Last updated: March 20, 2009
July 9, 1986
Three-hundred-mile trips to Cheyenne and back for beans, salt pork and other necessities of life ended July 13, 1886, for residents of Silver Cliff and neighboring ranchers, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad arrived. At a big celebration a silver spike was driven with a copper hammer. The silver was from the "Mining Hill" and the copper from Rawhide Buttes, both metals were local products. Speeches, races and a dance finished the day.
The coming of the railroad was the end of the tent town, Silver Cliff, and the birth of the boom town, Lusk, about a mile east. The railroad appointed Frank S. Lusk as the representative at the new town site. On July 20 the sale of town lots opened and 40 lots were sold at the public auction. The first depot was soon built and served until 1919, when the present depot was constructed.
"No Lusk There"
A newspaper correspondent's story of his visit via railroad to the new town appears in the August 13, 1886 issue of The Lusk Herald and best describes the two towns: "Bumpety bump, we rattled away, now jammed to the front and then to the rear of the caboose as the long, unwieldy train starts up or slows down. It was late when we got to Lusk, but there was no Lusk there. The town, that is the tents, are up at Silver Cliff, two miles away. We can see the hacks and wagons ready to haul us up there. A broad-brimmed driver with his team forded the Niobrara and took the madame and the girls. We happened on a lumber wagon and about 9:00 o'clock found ourselves at the Pioneer House, Silver Cliff. The other fellows got all the beds and we had to take the floor. It was the only "board" hotel in town; all the rest are tents."
"After a brief but very good supper, we strolled out to see the town. Long rows of tents – they got lumber enough to build up a frame about three or four feet high with a ridge pole, and stretch the tent over that. This makes the sides five or six feet high, so you can stand up in them. Saloons, yes a score. In every other one a faro bank is open or a poker game running. Music and lights across the river in a half-board shanty announce a dance house. 'Alley-mand, swing her' is borne across the night air. Daylight brings other things. There is a bank in a tent, with printed sign: "Bank hours from 9 to 4 o'clock; a stamp mill and a silver mine.
"I saw a Town Built"
"I sat in a tent at Lusk one day and saw a town built. When I went through it was the 'end of the road' on the railroad. When I came back it was the town of Lusk. The sale of lots was on Tuesday – 33 lots were sold, bringing from $165 to $475. Wednesday morning, a tent or two, Thursday, Silver Cliff began to move to Lusk. Two car loads of lumber came. Friday they made a town. I saw it. One bank, one livery stable, a big hardware store, 25 x 50, were up. A depot was nearly finished. Seven saloons bought lots in a row and were hard at it. You go in to get your dinner, come out, and another house was up. A fellow beckons you into a tent to have some soda water; you turn around and the doors and windows are in. Loads of goods come every minute. By Saturday night Silver Cliff will be all in Lusk and nearly all in frame houses of some sort."
This rapid growth of Lusk was caused mostly by the presence of many workers on the railroad grade which was being pushed on to Douglas.
Many men, thousands of horses and mules, plows, road scrapers, dump wagons, shovels and blacksmith equipment were required to build the grade. Engineers surveyed the line, took the levels, and drove stakes to guide the graders. Contractors bid on each short stretch of road. They were men of tremendous push and energy who were on the job day and night. They hired men with scrapers and teams to do the grading. It was hard, driving work. The contractors pushed the men; the men whipped and cursed their mules and horse; the wind blew the dirt. Long strings of teams pulling two-horse scrapers moved up the grade. The driver would dump his load of earth, and follow down to fill again.
Ties and iron rails were brought to the end of the line on railroad cars and dumped, to be moved into place by teams and me. Day by day the rails stretched westward. The steam locomotive, chugging and whistling, proudly patrolled the lengthening tracks. All night, for relief from the grueling labor, men sought the solace of the wild town at the line.
The development of the country followed the building of the railroads, which reached its peak in 1886. That year a total of 12,579 miles of rails were laid, enough to span the continent four times between New York and San Francisco.
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