Consequently, Ogden understood that not only would no financial assistance ever be coming from Boston, no matter his prior political connections with New York or how cordial the relations he may had struck with Brooks, but that he would, more than likely, also have to find an alternative railroad company that he could better rely upon for a more favorable connection to the east for the G&CU. Determined not to fail in the face of Weld’s smug dismissal, Ogden and Scammon were forced to build the Galena in a “pay as you go” manner with what little money they raised from stock subscriptions that they and their partners were able to procure from farmers along the proposed route. They continued their fund-raising (begging) efforts during the winter and by spring, enough stock had been subscribed that the first construction contracts for the line’s first 32 miles were let on March 1, 1848. As had been the case with the canal, profits from construction contracts would be more immediately available than those from the operation of the railroad, and Ogden had set up a company, McCagg, Reed, and Co. in which he was a silent partner, to provide the wood ties and rails (that were topped with iron strap ribbons) from his own forests in Wisconsin. Twenty-one year-old Ezra Butler McCagg had just arrived in Chicago from Kinderhook, NY, where he had recently completed his law degree. (Kinderhook was also the birthplace of Martin Van Buren and Charles Butler, that, together with McCagg’s middle name, Butler, his mother’s maiden name, suggests that he may have been related to Charles Butler.)
The facts of McCagg’s move to Chicago suggest that he was brought to Chicago by Ogden to replace Norman B. Judd’s position in Scammon’s law firm. Judd, a lawyer who had studied law in Rome, NY, had been invited to move to Chicago in November 1836 by one of his old classmates, Judge John D. Caton, to be his partner. He quickly made the acqaintence of William Ogden and in the city’s first election that saw Ogden rise to be elected Mayor in 1837, Judd was elected the City Attorney, a position he held for two years, until Caton moved out of town in 1838. Judd remained in Ogden’s inner circle by becoming Scammon’s law partner, a position he had held until Ogden decided to realign his business plans from the MC to a company whoe goals were more aligned with his own, at which time Judd was spun off to become the corporate attorney for that company, the Michigan Southern. During Judd’s partnership with Scammon, he had also moved into Illinois politics, being first elected to the State Senate in 1844, a position he held for the next sixteen years, providing a critical connection within the Illinois government during Ogden’s rise in the railroad industry. McCagg’s move to Chicago had also, therefore, positioned him to be conveniently used by Ogden as a front man for some of his other business ventures (such as McCagg, Reed and Co.) when needed without an obvious appearance of a conflict of interest suggested by the name Ogden appearing on a company’s letterhead. (Following the death of Ogden’s partner and brother-in-law, William Jones in 1851, McCagg would even marry Jones’ widow, Ogden’s sister Caroline in 1854.)
Ogden then followed up the letting of the first G&CU contracts with an overly-optimistic annual report to the company’s stockholders on April 5, 1848, in which he laid out his overall vision for Chicago’s first railroad:
“It cannot have escaped the observation of all acquanted with the region of the country to be affected by the construction of this important work, that, if constructed now and extended east from Chicago around the head of Lake Michigan till it meets the Michigan Central Railroad, as it soon will, it secures to the country through it passes the Great North-Western railroad thoroughfare for all time to come [the italics were by Ogden].”
Ogden also threw out a few crumbs to his Wisconsin supporters by stating that the used strap-iron rails that would be used to begin the G&CU, would eventually be reused in laying the track for the Rockford to Beloit branch, once the main line was replaced with rolled iron rails. Nonetheless, local opposition to the Galena was still coming from all directions. Common Council still had to give its approval to build tracks within the North Division. Even though Ogden, who had been the city’s first mayor, had run and been elected in early 1847 as an alderman, undoubtedly to assist the railroad’s approval process, he failed to get a right-of-way ordinance passed as members from the West Division sought to keep the train from crossing the North Branch to Ogden’s property in the North Division. Meanwhile, the company had managed to secure some old strap rail from the Rochester & Tonawanda that was being replaced with rolled iron T-sections. To the satisfaction of all who had worked so long and so hard, especially Ogden and Scammon, construction on the G&CU began in June 1848 heading not east to meet the MC but due west, barely two months after the completion of the canal. (It bears repeating the scale of the gamble Ogden was taking in this move, for there was not a railraod track within a hundred-mile radius of Chicago.) Thus, Ogden and his iron horse struck out on their twenty-one year westwardly trek from Chicago toward their ultimate destination, the Pacific Ocean, proceeding only on a “paycheck-to paycheck” existence.
Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Harpster, Jack. A Biography of William B. Ogden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2009.
Lorenzsonn, Axel S. Steam and Cinders: The Advent of Railroads in Wisconsin: 1831-1861. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2009.
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