A sweeping and lively history of one of the most dramatic stories never told—of the greatest railroad war of all time, fought by the daring leaders of the Santa Fe and the Rio Grande to seize, control, and create the American West.
It is difficult to imagine now, but for all of its cloudy peaks and gorgeous coastline, the American West might have been barren tundra as far as most Americans knew well into the 19th century. While gauzy advertising promotions of the West as a paradise on earth intrigued citizens in the East and Midwest, many believed the journey too hazardous to be worthwhile—until 1869, when the first transcontinental railroad changed the face of transportation.
Railroad companies soon became the rulers of western expansion, choosing routes, creating brand-new railroad towns, and building up remote settlements like Santa Fe, Albuquerque, San Diego, and El Paso into proper cities. But thinning federal grants left the routes incomplete, an opportunity that two brash new railroad men, armed with private investments and determination to build an empire across the Southwest clear to the Pacific, soon seized, leading to the greatest railroad war in American history.
In From the River to the Sea, bestselling author John Sedgwick recounts, in vivid and thrilling detail, the decade-long fight between General William J. Palmer, the Civil War hero leading the “little family” of his Rio Grande, coming down from Denver, hoping to showcase the majesty of the Rockies, and William Barstow Strong, the hard-nosed manager of the corporate-minded Santa Fe, venturing west from Kansas. What begins as an accidental rivalry when the two lines cross in Colorado soon evolves into an all-out battle as each man tries to outdo the other—claiming exclusive routes through mountains, narrow passes, and the richest silver mines in the world; enlisting private armies to protect their land and lawyers to find loopholes; dispatching spies to gain information; and even using the power of the press and incurring the wrath of the God-like Robber Baron Jay Gould—to emerge victorious. By the end of the century, one man will fade into anonymity and disgrace. The other will achieve unparalleled success—and in the process, transform a sleepy backwater of thirty thousand called “Los Angeles” into a booming metropolis that will forever change the United States.
Filled with colorful characters and high drama, told at the speed of a locomotive, From the River to the Sea is an unforgettable piece of American history—and one of the last great untold tales of the Wild West.