I’m a history enthusiast, and what I most like are periods people don’t know much about. We know about the Civil War, but what happened right after it? Hell on Wheels is one thing.
Hell On Wheels The Original Summary
Because Hell rolls on wheels and here is why…
The Civil War is in the past, but former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon can’t put it behind him. Fresh is the horrific memories of the death of his wife, killed at the hands of the Union soldiers, an act that sets Bohannon on a course of revenge.
This contemporary Western tells the story of his journey, a story that rides on Union Pacific’s construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Bohannon’s westward travels take him to a lawless melting pot of a town called Hell on Wheels, which moves with the construction of the railroad. — Google
History vs. Fiction
Hell on Wheels from AMC might be the combination of artistic licensing and history, but this fictional history series is entirely accurate in its looks. When building the railroad leading to the Pacific Coast, an entire village had to move with them. We see a group of people working night and day together, moving from one place to the next through thick and thin.
Hell on Wheels deserved his name due to many reasons. Some of them might be because of the working conditions for sure. Others include the filth, the lack of means, and access to necessities.
Everyone needs doctors and overall quality of living. After all, at each stop the train would make, a city would erect. However, Hell on Wheels would remain “on wheels” and move on to the next stop.
“I’ve killed better men than you for less than that.”Cullen Bohannon, AMC Hell On Wheels
Recently freed slaves looking to make a buck as of that day they had to earn their living, worked for the railroads. They were paid less, worked more, didn’t blend with the others, but were paid.
Compared to the Pacific railroad building competing with Hell on Wheels, the Asians often paid with their lives and never saw a penny if they lived to tell the tale of the railroad.
It is fair to say that watching Hell on Wheels can teach quite a bit about the history taking place right after the Civil War. The tension between the North and the South, the slaves’ owners, and freed African Americans can be cut with a knife.
Let me tell you, even the Irish people weren’t treated as justly as Americans and were often laughed at. It was Hell on Earth for all of who worked the railroads.
Cowboys and Indians
Crossing the United States of America was not an easy job at the time. Colonization was not a total achievement yet. To cross meant to step into the lands of many Native American tribes. That included those who lived in Cheyenne and eventually the Sioux.
The series shows us how Indigenous people meant nothing but vermin to the eyes of Americans. It is quite sad to say, but only a few respected them.
If an American suffered at the arrow of a Native, but a dozen Natives died, Americans saw it as an act of war. They fought for what was left of their home and land, but the show had to go on, and Hell on Wheels never stopped.
The honesty shown in Hell on Wheels is entirely accurate to history. We see Indigenous people of many different tribes. Some of which didn’t interact like others would or spoke English even.
We witness some gaining the respect of a tribe while another gives the warning to leave. Each of them is different. They react otherwise to the presence of the Americans imposing their way of living and language on them.
At the end of the day, the Native American people were the lowest on the American scale. They stopped at nothing to move them out of their way.
Sadly, some who tried the American way went back to their tribes and family because society wasn’t worth losing to whom they were inside. Because Hell rolls on wheels in the post Civil War times.
Cullen Bohannun Meets The Swede
The series revolves around the life of a fictional character named Cullen Bohannon. He was a Civil War captain for the Confederate party and went through hell and back.
When faced with the decision to avenge his family, he ends up becoming the manager of Hell on Wheels. Many African American workers under his supervision, he confesses to one worker who becomes his best friend, Elam Ferguson, that he freed his slaves before the war.
Bohannon doesn’t try to get respect for his past but showing that not all were the same. He tried to explain that now it didn’t matter because all of them were in the same boat.
Bohannon treats his workers equally, and no favoritism would take place. He had one job, and that was to get Hell on Wheels to the finish line before their adversary. Because Hell rolls on wheels and The Swede followed!
“Imagine saving a man’s life only to watch his slow death. What breed of monster is capable of such inhumanity.”The Swede, AMC Hell On Wheels
Throughout the series, we find many layers to the Southerner that is Bohannon. His military background helps him win many fights resulting in tactical advantages.
However, just like Batman, he has his Joker, The Swede—who happened to actually be Norwegian. Bohannon cannot seem to get rid of that thorn digging into his side when it comes to the Swede, who makes it his mission to destroy the Southerner’s life.
Bohannon didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Swede but quickly learns that not only couldn’t he trust the man but couldn’t underestimate his intelligence and capabilities. Every time the Swede seems to be contained, something would happen, and Bohannun’s life would take a turn for the worst.
The Role of the Mormons and The Railroads
Meanwhile, Hell on Wheels kept moving but soon would pass through the lands of secluded Mormons. Their way of living quite different than Americans, and even less when it came to the debauchery of Hell on Wheels, problems awaited the workers.
Bohannon was a gifted man when it came to marksmanship. However, he tried to resonate with a Mormon family. When it failed, a young boy had to pay the price and meet the rope.
Bohannon knew the father was to blame, but none would take the boy’s side, and the painful, heartbreaking choice fell on Bohannon’s shoulders.
The patience, loyalty, and faithfulness of Bohannon show throughout the entire series. That is even when stuck with the Mormons due to one mistake.
We see the role the Mormons played in the railroad’s history from its early days to the last. They wore many faces and were quite resourceful as well. Because Hell rolls on wheels and it did disturb the way of living of many including the Mormons fighting for survival.
Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir?
Hell on Wheels was a movable commodity village. It had camped for its different levels of workers, and the big boss, Dr. Thomas Durant, lived in the luxurious train wagon.
Furthermore, Hell on Wheels had a bar, a sentimental photographic show, a chapel, a cathouse or brothel if you prefer as well as a gun shop.
Why mentioning the brothel? Well, the role it has at the beginning and the end grows through that one kind-hearted woman. She is half fictional and half real. Her name was Eva in the show, and the story she gives is true to the real woman, Olive Oatman.
“You stick your prick in the merchandise, you pay.”Eva, AMC Hell On Wheels
When confronted with a hard decision, Bohannon changes side and join the adversary working with the Asian people. The place and way of living improved, but call it what you want, a brothel is a brothel is a brothel.
But, Bohannun sees the behind the scenes of what Asian people suffered through and take it upon himself to make it right the best he can.
His heart broke too many times through friendships, families, and lovers. Bohannon is not the same as we see at the beginning of his quest.
Congratulations Durant You Did It!
The series ended when the railroads made it to the finish line. It is a heartwarming moment worth every second. It shows what life was for the people who lived to see past the Civil War. They had nothing left as those who lost, lost everything. Karma?
Maybe, but what about those like Bohannon with a heart of gold? Those who gave up on life and existed as a think tank for whoever can offer payment and a roof?
The railroad finished, and every one part of their ways. That is how it works. We only grow to grow apart. Bohannon witnessed it many times before. He lost everyone and everything. Durant made it, but in reality, everyone remembers the name, Cullen Bohannon.
I highly recommend this series! I watched it on Netflix and bought the entire series the following day! I don’t regret it for one moment! A classic, indeed! Because Hell rolls on wheels!
I give it a solid 9.2/10.