Seven Golden Spikes

February 12, 2013  - by 

Seven transcontinental railroads were key factors in the settlement of the West. Most western railroads actively recruited people from the east, or from overseas as settlers along their routes as a way to increase traffic. Moving by railroad was faster, safer, and less expensive than going by covered wagon. Where new railroads were built, more settlers soon followed.

The first seven railroads that opened transportation from eastern states to the west coast and points between in the following order, including where their final connecting spike was driven to open their transcontinental service:

1869 Union Pacific + Central Pacific, Council Bluffs IA to Sacramento CA, at Promontory Summit UT

1881 Santa Fe + Southern Pacific, Chicago IL to Los Angeles CA, at Deming NM

1881 Texas and Pacific + Southern Pacific, St. Louis MO to Los Angeles CA, at Sierra Blanca TX

1883 Southern Pacific, New Orleans LA to Sacramento CA, at Pecos River TX

1883 Northern Pacific, Duluth MN to Seattle WA, at Gold Creek MT

1885 Canadian Pacific, Halifax Nova Scotia to Vancouver British Columbia, at Craigellachie BC

1893 Great Northern, Chicago IL to Seattle WA, at Scenic WA

Although no passenger lists are available for these railroads, it is useful to learn about their routes and when they started to better understand people who settled in the West and from where they may have come. Keep in mind that most of these routes took many years to build so service on far eastern or far western ends of the line may have begun years before their golden (connecting) spike was driven. Also, railroads sometime sold land they were granted by the government to new settlers. Railroad land transactions should be recorded at the land office for the county where the transaction happened. United States Census records may also be useful for revealing where people were born who settled the West via these seven transcontinental railroads.

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  1. My great grandfather’s brother “disappeared” from all records about the time the Transcontinental Railroad was built. He was born in PA but then appears in the records in CA in 1880. I have suspected that he was part of the building of the eastern portion of the railroad but I understand that there are no existing records of the men who worked in that construction.

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