The only major U.S. railroad to be operated by westerners and the only railroad built from west to east, the Southern Pacific acquired a unique history and character. It also acquired a reputation, especially in California, as a railroad that people loved to hate. This magisterial history tells the full story of the Southern Pacific for the first time, shattering myths about the company that have prevailed to this day. A landmark account, Sunset Limited explores the railroad's development and influence—especially as it affected land settlement, agriculture, water policy, and the environment—and offers a new perspective on the tremendous, often surprising, role the company played in shaping the American West.
Based on his unprecedented and extensive research into the company's historical archives, Richard Orsi finds that, contrary to conventional understanding, the Southern Pacific Company identified its corporate well-being with population growth and social and economic development in the railroad's hinterland. As he traces the complex and shifting intersections between corporate and public interest, Orsi documents the railroad's little-known promotion of land distribution, small-scale farming, scientific agriculture, and less wasteful environmental practices and policies—including water conservation and wilderness and recreational parklands preservation.
Meticulously researched, lucidly written, and judiciously balanced, Sunset Limited opens a new window onto the American West in a crucial phase of its development and will forever change our perceptions of one of the largest and most important western corporations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
List of Illustrations
PART I: FOUNDATIONS
1. “These Mountains Look Too Ugly and I See Too Much Work Ahead”: Building the Southern Pacific Company, 1850–1930
2. Men of Vision: Southern Pacific Leaders, Land, Agriculture, and the Development of California and the West
PART II: LAND SETTLEMENT
3. “Stand on the Rights of the Company and Make a Square Fight of It”: Land-Grant Myths, Conflicts with Government, and Squatterism
4. The Mussel Slough Affair
5. A Land of “Well-tilled Little Farms”: Land-Grant Development
6. Promoting the Far West
PART III: WATER
7. “The Satisfactory Supply Is Yet Undiscovered”: The Southern Pacific as a Pioneer Water Developer
8. Private Irrigation
9. “This Splendid Country Is to Be Reclaimed”: Public Irrigation
10. “The Government Is Hard to Deal With”: Federal Reclamation
PART IV: AGRICULTURE
11. Promoting Scientific Agriculture
12. “The Damndest Railroading You Ever Heard Of”: Marketing the Produce of Western Farms
PART V: CONSERVATION
13. “Shall This Destruction Proceed?”: Wilderness Preservation
14. Conserving Forest and Rangeland Resources
A Note on Manuscript Sources
Abbreviations for Collections and Repositories
Richard Orsi is Professor Emeritus of History at California State University, Hayward, coauthor of The Elusive Eden: A New History of California (third edition, 2002), and editor of the California History Sesquicentennial Series.
"An extraordinary book by a master historian! Orsi demonstrates that the Southern Pacific was not simply a predatory corporation obsessed with maximizing its profits and political power; it had a strong sense of the public good and a devotion to building stable, prosperous communities. This superb book should be required reading for all historians of the West, business, and the environment."—Donald J. Pisani, author of Water and American Government
“This deep and extensive examination of the Southern Pacific's development activities in California will encourage readers to look beyond the overblown rhetoric of the railroad's many political enemies and see afresh its many positive economic accomplishments as it worked to build the Twentieth-Century West. Orsi’s presentation is as luminous as it is impressive”—Carlos Schwantes, author of Going Places: Transportation Redefines the Twentieth Century West
“This brilliantly researched and beautifully written study of one of America's greatest railroads offers wonderful insights into both transportation and Western history. Orsi places the early history of the Southern Pacific Railroad in proper focus by skillfully untangling the long-standing Octopus myth. This work deserves to be called a landmark in the field.”—H. Roger Grant, author of Follow the Flag: A History of the Wabash Railroad Company
"Sunset Limited illuminates not only the workings and ambitions of the Southern Pacific railroad but teaches us a great deal about the late nineteenth and early twentieth century American West as well. This is a wonderful scholarly study: remarkably thorough, ambitious, and gracefully rendered."—William Deverell, author of Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad, 1850-1910
Hilton Award for Railroad History, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society
Spur Awards Finalist- Best Western Nonfiction - Historical (to 1900), Western Writers of America
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