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Union Pacific Railroad

The Union Pacific Railroad Depot in Cheyenne. (Wikipedia- Jack Boucher)

It was quite an undertaking back in the late 1860′s when the Union Pacific Railroad started laying track across the Wyoming Territory. The UP started west from Omaha, Nebraska, and in July of 1867 it had reached Cheyenne, Wyoming. And over the next two years, tracklayers would build the railroad across Wyoming, a span of about 450 miles.

The Union Pacific would head west out of Cheyenne, over the Laramie Mountains and across the plains, through the Red Desert and on to Utah. It was General Greenville Dodge that was put in charge of mapping the route across Wyoming. And he decided that this path was best, a safer route south of the Oregon Trail and the volatile Sioux to the north. The UP route also would make good use of the rich coal deposits in the southwestern Wyoming Territory.

The Central Pacific Railroad was laying track eastward from Sacramento, California, at the same time. And the race was on. The Union Pacific and the Central Pacific would meet and make the historic connection at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869.

The Union Pacific Railroad was probably the most influential event that had the biggest effect on the settlement and development of the Wyoming Territory. Work gangs prepared the grade, laid ties, and placed rails. And on the best of days, they could lay 7 miles of track. But it came at a cost. It is estimated that 10 lives were lost for every mile of track, due to Indian attacks and the sheer dangers of the work.

There were 3 forts along the line, built to protect and house workers and military escorts. Fort Russell, Fort Sanders, and Fort Steele played a major role in the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. And as the rails moved west, towns would appear overnight. Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs and Evanston would grow and prosper as railroad supply centers. The Union Pacific provided transportation for settlers and opened trade with other areas by providing a way to ship goods like cattle, sheep and coal.

The hearty souls that built the rails would earn a whopping $2.50 an hour, but in certain stretches across the Red Desert and in hostile areas, they could literally triple their wage.

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