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Houston's hostile attitude toward Galveston trade back in 1873 forced island to promote construction of Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe

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 of stock.

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

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