Breaking

A Native American overlooks the newly completed transcontinental railroad in Sacramento, c. 1867

 

In this photo taken between 1865 - 1869 by Alfred Hart, a Native American looks at a newly completed section of the Transcontinental Railroad 435 miles from Sacramento, California. The harsh composition of both man and progress facing the distant haze complicates the sentiment as to the cultural influence behind America's westward expansion.

The railroad was a massive undertaking, with three companies building the 3,069 km (1,907 mi) line in six years. With the arrival of the final "Golden Spike" in the field on May 10, 1869, the Revolution in Transportation allowed an influx of people and goods to travel directly from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Sacramento, California.

Although by the 1860s, Native Americans had signed the rights to most of their land in treaties with the federal government, they probably never imagined that a disruptive and expansive system like railroads would be built through their traditional hunting grounds.

The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad had dire consequences for the native tribes, forever changing the landscape and causing the disappearance of once-trusted wild game.

The railroad was probably the biggest contributor to the loss of bison, which was especially painful for the native tribes, who relied on it for everything from meat to hides and fur for clothing, and more.

The tribes increasingly came into conflict with the railroad as they attempted to protect their dwindling resources. Native American tribes found themselves at cultural barriers, with whites building railroads and settlers claiming ownership of land they had never previously owned.

What had been a long and dangerous journey for the family going west was now much easier and safer. Railroads directly encouraged immigration. A transcontinental line was financed through large grants of public land sold to help pay for construction.

To offload these lands, the railroads hired hundreds of promoters in the East and Europe, offering cheap fares, and even temporary housing for anyone visiting.

New cities and sprawling farms and ranches pressed against shrinking native homes, disrupting economies and triggering disputes that almost always ended badly for Indians.

In response, Native Americans ransacked the railroad and attacked white settlements supported by the line, in an effort to reclaim the way of life being taken from them.

Had they not been targeting railway tracks and machinery, they would have attacked the workers and fled with their livestock. Ultimately the tribes failed to prevent the loss of their territory and hunting resources.

Interesting fact: In the picture, the railway has only one track, which is called the passing loop or passing siding. Originally, the mainline would have shorter sections where it was doubled.

Priority was given to trains so that low priority trains would pull the siding and wait for higher priority trains to pass. This was a much cheaper solution than building a complete double line.

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