Emigrants bound for Oregon or California in the 1860s on the government-built Lander Trail faced serious dangers crossing the New Fork River, as they usually had to do so at high water. Recently the site has been developed into an attractive historical park in Sublette County in western Wyoming.
Encyclopedia | Mountain men established a ferry across the Green River in 1843. Mormons bought it in 1850, when it became known as the Green River Mormon Ferry. Tens of thousands of emigrants crossed the river here. When William Lombard took over the business in 1889, it became known as the Lombard Ferry. 
Encyclopedia | Devil’s Gate on the Sweetwater River became an important landmark for emigrants on the Oregon/California/Mormon trails. Trader Charles Lajeunesse ran a post there in the 1850s, not long before a Mormon handcart company sought shelter from a blizzard at nearby Matins Cove. Later, the famous Sun Ranch was headquartered there for 125 years.
Encyclopedia | From 1893-1913, the Tongue River Tie Flume carried 2 million railroad ties from the Bighorn Mountains to the Burlington Railroad. Ties moved at high speed down 38 miles of flumes across trestles and through tunnels in canyon walls. Workers’ camps were large mountain villages with schools and blacksmith shops.

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