When I first started out researching the subject of Navajos working on the railroad, it was clear that Navajos were not the only Native American Railroad workers. The federal government pressed for westward expansion during the 1870s and granted railroad companies millions of acres of right of way to assist the development. For me, it was returning back to my college days learning all over again about the horrors of eminent domain, which is not left behind in historical events because the U.S. still uses it today with the Dakota Access Pipeline.
We see this exercise of federal power of eminent domain mostly from 1850-1900 when all the Indian Reservations were created. These decades of the government facilitating the transcontinental railroads were pivotal times for the Federal Indian relationship. Everything gave way to the discovery of gold, settlements in the west, and unbridled expansion of railroad corporations and so tribal nations were very much obstacles to development. For construction, public land granted a right of way for much of the rail corridors, however not all railroads were on federal lands so some railroads had to get right of way from private ownership. Imagine that! Getting permission. In the Southwest, that was exactly what happened when the mainline went through the land of many of the Pueblo Indian Tribes in New Mexico.
As a direct result, the Pueblo Indians had a different relationship to the railroad companies. Tomorrow I’ll talk about that relationship.