A young girl in a prim white dress stands out in this seemingly spontaneous group portrait of passengers disembarking from railroad cars on a prairie in the midwest. The lack of a proper station platform, however, suggests that some passengers remained aboard the train and that this was a momentary stop to produce a contrived image. The conspicuous absence of women in the image is also a reminder that pioneering was primarily done by men: in 1850 only 7,000 of California's 94,000 residents were women.
Alexander Gardner made this photograph two years before the completion of the transcontinental railroad, when the railroad companies were investing heavily in advertising. Many companies hired photographers to produce large images such as this one along their routes for documentary and promotional purposes. To create a sense of movement echoing the exciting advance of the train across the landscape, Gardner positioned his camera directly on top of the rails, with the Union Pacific train boldly emerging from the left and receding across the picture plane.