Union Pacific locomotives still rumble through Cheyenne, as they first did 150 years ago. But after the railroad arrived in November 1867, skeptics questioned whether the town would last, as so many other end-of-tracks communities had died once the graders and tracklayers moved on.
union pacific railroad
union pacific railroad
Joseph Stimson came to Cheyenne in 1889 to take portraits. In 1900, the Union Pacific hired him as a publicity photographer, with wide leeway to choose his subjects. Soon, his agricultural, industrial and scenic views won him a national reputation. The Wyoming State Archives holds a collection of 7,500 Stimson negatives.
John Campbell took office as the first governor of Wyoming Territory in 1869. A Republican appointed by President U.S. Grant, Campbell found the job plagued by partisan conflict with Democrats, an overbearing Union Pacific Railroad and by factionalism within his own party—but he left sturdy political structures behind him.
Jim Bridger’s skills as guide, mapmaker and businessman were unmatched. After 20 years trapping beaver in the northern Rockies, he co-founded Fort Bridger in 1843. In the 1850s and 1860s he guided important government exploring expeditions and guided troops on Indian campaigns. In 1868 he retired to Missouri, where he died in 1881.
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.
Grass was free and profits enormous in the cattle business in Wyoming Territory — for a while. The business dates to the 1850s, but the boom came after the Union Pacific Railroad connected Wyoming ranges to eastern markets. For a time it seemed as if every investor got rich. Finally, a weakening market and the overstocked range could not withstand two years of drought followed by a terrible winter. The big boom busted, following an economic pattern repeated many times since in an economy still based heavily on natural resources.
Rock Springs, Wyo. traces its origins to a coal mine established there in 1868 to serve the still-building Union Pacific Railroad. Ever since, the town has been enriched by the people who came from around the world to live and work there—in coal mines, on the railroad and, in recent decades, in trona mines to the west and the oil and natural-gas fields to the north. Rock Springs boasted 56 nationalities by the 1920s. Its political and economic fortunes have closely followed all these industries’ cycles of boom and bust.
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.
Created in 1868 before Wyoming was even a territory, Albany County and its vast plains are still good for livestock grazing. Thanks to the Union Pacific Railroad and early gold and copper mining, however, the county was industrial in its earliest times. Laramie, the county seat, was chosen as the site of the University of Wyoming in 1886, and the university stabilizes the town’s economic and cultural life.
Perhaps best-known now for the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days celebration, Laramie County, the seat of Wyoming’s government, continues to be an important transportation crossroads. Cheyenne’s Francis E. Warren Air Force Base traces its roots to a 19th century military outpost and still plays a significant role in the county’s economy.