Sunday, July 06, 2014

UPRR contractor Lewis D. Carmichael

From: "Suzy Spafford"

My great-great grandfather was Lewis D. Carmichael. He was a contractor working on the first transcontinental railroad, during the years 1865 (I believe) to the completion ("DONE!") 1869. His family lived in Omaha, Nebraska, at the time. He is/was cited for the work he did, especially on Sherman Hill in Southeastern Wyoming, and Devil's Creek area in Southwestern Wyoming, and also the canyons of Northern Utah. From what I have read, he hired around 50 or more workers who moved mountains a shovelful at a time. Unbelievable. The historical articles state that connecting the continent by rail was, at that time, as significant a feat as Columbus discovering America. I've been looking for as much on the subject as possible, to see images of what they called the "Carmichael Cuts."

In showing their appreciation for his accomplishment, Carmichael's friends, co-workers and associates on the railroad pitched in and gave him a huge set of silver from Tiffany & Co. out of New York. Our family (my father) has the elegant soup tureen and ladle. I personally have some spoons that trickled down to me – true treasures. I wonder if other contractors at that time were also given similar gifts? The centerpiece of the whole set was a huge tray that depicted 4 scenes featuring Carmichael cuts at Sherman Hill, Wyoming, Devil's Creek, Wyoming, the Canyons of Utah, and I cannot make out what the 4th one is –perhaps Promontory Point (looking at a picture I saw on the internet). I was informed that that tray is now in the possession of a private collector. With the Union Pacific Sesquicentennial coming up, it would be great to come and visit the museum which I plan to do, and would be SO good to know what happened to the rest of the silver. It would be great to be able to see it all, and to learn more of the story. Lewis had 9 children. A middle daughter was Agnes Carmichael who married John Hunt Spafford. Her son was Larry A. Spafford of Perrysburg, Ohio, and his son is my father, John L. Spafford. There were 8 living children in Lewis's family, and each must have received something special from that original collection. And they all had kids. I hope to know more about Lewis Carmichael, and of the work he did, and I hope my distant Carmichael cousins eventually read this and share any stories they know, too. ...

—Suzy Spafford Lidstrom, San Diego, California

Lewis D. Carmichael
Lewis D. Carmichael

Louis Carmichael verso

tureen emblem

Silver Tiffany

Ladle detail



Tureen bottom marks

Sterling marks

Spoon Monogram
Images courtesy of Suzy Spafford Lidstrom.


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Search the A.J. Russell Catalog for "Carmichael", including the photograph,
'No. 28 - Carmichael's Camp, Bitter Creek - near Green River.'
(The red dots in the catalog link to the pages where the Union Pacific Railroad showed their copies of those stereoview images online, but apparently they have removed those pictures)

Some Union Pacific stereoviews:

A.J. Russell stereoviews in our Archive

A.J. Russell stereoview in the Barry A. Swackhamer Collection

Also see,
Historical Newsletter, September 1999 Issue:
"In 1865 the Union Pacific selected Carmichael to serve as one of its grading contractors during construction of the transcontinental railroad. Carmichael and his men faced numerous daunting challenges during this endeavor including the Sherman Hill area of southeastern Wyoming, the Bitter Creek region of southwestern Wyoming, and the canyons of northern Utah. Carmichael was engaged in this work until the railroad was completed on May 10, 1869. On the evening following the railroad's completion, Carmichael attended a special celebration where he received [a] silver service set as a gift. According to the May 18, 1869, edition of the Utah Daily Reporter newspaper, 'On the 11th inst. at the Jenks House, at Echo City, Mr. Lewis Carmichael, the king of graders, was presented with an elegant set of solid silver worth $5,000.00 by his companions and employees of the road.' The hollowware from the set was manufactured by Tiffany & Co. of New York. The flatware, made by New York silversmith John Polhemus, was sold by Tiffany and carries both the maker's and seller's marks. [Forty-five pieces of the silver set have been donated to the Nebraska Historical Society] ... the showpiece for the set [is] a large tray with scenes from the railroad's route etched into it [but its] location remains a mystery."

7/06/2014 11:30 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Also see, Lewis D. Carmichael.

7/06/2014 11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Don Snoddy"

All of Carmichael's work was photographed by [Andrew J.] Russell. Russell photographed either in stereo views of which there are many hundred or Imperial views (really large). The Great West Illustrated by Russell has a couple of Carmichael images.

I heard about the Carmichael silver set probaly around 1995 and made an effort to see just what was there. But I was working backward and had no idea who the surviving family was and where they might be or for that matter where the silver might be. As I recall Special Collections at the University of Iowa had a piece or two. Had no idea there was flatware with it. What a treasure.

I have seen no other reference to any other contractor getting such a set. Carmichael had the most contracts of any of the others and perhaps this is why he got one. There is no doubt that among the group photos at Promontory he shows up. Just don't know what he looks like to begin to check.

If I think of more I'll pass it on.


[Don Snoddy is the former Curator of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.]

"Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." —Oscar Wilde

7/07/2014 3:54 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Denny dickinson"

Do you have in info on your great-great grandfather working in the Truckee area? I am a Truckee historian, so that accounts for my question. The Truckee Donner Historical Society would be interested in any information about the area from Cisco to the Nevada State Line. We are also looking for any information about the Chinese that work for the railroad during this time frame.

—Denny Dickinson

7/07/2014 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Union Pacific contractor in Wyoming and Utah, it would seem surprising for Carmichael to have any potential connection with Truckee on the Central Pacific Railroad in California or with their Chinese laborers.

7/07/2014 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Don Snoddy"

As I am remembering more, I believe Jack Casement also had a silver set.


7/08/2014 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Suzy Spafford"

Sorry – I do not [have info on Carmichael working in the Truckee area]. Carmichael was working in the central part of the railroad (Wyoming, Utah) as far as I know.

I read a book on-line a few days ago that was published in 1902 (out of print, out of circulation) – had to read it sitting here – it was crimp-marked the property of USC. It told quite a tale of the race that was on to complete the transcontinental track during those years. I was skimming, however, looking for the name "Carmichael," so did not pick up everything, but picked up enough to recall that there was a lot about the work from Truckee eastward. I hope you can find that? – You may have seen it? There may be names included.

This is addicting.


7/08/2014 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Suzy Spafford"

Thanks for the information regarding Russell's photography. I will look for
those – are they only viewable in a museum?
You can view the silver tray on the website "Antique Associates" at –it is jaw-dropping. ...



"American Silver Tray
Two handled Oval Presentation Tray
Edward C. Moore for Tiffany and Company
New York
Circa 1869
... [silver] tray engraved with presentation inscription surrounded by four oval vignettes engraved with scenes of the building of the Railroad entitled:
'Side Cut Green River Valley Carmichael's Work'
'Western approach to Dale Creek Bridge'
'Heavy Rock Cut near Red Buttes'
'Carmichael's Cut Bitter Crease from East end' all linked by scrolling foliage on matted ground with at intervals, handles rising from stylized foliage. ...
The tray is engraved: 'Presented to Louis Carmichael, by Friends and Companions Engaged in Building the Union Pacific Rail Road as a Token of Affection and Esteem 1869' surrounded by the words 'Industry', 'Honest' and 'Ability'. In 1865 the Union Pacific selected Louis Carmichael as a grading contractor for the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. He and his team overcame substantial difficulties in Wyoming and northern Utah. To mark his success on the eve of completion on 10 May 1869 Carmichael was presented with a large silver service at a reception. The Utah Daily Reporter recorded the event as follows: 'On the 11th inst. at the Jenks House, at Echo City, Mr. Louis Carmichael, the king of graders, was presented with an elegant set of solid silver with $5,000.00 by his companions and employees of the road.' Part of this service was donated to the Utah Historical Society by Carmichael's great-granddaughter Elizabeth Schutt.
The tray is marked on back and numbered 1495-3864, 26
(measured handle-to-handle: 33 3/8", 167oz 10dwt)

7/08/2014 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Denny Dickinson"

.... Do you know the name of the book and the author that you have referred to in your email. I think I may have read that book, but cannot remember the name.

I have forwarded this message to the Truckee Donner Historical Society for future reference and consideration. I will be there tomorrow so I will look to see if there just might be some information about your great-great grandfather.

I also suggest that you read the High Road to Promontory by George Kraus. I have gifted that book to a friend so I cannot check it out if Carmichael is mentioned in the book. I do not recall the name in the book.

Your great-great grandfather may have been around when the Reno was established. You might check in to see if his name appears in any records held by the Nevada State Historical Society.

Please stop and visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society if you should ever pass through Truckee.

—Denny D.

7/08/2014 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Suzy Spafford"

Here are the pictures ... [see above].

Lewis's first name was misspelled on the back of the photo, and also on the website photo of the silver tray. (Look for the famous, mysterious tray at and scroll down.) Lewis was born in 1825 and would have been 44 in May of 1869. I guess he was about that age in the photo.

Will there be a 150 year celebration of the completion of the CPRR/Union Pacific? Maybe the owner (possessor) of the silver tray could lend it ... in that case? One can always ask! ...

—Suzy Spafford Lidstrom

7/08/2014 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Suzy Spafford"

... A better way to find the picture of the Carmichael tray is to go to the aaawt web page and scroll down past the spoons. [Or search on that page for "Carmichael"]


7/09/2014 4:23 PM  
Blogger Tom McKeon said...

My name is Tom McKeon and my Grandmother was Frances Carmichael Potter. Her Grandfather was Lewis Carmichael, making him my Great, Great Grandfather. Supposedly, Lewis presented a golden cane to Brigham Young, not the spike. It is supposedly in the Omaha Railroad Museum. Has anyone verified this?

11/08/2018 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


May I please correct a detail I reported (in 2014) about my great-great-grandfather Lewis D. Carmichael, the grader for the Union Pacific Railroad from 1865 -1869?

He lived in Tama, Iowa, not Omaha, Nebraska.

—Suzy S. Lidstrom

4/24/2022 6:12 PM  

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