Without a doubt the implementation of railroads was one of the most successful tools of Western expansion in the late 1800’s. The railroad’s ability to provide long distance transportation for livestock, materials and personal travel revolutionized how the American West was settled. Atchison, Kansas was the major hub of railroad activities in Kansas in the late 19th century and played a hugely significant role in developing the city, Kansas and the West.
Atchison, Kansas was founded in 1854 by people of Platte City, Missouri who crossed the Missouri River to begin a new townsite in the Kansas Territory. The next year the Territorial Legislature recognized it as a town. Atchison owes its much of its success to its convenient placement on the Missouri River. Long before the rail lines were layed Atchison was a landing point for steamboats and freighters and a major site along many wagon trails leading to the Western states. The town also became the headquarters of the U.S. Postal Service.
It was in the late 1850’s that Atchison turned its eyes upon participating in railroad, and with the help of $150,000 from Atchison investors, the Atchison, Topeka Railroad was chartered in 1859. The next decade saw the construction and implementation of the railroad westward, and “Santa Fe” was added to the name in 1863. The railway reached the border of Colorado in 1872 and was extended to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1880. In 1881 the ATSF line connected with the Southern Pacific line in New Mexico, thus making it the second national transcontinental rail route.
The city experienced a great economic boom between 1870 and 1890, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the entire region. Not only a railroad town, Atchison also was one of the first banking centers in Kansas and boasted a large amount industry and agriculture. Livestock transportion between towns like Wichita and Dodge City also provided the state with a great economic source. While Atchison and Kansas boomed the railroad technology improved and the miles of rail grew by the thousands. This growth eventually ended the era of covered wagon trails and made the West far more accessible, not doubt contributing greatly to the further exploration of the frontier and its settlement. If the railroads had not been as successful as they were in that relatively short amount of time, the settlement of Western state would have been exponentially more difficult and no doubt taken much longer.
While all of this was beneficial across the nation to the government, private business of all kinds and settlement; railroads proved to be another punishing blow to the Indigenous People of the region who were trying desperately to maintain homeland and sovereignty. This topic will be addressed in my next post.