John W. Young’s Utah Railroads, Chapter 1

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By Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr.

(Return to Adkins Manuscript Index Page)

Chapter 1

Railroading and John W. Young

By March, 1883, steam railroads were well established in Utah Territory.[1] The 967 miles of completed track included two links with the eastern states and territories, one with California, and one with the Montana mines and Pacific Northwest.[2] The hub of this railroad activity, representing the interests of three major companies, was Ogden, Utah.

From Ogden the Central Pacific, one of the original transcontinental railroad companies, went west through Nevada and into California. Although part of a large rail network, the C. P. had no subsidiary railroads in Utah, and totaled only 154 miles of track within the territory.[3] The other member of the first transcontinental showed considerably more interest in Utah.

The Union Pacific went east out of Ogden to link Utah with Wyoming Territory and other eastern points. Although the U. P. mainline totaled but 75 miles within Utah, this figure belies the company’s interests.[4] The U. P. had, within the preceding decade, taken control of a series of local railroads, one of which provided a means of access to the riches of Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.

The Utah and Northern Railroad, proceeding from Ogden north to the Idaho line, then on to Pocatello, was originally the Utah Northern Railroad. The U. N. was one of a series of railroads constructed under the direction and control of the Mormons. A three-foot narrow gauge line, this railroad came under the control of the Union Pacific in 1878, a fate soon to be shared by other locally sponsored rail companies in Utah.[5]

In 1880, the Utah Central, Utah Southern, and Utah Southern Extension railroads were consolidated as the Utah Central Railroad with majority stock being held by the Union Pacific Company. Connecting Ogden with Frisco (in central southwestern Utah) via Salt Lake City, this was the longest rail line within Utah, totaling 280 miles. This standard gauge railroad provided a link between iron mines, smelters, and consumers.[6] It was not, however, the only U. P. controlled line that served the mining and smelting industry in Utah.

The mines at Park City, east of Salt Lake City, were served by the Echo and Park City Railroad, and the soon-to-be-abandoned Utah Eastern. West of Salt Lake City the three-foot narrow gauge Utah and Nevada went past the south shore of the Great Salt Lake and into Tooele Valley.[7] These railroads complete the roster of Union Pacific involvement, but one more major railroad, a newcomer, must still be considered.

The Denver and Rio Grande Western was the second longest railroad within Utah (210 miles of track) and provided a link to the east via the Denver and Rio Grande system.[8] This three-foot narrow gauge line was just recently completed between Ogden, Salt Lake City, and the central Utah-Colorado border. The D. & R. G. W. had, however, already absorbed two smaller railroads, the Utah and Pleasant Valley line and the Wasatch and Jordan Valley which had served mines and smelters in the Utah and Salt Lake valleys respectively. Complementing these railroads was the coal-hauling San Pete Valley Railroad being constructed by the D. & R. G. W.[9] Like spiders legs, with the body at Ogden, railroads sought out the wealth of Utah Territory.

Utah’s railroads were controlled by entrepreneurs outside of the territory, but- supported and operated by local men. Businessmen such as Sidney Dillon, of the Union Pacific, and David Moffat, of the Denver and Rio Grande system, pulled the strings and determined the future actions of the Utah railroads while spending a minimal amount of time within Utah Territory. The day-by-day operations and worries rested with men such as William W. Riter, John Sharp, Abram F. Doremus, William Jennings, James Sharp, and LeGrande Young. Railroaders, businessmen, and lawyers, they represented Utahns deeply involved in, and committed to, the success of Utah railroading in 1883.[10] But temporarily missing from their ranks was a Utahn who had been involved with railroads since the transcontinental first entered the boundary of Utah Territory.

John Willard Young was a railroad entrepreneur, businessman, Mormon, and linked to what had been the most influential family in Utah. Born October 1, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois, he was the third son of Brigham and Mary Ann Angell Young. Within the decade of John W.’s birth, his father organized the Mormon migration to the Great Basin area and was accepted as the leader of the main body of the Mormon church.[11] Too young to be deeply impressed by the exodus from Nauvoo and the subsequent immigration, he considered Salt Lake City his home. Thanks to his father’s position, his early years were considerably different from his peers. Being Brigham’s son brought about situations from which he gained leadership experience. When not yet thirteen, he was the Captain of Light Infantry in the Nauvoo Legion, a unit made up of other youths. At age eighteen he was sent on a church mission to New York City, aiding in the Mormon migration from England. Dealing with agents for shipping lines and railroad companies, he was introduced to current business practices of the day. Within three years, now a young man, he was sent on another mission, this time to England. By now, some of his attitudes were well formed, including a liking for the "good life."

On the way to England he demonstrated both a knowledge of who he was and a taste for the creature comforts by engaging only the best of accommodations. As he explained to his father: "As it was generally known that I was your son, I felt I could do no less than stop at the finest hotel also, and be as respectable as the rest of them." Reaching England he continued to expand his business knowledge through continued work in the Mormon migration, handling funds and making arrangements with various passenger agents representing shipping companies. Traveling to Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Russia, he had an opportunity to observe international business functions.[12] Returning home, he gained even more business knowledge, this time starting near the top. John W. Young’s railroading experience began in 1868 as a subcontractor preparing the grade for the Union Pacific through parts of Utah. The following year he was involved in both the formation and the construction of the Utah Central Railroad. In the summer of 1871, he traveled to New York and obtained financial backing for the Utah Northern, a railroad enterprise of which he was the president. Leaving the U. N., he became involved in another railroad, the Utah Western, which was building west from Salt Lake City. During this same period, Brigham Young sent John W. Young to England on business for the Utah Central and Utah Southern railroads. Thus, by 1878, he had received a thorough and practical background in various aspects of the railroad business.[13] Nor was his business experience limited to just railroading.

By 1883, John W. Young had been associated with a woolen factory and two cattle companies in Arizona, an iron mining and manufacturing concern, a supply and forwarding company, and the New York based North American Exchange Company, Limited.[14] As will be developed later, this latter business brought him into close proximity with many of the financial and business giants of the day. For a man not quite forty years of age, he was able to make genuine claim to a much broader base of experience than most of his Salt Lake City contemporaries.[15] And as is often the case, business was linked to politics.

Young associated himself with the Democratic Party. He developed political contacts and purchased the New York Saturday Evening Globe as a means of publishing via a newspaper some of his political opinions, generally aimed at improving relations between the Mormon people and the people of the United States as a whole. Through the decade of the 1880s he involved himself in political causes intended to benefit the Mormons, including audiences with President Grover Cleveland.[16] In this way he was able to carry out some of his church-associated obligations in spite of his frequent absences from Utah.

Although ordained an apostle in the Mormon church at the age of eleven, he was never a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.[17] He did, however, function in a number of other church positions. He was a counselor to his father in the First Presidency from April 1873 until May 1874, when he was sustained as assistant counselor. Two and a half years later, in October 1877, he became first counselor to his father until Brigham Young died on August 29, 1877. In October of the same year, John W. Young became a counselor to the Twelve Apostles, a position he held until October 1891.[18] While his church positions thus kept him near the Mormon hierarchy, it did not ease either his business or family responsibilities.

John W. Young was a polygamist. During the 1880s he was concurrently married to two, and possibly three, of his five wives.

At least fourteen children were born to him by these five women.[19] Although very little is recorded in extant documents relative to his private, family life, he was divorced by all five women, suggesting that his business activities took their toll on the domestic scene. It was his business expertise, however, that built railroads and not his family life.

Thus, by 1884, John W. Young was not a novice in either railroading or the world of business. This knowledge he brought with him as he prepared to construct his newly acquired railroad in Salt Lake City.


[1] For a survey of the development of railroads in the United States and Utah Territory, the following are recommended: Edward Chase Kirkland, Industry Comes of Age: Business Labor and Public Policy, 1860-1897 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, Inc., 1967); John F. Stover, The Life and Decline of the American Railroad (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Robert Edward Riegel, The Story of the Western Railroads: From 1852 Through the Reign of the Giants (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964); Robert G. Athearn, Rebel of the Rockies: The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962); Robert G. Athearn, Union Pacific Country (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971); and Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom.

[2] Henry V. Poor, Manual of the Railroads for the United States for 1883 (New York: H. V. an H. W. Poor, 883 , 896.

[3] Poor, Manual of Railroads (1883), 896.

[4] Poor, Manual of Railroads (1883), 896.

[5] Poor, Manual of Railroads (1883), 900. Also Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, 283-289.

[6] Poor, Manual of Railroads (1883), 896, 898-899.

[7] Poor, Manual of Railroads (1883), 896.

[8] Poor, Manual of Railroads (1883), 896.

[9] Poor, Manual of Railroads (1883), 896-97. Also Athearn, Rebel of the Rockies, 115-126.

[10] Poor, Manual of Railroads (1883), 897-900.

[11] John Willard Young was referred to as "John W." by his family and contemporaries. "Johnny W." was also a name used, mostly by the press, and was Just tolerated by him.

[12] Dean C. Jessee, ed., Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 91-95, 101-04.

[13] Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, 283-288. Also Jessee, Letters of Brigham Young, 116-119.

[14] Jessee, Letters of Brigham Young, 93.

[15] See Leonard J. Arrington, David Eccles: Pioneer Western Industrialist (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1975. Eccles was a Mormon businessman and contemporary of John W. Young.

[16]  Jessee, Letters of Brigham Young, 93. A number of references relative to politics are found in John W. Young’s papers. See also: Charles L. Keller, "Promoting Railroads and Statehood: John W. Young", Utah Historical Quarterly, 45 (Summer 1977), 289-308 for a discussion of his political activities.

[17] Jessee, Letters of Brigham Young, 92.

[18] Deseret News 1978 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News, 1978), 101-102.

[19] John W. Young was married to Lucy Maria Canfield, Elizabeth Canfield, Clara Lucinda Jones, Lucy Luella Cobb, and Christine Catherine Damcke. Lucy Canfield and John W. Young were divorced in 1873. Data is lacking on Elizabeth, other than the fact that they had four children, one of whom was born in June 1869, and she may be the "Aunt Libby" that divorced him when he married Lucy Luella Cobb. Clara married him in 1865, no record is available of their divorce date. Lucy Luella Cobb married him in 1877 and divorced him in 1893. Catherine married him in 1879 and divorced him in 1890. Data drawn from John W. Young family group sheets, L. D. S. Genealogical Library, Salt Lake City, Utah, and a manuscript by Mary Luella Maria Young Goulding, Church Archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.