A long time ago, say 61 years ago, Galveston was visited
by a yellow fever epidemic. It was not the first visitation of its
kind which punctuated the history of this city, but it became the
provocation for the building of a railroad system which became one
of the prominent factors in the making here of a great seaport and
pleasure resort. It came about in this wise.
Galveston, even in those early days, constituted the port of entry
for the entire state of Texas; there was not a single railroad track
connecting this state with the outside world. Two lines of steamers,
the Morgan and the Mallory, with an occasional sailing vessel, brought
to Galveston all the merchandise handled in Texas, with the exception
of small lots brought into the eastern and northern portion of the
state by wagon. This meant that the great Texas cotton crop depended
upon the bagging and ties entering the state through Galveston for
being put into marketable shape. Naturally, the business men of
Galveston saw an opportunity and would accumulate large stocks of
bagging and ties each summer for the demand which was sure to come
with the arrival of the harvesting season.
Rival cities - rivals commercially, began to look with envy upon
the lucrative business being done by the Galveston merchants and
sought to wrest away some of this trade and succeeded in doing so
by taking advantage of the law, or perhaps absence of the law, based
upon the principle of self-defense. Yellow fever was the most dreaded
scourge of the Southern states during the decade following the war
between the states, and before that national tragedy, for that matter.
It came to the Gulf coast ports from Mexico, from Central America
and from Cuba, usually making its appearance in June or July and
lasting until the first frost appeared. Hence it was the yellow
fever, indirectly perhaps, which brought about the building of the
Santa Fe railroad.
As the years passed and the yellow fever paid its almost annual
visits to the Texas coast, the fact suggested itself to the state
lawmakers, that if the first case of fever could be kept out of
the country, there would be no epidemics, and it was made legal
to place an embargo on all vessels coming here from so-called infected
ports. In addition to this, it was suggested that each community
might sever relationships with a supposedly infected point in the
state and thus preserve its own health integrity. Houston was not
slow to see the commercial opportunity lurking back of a prevalent
and popular dread of the yellow fever.
During the year 1857, Galveston suffered its most fearful visitation
of "yellow jack". Houston, or, rather it was brought about as a
county matter, placed armed guards at the county line and refused
to permit trains to enter Harris county coming from the infected
area of Galveston, nor would any one be permitted to enter Harris
county coming from Galveston. This action was repeated year after
year on the slightest suggestion that yellow fever existed in Galveston,
and Houston merchants reaped a rich harvest in the sale of bagging,
ties and other merchandise needed by the inland farmers. This constituted
what became known as the "shotgun quarantine".
Galveston merchants saw their trade dwindling away to nothing
and the cotton receipts for export annually approaching nearer the
vanishing point. Something had to be done, and something was done.
A mass meeting of all persons interested in the future of Galveston
was called and it was decided Galveston must build, own and control
a railroad which did not pass though Harris county. Other counties
were more friendly and only occasionally established a quarantine,
and then only when it was definitely known that the yellow fever
really existed here.
A number of helpful suggestions were offered but it was finally
decided that the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe railroad was the answer
to the problem and in 1873 the company was organized and went at
once to work to secure funds for the enterprise. The idea at once
caught the popular fancy and everybody who could, subscribed for
stock in the road; the county of Galveston voted to take half a
million dollars of the stock and business men vied with each other
in their investments in the road's stock. By 1875 the road had been
built to a point near the Brazos river. The company became financially
unable to go a step farther and a new company was organized to take
up the task.
For several years little or nothing was done, but in 1878 the
construction of the road to Belton was agitated and the counties
between Galveston and Belton were asked to aid in the task and responded
generously. Based upon the promised donations of land and money
by the various counties, Eastern capitalists were induced to purchase
the bonds of the company and from that time the road prospered.
Later it was deemed good business to build a line into Houston,
and, starting from Mustang Tank, as Alvin was then called, a branch
line was constructed into Houston, but from the day the Santa Fe
rails crossed the Brazos river, headed toward Brenham there came
no further shotgun quarantines on the part of Houston, or Harris
county, and Galveston merchants soon regained their business and,
aided by the construction of the Santa Fe road, enlarged their clientele
and entered upon new territory.
Thus the Santa Fe became an agency in the making of Galveston
the premier cotton port of the world.
In the year 1886 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe railroad was
consolidated with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe by an exchange
One of the conditions of the consolidation was that the Gulf line
should meet the rails of the Atchison at Purcell, then in the Indian
Territory. Permission from the United States government was obtained
for the construction of the Gulf line and in 1887, to be exact,
on April 26 of that year, the rails of the two Santa Fe's were joined
and the interchange of business from the lakes to the gulf over
Santa Fe rails was begun. The red depot of the Santa Fe, which also
constituted the general offices of the Gulf division, corner Strand
and Twenty-fifth street, was opened on August 16th, 1897.
And it may be added, that since 1867, yellow fever has been unknown
in Galveston and has ceased to be a dread to the inhabitants of
the southern state coast; science - medical science, has stamped
it out and achieved a mighty victory for humanity.
From Galveston Tribune
Saturday, June 23, 1928