In 1887, the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway constructed 642 miles of track between Minot, Dakota Territory, and Helena, Montana Territory--a notable feat. Construction began April 2 and ended November 19. The line was a predecessor of the Great Northern Railway, built without land grants or government aid. Socially, the image shows remarkable racial mingling on the railroad frontier. A large group of men, women, and children, white and Native American and perhaps Chinese, pose in front of a three-story dormitory car, itself highly unusual. In some way, all were involved with constructing the trackage. The women likely worked as cooks and chambermaids. The Chinese and most of the white men were laborers. Some of the white men may have been Irish immigrants, a group associated particularly with U.S. railroad construction. The role of the Native Americans is unclear, but they may have helped provide fresh meat and other foods. They may also have simply lived in the area and scrutinized construction. Racial prejudice against Chinese laborers and other persons of color was widespread across the U.S. at the time, but it is not obvious here. Clothing, especially of minority groups, is remarkable and worthy of study. The Great Northern distributed the photograph.
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