Royal Gorge War

We will soon be adding infotmation and pictures about the Royal Gorge War of the railroads. This was a war in the truest sence of the word, from the business side of the battle to the outright gun battles, fotifications, espionage, and more.

The Arkansas river west of town cuts through the Royal Gorge cañon. With its sheer cliffs and very narrow bottom, there is no room for multiple railroads to operate. So, unlike many other river basins in America there was little room for cooperation in the cutthroat railroad business. in 1878 the crews from the Santa Fe and the Denver & Rio Grande railroads each began grading and contruction of tracks in the cañon. The Sanfa Fe group got into the narrow pass first and the lengthy two year battle for control of the passage began.

Crews began passing each other and trying to cut each other off. Papers flew into the courts for control of the right of way.

Sabotage, harrasement and fort building began. Crews had thier tools thrown into the river, rocks were sent crashing down the cañon walls onto freshly graded areas and onto workers. Soon guards and crews with weapons were as common as those with shovels.

The legal process continued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court who decided to grant control of the railroad to Denver & Rio Grande in 1879. But the corporations would not let the courts completely control thier destiny. The Santa Fe railroad announced that they would build parallel tracks in the cañon to compete with the existing line. This would prove to be a very challenging task considering that in many places there is only room for a single set of tracks in the narrow passages. But this pressured the Denver & Rio Grande to lease space on the line to the Santa Fe.

The railroads then began playing with pricing to favor alternative routes so back to court they went and later in 1879 the courts discontinued the lease and the Denver & Rio Grande forcably took back the tracks in a full on war with gun battles, sabotage, and murder.

In 1880 the railroads finally finished thier court battle and the war was over.

This account is an abbreviation and paraphrase of the account found on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad webpage.


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