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Carbutt and the Union Pacific's
Grand Excursion to the 100th Meridian

By William Brey

Stereo World, Vol. 7, No. 2, May - June 1980, pp. 4-9.
Copyright © 1980 by the National Stereoscopic Association, Inc.



Arrowing west from Omaha City in Nebraska Territory, the Union Pacific Railroad was a full year ahead of its construction schedule. Planning to have 247 miles of track in place by the end of 1867, they had reached that point by October 1866.

To advertise this incredible progress to their shareholders as well as Eastern bankers and members of Congress, the Directors of the company planned an elaborate and costly celebration to take place in the middle of the wilderness.

Carbutt Photo
COVER: John Carbutt, at right, dining al fresco on the plains. The dark tent, on the left, was constructed by Carbutt in the early 1860's and used to process all his wet plates while working in the field. This rare stereoview, probably taken by Carbutt's assistant T. J. Hines, is reproduced here for the first time through the courtesy of Mr. Ed Burchard. Turn the page for William Brey's article.

Carbutt Photo
"Group of Pawnee Warriors and Palace Cars of U.P.R.R.", No. 204 from the series "Union Pacific Rail Road, Excursion to the 100th Meridian, October 1866", by John Carbutt. Hired by Durant to provide thrills and chills for the Easterners from the big city, once proud Pawnee Warriors, who were subdued by the Army in 1859, pose here for Carbutt's camera. Among the Excursionists looking on is 44 year old Rutherford Birchard Hayes, recently re-elected member of the House of Representatives from Ohio. Ten years later he became the 19th President of the United States in the most disputed Presidential election in U.S. History. (Gordon D. Hoffman Collection)

Carbutt Photo
"The Directors of the U.P.R.R. at the 100th Meridian", No. 219 from the series "Union Pacific Rail Road, Excursion to the 100th Meridian, October 1866,"
by John Carbutt. This signpost was erected by Durant to mark the end of track at the 100th Meridian. By the time the party reached it, the tracks
had been laid another 40 miles beyond. This view shows the train coming back from the West. (Gordon D. Hoffman Collection).

Under the direction of Thomas C. Durant, the newly-elected President of the Railroad, over 200 influential guests with their wives and daughters were invited to take part in a Grand Excursion to a point halfway between Chicago and the Rocky Mountains, smack on top of the Hundredth Meridian of Longitude. To be sure the world heard about the event, reporters from the major newspapers were also invited.

Foreign dignitaries, including a Scottish Earl, a Spanish Grandee and a French Marquis, as well as one hundred of the Eastern elite, began their journey west by train from New York City on October 15, 1866. Traveling over the tracks of three different railroads, they arrived in Chicago two days later where they were joined by many of the remaining guests from other parts of the Country.

John Carbutt, the noted Chicago photographer and stereoview publisher had been hired by the Union Pacific to document the entire affair, so it was here that he and his assistant, Mr. Hines, loaded their cumbersome photographic supplies onto the train.

Accompanied by the Great Western Light Guard Band the train proceeded to St. Joseph, Missouri, for the second stage of the journey—two hundred and fifty miles by riverboat to Omaha. Boarding the "Denver" and the "Colorado", two of the largest class

Missouri River packets, the excursionists, with bands playing and colors flying, steamed up the winding Missouri River, which for many hundreds of miles formed the Western boundary of the Atlantic portion of the United States.

Some idea of the manner in which this whole affair was being conducted can be deduced from the menu listing over 50 main courses and as many different desserts. (See illustration.) Forty-eight hours later the over-stuffed travelers finally reached Omaha and the Eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad.

With the keys to the City firmly in hand, the excursionists, in their insignias of ribbons and rosettes, were soon to be seen in all parts of the town "evidently delighted and somewhat astonished to find themselves after a week's journeying westward from New York, still among people of wealth, refinement and enterprise". Where were the blood-thirsty savages they had half hoped to glimpse from afar?

Since this was just about Omaha's biggest event since President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862, a reception ball had been planned at the four-story Hernden House, the town's finest hotel. With all of Nebraska Territory's politicians in attendance, along with local authorities and wealthy business and professional men and their wives, the dance and promenade occupied the time most pleasantly until the small morning hours.

Despite the elegant entertainment, the excursionists were astir at an early hour the next morning to visit the extensive depots and machine shops of the Union Pacific and to check out the arrangements for the final leg of the journey.

The menu for the excursionists on board the Missouri River packet "Colorado", October 20, 1866.

The special train assembled for the trip to end-of-track was made up of two locomotives and nine cars, the most elaborate having been designed for the late President Lincoln who had used it only once for a journey from West Point to Washington. Purchased from the Government by Mr. Durant, it now served as his personal car for the use of he and his friends. The magnificent Director's car, at the rear of the train, just behind Durant's, was devoted to members of Congress and other distinguished guests, including the late President's son Robert Todd Lincoln and George Pullman, Patentee of the Palace Sleeping Car. Later in life, modest, retiring Robert Lincoln was to become the special counsel for the vast interest of this same George Pullman, eventually becoming President of the Pullman Company after Pullman's death. Just forward of Durant's car were four Pullman cars for use of the remaining guests. Next came the mess car, then a mail car fitted up as a refreshment saloon and finally the baggage-supply car just behind the engines.

By now all were ready so, amid hissing steam and groaning wheels, the magnificent entourage finally set out for the final destination. Proceeding at a slow rate of speed, the better to enjoy the sights of the Great Platte Valley, the train stopped now and again so the guests could examine the road and fine bridge structures that had not existed just a few short months ago.

The first nights encampment on the prairie, just beyond the town of Columbus, was a monument to the planning that had preceded their arrival. Welcomed by booming cannon and a lively band, the excursionists discovered a city of tents—over 70 of them, set up on three sides of a square, brilliantly lit by calcium lights. After still another magnificent feast in the largest tent (60 feet long, 30 feet wide and 14 feet high), the group was moved by train a mile further on to the Indian camps where over a hundred painted Pawnee braves had been hired to put on a war dance for the evening's entertainment. Dressed in a variety of feathers and beads, some wore "ventillated pantaloons, much open, except at the loins".

Engraving of Carbutt Photo
Durant's publicity barrage, documented with Carbutt's stereoviews, generated world-wide interest in the Union Pacific, evidenced
here by a wood-cut used to illustrate the story in German newspapers. (Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society)

Returning to Camp the party found tents assigned to each individual family, comfortably furnished with hay mattresses, buffalo robes and blankets. Only the howling of a distant wolf could be heard as the camp settled down for the night.

Another sumptuous breakfast signaled the start of another day before the train continued its westward journey. The train was stopped on a high embankment overlooking the Pawnee camp for the mornings entertainment—this time a sham battle. Thirty Pawnee braves, disguised as Sioux warriors, attempted to creep up on the camp but were discovered. Amidst shrieks and cries of vengeance, the Pawnees went out to the attack. "The shock of meeting was grand and terrific. Horses reared and plunged against each other. Indian grappled Indian and both fell to the ground in deadly embrace. Rifles, revolvers and arrows were discharged apparently with deadly effect. Riderless horses, and horseless riders were to be seen roaming wildly over the plain. And all was confusion and intense excitement, until at length the victorious Pawnees brought their vanquished enemies into camp, amid the most tempestuous shouts of triumph and exultation. "

After the dust and excitement had died down, Mr. Durant distributed several hundred dollars worth of presents among the Indians and their squaws. (Some of the squaws seemed more fascinated with the ladies hooped skirts than with the bangles and beads.)

Proceeding westward again at speeds sometimes approaching .45 miles per hour the extra locomotive, out ahead of the train, ran down and demolished a hand car with four men, killing two. A sympathetic tear was shed over this news before the party resumed their festivities amid oceans of champagne and clouds of cigar smoke. The train finally reached a point 30 miles beyond the hundredth meridian at 8:00 P.M. where, as on the previous evening, a large and brilliantly illuminated encampment awaited them. End-of-track was still nowhere in sight as rails were then being laid at a rate of nearly two miles a day.

Visitors from the nearest town and the ranches all around were in camp as rockets and roman candles lit up the sky to celebrate the arrival of the train. A battalion of cavalry was camped close by to provide protection against roaming bands of hostile Indians said to infest this portion of the country.

A Photograph Gallery and a first class barbershop were set up and after the establishment of a telegraph and printing office (to produce the daily newspaper -"Railway Pioneer", as well as menus and announcements), the camp grew quiet as all rested up for the final journey.

By mid-morning the following day, the train had continued ten miles farther west where it finally caught up to the construction crews. (Near the present day freight station of Gannett, on the Union Pacific, 40 miles west of the 100th Meridian.) Some hours were spent by the party observing the laying of track, the distribution of material and the general construction process as the tracks grew ever closer to their eventual hook-up with the Western Pacific Railroad. Meanwhile the band played the "Star Spangled Banner", "The Wearing of the Green", "Yankee Doodle", "Rory O'Moore", the "Sprig of Shillalah", etc. "Photographic pictures were also taken by the celebrated Viewist, Professor Carbutt of Chicago, of the construction train; and also various groupings of the officers of the road and excursionists. "

A buffalo hunt had been arranged for the more sporting members of the group and had been quite successful, but on their way back to camp they encountered a strong party of outraged Indians who took from them the buffalos they had killed. Further loss was averted as the Indians magnanimously spared the hunters lives on the condition that they should never be found again on Indian hunting grounds. The hunting party readily agreed to this condition.

Returning to camp the hungry excursionists were given another sumptuous dinner, with printed menus beside each plate. The final evening's entertainment was a magnificent hour long fireworks display that amazed the distant savages who also witnessed it.

The final morning "Professor Carbutt was in great demand. Everybody wanted to be taken just as they appeared at the breaking up of the camp. The Professor finally succeeded in obtaining some excellent groupings, as well as camp and landscape views before the train started eastward." At a point directly on the Hundredth Meridian the train was halted for nearly an hour "enabling Professor Carbutt to Photograph some views representing the excursion train, with groupings of Government Officers, members of Congress, Directors of the road and excursionists coming to this point from the West."

Heading East once again the speeding train overtook another hand car, demolishing it and a man named Flannery, whose three companions just managed to leap to safety.

One last surprise entertainment had been arranged by Durant to enliven the trip back to Omaha—a Prairie Fire! The flames extended in an unbroken line for 15 to 20 miles and one end of this holocaust was so near the party could feel the heat as the flames roared over the plains.

So as the sun set slowly in the West our stalwart group of well-fed adventurers were borne back over the prairie from whence they came—leaving behind three dead, the scorched earth, and the remains of a thousand dinners. A fitting end to a visit to the wild west—in a most civilized manner.

Carbutt Photo
#224?"Doctor" Thomas Clark Durant, skillful and unscrupulous promoter of railroad stock and bonds, poses on the tracks with
the heads of the various departments of the UPRR. (Ed Burchard Collection)


"Incidents of a Trip Through the Great Platte Valley to the Rocky Mountains in the Fall of 1866", Col. Silas Seymour. 1867 P 54 to 109

"Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow", Dee Brown, 1977

Omaha Weekly Republican, Oct. 27, 1866, P 2

Omaha Weekly Herald, Nov. 2, 1866, P 1

Carbutt Photo
"View of Omaha, Nebraska Territory from Capitol Hill (2)", No. 231 by John Carbutt. Included in Carbutt's series are two birdseye
views of Omaha City, the Territorial Capitol of Nebraska Territory, part of the Louisiana Purchase, was explored by Lewis
and Clark in 1804. Less than a year after these views were taken, Nebraska became a State. (John Waldsmith Collection)


*Anne P. Diffendal, Manuscripts Curator and John E. Carter, Curator of Photographs, Nebraska State Historical Society.

*Barry B. Combs-Union Pacific Railroad Company

*Bob Flood, History Librarian, Omaha Public Library

*Mrs. Petersen, The Union Pacific Museum

*Ed Burchard, Evanston, Illinois.

The most extensive collections of Carbutt's Excursion views are those of the Union Pacific Archives in Omaha and the President Hayes Library in Fremont, Ohio. It is believed that this listing of views from their collections, compiled with the help of Tom Waldsmith, is complete. If so, Robert Taft was in error when he stated that Carbutt published over 300 views in this series.


Photographed by J. Carbutt, Chicago

Under the auspices of the Union Pacific
Railroad Company

198. Landing of the Union Pacific Excursion at Omaha (1)

199. Landing of the Union Pacific Excursion at Omaha (2)

200. Steamer Denver and Colorado UPRR

201. Group of Excursts. at Camp No. 1, Columbus, Neb.

202. Camp of Pawnee Indians on the Platte Valley

203. Group of Mounted Pawnee Warriors

204. Group of Mounted Pawnee Warriors & Palace Car of UPRR

205. The Excursion train going West

206. Excur. Party 275 mi. W. of Omaha, Oct. 24, 166

207. Excur. party 275 mi. W. of Omaha, Oct. 24, '66 (2)

208. Westward, the Monarch Capital makes its way

209. Laying the rails of the UPRR-two miles a day

210. The Elkhorn Club on the banks of the Platte

211. The Platte River opposite Platte City

212. The Platte River and Kinsley's Brigade

213. Commissioners and Directors of the UPRR

214. View of Camp #2 from Prospect Hill

215. Headquarters Platte City, Oct. 25, 1866

216. Representatives of the Press with the Excursion

217. The Boys that made us Comfortable, all Hail

218. The Train at the 100th Mer. returning from the West

219. The Directors of the UPRR at the 100th Mer.

220. Group of distin. guests of UPRR at 100th Mer. (1)

221. Group of distinguished guests of UPRR at 100th Mer. (2)

222. Burnetizing Works of the UPRR at Omaha

223. Burnetizing Works of the UPRR at Omaha (2)

224. T. C. Durant Esq. and Heads of Depts. UPRR

225. Engine House & Workshops of UPRR at Omaha

226. S & E Front U. P. Railroad Works at Omaha

227. N & E front UPRR Works, Omaha

228. UPRR Works and Depot, Omaha

229. N & W front UPRR Works, Omaha

230. View of Omaha N. T. from Capitol Hill (1)

231. View of Omaha, N. T. from Capitol Hill (2)

232. Herndon House, Omaha, N. T.

233. Construction Train of the UPRR

Total of 36 views

NSA logo
Courtesy of the National Stereoscopic Association, Mary Ann Sell, President, and Don Gibbs, Manager, Stereo World back issues. Reproduced by permission.

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