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PROMONTORY, Utah (AP) — Utah has long celebrated the completion of the transcontinental railroad in the town of Promontory, when a golden spike was driven into the tracks in 1869.
But a Colorado museum curator is challenging that legacy, arguing the railroad wasn't completed until the next year in Strasburg, Colorado.
The Golden Spike National Historic Site, about 32 miles west of Brigham City in northern Utah, marks the joining of the east and west rail lines every year with re-enactment ceremonies in period costume.
But that's a fraud, according to Cliff Smith, the curator at the Comanche Crossing Museum in Strasburg about 40 miles east of Denver.
The rail line running through Utah had a gap in Omaha. No bridge crossed the Missouri River and passengers had to disembark the train and cross the river in a ferry before getting back on another train.
Smith said the May 10, 1869, the celebration of the transcontinental railroad in Utah, marked with the driving of a Golden Spike into the ground, was a political exhibition for former President Ulysses Grant.
"President Grant had taken office earlier that year and wanted that as one of his accomplishments. It's a fraud," Smith told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City (http://bit.ly/1IFqM7p).
Instead, Smith points to another rail line that ran further south and crossed the Missouri River through a bridge in Kansas City.
"This is truly the first transcontinental railroad in the United States," Smith said.
That line was completed in 1870 in Strasburg, something the Comanche Crossing Museum commemorates.
Greg Smoak, a historian and professor at the University of Utah's American West Center, said in the 19th century, ferries were considered part of the railroad and the gap on the Missouri River does not nullify Utah's claim in railroad history.
Smoak also said the railroad running through Kansas City never played as significant of a role carrying people and goods across the continent as the rail line running through Utah.
At the Colorado museum, Smith said he hopes the National Park Service will one day recognize Strasburg's claim.
"And we can say 'No, this is the true story," Smith said. "This is the true history of the United States."
Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com
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