The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Union Pacific Country. By Robert G. Athearn. (Chicago: Rand Mc-
Nally & Company, 1971. Pp. 480. Illustrations, maps, bibliography,
index. $15.oo.)
Few people are as knowledgeable about the vast region beyond the
Mississippi-its geography, people, and history-as is Bob Athearn.
Many fellow historians who have known and loved this native son of
Montana (although, to know him is not necessarily to love him)
throughout the quarter of a century he has been associated with the
University of Colorado, have long respected his ability with the writ-
ten word and the explicit phrase. The present volume, Union Pacific
Country, is somewhat the exception to Athearn's usual writing style.
It is more concise, straightforward, and less replete with colorful meta-
phors and other figures of speech which one finds, for example, in
High Country Empire.
The author maintains in the Introduction that Union Pacific offi-
cials faithfully adhered to their promise that "no doors would remain
closed in my search for materials pertinent to the study." This is a
far cry from policies generally followed a few decades ago when "kept
historians" were often more skilled in cosmetology (ahl) than in ob-
jective research. (I still remember a review of a subsidized history of
a major American company published around 1950 in which the critic
observed that failure by the author to devote a single line to one of
the most prolonged and most violent strikes in the nation's history, a
strike which was associated with the particular company, was com-
parable to a biography of Christ which omitted any mention of the
crucifixion or the resurrection.) Union Pacific Country represents
solid, objective history and most railroad buffs will relish every single
one of its 387 pages of narratives and perhaps even a few of the 1,047
footnotes.
Rarely have previous studies of the development of the Union Paci-
fic gone much beyond "the champagne-drenched day at Promontory."
Athearn attempts to remedy this partly by the inclusion of a tightly
written chapter entitled "An Apple Tree Without a Limb." The
trackage of feeder lines acquired by 1883 represented more than four
times the original mileage of road between Omaha and Promontory.
The area served by the main core and its branches is what the author
defines as "Union Pacific Country." In an attempt to keep the narra-
tive as manageable as possible, he explains the necessity of restricting
the scope of the story to the pioneering period, or what he calls the
pre-Harriman era.

254

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/. Accessed December 21, 2014.