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Louise Ellison Column – Durant Takes Over as Union Pacific Chief Engineer; Work Continues


CHEYENNE, DAKOTA TERRITORY — Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant, former chief of the Union Pacific, regained control of the railroad today after the disappearance of former Chief Engineer Cullen Bohannon. U.P. board president Oakes Ames and General Ulysses S. Grant were both in Cheyenne to officially appoint Mr. Durant the new Chief Engineer.

The past year has been a tumultuous one for Mr. Durant, who last fall found himself charged with fraudulent accounting practices and detained in Hudson Prison in New York City. After his conviction was overturned by an appellate court, Mr. Durant traveled to a patch of land in the southern Dakota Territory and helped develop it into the railroad hub currently known as Cheyenne.

With his position reclaimed as primary stockholder in Credit Mobilier, Mr. Durant served an injunction on Cullen Bohannon and the Union Pacific for Mr. Bohannon’s alleged mismanagement of railroad construction. Though Mr. Bohannon was nearly deposed following a competency hearing, General Grant arranged for a 20-day trial period, allowing that if Mr. Bohannon could put ‘end of rails’ in Cheyenne by that time, he would retain his position as Chief Engineer.

The milestone was reached shortly after lunchtime on the day of the deadline, but Mr. Bohannon was not present to witness it. He has been missing since a group of masked riders attacked the town of Cheyenne and kidnapped him. Though Mormon ‘rough riders’ are suspected, the U.S. Army has said there is not enough evidence to enter into a conflict with the nearby Fort Smith.

“As I’ve already stated, Mr. Bohannon’s whereabouts are not the Army’s concern,” said Dr. Major Augustus Bendix, the ranking military commander in the area. “It is not our policy to chase after every man who finds himself in trouble. This is a savage land, and Mr. Bohannon has meted out his fair share. To me it seems dubious he is still alive at all.”

Not everyone shares the Dr. Major’s opinion. Witnesses saw U.P. Chief of Police Elam Ferguson, loaded with rifles, pistols, and extra ammunition, ride off toward Fort Smith at first light on the morning of the deadline, ostensibly to rescue Mr. Bohannon. He had spent the previous night working in the cut, attempting to reach Cheyenne on time.

While that effort ultimately proved successful, Mr. Ferguson was also not present to witness it, nor has he been seen since. Mr. Durant is expected to appoint a new Chief of Railroad Police within a few days.

With the transcontinental railroad’s progress continuing under Durant, ‘Hell on Wheels’ is picking up and moving once again, this time into Cheyenne. Canvas tents are being traded for hard walls and sturdy floors. New saloons, whorehouses, and a bank are all nearing completion. The Palmer Hotel already stands majestically in the town center, a bellwether for Cheyenne’s bright future.

Four months ago this patch of earth was nothing but grass and weeds, and it now stands as the most impressive railroad town in the west.

Merchants, beggars, gamblers, and workers are streaming into Cheyenne as Mr. Durant makes adjustments to the railroad’s schedule and methodologies to make up for lost time in the historic race against the Central Pacific.

With Mr. Bohannon’s whereabouts currently unknown, his tenure as Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific is over. Progress continues in his absence, as the nation’s first transcontinental railroad stops for no man.

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