Sunday, May 22, 2005

Golden Spike at Promontory Utah [great-great grandfather Thomas Edward Keyes]

From: "Patrick Doherty"

Hello. I was wondering whether there was any kind of a roster of those RR men who attended the ceremony back in 1869? My great-great grandfather Thomas Edward Keyes was supposedly there, but I am not sure. Do you know if such a roster existed?


Patrick Doherty in Seattle


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

We are not aware of any roster of those who were at the golden spike ceremony. The closest to this is the list in a pamphlet by Thomas Hill documenting his famous "Last Spike" painting. (But many other people were present on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit, and the painting depicts people of significance to the railroad who were not there – for example, included in the painting are Lewis Metzler Clement who was in Washington, D.C., and Theodore Judah who had died years earlier).

Please let us know if you have any biographical, career information, or family stories about Thomas Edward Keyes that you can share.

5/22/2005 3:49 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Patrick Doherty"

Thanks for the quick response!

Thomas Edward Keyes was born in July 1842 in Chatsworth, near Clogh, Kilkenny, Ireland.  In April 1861 he left for America, arriving in New York, working on a farm on Long Island for a while and eventually signing up as a volunteer with the Illinois Infantry in the Civil War.  After the War he began to work for the railroads being constructed into Dakota Territory and Minnesota, etc.  I am not sure if that would be the Great Northern or what.  He is supposed to have been present at the Golden Spike, according to his daughter, my great-grandmother.  In 1874 he retired from the railroad after having worked to build the line and depot near Frazee, Minnesota, settling on a tract of land granted him adjacent to the RR in Hobart, Otter Tail, Minnesota, where he met the sister of a coworker, Mary Murphy, also of Ireland, and married.  There he settled and farmed his land until his death in Feb 1920. 
I will be visiting the site of his birth in Ireland in a couple weeks and seeing the descendants of his older brother Patrick Keyes who stayed in Ireland as he was the recipient of the family lands.  It would be nice to be able to share more info with those relatives, such as his work on the railroads, but I have no more information than that!
Thanks again,


5/22/2005 5:26 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The Promontory Summit golden spike ceremony was the completion of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads on May 10, 1869. This rail line went through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California, but not Dakota or Minnesota.

On August 23, 1883 the east and west crews of the Northern Pacific met at Hell Gate Canyon 55 miles west of Helena. A golden spike ceremony was held on September 8 at Gold Creek, Montana.

The Great Northern Railway was completed January 6, 1893.

Not sure how to put together an 1874 retirement date with Dakota Territory and Minnesota.

5/22/2005 5:29 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Based on the states and territories listed, it does not sound like he worked on either the Union Pacific or the Central Pacific, so likely would not have been at Promontory, Utah in May 1869. The Union Pacific didn't get into the Dakota Territory and Minnesota.

It sounds as though he might have worked on the Northern Pacific, or a predecessor of the Great Northern. Both are up in that part of the country.

I suppose it is possible he worked for the Union Pacific, and then moved north after completion in 1869.

In the end, I'd have to say we don't know.

Kyle K. Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum
111 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

My work address is:
My personal address is:

5/23/2005 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it a fact that when they had the Golden Spike Ceremony, that the railroad had not reached the Pacific Ocean yet? Also, were the Chinese who had blasted the way for the section from Sacramento to Reno, were still hard at work, driving piles in the Moss Landing bogs to get the railroad bridge built, and on to the Pacific? Also, I don't think the Chinese were even mentioned at the Ceremony. Is this true?

8/25/2008 10:23 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Q. Is it a fact that when they had the Golden Spike Ceremony, that the railroad had not reached the Pacific Ocean yet?

A. The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 provided for building a railroad from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California (i.e., "the navigable waters of the Sacramento river"). So, yes, at the time of the Golden Spike Ceremony, the rail journey ended as planned at the Sacramento River waterfront where steamers waited to take the passengers by boat to San Francisco.

Q. Also, were the Chinese who had blasted the way for the section from Sacramento to Reno, were still hard at work, driving piles in the Moss Landing bogs to get the railroad bridge built, and on to the Pacific?

A. The Western Pacific Railroad extending west from Sacramento was still under construction in 1869.

Q. Also, I don't think the Chinese were even mentioned at the Ceremony. Is this true?

A. No, this is an unfortunate myth. Chinese were part of the ceremony, their contribution celebrated, and three of them lived long enough to also participate in the 50th anniversary parade.

8/26/2008 10:53 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"

No. The work in Elkhorn Slough did not take place until late summer of 1872.

Some references are:

On July 7, 1872 the Daily Alta California announced in a newsnote: “Salinas – We have it on good authority that work will resume immediately on the Central Pacific Railroad, and continue the same from Pajaro to Salinas City.”

On July 11, a roving reporter of the San Jose Mercury announced:

"Trains run no farther than Watsonville at present; although the grading of the road is being rapidly pushed toward Salinas. The company hope to be able to have it completed to that city in time for the exportation of the crops this fall; as there are no very difficult grades to be overcome, it is to be presumed that it will be accomplished. A large force of workmen is employed at present, and the Salinas plains will soon be traversed by the great moving power of civilization."

The Central Pacific as a federally chartered railroad officially ended at Sacramento. Moving "on to the Pacific" by Stanford and his associates was done via other railroads, such as the Western Pacific (in later 1869) and the Southern Pacific (after October, 1870).

Chinese crews involved in the construction of the Elkhorn Slough/Moss Landing work may or may not have been comprised of individuals who worked for the Central Pacific on the Overland route. Chinese workers were often as not contract labor, hired for whatever excavation project needed them on a short-time basis.

As for the presence of Chinese at Promontory, I am confident you will hear more on this from other members of the CPRR group.

—Larry Mullaly

8/26/2008 12:43 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Randy Hees"
Subject: WPRR

It is known via newspaper reports (for example, Sacramento Union, Feb. 28, 1869) that as grading was completed on the Central Pacific that some of the Chinese track workers were sent to work on the Western Pacific line between Brighton (Sacramento) and Oakland via Niles.

The report does not tell us what they were doing, and the work was no where near Moss Landing. Instead it was in the swamps of the San Joaquin Valley. In this area lots of pilings were driven to cross the various rivers. I have never seen a reference to Chinese driving pilings, and would be interested to see such, as operating a pile driver would have more likely been reserved for a occidental rather than a celestial (no offence intended, but both the terms and job responsibilities are a reflection of the times)

—Randy Hees

8/26/2008 12:46 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Thank You very much. I taught Fourth Grade and California History, and of course, the history of the railroads. I am retired for 12 years now but I have always wondered to myself about the role of the Chinese other than the sad account of the Chinese workers that is covered lightly in the Social Studies Textbook. We didn't have computers at school when I retired 12 years ago. Thank you very much!

—Mary H.

8/27/2008 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indeed, the internet is wonderful in providing an incredibly powerful resource to debunk institutionalized misinformation.

Yes, the Chinese railroad workers were heroic figures who with the railroad engineers and entrepreneurs accomplished the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century. Those Chinese workers were mostly extremely impoverished peasants from Canton who came to America to make their fortunes.

They were paid in gold and by their productive labor and extremely high savings rate had the ability to return to China as wealthy individuals:

"The Chinese [railroad workers] ... are paid from $30 to $35 in gold a month ... They are credited with having saved about $20 a month." —Alta, California, November 9, 1868 Newspaper.

(Adjusting for inflation, that's almost a thousand dollars per month that they were saving! – an amount many times the annual income of a peasant in 19th century China.)

8/27/2008 12:22 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


With reference to the Golden Spike ceremony, both railroads pulled most of their workers back from Promontory before the ceremony, only having those they needed present. There was still a lot to do to finish the hurriedly built rail lines – especially on the Union Pacific. The majority of the people present at the ceremony were from nearby towns, brought in on special trains run by both railroads.

During the ceremony selected workers from both railroads participated in the ceremonies. In particular, an Irish crew brought forward and laid the last Union Pacific rail, while a Chinese crew of 8 brought forward and laid the last Central Pacific rail. AJ Russell, the official Union Pacific photographer, photographed the laying of the last rail, and his photo shows at least 3 or 4 of the CP Chinese crew. In 1919 at the 50th anniversary of the completion, 3 of the original 8 Chinese participated in ceremonies, and from that we have learned their names: Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao. (Note to the side – we don't know any of the names of the Irish track layers who laid the last Union Pacific rail.)

After the ceremonies were over and the high officials had retired to their cars, CP construction boss James Strobridge served a dinner in his cars for invited guests. The 8 Chinese who had laid the last CP rail were specifically invited as representatives of all the Chinese who had worked so hard building the railroad. When they entered the car, they were given an ovation by those present as a measure of respect and recognition of the vital role the Chinese had played in building the line.

—Kyle Wyatt

8/27/2008 11:37 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Thank you for the information that I had wondered about, because of the 4th grade materials provided on the subject focused on the plight of the Chinese. I am a 77 yr old retired 4th grade teacher and a great grandmother ... I thank you for your info regarding my question about whether the Chinese were represented at the ceremony, and if it was true that they were busy placing supports for the RR to get across the Moss landing area. It is known as the peet bogs. ... Thank you!


9/02/2008 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Who was present at the joining of the railroads?"

9/25/2017 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see, The Frenzied Completion Of The Transcontinental Railroad In Utah, by Kurt Repanshek

1/21/2024 10:55 PM  

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