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Union Pacific Railway

Union Pacific promotional poster, circa 1870

The Kansas Pacific Railroad began in 1855 as the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad. It was reorganized in 1863 into the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division. It was established under the Pacific Railway Act, to create a second southerly branch of the transcontinental railroad alongside the Union Pacific. This line was not actually connected to the Union Pacific line, and after controversy arose in that company, the Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division became the Kansas Pacific in 1869.

The company began construction on its main line westward from Kansas City in September 1863. However, only after later generous grants from the U.S. government did the work of laying track get underway. The Union Pacific received 6 million acres of land plus substantial sums of money to support construction.  However at the end of the Civil War railroad investment ended, and many lines scrambled to find backing. As a result many foreign investors, German and Dutch, began backing the lines. The rail continued being built.

Survey parties laid out the route of the railroad across Kansas. The soldiers from the 38th U.S. Infantry protected the surveyors against white protesters and American Indians.  Most of the construction materials had to be hauled from distant points. Sometimes wood and stone were available locally, but the iron rails were brought from as far away as Europe. Surveyors chose the flattest possible route in order to minimize construction costs, but gullies still had to be bridged and some hills had to be graded down. 

The railroad began operation in 1866. The Kansas Pacific ran lines until 1874 when Jay Gould, a powerful investor, took majority control of the company. Then in 1880 the line was consolidated with the Union Pacific.

A unique story comes from the Kansas Pacific line. According to some as trains entered or left Fort Hays, they commonly found themselves being raced by migrating buffalo herds. As a result the train would slow, matching the buffalos pace, and the passengers would then fire out the windows and from platforms, killing as many buffalo as possible. The buffalo would then be gathered, and meat and hides claimed by various travelers.

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Entry: Union Pacific Railway

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2011

Date Modified: September 2018

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.