The Pacific Railroads Survey 1853–55

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Map Code: Ax00782

In 1853, Congress allocated money and authorized the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, to establish ‘the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean’. Until this time, reaching the west coast from the east required a travel time of several months, either by sea or overland. Five surveys were conducted in all. Four explored possible east-west routes, the final survey examined the Pacific seaboard between San Diego and Seattle. To facilitate a possible southern route, an area the size of Scotland was bought from Mexico in 1853: the Gadsden Purchase. The leader of the central route survey, Captain Gunnison, was killed by Ute Indians in Utah, along with seven members of his party. His deputy, Lieutenant Beckwith, completed the survey and, in 1855, his route was chosen for the railroad. The railroad would be completed in 1869.

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