On Monday, April 5, 1880, after almost 30 years of waiting, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific railroad, a subsidiary of Atchison, Topeka And Santa Fe, arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Territory’s first hope for a railroad that connected it to both coasts had been in 1853, when a survey was completed from Albuquerque toward Arizona and California. But then the nation got caught up in the conflict that would lead to the Civil War and nothing happened.
After the war, all eyes were on the transcontinental rail link which lay to the north, along the 32nd parallell. When that final spike was pounded into place at Ogden, Utah in 1869, the next logical place to build was on or near the southern border. Surely now it was New Mexico’s turn.
In the early 70s, it looked like that turn had come. Various rail lines built steadily west across Kansas and Colorado.
Then came the financial Panic of 1873. Once again, everything ground to a halt. Ranchers and farmers in New Mexico must have fumed as Texans loaded cattle and Californians boxed up grapes and pears and sent them east by rail while New Mexico still received its mail via stagecoach and had to use Santa Fe Trail freight wagons for anything larger.
But then the great day finally arrived and a train chugged into Albuquerque. The new track was positioned over a mile east of the town plaza. This resulted in a flurry of real estate, commercial, and other activity. Albuquerque took on the characteristics of a boomtown, with brawls, thefts, and shootings and the inevitable ad hoc vigilante groups to try to keep them under control.
Was the arrival of the railroad a good thing? I suspect not everyone thought so.
Sources: David L. Caffey, Chasing The Santa Fe Ring, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014; Lawrence A. Johnson, Over The Counter And On The Shelf, Country Storekeeping in America, 1620-1920, Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1961; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West, stagecoach lines on the Santa Fé trail, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.