Southern Pacific Railroad

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Pecos River Viaduct near Langtry, Texas, built 1892, for many years the highest bridge in the U.S. Credit: Lehigh University's Digital Bridges site at

The Southern Pacific Railroad (combined with other railroads) was part of the second, third, and fourth railroads to offer "transcontinental" service in the United States and Canada. In 1883 Southern Pacific's own tracks connected New Orleans, Louisiana, to California. Settlers were attracted to nearby communities because the railroads provided access to markets. Railroads encouraged settlement along their routes to help increase the need for their service. For example, the Southern Pacific built significant hospitals in Tucson, San Francisco, and other towns.[1] If an ancestor settled near a railroad, you may be able to trace their place of origin back to another place along the tracks.

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The United States bought the Gadsden Purchase, portion forming the southern parts of (Arizona and New Mexico south of the Gila River) from Mexico in 1853 to have a snow-free route between California and the rest of the United States. The Butterfield Overland Mail (History Wells Fargo) stage coach route), and later the Southern Pacific Railroad both made use of Gadsden land.[2]

The Southern Pacific Company was formed in 1865 to link San Francisco and San Diego, California by rail. By 1877 they were building track east into Yuma, Arizona and headed for New Mexico and Texas.[3] In March 1881 the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway connected with Southern Pacific lines at Deming, New Mexco to form the second transcontinental line. A few months later, in December 1881 the Southern Pacific linked with the Texas and Pacfic Railway at Sierra Blanca, Texas to form the third "transcontinental" railroad. Fourteen months later in February 1883 the Southern Pacific completed an expensive low bridge over the Pecos River in Texas linking New Orleans, Louisiana to Los Angeles, California entirely on its own tracks (fourth transcontinental line).[4] In 1892 Southern Pacific eliminated 11 miles of steep and curvy grades on its Sunset Route in Texas by building a new Pecos Viaduct (high bridge) 5 mile further north near Langtry, Texas, for many years the highest bridge in America. This viaduct was replaced with a new railroad bridge including all concrete piers in 1944.[5]

Southern Pacific RR map.png

Route[edit | edit source]

From east to west some of the most signficant towns on a typical route were:

Routes in Oregon and the old Central Pacific tracks through Nevada to Ogden, Utah also were controlled at various times by the Southern Pacific Company.[6]

Settlers and Records[edit | edit source]

Settlers who made their way west on the Southern Pacific were likely to be from the southern states, especially Louisiana and Texas. However, via the Texas and Pacific Railway link to St. Louis, Missouri, and the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway link to Chicago, Illinois many people using the Southern Pacific Railroad to settle in New Mexico, Arizona, and California could also have come from Midwestern states as well.

There are no known passenger lists for the Southern Pacific Railroad.


Internet Links[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Southern Pacific Transportation Company" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 4 July 2009).
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Gadsden Purchase" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 4 July 2009).
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Southern Pacific Transportation Company" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 4 July 2009).
  4. American Western History Museums, "Southern Pacific Railroad" in "Western Railroads" in American Western History Museums at (accessed 4 July 2009).
  5. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, "Amistad National Recreation Area: The Pecos Viaduct" in National Park Service [Internet site] at (accessed 4 July 2009).
  6. Wikipedia contributors, "Southern Pacific Transportation Company" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 4 July 2009).