%> Nevada Riches: The Land and People of the Silver State
Nevada Government & Politics
Riches, Ranching & Railroads

Politics of the Railroad

Congress passed the Transcontinental Railroad Act in 1862 and granted the Central Pacific Railroad five million acres of free land on both sides of the track to sell.  Money from land sales would help pay the cost of construction. The railroads became the largest landowners in Nevada.  Like many other areas in the nation that depended upon the services of the railroad, Nevada often had uneasy relationships with the railroad companies and the men of the railroads.

Everyone wanted to see the railroads come. Railroads created cities in the middle of nowhere and connected remote mining towns with the rest of the country. Nevada's first railroad was the Central Pacific Railroad.  Reno, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Elko, Carlin, Battle Mountain, Caliente, Las Vegas and many other towns owe their origins and growth to the construction of railroads.  But railroads became a monopoly and began to control local and national politics.

The period between 1869 and 1910 is known as the Golden Age of Railroading because of the growth and improvements in rail travel.  In Nevada, however, there was often a love-hate relationship with railroads.  Railroads came and created towns, then drove all the horse and wagon freighting companies out of business. Once they gained the monopoly of transportation, they charged Nevadans more to haul mineral ore and trade goods into the state. The Central Pacific could charge $818 per ton to haul supplies from New York to Reno and $996 to Winnemucca, but would charge San Franciscans $600. This was called the "back-haul rate". The railroad officials then tried to control state and local politicians so they would not have to pay taxes on the land they owned or change their freight rates.

When state or county officials tried to take the railroad to court, company lawyers delayed trials, making it more expensive to pay for court costs. The state legislature tried to regulate freight charges and taxes.  "Company men" like Henry M. Yerington of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and C.C. "Black" Wallace of Eureka County would come to Carson City and bribe the legislators so they would not pass laws to hinder the railroads.

The Central Pacific also affected railroad legislation at the national level by making certain that Nevada's U. S. Senators, William M. Stewart and John P. Jones would help kill any law that regulate railroads. This continued until the federal government began regulating interstate commerce in the early 1900s. At the turn of the century southern and western farmers, livestock men, miners and laborers began the populist movements that eventually were able to overcome the grip of the railroads in Nevada.  During the Progressive Era that followed, Congress began to regulate large industries like the railroads.  This regulation helped small states like Nevada that could not control major industries on their own.

Photo Credit:
Library of Congress