Skip to main content

Rails West

July 2024
1min read

My choice would be that cool and bright Monday out in Promontory, Utah, when top rail officials, their guests and dozens of track workmen watched as token touches were made on a $400 golden spike by a silver sledge.

The flamboyant, nationwide celebration marked an event as important to Americans as the opening of the Suez Canal —also in 1869—was to western Europeans. The antebellum generation of railroad development saw an iron network connect eastern seaports with established towns and cities, and by 1860 reach the edge of the frontier from Wisconsin to Texas. In the 187Os and 188Os the westward reaching trans-Mississippi rail lines moved well ahead of the frontier, created new communities, and pulled millions of settlers into the West. In the last decades of the nineteenth century these new rail lines were taking the Texas longhorn from the Kansas cow town to Chicago, were serving the gold and silver miners of Leadville and Virginia City, and were moving to eastern markets the crops of the prairie homesteader and farmer. Well before 1900 these Western railroads had helped close the last American frontier.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.