OGDEN — Keeping a sense of heritage alive in a techno-savvy world may seem challenging to some, but Uintah native Mark Stuart has discovered a way of connecting with the past through an event that helped to thrust technology into the present.
“The Mormons and the Transcontinental Railroad,” a presentation Stuart gave Saturday morning at the Ogden Family Search Library, deals with LDS society’s role in America’s western expansion.
“I think few people out there in the world acknowledge the contribution the Mormon church made to the railroad. We always hear about the Chinese and the Irish, but the Mormon contribution is overlooked,” Stuart said.
Stuart, a retired seminary teacher for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began his presentation with a PowerPoint filled with facts chronicling the history of locomotives leading up to the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, from the invention of the steam engine in 1769 to the westward expansion from 1840 to 1869. During that time, about 250,000 people moved west, a third of whom were Mormons seeking religious freedom.
Stuart described the changes that took place in communities such as his native Uintah.
“Overnight, it goes from being a small, sleepy Mormon town to a hell on wheels, with a population of about 5,000 people. It had 100 businesses, and most of them were big tents with wooden fronts, including about 40 gambling saloons,” Stuart said.
Nearly 6,000 Mormons were at work on building the Transcontinental Railroad by fall 1868, with the goal of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads merging by summer of 1869.
Although Mormons were valued for their skills and their ability to contribute their own supplies to the construction, their efforts were not rewarded monetarily until well after the completion of the railroad in May 1869, due mostly to shady dealings by a congressman who diverted to himself the money that was due the LDS workers.
“A three-year recession occurred because you had all these people who didn’t get paid. The church had been using its resources to keep the workers afloat,” Stuart said.
Despite the hardships many people were forced to endure, Stuart sees the Transcontinental Railroad as a symbol of the American spirit.
“This is one of the wonders of the modern world. All the so-called sophisticated nations said it couldn’t be done, and American ingenuity, hard work and drive pushed it through. This was one of the engineering marvels of their day and age,” Stuart said.
More information about Utah’s heritage can be found at the Ogden Family Search Library at 539 E. 24th St.