"First Santa Fe Train"

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"First Santa Fe Train." Fred Harvey postcard.

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“First Santa Fe Train.” Fred Harvey postcard.


In December of 1878, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) “reached the New Mexico line,” an event memorialized in this Fred Harvey postcard from the Farmer archive, the “First Santa Fe Train.”[1] Eventually, in 1883, the ATSF joined the Southern Pacific Railroad and established a connection to the West Coast. Specifically, this Harvey postcard reproduces a painting, The First Santa Fe Train, painted by artist Frank P. Sauerwein in the early twentieth century. The reproduction appeared on Harvey Company “Phostint” postcards, those made exclusively by the Detroit Publishing Company, around 1910.[2]


Other versions of Sauerwein’s painting appear on the backs of “Great Southwest Souvenir Playing Cards,” a deck of cards published and made exclusively for the Harvey Company in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as on the cover of The Great Southwest along the Santa Fe, a text also published by the Harvey Company in Kansas City.[3] While editions of The Great Southwest circulated until, approximately, 1930, the text was likely published for the first time around 1911. Its cover image, The First Santa Fe Train by Sauerwein, was an oil painting commissioned in 1907 by the ATSF Railway Company for advertising purposes.[4] With The Great Southwest, ATSF allowed “armchair tourists” to travel along their rail lines throughout New Mexico and Arizona in the hopes of enticing them to book an actual trip. While this form of advertisement was not unique to the ATSF, and it was often commonplace for rail lines to promote the scenic views seen from their cars, the ATSF set itself apart from its competitors by incorporating images of Native peoples into their scenes. This is illustrated, foremost, with Sauerwein’s painting on The Great Southwest’s cover.[5] In addition to landscapes and scenes of Native peoples, The Great Southwest also included images of the railway’s Harvey House hotels, “which offered luxurious trackside accommodations throughout the Southwest.”[6]


The backside of the “First Santa Fe Train” reads: “Indians watching the first Santa Fe train crossing the continent, whose advent meant so little to their minds, and so much to the white man. The picture is from a famous painting.” Clearly, this statement is resoundingly false. Native peoples were acutely aware of the negative impacts of settler colonialism, of which the train functioned as a powerful symbol.

[1] Marta Weigle, “From Desert to Disney World: The Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey Company Display the Indian Southwest,” Journal of Anthropological Research 45, no. 1 (1989): 116.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “The Great Southwest along the Santa Fe,” Southern Methodist University Libraries, accessed July 1, 2022, https://digitalcollections.smu.edu/digital/collection/wes/id/1693/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.