Touring (and Arguing) The Great Railroad War

By Forrest Whitman

Lots of the railroad history around Central Colorado is fun to discuss and argue about. The great railroad war (1878-1890) was a fierce fight. The contenders were General William Jackson Palmer’s Denver and Rio Grande Railroad versus the Santa Fe Railroad led by William Barstow Strong and Thomas Nickerson. The reader is invited to revisit the sites of the battles.

The first battle: A fine way to look at this site is to take the Southwest Chief passenger rain. As that train crawls up Raton Pass, I recommend getting a beverage and scanning out the sightseer lounge car window. Near the summit there’s still a sign erected by the Santa Fe Railroad. It’s announcing the site of “Uncle Dick Wootton’s place.”

This opening skirmish was fought in the very early morning of February 27, 1878. As the name of his line says, Palmer wanted to build south to the Rio Grande. The Santa Fe coveted the same territory.

The law was on the side of which railroad could lay track in the pass first. This battle should have gone to Palmer. He had interests in southern Colorado for a long time and had built rail here. Why didn’t he claim the pass long before 1878?

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William Jackson Palmer – 1836-1909

By Doug Schmidt

There are many differences between the culture of today and the culture that existed in the early days of the Colorado pioneers. One of the most glaring is that anyone attempting a new venture in the 21st century is given a list of reasons outlining why the project cannot be completed as proposed. The early railroad pioneers did not tolerate being told why not, but expected to be told how the project would be completed.

One such man who racked up accomplishment after undaunted accomplishment was General William Jackson Palmer, founder of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and the driving force behind the establishment of Colorado Springs as a major American city.

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