Originally appeared in SANTA FE MODELER, Volume 11,
Number 3, Third Quarter, 1988
Documented version entitled "The
Early Days of The Southern Kansas Railway of Texas" appeared in
PANHANDLE-PLAINS HISTORICAL REVIEW, Volume LXIV, 1991, published
by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society.
Each summer since the end of the Civil War, long-horned, long-legged
cattle had traveled north from the thicketed pastures of Texas.
At such fabled Kansas locations as Newton, Wichita, and Dodge City,
the rangy beasts had climbed aboard trains of the Atchison, Topeka
and Santa Fe Rail Road. Profits had boarded with them.
In 1884, the Santa Fe faced the prospect of losing the Texas cattle
business. New farms and fences made it difficult for the herds to
exit the south Texas ranges. Kansas was even more farm- and fence-ridden
than Texas, particularly since western Kansas had begun receiving
heavy rains a couple of years before. Domestic stock on the farms
raised the problem of splenic fever. This tick - borne disease did
not bother the longhorns that brought it up the trails, but few
other breeds of livestock could withstand it. Most of Kansas had
already banned Texas cattle, and legislation pended to quarantine
the entire state. Infected cattle could still ride trains, but the
disease was such a danger that railroad management was considering
a ban of its own.
Railroad eyes turned towards the Panhandle of Texas, where fences
were few and ticks fewer. Here the standard cow was the fat Hereford.
Thousands of them had been imported by the firm of Finch, Lord and
Nelson, livestock merchants of Burlingame, Kansas.
On July 4, 1884, the Santa Fe-affiliated Southern Kansas Railway
gained permission to build two routes across Indian Territory. One
route was bound for central Texas while the second looked towards
the Panhandle. The western route was specified as heading southwestward
from Kiowa,Kansas, to "Fort" Supply and along Wolf Creek to Texas.
The right of way was to be 100 feet wide and the railroad would
compensate the Indians for the land. Tariffs were to be the same
as in Kansas.
The route was not unknown to the Santa Fe. Lewis Kingman had crossed
the Panhandle in 1878. Four years later, a man named Baldwin surveyed
eastward from Las Vegas, New Mexico. Other surveys had been made
by the Santa Fe's partner in transcontinental enterprise, the Frisco.
Now in charge of the Santa Fe's construction program in the Midwest,
Kingman dispatched W. A. Drake from Kiowa.
Drake's survey missed "Fort" Supply and traversed the divide between
Wolf Creek and the Canadian River, ending near present Canadian,
Railroad builder Grenville M. Dodge watched the Santa Fe with concern.
He had an interest in the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway, which
planned to cut northwestward across the Panhandle.
Dodge approached Santa Fe officials with a proposition: namely
that if the Southern Kansas company would build no further than
the center of Carson County, Dodge would arrange for the FW&DC to
form a through-line junction at that point. The Santa Fe agreed,
but no paper contract was made.
The Frisco was then pushing its line towards the Panhandle and
New Mexico. Dodge is believed to have made a similar agreement with
the Frisco for a junction at not yet existent Carson City.
It appears that when this junction was agreed upon, the railroads
knew little about the place. It was not known that the FW&DC would
encounter construction problems in the breaks of the Salt Fork of
the Red River and would have to pass fifteen miles southwest of
the agreed junction. Nor was it known that water was not available
In 1886, Santa Fe surveyor Phillip Smith examined a variety of
lines across Texas and New Mexico. His principal line lead southwestward
from Kiowa to Roswell, New Mexico. From there, Smith's examinations
radiated outwards, taking him into the White Oaks mining district,
down to El Paso, and through desert mountain passes -- including
Abo -- to connect with the Santa Fe's main line.
Considering the land in the north superior, Smith advocated that
the Englewood branch in Kansas be extended southwestward to connect
with his surveys in New Mexico. The line to Carson City, he thought,
should remain a branch.
Smith crossed and re-crossed the Panhandle for two more years.
Many of his suggested lines would be built, but not the Englewood
Construction towards Carson City began in 1886, and on April 16,1887,
the line southwest of Kiowa saw its first revenue freight: horses
for Camp Supply.
The railroad established sidings and telegraph offices along its
line but since the Indian Territory was not open to settlement,
no towns were built. The tiny depots were mainly for operating purposes,
although they did provide handy places to load cattle.
Beyond the Texas line, state law required that a local company
had to own the tracks. Therefore, a new company, the Southern Kansas
Railway Company of Texas, was chartered in Austin on November 2,
The charter described the expected route from the state line in
Lipscomb County to the junction in Carson County, but this was the
third route listed. The second line ran from the junction to the
new Mexico border in Parmer County. "Line No. 1" ran northwestward
from Fort Worth to the junction and beyond to the state line in
Oldham County. This was a description of the projected and partially
constructed line of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway.
The obvious inference of the charter was that the Santa Fe desired
to absorb the FW&DC. This speculation is supported by the Santa
Fe's activities in Colorado at that time.
The FW&DC was part of a plan to connect the Rocky Mountains and
the Gulf of Mexico by rail. The Denver, Texas and Gulf Railroad
was to construct the northern part of the line, but it was a weak
company. Early in 1887, the Santa Fe, desiring a line into Denver,
offered to buy the DT&G.
Losing its northern partner would have left the FW&DC as only a
local line, so Grenville Dodge quickly arranged finances for the
completion of the Gulf to Rockies system. This saved the DT&G and
possibly the FW&DC from being swallowed by the Santa Fe.
Texas was definitely open to settlement, but the railroad decided
not to promote towns itself. The Santa Fe had many development projects
underway in Kansas and did not want a conflict of interest. Therefore,
right of way agent E. B. Purcell of Manhattan, Kansas, assumed the
task of developing towns along the Southern Kansas. He subcontracted
the Panhandle to Finch, Lord and Nelson, the same firm that had
populated the area with Hereford cattle.
A great amount of speculation was involved in town promotion along
the line. In April of 1886, E. C. Gray and George Patton departed
Harper, Kansas, bound for the Panhandle. Finding railroad survey
stakes next to the state line, they filed on adjacent sections in
hope that they would profit from sale of a town site. Purcell platted
Higgins on Gray's land during the summer of 1887, and Gray split
his take with Patton as earlier agreed.
Sam Pollard was not so lucky. Railroad workers camped at a spring
on Pollard's property, not far north of the Canadian River. One
railroad man commented that the place was no better than an Indiana
hog pen and the name "Hogtown" became popular. Since here was good
water, and settlers were already stringing out along Clear Creek,
the town site agents made Pollard an offer. Pollard was expected
to donate the land and accept half of it back after it had been
surveyed into lots. Pollard would not agree. He wanted cash for
the entire site. He did not get it. A site was purchased on the
south side of the Canadian from, oddly enough, the City of Manhattan,
Kansas, Purcell's hometown.
The first train across the Canadian into the town of the same name
was powered by locomotive #299, a consolidation-type not yet a decade
from the erecting floor at Baldwin Locomotive Works. An engine originally
assigned to the mountains of New Mexico might have seemed out of
place on the plains, but it was not. Across Indian Territory, the
SK crossed several river valleys. The resulting long grades of 1%
and frequent 6 degree curves were more than an American-type could
reasonably handle. A consolidation engine was more than adequate
for the conditions, but 299 was a fairly light engine of its type.
It was better suited to the plains than to its old stamping grounds
along the Rio Grande.
Engine 299 was to be busy, for on the plains beyond Canadian milled
and lowed 8,000 head of cattle gathered by the Bar-C for shipment.
Such gatherings prior to the railroad's opening for business were
common. The Santa Fe learned to ship construction materials to railhead
in stock cars, which carried a livelier cargo back.
Several miles up Red Deer Creek, Finch, Lord and Nelson did acquire
the site of a construction camp. The first settlers named it "Miami,"
which was said to mean "Sweetheart" in an Indian dialect.
Where the Southern Kansas route emerged onto the plains, the railroad
established Glasgow siding. The Kansans wished to build a town there,
but the site was owned by the White Deer Land Company, which felt
that the plains were not ready for settlement and which refused
to develop Glasgow and Paton siding until the turn of the century.
By that time, the sidings had taken the names "Pampa" and "White
Purcell purchased 30,000 acres, known as the Tyler Tap Lands, in
Carson County and resold this land to Finch, Lord and Nelson. During
the winter, they hired men to keep squatters away from the future
site of Carson City. When the roadbed arrived in July of 1887, the
Southern Kansas requested that the name be changed to "Panhandle
City." The name painted on the depot when it was built in 1888 was
"Panhandle." The following year, this was changed to "Panhandle,"
and that it has remained.
Rails had been in Canadian since summer, 1887, but the line had
not been ready for regular operation. Finally, on September 12,
the Operating Department of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Rail
Road took over the 144.32 miles between Kiowa and Canadian. Another
22.24 miles to Miami was taken on November 15, and the final 50.20
miles began formal operation on January 15. The AT&SF was paid for
construction with $2,187,500 worth of SK of T securities. Trains
#203-204, the Panhandle Express, began running from Kansas City
and, a few months later, from Chicago. The train entered Texas at
night. Citizens petitioned for a daylight schedule so prospective
settlers could see the land.
Construction problems south of Panhandle and the need to build
northwestward as quickly as possible caused the FW&DC to bypass
the town. Company officials, however, felt that the verbal agreement
with the Santa Fe should be honored. Therefore, a branch was planned
from Washburn to Panhandle. The Panhandle Railway was formed on
December 13, 1887, but construction had begun earlier. The fifteen
mile line opened on April 26, 1888. A traffic agreement was made
whereby all cattle and several other commodities bound for the northeast
and loaded on the FW&DC between Quanah in Texas and Clayton in New
Mexico would be delivered to the Santa Fe at Panhandle.
A bizarre traffic pattern soon developed. Cattle traveling aboard
the Texas and Pacific Railroad and bound for the northeast could
have been delivered to the Santa Fe at Fort Worth, but instead were
switched onto the FW&DC for transport to Panhandle. This roundabout
routing probably was due to Grenville Dodge's investments in both
the T&P and the FW&DC.
The Panhandle gateway and attendant traffic agreements allowed
the Santa Fe to dominate the cattle trade in a vast territory extending
to the Rio Grande on the west and beyond the T&P on the south without
building beyond Panhandle.
The Rock Island line, poised at Liberal, Kansas, obtained Congressional
authority to build southwestward on March 2 1887, but lacked funds
for the project. Had the Rock Island moved, the SK might have extended.
Another railroad not in the area was the Frisco. The Santa Fe's
partner had bogged down just west of Tulsa, but surveys called for
a junction with the SK at either Pampa or White Deer. The company
would have used SK rails into Panhandle.
The railroad erected board-and-batten depots as needed. Higgins,
Canadian, Miami, and possibly Panhandle received standard structures,
the 24x80 foot structure at Miami being typical. Smaller stations
received odd small depots of miscellaneous designs and origins.
The basic depot at Paton (White Deer) was a frame structure of 12x16
dimension with two grounded box cars of 8x28 measurement for freight.
In 1898, the facilities at Pampa, a typical location, consisted
of "a section house, station, two wells with steam pump(s) and a
very large tank or reservoir for storing water.
Panhandle may have received a larger depot since the SK of T's
corporate offices moved there from Fort Worth as of August 24, 1889.
One source suggests that the office staff lived in the depot. A
two-stall round house was built there. The stockyards were located
two miles west of town and a special track was laid to them. After
"fooling away over $9,000," the railroad abandoned a 300-foot well
and began hauling water from Miami.
As town builders, Finch, Lord and Nelson proved to be speculators.
An observer commented that the towns were at a standstill. "The
Managers and Agents still live in a tent, retail coal at a big profit,
and sell water at thirty-five cents a barrel. They undertake no
improvement, promote nothing of public utility and in no way show
confidence in the town or country, and in every way show their purpose
to skin the hide off of everything they can and leave the country.
Their homes and families are in Kansas."
Farms were held off the market until other landholders had sold
off their property. Then Finch, Lord and Nelson could sell their
holdings at higher prices.
The town promoters became known as the "razoopers." O. H. Nelson
eventually split with the firm, moved his family to Texas, and contributed
greatly to the Panhandle's development during the remainder of his
Even with the "razoopers" in charge, population expanded enough
to allow organization of Lipscomb and Hemphill counties in 1887,
followed by Carson in 1888 and Roberts in 1889.
On December 10, 1890, the Santa Fe lines west of Wellington, Kansas,
were separated from the Southern Division, becoming the Panhandle
In 1891, the SK of T moved 73,310 tons of livestock and 5,718 paying
passengers. Only one person was injured. Passenger revenues were
$8,389.40 and falling. Freight revenues were $60,573.91 and rising.
Employees totaled 67. Engineers made the top wages on the railroad:
$4.62 per day. All trainmen were employed and paid by the AT&SF,
which billed the SK of T for the time these men worked in Texas.
Local folk were employed in various functions. Temple Houston's
position of company attorney was described as a "plum." Judge J.
C. Paul founded a bank at Panhandle in 1888 and became the SK of
T's secretary and treasurer when the company's corporate offices
moved there. "There is no big salary," he said, "nor very much honor
about it, but I'll get free rides and additional business
to pay me something." A number of people were employed for track
maintenance as needed.
The Southern Kansas Railway of Texas had been built during a drought
that the Santa Fe had thought would be brief. Also, there was a
widespread belief that building railroads and plowing land caused
favorable climactic changes. Phillip Smith had reported in 1886:
"This is the most unseasonable year for the past eight years. Such
being the case, it would appear reasonable to expect this to generally
be a good agricultural country, especially when we assume the possible
increase of rainfall with settlement and cultivation of the land,
based on other sections of western country, which have been similarly
The drought did not lift and the company was losing money, year
after year. So were most of the other lines the Santa Fe had built
during the 1880's boom. The wet years early in the decade had given
way to drought. Lewis Kingman was out of a job and the Santa Fe
prepared to wait for better times.
The FW&DC felt the pinch as well and decided to sell the Pan-Handle
Railway. During the summer of 1891, Santa Fe president Allen Manvel
told the FW&DC's representative, G. T. Oliver, that the Santa Fe
would lay no more rails in Texas. However, he suggested that Oliver
purchase the line himself, extend it to Canyon, and obtain a new
charter. Then the Santa Fe would lease the line for fifty years
and guarantee the principal and interest on the company's bonds.
Manvel's younger brother would participate in land promotion between
Washburn and Canyon.
Oliver went to work and soon had a right of way and ten adjacent
sections and a promised donation of half of the townsite of Washburn
from that town's promotor. Santa Fe's B. F. Booker surveyed as far
west as Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Then, the project fell apart when
Baring Brothers, the financial house that had played a major role
in Santa Fe affairs for years, collapsed.
The nation was entering a depression and on the Texas line it seemed
as if everything was falling apart. Overgrazed pastures, drought,
and falling prices were killing the cattle industry, which was the
lifeblood of the SK of T. Track was allowed to deteriorate during
most of the year, but it was reconditioned twice a year just before
the spring and fall cattle shipping seasons. Some of the temporary
help on track gangs were farmers unable to scratch a living from
the parched soil. Dotting the plains were ruins of places were once
people had lived. Some had returned east. Some, including Temple
Houston, sought new fortunes in the Cherokee Strip on September
16, 1893. Full size depots replaced the old telegraph offices in
Indian Territory, and Woodward won the railroad's shops. West of
Woodward, the Panhandle Express became a mixed train.
When the mighty Santa Fe entered receivership on December 23, 1893,
it seemed the crack of doom. However, operations continued normally
while the Santa Fe endured reorganization. During 1894, the Southern
Kansas of Texas moved 64,056 tons of livestock, which was 84.56%
of the company's business. Merchandise accounted for 4%, grain was
3.43%, flour 1.07%, and 1238 tons of lumber amounted to 1.63%. A
variety of other cargos each totaled a fraction of a percent. One
hundred tons of agricultural implements was 0.13%, which was about
one third of the alcohol traffic.
The company was still losing money. The separate status of the
Panhandle Division was abolished on October 10, 1894, with absorption
into the Southern Kansas Division. However, prospects had begun
to brighten. On December 10, 1895, a new corporation, the Atchison,
Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, emerged from the bankruptcy of the
AT&SF Rail Road. Down in Texas, rain had finally begun to fall.
The handful of farmers who had remained began to grow some green.
They had new neighbors and there was talk of new methods, new crops
-- some way of making the sere plains bloom. The White Deer Land
Company and others began to sell land and to build towns. As for
the railroad to the Panhandle, the crisis had precipitated the next
step in its growth.
A few hundred miles to the southwest, J. J. Hagerman surveyed the
ruins of his Pecos Valley empire and planned for the future. His
railroad had failed, he reasoned, because the line led southwards
to the Texas and Pacific Railroad when the demand for fruit, the
Valley's staple crop, was in the north. He had already built a wagon
road to Amarillo; now the thing to do was to lay rails northeastward.
Years before, Hagerman had sold another railroad to the Santa Fe,
so he was personally familiar with the company and its managers.
Also, in his employ at that time was Lewis Kingman. Making a Santa
Fe connection would take money, so Hagerman set out to raise funds.
James Dun, formerly of the Saint Louis and San Francisco Railway,
had become the Santa Fe's chief engineer. He had participated in
the Frisco's decades-frustrated efforts to build a railroad to Albuquerque
via a southern route. Dun saw the Panhandle line as part of such
a route. He also saw Hagerman's project as a natural extension into
New Mexico. He was also aware of the Rock Island preparing to extend
its Liberal line to El Paso. Dun unearthed Phillip Smith's surveys
and suggested that the Santa Fe should offer to help Hagerman.