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The Old
Dallas & Wichita
Railroad

BY W. S. ADAIR

    The following Dallas special appeared in the Galveston News of Nov. 13[?] 1872: "A full corps of engineers are now in the field actively engaged in surveying the route of the Dallas & Wichita Railroad.  The road has been permanently located to a point five miles northwest and will be surveyed to Decatur, in Wise County."
    When the Houston & Texas Central and the Texas & Pacific Railroads reached Dallas, giving connection south and east, and promising connection north and west, the business men of the rising town began to see that if the place was to grow commercially, it must have more than those cardinal lines, and they, accordingly, fell to dreaming of lines, radiating like the spokes in a wheel in all directions between these lines.  The first of these visions to take shape was a road to the northwest, later known as the Dallas & Wichita.  A local organization was effected, and some progress was made in securing right of way and in grading, when the enterprise came to a standstill, on account of the financial panic of 1873.
    It seems that there is no record of the operations of the first organization for the construction of this road and the details have escaped the memory of those who were here at the time.  However, the project was never for a moment abandoned, and when times improved, it was again taken up, in 1877, under more favorable auspices and brighter promise.  Dallas voted bonds to the amount of $100,000, to be paid when the road was completed to the county line.  The bonds were dated Feb. 24, 1877.  In addition, the State granted twelve sections of land to the mile for the first 100 miles of the road, due 12 sections upon the completion of each mile.  Capt. W. H. Gaston was made president of the new organization and appointed custodian of the funds.  M. Pointer, Alexander Calder and Col. A. T. Obenchain were directors.  Malcolm Henderson was contractor and general manager, and Hugh B. Rains was chief engineer.

Early Dallas Spirit.
    "We were hampered in every way in the construction," said Captain Gaston.  "While we had ample capital for the project as a whole, the conditions were such as to make it unavailable from time to time as we needed it.  The result was that we had to use raw labor and to proceed in all departments in the most inefficient way.  In fact, we got along as poor folks always have to do, the best we could.  We could not use the city bonds until we had demonstrated that we could get along without them, that is, had completed the road, and the land certificates were doled out to us only upon delivery of the goods, mile by mile.
    "But, in spite of all the drawbacks, we managed, by hook or crook, to complete the road to the county line the following year, 1878.  The county line was marked by a big stump, which would come right between the tracks of the road, on Elm Fork of the Trintiy, four or five miles this side of Lewisville.  The event was made the occasion of an excursion to the end of the road, and as great a demonstration as Dallas could contrive at the time.  Gen. W. L. Cabell and Major John Henry Brown were among the orators of the day.  The excursionists had to ride flat cars, for we had no coaches, then nor afterward.  The locomotive was a small primitive affair, which went by jerky fits and starts.  But, the enthusiasm of the people was at such a high pitch, that they did not appear to notice the roughness of the ride.  It sometimes seems to me that the people of those rainbow days got as much satisfaction out of mere hope and enthusiasm, as the people of today get out of the concrete realization.

Strike a Stump.
    "The distance from Dallas to the Stump was eighteen miles.  By the time this much of the road was completed, the company owed the full amount of the city bonds and had drawn to the limit on the land certificates.  It, therefore, became necessary to call a halt until additional capital could be enlisted.  In an unguarded moment, we had made a contract to carry the mails between Dallas and Denton, and, in order to fulfill the contract, we had to arrange for star route service between the Stump and Denton.  J. A. Work, who had livery stables at Dallas and Denton, became the carrier of the mails.  We had literally struck a stump.  We were unable to build farther, or even to purchase sufficient equipment to derive any revenue from what we had already built.  We had out, in all directions, frantic feelers for more capital.  One day, encouraging news would come, and the next, depressing.  On the strength of a bogus telegram, to the effect that ample money had been raised in New York to complete the road, several Dallas capitalists invested in stock and lost their money."
    Such is the history of the Dallas & Wichita Railroad as a Dallas enterprise.  It hung up at the "stump" until Jay Gould leased the Katy lines in Texas in 1881.  Mr. Gould took over the Dallas & Wichita Railroad, and immediately extended it to Denton.  At the same time, he built the Gainesville, Henrietta & Western from Whitesboro to Henrietta, and made arrangements with the Texas & Pacific to use the track of the latter road between Whitesboro and Fort Worth.  By this construction and arrangement, the Dallas & Wichita was, in effect, completed as a continuous line from Dallas to Henrietta, thus, in part, realizing the original dream of the Dallas enthusiasts.  Major B. S. Wathen was the chief engineer in charge of the construction of the Gainesville, Henrietta & Western, as he also was of all the construction made by Mr. Gould, while the Katy lines of Texas were in the hands of the latter from 1881 to 188[8].

Live Business Firm.
    The Fort Worth & Denver City Railroad, projected by the enterprising business men of Fort Worth, headed by Peter Smith, was completed to Wichita Falls in 1882.  General G. M. Dodge was chief engineer and Morgan Jones, contractor.  This road was made part of the through line to Denver in 1884.  Some years prior to the coming of the railroads, J. A. Kemp and Frank Kell, under the firm name of Kemp & Kell, had established themselves as wholesale grocers at Henrietta.  They had an extensive trade to the northwest of them, which was seriously impaired by the great change brought about in transportation by the invasion of that territory by the Fort Worth & Denver Railroad.  But, being the same stripe as the men who had projected the Fort Worth & Denver road out of Fort Worth and the Dallas & Wichita out of Dallas, they proceeded to build a railroad of their own, from Henrietta to Wichita Falls, a distance of sixteen to eighteen miles.  They completed this road toward the end of 1889, or in the early part of 1890, and leased it to the Katy.  By this means, they not only held, but greatly extended their trade, and at the same time, enabled the Katy to piece through [the] line between Dallas and Wichita Falls, and gave Dallas another important spoke in her wheel.  Mr. Kemp and Mr. Kell are now residents of Wichita Falls.  At the time, they projected the railroad referred to, it was, by no means, apparent that Dallas and Fort Worth were the coming towns.  First place seemed to belong to the town that could win it.
    Mr. Gould made several important extensions of the Katy system in Texas, while he controlled that property from 1881 to 1888.  He completed the line from Fort Worth to Taylor in 1882, the line from Dallas to Greenville in 1886, and the line from San Marcos to Smithville, and the Taylor, Bastrop & Houston road from Taylor to LaGrange.  Work on the last named road was suspended when the Katy went into the hands of a receiver in 1888, as was also, work on the line south out of Dallas.  But, in order to hold the charter for the line south from Dallas, it was necessary to build ten miles within a year.  The receiver ordered this construction, and the line was, at once, built as far as Lancaster, a distance of twelve miles.  Three years later, the Lancaster line was extended to a connection with the Fort Worth line at Hillsboro, where the train from Dallas and the train from Fort Worth were combined, and run as a single train south of there.
    Mr. Gould greatly admired the pluck of the business men of Texas towns.  He is quoted as having said that people who are adventurous enough to undertake to build their own railroads, would certainly back railroads built by others.  He planned many extensions and new lines of the Katy system and, while his control of the road was for so short a time, he could not execute all his plans.  Still, he accomplished much, and pointed the way for his successors.

- November 19, 1922, The Dallas Morning News,
Magazine Section, p. 6, col. 5.
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