Jack Casement

Jack Casement was a Civil War general and railroad developer who later owned land in Manhattan. His Union Pacific crew was in large part responsible for completing the Transcontinental Railroad.

A visit by the Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014, a 1941 steam engine, marked the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The train stopped in Manhattan on Wednesday morning as part of a nationwide tour. But Manhattan has another local connection to the Transcontinental Railroad.

John S. “Jack” Casement, a railroad contractor and civil engineer who later bought a ranch near Manhattan, directed the construction of Union Pacific’s section of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Casement was born in New York, but lived in Michigan and Ohio. He worked in the railroad industry for several years. When the Civil War began, he volunteered for the Ohio Volunteer Infantry and later the Union Army, where he had a quite a decorated career. He left as a brigadier general, which is the reason for his nickname, “General Jack.”

After the war, Casement was hired to build the Union Pacific portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. He hired the workers, gathered the materials and supplies, and went into the field. His brother, Dan, worked with him and oversaw the finances and payroll.

Under Casement’s leadership, the Union Pacific laid 1,087 miles of track, from Fremont, Nebraska, west to Utah where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads met to form the Transcontinental Railroad.

At one point, Casement’s crew laid 8 miles of track in one day.

Though some accounts said Casement was responsible for driving the famous golden spike to complete the project, those appear to be false.

According to an account from the Golden Spike National Historic Site, a train full of dignitaries from the West had arrived at the town of Promontory, Utah, on May 7, 1869, with several ceremonial gold and silver spikes (and a polished laurelwood tie) from various entities.

The visitors were disappointed when Casement told them the May 8 ceremony would be delayed by two days. The reason was that a train carrying dignitaries from the east had been held up because of rain and a washed-out trestle. But there was also another reason: a train carrying Union Pacific head honchos was delayed when a group of 500 railroad employees demanding to be paid kept the train from leaving.

There wasn’t much to do in Promontory, so Casement, looking to entertain the West Coast party during the delay, made up an excursion train, stocked with “a bountiful collation and oceans of champagne,” to take the party on an overnight sightseeing trip that included a “splendid luncheon” on the banks of the Weber River, according to an account.

Meanwhile, Casement’s workers laid the final 2,500 feet of track, leaving the space of one rail separating their track from that of the Central Pacific.

At the ceremony May 10, the crowd totaled, according to the best estimates, 500 to 600 people — far short of the 30,000 that had been predicted.

Several people made ceremonial taps on the precious ceremonial spikes, though all of those were later removed and replaced with a regular iron spike.

The heads of both railroads made swings at a spike with a sledge wired to the Union Pacific’s telegraph line, so that people across the country could “hear” the final spike being driven. Telegraph operators across the country cleared the wires for the momentous clicks. Apparently, both men missed, to the delight of the crowd. Instead, someone clicked three dots over the wire, triggering celebrations at every major city in the country.

With an unwired sledge, rail workers divided the task of actually driving the last spike in the Pacific Railroad.

Casement was married to Frances Jennings Casement, from Ohio. Both were abolitionists and lobbied for the voting rights of women. Frances became friends with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and became a noted suffragette.

In 1878, Casement “came into possession” of Juniata Farm, near Manhattan, as a settlement for a debt. The family moved to Manhattan for a time. Jack later gave the land to one of his three sons, also named Dan, on his 21st birthday. Dan operated the 2,400-acre ranch from 1889 until his death in 1953.

Dan split his time between Manhattan and a ranch in Colorado, where he made a name and fortune for himself as a successful cattle rancher and horseman. He was known for breeding thoroughbred quarterhorses and ultimately was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame and the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

Officials named Casement Road for Dan in 1953 after his death.