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Railroad rivalries played a significant role in nineteenth-century US history. No rivalry was as intense or bitter as the one between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and the Denver and Rio Grande railroads. At times it erupted into actual gunfire.
“From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West,” by John Sedgwick tells the stories of their battles. The stakes were high. The winner could gain access to the Pacific. Could, rather than would because other railroads sought to block the winner from advancing.
Sedgwick frames the story as a personal duel between two individuals: General William J. Palmer and William Barstow Strong. Palmer, a Civil War hero, had relocated to Colorado to build the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Strong was the corporate-minded manager of the Santa Fe. Both men had a vision of driving a railroad to the Rio Grande River and from there west to the Pacific Ocean.