From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West

Avid Reader. Jun. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9781982104283. $30. HIST
In this latest work, Sedgwick (Blood Moon) looks into U.S. railroad history and power and control of the American West. Chapters revolve around William Jackson Palmer of the Rio Grande Railroad and William Barstow Strong of the Santa Fe Railway, the rival industrialists whose “railroad wars” are at the heart of Sedgwick’s book. The two men became utterly fixated on each other as they built, fought, and litigated their way through the vast American West to reach the Pacific coast. As they pushed westward, Palmer and Strong helped build entire cities along their railroad tracks (Los Angeles and Santa Fe), sent militias into other cities (Colorado Springs), and enlisted a varied cast of judges, outlaws, bankers, and barons to win what amounted to an all-out war. Sedgwick’s narrative is gripping at times, but it is a substantial oversight that it glosses over the appalling impacts of white railroad expansion on the continent’s Indigenous peoples.
VERDICT This is not just the story of two bitterly determined railroad companies; it’s also a portrait of a violent and visionary strain of the American psyche, one that Sedgwick argues is very much still with us. This will primarily appeal to readers interested in railroad history.
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