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The United States Grows

Rails Across America - The Union Pacific Railroad in Indian Territory

Rails Across America - The Union Pacific Railroad in Indian Territory
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 6 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.6

     challenging words:    outcry, east-west, rightly, elite, sabotage, well-organized, thereafter, tactics, best, sown, tactic, well-designed, misery, raiders, armed, investors
     content words:    Pacific Railroad Act, Union Pacific Railroad Company, UP Vice President Thomas Durant, Oakes Ames, Credit Mobilier, Union Pacific, Civil War, Plains Indians, Native Americans, Great Plains

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Rails Across America - The Union Pacific Railroad in Indian Territory
By Toni Lee Robinson

1     In the 1860s, most Americans were clamoring for a railroad that would bridge the east-west gap. The question was how to get the Herculean job done. Some scoffed at the idea. It was impossible! What about the mountains? What about the Indians? What about the costs? Hardly anyone was willing to invest in what seemed a very risky venture.
2     Changes to the Pacific Railroad Act in 1864 gave more land and loans to the railroad companies. Investors perked up their ears. $16,000 for twenty miles of road built on the level and $48,000 in the mountains? Mineral rights as well as 128,000 acres per mile along the railway? Maybe there was money to be made here after all.
3     The Union Pacific Railroad Company took shape. UP Vice President Thomas Durant was the force behind the company. Durant went to Washington, D.C., to smooth the way for the railroad. Money and stock were given as gifts to government officials. Oakes Ames and other congressmen were among those who received gifts for their services.
4     Durant set up a secondary company, the Credit Mobilier of America. Through the CMA, Union Pacific executives could award railroad-building contracts to themselves. They could set as high a price as they wanted. The government would be billed accordingly. The actual construction could then be subcontracted at as cheap a price as possible. The inflated profits would go into the pockets of Durant and the elite group of stockholders.
5     The Union Pacific's groundbreaking took place in Omaha on December 2, 1863. From then on, it was a wild ride. Civil War veterans, North and South, worked side by side with thousands of Irish immigrants on the UP crews. In the veterans, the UP reaped much of what the war had sown. The men knew how to work together. They were tough, disciplined, and happy to be free of the misery of war.
6     The building of the railroad was as well-organized as any military campaign. On the front lines were the surveyors, laying out the route. Next came the graders who made the roadbed. Then came teams who set the ties in place. Last were the "iron men": crews who laid the rails, crews who checked the "gauge" or distance between rails, crews who set the spikes, and lastly, those who hammered the spikes in place.
7     Everyone worked at a trot, and each was part of a specialized team. Miles and miles of track came into being like magic. The whole thing was smooth and fast, a well-designed machine building its own shiny track as it advanced. Frequently, though, there were bumps in the road.
8     One of the biggest bumps was the existence of the Plains Indians. The Native Americans resisted the coming of the railroad. They saw the gleaming metal lines cutting through their territory as a permanent trespass. Wildlife, particularly the buffalo, needed the endless acres of Great Plains grass to survive. The great herds of buffalo and other game, and the freedom of the vast prairie were the basis of Native American life.
9     The tribes quite rightly guessed that the railroad would populate the plains with whites, their farms, fences, buildings, and towns. At best, the lives of the native peoples would be pinched and squeezed, restricted to this or that little patch of prairie. The Pawnee had given in. They accepted the presence of the road and befriended the whites.

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