Gold Fields of the Black Hills of Dakota (ca. 1877)

Chicago’s first railroad, the Galena & Chicago Union (G&CU), began service in 1848. The railway was originally intended to provide a direct link between Chicago and the mining country centered on Galena, Illinois, but the railroad never reached Galena. It diverted its mainline  directly towards the Mississippi River at Fulton, Illinois. In 1864, the G&CU merged with the Chicago & North Western (C&NW), and the combined railroad quickly absorbed other companies and expanded across the Mississippi and onto the northern Great Plains-- where it was a leading carrier of grain and passengers from (and to) Wisconsin and Chicago. Competition between railroads for the opening markets of the Great Plains was fierce in the 1870s and 1880s. Advertising fliers like this example from 1877 frequently included maps, which were often manipulated in order to show the geographical position of the client railroad’s routes favorably in relation to its competitors. The Black Hills gold rush of the late 1870s saw Chicago & North Western, Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, and Kansas Pacific all in competition to lure miners and migrants to the Dakota Territory, urged on by a flurry of promotional maps. In this example, the lines of the C&NW appear as bold, thick lines, overshadowing competing and connecting lines. The width of the Dakota Territory from east-to-west is greatly foreshortened when compared to neighboring states to the east. This creates the impression that the Black Hills are much closer to western terminus of the C&NW at Yankton than they than they are in reality. Text at the bottom of the flier describes eight different routes to reach the Black Hills. All require a combination of rail and wagon transport because no railroad reached directly into the region. But, it assures the would-be miner or migrant that “[n]o other route can offer such routes to select from.”



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Chicago and North Western Railway Company, Gold Fields of the Black Hills of Dakota (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co., c. 1877). The Newberry Library, VAULT broadside Graff 690