Monday, May 27, 2019

The Martyrs of the Race Course, 1865


The Charleston Daily Courier reported the following story on May 1st, 1865:

THE MARTYRS OF THE RACE COURSE

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — The ceremonies of the dedication of the ground where are buried two hundred and fifty-seven Union soldiers, took place in the presence of an immense gathering yesterday. Fully ten thousand persons were present, mostly of the colored population.

The ground had been previously laid out, the mounds of the graves newly raised, and a fine substantial fence erected around the enclosure by twenty-four colored men, "Friends of the Martyrs," and members of the "Patriotic Association of Colored Men."

The exercises on the ground commenced with reading a Psalm, singing a hymn, followed by a prayer. The procession was formed shortly after nine o’clock, and made a beautiful appearance, nearly every one present bearing a handsome boquet of flowers. The colored children, about twenty-eight hundred in number, marched first over the burial ground, strewing the graves with their flowers as the passed.

After the children came the "Patriotic Association of Colored Men," an association formed for the purpose of assisting in the distribution of the Freedmen’s supplies. These numbered about one hundred members. "The Mutual Aid Society," an association formed for the purpose of burying poor colored people, about two hundred strong followed next. These were followed by the citizens generally, nearly all with boquets, which were also laid upon the graves.

While standing around the graves the school children sung, "The Star Spangled Banner," "America" and "Rally Rund the Flag," and while marching sang, "John Brown’s Body." The graves at the close of the procession had all the appearance of a mass of roses.

Among those present at the speaker’s stand inside the enclosure, were General Hartwell, Colonel Gurney, Colonel Beecher, Rev. Mr. Lowe, Mr. James Redpath and others.

-- end of The Charleston Daily Courier newspaper article of May 1st, 1865. 

Some say that event was the first Memorial Day observance. While it was not the first "official" observance as that came about in 1868, I'd say that it is the first "un-official" Memorial Day observance on record.

One report says that "after the work was done, it was reported that some 10,000 freed black Charlestonians gathered at that cemetery to recite Psalms and scriptures, pray, sing hymns, and lay flowers for those they saw as their saviors. It's said that the ceremony there was all followed by a sort of picnic."

Since food was scarce during the 585-day siege of Charleston, I can't help but wonder if that report is true or not. A picnic? Really? And as for the figure of 10,000 freed slaves? Fact is, Charleston, South Carolina, was a city of 40,522 in 1860. By 1865 that city was almost deserted. And since it was a city with 25 percent of blacks, I don't know if I'd trust trust that figure.

Remember, it was devastated, utterly destroyed, by the end of the Civil War. No food, water, and it's said that the stench of the city was unbearable as it reeked of death and despair. It's believed that some of the dead were buried beneath the rubble as a result of the Union siege.

Let's keep in mind that Charleston was a primary target for the Union during the Civil War. It was from there on April 12th, 1861 that South Carolina militia forces including cadets from the Citadel fired the first shots of the war by bombarding Fort Sumter into surrender. Because of that, Union Forces laid siege for well over a year.

The Union attacked that city starting in late 1863, and it finally ended when the city surrender to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in February of 1865. It's said that by the time of its surrender, most of Charleston had been destroyed during the Union siege by constant bombardment using artillery and Union naval ships stationed there for the purpose of bring that city to its knees.

Charleston actually had three Confederate Prisoner of War Camps. Prisoner of War were being held at the Charleston City Jail, and at Castle Pinckney which was a U.S. Army Post prior to the war. The largest of the three was on the outskirts of the city. It was actually the grounds of Charleston's Washington Race Course and Jockey Club.

Yale Historian David Blight described that camp as follows: "Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand."

Because by the end of the war a great deal of the white population there had already left Charleston to evade the constant bombardment, most of those there were recently freed black slaves. That means that when Union troops of the 54th Massachusetts, and the 20th, 35th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops Regiments marched into Charleston to begin its occupation, those troops were greeted by mostly freed slaves who saw them as their liberators.

Of those freed slaves, about 28 of them almost immediately started work to right a wrong. They know of the horrible conditions, the filth, the starvation, disease, and death that took place at the POW Camp ran by the Confederate Army at the race track. They knew also of the mass graves.

It was those freed slaves who saw those dead Union soldiers as "Martyrs" to be honored. So it was they who dug them up and properly re-interred the 257 Union troops who died there.  

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After they re-interred those troops, those freed slaves are said to have then built a high fence around it and an arch at the entrance of the cemetery. The inscribed "Martyrs of the Race Course" was supposedly on that arch.

In the 1880s, the Federal government removed those buried at that cemetery and actually re-interred them in the newly designation national cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina. As for the race track, it became known as Hampton Park. Believe it or not, it was named for Wade Hampton.

Wade Hampton is interesting in that he was a former Confederate General who is said to have resented having black Union troops as part of the Federal government's occupying force in South Carolina. His personal history is one for a later blog post.

As for the old cemetery with the entrance that read "Martyrs of the Race Course," its been gone since the Federal government relocated those Union troops in the 1880s.

Tom Correa


Monday, May 20, 2019

Reparations Have Already Been Paid


Dear Friends,

I made the meme above to be posted on Facebook. I've had a lot of friends ask me about it so I will tell you what its all about. It's simple really, I did it to remind people of the price that was paid to free Black slaves during the American Civil War. Since this Memorial Day is approaching, it is only appropriate to talk about why some Americans have died for our country. To end slavery during the Civil War is one of those reasons.

Americans died fighting for our Independence from 1776 to 1783, and after by way of the diseases contracted during that time. During the War of 1812, Americans died as a result of poor administration policies pertaining to keeping a standing Army. President Jefferson was against that and the British saw his policy as a weakness to be exploited. Thus, the Brits invaded and burned down Washington D.C.. Thankfully, we were able to regroup and win that "Second War for Independence."

As for the Mexican-American War, that was for liberty. Freedom for those living under a tyrannical Mexican regime. The Civil War was fought as a result of a number of things including over-regulation by the Federal government and crippling taxation, and of course slavery. My belief is that it was not a single issue war. It is naive to think so.

For those who think it was strictly about slavery, they are fooling themselves. Slavery in the South, though slavery did exist and was being propped up by the extremely wealthy who wanted to hold on to cheap labor, was not shared by all. The vast majority of Southerners didn't own slaves.

And by the way, please don't bother writing to say that slaves were "free labor" and not simply "cheap labor." Slavery was "cheap" in that, whether we want to admit it or not, slaves were treated like livestock and that means they had to be fed and cared for like cattle. Doing so was not cheap. Because of that, the subsequent cost of slavery, the logistics of having slaves, involved housing, feeding, and caring for them. It is sad to say that some slaves were kept at all, but even more so when we think that they were in many cases kept in worse conditions than some expensive race horses.

Gave His Arms As Reparations
And also, after the Civil War, there were many farms and plantations that actually hired former slaves. It's said that those farmers treated their "new hires" like slaves, including floggings, beatings, killings, but the former slave owner actually saved money by refusing to feed and house them as they did previously when they were owned.

While there were anti-slavery organizations in the America's British Colonies before the founding of the United States, we forget that the import of slaves from Africa into the United States was made illegal and actually stopped by President Jefferson in 1808. That was 25 years after we became an independent nation. Slavery was still legal until 1865, but from 1808 to 1865 it was illegal to import Black slaves into the United States.

As for slavery itself, slavery existed in the United States from 1783, which was when we actually won our independence and became a new nation, to 1865 when slavery was abolished by President Lincoln. That was an 82 year period. No, not the 400 year number which we hear from political activists attempting to use to make our nation's history of slavery longer than it was.

So what are "reparations"? The term "reparations" is defined as "the compensation, the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged."

I'm not going into every battle that was fought. I'm not going to go into listing the name of every soldier or sailor who died knowing that they died while doing their part to free black slaves in the South. I'm not going to list the 596,670 Union troops that were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. No, but that is the compensation, what was used to make amends, the lives changed or ended as part of the reparations made to Black slaves.

Before someone writes to tell me that freed slave reparations was forty acres and a mule as part of Special Field Orders No. 15 approved by President Abraham Lincoln. Please understand that while freed slaves expected to legally claim their 40 acres of land and a mule after the end of the war, not too long after it was approved, it was superseded by the Freedmen's Bureau Act. That act reversed Lincoln's order. That was done by President Andrew Johnson who became president after President Lincoln was assassinated.

Besides, I content that the lives, dead and wounded, of over a half-million Union troops truly trumps 40 acres and a mule. In fact, because of the Civil War, I content that reparations for that 82 year period of American history when slavery existed in the United States has already been paid. The cost to the United States was huge. The reparations were paid in blood during the Civil War. It cost the United States the lives of 596,670 Union troops. Yes, those who died, were wounded, captured, or ended up being missing in combat to set slaves free.

Below shows what non-Slave States the dead Union troops came from. It also shows the number of black Union troops (Colored Troops) died as part of the price paid, all of the rest were White:


During his 2nd Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln put it this way:

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”

The blood that was drawn by the sword during those horribly bloody years of the Civil War was the price Americans paid to set the slaves free, to pay for those years when black slaves were under the lash. The Union casualties, more than a half a million of them, was the price of reparations for what was done previously to that war. Those reparations made Union wives widows and orphaned children, and lift limbs piled. That was the price to our nation for condoning slavery. It was our nation's price to make amends for all of those who were kept in bondage by both white and black slave master.

And frankly, so that those Union soldiers didn't die in vain, or had their arms and legs blown off for nothing, it's OK to say "Thank you."

Tom Correa

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Jarbidge Stage Robbery -- The Last Stage Robbery


November 14, 1910, Eugene Ely became the first pilot to successfully takeoff from a warship, when he flew his Curtiss Model D biplane from a makeshift fight deck on the USS Birmingham.

So now, as you know, I like to try to put the times in which things took place into context. Well, six year after Ely flew off of that first makeshift aircraft carrier, the Jarbidge Stage Robbery took place. That stage robbery would be the very last stage robbery in what was still considered the Old West.

The town of Jarbidge is located about 10 miles south of the Idaho-Nevada border in Elko County, Nevada. It actually sits at the bottom of the Jarbidge River's canyon, about 2,000 feet deep, near the north end of the Jarbidge Mountains.

The name "Jarbidge" is supposed a name gotten from the Shoshone Indians. While some pronounce it "Ja-Ha-Bich," the Native Americans there called it "Tsawhawbitts." It supposedly means "Devil." The Shoshone are said to have believed that the whole Jarbidge Canyon and hills were haunted by the devil or some sort of man-eating giant. It was said to be "bad medicine."

While some have this idea that silver was the only thing found in Nevada, gold was as well and it was discovered near Jarbidge in as late as 1909. The fact of it being found in 1909 makes Jarbidge the last place in the Old West to experience a gold rush. Because of the gold discovery in 1909, the mining camp was founded as a tent city. And as with other boom-towns, the gold rush there brought in a few thousand people of all sorts. Unlike most boom-towns, Jarbidge's population petered out after the winter of that same year 1909. In fact, it's said that because "about 80 percent of the prospectors became disgusted and pulled up stakes and headed elsewhere."

Its population claimed again in 1911, but mining operations came to a halt by the early 1930s. When I looked up Jarbidge to get an update on that old town, I was happy to read that mining permits for gold were being re-issued. Just like the area that I live in here near Jackson, California, the increased price of gold per ounce has made it possible for some mines to reopen.

The Jarbidge Stage Robbery took place on December 5th, 1916. And while we think of stages being the Wells-Fargo two-team wagons, or even in some cases three-team wagons, the stage that was robbed that day was a small two-horse mail wagon. Yes, it's believed to have been more a mail-wagon than stage coach. And no, I don't believe there were any passengers aboard the small wagon.


While the picture above shows you the type of wagon that was considered very common for mail in those days, the one in that picture is not the one that was robbed. But while that's the case, we can certainly see how it was not a formidable target if one wanted to rob such a wagon. After all, all it had for security was the driver.

The mail wagon that was robbed in 1916 was ambushed heading to the town of Jarbidge. And frankly, I'm a little surprised that the driver was killed. In most such instances, the drivers were disarmed and in a lot of case set afoot after the team that had been cut loose. Bandits were known to cut teams loose to slow down efforts of a robbery being reported. In that way, Highwaymen gained some precious lead time on a posse that was sure to follow.

The driver was killed, and over $4,000 was stolen that day. While that was 1916, America was still a rural nation with many isolated communities. Jarbidge was one such community.

Today, Jarbidge is still known for it being isolated and away from everything. to my knowledge, it still doesn't have paved roads. One can easily get to the town by way of a road which comes off of Route 93 in Rogerson, Idaho. That's a 20 mile or so stretch and three quarters of that are unimproved at best. While that way is usually open all year round, I believe the other two ways of getting there are from Elko. And frankly, from what I've been told when researching this, good luck getting through that way during the winter months.

Of course with only one dirt road leading to town, in 1916, the town of Jarbridge was as isolated as any town could possible get from the rest of the world -- even if the rest of the would was only 20 miles or so away. And as for communicating with the rest of the world, besides having telephones, they had the U.S. Post Office. Yes, that mail-wagon.

It wasn't out of the ordinary to hear about thirty foot snow drifts that further cut the community off from folks for several weeks at a time. As for automobiles, in 1916, that had not become a reality yet. The folks there still depended on horses and wagons as their mainstays.

Rogerson, Idaho, was the closest railroad town for Jarbidge. It's said that wagon driver, Fred Searcy, made round trips to and from there all the time. He not only delivered the mail, but he also brought in the company mine payrolls.

Let's be frank here, while some folks did rob stages for the money being sent in the mail, it's a safe bet to say that the mail-wagon was robbed because of the gold strike and the possibility that there may have been more aboard that small mail-wagon than met the eye. If companies became too relaxed about their security for their payroll, no one knows. Fact is that it could have been simply the way they did things and didn't thing anyone would rob the mail-wagon.

We know from documentation that most mining companies would wagons with a substantial number of armed guards aboard to deter such robberies. And frankly, they did. Robbers usually hit easier targets of less resistance. I've read where in some cases that companies used larger wagons as decoys while smaller wagons with almost no visible security were used to bring in their payrolls. I don't know how often a stunt like that was used or even worked.

Just for the record, $4,000 in 1916 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $93,779.08 in 2019.
December 5, 1916, was actually payday for the mine in Jarbidge. It's said when Fred Searcy failed to arrive in town at the expected time, a group of concerned men assembled at the post office. At first, it's said they simply thought he was having troubles returning to town because of the treacherous roads and the heavy snow. Later that day, they decided to send out a man out to the highest point there as a lookout for Searcy's mail-wagon.

Jarbidge Postmaster Scott Fleming had Frank Leonard ride up to the top of Crippen Grade which was a 2,000 foot decline in the road that led down to the canyon floor and the town. Leonard returned after a few hours and reported that Searcy or the wagon was no where to be seen.

Postmaster Fleming was among those who realized that over four feet of snow had fallen that day alone and that Fred Searcy may be dead in the snow. Because of this, Fleming formed a search party. As they were getting ready to leave, Fleming telephoned Rose Dexter who lived about a half mile north of Jarbidge along the route that Searcy would have taken. She reported that Searcy had passed by her house earlier that day and that she waved to him as he went by.

Ms. Dexter also said "the driver was huddled up on his seat with his collar pulled up over his face to form some protection from the blinding snow."

It didn't take long to find the mail-wagon on the road because it was less than a mile out of town. The stage had been pulled over on the side of the road. It was also tucked behind a patch of willows. As for Fred Searcy, he was found there "slumped in his seat and covered with snow." At first, for all practical appearances, all there thought Fred Searcy froze to death.

But then, closer examination revealed that he had been shot in the head at a very close range. His hair and scalp had powder burns. And of the two mail-pouches that should have been on the wagon, one was found not opened. The other containing $5,000 was missing. Note that I state $5,000. That's important since most articles on this robbery state $4,000 was taken.

So why they difference? Well, since I have no idea where these other articles get their information, I went with $5,000 since that's what the local newspapers reported at the time.

As for the search party, because of the weather, the snow storm raging and there being no sign of the weather letting up anytime soon, the search party returned the short distance into Jarbidge with Searcy's body and the mail-wagon. They next day, the original search party and few more men returned to where they found the wagon behind the willow trees. There they attempted to re-enact the crime as they could best figure things out.

Going by whatever evidence they could find at what they assumed was the crime scene, they determined that the Searcy's killer was lying in wait in the brush along the road. The killer apparently ambushed Searcy and killed him so that he wouldn't be able to identify him later.

Fred Moore Searcy was born in September of 1883 in Jackson County, Missouri. While he was killed right there on the outskirts of Jarbidge, Nevada, right after that winter, his body was transported to be buried in the Salem Cemetery in Independence, Missouri.

In December of1908, he married Nellie Burstow in Hardman, Oregon. The 1910 census listed them as farming there. He divorced her in 1915 on the grounds of her desertion after she left him a year earlier. It was in early 1916 that he made his way to get in on the gold rush still going on there. When he was killed on December 5th, 1916, Fred Searcy was 33 years old. So no, he was not an old man by any stretch of the imagination even back then.
There are those who have claimed that Searcy was part of the holdup. Those writers say that he was killed by another who was involved with the robbery.

The search party became a posse when they followed tracks in the snow which led them down to the river. On the river bank, they found a blood stained overcoat which was hidden under a bridge leading out of town. Inside one of the pockets was $180 and some of the mail that Searcy was transporting. The search party also found the second mail-pouch. It was cut open and the $5,000 in both paper money and gold coins which were said to be inside of it was gone.

It's said a stray dog in the area of the bridge is what led the posse to a nearby cabin. In the cabin was horse thief and cattle rustler Ben Kuhl. Kuhl and two others, Ed Beck and William McGraw. They were all arrested without incident. Of the things that the posse found there was a .44 caliber ivory-handled revolver believed to have been used to kill Fred Seracy.

Kuhl's story as to what took place changed depending on who was listening. He proclaimed his innocence giving one story and then proclaimed his innocence with another story. Kuhl tried to give alibi after alibi and there were some in town who agreed on seeing him here or there. But Kuhl's problem was that folks also saw him head out of town and in the direction of the ambush just before it was believed to have taken place.

Also, remember that they had telephone communications with the outside world. By way of making a few phone calls, they found out that Ben Kuhl had a long criminal record. In fact, they found out that he served time in Marysville, California, and had spent time in the Oregon State Penitentiary. As for locally, Kuhl was thought to be a petty criminal, a bummer, and he'd been released on a $400 bond after being arrested in Jarbidge for trespassing on private property.

Their trial was held in the Elko County Courthouse, and the evidence presented was considered pretty much circumstantial. But, two forensic scientists from California linked a Kuhl's bloody palm print on an envelope to the murder of Searcy. With that William McGraw turned state's evidence and revealed what took place. Ben Kuhl and Ed Beck were sentenced to death, and William McGraw got life. The Nevada Board of Pardons later commuted the sentences of Kuhl and Beck to life in prison.

Kuhl did not step forward and confess about anything. Through questioning, and his change of stories, Kuhl said that Searcy was a part of their gang and in on the holdup. As to whether or not Ben Kuhl's story that he killed Searcy over a dispute about how to split the money was true? Or regarding Kuhl's claim that Searcy was a part of those committing the crime? I find it interesting that that story only came from Kuhl and not either of the other two. As for me, since I'm not in the habit of believing killers, I doubt his word. Besides, it wouldn't have been the first time that a killer tried to make his deed sound less then what it was by implicating a victim as being part of the gang.

Ben Kuhl is distinctive as a criminal because he become the first murderer in American history to be convicted and sent to prison by the use of palm print evidence. Yes, the same as fingerprint analysis. He spent the rest of his life in the Nevada Penitentiary. Ed Beck was paroled on November 24, 1923. Ben Kuhl spent almost twenty-eight years in prison before his release on May 16, 1945. Kuhl never returned to Jarbidge. Instead, after getting out of prison during World War II, he moved to San Francisco. He tried for a job in the local shipyards there but there is no indication that the killer ever worked in the yards. There is a yarn that says he registered for the draft in November of 1945 at age 61, but only a fool would believe that. That reason that I say that is because World War II ended in September of that year and troops who in some cases only had a few months in uniform were being sent home. Besides, the draft at the time didn't take men in the forties nevertheless in their sixties.

Kuhl died in San Francisco on November 4th, 1958, at the age of 74, from pneumonia -- although some say tuberculosis that he picked up in prison. Since he and the others died paupers, it's believed that neither returned to Jarbidge and found where they had buried the $5,000 they made off with years before.

As for the stolen money today, well it's said that the authorities offered the three commuted sentences if they would cooperate as to where it was buried. All three men refused to tell where that money was buried. Fact is, since their cabin was ribbed apart and all of the land that was uncovered by snow at the time was dug up looking for the money, the robbers may have buried it in such haste that they couldn't remember where it was buried. And while the stolen $5,000 was never recovered, it's believed to still be buried somewhere in Jarbidge Canyon. Yes, real buried treasure.

As for the town of Jarbidge today, it still remains a small isolated place. I read where it has a population of less than 100 and many of the old buildings are still intact, including the jail house where the three outlaws was held. It's said to still be the same in that it still doesn't have paved streets.

As for full disclosure, I visited Jarbidge back about 30 years or more ago when I was traveling the back roads on vacation. Fact is, I got lost and was only there long enough to get directions out. It was a friendly little town. It was a great because of it's location away from everything. As for folks not visiting there very often, well the road to Jarbidge is rough. And of course, there are those 20 to 30 foot snowdrifts that are still common to that area. Other than that, it really is a great place.

Tom Correa






Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Golden Spike 1869


On May 10th, 1869, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads completed the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States at Promontory Summit, Utah. The celebration over connecting the East with the West was signified with a golden spike. 

Four year and a few days prior to that taking place, on the dark night of May 2nd, 1863, right after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson and his staff were returning to camp. His staff's arrival was mistaken for a Union Army cavalry unit and immediately a volley was fired at the approaching men. When the General's staff identified themselves, Confederate Major John D. Barry didn't believe them and shouted "It's a damned Yankee trick! Fire!"

With that, a second volley was let go. Of the rounds fired in the second volley, General Jackson was struck by three rounds. Some in his staff were killed. Yes, along with their horses. It was quite the massacre. It was also total mayhem. 

After the confusion settled down, General Jackson waited to be cared for. Then, once medical assistance arrived, Jackson was actually dropped from his stretcher while he was being evacuated from that position. Some say he was evacuated because of incoming artillery while others say he was simply being relocated when his unit was moved. 

General Jackson's left arm was amputated, and he was actually thought to be recovering. But then, on May 10, 1863, eight days after being shot, General Jackson died of complications from pneumonia. He was 39 years of age. And with his death, the Confederacy lost one of it's best Generals. Not as a result of a Yankee sniper, but as result of Confederate troops mistaking him and his staff for Union troops. 

Two years later on May 10th, 1865, Union troops ambush and capture Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill at Wakefield Farm, Kentucky. Quantrill was considered a mad dog killer. It seems fitting that he was shot in the back while trying to escape, and lingered in pain while paralyzed from the chest down. He was taken to a military prison hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, where he died of his wounds on June 6th. He was 27 years of age.
And by the way, some reports say the Union doctors refused to give him any sort of pain medicine for the whole time that he suffered because he refused to admit who he was. Yes, even though he was identified by those who knew him. That's including men in his band. It's believed that he refused to admit who he was because he feared he would be hanged for the Lawrence Massacre if he recovered from his wounds. He was right as it was Quantrill who ordered his more than 450 Confederate guerrilla fighters to kill around 150 unarmed men and boys -- and then burn Lawrence, Kansas, to the ground. 

On that same day, on May 10th, 1865, near Irwinville, Georgia, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured by Union troops. It's said that he was dressed in women's clothing to escape detection. Later, he tried to say that he was only wearing his wife's shawl because he was cold. 

During the Civil War, in 1863, the Central Pacific Railroad started construction of a line headed East from Sacramento, California. Almost two years later in 1865, with the war winding down, the Union Pacific Railroad headed West from Omaha, Nebraska Territory. The place where they were to connect up was agreed up. That place where the two tracks would meet was at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.

As with such things, the were all sorts of snags to get it done. Even the ceremony for the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad didn't go on without a few hangups. For example, it was scheduled to take place on May 8th. But that didn't happen because the Union Pacific train which would show up to represent the Union Pacific Railroad was delayed in Wyoming. Believe it or not, a labor dispute with railroad workers held things up. Yes, even back then. 

With the ceremony rescheduled for May 10th, the Central Pacific No. 60, also known as the Jupiter engine, and the Union Pacific No. 119 met at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. On hand were representatives from both railroads, all sorts of dignitaries, railroad workers, the public, hunters, suppliers, and even soldiers who provided some protection during the building of the lines. All toll, it's said that there was anywhere from as few as 500 people there to as many as a couple of thousand on hand for the event. 

For the ceremony, the special gold spike and railroad tie was setup for ceremonial purposes only. The tie was polished California laurel and had a pre-drilled hole. It was laid and then representatives for the two railroads used a special silver-plated spike maul to drive the golden spike into the pre-bored hole. 

The ceremonial 17.6-karat gold spike was driven with a final tap, and it was just a tap, by none other than Leland Stanford. Yes, the man who would later build Stanford University is said to have driven the last spike into the First Transcontinental Railroad. As for the ceremony itself, the whole idea of having a ceremony for the completion with using a gold spike came from San Francisco financier David Hewes.

The golden spike was made of 17.6-karat (73%) copper-alloyed gold, and weighed 14.03 troy ounces. The 17.6-karat spike was manufactured especially for the event by the William T. Garrett Foundry in San Francisco.

In reality, it was dropped into a pre-drilled hole, and then tapped into place. Then removed. That spike was engraved on all four sides. 

One side states: The Pacific Railroad ground broken January 8, 1863, and completed May 8, 1869. Please note the incorrect date of the ceremony on the spike that was actually used.

Another side of that spike states: Directors of the C. P. R. R. of Cal. Hon. Leland Stanford. C. P. Huntington. E. B. Crocker. Mark Hopkins. A. P. Stanford. E. H. Miller Jr. 

Another side states: Officers. Hon. Leland Stanford. Presdt. C. P. Huntington Vice Presdt. E. B. Crocker. Atty. Mark Hopkins. Tresr. Chas Crocker Gen. Supdt. E. H. Miller Jr. Secty. S. S. Montague. Chief Engr. 

And the last of the four side states: May God continue the unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world. Presented by David Hewes San Francisco.

A second golden spike, exactly like the one from the ceremony was cast at the same time as the first. It's engraving is the same, but it has the correct date of May 10, 1869. This spike was a secret in that it was unknown to the public until 2005. This second spike is now on permanent display, along with Thomas Hill's famous painting titled The Last Spike, which are at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento.

Besides the famous golden spike, there were more than one spike on hand that day. In fact, commemorative spikes were presented to a number of people after speeches by many there. Among those making speeches were Leland Stanford who was the president of the Central Pacific Railroad and a member of the Big Four in California, and Grenville Dodge who represented the Union Pacific Railroad.

As for those commemorative spikes, earlier that day, and long before the last spike was driven to connect the line, three other commemorative spikes had been tapped in the pre-bored laurel tie. Each went in and then removed before presenting them to various individuals. 

One spike was a lower-quality gold spike that was supplied by the San Francisco News Letter  which was a weekly newspaper that started publication 1856 and is believed to have lasted until the 1890s. That gold spoke was made of $200 worth of gold and it was inscribed: With this spike the San Francisco News Letter offers its homage to the great work which has joined the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

A second ceremonial spike was made of silver. Rather than cast, that silver spike was forged of 25 troy ounces of unpolished silver. It was supplied by the State of Nevada. 

A third ceremonial spike was a blend of iron, silver and gold. It was supplied by the Arizona Territorial Governor's office and and engraved: Ribbed with iron clad in silver and crowned with gold Arizona presents her offering to the enterprise that has banded a continent and dictated a pathway to commerce. That spike was given to Union Pacific President Oliver Ames. That spike is said to be on display at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

All three were gifts to be presented by the other three members of the Central Pacific's Big Four who couldn't be there that day. 

Besides the fact that the special spike was gold, a telegraph line was actually connected to the spike to captured "the vibrations of the driving of the last spike so the nation could hear the railroad’s completion." After the last spike mail tap, the telegraph message "Done" was sent out.

It was all ceremonial as the spike made of gold and engraved was replaced with real iron spike. And yes, the telegraph wire that connected to the gold spike for sensationalism was removed.

The Transcontinental Railroad was very significant because it meant that people and goods could travel faster and safer across country. Goods and meeting the demands of people in need of those goods has always been the lifeblood of America. Americans don't sit on their wealth. We achieve it and spend it either on building new businesses if we're so lucky to have such wealth, or we buy what we want and need to make our lives better and more comfortable.  

Whether it's a new John Deere plow, or obtaining a brand new J.S. Risdon metal windmill, buying goods, especially those from long distances, is the reward of hard work and the glory of a system that says we can have better lives through our efforts. Having the two halves of the nation connected improved trade opportunities between regions, states, businesses as never before. It made our getting goods easier than ever before. People saw the potential of the First Transcontinental Railroad. But I believe that no one saw it's significance as much as a man by the name of A.M. Ward. 

In 1872, he created an invention that harnessed the power of that connection. Known as the book of dreams for many Americans in small towns and big cities, it filled a niche as a way to get goods that one could only dream of before. That invention became known as the Mail-Order Catalog. With it, one could order a product that was manufactured clear across the country. And when it arrived, in almost every case, it arrived in such good condition that one would think it were made locally. Such was power of trade being improved with the First Transcontinental Railroad.

By the way, the original "golden spike" is on display at the Cantor Arts Museum at Stanford University.

Tom Correa