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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

Iron All Star                                             Irving Martin Del Campo


William Francis Deverell is an American historian with a focus on the nineteenth and twentieth century American West. He has written works on political, social, ethnic, and environmental history. Currently, he is working on a book exploring the history of the post-Civil War American West. His graduate students at USC work on a variety of topics on the history of the West, ranging from the West's racial and ethnic history, to the rise of conservative politics in the Southwest.



Nothing in the nineteenth century changed America as much as the railroad, and no railroad was more crucial than the transcontinental line, the slim iron ribbon that tied the east of the nation to the west. In his book Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad, 1850-1910, William Deverell describes the friendship created by the iron all star and the young nation, particularly in California. His book illuminates the chaos of industrial America from the middle of the nineteenth century until the first decade of the twentieth. Due to the ¡¥boom of prosperity¡¦ in California coming from the Gold Rush, railroads were the next essential element needed to modernize the areas that had recently become so populated and busy.1

            Deverell begins his book with a brief history of the steps leading up to the construction of the railroads and those who were behind it all. The Gold Rush, having started in 1848, approached its end when the very first railroads in the nation were laid out. Many different railroad companies established themselves in their areas and began to expand. In California, the Western Pacific Railway dominated from San Jose to Sacramento.2 Its diverse route provided scenic views of the San Francisco Bay area and the mountain ranges while it still remained a solitary railway.  In 1870, only five years after its construction, the Western Pacific Railroad was merged into the Central Pacific Railroad, which then became part of the much larger and dominant Union Pacific Railroad. The Union Pacific, upon its completion, became the very first transcontinental railroad spreading from the west coast of the nation all the way to the east. Yet, after it got taken over, the Western Pacific Railroad became a busier mostly cargo railway that carried supplies from place to place, no more scenic views and fun trips because that seemed to be bad business.

All of the buying out of the smaller railroad companies was a strategic move made by the ¡¥Big Four¡¦ Union Pacific president Leland Stanford, vice president Collis P. Huntington, treasurer Mark Hopkins and construction supervisor Charles Crocker to minimize competition and maximize profit. The Big Four, or as they preferred to be called, ¡¥The Associates¡¦, allegedly cheated the government out of over a million dollars in bonds through lies and corruption that deceived the government until it was too late and the money was lost. These men definitely did not start out as top executive entrepreneurs of the Central Pacific Railroad Corporation; they were simply the group that took advantage of the opportunity to gain wealth off the railroad business, which became the nation¡¦s greatest transportation network. The four of them initially became attracted to California when they heard of the gold that promised riches for all. They were successful businessmen and earned thousands from the gold, but they were confident that the real money after the Gold Rush came to an end would be in railroads. They successfully established the Central Pacific Railroad and made a deal with the Eastern Pacific to begin building railroads so they could meet somewhere in the middle of the nation and connect. Although many people in the rest of the nation resented the Big Four because of their alleged crimes and corruption, Californians, according to Deverell, ¡§saluted the courage of the Big Four, canonizing them as representatives of western entrepreneurial success.¡¨3

            After the books principal views are established, it explains the many difficult and complicated problems that came along with the construction of the railroads. In those years, the power of anti-railroadism could gather a crowd which became a real problem because crowds could be persuaded to march, vote or rally against the railroad use and construction. Dennis Kearney, an Irish émigré, harnessed the power of railroad opposition and before long held the seat of power in a short-lived third-party movement. Kearney lead the Workingman¡¦s Party of California, a vocal and active segment of San Francisco¡¦s workers. These people faced a stagnant economy, high unemployment, and hardening class lines. They came together to oppose what they believed had brought them their pain and suffering- the railroads. Railroad opposition played a big role in formulating and sustaining the Workingman¡¦s Party of California; the issue, ¡§helped create Kearney¡¦s viable third-party institution and remained a source of effective political sustenance during the party¡¦s short life.¡¨4 Opposition toward the railroad became a critical side to the hostility towards monopolies and monopolists that led them to be disliked. The working class, having to endure worsening conditions day by day, did not appreciate the capitalist nation that the Big Four had created. California began to show the old recurring outline of rich over poor and sadly continued this only making the rich citizens even wealthier and the poor helpless souls living on the streets even less likely to ever turn their lives around.

            Though the Workingman¡¦s Party of California began to fail after only a short while, it did not disappear in vain. Many newspapers and journalists had joined in the fight against the iron all star and opposed it too. More and more people began to see that the government lost millions in the railroad business because the subsidiary companies under the watchful eye of Charles Crocker were the ones becoming wealthy, not the nation. Big newspapers and journals attacked the railroad construction movement with full force. Yet, their efforts were futile. The Big Four had become so powerful and had built such a great empire that they simply bought out all of the offending newspapers, or would turn highly respectable papers into mockeries by way of newspaper competition. This was part of the Big Four¡¦s plan for the nation; they were attempting to, according to Deverell, make the nation, ¡§think as one, and by having less and less freelance newspapers they were able to control the influence on peoples minds.¡¨5 After many years of fighting off the hostile newspapers and journalists, the Big Four faced a new problem, the ¡¥Crédit Mobilier¡¦ scandal of 1872. The Crédit Mobilier of America company was designed to limit the liability of stockholders and maximize profits from construction. The company was the sole bidder for certain construction contracts from Union Pacific and in 1864 was given 670 miles of the Transcontinental Railroad to build, with the hefty fees being paid by federal subsidies. The company also gave cheap shares of stock to members of Congress who agreed to support additional funding. When the Crédit Mobilier calculated how much money should be paid by the government to continue work on the transcontinental railroad, they gave an outrageously high number that was paid. Of course with an investigation put forth, it was found out that 72 million dollars in contracts had been given to build a rail only worth 53 million dollars. The scandal left Union Pacific and many other investors nearly bankrupt and ultimately destroyed the trustworthiness of the Crédit Mobilier.

            In the many years following the transcontinental railroad continued to grow, as did the corporate powers behind it. So much did these corporations boom that the general public became more and more concerned to the point where, ¡§E.A. Dickson and Chester Rowell, along with men like Meyer Lissner, agreed that a Republican housecleaning was in order, one that would eliminate the Southern Pacific¡¦s influence at the statewide level.¡¨6 These men recognized the heavy-handedness of the Southern Pacific, which they were convinced, included bribery and other forms of corruption. More and more men gathered to attempt to defeat the Southern Pacific; in 1907, they successfully launched the Lincoln-Roosevelt League. Taking on the Southern Pacific would be a challenge, but the men of the League knew the people of California would follow the lead of those who stood defiant before the ¡¥octopus¡¦- a term coined up for the railroad which spread out in the nation and seemed like an octopus with tentacles reaching everywhere. The Leagues¡¦ entry into California politics started in a Sacramento mayoral race in which the Leagues candidate, Clinton White, successfully defeated the Southern Pacific candidate. However, after the 1908 elections, the League lapsed sleepily into public inactivity and shortly afterward, it completely disappeared. The transition from the powerful radicalism of anti-railroad events and moments in the 1890s to the tame conservatism of Progressivism in the early twentieth century was striking. The nation suddenly calmed and all the railroad opposition had died down which gave room for the ¡¥octopus¡¦ to develop and grow into the nations most powerful business and transportation utility.

            Being a professor at the University of Southern California, William Deverell thoroughly knows the history of the railroads and their development. The Big Four is one of his favorite topics but not because of their entrepreneurial genius but rather because of there, ¡§capitalistic behavior and corporate domination over other railroads and opposing newspapers that tried to make them seem evil.¡¨7 Deverell seems to favor the enemies of the Big Four and the Southern Pacific because he disagreed with the success of the nation coming from monopolies and huge corporations especially in California that was focused mainly on every man building his own fortune. Deverell successfully does not criticize the Big Four or their opponents, but rather takes into consideration the point of view of leaders of the big corporations and leaders against the railroads, even though he wrote the book eighty years after the events occurred. Deverell does his best not to criticize the capitalistic behaviors of the Big Four and this makes his book unbiased for or against the railroads.

William Deverell focuses on California between 1850 and 1910, and addresses the influence of the Big Four on the development of the nation. Particularly in California, the railroad brought jobs and prosperity to many cities in and around the nation- but- also devastation and suffering to others. The railroad, once controlled and known as the Western Pacific, played a big role in the development of California. Primarily in the cities where the railway was begun, as in San Jose and Sacramento, it brought a lot of development and job offers. It completely revolutionized the way Californians lived their lives. Now that the railroads were readily available to them, they relied heavily on it for food and business. This boomed the development of California and ultimately the prosperity of the nation, ¡§allowing travel from coast-to-coast available in eight days rather than my wagon train or months at sea.¡¨8

            Criticisms of this book are made agreeing with what Deverell says because he is completely truthful and unbiased toward what the Californians wanted and how they acted. Deverell describes all aspects of the politics having to do with the railroads; he, ¡§shows the capitalistic actions of the Big Four, the actions taken by people who opposed them and all aspects of the negative and positive effects of the Southern Pacific.¡¨9 That is what Douglas Sackman said in his review of the book, he also applauded his massive research conducted in order to get the point of views and aspects on all sides of the matter going on in the period of Californian history he wrote about.

            William Deverell successfully informs about the period involving the railroads that he writes about, and due to his extensive research and unbiased stance, does not favor any particular party in those times. While the Big Four, in the eyes of the nation, seemed to be an evil and greedy group of entrepreneurs that successfully cheated the government out of millions of dollars, Deverell does not portray them as monsters or selfish snobby old men; rather, he attempts to ¡§justify their actions and beliefs while attempting to not be for or against what they did to bring progress to California and the nation.¡¨10 Also, Deverell does not favor the Lincoln-Roosevelt League or Dennis Kearney and his Workingman¡¦s Part of California or any other railway opposition, rather he fights to keep straight, honest and factual.  

            In the west, particularly in California, the race to build the railroad further and further towards the east was booming and business went great. Deverell portrays the East coast as ¡§the motivational force that got the Californians working harder so that they could do better then their brothers in the East.¡¨11 The eastern part of the United States, already having the Eastern Pacific railway, was also building and building further into the heart of the nation. The Big Four absorbed both the Eastern Pacific and the Western Pacific; they made a plan to revolutionize the nations prosperity. They decided that when they were close enough the two railroads would be united along with all of the smaller railroad companies and the tracks that had been previously bought out, successfully completing their ¡¥iron octopus¡¦ spread all across the nation. Without the eastern motivation to work harder, the Californians would have never completed the union of the railroads, making the Eastern United States big contributors to the development of the nation.

            Specific events that occurred in California set it apart from the rest of the nation because the circumstances only allowed for California to be affected. For example, all of the political party rivalries in California could not occur in other places because in other states the railroads were not as resented and opposed. California gained the most prosperity from the railroads, but also an equal amount of despair and suffering from them. The Mussel Slough shoot-out, a disaster that occurred in the agricultural hinterlands of central California between the Railroad Company and settlers in the area, attested that the treatment of the settlers was completely unfair but they were so hard to deal with that, ¡§The railroad corporation, never quite certain what course of action to take, tried a conciliatory position one month and a firm, legalistic approach the next.¡¨12 Six men died in that shoot-out and the five men convicted of obstruction of justice served light jail terms. In no other place in the country had there been such a horrid case of rivalry between the capitalistic monopoly that was the railroad company and the hard- working lower classmen that were the settlers of the area. This set the events that occurred in California apart than those from any other part of the nation making California unique and set apart from the rest of the United States.

            The idea of how much good the transcontinental railroad brought to the development of California cannot be seen without taking into consideration the harm it brought along also. On the positive side, not only did the railroads bring modernization and money to the nation but also they successfully bridged the gap between the two opposite sides of the nation and allowed for quick and safer ways of getting there. The east suddenly became readily available to contact and travel by the railroads to anyone in the western part of the nation. California especially prospered from the Southern Pacific railroad establishment and the union of the major railways of the nation. However, the Big Four¡¦s negative effects also changed the nation. Not only did, ¡§the capitalistic group grew full of greed and vices and favored specific companies to use when building a railroad or when certain merchandise was in need.¡¨13 This made sure that those companies prospered and consequently made the smaller companies run out of business. The corruption and scandals were the worst consequences that came with the development and establishment of the railroads, but the positive effects brought forth by the railroads greatly outweighed the bad. William Deverell successfully shows this in his book£á Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad, 1850-1910.

1. "California Gold Rush." Wikipedia. 2006. 1 Jun 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_gold_rush>.

2. Deverell, William 32

3. Deverell, William 38

4. Deverell, William 47

5. Deverell, William 78

6. Deverell, William 99

7. Deverell, William 112

8. Sackman, Douglas. Amazon. 18 December 2004. 1 Jun 2008 <http://www.amazon.com/review/R2ZIBV4UTHNTGZ/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt/102-0893768-8628131#R2ZIBV4UTHNTGZ>.

9. Hofsommer, Don L.. Biblio. 1 Jun 2008 <http://www.biblio.com/isbn/0520082141.html>.

10. Deverell, William  114

11. Deverell, William  118

12. Deverell, William 57

13. Deverell, William  33