In 1855, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis convinced Congress that camels would be perfect for transporting goods across Nevada's deserts and into California.
The navy went to Arab nations and brought back nearly 100 camels. The experiment wasn't as successful as Davis had wished, however. Horses and mules stampeded upon seeing and smelling the camels. The camels attacked pedestrians and bit them. They also chewed laundry off the washlines of the resident's homes that they passed by. The camels became such a nuisance that if an owner let his camel stray in Lyon County, then the owner would be thrown in jail for thirty days. Additionally, the landscape cut the feet of the camels, even though the camels wore protective boots made of leather. The camels simply refused to go any further.
Some of the camels were sent off to the circus, but many were abandoned in the desert. Stagecoach drivers reported that upon seeing the "strange" animals, the horses would panic and take off at an alarming rate of speed pulling the coach, driver and passengers along an unsafe journey. The camel solution was a bust!
Follow this link to find out about camels as transportation in the United States
In 1859, after the camel disaster, California senator William H. Gwin and businessman William Hepburn Russell thought about the possibilities of using a relay system of young men on fast horses to move mail and information. They decided to call this delivery system "The Pony Express".
Pony Express riders were expected to run their horses from Sacramento to Salt Lake City in three and a half days and then to St. Louis in ten more days. There would be relay stations every twenty-five miles and each rider was to cover seventy-five miles during his run. No matter how rugged the land was, the riders were to average a speed of ten miles-per-hour. At each rest station, the rider could spend only two minutes.
In all, there were 500 horses in the Pony Express. There were 183 riders for the Pony Express over the course of a year and a half. The riders were given a knife and a revolver to protect themselves. Every effort was made to make the mail and the rider as light as possible to increase quickness. The mail would be brought into Sacramento from San Francisco on riverboats. From there, the riders would carry the mail, in relay fashion, to St. Louis where the railroad system would then pick it up and deliver it throughout the east. The 2,000 mile trip usually took about ten days in the summer and fifteen in the winter. The trip through California's Sierra Nevada Mountains was tough, as often, the nation's worst weather occurred there. The fastest delivery was completed in just seven days and seventeen hours. This was President Abraham Lincoln's March, 1861, inaugural address. Many Californians were anxious to hear it as the nation was on the brink of the Civil War and Californians needed to decide which side to join.
The Pony Express began service on April 3, 1860, and completed its final run on November 20, 1861. In all, the riders covered 616,000 miles, which would circle the earth twenty-four times. The Pony Express was put out of business by the new electric highway: the transcontinental telegraph.
There are many great stories about the Pony Express. Follow the links below to find out more about this short term answer to providing information to California in a quick manner.
In 1861, workers finished setting up wires across the country which provided the United States with a transcontinental telegraph. Messages could be sent across the United States in just minutes. This lightning fast technology is what put the Pony Express out of business. The telegraph was completed in October of 1861, and by November of 1861, the Pony Express had ridden its last relay.
One problem that telegraphs had was when lines went down. The telegraph wires were set up from pole to pole across the country. Electrical impulses flowed down the wires and were translated at the telegraph station. If a pole was knocked over, the message would end at that spot. On the plains, buffalo were constantly knocking poles over. This slowed down the sending of information, but the telegraph was still the quickest way to get information to California in the early 1860's.
California's First Telegraph
The Transcontinental Telegraph
The First Transcontinental Telegraph is Completed
The stagecoach was another attempt at connecting California to the east. Whereas it couldn't move many goods, the stagecoach could transport groups of people and mail faster than on overland wagon. It was possible to go from the east to the west in just twenty-four days in a stagecoach. In fact, before the transcontinental railroad was completed, the only transportation system over the Sierra Nevada Mountains was by stagecoach.
One of the dangers of riding in the stagecoach was robbers. Many stagecoaches belonging to the Wells Fargo Company carried gold through the mountains and gold fields. It was not uncommon for a stage to be stopped by a bunch of bandits who yelled to the driver, or whip, "Throw down the box!" The box referred to the wooden trunk kept with the driver which contained valuable items. The most common way to rob a stage was for the robbers to hide in the shrubbery and then jump out into the path of an oncoming stage. Their guns would be drawn and pointed at the stage and, so, the whips would stop the stage. Rarely were the passengers hurt as the bandits were after the valuables. The drivers always held the passenger's safety as the primary concern.
This piece of advice was offered to riders who considered taking the stagecoach as a means of transportation:
"The best seat inside a stage is the one next to the driver. Even if you have a tendency to sea-sickness when riding backwards . . .you will get over it and will get less jolts and jostling. When the driver asks you to get off and walk do so without grumbling, he won't request it unless absolutely necessary. If the team runs away . . . sit still and take your chances. If you jump, nine out of ten times you will get hurt. Never shoot on the road, as the noise might frighten the horses. Do not discuss politics or religion . . .and do not imagine for a moment that you are going on a picnic."
Stagecoaches were kept on a tight schedule. Speed was of the essence and passenger comfort was not a priority. It was considered a disgrace if the whip brought his stage in 30 minutes late. Even with elements such as wind, rain, and snow fighting the stage driver, the mail and passengers were always rushed to their destinations. The stagecoach drivers were skilled and fearless men who pushed themselves and their horses to the limit.
Ride along the links below to learn more about stagecoaches:
The Pony Express, telegraph and stagecoach systems all worked well for a while, but the people of California wanted more. They wanted to travel from coast to coast in just a few days. They wanted to be able to ship goods back and forth. The Civil War had begun which seemed to cut California off even more. The Union and Confederate armies needed all the food and supplies that the East could create. This slowed the flow of goods to California tremendously. Californians felt more and more that they needed to be connected with the Eastern States.The answer was the railroad.
To build a transcontinental railroad would take many years and millions of dollars. Theodore Judah had been trying to create a plan to build a railroad over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This was going to be the major obstacle in building a transcontinental railroad. The mountains were steep and rugged and finding a place where a locomotive could climb the mountains and travel safely down the other side would be a challenge. Judah surveyed the area and found a place he believed would work. Now, he needed the money to make the plan become reality.
Theodore Judah set out to find investors for the railroad. He found four businessmen in Sacramento who were willing to put money forth in order to earn even more money. They, however, could not pay for all of it. Judah went to Congress to ask for more money. The United States wanted California to remain with them during the Civil War, so Congress approved money to help build the railroad. The Union Pacific Railroad Company was formed. The company would build the track from the East to the West. Meanwhile, the investors from Sacramento formed a railroad company known as the Central Pacific Railroad. This company would build from the West to the East. Eventually, the two tracks would meet and the transcontinental railroad would become a reality. There would be many troubles along the way, however, and Theodore Judah, himself, would not live to see the completion of the railroad.
|A Brief Biography of Theodore Judah|
|The Transcontinental Railroad from The History Channel|
|Read Theodore Judah's Plan to Build the Railroad|
|Who were the Big Four?|
|The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad|
|Using Chinese Workers to Build the Railroad|
|Driving the Last Spike|
|The Central Pacific Photographic Museum|
|The California State Railroad Museum|
|Play the Great Railroad Race Online Game|