The Royal Gorge War - The Warrior's Journey®
Moral Injury

The Royal Gorge War

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The Royal Gorge War

In the 1870s a literal war broke out between two railroad companies in southern Colorado. Miners had discovered rich deposits of lead and silver near Leadville. But transportation out of this site was nearly impossible. Two competing rail companies – the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe and the Denver & Rio Grande railroads – knew there was money to be made by transporting ore, equipment, and people.   

This normally wouldn’t have created a problem. The two companies could simply lay rail side by side to reach Leadville through the Arkansas River Valley. However, a huge obstacle stood in their way – the Royal Gorge. The Royal Gorge is a six-mile-long, 1,000-foot-deep and very narrow chasm. Its sheer rock walls plunge vertically down to the Arkansas River with no room for railroad tracks. Blasting the granite walls might make room for one set of rails, but certainly not two.   

Instead of working together and trying to find mutually beneficial solution, the Santa Fe and Rio Grande launched a war against each other. Both railroads immediately filed litigation for the right to the gorge. But rather than wait for a court decision, the Santa Fe rushed railroad crews to the east end of the gorge and began construction. The Rio Grande countered by beginning construction from the west end of the gorge. Gangs from each company raided the other by night. They dynamited the other’s work and tossed equipment and supplies into the river. Armed men from both sides constructed stone forts – still visible today – to guard their own work crews and track.   

The Santa Fe hired the famous lawmen Bat Masterson to recruit an army of gun fighters to help the company muscle its way through the gorge. Masterson hired such notorious killers as “Dirty” Dave Rudabaugh,  Josh Webb,  Ben Thompson, and “Mysterious” Dave Mather. 

Finally in 1880, a high court recognized that the U.S. Congress had already granted the right to the Arkansas River in 1870 to the Rio Grande. They affirmed the Rio Grande’s right to the Royal Gorge but allowed the Santa Fe secondary right to use the Rio Grande’s track. 

Unfortunately for both companies, the best of the silver and lead boom was over. Years of legal wrangling and armed conflict wasted the optimum opportunity to capitalize on the silver rush. The number of those killed in the conflict is unknown.

You know, competition is fine for sports. Competition also has its place in business – as long as the customer is served in the end. But sometimes competition gets downright toxic and does the customer more harm than good. Only attorneys and gun slingers benefitted from this debacle. The job of opening up the Royal Gorge could have been done far quicker and peaceably if two railroad companies had only cooperated and worked as a team. 

Whether it’s a married couple, a neighborhood, an organization, or a nation – unity, teamwork, and cooperation are always the best options. What would happen to any of us if the organs of our body declared war on each other? We’d perish. Though this might happen on a small scale – e.g. when our immune system attacks transplanted organs – all our organs faithfully do as God commands them. They work together for our body’s wellbeing.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” …. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Psalm 133:1; Ephesians 4:3). 

PRAYER: Dear Father in Heaven, please pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us and heal our land. Remove the hatred and bigotry from our hearts and fill them with Your love. Please bring unity and love to every marriage, community, and city. By Your Spirit divine, turn our hearts to You in faith and repentance and to each other in love and reconciliation.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 


(Information from: The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park sign;

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