The Day the Railroad Came to Tucson

TUCSON, Ariz. — March 20, 1880, is a day that is forever engrained in the history of Tucson. That was the day the first train rolled into town.

The history or railroads in Tuscon dates to the late 1860s when a southern transcontinental route was first proposed. On March 3, 1871, President U.S. Grant signed a bill to incorporate the Texas Pacific Railroad.

The railroad, later known as the Texas and Pacific Railroad, was to build a road between Marshall, Texas, and San Diego, Calif., via Tucson. In 1881, the road made it as far west as Sierra Blanca, Texas, where it interchanged with the Southern Pacific Railroad.

A group of San Francisco businessmen founded the Southern Pacific in 1865 to build a line connecting San Francisco and San Diego. By 1883, the railroad reached New Orleans.

Today, the railroad is part of Union Pacific.

On March 20, 1882, two days after the shooting death of Morgan Earp, Wyatt Earp led a posse that hunted down and killed Frank Stilwell in the Tucson railyard. The infamous shooting, which is portrayed in the 1993 movie “Tombstone,” is also remembered with a statue of Earp and Doc Holiday stands near the modern depot.

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, located next to the active railroad tracks in the former records vault building at the former Southern Pacific Depot, tells the story of railroads in Tucson. Outside the museum, Southern Pacific Railroad No. 1673, 2-6-0 (Mogul) is on static display.

Schenectady Locomotive Works built the locomotive in November 1900. For the most part, the steamer operated in southern Arizona and hauled freight trains.

Todd DeFeo
About Todd DeFeo 281 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.