Book review: From the River to the Sea || The railroad war that made the West

From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War that Made the West, by John Sedgewick, was released in June and published by Avid Reader Press. I’m uncertain why I was sent a media copy, as I’m not a prolific reader or book reviewer.

But I’m thankful that I was. I rolled through its 300+ pages in just a few days while camping in the upper San Luis and Rio Grande valleys, where (and near where) most of the storyline takes place. In fact, multiple times on the drive west from Alamosa I crossed the old Denver & Rio Grande Railway Company line, and I had dinner about 50 yards from the original depot in Creede, where the railway arrived in 1891.

The book is primarily about two railway men from the late-1800’s who competed for all-or-bust dominance in undeveloped Colorado and the southwest. General William Jackson Palmer owned the Denver & Rio Grande (and also founded and plotted Colorado Springs, and built the famed 33,000-square-foot Glen Eyrie in Manitou Springs). William Barstow Strong was general manager and eventually president of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.

From the River to the Sea is the second book I’ve read in recent years about railroads and the West, the other being Nothing Like It in the World, by Stephen Ambrose, which focuses on the first transcontinental railroad and the competition between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific. Sedgewick was more successful in developing his characters, and I also appreciated that he took regular tangents into other related and interesting matters like the Leadville mining boom, the growth of Los Angeles, and the business maneuvers of other railroad barons like Jay Gould and Collis Huntington. If you enjoy reading about the history of railroads, business tycoons, Colorado, or the American West, both books are up your alley.

The impact of railroads in the West cannot be understated. They enabled the relatively rapid movement of people, goods, and communication. They also put the United States on a collision course with Native Americans, an issue that is still very pertinent more than a century later.

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Posted in on August 11, 2021

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