Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Supposed "near-murderous conflict between Chinese and Irish workers"

From: "Richard Clatworthy"
Subject: Completion of transcontinental line 1868-9

I am a retired adult rail enthusiast living in Beverley, England. Having had my interest aroused by an account of the meeting of the American transcontinental line I have been doing some Google research, and was guided to your Fiction or Fact page by a friend, having already noted the scathing review of Stephen E. Ambrose’s book “Nothing Like it in the World” on the website. My specific interest here is the account of near-murderous conflict between Chinese and Irish workers working on adjacent track-grading in the “overlap” stretch, and the denial thereof.

Edson T. Strobridge, who is also one of the reviewers of Ambrose’s book, says that it could not have happened on the eastern slope of the Promontory Range because no Chinese worked there – the CP using Mormon labor – so that makes it impossible, and I cannot argue with that. I do not think it could have happened between the Summit and Monument Point as that is flat terrain without the requirement to blast cuttings. Strobridge writes “I can not imagine where the two forces could have come into contact with each other.” Well, I can.

In September 1868 the UP had sent a gang to Nevada (quote from the Ambrose book review):

“The Union Pacific authorized sending six teams with scrapers and some of their Irish graders to Humboldt Wells, Nevada in September 1868. Beginning their grading at Moors Summit, approximately eight miles east of the town of Wells, these crews prepared some of the heavier work, consisting of large fills. After grading a distance of about four or five miles to Holborn and beyond a short distance, they were pulled off and returned to Utah. The Union Pacific parallel grading is disconnected and sporadic consisting of partially completed fills, rock and earth cuts and associated barrow pits. These isolated areas of work are separated by stretches with no grading present. These unused fills constructed for roadbeds by the Union Pacific Irish graders can still be seen from the long abandoned original Central Pacific grade now used as a county access road through the Pequop Mountains.” Google Earth confirms traces of parallel grading as described in that area.

The CP could very probably have been working alongside the UP gang along this sector and, as stated, there are cuts and fills visible on Google Earth. Strobridge also states that “The Chinese did not grade beyond Promontory, actually they did not grade east of Toano in the Pequop Mountains of Nevada. The Mormons graded 100 miles from Monument Point to about Toano.” The question now arises: was Toano east or west of the section referred to above? Toano is not shown in my railroad map, nor is it recognised on Google Earth. However Google links identify it as a ghost town situated at 41-07-53N/ 114-25-23W, and on Google Earth the shells of buildings are visible alongside the railway at that location. Other links identify it as the Division base for the CP’s Salt Lake section, with a roundhouse (shed) for two locomotives. Anyway it is clearly to the east of the section in question, so Chinese workers could have worked up to there.

If conflict had occurred as described it could provide an explanation for UP’s abandonment of the project. I am sure it was a fraudulent attempt to demonstrate to influential people – such as the Mormon heirarchy – that UP was further advanced than it really was, an exercise to be carried out surreptitiously, and such incidents would attract publicity. Information may have been successfully suppressed at the time and General Dodge may have subsequently felt that it deserved mention but in a false setting.

I cannot say any better than anyone else whether General Dodge or his ghost-writer fabricated the story or confused or falsified the location of an event. However I do find it hard to accept that a story like this could be created with no basis in fact, unless the author has a proven record of lying. If any historian(s) ever did check out this Nevada possibility and disproved it, it is a pity that they did not commit their research to lasting record. I therefore submit that it remains a valid possibility – unproven but any claim of it being fiction must itself be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Actually there is a discrepancy between the location stated – Moors summit eastward to Holborn – and the Google Earth trace, which show a distinct commencement or termination near the site of Holborn and extends north-eastward from there toward Toano. However it is clear that there was some duplicate grading east of Wells and west of Toano.

If there is a record that some historian checked out this Nevada possibility and negated it I would appreciate being advised. Is Edson Strobridge still alive and able to comment on this? ...

—Richard Clatworthy


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

It is a logical error to suppose that anyone has a burden to disprove stuff that has been made up. The burden is entirely upon anyone who makes an historical claim to prove that what they write is historically accurate.

7/24/2013 7:07 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

This is most likely a myth that resulted from misinterpretation of a published engraving because the newspaper article which contradicts the "conflict" interpretation was on another newspaper page than the easy-to-misunderstand picture.

7/24/2013 7:13 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves"

Sir, I will attempt to answer the questions you have raised in the order that you have them in your message.

1. Edson said that Chinese were not on the Eastern Promontories as INITIAL CONSTRUCTION folks, as that work, beginning at Monument Point, was completed by LDS workers. Chinese workers WERE on the Eastern Promontories as final construction was accomplished between Monument Point and Promontory Summit and rails were laid.

2. The terrain between Monument Point and the Summit is NOT "flat." There are numerous points where both UPRR and CPRR initial grading crews used explosives to open the grade through hills and rock outcroppings. That said, the UPRR grading crews did their work in that area before the CPRR Chinese crews arrived.

3. LDS workers, working Westward towards the Pacific Ocean, ceased their work for the CPRR at Mormon Hill, a short distance from Toano, Nevada. It is my understanding that "Mormon Hill" is so named because this is the place where they stopped. Please remember that Monument Point was MP674, and Toano was at MP562. Chinese workers, then, did the grading between MP 674 and MP690 at the Summit, however that work was done long after the UPRR commenced at Deeth.

4. To aid you in finding places of interest geographically, the following may be helpful:
Working from West to East on the CPRR grade, Wells is at MP526; Cedar MP532; Moors MP534; Talbots MP535; Independence MP540; Otego MP550; Pequop MP552; Toano MP562.

5. Timing is the issue in understanding the challenge you have raised. UPRR graders working EAST from Deeth began in September, 1868; they then worked to Holburn Siding, a distance of about five mles. That those folks were out there, by themselves, can be realized as CPRR rails did not reach Elko, at MP469, until February 8, 1869.

In short, then, it would not be possible for the Chinese working for the CPRR to have contact with the UPRR grading crews between Deeth and Holburn. As to the conflict between Ed's statement that UPRR crews began at Moors Summit, and the cuts at Deeth, the work at Deeth is at maximum no longer than 200 yards, before it was abandoned. That work, I imagine, did not take over 1 or 2 days to complete. The UPRR work East of Moors is large, heavy and monumental. CPRR grades and UPRR grades are less than 100 yards apart. HOWEVER, the UPRR then went North, separating from the CPRR route by 2 miles or more.

Mr. Ambrose had a great many challenges to reality in his book, Nothing Like it in the World; yours is not the first question to be raised due to those challenges, nor will be likely be the last. I would ask you to revisit that book for just a moment, and open the front cover to the map printed there. You will note the print on the bottom of the map to read that States that are in brackets were territories in 1869. Oregon is in brackets. However, Oregon became a State in 1859.

You will be pleased to hear, I believe, that Drake Hokanson is just now finishing yet another book of photographs, this having to do with the Transcontinental Railroad. Mr. Hokanson is due to complete his work with camera by August 15, 2013. He has been in contact with me for some time, I am impressed with his attention to detail and historical fact. When that work is published, you will be able to see, in clear detail, the work done by the CPRR and UPRR crews. It is my fervent hope that questions such as yours will be answered by a review of those photographs.

G J Chris Graves, NewCastle, Cal.
Chairman, Committee for the protection of "What is Truth" in Railroad History

7/25/2013 8:23 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: Wendell Huffman

1. Edson Strobridge passed away a few years ago.

2. I do not know for sure the source of his information regarding the limits of either Chinese grading or Union Pacific grading, but I suspect it is drawn from EB Crocker and Stanford letters to Huntington. Certainly it is consistent with what I have read in the Huntington letters. Indeed, there are several specific statements about Mormons grading 100 miles west of Monument Point in those letters. This does not necessarily exclude Chinese graders within that 100 miles from Monument Point – though since the Mormons were (apparently) grading there before CP crews had even reached Wells, it is believable that Chinese did not work that district.

3. Moor is 8 miles east of Wells. It is fairly easy to identify on Google Earth because of its wye – on the south side of the mainline. Holborn is 7 miles east of Moor. As I read Strobridge's information, the Union Pacific crews graded isolated points between Moor and Holborn. According to Strobridge, the Chinese worked as far east as Toano, which was 20-odd miles east of Holborn. (I suspect this statement comes from the fact that Toano is roughly 100 miles east of Monument Point and so marks the western limit of the Mormon grading.) So, yes, Chinese and UP's Irish might have worked side by side between Moor and Holborn.

4. In studying Google Earth for evidence of parallel grades, bear in mind that the Southern Pacific built a new railroad between Moor and Toano in the 1902-1903 period, so any parallel alignment you see may be the original Central Pacific grade.

5. The real problem is establishing when the UP crews and CP crews were each working between Moor and Holborn. The six UP grading crews were reported "at" Wells in late September 1868. CP graders were still west of Wells four months later. Not until 18 January 1869 was the grade west of Wells finally completed. Some CP graders certainly advanced east of Wells before that date, but were UP crews still there? I don't know, but once their activity near Wells was reported in the CP correspondence in late September, that activity was never mentioned again, suggesting that it did not last long. In late November Crocker wrote Huntington that the CP was hiring workers who had left the UP and was using them west of Wells. Were these the UP graders who had worked near Wells? There is no definitive evidence in the matter, but I strongly suggest that the UP grading activity in the vicinity of Wells was abandoned before the CP crews even got there. Even if not, there was only a very short window of opportunity in which crews from both companies were working in the same district.

6. All that said, I think you are correct in pin-pointing the locale where a confrontation between UP Irish workers and CP Chinese workers might have happened.

—Wendell Huffman

7/25/2013 5:36 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Richard Clatworthy"
Subject: Sino-Irish conflict on transcontinental railroad

Many thanks for your detailed e-mail in response to my query. I am sorry to hear that Edson Strobridge has passed away. To pick up the points in sequence:

1. It is abundantly clear that Chinese tracklayers worked through to Promontory Summit, but it would appear that none were used on grade construction within about 100 miles of Monument Point.

2. OK, I accept that the terrain between Monument Point and the summit is sufficiently broken to require some blasting, e.g. cuts in the south-western corner before the south-north stretch, 41-33-59N/112-37-31W but generally it is far less severe than the eastern slope. Anyway I think it can be discounted as the scene of such conflict.

3. I think Edson Strobridge’s statement was that Chinese did not lay grade east of Toano, which was the Division Point for the Salt Lake region on CPRR so this would extend to Promontory summit. The Wells area grading by UP was west of Toano so Chinese could have worked there. However the introduction of Deeth is a new topic to me and I am hard put to see why UP should have gone so far west. You refer to “the cuts at Deeth,” 200 yards long – I don’t suppose that would be visible on Google Earth? The one possible artefact I found in that area is at 41-06-52/115-10-06, a length of embankment about 400m long north of the later SP/WP double track.

4. The mileages you cite are quite helpful but my SPV Railroad Atlas (2009) gives mileages from Oakland or somewhere on SF Bay, affected by SP relocations. I work on Google Earth co-ordinates.

5. The paragraph contains an error: “UPRR graders working EAST from Deeth ... worked to Holburn siding, a distance of about five miles.” This is the distance from Moor to Holborn. However I cannot find any “large, heavy and monumental” work between Moor and Holborn, only east of Holborn where there is formation alongside the CP formation, now by-passed and partly used as road.

I have prepared a list of Google Earth locations from Moor Summit eastward which I attach below which simply say go to 41-10-28/114-41-48 where you will find, 120 metres south of the CP formation, a significant earthwork marking the commencement or termination of grade work extending east then north-east to intersect the CP grade and appear to cross it, then the two run side-by-side, diverge slightly with a significant earthwork on the (UP?) grade, then recrossing and then indefinite traces northward to the convergence with the present track (at Penelon according to the atlas). This is a distance of a bit less than four miles. Subsequent diverging and reconverging formations are identified as CPRR. I cannot find anything credible between Moor and (old) Holborn.

The question of whether CP and UP crews could have been working alongside in this section remains open. CP tracks only arrived much later but both companies seem to have been preparing grade far in advance of tracklaying. It is a pity that Ed Strobridge appears not to have recognised the possibility and done the research which might have eliminated it.

I was apprised of the engraving depicting chaotic working in a cutting, with boulders hurtling down illustrating construction of the last mile, with the suggestion that this may have been misconstrued as conflict, or giving some fabricator the idea for a spectacular deception. Well, yes, maybe ... We can blame it on General Dodge!

I intend to acquire a copy of David Bain’s Empire Express which I believe is full of fine detail to see if I can find anything. I will pass on anything that turns up on to you.

With Thanks for your help.

—Richard Clatworthy

[Attachment below]

7/29/2013 6:01 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Wells East

Moor Summit (1881m altitude) 41-06-54/114-48-13
SP relocated line continues eastward with road to south of it.
Road assumes railroad-type character (original CP grade) at 41-06-55/114-47-41
Railway and road (CP formation) curve northwards,
Road swings eastward, diverges from railroad formation at 41-08-47/114-45-08
Reconvergence, crosses valley, diverge again at apparent site of
(old) Holborn siding at 41-09-30/114-43-15
Prominent square-ended commencement or termination of formation at 41-09-20/114-42-20
120m south of presumed CP formation.
New formation runs eastward, converging with CP at watercourse at 41-09-34/114-41-38
Appear to cross. Close alongside, divergence to west at 41-09-59/114-41-15
Prominent cut on western line at 41-10-21/114-41-00
Formations recross at 41-10-28/114-41-48
From here faint traces on east close alongside.
Road reconverges with CP formation at 41-11-24/114-114-40-34
Road runs alongside, not on, CP formation.
Reconvergence with relocated railway at (Penelon) 41-12-09/114-39-47

Divergence of old formation to north at 41-12-19/114-39-21
Touch reconvergence at 41-12-33/114-38-22
Reconvergence and crossing at 41-12-20/114-37-04
Crossing back at 41-12-14/114-36-50
Onto northern curve, most northerly point of old formation at 41-13-06/114-35-31
Recrossing at 41-12-58/114-35-14
Wide divergence, summit on old formation 1895m at 41-12-20/114-33-43

7/29/2013 6:01 PM  

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