On Sunday, November 6, AMC Television will broadcast the premier episode of its newest drama, Hell on Wheels, which is described as an:
[E]pic story of post-Civil War America, focusing on a Confederate soldier who sets out to exact revenge on the Union soldiers who have killed his wife. His journey takes him west to Hell on Wheels, a dangerous, raucous, lawless melting pot of a town that travels with and services the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, an engineering feat unprecedented for its time. The series documents the railroad’s engineering and construction as well as institutionalized greed and corruption, the immigrant experience, and the plight of newly emancipated African-Americans during Reconstruction. Hell on Wheels chronicles this potent turning point in our nation’s history and how uncivilized the business of civilization can be.
The AHC houses several collections related to the construction of the transcontinental railroad, westward migration, and even “Hell on Wheels,” which is the term used to describe the transient collection of unsavory businesses (gambling houses, saloons, brothels) and people that followed the construction of the railroad west.
The John and Frances Casement Papers represent one of the AHC’s more notable collections on the topic. Jack Casement, like the main character on AMC’s program, was a Civil War soldier who went to work on the Union Pacific’s transcontinental line from 1866-1869, which took him from Omaha to Promontory Point in Utah. The collection is composed mostly of correspondence between Casement and his wife during these years. Casement writes frankly of his difficulties in obtaining supplies and gives his opinion of business associates. Most of the collection, including all of the correspondence, has been digitized and made available online. The Casements were also featured on PBS’s Transcontinental Railroad documentary.
Other AHC collections that feature material related to Hell on Wheels and/or the contstruction of the UPR include: the T. A. Larson Papers, the Samuel Chittenden Papers, the W. O. Owen Papers, and the Morton E. Post Family Papers.
To learn more, please visit some of our online resources about the transcontinental railroad and westward migration, including:
- An AHC virtual exhibit: Hell on Wheels: Union Pacific Towns in Wyoming
- An interpretive website on the westward migration experience, as documented in four AHC collections: Westward Migration
- The AHC’s Guide to Transportation Collections
- The AHC’s cataloged collections on records on railroad history
- Digitized Photographs related to the Union Pacific Railroad