cover image Hell on Wheels: Wicked Towns Along the Union Pacific Railroad

Hell on Wheels: Wicked Towns Along the Union Pacific Railroad

Dick Kreck. Fulcrum, $16.95 paperback (280p) ISBN 978-1-55591-948-1

In this thorough volume, retired Denver Post editor and columnist Kreck (Murder at the Brown Palace) recalls the great westward migration of the mid-1800s and the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, stretching from Iowa toward Oregon and California. He starts by explaining the travelers' motivations to embark on "a two-thousand-mile, months-long cross-country trudge through unknown land with unknown perils." Then, culling information from personal diaries, Kreck goes deeper into the up and downs of everyday life on audacious journey including overarching narratives of hasty burials and shallow roadside graves. Pioneers, ignorant to the threat of germs, played a noteworthy role in sweeping the cholera pandemic westward of St. Louis. Noteworthy is the way Kreck pays specific attention to contributions made by women on the frontier, who "did almost everything men did, and more." However, the book is strongest when Kreck's veers back to discussing the construction of the transcontinental railroad itself. On a whole, Kreck offers an insightful though straightforward account of his subject. (May)