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Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad

Bain, David Howard | Penguin, 1999


p. 41

Building a transcontinental railroad would require topographical surveys to determine most feasible routes. But Thomas Hart Benton, addressing the U. S. Senate on December 16, 1850 (“Highway to the Pacific: Grand National Central High-way) said this: “there is a class of topographical engineers older than the schools and more unerring than the mathematicians. They are the wild animals—buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, bears—which traverse the forests not by compass but by an instinct that leads them the right way to the lowest passes in the mountains, the shallowest fords in the rivers . . . and the shortest practicable lines between remote points. A buffalo path becomes a warpath . . . and finally the railroad of the scientific man.”