Riding the Rails 2

My Amtrak adventure from Albuquerque to Chicago and return (26 hours each way) gave me plenty of time to ponder our “fathers’ magic carpet made of steel.” Although he had doubtless heard stories of the iron horse, Nana never actually saw a steam locomotive until 1880 or ’81, when the A.T.&S.F and Southern Pacific lines reached into southwestern New Mexico from the north and west. The impact on the Chihene homeland was profound and immediate.

The economic effects of the Panic of 1873, like our own Great Recession, lingered for more than a decade; coupled with the increased mechanization of agriculture and the wave of new immigrants arriving from Europe, the weak economy left tens of thousands of working men unemployed or underemployed. For the boldest of those, the new railroads offered a fast and relatively inexpensive route to new opportunities in the West.

New Mexico’s population grew 30% between 1870 and 1880 and by another 34% between 1880 and 1890, and a great many of those new arrivals were drawn to the southwestern quadrant of the territory. According to Christiansen’s Story of Mining in New Mexico, “prospectors swarmed over every mountain and hill in search of silver. Spurred on by reports of successful mining at Chloride Flat and Georgetown, they combed every inch of accessible land, and many new prospects were uncovered.”

“The reports from our mining districts are so encouraging as to lead thousands of prospectors into the mountains from the North, South, East and West,” the Albuquerque Journal boasted in December, 1880. In all that bustle and activity, the ecological niche occupied by the free Apache for centuries disappeared almost overnight.

“When I first saw a railway train – A solid example of the white man’s magic – I began to see,” a Kiowa wrote years later.

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