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Transcontinental Railroad Terms

Gilded Age

From the title of Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner's 1873 novel, the "Gilded Age" became a term popularly associated with the second half of the nineteenth century, a period from the end of the Civil War to the turn of the twentieth century marked by political corruption and materialism.

The name coined by Mark Twain for the last quarter of the nineteenth century in America. Twain meant to emphasize that behind the fabulous new wealth of the era there was a decadent and thoroughly corrupt core.

The name coined by Mark Twain for the last quarter of the nineteenth century in America. Twain meant to emphasize that behind the fabulous new wealth of the era, there was a decadent and thoroughly corrupt core.

Plains Indians

Plains Indians is a catch-all term grouping the many Native American tribes who inhabited the vast expanse of the Great Plains. The Plains culture, which was several centuries old by the mid-1800s, centered around the horse and the plentiful population of buffalo. Tense relations between the Plains tribes and the American government were brought to a head—and then full-on war—with the settlement of American West and the incursion of the Union Pacific railroad, as government's policy increasingly became one of extermination and forced removal to reservations.


The American Great Plains were famous in the early-nineteenth century for the magnificent buffalo herds that grazed there, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, those herds had dwindled from millions of animals to an endangered population that numbered just above a thousand. During the intervening decades, the buffalo had been hunted to the verge of extinction by the white men who came to settle and conquer the West. On the one hand, the buffalo was hunted for its hide, which could be sold back East, and on the other, the buffalo represented an obstacle to the railroads and a vital resource to the Plains Indian tribes that were in a prolonged war with the U.S. Army. The slaughter of buffalo had become entwined with the conquest of the Plains.

Comstock Lode

Comstock Lode: The famed Comstock Lode was a rich deposit of silver ore discovered in June of 1859 near Virginia City, Nevada. The discovery reignited the prospecting boom that had began ten years early with the forty-niner's Gold Rush on California and gave a boost to the mining industry and westward migration. Many of the men who were involved in the building of the Central Pacific railroad were initially drawn to the West by the hope of striking it rich as prospectors.

Grading And Laying Track, Laying Track, Grading

The actual process of building a railroad began with a survey of land that established a proper and feasible route. Once that had been done, graders came in, who essentially made way for the track—putting down an even bed and reshaping the land with cuts (through hills) and fills (over gaps). When the grade had been made, the workers who laid the track put down the wooden ties and then the iron (later steel) rails. Finally, the rails would be spiked to the ties.

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