The Iron Horse in Indian Country: Native Americans and Railroads in the US West, 1853-1924


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Native Americans engaged with railroads as passengers, entrepreneurs, wage-earners, and tribal citizens in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While much of the existing literature on US railroads centers on how the Iron Horse reconfigured the nation’s economic, environmental, social, and spatial landscapes, this project spotlights the ways in which indigenous communities incorporated the railroad into their own socioeconomic and cultural networks. Exposing indigenous relationships with railroads challenges deep-seated misconceptions in which Indians either violently but vainly resisted the Iron Horse, or simply vanished at the first sound of the locomotive’s whistle. This study shows that neither of these versions is true. Rather, by the early 1900s, natives had transformed the railroad into a tool of resistance, one they had learned to deploy with considerable skill as part of their broader quest for cultural and material self-determination in the face of colonization.