David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
The Golden Spike. Edited by David E. Miller. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1973. Illustrations. 162 pages. $8.00.
Reviewed by Richard F. Pourade, author of the six volume History of San Diego and editor of Copley Books.
For the historian concerned with the the development of the West, as well as the railroad buff, this odd-sized volume, No. 10 in the University of Utah publications on the American West, is a book to be valued. For general reader it, of course, lacks continuity. The Golden Spike is a collection of papers, with one exception, which were read at a symposium conducted in connection with the ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike linking the East and West by railroad at Promontory, Utah. Some of the papers by railroad executives seem rather self-serving, even unrealistic, after the difficulties encountered by railroads since the symposium in 1969.
By far the most interesting is the first paper by Dr. Wallace D. Farnham, professor of history at the University of Illinois, who serves up a lot of new information on Collis Huntington which is fascinating to anyone interested in California and its more spectacular figures. Huntington was one of the Big Four of the Central Pacific who, as this volume proves, were unfairly labeled Robber Barons. The Central Pacific, the West’s share of the railroad linking East and West. owed its success to Huntington who outsmarted and outmaneuvered the city slickers in Washington and New York.
Huntington based himself in Washington to take greater advantage of federal assistance for the transcontinental railroad project. and when it appeared that the eastern interests might best the Californians in a race toward a juncture. he became the clever fox who smiled while his victims squirmed.
It was not a question of new laws but of using existing laws in assuring his Pacific road won the race to Promontory, or more rightly, Ogden, Utah.
It was Huntington who pulled the political strings to subject the Union Pacific to investigations into its financial problems, when none really existed, in order to slow down its advance and to give the Central Pacific clearer sailing. And it was he who manipulated affairs so that the Union Pacific was forced to change course and align itself with the Central Pacific’s choice of a terminus.
It is all good reading. Modern historians, according to the author, have neglected some of the sources on Huntington which provide this fascinating side of a great railroad rivalry.
The illustrations are particularly valuable. A series of them are grouped as Historic Railroading Photographs of the Promontory Area, and printed on special paper. There are 27, or perhaps 28, photographs if you include a few minor ones. Another small group in the back of the book portrays more modern versions of the great event.