The completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 is a powerful master symbol, open to competing interpretations that often reveal the aspirations, attitudes, and anxieties of a given age. For many contemporary Americans, the meeting of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines at Promontory Point embodied the spirit of Manifest Destiny that had carried their exceptional nation across North America. The golden spike that joined the tracks also seemed to promise prosperity and unity after many years of division and war over slavery. This view still holds in popular histories and in commemorative organizations such as Spike 150, which recently marked the sesquicentennial with celebratory events across the West. Today, however, scholars are more inclined to associate the transcontinental railroad with Indigenous genocide, environmental destruction, economic excess, political corruption, and social inequality. In Railroaded: The Trans-continentals and the Making of Modern America, Richard White told “the story...

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