HE was a man noted for his firmness, intelligence, fairness, decisiveness, good looks, and ability to put the long-term interests of those in his charge ahead of their short-term gain. Like the top politicians, he had a remarkable memory for facts and figures, geography, who owed what favors or money to whom, the names of his competitors and his followers and their wives. He knew who had taken what position on this or that issue, and when, and what his own position had been.
That these are the qualities of a leader needs no elaboration. He was the perfect man to say to his brethren, when they were a thousand miles away from any settlement, “This is the place,” and make it into a garden. His people said to him that they were ready to follow him wherever he chose to lead. Had it not been for his generally feared or despised religion, he quite possibly might have been a president of the United States, and, depending on the time, a good or even a great one. As it was, he founded Salt Lake City and made it and his Mormon religion into a great city and religion. In the process, he played a major role in building the UP and the CP.
Brigham Young was a six-foot, two-hundred-pound individual, quite tall and heavyset by mid-nineteenth-century standards. He had a commanding presence. The New York Tribune’s reporter Bert Richardson described him as someone who had “secretive eyes, an eagle nose, and a mouth that shuts like a vise, indicating tremendous firmness.”1
He had become head of the Mormon church when its founder, Joseph Smith, was assassinated, and he led the faithful members to near Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1846. From that point, where Grenville Dodge later lived and Lincoln visited in 1859, Young had led the first party up the Platte River Valley, then through what became Wyoming and on to the Salt Lake, where he founded the city.
In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, right after the UP was founded, Doc Durant communicated with Young about the best route across America. Young sent one of his many sons, Joseph A. Young, with a party of Mormons, to do some surveys. So eager was Young to have a railway come to Salt Lake City that he paid the expenses of the party. Joseph Young reported on a number of routes, but the one he liked best, and the one eventually picked by Dodge, was up Weber Canyon and then Echo Creek. When Samuel Reed came to check this out the next year, 1864, he reported that the line was much more favorable than had been anticipated.2 Brigham Young was thus involved from the beginning with the route to be followed by the Union Pacific. He was also one of the original shareholders. He bought five shares and, wonder of wonders, actually paid in full for them. So from the first he had been an enthusiastic promoter.
But there was a widespread rumor among the “Gentiles” (as Mormons called non-Mormons) that Young’s opposition to commercial intercourse with outsiders, along with his disapproval of efforts to mine precious metals in Utah, made him a railroad opponent. That was the opposite of the truth. According to a contemporary Mormon historian, during the original Mormon crossing of the plains to Salt Lake Valley, Young had pointed to where the railroad tracks would one day run. In 1852, he had signed a memorial to Congress asking for a transcontinental railroad. In a December 1853 letter to Congress, he remarked, of the prospective road, “Pass where it will, we cannot fail to be benefitted by it.” He became a friend of Samuel Reed, and helped the UP do its surveys, and referred to the telegraph and the railroad as the two “great discoveries of our age.” In January 1866, he told the Utah legislature that the want of a railroad was “sensibly felt” and that its completion was “to be viewed as very desirable.”3
In August 1866, he wrote to Reed to congratulate the UP. “We watch its progress Westward with great interest,” he said in his telegram, “as every mile of track which is laid lessens the weary distance which stretches on every side of us.” Dodge sent Young a query about the route. Young replied that it was “impracticable” to run a line through the desert in the winter. Dodge had asked what had happened to the camels Jefferson Davis had imported when he was secretary of war, hoping to use them as pack animals for the construction. “There are no camels here,” Young replied (they had gone wild and were living in New Mexico), but he would do whatever he could to help the railroad.4
In 1867, as the railroad got closer to Salt Lake City, Young said, “This gigantic work will increase intercourse, and it is to be hoped, soften prejudices, and bind the country together,”5
AS the head of the church and the power behind politics in a state that was heavily Mormon, Young had nothing to fear, as he well knew. If it was not true that nothing happened in Utah until Young had given it his blessing, it almost was. He had, for example, long emphasized the value of a community that combined agriculture with manufacturing. He wanted commodities made at home, and for the most part got them. He urged his people to strive for independence, and they did.
As a religious leader he had a gift. He sent his disciples out to recruit, especially in England, He urged the converts to come to Utah to participate with the community of Saints in a full life, and they did. In 1867 alone, for example, some five thousand adults came to Zion, mainly from England. By that time, they could ride from New York City to Omaha for $25 for each adult, and from Omaha to North Platte for $10. There Young had wagons pulled by oxen waiting for them (in 1868, when the UP track ran past Laramie, a record number of wagons, 534, were sent forward from Utah to bring them in). Young estimated the total cost per immigrant from Liverpool to the UP’s rail terminus to be $65, much lower than the cost of crossing the Plains before the railroad.6
Besides bringing in converted immigrants at the lowest price, the railroad made it possible for Utah residents to go back east to shop, buy, visit, convert others. In addition, they could import heavy or difficult-to-make manufactured goods and thereby lower their price too. In this they were just like Californians, or for that matter anyone living west of the Missouri River. And they could ship their products to a ready, indeed eager, market. In 1867 alone, for example, the people of Utah harvested eighty thousand acres of cereal crops, along with seven thousand acres of root crops, and a thousand acres of orchard produce.
So Young was keenly aware of the benefits the railroad would bring his people. In February 1868, he told the legislature that, if all went well, within two years “the solitude of our mountain fastness will be broken by the shrill snort of the iron horse.” But although he clearly wanted the road and as soon as possible, critics back east of the Missouri River predicted that the coming of the railroad to Utah would bring a much-desired end to the Mormon way of life—namely, polygamy. In the spring of 1868, the Chicago Republican had a lead editorial entitled “Mormonism Doomed.” The newspaper said the country would soon see that “happy time” when polygamy was gone from the land, thanks to the railroad, which would bring in Gentiles who would soon “overflow and engulf Utah slowly and surely.” The Deseret News, commenting on the editorial, thought it cheeky if not worse for a Chicago paper to teach morality to the citizens of Salt Lake City. Like Young, the editor of the Deseret News had no fear of the outside world, and was ready to welcome it.7
REASONS to welcome the railroad went beyond getting converted immigrants to Salt Lake City faster and cheaper, beyond importing bulky manufactured goods at less cost, beyond shipping agricultural products to market, beyond making it possible for Utah residents to pay visits to family and friends back east. There was, in addition, the hope that when regular train service east and west was inaugurated Salt Lake City would become a major tourist center.* There were other factors, but most of all there were two needs that came together. The lack of circulating medium (cash money) in Utah meant that the Mormons badly needed work that would be paid for and the cash that went with it, and the lack of labor in the West meant that the UP and the CP badly needed workers.
In the summer of 1867, Brigham Young, Jr., and his family returned from a trip to Europe. In Chicago, at the end of July, some officials of the UP invited him to ride with them to the end of track. They included Sidney Dillon, a director and head of the Crédit Mobilier, Senator John Sherman, and investor Jacob Cox, governor of Ohio, so naturally Young, Jr., accepted. Of course they talked while riding the rails, and Young noted in his diary that Dillon “wants our assistance in laying out the U.P.R.R. and building the road.” Sherman and the others “were anxious to awaken a real interest in the minds of our people to push this railroad through our Territory.”8 No agreements were reached, or even broached, but a positive contact had been made.
BY the spring of 1868, the UP was beginning its push across Wyoming while its surveyors were well into Utah and even beyond. The track had reached Evanston (named for UP engineer and surveyor Evans), on the edge of the Utah border, which had been picked by Dodge as a division point for the railroad. The UP’s need for competent, trustworthy workers was critical. Without them, the company might as well give up on any thought of beating the CP to the Salt Lake. For the Mormons, mean-while, with lots of young men who were eager for work and desperately short of money, the spring brought with it another plague of grasshoppers. The insects were consuming the newly planted crops.
On May 6, 1868, Durant sent a telegram from Fort Sanders to Young in Salt Lake City. With that telegram, the Doctor saved himself and the company from the ignominy of losing the race so badly as to become an object of derision. Of all the countless things Durant did for and against himself and the UP, for all the wonders he wrought, for all his meddling and interference and mistakes, nothing could match this telegram. Doc knew whom he needed and how much he needed them and he didn’t care what it cost. He was willing, even eager, to bet all in order to win all. Not that he ever had any intention of paying up on the debt he encountered when his bet was taken.
The telegram to Young began, “Are you disposed to take contract for a portion or all our grading between head of Echo Canyon and Salt Lake if so please name price per cubic yard.” The UP would provide the Mormons with “powder, steel and tools as you require at cost and transportation. Work to be done this season.” If Young’s reply was affirmative, Doc said he would send Reed and Seymour to Salt Lake City to arrange details, “so that work may be commenced at once.”9
A remarkable offer. Young could name his price and set other conditions. What Durant wanted was work, to be started “at once.” Doc was leading one of the two biggest corporations in the United States. He was engaged in a construction campaign that had no parallel. Nothing built in America—or, indeed, in the world—had ever been done on such a scale. Furthermore, the race with the CP was like a war. Every effort by Durant and the UP bosses, as every effort by Huntington and the other CP bosses, was bent to winning. Neither the directors nor those who worked for them or, come to that, those who put up the money cared what it cost. Win now, pay later, was the motto, just as it had been for the North in the Civil War.
Young answered Durant’s telegram within an hour of its receipt. Yes, he said.10
Seymour and Reed went straight to Salt Lake City and negotiated. Young agreed that the Mormons would grade from the head of Echo Canyon toward the Salt Lake (some fifty-four miles). Work was to commence in ten days and be completed by November 1. The UP would carry men, teams, and tools from Omaha for free, and provide powder, steel, shovels, picks, sledges, wheelbarrows, scrapers, crowbars, and other necessary tools at cost plus freight charges.
The Mormons would receive 30 cents a cubic yard for excavations when the earth was hauled less than two hundred feet away, and 50 cents for longer hauls. Cuts made through hard materials were scaled at higher prices. Tunneling was $15 a yard. The UP would pay labor costs on a monthly basis (with 80 percent paid on the 20th of each month). Young wanted $2 and up per day per worker, depending on their talents.
The contract was drawn, and on May 19, Young gave Seymour and Reed a letter. In it he said he had “carefully examined the figures you are accustomed to giving to grading and masonry work” and was ready to sign if the UP would add 10 percent to the figures, but only if the UP was prepared to give him the contract for building the grade from the mouth of Weber Canyon around the Salt Lake, whether the railroad went south or north. He also wanted Reed to make a depot at the mouth of Echo Canyon to handle the supplies. In return, he promised as many as five thousand men, all ready to take orders and go to work.11
The contract was signed. Young put notices in the two Salt Lake City newspapers (the Daily Reporter and the Deseret News) calling on all the men who wanted work to report to three of his sons, who were ready to hire. Commenting on a surplus of labor in and around the city, caused mainly by the grasshopper infestation, Young said it was a godsend that the Mormons could turn a surplus of labor into money. The Deseret News stressed that Mormon boys could now find work close to home, and another commentator remarked that the contract would “obviate the necessity of some few thousand strangers being brought here, to mix and interfere with the settlers, of that class of men who take pleasure in making disturbance wherever they go.”12 Some few days later, four thousand men had responded to the call However, rumor had it that as many as ten thousand would be needed, and the Mormons continued to show up.
They came from the farms around the Salt Lake. Orson Hyde of Springtown, Utah, wrote Young on May 27, 1868: “Much of our wheat in this settlement is eaten off by the grasshoppers; consequently, several are ready to go to work on the rail road.” From Spring City Ward, Andrew Jenson wrote, “Crops destroyed by grasshoppers and people to R[ail] R[oad].” Lewis Barney wrote that the “country was full of grasshoppers and every thing devoured by them and not a morsel of bread to be had to sustain life. Consequently [I went] to work for the railroad.” A good thing too, for Barney was cutting timber for ties and bridges and “I cleared 500 dollars through the summer.”13
Young sent a telegram to Reed (then at the UP’s end of track in Wyoming) asking him to send “at your earliest convenience” such additional supplies “as your judgment may deem necessary for putting a large force of hands at work at once, for I am anxious to complete the work in time, and the days are passing.”14 They were burning daylight, wasting time, and he wanted to get going.
On May 31, from Weber Canyon, Reed sent a telegram to Durant demanding “tools for five thousand men from Salt Lake Valley, men ready to commence work as soon as tools are received.”15 A week later, the first group of westbound Mormon converts from Liverpool came to New York and got on the train; they arrived in Wyoming before June was out. By then another group was en route, with yet another to follow. The total emigration from Europe for Salt Lake City in 1868 was 3,232, mainly from Great Britain, and nearly all ready to go to work.16
YOUNG had his critics, although few lived in Utah. In the East, they charged that Young was favoring his sons and closest associates as subcontractors, that he was getting a tithe from every laborer, supposedly for the Mormon church but, as one editor of a newspaper knew, that was “just another name for Brigham Young,” who was otherwise enriching himself. The Cincinnati Commercial charged that, whereas Young’s contract called for 30 cents per yard for work done, he gave only 27 cents to his subcontractors “and the Prophet [Young] pockets the odd million.” The Cheyenne Daily Leader on June 15, 1868, charged that the contract between Young and the UP was “outright slavery.” It claimed that Young called for manpower from each Mormon settlement according to its population, and the draftees had to work at wages set by Young. Further, the Leader believed the UP had denied work to Wyoming residents because it was “the settled policy of the railroad company to give large contracts to Brigham.”17
That was not true. Although at the time there was a widely held impression that Young would undertake all the grading in Utah for the UP, actually the contract for the work for fifty miles east of Echo Canyon, in the direction of Wyoming, was held by Joseph Nounan and Company, a Gentile firm. With Nounan as with Young, there were misunderstandings and miscalculations in the contract, and a good deal of acrimony resulted between the contractors and the railroads. This was usually the case in the construction of railroads at the time.18
Young had three of his sons—Joseph, Brigham, Jr., and John W.—and Bishop John Sharp hiring and directing the men. Sharp, close to Young, was also his lawyer, and would remain a major Utah railroad leader for decades. Together Joseph Young and Sharp became associated in a firm known as Sharp & Young that took on grading contracts and the boring of several tunnels. The partners soon had fourteen hundred men working for them in Echo Canyon, and working well. Young said they improved rapidly because “they have got used to the labor.”19
In early June, Young was the principal speaker at a mass meeting in the new Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. He said he had always wanted the railroad and that the Mormons would help to build it. One of his followers wrote, “We felt much better after he did that; we feared he might not be willing and we’d never have a road.” Young also said he expected the line to run through the city, for which the Cheyenne Daily Leader jumped on him. The newspaper pointed out that the line north of the city would be sixty or seventy miles shorter, but it admitted that Young would probably have his way, because “there is more political strength and influence united in him than in any other one person in America.”20
Well, perhaps, sometimes, in some places, but not always even in Utah. Early that summer, Dodge came to Salt Lake City. Young knew the UP’s workings well enough to know that, though Durant had considerable power, and Reed had power, and there were other men who had to be dealt with, in the end it was Dodge who got what he wanted. Clearly, wherever Dodge sat was the head of the table. He was a man of such strong personality that even such men as Durant gave way—and even such men as Young.
On this occasion, Dodge had come to tell Young that the UP was going to go around the north end of the lake and would run not through Salt Lake City but, rather, through Ogden. Though Young put what Dodge called great pressure on him to go south instead of north, Dodge held firm. His own surveys and those of others had convinced him that north was the best way to go.
Young would not quit, not yet. According to Dodge, “He even went so far as to deliver in the Tabernacle a great sermon denouncing me, and stating a road could not be built or run without the aid of the Mormons.”21 Young then approached the CP to accept the southern route, but to no avail, for their surveyors had come to the same conclusion as Dodge.
Dodge stood firm. He told Young that the Mormons would have to build their own spur line to Ogden if they wanted rail service in Salt Lake City. Young finally, unwillingly, but as gracefully as he could, accepted the decision. A few weeks later, in another Tabernacle sermon, Young said that wherever the railroad went around Salt Lake, “it is all right because God rules and He will have things as He pleases. We can act, but He will over-rule.”22
At the beginning of June, the Mormons were at work. The Deseret News exclaimed, “We live in a wonderful age.” Admittedly, the railroad would bring in Gentiles, but it would also carry them out.23 Dodge took one look and from then on he couldn’t have enough Mormons working for the UP. They were, he said, teetotalers to the last man, tolerated no gambling, were quiet and law-abiding, said grace devoutly at meals, and concluded each day’s labor with communal prayers and songs.
One of their songs, a favorite of Dodge’s, written by James Crane, a Mormon railroad grader, ran:
At the head of great Echo
The railway’s begun
The Mormons are cutting
And grading like fun.
They say they’ll stick to it
Till it is complete,
When friends and relations
They’re longing to meet.24
By June 9, they had broken ground for the masonry and grade at Devil’s Gate in Weber Canyon. John Sharp could put only eighty men to work there. He could set no more at the job because the defile in which the men worked was so narrow it couldn’t hold any more. Once he was clear of Devil’s Gate, he used as many as five hundred men on a single job. Through the canyon, Mormon gangs worked as hard and as faithfully as did the Chinese for the CP. They cut timber for bridges and ties, or made grade, or built bridges, or dug tunnels, and more.
The July 22, 1868, Deseret News said, “A birds-eye view of the railroad camps in Echo Canyon would disclose to the beholder a little world of concerted industry unparalleled.” Historian Clarence Reeder, in his dissertation on Utah railroads, summarized the Mormon construction efforts: “A people working together in harmony under the guidance of their religious leaders to accomplish a temporal task which they treated as though it were divinely inspired.”25
Samuel Schill was a twelve-year-old that summer. His dad was a teamster hauling supplies for the UP. In June, when the Weber River was high and running very fast, someone asked young Sam if he could swim. Sure, was the answer. Well, then, swim the river, and while you are at it carry over this rope to the engineering party on the other side. The engineers need it to start establishing a ferry here.
Sam did it, for 50 cents. That was the first money he had ever earned. He earned more working for the railroad, by hauling ties cut by his dad down to the roadbed.
At night, he later recalled, he would sit around the campfire with the grown-ups, singing such songs as:
Hurrah, hurrah, the railroad’s begun.
Three cheers for the contractor, his name Brigham Young.
Hurrah, hurrah, we are faithful and true
And if we stick to it, it’s bound to go through.26
• • •
HOW good were these Mormons in a job that began with daylight and lasted until dusk, or sometimes went through the night? The authoritative voice is that of Hubert Howe Bancroft in his 1890 history of Utah: “It was acknowledged by all railroad men that nowhere on the line could the grading compare in completeness and finish with the work done by the people of Utah.”27
In addition to grades and bridges, the Mormons and other UP workers had to drive tunnels. All together the UP had four tunnels. One was in Wyoming, at Mary’s Creek, in the Rattlesnake Hills, a short one of 215 feet, and straight. It was driven through brown sandstone that had to be timbered. The second tunnel was at the head of Echo Canyon. At 772 feet, it was the longest on the line, with long cuts leading to it. The tunnel was driven through weak clay rock that required it to be lined with timber. Work started in July 1868, but it was not finished until May 1869. The railroad ran a temporary track eight miles in length around it. Tunnels 3 and 4 were in Echo Canyon, three-quarters of a mile apart, some twenty-five miles from Ogden. Tunnel 3, on a curve, was 508 feet long, driven through a sharp spur of black limestone and dark-blue quartzite. Begun in September 1868, it was completed in April 1869. Tunnel 4, also on a curve, was 297 feet long, and it was completed by January 1869. In all of these tunnels, the UP gangs used nitroglycerin. No one protested. It was obvious to everyone working on the railroad that the need for speed was paramount, if the race was to be won.
The several crossings of the Weber River were made with trestles. These were temporary structures. In the judgment of historian John Debo Galloway, in his book The First Transcontinental Railroad—published in 1950 and still a definitive work—“The use of the temporary structures on the rapid advance westward was fully justified by the desire to get the road into operation, since the bridges serve the purpose for which they were erected. Permanent stone and masonry work could be added later. The procedure that was followed by the Union Pacific in its original construction was entirely proper for a railroad building into a new territory.”28
THE CP watched, worried, and acted. In mid-1868, the CP’s end of track was more than five hundred miles west of Echo Summit, but it was there that Stanford and the other members of the Big Four wanted to go. They were determined to begin the Utah grading at once, and in the process to use the best workforce they could possibly get, the Mormons, So, in the first week in June, Stanford set out by rail and stage for Salt Lake City. But Seymour and Reed had beat him there, and Reed had Brigham Young’s friendship, and a contract with him. Young told Stanford he had all he could do at present to complete the work he had taken on for the UP. After that was done, he intended to make new contracts with Reed, which would take the UP one or two hundred miles west of Salt Lake City.29
Stanford went into action. At first he found Young to be “cold and close,” but he managed to break down the defenses. Young wanted a railroad to come through his city, but Stanford “found good reasons why they [the Mormons] would be most benefitted by the northern route.” He told Hopkins to “tell Charley [Crocker] to double his energy, and do what is necessary to secure what labor is required to push the road to its utmost. Anything less will end in defeat.” Shaken by the experience of dealing with Young, Stanford confessed to Hopkins, “It has been pretty difficult navigating here, and it requires care now to avoid getting into breakers, which are devilish close, but I think I see the way out.”30
When Stanford asked Young what he would want for his workers, Young replied that the supplies he required were “flour, beef, bacon, beans, dried fruit, molasses, sugar, small quantities of rice and hospital supplies, tents or lumber for quarters, short-handled shovels, assorted picks, medium and breaking plows, scrapers, wheel-barrows and plank, carts and harness.”31 To Stanford that sounded reasonable, a lot more reasonable than the food the CP had to provide the Chinese.
Stanford wanted Young to agree to a contract for grading west of the mouth of the Weber River, but the Mormon leader wouldn’t do it. Finally, Young agreed, or at least seemed to agree, to send workers all the way to Humboldt Wells to do grading toward the east. Stanford in any case was more interested in the area just north of Salt Lake City. On July 28, he sent a telegram to Young: “We want to let you a contract for grading two hundred miles west from Weber Canyon. Would you prefer contract to proposition I made?”
Young wired back the next day that when his work for the UP was done he was ready to make a contract “upon the proposition you made, but some one must be sent here [Stanford had returned to California] authorized to contract, and the work must be ready and kept ready, that hands may not be hindered from time work begins.”32
Like Dodge, Reed, and others, Stanford was learning what a shrewd, practical businessman Young was. On August 10, Young told Stanford by telegram that the CP’s delays and problems with the UP had “caused such a scattering of our surplus laborers that I am unable to make a contract. Soon after you were here great numbers were inquiring for work west, but the delays have been such that they are now out of reach. I am unable to give any encouragement at present.”33
Young did try. On September 5, he sent a telegraph to “all the Bishops south of this City,” in which he asked them “to send me all the help you possibly can, as quick as possible, to work on the railroad. We wish to rush it through to Monument Point…. The pay will be sure, and in money at liberal rates.”34
THE contract with the CP was not made that summer, or even in the early fall. Durant had meanwhile sent some of his toughest Irish graders all the way out to Humboldt Wells to begin grading west. “Durant was going to the Pacific Ocean, I believe,” Huntington later said. “He started for there, at any rate.”35 But in November, Stanford, by then back in Salt Lake City, met Durant, who was also there to put pressure on Young. “We had general talk in the main,” Stanford told Hopkins. On November 9, 1868, however, Stanford finally managed to get Young to agree to a contract calling on the Mormons to build from Ogden west to Monument Point, north of Salt Lake.
The subcontractor was the Mormon company of Benson, Farr & West. Brigham Young had a quarter-interest in the firm. The company had already built a hundred miles west from Monument Point. The partners were bishops in the Mormon church and at the top of Mormon society: Ezra Taft Benson was a member of Young’s original Council of Twelve (and great-grandfather of a future secretary of agriculture); Lorin Farr was mayor of Ogden; Chauncey West was a Mormon bishop.
Another Mormon bishop, John Sharp of Sharp & Young, at that moment grading west for the UP, was practically alongside the Benson, Farr & West workers. Durant told Stanford, “If we hired his men, he could play the same game.”36 A bidding war began, as each side tried to hire laborers away from the other. This drove the wages up drastically, but the competitors kept at it.
Threats and counterthreats, bluffs and actions aside, Benson, Farr & West were making progress on the CP roadbed between Ogden and Monument. So were the UP workers. The two railroads were now grading within a stone’s throw of each other for much of the long distance between the mouth of Weber Canyon and Humboldt Wells. The graders were even working at night, in the desert country north of the Salt Lake, by the light of big bonfires of sagebrush. It was madness, but it was done, and continued to be done.
Beginning November 1, Stanford made his headquarters in Salt Lake City. Among other objectives, he wanted to spy on the UP. He had Lewis Clement with him; Acting Chief Engineer Montague had put Clement in charge in Utah, along with Consulting Engineer George Gray. The three men went out to inspect the preliminary line run by Butler Ives in 1867. They agreed that the line required an eight-hundred-foot tunnel through solid limestone that would cost $75,000 to blast and would delay track laying in the home stretch of the race. A new line laid out at the expense of alignment in order to avoid the tunnel would require a fill of ten thousand yards of earth, with rock cuts leading up to it that would consume more than fifteen hundred kegs of black powder. Stanford ordered it done anyway.
Stanford also wanted to convince his Mormon contractors to start grading toward Monument Point as soon as they completed the hundred miles to the west of that place that they had contracted to do. They expected to be finished in about a month. Stanford wanted them to start the new grading in Ogden, working west toward Monument Point. His thought, apparently, was to establish Ogden as the meeting point for the two railroads. Congress had not yet set the place, and others, including his own partners plus Durant and the other big shots from the UP, had other plans.
By the next month, December 1868, the CP was in apparent control of a line from Monument Point to Ogden. It had finished about two-thirds of its grading, although blasting and filling at Promontory went slowly. The contractors, Benson, Farr & West, gave many excuses, but Stanford “started Brigham after them,” and they began to work faster.37
One of the Big Four who had other plans was Huntington, who was obstinately in favor of the CP’s going as far east as Echo Summit and meeting the UP there (the UP had graded from the summit west through most of Echo Canyon, thanks to the Mormons, but its track was still in Wyoming in 1868). Stanford saw nothing to be gained by parallel grading in Echo Canyon, but still he wished all the bad luck in the world on the UP. “One good storm,” he wrote Hopkins on December 10, “would settle the question of their coming through the Weber Canyon this winter.”38
THE use of codes and of code-breaking goes back to the beginning of writing. It was usually used by governments to hide what they were doing. President Thomas Jefferson had a code system used by Captain Meriwether Lewis to report on the political views of other army officers, and another for Lewis to use while exploring the Louisiana Purchase and the Northwest, in order to fool the Spanish should they happen to intercept Lewis’s messages. Sometimes Civil War generals used codes, although, it must be said, not often enough (George B. McClelland uncoded orders were captured by the Confederates before the Battle of Antietam, giving Robert E. Lee a chance to read them).
The first use of codes by businessmen to prevent detection of their doings known to this author was by the CP and the UP. It was inaugurated in 1868, just as the race between the two corporations was headed toward a climax. The purpose was to baffle any wiretapper. A reasonable fear, since all a spy had to do to find out what the opposition was up to was to tap into the telegraph line. (The UP, apparently, couldn’t keep a secret; one of its engineers, F. C. Hodges, wrote to CP engineer Butler Ives telling all he knew about the UP’s plans and progress. Ives sent the information on to the Big Four.)
The CP’s code consisted of symbolic words. “Yelp” was Brigham Young’s code name. “Riddle” stood for William Ralston, of the Bank of California. Mark Hopkins had one key to the code, now at Stanford University in his handwriting. He was the only one of the Big Four who habitually used the code. He didn’t bother with it on some occasions, as in his one-word reply in 1868 to a Huntington inquiry, “No.” He evidently felt that was sufficiently cryptic.39
The Big Four, especially Huntington and Hopkins, used codes to hide important numbers, like profits, costs, and the like, most of all totals. This may have been to hide the figures from the UP, but there is also a strong possibility that another purpose was to fool government regulators and inspectors. And it worked.
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MILANDO Pratt was a Mormon farmer near Ogden who had lost his crops to grasshoppers (“Great clouds of grasshoppers flew over these inter-mountain valleys and would darken the sun like a misty fog, and when night overtook them they would alight upon the ground and devour the crops whenever within their reach”) and thus became a subcontractor for Benson, Farr & West. He helped make the grade to the west of Monument Point, but he still wasn’t free of grasshoppers. “Those pestilential things were no respecters of places when night overtook them,” he remembered, “for they would settle down upon the waters of the Great Salt Lake which pickled them in its briny waters by the hundreds of thousands of tons and then cast their carcases ashore until a great wall of these inanimate pests was formed for miles along the lake’s shore.” They put forth a “great stench” when the sun hit them the next morning “and cast the aroma of this slowly melting putrid wall upon the windward breezes to be wafted earthward toward our suffering camp.”
Until the grasshoppers came to die, Pratt and his fellows had been taking their bath in the lake each night, “in its refreshing soothing waters.” They quit doing that when the pests came, and began using kerchiefs dipped in camphor solution, which was kept on hand in the camp to battle gnats and mosquitoes. But they soon found they missed the bath so much they decided to bring into action “our railroad implements of warfare and force a gateway through the dormant remains of our insufferable common enemy.” Using horses and scrapers, they forced a way to the lake through the barrier of putrid grasshoppers so that they could again enjoy “the freedom that this great inland salt sea afforded.”
There being no grass around the lake, and with hay selling for $75 per ton, Pratt had to send the horses into the hills with night herders to graze. Such was the life of a Mormon grader.40
For engineer James Maxwell, the grasshoppers posed a special problem. First he lost a black Newfoundland dog, who could not be seen through the swarm of grasshoppers from fifty yards away. Next his train was stopped by grasshoppers. “This seems like a big story,” he admitted, “but it is true and easily explained.” The grasshoppers were so numerous they “covered the rails,” so when he was headed up a grade, his driving wheels slipped on them. And if that seemed unbelievable, consider this: “The chickens seemed to think that they had a bonanza, but very soon they didn’t care for any more grasshoppers, and crawled into the tents or wagons, anywhere at all to get shelter.” A cow nearby who was pestered by the grasshoppers “would run away, whenever an opportunity was offered.”41
WORSE than the grasshoppers was Doc Durant. Always eager to enter into a contract that would be good for the UP, he was also always slow, or unwilling, or unable to pay. Not even Brigham Young could get what he had earned. Here is a sampling of the telegrams Young sent Reed in the last half of 1868. July 31: “Men who have completed or nearly completed their jobs are anxious for their pay. When will you be here.” August 5: “When will you be in this City. Answer immediately.” September 22: “The men are exceedingly anxious to get their pay for day work performed last June and since.”42 None of the messages got any reply.
By October, Young warned Durant that the men were so angry many of them were walking off the job. The Cheyenne Daily Leader sneered that the workers were deserting because some of them were “weak in the faith,” but mainly, the newspaper said, they would stay at their posts, because “Brother Brigham holds the whip as well as the reins, and whither he would drive they go.”43
Whatever kept them at work, Young’s pleas left Doc unmoved. The UP had, Young declared, paid only a third to a half of the value of the work done. Many subcontractors had borrowed money at 2 percent a month to pay their workers, and Young himself had put out $46,860 of his own money, but neither expedient was enough. He told Durant, “I need money very badly to carry on the work and do not know how to get along without it. Two or three hundred thousand is needed.” He got $100,000.44 Durant put that money to Young’s credit in an account in New York, but Young informed him that he had already drawn checks for nearly that amount and he was still $130,000 in arrears. “I have expended all my available funds in forwarding the work,” he wrote Durant, “and if I had the means to continue would not now ask for any assistance. These explanations must be my apology for troubling you in the matter.”45
Young did all he could to pay the men out of his own pocket, but it wasn’t enough, and the problem continued into 1869 and beyond. It should not be thought that only Young and the Mormons had to beg, badger, plead, threaten to sue, and otherwise try to force Durant to pay up. Joseph Nounan and another Gentile contractor, J. M. Orr, had to wait and beg and plead for what they had earned, and been promised, as well.
AT the beginning of 1869, Young praised Durant for his “energy and go-ahead-ivness.”46 By then the UP had tracks into Utah and almost down to Salt Lake Valley. That could not have been done without Durant and Dodge and many, many others, but neither could it have been done without the Mormons.
They worked without letup. For sure they wanted their money, but even more they wanted the railroad. The energy they put out could not be measured, but how they did it and what they did were observed. On December 15, 1868, an unsigned reporter for the Deseret News had described what he saw along the line. “All the ground not graded east of Echo is covered with men,” he wrote, “who are working night and day. At night huge piles of sage brush make fires by which the work is prosecuted. The frozen ground is drilled, kegs of powder are emptied in the holes, and a long section of frozen earth is blown up almost simultaneously.”
He went on: “The road up Weber canyon is crowded with teams hauling ties, which are deposited about a mile below the mouth of Echo.” Here they were taken up by other teams and distributed on the grade up the canyon. The pile driver was at work for the culverts and bridges. There was a cut in the making that was ninety feet deep and five hundred feet long, on which men were working day and night. “Deep drills are being driven, into each of which a few kegs of powder are put, and huge masses of rock are thrown out and loosened for the crowbar to detach.”
As for the tunnels, “But a faint idea can be conveyed. Sleepless energy is unceasingly occupied drilling, blasting, rending the foundations of the earth, and cutting a passage through rock harder than granite.” The reporter compared the blasts coming from the tunnel facing to “the loud reports of heavy artillery; and the old mountains reverberate from base to summit, ringing back with thundering echoes, as if in anger.”
THERE were many teenagers among the Mormon workers. One of them was Bill Smoot, who was fifteen years old and worked at the head of Echo Canyon for nine months in 1868. “Boys at my age in those stirring times did a man’s work,” he wrote over fifty years later. “We were hardened by the open life we lived and were brought up to work and did, that we might keep body and soul together. There were no drones. Each has his assigned work.” For himself, he wrote, “I caught the railroad fever, even though I had never even seen a picture of a railroad or a train of cars.” He had a team of horses, and with them he hauled ties. In the course of his stint, he earned $1,600, which was “a greater sum than my father had earned in cash money during his previous twenty-two years residence in Utah.”
Smoot lived in a camp not far from another UP camp that held five hundred men, mainly Irish. “They were good workers,” he recalled, “and a jolly bunch of men, but often got the worse from drinking bad whiskey and when they laid off work for a good old Irish wake, they sure let everybody know it for many miles around.”47
The UP and CP graders were working almost right next to each other north of the lake, according to the December 12 issue of the Salt Lake Daily Reporter, “in a seemingly fraternal embrace.” But “the frozen ground in the mornings makes work difficult, and unless plowing is done in the afternoon for the scrapers to work at during the next day, progress is tedious and damage to the plows considerable.” Although foremen were talking about giving up the work while the ground was so hard-frozen, their bosses were after them to keep going: the line from Ogden to Promontory Summit could be reached in twenty days if the weather remained favorable. But of course it would not, could not. Men working north and west of Ogden told the newspaperman that nothing could be done until spring, because “they cannot open the ground, it is so hard frozen already.” The reporter concluded, “Notwithstanding the herculean efforts made by both companies, work may have to be suspended on a large portion yet to be done. The elements are obstacles which even railroad enterprise and energy sometimes cannot overcome.” The time had come to call it quits for 1868.
* The hope was realized. In the first summer of regular service, more visitors stopped at Salt Lake City during the travel months than at any time since its founding.