The (Roaring) U.P. Trail (1918)

20 Jun
Engraving by Vaningen Snyder

Indians viewing the Pacific Railroad (id: 807135) Engraving by Van Ingen & Snyder, 1871

Titled “The Roaring U.P. Trail” in Blue Book Serial beginning June 1917
Harper & Brothers, New York, 1918
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, 12th February 1949

Reading Zane Grey as an adult has been an eye-opening and painful affair. So many of his stories leave me wanting to weep at the group nature of humanity. Looking around I cannot see that much has changed. The issues Zane Grey wrote about and the issues of authors before his time repeat themselves again, and again, and again. We reveal our omnivorous side in our travels through history by devouring anything and anyone in our way.

Bringing the steam train into the West brought many changes to the lives of the people living along the proposed tracks. Some of those changes were devastating – decimating towns and Native American lands. Some of the changes to the landscape itself were huge having to take into account varying climates and terrain. The toll on the lives of the laborers themselves was large and their salaries laughable. (Wikipedia) But there were people who benefited a great deal from the project and it was an immense engineering feat.

While the Pawnee helped the railroad along its way, the Sioux opposed it vehemently. In fact the Sioux opposed the westward expansion of the Anglos a great deal. Understandably, they saw the building of the Union Pacific Railroad as a breach of the terms of the treaties they had made.

By A. Farrington Elwell

By A. Farrington Elwell

Right before being made an orphan by the Sioux, Allie discovers that the name of her real father is Allison Lee. Allie is the female role of The U.P. Trail. Our male lead is Warren Neale, surveyor. The surveyors and engineers were the first people to map out the trail. His boss is General Lodge (chief engineer). In real life the chief engineer was General Dodge. Neale is with the soldiers when they discover young Allie among all of the corpses of her group. Allie is 15 years old while Warren is 23 years old at this point of the story. For a Zane Grey story this is a pretty OK age difference between his lovers. In fact, it is just a year more than the one between myself and my husband. At fifteen a 23 year old would have seemed OLD to me. Perhaps cool and a person to look up to, but not really boyfriend material. Just a few years later that had changed. So it was between Allie and Warren. Allie had to fight her way through her grief and find new meaning in her life first.

Building the U.P. Railroad was a project that lasted from 1864-1869. For some strange reason I find that too short a time frame considering some of the terrain it ran through and some of the opposition the project met. The railway was run from from Omaha to Promontory Point through Laramie Mountains in Wyoming.

building of up railroad meet in Utah

Photograph of Golden Spike Ceremony at Promontory, Utah, 05/10/1869; completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. At center left, Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific Railroad, shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Railroad (center right)
Credit: Andrew J. Russell / National Archives

One of the biggest crooks during the building of the United Pacific Railroad was not one of the outlaws but a businessman called Durant. Grenville Dodge and his assistant Peter Dey surveyed and recommended a route the railroad could take. The government set rules for shares that could be owned by the builders of this project. Thomas S. Durant and his company managed, through nefarious deeds, to appropriate most of the shares and swindled the government for millions of dollars. (The Pacific Railway) In the U.P. Trail, one of the corrupted commissioners is Allie’s father, Allison Lee. Funnily enough, Allie’s adoptive father and later kidnapper is named Durande by Zane Grey. This is just one of the many ways that Zane Grey uses to draw real life into his novels or maybe his novels into real life.

Many of Grey’s tales are incredibly sad. The U.P. Trail is no exception to that. Toward the very end of the novel the below passage illustrates the excellence of some of his writing. A lonely passage indeed.

The wind blew steadily in from the desert seeping the sand in low, thin sheets. Afternoon waned, the sun sank, twilight crept over the barren waste. There were no sounds but the seep of sand, the moan of wind, the mourn of wolf. Loneliness came with the night that mantled Beauty Stanton’s grave. Shadows trooped in from the desert and the darkness grew black. On that slope the wind always blew, and always the sand seeped, dusting over everything, imperceptibly changing the surface of the earth. The desert was still at work. Nature was no respecter of graves. Life was nothing. Radiant, cold stars blinked pitilessly out of the vast blue-black vault of heaven. But there hovered a spirit beside this woman’s last resting-place—a spirit like the night, sad, lonely, silent, mystical, immense.

And as it hovered over hers so it hovered over other nameless graves.

In the eternal workshop of nature, the tenants of these unnamed and forgotten graves would mingle dust of good with dust of evil, and by the divinity of death resolve equally into the elements again.

The place that had known Benton knew it no more. Coyotes barked dismally down what had been the famous street of the camp and prowled in and out of the piles of debris and frames of wood. Gone was the low, strange roar that had been neither music nor mirth nor labor. Benton remained only a name.

The sun rose upon a squalid scene—a wide flat area where stakes and floors and frames mingled with all the flotsam and jetsam left by a hurried and profligate populace, moving on to another camp. Daylight found no man there nor any living creature. And all day the wind blew the dust and sheets of sand over the place where had reigned such strife of toil and gold and lust and blood and death. A train passed that day, out of which engineer and fireman gazed with wondering eyes at what had been Benton. Like a mushroom it had arisen, and like a dust-storm on the desert wind it had roared away, bearing its freight of labor, of passion, and of evil. Benton had become a name—a fabulous name.

But nature seemed more merciful than life. For it began to hide what man had left—the scars of habitations where hell had held high carnival. Sunset came, then night and the starlight. The lonely hours were winged, as if in a hurry to resolve back into the elements the flimsy remains of that great camp.


The U.P. Trail on Gutenberg







  • Norwegian: Spor over prærien; Trans: ; Fredhøis Forlag, 1960
  • 1978: Lännen rautatie (Finnish)
  • Der eiserne Weg (German)
  • Czech: Ocelový oř; Trans: ; Praha : B. Procházka, 1926
    • V Praze, Českomoravské Podniky Tiskařské a Vydavatelské, 1928.
    • Praha, Karel Červenka, 1947
    • Český Těšín, Gabi, 1992
    • Praha, Invence, 1992
    • Praha, Zeras, 1992
    • Trans: Martin Holý; Brno, Návrat, 1998.
    • Trans: Jan Hora; Praha, Sudop, 2014.
  • Spanish: El caballo de hierro; Trans. Eduardo Toda Valcárcel; Barcelona, Juventud, 1931
    • Barcelona : Carroggio, D.L. 1976.
    • Carroggio Biblioteca Digital de Aranjuez 1986




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