John W. Young’s Utah Railroads, Introduction

Index For This Page

By Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr.

(Return to Adkins Manuscript Index Page)

A History of John W. Young's Utah Railroads, 1884-1894

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree






I offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to the many people who have offered assistance and encouragement in the preparation of this thesis. In the area of research, my special thanks to the Utah State Historical Society for the granting of a Golden Spike Railroad Internship that introduced me to the thesis topic. Particular thanks go to staff members Dr. Stanford J. Layton, Margaret Lester, and Martha Stewart for allowing me continual free access to all of the U.S.H.S. resources. In the Archives Section, L. D. S. Historical Department, my thanks are extended to Dr. Ronald G. Watt and K. Hayburn Adams. Dr. Everett L. Cooley and his staff at the University of Utah’s Western Americana Section were always cooperative and helpful.

A very special thanks goes to Dr. S. George Ellsworth at Utah State University. He set me on the path of history, and his long-suffering efforts at trying to get the best quality from my efforts are beyond description. I appreciate very much his knowledge and his patience.

In a sense this has been a family project. My parents, Marlowe C. and Afton S. Adkins, Sr., not only allowed me frequent "encampments", they also provided both meals and a sounding board for ideas at all hours of the day and night. My brothers, William S. and Stephen S. Adkins, have offered willing assistance in a multitude of ways. To my wife, Kate, my love and thanks for her many hours of proofreading and being without a husband although I was physically present. And to my daughter, thank you Leah. Now you can get a father back.

One last expression of gratitude is appropriate. To my many students who have involuntarily been subjected to stories about railroading in general, and John W. Young in particular, my thanks. But the stories will continue.

Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr.


A History of John W. Young’s Utah Railroads, 1884-1894 by Marlowe C. Adkins, Jr., Master of Science Utah State University, 1978 Major Professor: Dr. S. George Ellsworth Department: History

The purpose of this paper is to recount how, under the entrepreneurial guidance of John Willard Young, three narrow gauge, shortline railroads were established in and near Salt Lake City, Utah between 1884 and 1894. Once justification for these projects was ascertained, the problems created by local and national politics, construction, and financing were met in a satisfactory manner. The results were two operating railroads and roadbed established for a third line. Operations continued under the control of John W. Young until the depression of 1893 when these railroads went into receivership.

(116 pages)


This is the story of three narrow gauge, short line railroads. Had fate been kinder, they might have become the hub of a major mountain west rail network. But this thesis will deal with facts, not possibilities, as it investigates the justification, construction, financing, and politics that surrounded these railroads and their location.

The locale was in and near Salt Lake City, Territory of Utah, during the decade between 1883-1894. Both location and time period have significance, for anti-Mormon feelings, within and without the the Territory, were very strong.

The visible cause of the anti-Mormon movement was polygamy.[1] For, as an English-American writer was to state nearly a century later, "nothing bothers a man with one wife more than a man with many wives who doesn't even feel guilty."[2] Many Americans sought to make the Mormons feel guilty. The weight of federal law was applied, both prior to and during the period covered herein, against the Mormons.

In July, 1862, an Anti-Bigamy Act was signed into law. When it proved ineffective, it was strengthened by the Edmunds Act which became law in March, 1882. This act brought about prosecutions resulting in prison terms, fines, and other penalties. But the final move, the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 sought nothing short of the economic and political destruction of the Mormon church.[3] Because the railroads concerned were built in a predominately Mormon area by Mormons, the temper of the times was a factor.

In spite of the foregoing, care must be taken not to consider these as "Mormon Railroads."[4] Support from the Mormon church was not forthcoming. The main entrepreneur, however, was a Mormon with a name recognized throughout the territory.

Just as this is a history of railroads, it is not intended to be a complete biography of John Willard Young. Taking control of a railroad project stalled from the outset by public pressures, he was to transform it into a viable, expanding rail service. But as deeply involved as he was with railroads, he was concurrently engaged in other business and political activities. These interests kept him away from Utah much of the time, thereby turning him into an absentee owner, with all of the connotations of the term.[5] He was a controversial figure.[6] Practicing polygamist, son of Brigham Young, and a businessman, he was both respected and disliked.

During the decade with which we are concerned, his family and religious ties did him little apparent good. What he accomplished, he did on his own merit.[7]

This thesis is presented in a topical-chronological manner. In turn, the subjects of justification for the railroads, politics surrounding them, actual construction, and finances will be covered.

Each will be developed by chronological narrative. With the scene and temper of the times so set, we will first look briefly at the background of railroads in Utah and John W. Young.

In the transcription of manuscript materials into the thesis, a literal rendering has been followed.


[1] Technically the Mormons practiced polygyny, having multiple wives. Following customary usage, however, the term polygamy, having multiple spouses of either sex, will be used throughout this thesis.

[2] Alistair Cooke, Alistair Cooke’s America (Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), 225.

[3] Gustive O Larson, The "Americanization" of Utah for Statehood (Huntington Library, 1971), 60, 62, 98, 210-11. Also Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (A. L. Bancroft and Co., 1889), 606-07, 682-87, 772-73. Also Brigham H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 5:7; 6:41-44, 147.

[4] Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900 (University of Nebraska Press, 1958), 257-292. To link John W. Young’s railroads of this period with the Mormon church is understandable due to the lack of research and the Young family name. This error has been made by respected authorities on western railroads. A summary of the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas railroad published in 1974 included "construction of its narrow-gauge track did not commence until 1887 when sandstone from the Red Butte quarry was needed for some of the Mormon Church edifices then being erected in Salt Lake City." Robert A. LeMassena, Rio Grande ... to the Pacific'. (Sundance Limited, 1974), 249.

[5] Absentee ownership of railroads in this era was not unusual, but is judged somewhat in a negative light today. See Thomas C. Cochran, Business in American Life: A History (McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1972), 55-56. Also Matthew Josephson, The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901 (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962), 80. It is nearly impossible to keep track of John W. Young’s movements, particularly his travels between his office in Salt Lake City and the one in New York City, nor is it really germane to the end result. He did travel at little personal expense, however, for he exchanged passes on his railroads with the presidents of other railroads. When away from Salt Lake City, he relied upon two men, Arthur Stayner and John M. Whitaker to manage his railroad affairs.

[6] Contrasts in opinion held by others about John W. Young can be found by comparing John M. Whitaker’s daily journal, held by the Western Americana Section, Marriott Library, University of Utah and Gene A. Sessions, ed., Mormon Democrat: The Religious and Political Memoirs of James Henry Mole (Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1975), 354-57.

[7] Although tightly knit to protect their religious beliefs, the Mormons were nonetheless strongly independent in many business activities. See Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation Among the Mormons Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1976. See also: Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom.