Cat’s Cafe, Ch. 8 Notes

Updated August, 2022

Chapter Eight ~ Cigars, chicanery, and collusion

Connections — Then and Now

Tampa Bay earned its nickname “Cigar City” as a result of the migration of Cubans seeking and finding work in the burgeoning hand-rolled cigar industry following Cuba’s 10 Years’ War. The Tampa Bay History Center features a permanent “Cigar City” gallery, as well as, through February 2023, the special “Cuban Pathways” exhibit which describes in glorious, terrible, beautiful detail 500 years of migration.

Spanish entrepreneur Vicente Martinez-Ybor helped establish Tampa’s thriving cigar industry by creating positive working conditions, fair compensation, and a supportive social community. His famous El Principe de Gales were Luther Armstrong’s [Eagle Rock Trilogy, Cat’s Cafe] favorite cigars.

For a look at the featured “Cuban Pathways” exhibit, visit the museum website, then scroll down the page to the Preview section and watch this Fox 13 preview video. It even shows the boat that carried 12 people across the Florida Straits in the fall of 2021. See link at bottom of this page.

Chapter Eight ~ Cigars, chicanery, and collusion

Vicente Martinez-Ybor started his small cigar manufacturing company in Havana, Cuba in 1856. His El Principe de Gales brand soon became quite popular and his factory was producing 20,000 cigars a day.

When the 1868 Ten Years’ War broke out in an effort to win independence from Spanish colonial rule, Martinez-Ybor supported the Cuban rebels. When faced with potential arrest from Spanish authorities, he fled with his family to Key West, Florida and opened a new factory. He employed many of the Cubans who had left their war-torn homeland and continued producing Principe de Gales cigars but renamed them “Prince of Wales” since he had a corner on the American market. He was the first to manufacture and market a “Havana clear” or “Cuban clear” cigar. This was a cigar made with Cuban tobacco produced by Cuban workers but manufactured in the United States, thus avoiding the high tariff the U.S. imposed on cigars imported from Cuba.

This chapter also deals with the role of the Mormon Church and railroad barons in the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad and its north/south spurs. In fact, the true story of railroad politics, manipulation and deception, and even the role of polygamy in the Mormon Church at this time and in this region, is so complex, so labyrinthine, that the best treatment here would be a collection of maps, a list of characters with photos and links to online biographies, a detailed timeline, and possibly a word bank. And it would be worth every inch to include a thorough treatment of how intertwined became the Mormon Church leaders and east coast investors and barons.

It’s worth noting that even scholarly printed histories disagree on the events and motivations of this period of history. This version is the very best I have found, albeit abbreviated here.

Here we go.

In the 1860’s there was a huge push to complete, and then extend with spurs, the Transcontinental Railroad, with incentives and bonuses to be the first to reach the midpoint. Owners hired Chinese workers to help build the Central Pacific line east from the Pacific Ocean through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and on through Nevada. Many other groups, including freed African Americans, Confederate soldiers, and immigrants from Europe were hired to build the Union Pacific west through the Great Plains, Native American lands, and the Rocky Mountains. At that time, the anticipated midpoint was Salt Lake City where the Mormons were well established. This is where the Mormon interest comes in.

If Salt Lake City were the Transcontinental Railroad midpoint, the Mormons would be perfectly positioned to move freight east and west between the two competing railroads (Central Pacific and Union Pacific) as well as run a spur north to the fertile Cache Valley where farm families could prosper.

So, when Jay Gould and his cronies with interest in the west-bound Union Pacific approached the Mormons for help, a deal was struck. Mormon laborers would help finish the project in exchange for help building their spur north to the Cache Valley. Perfect? Not so fast.

Dwindling funds, deceptive practices, and dubious measures eventually wound up cheating the Mormons out of the northbound railroad extension and their payment for labor they had provided to the Union Pacific; AND the Union Pacific chose to alter the midpoint of the Transcontinental Railroad away from Salt Lake City to a little town named Ogden. The Mormons had been swindled.

Adding insult to injury, Jay Gould’s Union Pacific had built the town of Corinne as a railroad town that prided itself in being Utah’s largest “Gentile” community. As such, and with the added benefit of being closer to the overland wagon trail to the Montana mines, Corrine became a major freight center, a goal Brigham Young (Sr.) had had for Salt Lake City. In 1872, half to three-quarters of a million pounds of freight rolled out of Corrine each week in wagon trains driven by bullwhackers to the Montana markets —and the Mormons had to build their own spur to connect to the Transcontinental.

In the end, the Mormons finally gave up waiting for fair play. About a decade later, they built their own line, the Utah Northern Railroad, using volunteer Mormon labor to the Cache Valley and financial assistance from east coast investors. Unfortunately, this short line was too short to make a profit and the investors eventually forced it to close in bankruptcy court.

Little did the Mormons know that the Union Pacific had their hand in this as well and profited from the bankruptcy sale. Not even my fictitious character Luther Armstrong whose story actually links the wide, shady, cast of characters involved over several years of railroad development and chicanery, made money until copper emerged as a profit center in Butte, Montana and Luther was finally able to convince the Union Pacific to extend the line north. 

All of this was, at the time, totally unregulated enterprise. Theodore Roosevelt was the first President to seriously address the sorts of monopoly issues that arose in America’s Industrial Age. More information on the Union Pacific’s fascinating acquisition of the Utah Northern is widely available online.

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