Research in the Equality State: Migration and Transportation

Wyoming may be largely made up of wide-open spaces, but there are several important migration routes and transportation events. I’m going to cover five migration routes:

  • Bozeman Trail – connected the gold rush areas of Montana to the Oregon Trail
  • Oregon Trail – from western Missouri into the Rockies and on to Oregon City
  • California Trail – from western Missouri across the Rockies into the California Gold Fields
  • Mormon Trail – from Nauvoo, Illinois to Nebraska and on to Salt Lake City and beyond to California
  • Chisholm Trail – branch that ended in Cheyenne and joined the Oregon, Mormon, or California Trails

Rivers served as migration and settlement points. The North Platte River and the Sweetwater, a long tributary of the North Platte, are part of the Mississippi river system and the water eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico. These two rivers are along the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails. They offered important water for explorers and settlers. Wyoming is a very dry state (I could never seem to drink enough water!) It was imperative for explorers and settlers to stay near water sources.

Image by “Shannon1” permission by Creative Commons license (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:North_Platte_basin_map.png : viewed Aug 2021).

The railroad played an important role in the expansion and settlement of the state of Wyoming. The Union Pacific Railroad was vital in that it financed town-building across the state. The railroad fostered economic growth not only for itself but also for the state of Wyoming. It helped move livestock out, and other goods in to the state. When coal was discovered in southwest corner of the state, it powered the railroad while the railroad also moved coal out of the state to sell to other regions and consumers.

Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, 1 July 1862. This act created the Union Pacific (UP), and subsidized the UP and the Central Pacific by granting 10-square mile sections of land for each mile of track laid. In 1864, the second Pacific Railway Act doubled the land grant to 20 square miles and also gave mineral rights to the railroad. The sales of this land then paid for the building of the railroad. The pounding of the Golden Spike on 10 May 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah, connected the railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This opened trade and transportation to and from farther locations. This made Wyoming much more accessible for settlement. Transportation by train was more preferable to wagon trains.

The ceremony for the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869; completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. At center left, Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific Railroad, shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Railroad (center right). By Andrew J. Russell – Yale University Libraries, Public Domain.

Next we will look at land in Wyoming. There’s plenty of it… mostly filled with sheep and sagebrush.

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