Skip to main content

The Real People of Hell on Wheels

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Patrick has been working as a freelance writer on fiverr for the past 2 years.

Hell on Wheels



The term Hell On Wheels was used to describe the ever moving rail workers and camp followers (who provided such services as prostitution, gambling, and liquor among others) as John Casement as his crew pushed across the tough plains.

The real stories

By now you've probably watched all the seasons of Hell on Wheels. What did you think of it? Personally, I loved the series; Especially the Swede :) a real nut-case. If you loved it as much as I did then you also know that it is based on real historical events surrounding the Transcontinental Railroad- Duh. A majority, if not all movies or TV shows based on real-life events tend to exaggerate, adding or removing some parts as they deem fit, except for the latest conjuring movie; No, really, it was pretty much accurate- even the real Lorraine Rita Warren said so. Anyways, like many other series/TV shows based on real-life events, Hell on Wheels had to change and add some stuff up to captivate the audience. But enough of that; here are some facts about some of the people represented in the series (Hell on Wheels).

The Real Doc


Thomas Durant- Doc

Thomas Durant was born in 1820 to a well-off family and went on to study ophthalmology at Albany Medical College, hence the title "Doc". Although he trained to become a physician, Durant was more interested in business, an interest that saw him moving to New York where he became increasingly involved in the stock market. With the widespread building of railroads in the 1850s, Durant chose to use his resources to finance the railroad construction recognizing this as a good investment. It is at this point that his true colors began to show when he took Grenville M. Dodge credit, claiming that it was he who had persuaded Abraham Lincoln to opt for Omaha as the eastern terminus of the first transcontinental line. Durant managed to work his way up the hierarchy in the construction of the rail lines, becoming one of the major shareholders. The following are some more facts about Durant and his involvement in the construction of the rail line;

  • Durant had graduated with distinction from Albany Medical College and even worked as an assistant professor of surgery for a few years.
  • At one point, Durant and Henry Farnam (then owners of Mississippi and Missouri Railroad) hired Abraham Lincoln (then a private attorney) to defend a bridge they had built.
  • He was friends with Abraham Lincoln
  • He was involved in the smuggling of contraband cotton for confederate states during the war
  • He was a manipulator who took advantage of his friends and the ignorance of others to make a fortune
  • At one point, he had amassed $23 million through fraudulent means with the Crédit Mobilier scheme.
  • Although he lost about $1.5 million during the Panic of 1873 and an additional $3 million on the Adirondack railroad, Durant was estimated to be worth about $2 million before his death in 1885.

Watch Hell on Wheels

Jack Casement



John Stephen "Jack" Casement is represented as Cullen Bohannon in Hell on Wheels. Although there are differences between the two (the character and the real person) there are a number of similarities that can be drawn between the two. John Casement was born in Geneva in 1829. At age 18, he took up a job at the Michigan Central Railroad, where he worked as a common laborer. By 1953, he was working as a contractor, building railroads with his brother (Daniel) in the northeast of the United States. He joined the Union Army in 1861 after the outbreak of the Civil War, serving as Major (7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry) and later as the Colonel and commander (103rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry) In 1865, John was brevetted as Brigadier for his service during the war, and with brother, hired to by the Union Pacific to build the tracks in Nebraska. While his brother was in charge of payrolls, John would be in charge construction. The following are some facts about John S. Casement;

  • He married Frances Jennings in 1957 while working as a railroad contractor and a father of two boys
  • He spent most of his life separated from his wife and two children because he was preoccupied with the construction of the rail line.
  • He was efficient and tough during the Civil War, and as the commanding officer at the Battle of Franklin, Jacob D. Cox credited; "saving the day for the Union."
  • He took up grading work and even opened several generals stored along the rail- line to make extra money
  • He wrote his wife often, which offered her solace given that he was mostly away
  • He was involved in the building of Boxcars, which served as office pantry, kitchen, dining room, and supply depot.
  • His wife (Frances Jennings) went on to found the Painesville Equal Rights Association in 1883, and would be inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame of Ohio in 2001.
  • Although he was elected as the first representative of Wyoming in 1867, the ruling would later be overturned because the election was regarded as illegal.

Olive Oatman



Marked Woman

Olive was born in Illinois in 1837 to a family of Mormons. At the age of 13 (or 14) her family decided to join a wagon of pioneers travelling to California. However, as a result of various disagreements along the way, her family was forced to travel alone along the notoriously dangerous westward expansion. During the fourth day, they were attacked by Native Americans (Yavapai Indians) who killed her parents and four of her siblings. Together with her sister, Olive was abducted and used as a slave before being traded to another group of Native Indians (Mohave, for horses and blankets) who are said to have treated them better. It is also the Mohave people who tattooed Olive and her sister (on their chins). Although they lived a happier life with the Mohave people, a famine would later claim the life of her sister and some member of the group. Here are a few facts about Olive Oatman;

  • The tattoos on her chin (and her sister) were markings of tribal members, not of a slave
  • Olive suffered from depression after being removed from the Mohave tribe (largely as a result of the murder of her parents)
  • She missed her adoptive family among the Mohaves
  • Having become accustomed to the Native Indian life, she almost forgot how to speak English
  • The Mohaves who had taken her in fought valiantly to keep her when the federal government stepped in to take her away from them.
  • According to Olive, she survived the famine because her foster mother (Aespaneo) fed her in secret during the famine.
  • Olive said that she was abducted at the age of 11
  • She was reunited with her brother (Lorenzo) who survived the massacre with whom she wrote the book "Captivity of the Oatman Girls" and gave lectures across the country
  • She got married to a wealthy rancher (John B. Fairchild) who later turned to a banker and adopted a baby girl by the name Mamie.
  • According to some reports, she later went to meet a Mohave leader in New York, where they talked about old times.
  • In 1903, at the age of 65, Olive Oatman died of a heart attack.

Stagecoach Mary

Scroll to Continue

Mary Fields (Stagecoach Mary/ Black Mary)

Mary Fields was born a slave in 1832 (roughly around 1832) in Kickman, Tennessee. When slavery was outlawed in 1865, Fields and other slaves were freed, and she went on to work for Judge Edmund Dunne. Later, she took up a job with Ursuline nuns, where she would haul freight and supplies ensuring that the operations of the nuns remained functional and that they were well fed. She also chopped wood and carpentry among a few other jobs when it was required of her. Through all this, she ultimately became a forewoman at S.t. Peters where she had been caring for the mother superior. Fields was short tempered and often got in to conflicts, and even fights. This resulted in the Bishop asking her to leave the convent. However, the mother superior helped her set up restaurant in a nearby Cascade. The following are some facts about Mary Fields;

  • She was a stagecoach driver and entrepreneur
  • Being six feet tall, tough and shot tempered, Fields would also find herself fighting men
  • She was good–hearted and would serve anyone at her restaurant whether they could pay or not (this caused her restaurant to go broke with ten months or so)
  • According to one newspaper, Fields had used her revolvers and rifle to keep wolves at way one night when the wolves attacked and terrified he horses causing the wagon to overturn
  • Fields was known for drinking, smoking foul cigars, which may have contributed to her death (as a result of liver failure)

The Real

Fields, Durant, Casement and Olive

Fields, Durant, Casement and Olive

What did I miss? Let me know

Rich on October 26, 2020:

Enjoyed the serious......lots of interactions and a taste of what building the railroad life might have been. I also binge watched it until the end. The end left me hanging.....seems that Cullen left SF to chase the girl back to China? All the actors did a great job.

Dan Gibson on August 02, 2020:

I binge-watched the series in three weeks .... I thoroughly enjoyed the saga, as it had a truly epic scope. Anson Mount was outstanding as the hero/anti-hero Bohannon.

Most notable at the end was the developing love story between Cullen & Mei. Though he was almost completely stoic during the story, he was heartbroken when she left. The look in his eyes as he sailed to China to reunite with her is unforgettable.

sharon franchetto on July 27, 2020:

loved the show

Mackie on July 26, 2020:

I did not like how they just leave you hanging on the last episode not knowing any thing about anyone.

Anonymous on February 02, 2020:

How does he get married in 1957 if he was born in 1827, that makes him 120 years old

Mg on December 28, 2018:

Jay Seeg - one should not toss rocks when they can not seem to spell either sir "the person Bohannon was besed on..." Not even a typo as the characters are too far apart on the keyboard.

Jay seeg on November 30, 2018:

This article is riddled with spelling mistakes and date inconsistancies, the the person Bohannon was besed on has dating errors born in 1897 but joined union before? Wtf proof-read your work dude...

Related Articles