Emigrants Cost $65 per Head on new Union Pacific Railroad

This article originally appeared in the  Nov/Dec 1971 issue of Pioneer Magazine

During the summer of 1868, as Mormon boys worked on the grade and their people prepared for the coming of the rails, the Church used the partially constructed facilities to expedite and to enlarge the annual emigration from Great Britain. The first group of west-bound Mormons to sail from Liverpool that season came on the “John Bright,” hoping to reach the Union Pacific terminus by July 10. Between them, that vessel and the “Minnesota” brought 1,250 emigrants to the United States, all of whom had reached Laramie before the end of July, where they were met by the usual wagon trains.

By that time the “Colorado” had delivered another 600 who also came west by rail. The total emigration from Europe that year amounted to 3,232 persons, most of whom came from the British Isles. England contributed 1,845; Wales, 232; Scotland, 193; Ireland, 16; Jersey, 24; and the Isle of Man, 5. The continental contribution was mainly from northern Europe, with Denmark sending 540; Sweden, 216; Norway, 63; North Germany, 3; Switzerland, 41; Italy, 8; Bavaria, 2; France, 1; and Holland, 3.

Brigham Young was pleased by the dispatch and the ease with which the converts made their way, commenting that they arrived looking well thanks to a rail ride of 650 miles beyond the Missouri that made the journey across the plains far less dangerous and wearing than in years gone by. One of the Mormons who accompanied the travelers gave a less glowing picture of the new facilities, remarking that,

“It cost us much trouble to get the saints in the crowded cars [at Omaha], as these were poor and uncomfortable.”

Despite any discomforts the trip was cheaper and quicker than before. Pres. Young estimated that it cost about $65.00 a head to bring his people from Liverpool to the rail terminus, a figure that was quite reasonable considering what the road charged other customers. The regular fare from Omaha to the terminus was ten cents a mile, a figure that equaled what the British emigrants had to pay for the entire trip.

—Utah Historical Quarterly

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