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Western Trails Project - Railroads and Immigration

As settlement expanded into Kansas Territory, railroad companies began gathering support from communities and the territorial legislature to begin construction. On July 1, 1862, President Alexander Gardner photograph of building the Union Pacific Eastern Division railroad line west of Hays, Kansas, 1867Lincoln gave his approval to the Pacific Railroad bill, which provided federal aid for a transcontinental railroad. The Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, which began construction in 1863, was the first railroad to connect the Missouri River with the state’s western border. In 1869 the Union Pacific, Eastern Division became the Kansas Pacific and later it became a part of the vast Union Pacific system.

During the construction of the Union Pacific, Eastern Division, in 1867, Alexander Gardner was hired to document the building of the railroad across Kansas. The Gardner collection consists of 155 stereographs showing towns, wildlife, construction scenes and the landscape along the route. The series of photographs is titled the Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division. These photographs can be viewed by clicking below on the Alexander Gardner collection.

Photograph of Alexander Gardner's photography outfitSmall and large railroad companies crisscrossed the state including the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, which began construction in 1868. The route ran from Atchison to Topeka and south to Emporia, Newton, Hutchinson, Great Bend, Dodge City, and eventually, to Santa Fe, NM and the Pacific coast. The AT&SF built to Chicago where it connected with eastern lines. In the 1880s, Kansas experienced a great increase in railroad mileage with the expansion of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific and the Missouri Pacific railroads. The Rock Island built from Elwood through Horton to Topeka and south to Herington, Wichita and Caldwell while another line went to Liberal. An east–west route was built from Horton through Fairbury, NE to Goodland and on to Colorado Springs, CO. Within less than three years the Rock Island was operating more than 1,100 miles of track in Kansas. The Missouri Pacific was the last major railroad built in Kansas. Much of their expansion came through subsidiary companies and leased lines with financing coming from Jay Gould. The line ran from Paola to Council Grove and westward to Greeley County where it connected with the Colorado portion of the railroad.

Guide for immigrants to railroad land in KansasFrom the first rail laid in Kansas, railroad companies encouraged people to make their homes in Kansas. Railroads were eager to increase the Kansas population because more people meant more business. They promoted communities, sold land, and were a source of employment. As a result of the railroad companies’ efforts, immigrants from Europe, Russia, Mexico, Africa, and people relocating from other areas in the United States settled in Kansas. A family coming to Kansas could read a pamphlet published by the railroad and find helpful advice for new settlers. For example, someone coming to Kansas could find a list of products produced in the state, the best time to travel, the climate, wages, natural resources, schools, and major towns. Examples of the immigration pamphlets can be viewed by selecting one of the titles below.


Alexander Gardner photograph collection

Immigration pamphlets

The State Of Kansas. A Home For Immigrants. . . Kansas. Bureau of Immigration, 1865.
Emigrants' Guide to the Kansas Pacific Railway Lands. . . Kansas Pacific Railway Company, 1871.
How and where to get a living. . . Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad Company, 1876.
The Immigrant's Guide to the Most Fertile Lands of Kansas. . .
Union Pacific Railroad Company, c. 1879.
Free Sleeping Cars For Emigrants. . . Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, 1884.
Lands in Kansas. Union Pacific Railway Company, c. 1891.
"A Farm Out West" Emigration Folder of the Great Rock Island Route. Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, 1897.