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"Reminiscenses of Alexander Toponce [1839-1923]"
Autobiography at age 80, c. 1919.

"I saw the Golden Spike driven at Promontory, Utah, on May 10th, 1869."

Chapter 51. The Coming of the Union Pacific

Alexander ToponceAbout the fifteen of May, 1868, I got everything settled up in Nevada and went back to Salt Lake City on the stage. At the time I got there the Union Pacific was being graded west of Green River, Wyoming. I heard that there was a contract to be let in a short time to furnish beef to the grading and track laying camps and decided to try for it.

I bought an outfit consisting of good large tents, provisions, wagons, and teams and hired a good cook and his wife to wait on the table and went over to Wyoming and made camp at a place afterward called Beartown, about thirteen miles east of Evanston.

I devoted myself to getting acquainted with the contractors and the foreman of the gangs. Among the grading contractors were Noonen & Orr, W. W. Riter & Chrisman Bros., and Cheeseborough & Magee.

There was also my old Montana friends, Coe & Carter, who were contracting to furnish ties. Harper was foreman of the gang laying the ties. Carmicheal was another big contractor.

I remember Bates, engineer in charge of construction. The Pacific Lumber Company, of which Van Tassel of Cheyenne was manager. Also, Oliver Durant, vice-president of the Union Pacific, who was actively supervising the work and also was supposed to be interested with Stuttering Brown, a contractor, hauling supplies to the camp.

I set up the best meals and the best liquid refreshments to be had west of Omaha, at my restaurant and whenever any of the big fellows came along we put on extra dishes, wine and Havana cigars and I kept announcing that I wanted the beef contract. I soon had most of the foremen on my side,

About this time Bill Jennings sent in a herd of beef cattle to Spring Valley and announced that he was going to bid on the contract. So I got my new friends together and talked it over and it was agreed that I should have the contract at fifteen cents a pound. The day that the contract was to be given out, Bill Jennings came on the stage with some of his Salt Lake friends and stopped at my place for dinner.

Right in the middle of dinner, Harper, foreman of the tie camp, got up and said he wished to announce that "no bids" for beef would be received as the contract had already been let privately to Mr. Toponce.

My old friend, Bill Jennings, was pretty blue. He had expected to bid as low as six cents to get the contract. After dinner he came to me and wanted to sell me his cattle. We went out and looked at them and I made him an offer.

He did not want to take it, but I reminded him that one time when freighting to Montana, I had contracted with him for flour at $24 a hundred and when the price had raised he had repudiated the agreement and when I had sued him he had beaten me before a Mormon Judge and now I told him the shoe was on the other foot.

So I bought 1,005 head of cattle and fifteen horses for $30,000. Paid $15,000 cash and $16,000 on sixty days' time. Later he discounted the note six per cent for cash.

I had the contract to supply the camps from the east head of the big tunnel at Carter's Station. It lasted ninety-seven days, however, as when they finished the work at Wasatch, near the Utah line, my contract was finished. Brigham Young had the contract for grading west from Wasatch to Uintah at the mouth of Weber Canyon, that being the end of the track for sometime.

When my contract was finished on the beef I was in Salt Lake for a few days stopping at the Salt Lake House. In the room next to mine I heard Oliver Durant and Stuttering Brown settling up their accounts.

Durant said, "How is this Brown? When we first started in you had four mules and I had sixteen, now you claim all the mules. How do you account for that?"

Brown replied, "Bib-bib-bib because I'm a sis-sis-sis-smarter man than you bib-bib-bib-be. That's all."

Chapter 52. The Battle of Beartown

When I still had the beef contract I was camped on the south side of the track at a sulphur spring across from Beartown. Down the track east about 600 feet was a cold water spring and there the editor of the Beartown paper had his tent.

One of the contracting firms was Cheeseborough & Magee. They had a grading contract and the toughest gang on the road. Magee was hard boiled and when a bunch of the men saw him coming they would say to each other, "Lookout, here comes Cinny," and then they would make the dirt fly.

Magee would size up the work done and if he was dissatisfied he would knock a pick off the handle and use the pick handle as a club, and knock two or three of them down. They were nearly all Irish and they seemed to think it was all right.

One day a gang of graders came to town and got drunk and raised such a row that the city marshal arrested three of them and put them in the lock-up, a little new cabin just built of green logs.

Next day the paper come out with an article saying that "Beartown had stood enough from the rowdy and criminal element and it was time to call a halt." And more just like it.

The next morning I saw about fifty of the Cheeseborough and Magee outfit coming along the track. They had read the paper. The leaders had ropes in their hands and they called out as they passed me that they were going to hang the editor.

There was a mule standing ready saddled at the door of my tent and I jumped on him and raced down to the editor's tent. The crowd got to the front door as I got to the back of the tent. I cut a long slit in the back of the tent with my knife and got him out on the mule and he escaped.

They simply ruined that printing office and you can depend on it, I did nothing to interfere further. Then they went across the grade into town. The business men locked their stores and about a dozen got together in Nuckles store with rifles to defend themselves.

The leader of the mob was a man named Tom Smith. He led them to the lock-up and they tried to liberate the prisoners. They tried to bum the jail but the logs were too green.

The mob run the town from eight o'clock to four in the afternoon, getting drunker and more dangerous all the time. About four, Smith knocked on the door of Nuckles store and when the proprietor opened the door a little and advised them to get out of town Smith shot him in the leg.

Then the shooting became general. It was a regular battle. The men with rifles barricaded in the store opened up and swept the streets. Seventeen men were killed in the mob and as many more were wounded, some of whom died.

Some people called it a massacre, but it had a good effect and just as in the case of the "Vigilantes" in Montana there was an end to the rough stuff on the Union Pacific.

The graves of those killed in the Beartown fight, are still to be seen on the south side of the Union Pacific track just east of Hilliard Station.

In regard to the Vigilantes, in the early days in Montana. I don't think they made any mistake in hanging anybody. The only mistake they made was that about fifty per cent of those whom they merely banished should have been hung instead, as quite a number of these men were finally hung on the Union Pacific road, during its construction.

I got up one morning at my camp near Beartown, Wyoming, and noticed something hanging from a tripod near the railroad track, and I walked down to see what it was. It was three of those fellows, who I knew had been banished from Montana in 1864, with a little tag pinned on their coat, which read, "Warning to the road agents."

I have heard of several others being hung along the line of the Union Pacific railroad, both east and west, and it always had a good effect.

I think that the only thing that had made Montana what it is now, was the Vigilantes getting rid of that element who wouldn't do anything, or let others do anything except rob and plunder.

Montana, for ten years after 1864, was the quietest state in the West. People could then travel and go anywhere without being molested. All that they had to look out for was the Indians. The word went out all over the country in regard to the Vigilantes in Montana that it was no place for the toughs to congregate.

Chapter 53. The Big Tie Contract

About this time I purchased from Wells, Fargo & Company seventy-nine wagons and six yoke of oxen to the wagon. As the railroad was pushed West the Wells-Fargo staging business was closed out and they had no further use for the wagons and cattle and I got them cheap. I bought all they had.

In July, 1868, John W. Kerr, Governor Durkee and Bill Kiskaden, uncle of Maude Adams, the actress, took a contract to furnish 100,000 ties to the Union Pacific to be delivered at Hilliard, Wyoming. They had the ties cut on the headwaters of Bear River, I think they got 80 cents apiece for them.

Kiskaden wanted to sell out so I bought his one-third interest. We got part cash for the ties and the balance in bonds of the Union Pacific due in fifty years. They were not the bonds issued by the Government but the bonds the railroad were allowed to issue later. I think their market value was about fifteen cents. They were left in the hands of John W. Kerr.

One of my best friends in Wyoming was a rancher named Byme, who owned quite a fine place at Piedmont, before the Union Pacific was built through there. I often stayed all night with him and each visit was good for a big argument on Mormonism.

He read a great deal and was well posted on the Bible. We would sit up half the night arguing. One night we were discussing the laws of Moses. He thought Moses was almost as great a man as the prophet, Joseph Smith.

"Now Bymes," I says to him, just to keep the argument going, "It looks to me as if Moses was a grafter."

He blew up right away. "How do you make that out?" he says.

"Well, here," I says, "listen. Moses went up into the mountain to get the ten commandments, and when he was gone Aaron had the Children of Israel turn in all their gold to him and he melted it down and made a golden calf to worship. That right?"

"Sure," he says.

"And then Moses came back and when he saw the golden calf he took an ax and hacked it all to pieces. That right?"

"Exactly," he says.

"Now then," I says, "what became of those pieces? Those gold chips?"

He scratched his head, "I suppose," he said, "That the proper thing to do would be to turn the gold back to the people that contributed it in the first place."

"The Bible doesn't say what was done with the gold," I said.

"Oh yes, it does," he replied.

"Well, you find it," I told him.

He looked and looked but could not find it. "It's here, some place," he said, and kept on looking.

"What'll you do," I said, "If you never do find it?"

He jumped up and began waving his arms. "What will I do?" he yelled. "I'll tell you what I'll do. If I don't find a full explanation of what became of that gold, I'll leave the Mormon Church. You hear me?"

Years afterward I met him in Ogden. He had moved to Utah. "Did you find out about that gold?" I asked him.

"No," he replied. "And I've left the Mormon Church."

Chapter 54. Taking U. P. Bonds for Ties

I finished the beef contract with the Union Pacific in the early part of October, 1868. About this time Jim Noonen came to me and wanted me to take a contract to haul out of the timber 100,000 ties which he had cut and hewed on the Bear River between Soda Springs and Montpelier, so I took the contract to haul them out and run them down the Bear River to Corinne, Utah. His contract was with the Central Pacific Company and was to the effect that he must deliver them at Corinne before the iron of either road crossed Bear River. I started an ox team outfit of over fifty teams down Bear River and got the ties hauled down to the stream all right, but the river froze up earlier than usual and froze the ties in ice all along from Montpelier to Bear River Canyon and I could not get them to Corinne, on time.

The Union Pacific iron crossed the Bear River in April, 1869, and I didn't get the ties out of the river until May 15th. The C. P. refused to take the ties. We piled them up on the river bank at Corinne.

Later on when the Utah Northern, a narrow gauge road, was being built north to Cache Valley on the way to Montana, Moses W. Thatcher bought the ties paying for them in more Union Pacific bonds. We took $100,000 of them that time as part pay and the balance in cash.

Of this tie contract I owned one-half and Kerr & Durkee, the other half. All of these bonds were on the Union Pacific Railroad and taken in payment for ties, both at Hilliard, Wyoming, and those that were taken for ties at Corinne, Utah, were all turned over to Charles Durkee, the Governor of the Territory, and the bonds have not been paid yet so far as I know.

Kerr & Durkee owned two-thirds of the bonds that we got for the ties delivered at Hilliard, and I owned the other third. Of the ties that were delivered at Corinne, Kerr and Durkee owned one-half interest and I owned the other half.

When my teams left Bear River after putting in the ties, between Soda Springs and Montpelier, I loaded them up with square timbers that I had hewn up there, and hauled them to a place near Corinne to build a house on a homestead that I located on Section 34, Township 13 North, Range 3 west, now owned by Jack Rich. This was one of the first patents that was ever issued on land in Utah from Salt Lake Land Office. The land is located about three miles north of Garland.

Chapter 55. Dead Fall and the Golden Spike

In April and May of 1869, Corinne and Blue Creek were pretty lively places. At the latter place was a big construction camp generally known as "Dead Fall" and spoken of by some as "Hell's Half Acre."

It seemed for a while as if all the toughs in the west had gathered there. Every form of vice was in evidence. Drunkenness and gambling were the mildest things they did. It was not uncommon for two or three men to be shot or knifed in a night.

Back at Corinne, the "Burg on the Bear," it was every bit as bad. I saw there a tent 150 feet long and 50 feet wide, crowded with gambling tables around which hundreds of men swarmed day and night betting their money on every imaginable kind of game, including Mexican Monte and Chinese Fan Tan.

This tent had followed the construction gangs on the Union Pacific nearly all the way from Omaha. I had seen it, or one like it, at Beartown, near Evanston, Wyoming.

When the Golden Spike was driven and the construction work stopped, the camp on Blue Creek disappeared and there was no trace of it in a few weeks. But Corinne survived. The boomers picked on it as the coming town and it had a fairly stable population of 1,500 to 2,000 for a year or two.

I saw the Golden Spike driven at Promontory, Utah, on May 10th, 1869. I had a beef contract to furnish meat to the construction camps of Benson and West. This West was my good friend. Bishop Chauncey W. West of Ogden. They had a grading contract with the Central Pacific and their camp was near Blue Creek. I also furnished beef for some of the Union Pacific contractors.

The Golden Spike could have been driven a couple of weeks earlier than it was. But the two companies had settled on Promontory as the meeting place some days prior to the actual meeting.

The Central Pacific had been planning to make the junction at Ogden as to be in touch with Salt Lake City and the settlements in Utah. But the Union Pacific planned to lay their iron as far west as Humboldt Wells, in Nevada, and had most of their grade completed that far west.

If the Union Pacific had crowded their work as hard as the Central Pacific did in the last two weeks the Golden Spike would have been driven a good many miles to the west. The Union Pacific employed white labor, largely Irish, and the Central Pacific had Chinese labor. The Irish and Chinese met on Promontory Hill.

The Union Pacific sold to the Central Pacific fifty-six miles of road, which brought the real junction back to a point five miles north of the Ogden depot, and then leased that five miles to the Central Pacific, making Ogden the junction.

On the last day only about 100 feet were laid and everybody tried to have a hand in the work. I took a shovel from an Irishman and threw a shovel full of dirt on the ties just to tell about it afterward.

A special train from the west brought Governor Leland Stanford of California and C. P. Huntington, Crocker, Hopkins and lots of California wine.

Another special train from the east brought Sidney Dillon, General Dodge, T. C. Durant, John R. Duff, S. A. Seymour, a lot of newspaper men, and plenty of the best brands of champagne.

Another train made up at Ogden carried the band from Fort Douglas, the leading men of Utah Territory, and a small, but efficient supply, of Valley Tan.

It was a very hilarious occasion, everybody had all they wanted to drink all the time. Some of the participants got "sloppy" and these were not all Irish and Chinese, by any means.

California furnished the Golden Spike. Governor Tuttle of Nevada furnished one of silver. General Stanford presented one of gold, silver and iron from Arizona. The last tie was of California laurel.

When they came to drive the last spike. Governor Stanford, president of the Central Pacific, took the sledge and the first time he struck he missed the spike and hit the rail.

What a howl went up! Irish, Chinese, Mexicans, and everybody yelled with delight. Everybody slapped everybody else on the back and yelled "He missed it. Yee." The engineers blew the whistles and rang their bells. Then Stanford tried it again and tapped the spike and the telegraph operators had fixed their instruments so that the tap was reported in all the offices, east and west, and set bells to tapping in hundreds of towns and cities. W. N. Shilling was one of the telegraph operators.

Then Vice President T. C. Durant of the Union Pacific took up the sledge and he missed the spike the first time. Then everybody slapped everybody else again and yelled, "He missed it, [too], yow!"

It was a great occasion, everyone carried off souvenirs and there are enough splinters of the last tie in museums to make a good bonfire. When the connection was finally made the U. P. and the C. P. engineers ran their engines up until their pilots touched. Then the engineers shook hands and had their pictures taken and each broke a bottle of champagne on the pilot of the other's engine and had their pictures taken again.

The U. P.[sic] engine, the "Jupiter," was driven by my good friend, George Lashus, who still lives in Ogden.

Both before and after the spike driving ceremony there were speeches, which were cheered heartily. I do not remember what any of the speakers said now, but I do remember that there was a great abundance of champagne.

The 1919 Golden Spike Jubilee celebration, in Ogden, Utah.  Alexander Toponce is in the middle of the front seat.
The 1919 Golden Spike Jubilee celebration, in Ogden, Utah.
Alexander Toponce is in the middle of the front seat.

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