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Strangers On Familiar SoilRediscovering the Chile-California Connection$
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Edward Dallam Melillo

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780300206623

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300206623.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM YALE SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.yale.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Yale University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in YSO for personal use.date: 29 June 2022

A Railroad in the Clouds

A Railroad in the Clouds

(p.113) 6 A Railroad in the Clouds
Strangers On Familiar Soil

Edward Dallam Melillo

Yale University Press

This chapter focuses on Henry Meiggs, a Yankee engineer who profited from the California gold rush before becoming the Golden State's most notorious debtor. When his high-stakes financial gambles collapsed in 1854, Meiggs fled San Francisco for South America, where he built an extravagant new life replete with a million-dollar mansion and an entourage of devoted followers. He traveled to Peru, where he pioneered the enganche debt peonage system and coordinated an unprecedented geographical rearrangement of Latin American commerce, demography, and mobility. As the so-called Yankee Pizarro of Latin America, Meiggs reshaped Chile's working class by recruiting and relocating thirty thousand Chilean workers to build the first railroad lines across the Andean Cordillera. A majority of the debt peons who toiled on these high-altitude engineering projects eventually migrated to Chile's Atacama Desert, where they mined the sodium nitrate that fertilized California's turn-of-the-century citrus bonanza. Meiggs was thus a human vector, precipitating both exchanges and influences between California and Chile.

Keywords:   Henry Meiggs, California, Chile, Yankee engineers, railroad, enganche, debt patronage

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