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