Yellowstone County MTGenWeb

Yellowstone County History

NPR History & Effects of the 1864 Land Grant

(Part I)




From Inception Through 1875[i]


In looking back in time, we generally associate the building of this railroad as being a private venture, without the benefit of government money. We also are led to believe that the railroad track was following the route published within numerous early maps; excepting that in crossing the Yellowstone River, it was changed from Glendive Creek to Coulson. The NPR history files published by the railroad after Frederick Billings assumed the presidency in 1875 defined the route as such. This was not the route that started it all, nor was it a private venture. Just how well you know the construction will be attempted to be answered for the following questions:

  • Who created the firm?
  • Who are the directors/managers?
  • Where did financing originate?
  • Why was NPR late starting construction?
  • What was the extent of their land grant & their rights?
  • Which lands were excluded in the grant?
  • What was the construction cost?
  • Who benefited best from the rail line?
    • These and other concerns are the topic of this presentation.


In the very beginning Congress managed and funded ‘their’ railroad.



This is how it all began ------


Numerous settlers were leaving the eastern regions of the United States, and journeying west into the Oregon Territory and northern parts of California. This huge migration essentially split the country into two halves: the East and the West. Management of the country became extremely difficult, as the round-trip journey between the two parts took about a year. Discussions about relocating the Capitol City to a point midway between the two parts was openly discussed, but determined to be unsatisfactory by the Legislature. Thus a need for better transportation was established. In between these two parts was a large chunk of land occupied primarily by fur trappers, army personnel, sutlers (store keepers), and Indian Nations[ii], plus some residents and towns. This was the remains of the Louisiana Purchase, in which various treaties had been made between the US and the Indian Nations. In order to establish better communications between the two US halves, Congress determined the best method at that time for travel, was to build a railroad connecting the two halves. This required a new Treaty be established defining and permitting the passage of settlers by roads and rail, construction of telegraph lines, and building of supply depots and forts through land occupied by the Indian Nations. Thus, a meeting to discuss and negotiate such needs with the various Nations was called to convene at Fort Laramie in 1851.


Attending the Treaty meeting were Father DeSmet, Jim Bridger, the US Treaty Representatives, and the Indian Nations representatives. During the meeting, the members agreed to the negotiated conditions; although Crazy Horse and Red Cloud (Sioux Nation) refused to be a part of the negotiations, the remaining elders approved the Treaty. During the Treaty discussions, Jim Bridger sketched out the Indian Nations Reservation Boundaries to all attendee’s satisfaction. Father DeSmet took the Bridger map details with him to St Louis where he created the Fort Laramie Treaty Map of 1851. This map clearly defines the Reservation Boundaries; however, the treaty wording for the Crow Reservation’s northern boundary omitted a small closure line, causing much discussion in later years; and apparently all who argued about that fact, failed to look at the map.

 The land-split between the Crow and Sioux Nations is shown to be on the Powder River, see details coordinated onto current map coordinates. The “not-connected” segment is shown as a dashed line.


Ever since this Treaty, the Sioux Leaders have challenged the Treaty Boundary, claiming much more land was to be theirs, and that the land-split between the Crow and Sioux was to be on the Big Horn River. This interpretation had some obvious input into the future battles between the Military and the Sioux (up to 1876), but only a wee bit. The Ft Laramie Treaty, which never existed, was probably the main cause of dissatisfaction by both sides.


When this signed Treaty was delivered to the US Senate, the Senate members closed their doors and held secret meetings to discuss the terms for about a year. This resulted in them changing all negotiated points to suit themselves, and then they shoved the revised Treaty into the archives. It never saw the ‘light of day.’ In the meanwhile, the Treaty called for food and supplies to be issued to these Nations on a continual basis, and that the Indians are to remain on their Reservations. Those who stayed were virtually destitute, and those who foraged elsewhere were being hunted by the Military. Not one person at that time (near as I can find) realized that the 1851 Treaty wasn’t enacted, thus no new food & supply contract orders were issued. Concurrently with this Treaty’s discussion in the Senate, various members initiated bills for establishing a railroad route between the two US halves. Three routes were approved for survey: Northern Pacific Railroad (NPR), Central Pacific Railroad (CPR) & Southern Pacific Railroad (SPR). The NPR single-line survey contract worth $150,000 in 1853 was given to Isaac Stevens, the newly appointed Oregon Territory Governor. The other two lines had both a primary line and an alternate line to be surveyed. During and after the surveys Congressional members were rounding up votes for their choice of a line. Lobbying was intense. The Central Pacific Line won the contest, and construction was started. The NPR and Southern Lines lay dormant.


The NPR Route Survey Line (1853-1854)


The contract called for a land survey to: 1) establish the detailed center of the line, 2) the route from St Paul to Puget Sound, 3) land & local area general survey within 20-miles of the track centerline, 4) establishment of major streams and rivers location and their headwaters, 5) report on location and condition of Indian Tribes within the surveyed area and 6) costs and revenue plans for construction. Edwin Johnson (Corps of Engineers) in 1853 took Steven’s information and created a map showing the complete route proposed by Stevens (rr000240.sid).


Stevens created three map sections[1] released two years later that show the overall route proposed for NPR, although fully detailed route survey segments were created and defined in several volumes of notes and maps. The first section goes from St Paul to latitude 102 degrees. The top section depicts the railroad grade. This section runs northwest towards the Yellowstone-Missouri Rivers’ junction, and incorporates three lines adjoining existing Lake Superior shipping points.


The second section runs from latitude 102 to the Rocky Mountains. It follows along the north bank of the Missouri River to Fort Benton, and then southwest to the mountain passes, trestles & tunnels.


The third section continues on to Puget Sound. After crossing the Rocky Mountains, the route follows along the north side of the Columbia River. Both the name ‘Puget Sound’, St Paul, and the Columbia River locations will become areas of great contention that virtually stop the railroad from its pre-destined existence when enacted to be constructed.


 Although St Paul was the planned origin of NPR’s route, Stevens proposed that “feeder” lines be created from Lake Superior to junctions on the NPR railroad line.


Note: Lake Superior had three major shipping ports at the southern end of the lake at this time and as noted on the maps. Later there were more.


The line ended at Fort Vancouver (Puget Sound) on the west coast, but additional areas where large populaces were beginning to form, were mapped for possible additions. Stevens recorded many journal articles about the decrepit condition of the Indian Tribes he visited along the way and sent scathing reports to his superiors. It was very apparent that no support was being supplied to the villagers who remained on the reservations, and many had died, and many more were starving. All tribal members he met were very appreciative of his personal efforts, but they wondered why they were being neglected.


In 1854 Lt Warren, Topographer Engineer, Corps of Engineers, created a combination map depicting the routes for all three surveys (dg4137.sid). Following this mapping exercise, the politicians and various lobbyists began furious campaigns to select their specific desires for a transcontinental route. Isaac Stevens became quite ill, and was unable to effectively lobby for the NPR route, and it was set aside in favor of the Central Pacific Railroad Route[2]. Co-incidentally, the precise mapping of Montana Territory completed by his team was set aside, and not released until after 1857. After this time, maps released by various agencies reflected merely the Isaac Stevens route, without identification as to it being the NPR route. For over ten-years this route lay dormant. The details he left actually created the true mapping of Montana. It appears that no one was advised of this, excepting the military. It is extremely accurate.


By 1860, the Nebraska Territory occupied most of the remaining vestiges of the Louisiana Purchase. Settlers were pouring into the west coast in ever increasing numbers, and more and better transportation in the northern corridor was clearly needed. Congress resurrected the 1853-54 Stevens survey, and initiated the construction of the railroad, which was formally approved in July, 1864. The basic requirements are noted below in HR 483:


HR 483 - April 2, 1864

    • Joint Resolution of Congress establishing NPR & Government startup funding as later approved by the President on July 2nd.
    • This resolution is very extensive and provides for most all conditions that can be thought about in advance of the actual effort.

Established under Section 1 were:


      • “Northern Pacific Railroad Company”, shall have perpetual succession & a common seal.
      • A branch line from Puget Sound to Portland shall be established (Note: Puget Sound is an unknown specific location entity)
      • 1,000,000 shares of private corporate stock shall be created, value = $100 ea.
        • Bought with $10.00 down, annual interest on $100 is 6%.
      • This Act provides for construction of railroad & telegraph lines from Lake Superior to Puget Sound above the 45th latitude
      • The GLO established a 40-mile fixed corridor about the Steven’s track centerline route on July 5th. No lands within the odd-numbered sections could be used for new homesteading opportunities. This was transmitted to all offices.
      • Construction costs were estimated from previous analysis as:
        • Estimated 2,000 miles of track (Lake Superior to Puget Sound)
        • All odd-numbered sections of land on each side or track within corridor are set aside for NPR (20 mi in states; 40 mi in territories)
        • Each section assumed to be 640 acres
        • 40,000,000 acres x $2.50/acre[3] = $100 MIL (eventual land sale)
        • 2,000 mi x $35,000/mi (construction costs) = $70 MIL total cost
      • All congressional representatives (Senators & Representatives) were appointed as “Board of Commissioners”: and from this body, 15 of them were to be considered a quorum for business transactions.
      • Within 3-months, five of the commissioners residing in MA are to convene the corporation’s first meeting and appoint the operating NPR officers (President, Vice President, ‘Secretary & Treasurer’ from the Congressional Board members.
      • The Board is authorized to request stock issuance for NPR Construction from the US Treasurer (who is also the NPR treasurer) as needed for construction.
      • The Board is to (within six-months) receive lists of stock subscriptions collected by NPR management.
      • Such subscriptions are to be bought with 10% cash down. (Par Value = $100)
      • When 20,000 shares are received, NPR President shall call for a subscription-holders meeting. ($200,000 in actual cash)
      • The subscription-holders shall then elect 13 corporate directors from the Congressional members of their choosing for the actual NPR Board.
      • The Congressional Members Board shall cease to exist at this time, and all books, etc. are to be delivered to the newly elected NPR President.
    • Under Section 2:
      • Right of Way through all Public Lands is granted.
      • NPR is granted right, power & authority to take from public lands* adjacent to the right of way: timber, stone, earth, and so forth, as needed for the construction. (This empowers NPR to take whatever is needed without additional RIGHTS)
      • The right of way extends 200 feet on each side of the actual track location.

*Mineral lands are excluded; but in 1879 Congress added gravel to the list of minerals, allowing NPR to take millions of acres of forest land in exchange. Many more corridors of land are required. Also, many prospective homesteaders on the even-numbered sections lost or abandoned their title claims. (Check the BLM listings to determine if your ancestor is one of these persons – the list is very large.)

      • The right of way includes all necessary land for station buildings, workshops, depots, machine shops, switches, side tracks, turn-tables, and water stations.
      • The right of way is exempt from taxation within the Territories of the United States.
      • The United States shall extinguish (existing) Indian titles to all lands acquired/needed by NPR in donation to the road.
      • Every alternate section of public (domain) land, not classified as mineral*, and designated by odd numbers, to the amount of 20 alternate sections per mile on each side of the RR line, through the territories shall be assigned to NPR. (80 – miles total)
      • Ten alternate sections of land per mile on each side of said RR line whenever it passes through a state shall be assigned to NPR.

*United States retains full title, not “reserved, sold, granted, or otherwise appropriated, and free from pre-emption (squatters), or other claims or rights, and when the NPR line is definitely fixed, and a plat is to be filed in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office; excepting--------Should any of said sections or parts of sections have been granted, sold, reserved, occupied by homestead settlers, or pre-empted, or otherwise disposed of, then other lands in odd numbered sections shall be selected by NPR in lieu thereof (Sec of Interior to concur)

      • Lands "in-lieu” shall be selected from a pre-emptive strip of land bordering the corridor not exceeding ten miles in width on each side. (this added 20-miles width to the 80-mile corridor)
      • The corridor is now 100 miles wide (later increased to 120 mi due to large influx of settlers and identification of mineral lands)
      • No money shall be withdrawn from the treasury of the United States to aid in the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad.(HA-HA)
        • Note: Congress pays 6% interest on the NPR $100 bonds held by investors that they released at a $10 cost; until the RR is completed! (Investor income = $6.00 per year on the interest. For their $10 investment)
        • NPR may acquire other railroad companies whose tracks exist along intended route, along with their existing rights.

HR 483 Demands – Sec 4 (These verge on total lunacy)

§         When NPR completes 25 consecutive miles of railroad and telegraph, the US President shall appoint three commissioners to examine and verify that work was completed as stated.

§         Commissioners are required to verify, send report to the President; and if okayed by the President, they are to call for issuance of rights and titles to all odd numbered land sections due NPR in each of the 25-mile plats so issued.

      • No more than ten sections of land titles & rights per mile are to be delivered to NPR in MN until all tracks within that state are finally completed & verified.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 5 (Special Demands for Construction)

§         NPR RR line to be constructed in a substantial and workmanlike manner, with all the necessary draws, culverts, bridges, viaducts, crossings, turnouts, stations, and watering places, and all other appurtenances, including furniture, and rolling stock, etc., equal in all respects to other first class railroads

§         NPR shall not charge the government higher rates than they do to other individuals for like transportation and telegraphic service

§         NPR integration with other railroad lines for travel is authorized

§         Other railroads to be built by the United States to be treated fairly & with equitable terms when joined with NPR


HR 483 Demands – Sec 6

§         The President of the United States shall have lands surveyed for forty miles in width on both sides of the entire RR line - after the actual route is fixed.

§         The odd sections of land granted to NPR shall not be available for sale, entry, or pre-emption before or after they are surveyed, except by NPR.

§         Reserved alternate even sections of land [in the 120-mile corridor] shall not be sold for less than $2.50/acre.

§         Initial domain land value was $1.25/acre before RR line


HR 483 Demands – Sec 7

§         NPR is authorized and empowered to enter, purchase, take, and hold all lands or premises that are needed for construction and working of RR not to exceed width of 200 feet on each side of the centerline of the track.

§         Unless a greater width be required for the purpose of excavation or embankment

§         Plus other lands as needed for their operation; e.g., irrigation ditches, service roads & accesses [Note: This clause simply means that NPR can extract water from a source and route it to their point of need via ditches or transport it by other means. Same is true of roads and accesses. No additional or formal restatement or filing of Rights; eg., Water, Access, etc. is required.]

    • NPR has the right to cut and remove trees and other material that might, by falling or encumber its road-bed though standing or being more than 200 feet from the track centerline.

§         Appraisal of land value, if contested for use by NPR, shall be determined by law within 6-years [with the government attorneys].

§         Plaintiff shall pay court fees in such claims. (Claims clearly not viably permitted)


HR 483 Demands – Sec 8

§         NPR shall start work on RR construction within three years from the approval of this act by the President, and shall complete not less than fifty miles per year after the second year. (required start date is July 1867)

§         NPR shall complete the whole road [and all operational facilities] by July 4, 1876.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 9

§         Should NPR breach the conditions hereof, and allow the same to continue for upwards of one year; then------- Congress may do any and all acts, which may he needful and necessary to insure [ensure] a speedy completion of the RR.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 10

§         All people of the United States shall have the right to subscribe to NPR bonds until the $100 MIL is used up.

§         Mortgage or construction bonds (stock certificates) shall NOT be issued by NPR on road, land, or property lien, unless permitted by Congress.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 11

§         The NPR route shall be a post route and a military road, subject to the use of the United States, for postal, military, naval, and all other government service.

§         It shall be subject to such regulations as Congress may impose.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 12

Acceptance of these terms to be made within 2-years by the NPR President (July 1866)


HR 483 Demands – Sec 13

§         NPR directors shall make an annual report of their proceedings and expenditures.

§         NPR shall fix, determine, and regulate the fares, tolls, and charges to be received and paid for transportation of persons and property on said road.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 14

§         The NPR treasurer and secretary shall give bonds, with such security as the board from time to time may require.

§         No person shall be a director of NPR unless he is a stockholder and qualified to vote for the directors.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 15

§         NPR offices for the period indicated in the by-laws, shall not exceed three years.

§         Seven members, including the president, shall be a quorum for the transaction of business, and shall have full power including all acts and things touching the location and construction of the road.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 16

§         NPR directors are to require payment of 10% cash for all $ 100 bond subscriptions received, and balance due at some later time. (Note: Balance due date not identified or located.)


HR 483 Demands – Sec 17

§         NPR is authorized to accept for its own use any grant donation, loan, power, franchise, aid, or assistance which may be granted to or conferred upon them.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 18

§         NPR shall obtain the consent of each state’s legislature through which any portion of the railroad line may pass prior to construction.

§         Note: Conflicts with Congress’ prior commitment

§         Placing engineers and survey teams on the route before obtaining consent of state legislature is granted.

§         Note: President of the US to assign teams!


HR 483 Demands – Sec 19

Unless NPR obtains bona fide initial subscriptions for the bonds in the amount of $20,000,000 (with 10% paid by subscribers, within two years after the passage and approval of this act), the act shall be null and void


HR 483 Demands – Sec 20

§         Congress may, at any time, having due regard for the rights of NPR, to add to, alter, amend, or repeal this act.


HR 483 Demands – Sec 21

§         Before any land granted by this act is conveyed to NPR there shall be first paid into the treasurer of the United States the gross cost of surveying, selecting, and conveying the same, without any further appropriation, stand to the credit of the proper account to be used by the Commissioner of the General Land Office for the prosecution of the survey of the public land.

§         NPR obtains this funding from US Backed bonds

§         Passed the House of Representatives May 31, 1864


After passage and approval from the Senate and the President, the following additions were introduced to amend the Act of 1864:


SR 124 - Feb 24, 1865

§Authorizes the Northern Pacific Railroad Company to invest its funds in government securities for certain purposes (not defined)

SR 124 Demands

§Certificates for shares of the capital stock, paid in full, may be issued by NPR, bearing interest at six per cent from their date, payable on January 15, 1866 and semi-annually on July 15 & January 15 thereafter until January 1875, after which interest shall cease, and then the dividends paid to be dependant on performance.

§Referred to Committee of the Pacific for review on March 1, 1865.

SR 124 Demands (Basic Needs)

§NPR is authorized to invest its moneys arising from sale of government stock.

§NPR is required to deposit fifty per cent of all such sales invested in government securities, into the treasury of the United States.

§To remain in permanent security for the payment of the interest on all its stock.

§Accrued interest shall, when stock is due and payable, be paid to NPR & applied to the payment of the interest upon its stock.

SR 124 Demands – Sect #2

§U.S Treasurer is authorized and required to receive such deposits.

§Funds to be held in a special account by the US Treasurer.

SR 124 Demands – Sect #3

§The US guarantees payment of interest on the NPR stock so issued.

§US has no liability on their part beyond the amount of the securities deposited in the treasury.

SR 124 Demands – Sect #4

§NPR board of directors is required to issue to the Secretary of the Treasury, on December 1st of each year, a report showing the number of shares of stock issued including:

§the amount of government securities deposited in the treasury,

§the amount of interest received by NPR from the treasurer accruing from the deposited securities, and

§the amount of interest paid by NPR upon its stock.


S 387 Resolutions

§Secretary of the Treasury is authorized and directed, when the NPR commissioners report completion of 25 or more consecutive miles of track:

§the payment of the interest on the NPR stock on the portion of track thus completed, and at the rate per mile computed.

§for a period not exceeding 20 years from the date of issue, at the annual rate of six %.

§Verify the stock issued agrees with the contract

S 387 Resolutions – Sec 2

§NPR shall, on the first days of April and October each year, pay the United States so much of the proceeds of the sales of all the lands situated all the south side of the railroad track, as necessary to reimburse the government for interest received from the US.

§Should the above not be sufficient, NPR shall pay into the treasury ½ of their net earnings so as to equal the amount paid by the government for interest.

S 387 Resolutions – Sec 3

§None of the lands granted to NPR shall be subject to any general or local tax for any purpose whatever until the lands are sold and conveyed to new owner.

§All expenses for engineering and commissioners required by this act shall be paid by NPR.

§lands to which NPR is entitled shall not be subject to any general or local taxation for any purpose whatever for a period of five years after the issuing of a patent (from the GLO).

S 387 Resolutions – Sec 4

§All the privileges, grants, rights, immunes, limitations, and restrictions of the original act incorporating the Northern Pacific Railroad Company shall be considered to apply to all such future successors.

§Act not to be construed to authorize any pledge of credit of the United States further than originally agreed.


S 387 Resolutions – Sec 5

§3/4ths of NPR board of directors shall always be citizens of the United States,

§[and that no money shall be paid on account of this bill until audited]

§Puget Sound means the waters connected with Straits of Juan de Fuca. (Note: Congress had a very difficult time in understanding where Puget Sound was actually located, as this was an extensive marsh land.

S 387 Resolutions – Sec 6

§This act shall take effect on and after its passage.

§Congress may at any term alter, amend, or, repeal this act.


SR 223 Demands

§Consent of Congress is given to NPR to issue bonds, and to secure same by mortgage upon its road

§Used to raise funds to construct railroad and telegraph line between Lake Superior and Puget Sound

§Used to incorporate NPR and is construed to mean all the waters connected with the Straits of Juan de Fuca in the United States, and a branch line to Portland

§bonds to be issued at a rate not exceeding $32,000/mi

SR-121 Mortgage Demands

§NPR authorized to issue bonds to aid in the construction and equipment of its road, and to secure the same by mortgage on its property and rights of property of all kinds

§Basically restates the 1864 Act, but simply (over 30 pages) now permits funding my mortgage of pending land.

§Several Amendments were attached dictating some changes in wording and terms.

SR-121 Amendment (Welker)

§New grants for additional land shall be sold by NPR to actual settlers at a price not exceeding $2.50* per acre, and

§Land sale shall not exceed 160 acres per person.


§* Was Minimum of $2.50/acre

SR-121 Amendment (Hawley)

§Repeated Welker’s amendment and added:

§NPR’s mortgage shall not operate so as to prevent the sale to actual settlers only

§Any violation by NPR of this condition shall cause forfeiture by NPR of all their land grants.

SR-121 Amendment (Williams)

§Congress reserves right to regulate and limit freight rates and fares of passengers on railroad

SR-121 Amendment (Loughridge)

§Mortgages executed by NPR upon grant lands shall have no validity as an encumbrance on NPR until NPR has received conveyance of such lands by the government.

SR-121 Amendment (Van Wick)

§NPR shall not charge over $.05 per mile for each passenger carried,

§NPR shall not charge freight rates in excess of 10% of the rates charged by other railroads from the Mississippi River east to the Atlantic seaboard.

§NPR shall not issue mortgage bonds or create indebtedness over $100,000,000.

§NPR shall transport US troops and munitions of war free of charge.

SR-121 Amendment (Winans)

§Strike out these words:

§"That in the construction of the said railroad,  iron or steel only shall be used, the same to be manufatured from American ores exclusively."

SR-121 Amendment (Finkelnburg)

§Insert following in referring to Portland branch line going eastward from the coast:

§"not more than three hundred miles from its western terminus”

SR-121 Amendment (Ingersoll)

§Mortgages executed by NPR shall not be valid or create any lien on the lands granted to NPR, until NPR has received the land patents from the United States.

SR-121 Amendment (Arnell)

§Even numbered sections of land on the line of the NPR and its branch [to Portland], and alternate to the sections granted to NPR to an equal number of sections so granted are hereby, donated, and shall be conveyed in trust by patent to a board of thirteen commissioners, appointed by the US President , and this board shall be called “Freedmen's Homestead Commission”

SR-121 Amendment (Arnell-pg2)

§Lands conveyed may be sold; mortgaged, or otherwise disposed of by the Freedman’s Commission

§Proceeds of sale shall be applied for the procurement of homesteads for settlement by persons formerly held in slavery and their descendants, and for education of same

SR-121 Amendment (Arnell-Sec#2)

§Freedman’s commission shall make all necessary rules and regulations for sale and disposal of lands donated in trust commission.

§The commission shall make a full report of its doings at each regular session of Congress.

SR-121 Amendment (Davis)

§The mortgage to be executed under provisions of this section shall not be construed to carry greater rights or privileges than possessed originally.


SR-121 Amendment (Smith)

§Correct typo & clarifications added

SR-121 Amendment (Coburn)

§Clarified corporation definition.

SR-121 Amendment (Asper)

§Removed some wording errors.

SR-121 Amendment (Conger)

§If NPR refuses the grant conditions nothing shall be construed to limit any effort Congress may take to build the railroad through domain land

SR-121 Amendment (Lawrence)

§Military personnel loyal to the government for at least 90 days shall, without payment of any fee or commission to any register or receiver of any land office, be entitled to enter one quarter section of land, not mineral, of the alternate reserved sections of public lands along NPR or other public works

§Every person entitled to the benefit of this act may locate on ¼ section provided in one entire ¼ Section or more than two subdivisions of a quarter section less than four miles apart.

SR-121 Amendment (Lawrence- 2)

§United States shall have the right, at all times, to take possession of and own the railroad by paying the actual cost to date.

SR-121 Amendment (Amber)

§Remove words “rights of property” in 1st Section.

SR-121 Amendment (Fitch)

§Only American citizens are permitted to subscribe to the stock, or purchase mortgage bonds of said road, and none of the lands shall be taken out of the country,

§American citizens shall he permitted to ride on NPR road without charge.

SR-121 Amendment (McNeely)

§NPR shall pay into the treasury of the States or Territories through which it shall pass, 7% of the gross earnings of NPR’s railroad,

§A portion to be paid to each State or Territory prorated on number of miles of road operated within each area.

SR-121 Amendment (Sargent)

§Clarification comments only.

SR-121 Amendment (Maynard)

§NPR can still build the line under the original incorporation.

SR-121 Amendment (Crebs)

§All lands granted shall be sold by NPR within 15 years after the date of completion.

§Lands still owned after that date are to be returned to the US.

§Lands sold w/o value, those contracts are to be considered null & void.

SR-121 Amendment (Clarke)

§All lands shall be immediately open to settlement, and shall be sold to actual settlers only, who are entitled to patents.

§Land to be at the price of $2.50 per acre.

§After 20miles of track is laid, NPR to advertise such land for sale.

§Many other minor restrictions on NPR applied.

SR-121 Amendment (Randall)

§Nothing in this act shall be construed as a guarantee, by the US of the bonds sold by NPR or agents, or as authorized by this act.

§END OF ALL AMENDMENTS to the 1864 Act.


Board of Commissioners - 1864

All Congressional members who voted for the passage of HR 483 were selected to manage the startup of NPR. Josiah Perham (MA), a member of the Board was elected President of NPR – serving from Dec 7, 1864 to Jan 5, 1866. John Gregory Smith (VT), also a Board member, was elected to serve as NPR President from Jan 5, 1866 to November 11, 1872. These persons hand a very difficult time learning how to manage a start-up corporation. Most all of the funding received went towards financing very lavish life styles; virtually nil went towards the construction. Two major operational concerns surfaced that caused the railroad to delay the construction start: 1) How should the line connect with the shipping port(s) at Lake Superior, and 2) Where should the line alongside of the Columbia River be located. Both concerns were hampered by political insider fighting, as virtually each congressional person wanted his constituents to benefit. Some wanted the line to be routed in Oregon, and not Washington, as Oregon was now a state, and the amount of grant land would be severely reduced. Obviously, the management team lost sight of construction and the years approached a decade, all without any real progress.


Board of Commissioners’ Mandate & NPR Actions



Timeline of NPR (1864-1870)

§NPR (Congress) failed to sell $20,000,000 worth of stock-shares by 1866; voiding the land grant act. Additionally NPR failed to start construction until 1870 & two extensions moved completion to July 4, 1883.

§NPR 2nd president John Smith & the largest bank in America “Jay Cooke & Company” asked Congress to permit NPR to mortgage the yet-to-be-identified land grant acreages in lieu of Congressional backed shares.

§Influential persons were given liberal loans, etc., so as to get votes to pass the legislation (SR 121).

§Note: Extracted from NPR secretarial files, MN His Soc.


Timeline of NPR (1867)

The NPR Board of Directors tries to find external financing w/o success and commissions Edwin F Johnson to start surveys & recommend routes for the track.


Route Selection used by Congress for the 1864 Grant was the Stevens 1853-554 Survey It ran from St Paul northwest to Fort Union on Missouri River, then it followed the  high plateau north of Missouri River to Ft Benton and then on to the Great Falls of the Missouri. After crossing the Rockies it followed the Columbia River to Puget Sound (north side).


NPR Route Plan in 1867 Lake Superior to the Dakotas

NPR’s management still hadn’t decided upon a route for the train, and was ignoring the original Steven’s survey, which contained the ‘blocked-out odd-sections of land’. During the preceding decade the western frontier had changed drastically, with settlers pushing into the south-western parts of Montana due mainly to the discovery of gold. It appeared that a straight line towards the Yellowstone River was a better choice. NPR contacted Edwin F Johnson and appointed him Chief Engineer in May 1866; and placed him in charge of route. General Ira Spaulding was assigned to survey two proposed routes, meaning that another choice had to be made:

§Crow Wing-(Superior City-Crow Wing River-Otter Tail Creek-Red River to Cheyenne River)

§Sauk Rapids-(Bayfield-Sauk Rapids-Breckenridge-Red River to Cheyenne River)


NPR Route Plan in 1867 Dakota to the Rockies

NPR decided to cross the Missouri River at Fort Clark (30 mi North of Bismarck), then west to Glendive Creek on the Yellowstone River and follow it west staying on the high plateau to north of the river. This route converges at a point 20 mi north of the Big Horn River – passes through Judith & Belt Mountain passes, then  through “Gate of the Mountains”- up the Missouri & Deerborn Rivers to Codotte’s Pass. A branch line from the convergent point north of the Yellowstone River to Big Horn City was added. (Big Horn City was established on the banks of the two rivers where they joined together. This a major mail stop.)


NPR Route Plan in 1867 Western End to Eastern Connection

This route almost followed 1853-54 Steven’s route. Examination of line cost options compared construction costs with freight revenue & transportation costs for each segment. General James Tilton was surveyor for eastward segment from Puget Sound. The completed line cost was based on 1,775 miles total track, at a cost of $140,377,500 for construction, and another $16,480,000 for a branch to Portland. Construction cost average was estimated at $79,421/mile.


NPR Route Plan in 1867 Lake Superior Harbor Search

Meanwhile, the NPR team was trying to decide where on Lake Superior they would start the line. Four prime choices awaited their decision. Each were politically motivated as being the best port for cargo: Chegwamigon Bay, Lake Shore at Apostle Island, Superior Bay at Superior City, or Superior Bay at Duluth.


NPR Financial Concerns, 1867-1869 (NPR under Congressional MGMT)

Money was raised to pay for surveys, but no money was available for construction. In April 1869 the survey recommendations for the final route was presented to Chief Engineer Johnson for consideration (Almost five years to reach this decision point!) Jay Cooke & Co. was presented with these route plans for finances; but no action could be taken until the full route was examined by them! The survey indicated cost would be $85,277,000 ($42,638 per mi). Cooke later after knowing more about the route, agreed to finance the construction, and let $100,000,000 in bonds with a 7-3/8th interest (payable in gold). Both the grant land and track line were attached to the bonds as collateral. NPR had tried to get more federal funding, but was denied access. Congress granted a 2nd two-year extension for starting construction (now placed at July 4, 1871).


Timeline of NPR (1869)

On March 1st – Congress changes its mind and allows NPR to issue bonds secured by mortgage on their new route. Both the railroad land & telegraph operations were mortgaged for construction. In April the preliminary survey report was prepared, and on May 20th – Jay Cooke & Company agreed to assume financial responsibility of the railroad. In June – W Milnor Roberts was commissioned (by Cooke) for center of track surveys w/Sam Wilkeson.


Timeline of NPR (1870)

On Jan 1-Agreement with Cooke was signed; on Feb 15-a ground breaking ceremony was held at Thompson Junction (Carlton, MN.) On Mar 9-Samuel Wilkeson elected secretary of NPR and on Apr 7-two-thirds stock in St Paul & Pacific RR was acquired. On May 31-Congress permits NPR to issue construction bonds. The rules for land acquisition was revised on Jul 15 when Congress grants Civil War vets homesteads on NPR original land grants (eg., Northern Route.) In August-the Lake Superior & Mississippi RR linked with NPR to St Paul & Duluth. Track laying in MN finally started. On August 13th-preliminary maps of the route in MN, OR & WA were filed. Newly appointed officers for management of NPR took control:

§John Gregory Smith – Pres* (Vermont)

§Richard D Rice – VP* (Maine)

§Samuel Wilkerson – Secretary

§AH Barney – Treasurer

§W Milnor Roberts – Engineer-in-Chief

§DC Linsley – Ass’t Engineer-in-Chief

*Denotes Congressional Member from Original Board of Commissioners


As part of the 1870 restructuring, both the NPR Board and the Executive Committee were revised. (Note the Congressional membership continues)


§John Gregory Smith (VT)

§Richard D Rice (ME)

§Thomas H Canfield (VT)

§William H Odgen (IL)

§William G Moorhead (PA)

§William G Fargo (NY)

§RP Cheney (MA)

§George W Cass (PA)

§Frederick Billings (VT)

§William Windom (MN)

§----Stinson (IL)

§----Felton (PA)

§Charles R Wright (PA)

§Samuel Wilkerson (Secretary)

§Executive Committee Members


§Gregory Smith

§William G Moorhead

§George W Cass

§Richard D Rice

§Charles R Wright

§Frederick Billings


Trustee for 1st Mortgages was J Edgar Thompson Cooke, and through Jay Cooke’s persuasive efforts money was freely given to Congressmen for their votes. Loans and NPR stock was also liberally given to various Congressmen, VP Colfax, Horace Greeley of the NY Tribune - and other influential editors. Financial interest in NPR’s plan to build the railroad was made possible by giving stock to President Hayes, Secretary of Treasury Hugh McCulloch, and Henry Ward Beecher. Other influential people whose assistance assured success were Ulysses S Grant, John C Freemont and many others.


One of the more interesting maps was published 1870 in Germany, Pacific Eisenbahnen (rr00177.sid), and showing the proposed optional routes created from the notes of NPR’s surveyors. It forms a different route structure than what is normally indicated on American maps. It originates from the south tip of Lake Superior.


Jay Cooke & Public Relation Efforts (1870-1873)

In the beginning the NPR board attempted to sell bonds almost entirely by recommendation to persons of wealth. This concept was doomed from the very beginning as the general populace was left out. Sam Wilkeson, hired by Cooke for promotion of the line’s advantages, published glowing accounts of the western land, comparing land in Montana to that of southern Ohio’s mildness for example. The idea took hold! Newspapers failing to publish glowing accounts of NPR’s purpose and advantages in transportation were threatened with losses to their advertising, and editors were threatened by loss of their jobs. This was a ‘tough-sell’ time for the railroad. The concept worked and Jay Cooke was able to sell $30 Million of bonds by 1871; mostly from savings of farmers & tradesmen. He sold a total of $90,000,000 before 1872. And in the process NPR’s new management squandered the money – same as their predecessors. The NPR Board was unable to stop the squander. Jay Cooke Restructures NPR Finances and converts $600,000 of NPR Stock to Bonds @ 50% face value. He then established a ‘twelve-shareholder group’ who bought bonds at par in Philadelphia, with a share value set at $541,234 each. One-half of share value was set aside to be used for establishing the NPR “Lake Superior & Puget Sound Townsite Company” (created to exclusively form, manage and construct towns that would be needed along the complete track line in Feb, 1870)


The US Senate called for a hearing on Feb 13, 1872 to examine progress and financial stature of the railroad. (HR Misc. Docs Vol 4 Doc #228)


The NPR management team presented the following information to the Senate:


The NPR road built by low-bid contractors and no NPR manager had a construction contract or interest in the venture. They had completed on the Eastern end 229 miles of track; and on the Western end 21 miles. NPR had purchased a ½ interest in the Duluth Railroad. The track roadbed was 12’ wide at top of grade; and only American steel rails weighing 56#/yard and  crossties laid 2,650 per mile were used. The total cost to date for the east end was $5,347,833 ($23,571/mile) and the total cost for the west end was $714,000 (28,560/mi).


NPR has 48 locomotives, 4-switch engines, 8 passenger cars, 2 baggage cars, 3 express & mail cars, 380 platform cars, 25 dumping cars & 15 haul cars, plus orders for about twice as many are issued. On the Eastern end - 20,000 tons of steel rails was contracted, 5,000 tons was delivered; on the Western end – 10,000 tons contracted; 3,000 tons was delivered.


Iron for the rails was supplied by: Bethlehem Iron, Bay State Iron, Cincinnati Iron, Atkins Brothers, Brady’s Bend Iron, Cambria Iron, Lackawanna Iron, Pacific Rolling Mill, Benjamin Haywood, Harbaugh, Mathias & Owens, National Iron, James Woods & Sons, and Waterman & Beaver. All ore/iron is of American manufacture.



Current efforts included:


200 miles of new road has been contracted on the east end, and 40 miles on west end, with 200 more miles under work. They plan to have 317 miles in operation at years end. Track surveys have been continuous: except for 130 miles on the Yellowstone & 50 miles west of the Rockies. Over 4,000 miles has been surveyed to date. Note: At this time the route was to follow the revised plan to cross the Yellowstone at Glendive, and cut across the prairie lands towards Bozeman. It was planned in 1872 to survey the Missouri to Yellowstone & all Montana connections with the remainder needed from MT to west end connections.


All MN land grant survey land was platted by NPR, the odd sections = 979,636 acres, the even sections = 646,317 acres. The WA land grant survey plats by NPR totaled 26 townships = about 299,588 acres. At year end NPR is entitled to 2,918,400 acres in MN and 1,654,000 acres in WA. No land was sold as NPR hasn’t received titles. NPR’s colonizing plan for the grant land is: sell land at low rate to settlers and thus create traffic for the railroad & establish towns along the track. Develop diversified industries across the route line and sell land as noted (7% interest on notes):

§10% in cash

§10% in one, two or three years

§15% in four to seven years


NPR has established low-cost & free transportation to the land by settlers, has planted fruit & forest trees, & supplied tools for home site construction if needed. Buildings to supply settler with all their needs are being erected along the line, forest lands are being protected from fire & theft, a bureau of immigration for veterans was established, free press, telegraph stations, churches and aid to community construction is underway.


No NPR officer has acquired or been promised any land grant land. Additional details are available in numerous pages of the published document – no NPR violation to the contract has been noted.


Sale of construction bonds started to slip in 1872 as NPR executives were determined to be spending money for personal luxuries faster than money was coming in. The use of Congressional politicians as NPR management again proved worthless. These persons apparently had no or little ability to manage a multi-faced operation. Jay Cooke (privately & in secret) bought back many of the bonds at a rate of $90,000 for every $100,000 initially sold. For a while he kept the full operation afloat, but by 1873 the NPR business failed and construction was halted, followed by Jay Cooke & Company’s financial collapse on September 18, 1873.


1873 Financial Failure in the US precipitated major financial worries in the US


After Jay Cooke’s NY bank failed, it was followed by his other banks failing in Philadelphia and Washington. On Sept 19, 1873, thirty other banks collapsed in New York & Philadelphia. On Sept 20, President Grant closed the NY Stock Exchange for ten days so as to slow or stop the depreciation of stock. The Federal government’s financial backing of the economy which was previously decreasing by $1 Million per day, shot back up. For the next five years the depression was severe with numerous business failures throughout the nation..

1873 – 1874 Actions by NPR were put in place to recover the financial losses

NPR’s attorney, Hazard Stevens, (son of Washington Territory Governor, Isaac Stevens) was found to be stealing logs. He was immediately fired. Track sections were completed at: Duluth to Bismarck & from Kalama to Tacoma.  A Senate Committee headed by Windom examines NPR prior abuses, and it was disclosed that there was basically no impact on the line. Frederick Billings was considered as Managing Director of NPR.


In 1875 NPR Management Reorganized

Frederick Billings (elected as the new NPR Managing Director) created a startling re-structuring plan – that caught all by shock!


Existing mortgages would be foreclosed, and NPR stock would be substituted for outstanding bonds. All assets, including the land grant, have to be purchased by interested bondholders.


His planned actions were in strict violation of Congressional Acts; but the US bankruptcy judge granted the changes as follows:



The Supreme Court rules that NPR breaches of original 1864 land grant do not return land automatically to the GLO! Dr. Hough convinces Congress to fund examination of timber use, and establishes the National Forest Service


NPR’s prior bad treatment of workers erupts in riots; “The Year of Violence.” is reflective of the earlier problems. The newly elected NPR President, Frederick Billings calms all! His management style exceeds all expectations.





Cleve Kimmel – ([email protected])

Original Release Date: January 1, 2010.

Referenced documents that contain current copy rights cannot be copied and submitted in their entirety – only granted excerpts. No file that is downloaded to a recipient can be utilized in multiple-mailing lists; or for a fee or profit. Files downloaded are for the expressed usage by the recipient in pursuit of historical information or genealogical background.





[1] For those interested, these are the map identifications: rr004981 through rr004983.sid.

[2] Carrie Adell Strahorn, wife of ‘Pard’ Strahorn, kept a diary of their adventures relating to the construction of central pacific (Union) railroad “Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage”. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the events that created towns in secrecy. Vivid descriptions of Montana are presented.

[3] Congress established a minimum fixed price for all domain land within the NPR route corridor to be double the existing value of $1.25 per acre.  Definitions of Domain Land are extremely vague.

§         [i] Documentation for this article comes from: YGF Title Abstract Records

§         MN Historical Society “NPR Secretary's Dept, Letters & Records 1864-1876”

§         42d Congress, HR 2d Session “Miscellaneous Documents 228 – 1872, Vol IV”

§         45th Congress 2d Session “Senate Reports”, Vol 2

§         Smalley “History of the Northern Pacific Railroad”

§         Jensen & Draffan “Railroads & Clearcuts – 1960”

§         Numerous news articles describing personal details

§         Library of Congress Maps & Government Articles about NPR


[ii] Immediately after the establishment of the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the various Indian Tribal Communities that have a common unity (religious beliefs, dress, culture, etc.) shall be called a Nation so that the a formal treaty could be created between the two (USA & each Nation). Within that nation would be the ruling members as dictated by the particular Nation’s custom (Tribal Elders/Leaders, or selected/grouped members). Within these Tribes would be Bands, generally led by one principal Chief. One or more Bands would constitute a Tribe. If 75% of the ruling body agreed to particular terms of a Treaty, then that treaty would stand.

  Email me:
Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

© 2014 MTGenWeb