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202: ‘Doc’ Durant in Hell on Wheels with Sheila Myers

We’re joined by author Sheila Myers to learn about the real character of Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant in AMC’s Hell on Wheels.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Dan LeFebvre  02:22

One thing I’d like to do before diving into some of the details is to take a step back and look at things overall. So if you were to give Hell on Wheels, letter grade for how well it did portraying the character of ‘Doc’ Durant, what would it get?


Sheila Myers  02:35

So out of a scale of one to 10, I would give it probably a seven. Great job with his personality, and actor, you know, call me and he did a great job. And then I just think it exaggerated things and made up things about that about historical facts, you know, that weren’t facts, and they bent the truth a lot. So that would be the only reason I’d say seven out of 10. But in terms of the character would probably be more of a nine because I think com did a great job on meaning.


Dan LeFebvre  03:08

I mean, that’s pretty good. It is entertainment. So I mean, it’s yeah, pretty, pretty good considering.


Sheila Myers  03:13

Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  03:15

Well, in the first episode of the first season, we’re given the year 1865, and Durant’s already in charge of building the Union Pacific Railroad. So can you give us a little historical context or overview of Durant’s life up until the timeline of this series?


Sheila Myers  03:30

Sure, he had, he and his two brothers, Charles and William started a shipping business shipping grain, and then they eventually started shipping parts and materials for the expansion out west, into the territories. And they, and that’s how he got involved in railroads, because he realized that the future was in railroads. And so he began in investing in railroads. And at the same time, he also learned a lot about the stock market because he and his brothers started playing around in the stock market. And I think that’s really what drew him to the transcontinental is the idea that you knew the government was investing a lot of money in infrastructure, especially out west because the civil war was ending and they felt the need to send troops and have access to western territories. And so I think he he was just an opportunist that realize the financial gains that were available if he pursued the trance, you know, the transcontinental.


Dan LeFebvre  04:27

Okay, so he was already a businessman beforehand. This wasn’t like his his first time doing that.


Sheila Myers  04:32

Yes, he was. Yes.


Dan LeFebvre  04:37

Throughout the series, we do get a few different peeks into his family life. There’s an example I can give in season one, he mentions his wife back in New York. In season two, we actually meet his wife as she comes to Hell on Wheels. We also find out that his son died of cholera. I got the sense from watching the show that their marriage just wasn’t the same after their son died, which of course makes sense. But then later on in the series, would you find out that they get divorced? Did the show do a good job explaining what drains family life was like?


Sheila Myers  05:09

No, not at all, actually. And also, later on, don’t forget to ask me about his being a doctor. Yeah, he so happened is when the civil war broke out his wife, Hannah was actually she’s English or she was English. She’s dead now, of course. And she didn’t want to be around during the Civil War. So she took off to England with her two children she had Duran had two children, William and Ella. And so they went to Europe and they stayed in Europe during the whole entire time that he was building the transcontinental. Now, they might have come back i There’s pictures of William coming back to the event when they you know, when the two lines met the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific, but they really were not a part of his life. So in you know, I found letters that the Durant family actually has cataloged a lot of letters, not just Dr. rant, but the other the rest of the expanded family. And they’re at the New York Public Library. And I went through them. And I found letters between Dr. Brandt and his wife, Hannah, during this time period while he was building the transcontinental and, you know, she was very typical woman of her time. I mean, I give her a lot of credit, because it must have taken a lot of courage to live alone with your two children. But they were completely dependent on him. And there was letters where she, you know, she called them Pat. And she said, I’m so sorry, I spent that money. You know, she was really beholden to him. He was holding all the purse strings. And they lived a pretty good lifestyle. I mean, they traveled I tracked all the places. They lived and they lived in Paris and they lived in and you know, William went to Norway, they went to dorfgastein and took in the spa. And, you know, they really did a lot of travel William, his oldest son, his only son went and big game hunting in Egypt twice. So I mean, he really lavish them and brought them up the best possible lifestyle that he could they Hannah did not have anything to do that with the trans continental and those episodes, you’re talking about where she’s really involved. And she’s also American, it they’re not very, they’re not authentic in that sense.


Dan LeFebvre  07:16

Okay, was she there at all? Because we do, we do see her there. But of course, the show doesn’t really leave hell on wheels that much.


Sheila Myers  07:23

Did not get that impression from reading through letters that she ever visited him out Wes. And his son never did die. As matter of fact, the Jaime is his son and the books that I wrote, follow the Durant family post transcontinental and his son lives to a ripe old age of 84. So yeah, he doesn’t die color, but you’re sweaty because I don’t know who the researchers were in, you know, they might not have had a lot of material to work with, or the family. There’s not much out there about Hannah unless she did a lot of digging. But there was biographies about his son because his son was famous in his own right for building great camps in the Adirondacks. And a lot of lawsuits and scandals that follow the flag, the family. But there was an incident one of the letters that I read, where William had it sounded like cholera. So I thought that was kind of interesting, because they make it sound like he died of cholera. Well, cholera was really common back then. And especially if you were in London, you know, you were trying to escape the cities to get away from cholera. So it kind of makes sense that they use that. But no, he never died.


Dan LeFebvre  08:26

Interesting. Yeah, that was that was 100%, the impression that I got was he died, and that just puts strain on their marriage under I mean, I can understand not only the death, but also it does sound like this them being separate so much, that has to be tough on a marriage as well.


Sheila Myers  08:42

I can’t imagine that he was faithful to her the whole time, I really highly doubt that, given the time period, especially, and just to travel back and forth from England to the United States would take months at that time on chips. So and communication would be slow. So I, you know, some of the letters I saw to from his daughter, Ella, she wrote to her father where, you know, just kind of heartbreaking. We kept. We kept a flower on your seat where you would normally be sitting because today was your birthday. You know, they really they went years without seeing him.


Dan LeFebvre  09:16

Wow, yeah, that I couldn’t imagine that would just be so difficult to be able to do that and still maintain the marriage.


Sheila Myers  09:21

Right? Exactly. Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  09:24

Well, something that happens to Durant in the second season, there’s some Confederate soldiers who robbed the town and they take the railroads, payroll, and in the process, we see doctorate get shot, and he’s very badly wounded. He ends up having to actually go to Chicago to get treated and to heal. Was the show accurate to depict Durant getting shot and having to leave the railroad to recover?


Sheila Myers  09:45

Yes, so that I am not aware of that. And that might again, just been dramatic license that they were just using to show how dangerous it was the situation out west and in the kind of people that he was in reacting with. And given his own upbringing where he came from there, I think they were just really trying to show the dichotomy of type of people, you know, with hell on wheels, being the skirt traveling, village and town and, you know, attracting all kinds of bandits and types of people so that I never saw any evidence that he was mortally wounded or anything like that, in any of the readings that I had of his, you know, in terms of biographies.


Dan LeFebvre  10:28

Did he leave the railroad though, because it kind of the impression I got from the series was that his wounding was a chance for him to leave, essentially, and then somebody else kind of take over.


Sheila Myers  10:38

But yeah, so there was push and pull between him and his board, and certain people on the board. But that really happened more later in towards the end, when the trans continental was almost complete. And that had to do with his scandal with a credit mobile ear, that he set up the construction company that he set up. And oak games who was at the time, a congress person who he was bribing. And they got into a lot of arguments, and he got forced off the board. But that happened later. It was almost, you know, towards the end of his tenure, anyways, transcontinental was going to get built. But I do imagine there were times where he did leave and had to go east because he was lobbying. I mean, he was a lobbyist, he would go east, just like Collis Huntington from the Central Pacific. They spent a lot of time on the East Coast. I mean, I found an article written in the Britain Brooklyn Tribune, I think it was, it was like 1868 69. And they talked about Durant being on his yacht. You had a yacht called idler that he kept in the Brooklyn Yacht Club, and he would, you know, entertain people on his yacht. So he had business interests to out out on the East Coast. I mean, he amassed half a million acres he he acquired in the Adirondack mountains that he planned that was his next venture was another railroad into the interior there and exploiting the resources there. So there would be times he would have definitely left the railroad. But if it was because he got shot, that’s a whole nother story that I never saw evidence of, but who knows? You know?


Dan LeFebvre  12:17

You mentioned the scandal there. And I wanted to ask about something that we do see it, I think it starts in season one, we kind of see it, we find out that Duran has taken like $147,000 from the railroad for his own private use. That’s what the I think it’s the suite that tells visiting Senator Jordan crane in episode six, and then later on in season three, we see Durant in Hudson prison on charges of embezzling those railroad funds. So was there true to the allegation of $147,000 and him going to prison for it?


Sheila Myers  12:47

So it was more like $40 million


Dan LeFebvre  12:49

$40 million, then or $40 million today?


Sheila Myers  12:54

And then, wow. 800 Yeah. So it was interesting as I went back and watched a lot of the season two, because it got me because it had been so long for me. And Lily has this ledger, remember the ledger and she and she’s like holding it and saying I’m gonna, you know, use this against you. And she wants Bohannan to join her and they’re gonna, you know, crush Durant? Well, what’s interesting about that was, there was a ledger. And when Durant set up this credit Mobley, or company, that was basically he owned, he was on the board of this company. And it was really a conflict of interests. And he was bribing congressmen by giving them stocks and credit mobile year. And what they credit mobile a deer mobile year was set up to do was be the construction arm of the transcontinental for the Union Pacific. So it was like the Union Pacific who he was in charge of was hiring credit Mobilia, which he was in charge of, to do the construction. And so what it would do is, and I’m just going to throw this out, as an example, say something costs, well actually saw this in an actual letter, one of his engineers quit, because he said, when I did, my estimate was going to cost $30,000 to run this line. And you told me to inflate it to $50,000. And so that’s what it did inflated the actual costs of things, either by doing unnecessary embankments or running a line in a longer route around just to add more track as they’re being paid per mile of track. And so he built the government out of a lot of money doing that. And that ledger that Lilly has actually existed. And what happened is, they couldn’t find it and somebody actually broke into his New York offices when a disgruntled stockbroker trying to find this ledger. And the government at this point after the trans continental was finished was going after Durant and Huntington, investigating them. And the Ledger was never found until this is very interesting. Like 1935 or 40. I found a letter Her Durant’s daughter in law, sent to a historian, a railroad historian saying, hey, this lawyer just contacted me and they have all of the Union Pacific Ledger’s that was sitting in their safe, they’re moving. And they found all those Ledger’s these were the Ledger’s that he had hidden. And he never showed. He kept telling the government he didn’t have that he didn’t have anything, you know, to show them. He had no, no real Dodgers, and he hid them. And he had them really well. And they didn’t come too late until years and years after his death, and now they’re at the university, Iowa actually has them in their digitized. And God love anyone who wants to go through them and figure it all out. But the government at the time in the 1873, there was a commission set up, and they accused Union Pacific of bulking, the government overcharging by $40 million. Yeah. Yeah. So that was just you know, the 147 was a drop in the bucket. You know,


Dan LeFebvre  15:57

with Durant being a business man before that, was that just kind of what he did? Or was he did he seen some sort of an opportunity with the railroad that he didn’t do in his other businesses?


Sheila Myers  16:06

Yeah, I mean, well, you know, and the fact is, central Pacific was doing it as well. And so it just makes you wonder if it was just a common practice, because, you know, the government passed the railroad act, I think, was 1862, with the idea that you’re going to do this for public good, because we need this infrastructure so that we can expand into the western territories, and we can carry our military out there to protect people and the pioneers, and also the mail and everything else. And in the you know, if you read the act, it’s like a call to the public good. And then you had these men involved that were just completely in it for the money. And so right there, you got an issue. But then you have a character like Durant, who ain’t you know, I don’t know where he learned it. I gotta be honest, because his training was as a doctor. But yeah, he figured out really quickly. He was a robber baron figured out really quickly how he could make more money off the government.


Dan LeFebvre  17:00

Wow. And live in well off that I’m sure that this got.


Sheila Myers  17:05

Right. Yeah. He and all the stockholders and all the congressmen that he bribed? Yep.


Dan LeFebvre  17:09

If we go back to the show in season three, there’s another extreme that we see Durant doing as he orchestrates the kidnapping of a baby to force a bunch of men to search for it. And that then slows down their progress on the railroad. Did he ever go to extreme lengths like that to get the railroad bill? No, no.


Sheila Myers  17:26

Not that I know of. I know, he, I know he had some clashes with some of his labor. And he could also be kind of a violent man, like, I read something that he actually physically assaulted somebody on his board. He was very, he had a temper, he was very temperamental. I mean, he’s been described that way by people that worked with him. Even his own children called him an autocrat and a tyrant. So I don’t think he was a very nice man in any way. But I don’t I doubt that he did anything that extreme. But again, you know, it’s Hollywood, you got to come up with something. And it’s just his way to show what he would probably do to. He was purposely delaying it, you know, it was the same idea of let’s make this railroad go all the way around that hill and started through it so that we can charge more, you know, same idea.


Dan LeFebvre  18:15

I guess, the end of the day, it’s all boils down to making money and whatever it takes, it sounds like


Sheila Myers  18:21

whatever it takes, yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  18:24

There’s another thing we see in season three, when he’s, well, at least according to the show. He’s in Chicago, and then he comes back to hell on wheels. And he’s there with Ulysses S. Grant, who is not President yet, but he’s about to be, and it’s a huge deal to have him visiting. Did didn’t really have connections with Grant.


Sheila Myers  18:42

Yeah, he had connections with all kinds of politicians. And even later on in life when he started settling, and they had a second home in the Adirondacks. There’s a guestbook that I saw I mean, yet they had you know, Malcolm Forbes there they had mitts this would have been after Durant died. But Harrison, President Harrison, so there, he was pretty well connected with the politicians. And part of that was, you know, what he his lobbying and getting involved in the beginning of the transcontinental and the writing of the railroad act. So it that that’s not too far fetched at all.


Dan LeFebvre  19:18

I guess with all that money to you’re going to be in circles like that.


Sheila Myers  19:22

You’re going to be in circles. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And he, he, you know, he entertained people, you know, he invited like 700 people to come out and he put on he and I don’t remember if this was in the hell on wheels or not, but he staged a big event to just try to get investors to invest in the transcontinental and he had like mock Indian wars and hired Native American tribes to fight each other like an amok and he had food brought out and people were you know, they had bonfires and he you know, really tried to entertain people as a way to bribe them and get them involved and invested in his, whatever ventures that he was working on. And you know, the transcontinental credit Mobley or whatever it was. So he knew how to work a room put it that way.


Dan LeFebvre  20:19

Yeah, I don’t remember that in the series. But it makes sense because it doesn’t. It doesn’t show a lot of that as far as kind of some of the stuff going on behind the scenes. It kind of stays with Hell on Wheels itself.


Sheila Myers  20:29

Yeah. And it kind of stays with the characters. That’s one thing I think that made the show in any show really interesting and popular is that you get invested in the characters. So if you’re going to, you know, I can see why people who did the historical research will show you can’t veer too far off. You know, oh, that’s really exciting. Let’s do this event. But you know, how does it fit in with the plotline and O’Hanlon was a main character to in that show, and it was literally kind of his story. So I can’t understand why there’s just there was a lot of gaps and things made up. Well, speaking


Dan LeFebvre  20:59

of politicians in season four, we do see some power struggles between Durant and John Campbell, who comes as the new governor of Wyoming. And the impression that I got was Durant’s in charge, he’s used to being in charge, and then Campbell comes into picture, and Durant just doesn’t take too kindly to having somebody in power, like a new person in power. Were there any challenges to Durant’s power like we see in the show? Well,


Sheila Myers  21:25

yeah, definitely, like I said, about oak games, who wanted to take him off the board, because there’s, you know, oak was starting to get they were starting to ask him questions about hey, this is these books, sir. This seems shady, what’s going on? And, you know, there was like, you know, paper newspapers were starting to pick up on and some of the scandals, so he definitely had conflicts. He had a conflict with his engineer, his first engineer that was working on the railroad quits. He played people against each other. So I wonder if that episode has something to do with where they were going to start the railroad, there was an issue of whether it would be in hope I get these. It was like Iowa City or Council Bluffs, I can’t remember. But what he did was he went to one town and said, We’re going to start the railroad here. And all the businessmen were getting interested and start investing in infrastructure with him. And then he went across the river to the other town and said the same thing. And it got really confusing, but it was his way of seeing the businessmen against each other to see who was the highest bidder. And so he was kind of known for doing that manipulating people in any possible way to get what he wanted, and not care. You know, what the Fallout was from that as long as he got what he wanted.


Dan LeFebvre  22:43

That reminds me of something that we saw in season five, where I think he goes between Cheyenne and Laramie, he talks about how it’s going to be Laramie, and so the prices skyrocket for the land and a crash and Cheyenne. So he goes over and buys a bunch of land there. And then nope, nevermind gonna stay in Cheyenne, which means that land just value just goes up. So it sounds like he really did that kind of thing.


Sheila Myers  23:09

Yeah, and he did, and they probably use that to portray the same thing. Because what that that incident, that original incident happened at the very beginning. Before the route Yeah, and so they were already involved in and staked out. But yeah, I mean, I’m sure he did that with in other cases, too. I don’t know about that particular one. But yeah. So he was he was kind of known for, for doing that. I can’t believe this guy had any friends. I kind of wonder like, you know, I just don’t I like did he have friends where it seems like all of his friends at the end of his life or his lawyers, you know, even his kids hated him. So I don’t know. Like, I don’t know if he died very happy person. Yeah, I mean, his kids didn’t like he left no will. And they were fighting over his inheritance at the ends and lawsuits. And he put a lot of his stock in his new ventures in his wife’s name, because so creditors couldn’t come after him, because he had a lot of debt at that point. The creditors coming after him. So I don’t know how, yeah, you know, there’s a cost I guess, for living that kind of life.


Dan LeFebvre  24:20

Yeah, yeah. And if something was with the railroad not have if he had done it aboveboard and everything would have been there. Would he not have made very much money? I mean, obviously, not nearly the amount that as he’s embezzling, and as he’s you know, essentially, you know, robbing, not making as much


Sheila Myers  24:40

right and you know, my he probably could have lived lifestyle or a good lifestyle. You know, he had a yacht he was, you know, supporting a family overseas. That must have been expensive. He he had a he had a office in New York City. He had a home in New York City he had Ah home in Brooklyn. So he had multiple residents in he had, you know, a whole family to support so, but I get the impression from what I read about him and even his son follows these footsteps and its eventual ruin of the family. And their fortunes is they lived well above their means, and just lavished guests with, you know, all kinds of champagne caviar, the best of this, the best of that they were just show offs, which is really typical of the Gilded Age, even though this was kind of the beginning of the Gilded Age for Durant. He was, you know, he knew what he was, he knew, I almost feel like he was trying to buy himself into that, that 400 group, and the Gilded Age at some point, but I mean, it really came after he died, he died in 1885. But, you know, you get the idea that he came from, you know, he went to school to be a doctor, and he actually got a degree from the University of Albany. So I don’t think he was, you know, he came from a good, respected family, but I don’t think he came from a lot of money. But definitely, that was what he was pursuing. It seemed. And he was also just, you know, an industrialist at the time when the country needed those type of people, visionaries. And I guess, you know, what he accomplished what he needed to for the country. That transcontinental is just at what costs


Dan LeFebvre  26:24

I guess you get to a certain point, even when he’s can get away with a lot of is probably just, you know, how much can I get away with and keep growing and growing and growing that scam, essentially and until somebody finds out,


Sheila Myers  26:37

right, but you know, unlike other industrialists of the time and robber barons is, you know, when he died, he like I said, he left no will he I, he had millions of dollars in debt from creditors coming after him. He had a railroad he had land in the Adirondacks. He really is like what he left behind was like wealth and land. He was keen on cash poor, land wealthy, but it that’s unlike Collis Huntington, for example, his rival on the Central Pacific, you know, when he died in, I think was 1903. He left he had a huge fortune, and he lacked a lot of properties. And there’s museums to him. I mean, so I’m not sure you know what Durant did wrong, but he definitely what he amassed a fortune and lost it. I don’t know how you do that. Like, how do you lose $40 million? I just don’t understand it. Like I could not I can’t figure that part out. I don’t think his kids could either. So


Dan LeFebvre  27:36

I’m sure they weren’t. They weren’t too happy about that either.


Sheila Myers  27:39

Oh, no, no, no. Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  27:42

Another major event that we see happen in this series is in season four. Durant gets brutally beaten after Jessup is killed by making McGinnis. And then one of Campbell’s men named Heckard thought that Durant was behind it. So he attacks Durant. Then later, Durant, in retaliation, just brutally murders occurred, and then later still in the series, Durant gets arrested for murdering him who was a federal marshal. Did any of that happen?


Sheila Myers  28:12

No, not that I’m aware of. He did not murder anybody and he did not go to jail for murder. So no, no, I don’t think he I don’t think he was a murderous person. I think they were just trying to show his an in general, I think shows like this, like hell on wheels. And like other shows, like Yellowstone you think about they’re just sort of thrive on that kind of wild west violence, and people expect that so that might have been why they decided to do that and go that angle. But no, I don’t know. I’ve never read I didn’t in all my biographies. I never read anything where he was accused of murder. I did see where he was accused of assaulting people on his board, though. So he obviously had a violent temper. And so they’re probably just using that to the extreme.


Dan LeFebvre  28:57

Yeah, and and also playing as you’re saying, like, you know, if you think of the Old West, you’re gonna think you know, everybody’s shooting everybody else, right? Yeah,


Sheila Myers  29:05

exactly. Yeah, getting away with it. Right. Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  29:10

You mentioned Durant being a doctor. And in season four, we get to see him put his doctor skills to the test. It says Sydney snow and episode 11 is shot and Dr. Brandt removes the bullet and then assists in the amputation of Snow’s leg. And since it’s actually Thomas Durant, Doc Durant is his nickname. Can you give a little more information about his medical training? And I’m assuming that since you mentioned he actually was a doctor.


Sheila Myers  29:36

Yeah, he did. He went to the University of Albany Medical School. He graduated he practiced for just a few years before his brothers asked him to start working with them and their company. So then he abandoned his practice and being a doctor and I think for him i It might be he was just restless and that wasn’t you know, the lifestyle he wanted to pursue. So I do know, though that he was referred to as Dr. Rent a lot as later in life and kept that moniker. So I think he was always proud of the fact that he had a medical degree, and maybe even a twinge of regret that he didn’t pursue staying Doctor later, you know, who knows, especially later in life when he found himself being mired in scandal. But yeah, he was a doctor. So I thought that was interesting. They conduct around and I had, I did see references to that and some of his biographies that he was called Doctor rant. So yeah, they got that part. Right. And, you know, he might have done those. He might have done things like that. I am sure there was times where he used his knowledge when he was out west, and there wasn’t a lot of that around, you know, medical facilities available. So that definitely could have happened.


Dan LeFebvre  30:53

You do what you have to do when you’re when there’s nothing else around. Yeah.


Sheila Myers  30:57

Right. Yeah. Yeah. So so they kind of got that one. Right. Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  31:02

You mentioned you mentioned this earlier. And in season five, there’s a race that we see happening between the Union Pacific as Dr. Ants Union Pacific, and the Central Pacific. You had mentioned earlier. Of course, that point it is Bohannan. That’s leading the Central Pacific. How well did the show do depicting this race between the two railroads?


Sheila Myers  31:22

So I thought they did a really good job. I thought that was really interesting, too. Because I followed more, the Union Pacific and Dr. Brandt and I did what happened was central. And then I had to kind of get more into it when I introduced Huntington into my stories, because Huntington does come back into Durant’s life later, and they were really big rivals, they, the two men did not like each other at all. So I don’t know if this show just decided to use Bohannan is kind of surrogate for Huntington, Huntington is in the show. And they do show him getting aggravated. And you know that there is a rivalry there. But they were definitely in a race and a lot of it had to do with money. Because the more track lead, the more money got. So there, they did not like each other. They you know, the two men, Huntington and Durant, so I think they, you know, put Bohannan in that position so that they could then show what was going on central Pacific, especially because there was such an interesting story with the laborer, and the drama of having to build that railroad through the mountain. Right. So there’s, that’s just such an interesting part of our history. And, and the way those Chinese immigrants were treated especially is very fascinating part of our history, because, you know, we use them for this labor when we needed them. And then they started passing laws saying, you know, that they were not allowed to bring any more Chinese people into our country. So these people that had come here to do all the work and wanted to bring their families weren’t allowed to. So that, you know, I think it was a really interesting part of the show. And I’m glad that the people that wrote it did that, because it was gave you a chance to see what was going on and the other railroad and the kind of the race between the two companies


Dan LeFebvre  33:14

on the other side, because there’s then the Mormons that helped out kind of as the other workforce was that the was that true as well, that that that was kind of the two workforces?


Sheila Myers  33:25

Yeah. So I don’t know exactly, but I know that they were about but I don’t know too much detail about that. But yeah, they’re, you know, they were trying to they companies were getting whatever help they could from anybody that was in the territories. So it made complete sense, right.


Dan LeFebvre  33:42

And I couldn’t imagine, like you’re saying what the terrain? I mean, I’ve been to those areas. I would not want to like try, I wouldn’t, it’s hard just to walk up those mountains.


Sheila Myers  33:52

Right. And then to do all that by hand, which, you know, dynamite and using dynamite and then shoveling by hand. It’s just amazing that they were accomplished what they did.


Dan LeFebvre  34:02

We did talk about the the Cheyenne and that whole Laramie thing I wanted to ask about the concept of having the towns were their towns that were built along the way there’s, of course, Hell on Wheels, it’s kind of a moving town, but we were talking about Durant saying that a change is going to be the hub No, not Laramie, is going to be the hub. Was he setting up these these hubs as he went?


Sheila Myers  34:26

Yeah, so even before the transcontinental, he and his brothers had started investing in railroads out west, they had the Missouri and Mississippi line. And so there were these small, you know, spur trails, and his vision was to tie in one tiny spur trails into one big, you know, one that went across the West. And in yet, towns would fight to be the town on the railroad. Right. So that part of the series really shows that Well, I thought is, you know, the competition, because even if you were just a few miles off You know, you might not get access to the business and the commerce that would be coming through because your town wasn’t on the railroad stuff. And so similar to, you know, other infrastructure projects where you know, like the Erie Canal before that transcontinental it was the same idea, you know, you wanted to be the city or town on the Erie Canal, so that you would have your farmers had access to a port you were bringing in, you know, business and back. And then, you know, businessman would invest in those cities and towns. And so it was that I thought that they depicted that pretty well, in the show.


Dan LeFebvre  35:36

You mentioned there that Durant was working on some smaller railroads. So the Union Pacific wasn’t even his first railroad.


Sheila Myers  35:42

Yeah. Yeah. He and his brother invested in the I think it was in Missouri. It’s Eminem line, Missouri, Mississippi, and it was, and that’s really kind of what got him started in railroads. And then he went, you know, he was one of the people lobbying for the railroad acts. Would that Lincoln sign it? It was 1862 or 64? I can’t remember. But it was probably 62. But yeah, he was lobbying at that time, because I think he saw the potential to connect some of the railroads he was invested in into the transcontinental


Dan LeFebvre  36:14

that makes sense as to why he would be put in charge of that, or, you know, to lead that then, without any experience whatsoever. That would be kind of a tough sell. But having some of that other experience, it sounds like he used that to his advantage. Yes, I want to ask about some of the charges that we see. We talked about the $147,000 that we see in the series, which of course, was a lot more. But in the final episode, Durant goes to DC, and he’s indicted with fraud, corruption, bribing government officials. And as Durant puts it, President Grant needs a scapegoat. And he’s out of allies. Was that kind of how things ended up going for him?


Sheila Myers  36:53

Yeah. So it was, you know, I don’t know if that’s the I love that speech. By the way. I thought that was just excellent. And it’s one of my favorite episodes, of course, the end, but still, it was just was just awesome. I think it capsulated his personality, so well. And but I don’t know if he ever said those exact things or said those things. Exactly. But what happened is, he was you know, by the end, he was ousted from the board of the Union Pacific, right. And the stockholders at that point were like, What the heck’s going on here? The newspapers had caught wind that there was some scandal with this credit mobile error. And they really pinned it on Oak games, who was a congressman, and then the chips started falling, because they started discovering other congressmen who took bribes from grants. And the reason they took bribes was so that because people started pushing legislation, to rein in the railroad companies and to start getting more accounting accountability for their costs. And the Congressman refused to pass these bills that weren’t even if it was a bill that would say, you know, we’re going to start taxing you, you know, we’re going to start requiring you to pay out for this or that any kind of, you know, favor that was given to the railroad companies, if there was legislation put in front of Congress, that would take it away that these people were bribed. And the newspaper started catching when and it was a real political fallout pro games, and it was starting to be a political fallout for other Congress people. And especially since they glide and said, Oh, I didn’t take a bribe, and then it was discovered they were so I think that’s really what the show was kind of alluding to is that somebody needed to be the goat, right? Somebody needed to be the person they were going to sacrifice. And the problem was, you know, they set up these Commission’s and they went after Duran, and they went after Huntington, central Pacific and Union Pacific. And they started to get, you know, wanting the ledgers and the accounts and all that. And they were having hard times getting them how they discovered the 40 million exactly without the tight, you know, the exact ledgers. I’m not sure. But I did find in the I read some of the hearings, and you know, these are statements that were made that we have discovered, or we feel that, you know, they’ve taken at least 40 million, double the amount of what it would have normally cost to build. And so, the rant started getting a little ill at this point, too. I mean, the hearing started in 1873. He was by then kind of done with the transcontinental and living in the Adirondacks and trying to start his ventures there. And but he was he had to he had to hire all these lawyers because he was constantly being called to hearings. He was getting very irate. He was not a friendly witness, say the least. So I think that’s kind of what they did is they just took all of that and made it one big speech which was pretty cool. And then you know, he when he died, he is you know, he escaped a lot of the scandal where it’s Huntington was hounded, hounded by Hearst at the time took over. You know, he had the Hearst Newspapers, the yellow journalism, there was a journalist that Hearst likes, you know, said, You know, I’m sticking you on Huntington, Collis Huntington and this guy just hounded Huntington almost chose death. And the Central Pacific was made to pay back $20 million. And Huntington kept fighting that you didn’t even want to pay that. And he he was, there’s all kinds of character features and there’s like cartoons political cartoons about Huntington. You know, there’s the Uncle Sam with like this bag of money that looks like a shriveled old man, honey Tinks, grabbing it from him, you know, things like that. And Huntington tried so hard to bribe congressman to say, you know, get me out of this and it just didn’t work. He lost his political power. But, you know, there was a sense I think of, and I use this in my novels because I discovered that after hunting after a Durant dies in 1885, Huntington befriends his son, William, and, and ends up basically becoming Williams Show, loan shark. And one thing Durant left was a bunch of a lot of lands in the Adirondacks. And Huntington starts lending money to William for these extravagant homes he was building. And, you know, William also purchased built a yacht, traveled around the world, but he really didn’t have a business wasn’t really making money. And Huntington kept loaning money, and then he use the land is current collateral. So I feel like Huntington got his revenge on Duran in the end.


Sheila Myers  41:50

Because he ended up owning all of the Durant fortune, in the end, what was left of it.


Dan LeFebvre  41:57

That’s pretty telling you get in trouble for Bing. And then the way you want to get out of that is by Bing. Like, try, like it’s pretty telling the type of personality that the those men were?


Sheila Myers  42:09

Yeah, I know. Yeah. You know, I mean, Huntington and Durant were two over the same kind of person. Yeah, very interesting people for the time period. And, yeah, and there weren’t philanthropists, you know, you can say that about like Carnegie, you know, Carnegie left behind this legacy of these libraries. And, you know, when Huntington died, though, his son did end up leaving a lot of his homes and estates as museums and that sort of thing. But I don’t think I went through signing some of honey King’s papers that I found at Syracuse University, and there were letters from people asking them for money to support, you know, whatever it was, and he wrote back, like, if I, if I gave money to everybody that asked me for money, I’d be broke, you know, and the guy died. He had like $143 million in the bank. So it’s not like he would die broke. So you were to have a kind for sure.


Dan LeFebvre  42:57

Maybe he learned from Durant Durant diet gave all his money away through not necessarily giving away I guess, maybe the wrong term there. But


Sheila Myers  43:05

yeah, he. But I just thought it was really interesting when I found out that Huntington got involved with Durant son later in life. And I thought, why would he do that? The only reason I could find that you would, would be to get revenge on Durant, because at that point, Huntington had other railroad businesses. I mean, central Pacific was one but he had railroad businesses up and down the East Coast. And he was still very influential, and he still had a lot of business going. He wasn’t as broke as Durant. So he really had no there was no reason to get take a vested interest in in the Durant, venture up in the Adirondacks, except for I think, to just do in his his son, you know, his who was so naive.


Dan LeFebvre  43:48

i And again, that tells like with their relationship between with Durant how much he must have just hated Durant to even after he’s gone to still have that grudge.


Sheila Myers  43:59

And especially if Durant dies and kind of escapes all the scandal and doesn’t have to pay back. And, you know, he’s not being you know, he just didn’t have the account for everything. And, and they were, you know, you shouldn’t it was interesting, because I’ve found so many of these political cartoons in the Huntington papers. I mean, he was portrayed as this really just nasty character, stealing money from taxpayer like poor women, you know, like walking streets stealing their money. I mean, there’s all kinds of cartoons like that if you go online, and look, you could probably find some but yeah, yeah, the host machine totally went after Huntington.


Dan LeFebvre  44:35

In that final episode. You’re talking about kind of that the speech that he gave, and when, when there’s a particular line of dialogue in there that Durant says that ties back to something in the very first episode, he talks about how a quote it ever written down it says I will be remembered as a malefactor who only operated out of greed for personal gain. But without men like me, your glorious railroad will never be built and The impression that I got throughout that kind of was towards the at the end of the series was, he did what he did, the railroad wouldn’t have been built without him. But then, but the history books are gonna leave him out of you know, he left out of the history books. Do you think that he was left out of the history books in that way? Maybe because of that he died and kind of escaped some of that?


Sheila Myers  45:25

Yeah, no, I don’t I mean, the the best book I read, read about him in the railroad being built was by Steve Ambrose. Nothing like it in the world, I think is what it’s called. And he really does a great job. And I would bet that the writers of the Hell on Wheels use that book quite often as part of their background history. Because in that book, he really goes into the characters of Duran and Huntington, and the men that were involved, the engineers and the people involved and all those little scandals, we just talked about how playing one town off against the other and, and the, the Sioux Indians and the, you know, the Native Americans that were fighting against the railroads encroaching on their territory, so that that book really does a great job. And I feel like in that book, and just in general, in the biographies, I read, he’s kind of revered for being this the Titan that, you know, a titan of his time. But then there’s this acknowledgment that he was could be a real jerk, and a tyrant. But it’s almost like, well, we’re going to excuse that part of his personality, because, you know, which is I think, what the writers did with that speech, you know, his, he’s like, I’m gonna be remembered as this, you know, malpeque. But without me, you know, none of this would have happened. And I feel like the history books, kind of what that do exactly what he says, you know, they acknowledge that it wouldn’t have happened without him, even if he did do it at such a cost to our taxpayers and, or to the taxpayers at the time and to, you know, with very lack of ethics. You know, it makes you kind of wonder about what’s going to happen with the infrastructure bill, because, you know, and hopefully this won’t happen, but you know, there’s a lot of money being floated around for infrastructure. And, you know, I’m sure that there’s going to be people that are greedy and find a way to make more money than they shut off the government, which, you know, you see it all the time, Medicare, Medicare scams, all kinds of scams, right, taxpayer scam, so I don’t think it’s that unusual. I just think nowadays, you’re more easily caught.


Dan LeFebvre  47:36

Well, because of people like Durant, that they know what to look for now.


Sheila Myers  47:39

Yeah. Then they started regulating, right? Yeah, exactly. They’re like, well, we can’t believe you guys did this. Really? We thought you were doing this out of the goodness of your heart. The public good. You should see some of the stuff I read. I’m like, You guys really thought everyone would take on to this for the public good. Well, yeah, maybe. But you know, they’re businessman. Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  47:59

Well, speaking about books, you’ve, I’m sure you’ve done a ton of research into draft for your book. So if you were in charge of the series, what’s something that you would have done different with how they approached his character?


Sheila Myers  48:10

You know, I gotta say, I really, I really liked his character. So I, I, he was just so charismatic and so entertaining that, I think they they did a fine job. And you know, the whole family thing I could kind of see where they probably introduced family in season two and thought, You know what, we’re not going to go down this road, because it’s just going to get too complicated. And we’re going to, you know, there wasn’t a lot of info, there’s not a ton there. What, until I came along and started digging. And believe me, I really dug I mean, I went to the Library of Congress, I went everywhere. There. Even the last biography written about the family was like 1980. And in that was before digitization, and there wasn’t a lot of information out there. So. So yeah, I mean, I don’t think that that I can’t fault them for that at all. And not introducing his family. Because I mean, you’re out west and his family wasn’t really there. And so what what’s the point of bringing in, I was kind of surprised even brought in here. And I don’t know why they did that, except for maybe, to have this Lily’s character be a foil, I don’t really know. I don’t know whose idea that was, but whatever. I just thought that they kind of brought him to life in a really colorful way. And it was it was just so entertaining. And you know, what’s interesting is, I had already finished this book, which was the first in a trilogy. I wrote the draft family saga, and I didn’t even know about how on wheels, I was in the seat knee. I was well into the second book. And the second book, Durant is dead, he dies, his kids are, you know, not really mourning the fact that their father died. And somebody said to me, have you seen this TV show Hell on Wheels, I was like, No, I’ve never seen it. And I started watching it. I was afraid to watch it because I was like, Oh, what if I got his character wrong? But I felt like no, I really didn’t get his character wrong at all. Because his first book he’s in mostly in the first book. And I think they did a good job because they probably read the history books about him. You know, he he was is a very colorful person.


Dan LeFebvre  50:01

What’s your favorite story about the real Durant that didn’t make its way into the series, the stories


Sheila Myers  50:07

about his time in the transcontinental It’d be one thing. But what I saw, because I really researched the family dynamics is this kind of dichotomy of a father that was really, you know, feared, but also loved, and his daughter by his daughter, especially. And his daughter was trying to write at the end of her life, a biography of her father, and I don’t know, I guess it got lost in history, because his daughter was an author, and a poet, a published author, and poet. And so you know, what I got the impression about in this, you know, you can’t really bring this up in a series where you don’t involve family is that he? He was revered, you know, his family really did love him as much as they feared him. And I saw that in letters, especially between his children and him. And I would have liked to kind of see more of that other side of him that kind of cumin, family side, but they didn’t they didn’t go there at all with the series. And I don’t I can’t understand why. Again, I think because the point of view of that series was really not Dr. Rand, it was more that Bohannan character was completely fictional. And he was the guy that had kind of that human wanting to have family wanting to, you know, that struggle between having a wife because he lost his family and all that. So they could do that with Bohannan. But they didn’t need to do that with Durant. So yeah, so that was the only thing I think, you know, I would I think they missed out on us showing that other kind of human side that that they could have, but you know, what, are you gonna do it? Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  51:48

I mean, it’s easy to, like you’re saying, if the family’s not really there a lot, anyway, then it’s pretty easy to just almost, you know, not not show them because they’re not there. And that would also be accurate.


Sheila Myers  52:02

Right, yeah. And then, you know, because it was set out west, they didn’t really show times where he was out east with, you know, family or, you know, colleagues, like I said, I read this article where they were just praising him for entertaining people on his yacht, and everyone loved them. And so there was this kind of other side to him, big entertainer. He was big and lavish spender on entertainment, that they don’t really show in the show, either. And I think it’s, you know, again, because they were constrained by the what they could get done, and they had to get that railroad moving along, you know, so they couldn’t sidetrack it. But that would have been, you know, an interesting. So you know, what’s interesting is I actually put together a screenplay, a pilot for a TV series that would sort of follow Durant after the transcontinental. And, and I did that, because I’d written these three books, and I was like, you know, I’d love to see, it would be a spin off, because it can’t really be a sequel, because it’s not hell on wheels. But he’s a historic figure. So you can do whatever you want, right with that. It’s public domain. And, and I felt like, you know, there is this sort of different side to Durant, that this family dynamic. And I think you see that in shows like Dallas and Yellowstone, and I’m trying to think of other sport family dramas that are like soap operas, where you can kind of see the two sides to a person who’s a family person, but also a tyrant. And, and that’s kind of the side of Durant, that would have been interesting to see more in Helen wheels. But you know, there’s always an opportunity in future to do that. Because he did he lived a good almost 20 years after the railroad was complete.


Dan LeFebvre  53:39

You mentioned your books there. Can you give an overview of your books and where someone listening to this can get a copy?


Sheila Myers  53:45

Yeah, just look up Durant family saga, and you’ll find all kinds of things, podcasts, interviews, articles, and the books themselves are and you know, Barnes Noble, Amazon indiebound, you can find them out all different places. They’re sold in bookstores, in certain bookstores, in the region in New York, mostly in New York, where I’m from. So you know, it depends on where you live, but you just Google Durant family saga, and you can, you can see this is the first one but all of them have a Durant family saga, in their title. So yeah. And if you’re kind of interested in knowing what happened to Durant after that, it really follows that trajectory,


Dan LeFebvre  54:25

after the timeline of Hell on Wheels. Yeah, yeah.


Sheila Myers  54:28

And you know, what’s really funny, and this is just a little anecdote is what happened. The reason I started writing about the dances I was up in the Adirondacks, a camp that was built by one by his son, and the story was that it was built as a hideaway for the Durant mistresses. And it was far enough in the wilderness was pretty it’s pretty remote area. So they would hide out there Mr. says there. And I didn’t know anything about the Rams. I was just like, oh, this is interesting. This is about almost 10 years ago, and I said, Oh, I’d love to write a love story. Because of what a cool love story, you know, guilt 18 108, late 1800s mistresses in the woods. And then I started researching the Durant’s. And I was like, Holy crow, this family and I couldn’t believe like all the scandal that plague them, you know, even after trans Continental. And I mean, literally, it’s a soap opera. So I just took me down this rabbit hole of research,


Dan LeFebvre  55:21

you didn’t even know what you were getting into with.


Sheila Myers  55:25

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And I didn’t realize how famous the father was. I was really thinking I was writing mostly about the son. But the father had played such a big role and what happened to his children and his family that I had to, I had to, you know, include him into the first book is a lot about him in that so yeah, so that’s kind of what got me involved in all of this. And then next thing I know, I’m like an expert on Durant, and yet it and so I gave a talk at a local like museum. And Dr. Rance great grandson showed up. And he’s like, and he’s he’s a lawyer, and he lives in New York. And in one of the cities here like in I think it’s Rochester, and he came up to me he’s like, hey, you know, if I ever need to know anything about my family, I’ll be sure to give you a call.


Dan LeFebvre  56:26

That’s great Vidya does the subject matter expert on on came


Sheila Myers  56:30

the expert on the Durant family, without really intending to.


Dan LeFebvre  56:33

Well, thank you so much for coming on to chat about doctrine and hell on wheels, and sharing some of that information with us. Really appreciate your time.


Sheila Myers  56:41

All right, thanks for having me.



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