About the Santa Fe Historical Society

A Branchline Comes of Age

Part One

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, Texas.

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 there.

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 extension.

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, 1886.

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 Deer" respectively.

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 life.

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 Division.

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 circumstanced."

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.

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