The Negley Land Grab of 1872

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In 1872 there was a group of proposed railroads that attempted to grab railroad transportation facilities, and Utah mineral resources, by anti-Mormon investors and businessmen, including U. S. Representative Negley of Pennsylvania. It was part of an anti-Mormon land grab, designed in part to wrest control of Utah's economy from Brigham Young and the Mormons. The first railroad that was proposed for the Sanpete region was the Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad. The organizers were able to gain the support of Congressman Negley of Pennsylvania, a supporter of strong anti-Mormon legislation, and one of the members of Congress who encouraged then-President Ulysses S. Grant to launch a crusade against the Mormons.

These new five railroads were apparently proposed more to occupy the territory for political reasons, than for either actual potential railroad traffic, or the benefit of local Utah communities, as was the case for the so-called Mormon Roads organized by Brigham Young and his associates.

Negley and his associates introduced legislation in December 1872 to allow a right-of-way and a land grant to the Little Cottonwood Railroad, one of the five railroads organized in September. Utah's non-voting Territorial delegate William H. Hooper was able to gain enough support in Congress to defeat the measure and kill the proposed law before it reached the House floor for consideration. The entire scheme came to light in February 1873 and the various pieces of legislation allowing each of the proposed railroads' huge land grants were all defeated in congressional committee. The potential fraud, encompassing five companies and over five hundred miles of railroad lines, all in Utah Territory, would have surely had the desired effect of non-Mormon control of the local economies.

This was at a time when the Union Pacific from Wyoming west to Ogden, and the Central Pacific west from Ogden, along with Utah Central between Ogden and Salt Lake City, and the Utah Southern south from Salt Lake City were the only railroad companies in the territory. The Utah Southern had just been completed to Draper in August 1872, and would be completed to Lehi in late September 1872.

During late 1872 and early 1873, in response to the sudden interest in Utah railroading by "outsiders", the Mormon church organized several railroads with similar routes and destinations as the five "land fraud" railroads.

These railroads organized by Young and his associates included the Juab, San Pete and Sevier Railroad Company which was organized on October 3, 1872, with Brigham Young as the principle shareholder. The newly chartered company was to build a narrow gauge railroad from Nephi, through Salt Creek Canyon into San Pete Valley. It would then proceed south to Marysvale for a total distance of about 120 miles, with a twelve mile branch to the coal beds near Fairview, a six mile branch to the coal beds near Wales, and a seven mile branch to Bullion, further south in Piute County. With the three branches the projected length of the railroad totaled about 140 miles.

President Young's plan was to begin grading the road and have it ready for rails by the time the Utah Southern Railroad had pushed its way south to Nephi, which was expected to be in 1873. His son, Joseph A. Young, joined him in the enterprise along with another son, LeGrand Young. Also in the enterprise was James Jack, Hiram B. Clawson, W. W. Riter, George A. Smith, Daniel H. Wells, George Q. Cannon, all of Salt Lake City, along with prominent church leaders in Sanpete county, Orson Hyde of Spring City, and George Peacock and A. J. Moffat, both of Manti.

A second Mormon railroad was the Southeastern Railroad Company of Utah, was chartered on December 3, 1872. This road was to be built from a connection with Utah Southern at or near Springville, proceed up Spanish Fork Canyon, cross into San Pete Valley and follow the San Pitch River to the Sevier Valley, ending at on a point on the Sevier River about 100 miles from Springville. Prominent Mormons from Salt Lake City, Provo, Springville, and Payson organized this enterprise. They included William Jennings, Horace S. Eldredge, William H. Hooper, James T. Little, all of Salt Lake City, along with Hiram B. Clawson, also of Salt Lake City, who had also been involved in the earlier Juab, San Pete, and Sevier Railroad. Also involved, among others, was A. O. Smoot from Provo and William Bringhurst from Springville. After the "Negley Land Grab" came to light, the interest in the Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad faded, as did the interest in the two Mormon railroads proposed to counteract the venture.

The Railroads

The Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad company was incorporated in Utah on September 10, 1872 "To operate a narrow gauge railroad from some point at or near the town of Manti, in the County of San Pete, Territory of Utah, then through the County of Utah to Salt Lake City, a distance of about 130 miles."

The Little Cottonwood Railroad company was incorporated in Utah on September 10, 1872 to build "From some point of intersection on the Utah Southern, or other railroad south of Salt Lake City and to run thence to Little Cottonwood Canon and up said canon as practicable - a distance of about 20 miles."

The Bingham Canyon Railroad company was incorporated in Utah on September 10, 1872 "To construct, own and operate a narrow gauge railroad from a point of intersection with the Utah Southern Railroad, or other railroad, at or near Sandy Station, to Bingham Canyon, so as to accommodate the mines therein, a distance of about 25 miles."

The Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad company was incorporated in Utah on September 11, 1872 "To construct, own and operate a railroad commencing at a point at or near Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Territory of Utah, thence in a southerly direction through the Counties of Salt Lake, Utah, and Juab, thence through Salt Creek Canyon into the San Pete Valley to the coal lands along said Valley, to a point at or near the town of Manti in San Pete County, thence in a southerly direction to the coal lands in Castle Valley, to a point at or near the town of Salina, in the County of Sevier, a distance of about 170 miles."

The Branch of the Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad company was incorporated in Utah on September 12, 1872 "To construct, own and operate a railroad commencing at a point on the Utah Southern Railroad at or near the town of Springville, in the County of Utah, Territory of Utah, thence in a southerly direction through Spanish Fork Canyon, thence across Thistle Valley into San Pete Valley, to intersect at some point in said Valley with the Salt Lake City & Salina Railroad in the County of San Pete, a distance of about 95 miles."

San Pete

The following comes from Reeder, page 353-356:

"A third probe of the "iron horse" into Sanpete County in 1872 was made by a group of Salt Lake City and Eastern Gentile speculators and promoters. The group was headed by I. Wentz Wilson (sic: James Wentz Wilson), W. C. Hendrie, George Field, Wells Spicer and Theo Haswell of Salt Lake City; J. A. Williamson of Des Moines, Iowa; and M. B. Valentine and and M. B. Dodge of New York City. These men and their associates chose September 10, 1872, to incorporate five separate railroad companies , with a total stock issue of $14,500, 000, to run a distance of about five hundred miles, all within Utah Territory. The main line of this ambitious scheme was the Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad Company which was to parallel the Utah Southern Railroad from Salt Lake City to Nephi where it was to swing up Salt Creek Canyon into Sanpete Valley and then south to Manti. The Bingham Canyon Railroad Company was to be an independent branch of this road, forming a junction at Sandy and then pushing west to the mines of Bingham Canyon. Another independent branch was to be the Little Cottonwood Railroad which was to extend deep into Little Cottonwood Canyon also from a junction at Sandy. The fourth line was the Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad with a route south from Salt Lake City through Camp Floyd, Ophir and then into Tintic where it was to proceed east to Nephi. It was to continue through Salt Creek Canyon into Sanpete Valley, to Manti and southeast through Castle Valley with a final plunge down Salina Canyon into Salina. The fifth road, the Branch of the Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad, was projected from a function with the Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad at Springville, through Spanish Fork Canyon to Thistle and Sanpete valleys and to a junction with the main line Salt Lake and Salina somewhere beyond its emergence from Salt Creek Canyon. A stipulation was placed in each company charter that it had the right to consolidate with other railroads.

"This gigantic enterprise was revealed to be a land grabbing scheme that the incorporators had entered into with Congressman Negley of Pennsylvania and Representative Clagett of Montana. These men introduced bills in the United States Congress to grant rights-of-way to the above named railroads; and the bills also provided for huge, unusual land grants which were to be awarded before construction even commenced. The fraud came to light in February of 1873; and Utah's delegate to Congress, William H. Hooper, was able to enlist the support of enough members of the House of Representatives to kill the bills in committee. The defeat of the land grab attempt also snuffed out any prospects that might have existed for the completion of this huge network of railroads, thus delaying for a time plans to drive a railroad into Sanpete Valley."

Little Cottonwood and Bingham Canyon

The following comes from Reeder, page 177-180:

"It was at this time, as the local papers began reporting the progress of grading on the Wasatch and Jordan Valley, that the proposed Little Cottonwood Railroad first came to the attention of the residents of Utah Territory. This road had filed articles of incorporation on September 10, 1872, a little more than a month prior to the incorporation of the Wasatch and Jordan Valley. The purpose of the Little Cottonwood Railroad Company was to build a line from Sandy Station to Little Cottonwood Canyon and then up the canyon as far as possible. Directing the activities of this company were I. Wentz Wilson (sic: James Wentz Wilson), George Field and W. C. Hendrie; these men had chartered the Bingham Canyon Railroad and the Cottonwood road on the same day.

"Apparently Wilson and his associates had gained the backing of United States Congressman Negley of Pennsylvania who was known as an advocate of strong anti-Mormon legislation and had encouraged President Grant to launch a crusade against the Saints. Negley introduced a bill in the House of Representatives on December 16, 1872, to grant the Little Cottonwood Railroad a right-of-way from Sandy to Alta. If approved, this federal bill would nullify the Utah charter granted to the Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad. Negley's bill also provided for an award of six sections of land per !me mile for the company. Speculation in Salt Lake City ran high. Was the purpose of the bill favoring the Little Cottonwood Railroad designed to lay claim to the road being laid by the Wasatch and Jordan Valley. All indications were that this was not the basic intention of the bill, although its passage certainly would have had that result. It was designed as an attempt to make a sizable land grab, and in many quarters the action caused indignation as the public was just becoming fully aware of the great tracts of public domain that railroads had previously been granted.

"The St. Louis Republican carried the following article:

"Now comes Mr. representative Negley, asking congress to incorporate the Little Cottonwood railroad company. The request seems modest enough, until we find hidden away in the belly of the Little Cottonwood bill a clause giving said corporation five or six sections of public land for each mile of road built. Then we see why Negley, and those for whom he acts, are so exceedingly anxious to be incorporated, and why Little Cottonwood should be promptly kicked out of court.

"The people are heartily tired of these land grabbing schemes; they have seen their ancestral domain filched from them by a horde of hungry speculators, until but a comparative fragment yet remains. . . .

"Negley's bill did not reach the floor of the House for consideration. The unfavorable national publicity, and the work of Utah's Territorial delegate to Congress, William H. Hooper -- who was also an officer and director of the W&JVRR -- were adequate to kill the bill in committee. This action ended the plans of the Little Cottonwood Railroad Company.

"The Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad had also submitted a bill to Congress at about the same time as the Negley bill requesting a right-of-way through the public domain. The bill did not contain provisions for land grants or any other financial considerations; it passed and became law in 1874."

Fraud Exposed

Clarence Reeder wrote:

"This was the third bill relating to Utah railroads or mining interests that Representative Negley had introduced in Congress. The two earlier bills were claimed to be necessary for developing Utah and rescuing the Gentiles from the blighting grasp of Mormon monopoly. The first bill was presented on April 18, 1872, to incorporate the Great Salt Lake and Colorado River Railway Company which was to have a right-of-way south from Salt Lake City to a connection on the Pacific. This would have conflicted with the interests of the Utah Southern Railroad. The second bill was to incorporate the Utah Railroad, Mining and Land Company. Its purpose was to develop the resources of the Territory of Utah; and to do this it was to be authorized to build roads, railroads and telegraphs, to open mines, erect smelting works, manufacturing establishments, etc., in Utah or almost anywhere else. This bill provided privileges that even the Credit Mobilier did not have. Deseret Evening News, February 26, 1873, citing The Pittsburg Leader, February 16, 1873."

(See also: Salt Lake Tribune, February 1, 1873; Salt Lake Herald, February 22, 1873; Deseret Evening News, February 26, 1873)

Biographical Notes

James S. Negley

James Scott Negley (December 22, 1826 – August 7, 1901)

22nd Pennsylvania District; Pittsburgh

March 4, 1869 – March 3, 1875 (41st, 42nd, 43rd Congress)

March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1887 (49th Congress)

Samuel A. Merritt

Samuel Augustus Merritt (August 15, 1827 – September 8, 1910)

Idaho Territory At-Large Congressional Delegate (non-voting)

Samuel A. Merritt; home Idaho City; March 4, 1871 – March 3, 1873 (42nd Congress)

Merritt moved to the Territory of Idaho in 1862. Merritt was elected as a Democrat to the Forty-second Congress (March 4, 1871 – March 3, 1873); he was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1872. He moved to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1873 and engaged in mining operations and the practice of law. He was city attorney 1888–1890, and served as a member of the Democratic National Committee in 1892. He was chief justice of the supreme court of the Territory of Utah 1894–1896. He died in Salt Lake City at age 83, and was interred in Salt Lake City Cemetery. (Wikipedia)

William H. Clagett

William Horace Clagett (September 21, 1838 – August 3, 1901)

Montana Territory At-large Congressional Delegate (non-voting)

William H. Clagett; home Deer Lodge; March 4, 1871 – March 3, 1873 (42nd Congress)

Clagett was a member of the Nevada Territorial House of Representatives in 1862 and 1863, was a member of the Nevada Assembly in 1864 and 1865 and practiced law in Virginia City, Nevada, Helena, Montana and Deer Lodge, Montana. He was elected a Republican from the Montana Territory to the United States House of Representatives in 1870, serving from 1871 to 1873, being unsuccessful for reelection in 1872. (Wikipedia)

William H. Hooper

William Henry Hooper (December 25, 1813 – December 30, 1882)

Utah Territory At-Large Congressional Delegate

William H. Hooper; home Salt Lake City; 36th Congress (1859–1861); 39th, 40th; 41st; 42nd (1865-1873)

On October 10, 1867, Hooper became a member of the Council of Fifty of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hooper was elected to the Thirty-ninth and to the three succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1873). He was not a candidate for renomination in 1872 and was succeeded by George Q. Cannon. He engaged in mercantile pursuits and mining operations in Salt Lake City.

Hooper was superintendent of Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) from 1873 to 1877, and its president from 1877 to 1882. He served as president of the Deseret National Bank, Salt Lake City, from 1872 until his death in 1882 in Salt Lake City. He was interred in Salt Lake City Cemetery.

James Wentz Wilson

(Very little online information found for James Wentz Wilson, or J. Wentz Wilson, except for two references in February 1873 of his being associated with the Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad. He was apparently a mining engineer from Colorado in the 1860s, who in the late 1880s became involved with several mining investment syndicates based in England.)

More Information

Clarence A. Reeder's "The History Of Utah's Railroads, 1869 - 1883," completed in 1970.