In the Old West, many railroads went through Indian-occupied areas. Are there any documented instances of the Indians ever sabotaging the railroads? Please provide dates and circumstances where possible.

  • @steven drennon - thanks I wasn't being overly PC, but using "Indians" and railways suggests an entirely different continent to the majority of English speakers in the world and "native-americans" was the existing tag
    – none
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 16:17
  • 2
    @mgb - Agreed. The tag needs to be native-americans, not indians. However it is the case that they were universally called "Indians" at the time, so I think the current "Indian" verbage in the question (and title) themselves is fine.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 16:23
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    @TED - originally the title was just Indians + Railways - which to a Brit means India. I changed it to Native Americans just to avoid confusion - I wasn't making a political point.
    – none
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


The railroad certainly received its share of harassment. Livestock was continuously rustled by tribal raiders, who also boldly shot up work crews and terrorized isolated station towns. Particularly vulnerable were route surveyors, who struck out on their own ahead of the work crews -- and sometimes paid for it with their lives. Twice, Native Americans sabotaged the iron rails themselves. In August 1867 a Cheyenne raiding party decided they would attempt to derail a train. They tied a stick across the rails and succeeded in overturning a handcar, killing its crew of repairmen, with the exception of a man named William Thompson. He was shot and scalped, but lived to tell about it as he traveled back to Omaha with his scalp in a pail of water by his side. In 1868 a group of Sioux created a more intense blockade, upturning both rails and piling wooden ties in between them, then tying the whole thing together with telegraph wire. The resulting wreck killed two crewmen, one of who was crushed beneath the train's boiler.

The Union Pacific was given a small detachment of U.S. troops to help protect the railroad. However they were not enough and the U.P. kept asking the U.S. Government to send more troops. The army had been trying out Pawnee scouts so they asked a Captain North (who had been working with the Pawnee) to make up a regiment of Pawnee men to help with security on the railroad line. These Pawnee troops proved to be very valuable and had a 10 year career as U.S. soldiers. When one author spoke with Tom Knife Chief, a Pawnee representitve, he says "I could feel his pride in these men as he told me that in their 10 year service they never lost a man." It was their job to keep the Union Pacific safe.

For the most part, however, the tribes were willing to work with the rail roads. The Central Pacific railroad was offered Army support for protection but turned it down. They had their own ideas on how to deal with the Native Americans. When the railroad came out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains into the Nevada flat land they started running into Paiute tribes. Central Pacific Dignitaries would meet with the Chiefs and offer them treaties. They were offered free passage on the trains, and jobs. They were also told if they gave the railroad problems that the railroad had a great army of men and would defeat them. The Central Pacific at that time started using Paiutes to work on the railroad. As they moved into Shoshone territory they began to use Shoshone workers.

(I don't have time to give citations right now I will when I get the chance, work calls)

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    +1 - I particularly liked the bit about the Pawnee. As an Okie with Osage family myself, I've been told that the Pawnee were known for being particularly warlike, and were not very popular with any of their neighbors (I'm sure the story from a Pawnee family would be different. :-) ). Hiring one of their warbands to be sort of an Indian Pinkertons sounds like a master stroke to me.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 16:11
  • For something a lot more recent, as in 2010, check out this news report: wivb.com/dpp/news/crime/…
    – jfrankcarr
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 16:21
  • @jfrankcarr Nicotene withdrawl makes people cranky.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 17:42
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    The promised citations would be nice(possibly required), since large portions of this text are repeated verbatim on numerous web sites.
    – justCal
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 17:40

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