Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas
A Railroad for Fannin County
Bonham Daily Favorite, October 3, 1993
When Texas finally began to shake off the effects of the Civil War and adjust to the realities and constrictions of reconstruction, a new direction began to shape the fortunes of the State. A movement begun with fervor at the mid point of the nineteenth century again captured the imagination of state officials and citizens as financial interests began to direct money toward the construction and development of a railroad system for Texas.
Although interest in railroads had marked early capitalistic ventures during the final years of the Republic of Texas, the State was generally slow to formulate any concrete plans for railroad construction. It was not until 1853 that 20 miles of a rail line were constructed.
Only four charters were granted by the republican government at the time that Texas entered the Union. Over the next sixteen years the number grew to only 56 additional charters. Not all of these charters saw tangible results. One of the early companies was to have an impact on railroad development in Fannin County.
A group of Harrison County investors, backed by additional monies from east coast investors met in Marshall, Texas over a period of several months in the summer and fall of 1851. The result of these meetings was the organization of a proposed new railroad venture. Among the Texas investors were James Pinckney Henderson, first governor of the State of Texas, Dr. Joseph Taylor, M.J. Hall, William Thomas Scott, C.S. Todd, and later Louis T. Wigfall, future U.S. Senator and famed messenger to Fort Sumter, South Carolina at the beginning of hostilities in the Civil War.
At the opening of the Fourth Texas Legislature in February, 1852, Senator William T. Scott introduced a bill to incorporate the Vicksburg and El Paso Railroad Company. Contained in the act was a section empowering the company to "locate, construct, own, and maintain a railing company, at a suitable point on the eastern boundary line, and thence running by such course as said company shall decree and determine to be most suitable, to El Paso, on the Rio Grande ."
An error made by the engrossing clerk of the legislature resulted in the company name being mistakenly listed as the Texas Western Railroad. Rather than to start from the beginning and winding through the legislative process, the stockholders adopted the name Texas Western and started operations under the title. The action was more than likely illegal, but was never challenged.
The charter for the company stated that construction must begin within five years and have completed twenty miles by the end of the sixth year. Over the next four years several attempts were made to gain control of the charter especially after the legislature offered additional sections of land to the company for each mile constructed.
Little had been done on the line by 1856 and in the closing days of the Sixth Legislature the company charter was renewed. Governor E.M. Pease vetoed the act, but his veto was overturned. In October of 1856, in New York City, at a meeting of the stockholders, the name of the company was changed to The Southern Pacific Railroad Company, which is not to be confused with the later Southern Pacific Railroad.
By the time this action took place only six Texas remained on the board, Henderson, Taylor, Todd, Hall, Scott, and W.R.D. Ward. The majority of the remaining thirteen stockholders were from New York and New Jersey. An engineer named Colonel A.B. Gray was hired to survey the proposed route. In his initial report Gray indicated that he had carried the survey far beyond the initial boundary and had mapped out a proposed route to the Pacific coast for a distance of 1621 miles.
As the first construction deadline required by the rechartering neared the line had been surveyed and right of way cleared from Swanson's Landing on Lake Caddo to Scottsville, eight miles east of Marshall. Actual construction covered a distance of twenty miles which satisfied the charter requirements, but the charter also required the addition of "rolling stock" in operation on the completed line.
An engine which had been ordered by the company would not be received in time, so to satisfy the requirement, William T. Scott, using some of his plantation laborers, managed to hitch several teams of oxen to the construction cars which were being used on the line and pulled the "rolling stock" the distance of twenty miles, saving the charter.
By September of 1859 the line had reached to within one mile of Marshall. Trains began running irregularly until November when a regular schedule was instituted. The steam locomotive which had finally arrived was given the nickname "Bull of the Woods" from its habit of frequently leaving the tracks and plunging in among the pine trees between Swanson's Landing and Marshall.
During these early days of construction various acts of the Texas Legislature issued land grants to the railroad, for about 600,000 acres, as a bonus for building the railroad.
With the outbreak of the Civil War construction was halted on the line. Early on, Marshall became an important center for the Confederate army in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana with the result that a more direct connection between Marshall, Shreveport, and New Orleans was needed. The company, with the assistance of the Confederate army, tore up the tracks between Swanson's Landing and Jonesville and relaid them to the east to near Greenwood, Louisiana.
After the end of the war and the attempts to restore some semblance of normalcy to the lives of Texans, attempts were launched to pick up the program of construction on the line. By 1869 the road was extended west past Marshall toward Longview.
However, additional capital was in short supply, particularly among the Texas stockholders. Most of these men had built their fortunes around cotton and slaves and the surrender brought about an almost total collapse of their finances .
Several attempts to gain control of the company and its charter were attempted in the late '60's. One group of investors in the Memphis, El Paso, and Pacific Railroad made a concerted effort to gain control. This company has originally proposed a line from Fulton, Arkansas, along the southern bank of Red River, through El Paso and terminating at the Pacific Ocean. Finally the company was purchased on July 27, 1870 by the Southern Transcontinental Railroad.