01x05 - The Royal Gorge War

Our nation is built upon a history of battles, fought over honor, family and power.

These bloody and iconic chapters, define what it truly means to be an American.

These are Blood Feuds.

In the 1870s, two of America's most daring and powerful railroad men wage a brutal war for Colorado's Royal Gorge and control of the west.

The classic moment in every western is the old west showdown, and that's exactly what happened here.

The Royal Gorge is my land.

[Gunshot]

This is cloak and dagger stuff.

The stakes were so high, [Gunshot] the first line to reach these destinations.

They were going to realize the king's ransom.

Narrator: William Strong is an industry titan who will use force to destroy his enemies.

We'll crush you.

[Suspenseful music plays]

His rival, William Palmer, is an upstart tycoon ready to fight to the death to build an empire of his own.

Over my dead body.

It got bloody, it was fought in the trenches by men who were very adamant about not giving an inch on either side.

Narrator: The Royal Gorge war is the ultimate American story of power and struggle, an epic feud for nothing less than the future of modern America.

This was a fight that pitted two ruthless tycoons against each other.

It had gunfights, armed standoffs, and everything that makes the west wild.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

[Gunshot]

[Suspenseful music plays]

My name is William Barstow Strong.

I built the mighty Santa Fe Railway.

[Whistle blows]

But I don't just build railroads.

I build empires.

I do it by being the smartest and meanest son of a bitch in the room.

[Suspenseful music plays]

My name is William Jackson Palmer.

I built the Rio Grande Railroad.

Now, I have the courage and the vision to build through the Rocky Mountains.

Palmer thinks he's a match for me?

He'll learn the hard way.

Careful, Palmer.

Unless you've got a death wish.

I'll crush Palmer and everything he's built.

[Shouting]

Whoo!

Well, I got a message for Strong: This is war.

♪♪

Narrator: The feud which would shape modern America begins in Colorado in the late 1870s, at the peak of America's railroad expansion.

Convery: The railroad companies were scrambling with each other to fill up the interior west, to get access to all of the settlements.

Narrator: For the railroad companies, it's an all-out war to claim uncharted territory and control the vast, New Frontier market.

We start to see really fierce competition to connect all the in-between places and spider webs start to go out in every direction.

Narrator: Laying track in the wild west is no easy task.

Railroad crews face harsh terrain, hostile Native American tribes, and ruthless outlaws.

But some of the greatest threats come from the competition: Armed rival crews battling for turf to build the most lucrative routes.

Railroad companies were really kind of like pirates.

It's a free-for-all out in the open, everyone's armed, and everybody hates each other.

[Gunshot]

Narrator: In the 1870s, the biggest prize of all is in the southwest: The Colorado Rockies.

The first railroad to cross these peaks will open new routes throughout the western states.

So far, these epic mountains have proved unpassable.

Convery: Surveyors had tried and failed in the 1840s.

They had tried again in the 1860s.

A direct, east-to-west passage between Colorado and California was simply impossible, at that time.

Narrator: Laying track through the Rockies is the key to dominating the industry and shaping the very future of America.

One man is determined to achieve this goal.

William Strong is the powerful, 41-year-old vice president of the Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.

Williamson: William Strong was Goliath, the big-money people from the east.

He was a very hard-nosed individual.

He drove a hard bargain.

Narrator: From the start, Strong was a man of towering ambition.

He was the quintessential self-made man of the 19th century.

He was from the east, a very smart, "bring you up by your bootstraps" kind of guy.

Narrator: Strong has just joined the massive Santa Fe Railway company to oversee their westward expansion.

He's ruthless and he was willing to go head-to-head with anyone and outcompete them.

Narrator: Strong's number-one goal: Find that elusive route through the Colorado Rockies.

We need to pick up the pace, Morley.

We need to get through the Rocky Mountains.

I want to get there first.

To help him with this mission, Strong has brought on one of the best young surveyors in the business: 31-year-old Ray Morley.

Holland: Ray Morley is familiar with the land.

He's a great surveyor.

That's exactly the kind of person you need to have in the trenches there.

We're held up here and here.

Find me a route.

Don't worry, sir.

We will find a way.

Narrator: With the deep pockets of the Santa Fe Railway behind him, Strong is determined that no one will beat him over those peaks.

♪♪

But Strong isn't the only railroad man with big ideas.

Another tycoon is trying to build up an empire of his own, with his eyes on the same Rocky Mountain prize.

His name is William Jackson Palmer, founder of the upstart Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.

William Jackson Palmer, he's a dreamer and you've got to admire that.

Borneman: Palmer has really been a railroader almost since the day he was born.

He cuts his teeth in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

He learns how to build railroads through pretty rough country.

Narrator: Palmer's ambition starts early.

In the Civil War, he served the Union as a brigadier general.

Borneman: He demonstrates himself as a leader.

His men followed him all the way across the south, eventually leading up to the capture of Jefferson Davis.

Convery: He was a man with fierce determination and a man who was very capable in getting things done.

Narrator: After the war, Palmer travels the west and becomes entranced by the vast opportunities of laying rail in the frontier.

He founds the fledgling Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, with successful routes in eastern Colorado.

All of his work is directed towards one ambition: Be the first to lay track through the Rocky Mountains and conquer the west by rail.

He's very much fixated on his dream of what the west is going to be.

He writes his wife, at one point, and says, "you know, I had a dream about our empire and this little railroad that would snake its way along the Rockies."

Narrator: Palmer studies every ridge and range in Colorado, convinced he can find a route.

But, there's one problem: Palmer's budding railroad needs capital to help fund his new ventures.

First, he must find investors.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Sir, I present to you the opportunity of a lifetime, a way to bring the Rio Grande Railroad through the Rockies, South.

Going through the Rockies is risky, Palmer, and expensive.

How do we know it's worth the investment?

I guarantee you I found a way.

Look here.

Convery: Palmer had learned where the good routes where, where the good grades were, and he had a very thorough understanding of the geography of the Rocky Mountains.

Narrator: One of the routes he's found is called the Raton Pass.

It could connect Southern Colorado to New Mexico, tapping into the commerce of the Santa Fe trail.

There's a place called the Raton Pass.

Now, we can blast through that and lay tracks all the way to Santa Fe.

We'll be the first, and only, railroad through.

Do we have a deal?

It's a deal.

You better not disappoint.

Narrator: Now that Palmer has enough cash to get started, there's only one thing in his way: William Strong of the Santa Fe.

♪♪

The confrontation begins in early 1878.

For months, Palmer has been surveying the Raton Pass, to find the best way through the treacherous terrain.

He thinks he's kept this work a secret from the competition, but William Strong has his men all over the southwest, watching rival railroads.

This is a competitive business, and each of these railroads have men in the field, sometimes as spies, sometimes just overhearing things, in terms of barroom gossip.

Narrator: When Strong learns that the upstart Rio Grande Railroad is surveying the Raton Pass and might've found a way through, he decides to act fast.

Holland: Santa Fe were a little bit of a bully.

They were trying to monopolize the entire transcontinental railroad game.

Narrator: A meeting is arranged between the two tycoons, to negotiate.

Whiskey?

Let's get down to business, Strong.

I know you're lookin' to lay down tracks through the Rocky Mountains, South of Denver, and you know I've already staked a route through the Raton Pass.

It's mine.

Let me be clear: I've got the backing for this.

You're drowning in debt.

But, I have a deal I think will work for both of us.

I'll build my tracks through the Raton Pass and then lease your outfit the right to run your railroad over them.

[Scoff]

Lease me the use of the land that I surveyed?

Over my dead body.

[Ominous music plays]

Narrator: Strong arrogantly assumes Palmer will take the offer and concede the pass, rather than go head-to-head against the mighty Santa Fe.

But Strong doesn't realize who he's up against.

Don't start a fight that you can't finish.

You don't scare me, Strong.

Holland: Palmer basically gives him the middle finger and says, "up yours.

I don't want anything to do with this.

This is my land. I'm taking it.

Get the hell outta here."

Palmer, the Santa Fe Railroad is a giant.

You can't compete.

We'll crush you.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

Narrator: The gauntlet has been thrown.

The fierce ambition of these two men is about to set them on a collision course that will stain the tracks with blood.

[Shouting]

All right!

Narrator: Colorado, 1878.

Two ambitious railroad men, William Palmer and William Strong, are in a head-to-head battle for the future of the American west.

In their minds, whoever gains a path through the Rocky Mountains for their railroad gets the prize.

And, now, they are fighting over a piece of land that could make all the difference: The Raton Pass in New Mexico.

Let's get down to business, Strong.

I've already staked a route through the Raton Pass.

It's mine.

Palmer, the Santa Fe Railroad is a giant.

You can't compete.

We'll crush you.

Oh, we'll see about that.

I've already surveyed those areas.

I know my claim is solid.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

Palmer believes his early surveys of the pass is enough of a claim to entitle him to the land.

But Strong knows that, in the railroad game, there's an axiom: Possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Basically, whoever got to the ground first and took control of it had the first right.

So, if you put a pick in, you really essentially blocked your competitors.

Narrator: Strong and his surveyor, Morley, hatch a plan to beat Palmer by secretly laying track in the Raton Pass.

But, first, they need to figure out the exact path through the Rockies.

So Morley sets out to survey the land, but undercover, so not to be seen by the competition.

Morley comes up with this brilliant plan to disguise himself as a Mexican sheepherder and go into the mountains, surveying.

And, if Palmer and his men see him, they'll have no idea that he's working with Strong.

Narrator: Wearing this disguise, Morley stays hidden from Palmer's workers.

This is cloak and dagger stuff.

The stakes were so high.

The first railroad line to reach these destinations, they were going to realize the king's ransom.

♪♪

Narrator: When Santa Fe spies learn Palmer is planning to start construction on the tracks, Morley gathers a secret crew of workers the night before and arms then with more than just pickaxes.

Under cover of darkness, Morley leads his armed crew on the trek up to the pass.

They're taking lanterns and they're taking their picks, their shovels, guns, and they travel at night.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Narrator: Meanwhile, in the early morning, Palmer's crew is also heading up to the pass, and is nearly there.

Palmer thinks his work to realize his grand vision is about to begin, but the tycoon is in for a big surprise.

And, as they're going up the grade, what do they hear?

They hear picks and shovels at work.

[Grunt]

Mornin', Mr. Palmer.

Fine day today, isn't it?

What in bloody hell you think you're doin'?

Name's Morley.

I'm supervisin' a crew for Mr. Strong.

We're layin' track through here for the Santa Fe Railroad.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Convery: This is an outrageous moment and they realize "we are in the fight for our lives."

Narrator: His rivals have outsmarted him and beaten his men to the pass.

And it really raked his coals, to see this.

He was furious.

Morley, we'll blast you and your men outta here, if you don't clear out right now.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

Careful, Palmer.

Unless you've got a death wish.

We broke ground here.

We aren't leavin'.

Under that theory of possession being nine-tenths of the law, the Santa Fe really has preopted the right of way through there.

Narrator: There's a choice to be made.

Palmer thinks it's their right that they should be building on this.

The question is are they going to start shooting?

Is it going to get bloody?

Narrator: Palmer can't stand giving in to his rival, but the Santa Fe men are holding their ground and a violent fight will do little to further the Rio Grande cause.

Save it for another day, men.

Let's go.

We got no more business here.

Palmer is furious.

Everything he's worked for has just been lost to a more powerful competitor.

Convery: The Santa Fe was bigger.

It was richer.

And, now, it had the route to Santa Fe, which had been Palmer's dream.

Put your back into it.

Narrator: He vows that he will get revenge on his rival, William Strong, and he won't lose again.

This railroad war is just getting started.

♪♪

April 1878.

It's nearly two months since the Raton Pass standoff.

Palmer had spent a large portion of his investors' money on that venture, and his small company doesn't have much left.

Convery: If Palmer did not find an alternative way to make money off of this railroad, he was going to lose everything.

Narrator: Palmer could focus on some safer routes to the east, but the idea of his rival, Strong, beating him over the Rockies is unbearable, so Palmer doubles down.

There's another Rocky Mountain route he has dreamed about.

It would connect Denver to a mining town to the west called Leadville.

To get there means laying track through Colorado's legendary Royal Gorge.

It's an impossibly narrow river canyon, at some points, only 30 feet wide, with room for only one train track.

Strong ain't gonna beat us again.

While the Raton Pass offered access to the commerce of the Santa Fe trail, the gorge is the path to untold riches and is now Palmer's last, and only, hope.

The Royal Gorge, the gateway to the west.

The first railroad line to reach Leadville will control a bonanza of wealth and the other railroads that come afterwards, they're just going to have to fight over the scraps.

Narrator: The path through the Royal Gorge is so forbidding, it will take a miraculous feat of engineering.

Palmer has surveyed it in the past and, driven by a fierce sense of pride and competition, believes it can be crossed.

That gorge is tough terrain, sir.

But it's not impossible, Deremer.

Borneman: Palmer decides that he absolutely needs to control the Royal Gorge.

He's not going to be beaten again by the Santa Fe.

Narrator: This time, the Rio Grande crew is ready to play tough.

Palmer's engineer, J.R. Deremer, who also served in the Civil War, is in charge of fortifications.

These just came in.

That oughta give Strong pause, if he ever messes with us again.

[Ominous music plays]

The Royal Gorge is ours and we're gonna take it.

♪♪

Narrator: As they plan their strategy for the gorge, Palmer demands all business be conducted in top secret.

He sends orders to his team in specially encrypted telegrams.

What a way to do business, right?

It's like a James Bond film.

Narrator: But William Strong has been in the game a long time and he knows all the tricks.

He's set up a system throughout the state to intercept competitors' telegraphs and Palmer's secret codes are no match for Strong's operation.

Fortunately, for Strong, they were able to crack the code of Palmer's telegraph line.

Convery: Again, it's real cloak and dagger stuff.

Now Strong knows Palmer's entire game plan and that's a huge advantage in this competition.

Narrator: Strong intends to lay track in the Royal Gorge first and beat his rival, Palmer, once again, just as he had done before, in the Raton Pass.

Holland: Strong sends a telegram back to the Santa Fe company, saying, "we don't want to get left. We can't get left."

Narrator: As before, Strong taps Ray Morley to do his dirty work.

He instructs him to get to the Royal Gorge as fast as possible and round up a crew along the way.

Morley boards the next train bound for Cañon City, the nearest town to the gorge.

But there's one hitch: The train is operated by Palmer's Rio Grande.

So Morley gets on his competitor's train and takes a seat.

But the train shows no sign of leaving.

Morley waits some more.

When's this train going to leave?

Narrator: The delay is no accident.

The Rio Grande station master, who works for Palmer, recognizes Morley boarding the train and is now holding the train in the station, to prevent Morley from getting anywhere near the Royal Gorge.

Morley has now lost valuable hours.

Finally, Morley determines that the Rio Grande have made him.

Damn it.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Holland: He thinks fast.

He gets on a horse, gallops 35 miles through the night, and gets to Cañon City.

Narrator: After his all-night ride, Morley arrives the next morning, exhausted.

But there's no time to rest.

He knows the Rio Grande men must be on their way to lay track in the gorge.

He needs to get there first.

Men, I represent the Santa Fe Railway.

Promising huge wages, he quickly gathers a group and sets out.

[Shouting] $10!

But Palmer has already mobilized his own crew and they are also rushing to get to the gorge.

Once again, the race is on.

It's only been 6 weeks since the race to Raton Pass and these two lines are at it again.

Narrator: This time, Palmer's sure his men will be there first.

But as they approach the canyon, the group comes to a dead halt.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

Once again, there's the Santa Fe, ahead of them.

♪♪

Morley.

Palmer.

What the hell you doin' here?

Royal Gorge is my land.

It's ours now.

You got here late.

We got here first.


[Suspenseful music plays]

Now, get the hell outta here, before someone gets hurt.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

Convery: And, this time, everybody has guns.

Tempers are getting short.

Narrator: There's only room for one railroad to pass through the Royal Gorge.

The question is: Who will win the fight to claim it?

Who will blink and who will be ready to risk it all?

Narrator: Colorado, 1878.

In the Rocky Mountains, William Palmer's Rio Grande Railroad crew stands toe-to-toe against their rivals from the Santa Fe Railway, in a battle to claim the Royal Gorge, the key to rail expansion in the west.

Royal Gorge is my land.

It's ours now.

[Suspenseful music plays]

In this narrow gorge, there's only room to build one set of railroad tracks.

This was a winner-take-all war.

There was no consolation prize for the losers.

[Train whistle blows]

Both crews have their trigger fingers ready.

Palmer is enraged that, once again, his rivals have beaten him to the pass.

You bastards won't get away with this.

Incredibly, Palmer appears to back down, once again.

All right.

We're goin'.

But I promise you: This ain't over.

Narrator: As they walk away, Palmer's men are stunned by his apparent retreat.

But it turns out their boss has a plan.

[Crickets chirp]

I'll be damned if we're leavin'.

Not this time.

Deremer, you remember that place we surveyed the gorge, up the river?

Yeah, boss.

I want you and McMurter to take a team of our men, go 20 miles into the gorge, and start layin' track.

Now, the Santa Fe crew may be able to build track into the gorge, but they won't be able to lay track out.

Palmer's a consummate general. And, once he realizes that he's been outmarched, once again, by the Santa Fe, his plan his to flank them.

His strategy was to build higher up on the line and essentially stop and hold the Santa Fe inside the canyon.

We're gonna block the exit.

Take some guns. You hold that line.

You understand what I'm sayin'?

All right. Get to it.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Narrator: While Morley and his men go back to work, Palmer's crew sneaks around them and heads farther upstream.

Holland: The Santa Fe guys don't even see this.

They thought they had left and this allows them to leapfrog over the Santa Fe guys and give them some ground up the gorge.

So they're at one end of the gorge and the Santa Fe is at the other end.

Narrator: Before long, Morley is told a shocking update: Palmer's crew has already started grading several miles upriver in the gorge, thereby blocking the Santa Fe's passage through.

When William Strong hears of this, he's livid.

He thought he had already taught Palmer a lesson.

But now, with both crews entrenched in the gorge building track, blocking the other's progress, it's a stalemate.

Days turn to weeks, and neither side will back down.

Convery: Now, it's these two generals, Strong and Palmer, trying to get their troops in position to have the geographic advantage.

Narrator: As tensions and the threat of violence continue to rise in the gorge, both companies prepare for a court battle to determine who has the better legal claim.

Palmer believes he does, based on his early surveys of the area, but a court battle will take months and a long stalemate gives the advantage to Strong.

Strong and the Santa Fe had very deep pockets and so it wasn't a big deal for them to hire the lawyers to fight the claim in the courts.

Strong ultimately believed that the economic clout of the Santa Fe would overpower the smaller, upstart Rio Grande.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Narrator: Palmer refuses to back down, but with every passing day, he's spending more and more money on supplies and men building track in the gorge.

The Rio Grande stockholders let him know this turf war can't go on much longer.

Convery: It's hurting their stock value.

The directors are getting nervous.

They're putting pressure on Palmer to find a solution, no matter what.

Narrator: Meanwhile, in the gorge, tension reaches a boiling point, as a revolving door of hired armed thugs guard one crew or the other and sabotage is the order of the day.

Come on.

It's those Santa Fe sons of bitches!

They've arrived.

Yeah. What are we gonna do?

That would be a shame, if something happened to them.

Like an avalanche.

Narrator: The Rio Grande crew comes up with creative ways to up the campaign of intimidation and confrontation.

They were tipping rocks down off the cliffs and smashing equipment, throwing it in the river.

Yeah! Whoohoo!

One of the accounts was dynamite was used to bring rocks down on the other crew.

Holland: Luckily, none of the Santa Fe guys get killed, but it definitely wrecks a lot of their equipment and slows them down.

Narrator: The situation grows more and more explosive.

Then, Palmer's men up the ante even more.

Deremer creates an arbitrary line in the gorge and he tells his men to send a message to the enemy.

If the Santa Fe crew crosses this so-called deadline, the consequences will be fatal.

Holland: That's the point of no return.

That is drawing the line in the sand and saying, "this is ours."

They're going to die, if they go across.

Narrator: Up to this point, the Royal Gorge war has been fought with intimidation, spies, and sabotage, but, with a line drawn in the sand, it looks certain blood will be shed.

Come on, boys.

Narrator: In the fall of 1878, two rival railroads are locked in a battle for control over Colorado's Royal Gorge.

The winner secures an east-west route for their railroad and the control of the future of American Western expansion.

Two lines, one route.

Only one of those two railroads is going to make it through the canyon.

Narrator: The Rio Grande company has just drawn a line in the sand for how far into the gorge the Santa Fe can lay track before guns start blazing.

For now, the Santa Fe crew refrains from crossing this so-called deadline, to avoid a bloodbath.

Instead, their leader, William Strong, continues his strategy of delaying and outspending his smaller rival.

And it works.

Palmer's railroad is in dire straits and his great dream of an empire is in tatters.

Convery: Palmer runs out of money.

He just can't continue his war against the Santa Fe.

There's a letter for you, sir.

Narrator: In October, Palmer receives devastating news from his board of directors.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

Those weak sons of bitches!

What is it, sir?

Our stockholders.

Narrator: In a bid to keep from going broke, the stockholders decide to lease the tracks Palmer has already laid to the Santa Fe line, and Strong.

They're leasing the Rio Grande to Strong.

Our rails, our depots, everything, everything we've ever built!

It's a gut blow.

All that Palmer has worked for will now be in the hands of his competitors and his Nemesis, William Strong.

What?!

Palmer is aghast with this.

Lease his railroad, his own flesh and blood, to a competitor?

Those weak sons of bitches!

How can they do that?

We're broke.

They don't have the guts and they don't have the vision.

Narrator: Palmer knows his stockholders' decision is based on money, but, now, he's fighting for pride.

But I'm not done yet. I will never be ready to give it all over to Strong.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

For William Strong, this victory is as sweet as it gets.

He can now control the Colorado railways that took Palmer years to build.

And the Santa Fe soon takes over the Rio Grande stations, depots, and roundhouses all over the state.

For Palmer, the humiliation is unbearable.

He has to sit, for a period of about 6 months, and watch as this big competitor, the Santa Fe, not only holds the Royal Gorge hostage, but also basically operates the Rio Grande as its own.

It seems like a defeat for Palmer.

♪♪

Narrator: But, in the west, fortunes can turn on a dime.

Just when it seems Palmer can't hang on any longer, he gets the break he's been waiting for.

The supreme court rules in his favor in the Royal Gorge case.

Convery: Because of their earlier work, because of their surveys, the Rio Grande had the right to build a line through the Royal Gorge.

Narrator: Strong will have to concede the gorge to Palmer.

But there's an even bigger blow to come.

In another stunning ruling, a court also orders Strong to return control of the Rio Grande Railroad and all of its stations, and roundhouses, to Palmer.

Instantly, the tables have turned.

Convery: When the courts finally decide in favor of the Denver Rio Grande, the Santa Fe is ordered to give its depot and its equipment over to the Rio Grande.

Narrator: Strong is enraged.

For months, he's been in charge of the rails in Colorado.

Whatever the courts say, he decides he will not concede this battle to his foe, Palmer.

Strong wasn't going to give up that easily.

Narrator: He files an appeal and, as he waits, orders all of his men to stay put in the former Rio Grande depots.

If Palmer is to get them back, he'll have to fight for them.

Colorado's a long way away from the United States supreme court and, if you have armed men on the ground, that seems to go a lot farther than a court order.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Narrator: Palmer, now with the law behind him, is ready to use force, if he must.

Palmer takes the field with a group of workers to try to take over various stations, and he's pretty successful at that.

His train depots start falling like dominoes.

A lot of the Santa Fe guys retreat. They leave.

Narrator: Furious, Strong escalates the fight and hires an armed posse to go to battle against Palmer's men.

Bell: Strong put together this incredible dream team of gunfighters to work for the Santa Fe.

Narrator: Among them is the legendary lawman and gunslinger Bat Masterson.

Bat Masterson had such a reputation at this time, he was known as one of "The Guns."

Borneman: The Santa Fe looked to Bat Masterson to come to Colorado and put a little muscle behind the Santa Fe's efforts.

Narrator: William Palmer isn't intimidated.

The former general hires an even bigger army.

Palmer, not to be outdone, he went out and got 200 guys, so, if he didn't have the star power and the names, he certainly had the numbers.

[Suspenseful music climbs]

Narrator: No longer a fight for just the Royal Gorge, the blood feud between Palmer and Strong now spills over to the depots, tracks, and roundhouses of Colorado.

[Suspenseful music plays]

On June 11, 1879, a handful of Palmer's armed men are traveling South from Denver, with court orders in hand to take back more Rio Grande depots.

Meanwhile, rumor spreads that, near the town of La Veta, a few Santa Fe workers stubbornly hold down the local train depot.

Williamson: So the story goes Palmer's guys find two of the Santa Fe guys...

[gunshots]

And they just mow 'em down, kill them right on the spot.

[Gunshot]

[Gunshot] [Suspenseful music climbs]

Narrator: The alarms sound on the Santa Fe side.

Strong decides to consolidate his forces in the Santa Fe's most strategically vital holding that they still have: A train station in Pueblo, Colorado.

He sends Bat Masterson and the gunslingers to organize a defense there.

After losing substantial ground to the Rio Grande Railroad, this will be their last stand.

Borneman: So what happens is that Bat and his crowd are ensconced in the Pueblo roundhouse.

There's a rumor that they borrowed the Cannon from the local armory and were determined that, no matter what the courts said, they weren't going to give up possession of it.

Pueblo is the last stronghold for the Santa Fe.

Narrator: At 3:00 pm on June 11, 1879, a posse of Palmer's armed men arrives in Pueblo.

They have one mission: Take back the Rio Grande property.

They know that Masterson and the gunslingers are holding the roundhouse, so they start their attack on the telegraph office, guarded by several armed Santa Fe men.

All right! Come out with your hands up, or we're comin' in!

Get in there!

Whoo-oo-oo!

This moment will decide what will be written in the history books.

Who will claim ownership for America's future in the west?

[Gunshots]

Narrator: Colorado, 1879.

In the town of Pueblo, armed men from the Rio Grande Railroad are about to storm a telegraph office held by their rivals from the Santa Fe.

All right! Come out with your hands up, or we're comin' in!

Too many of them!

Inside, the men from the Santa Fe refuse to back down.

We got orders to hold this office, no matter what, and we're not giving it up to the Rio Grande!

All right! They had their chance!

On three!

One, two, three!

Get in there!

Whoo-oo-oo!

Williamson: They knock the door down.

The people that are in the telegraph office hightail it out the back.

They all get away.

Except one poor individual.

[Shouting]

[Two gunshots]

He takes a bullet in the back.

Holland: And it gets ugly.

This guy getting shot takes everything to a whole new level.

Everyone realizes this is gonna be serious bloodshed.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Narrator: The showdown in Pueblo isn't over.

As night falls, hired gun Bat Masterson and his men still hold the Pueblo roundhouse for the Santa Fe.

It's the final stronghold of William Strong's resistance.

The Rio Grande posse enlists help from the law for their final attack.

Borneman: The Rio Grande crew went to the local sheriff and said, "look, the court's saying we have the right to take our possessions back."

Williamson: The sheriff gets some deputies, gives them firearms.

"We're going to force these people to surrender."

Bell: The classic moment in every western is the old west showdown, and that's exactly what happened here.

[Shouting]

[Suspenseful music climbs]

Bat Masterson!

Come on out!

This is the law!

You need to surrender!

I'm holdin' this property under the law, for the Santa Fe Railway.

I am the law, Masterson.

This is the property of the Rio Grande Railroad!

You need to come out, now, or we're comin' in, guns a-blazin'.

Narrator: Just when bloodshed seems imminent, the Rio Grande's leader, William Palmer, reportedly arrives on the scene.

Sheriff, maybe I can help out.

From the start, this feud was about money.

Give 'em this.

A little incentive.

A power struggle between Strong and Palmer, two men locked in a battle for an empire.

Masterson.

So it's only fitting that money wins out, in the end.

[Suspenseful music plays]

Maybe there's a way that, uh, we can settle this without bloodshed.

Bell: And, allegedly, rumor says that they offered Masterson a $10,000 reward to give up.

Narrator: The hired guns have no problem shifting loyalty to a bigger paycheck.

All right, gentleman, lower your weapons.

Anyone who doesn't is gonna get shot.

By me.

Narrator: And so, the battle in Pueblo is over and, with it, the stage is set to end the war.

Convery: Ultimately, after all of the gunplay and all of the court battles, the directors of the Santa Fe and the Rio Grande both say, "enough!

We need to make the peace."

Narrator: The east coast investors broker an epic deal that will restore profitability across the board.

It's called the Treaty of Boston.

Convery: Through the Boston Treaty, the Santa Fe received access to Santa Fe and New Mexico and, ultimately, California.

And the Denver and Rio Grande's territory was defined as Colorado and Utah.

Narrator: Palmer will buy out the Santa Fe track in the Royal Gorge, and thus realize his dream of running a line through the gorge from Denver to Leadville.

Eventually, the Rio Grande becomes a successful regional line throughout Colorado and Utah.

By the time Palmer resigns as president, in 1883, he's a multimillionaire.

Borneman: Ultimately, Palmer has really become a philanthropist and a very loyal person to all of the men who worked for him.

♪♪

Narrator: But Strong, after conceding the gorge, builds something even bigger.

His rail line through the Raton Pass ultimately connects Santa Fe to California and the Pacific coast.

It becomes one of the most revered railroads in the country.

The Santa Fe became the famous tourist railroad line, the line that Americans flock to, in order to see the romantic southwest.

Holland: Strong becomes a very successful man.

He lives to 77 years of age and leaves a legacy of all the rail line that he basically brought across the whole Western United States.

[Whistle blows]

♪♪

Narrator: Today, the epic feud between William Strong and William Palmer remains the stuff of legend and these two men will be forever enshrined in history, as both bold visionaries and epic brawlers.

It really comes down to David and Goliath.

It's the big guy versus the little guy and these two guys were the epitome of the American west.

Borneman: The whole development of the American southwest owes a lot to the railroads.

Put your back into it.

People of any generation have their heroes, the men and women who get things done.

Strong, for the Santa Fe; And Palmer, for the Rio Grande; really showed what can be done if you have a vision and you have a dream.