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In her book, The Conquest of Southwest Kansas, Leola Howard Blanchard discusses how railroads were critical to the development of Southwestern Kansas. Her main theme is that the railroads enabled immigration and growth in Southwestern Kansas.

The Santa Fe Railroad Through Southwest Kansas

The history of Southwest Kansas dates from the building of the Santa Fe railroad. The construction work was scarcely completed before cattlemen and home seekers began following this "trail of iron" and settling along its right of way.

The route established by the Santa Fe Trail early suggested the feasibility of establishing a grand trunk railway essentially over the same route which the instincts of pioneer trade had already selected. And the organizers of the Atchison and Topeka Railroad Company had this in mind when they incorporated by the act of the Territorial Legislature February 11, 1859. But the terrible drouth of 1860 paralyzed every enterprise of the Territory of Kansas, and then after that followed the war of the Rebellion.

image courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society

The company was reorganized and a new charter granted March 3, 1863, under the name Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, which absorbed the rights and franchise of the A & T. On February 9, 1864, a grant of land was transferred from the state to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, giving them alternate sections for a distance of ten miles on each side of the proposed road, on condition that it should be finished before the expiration of ten years from the act of approval.

Work of building the railroad began at Topeka in October 1868. It was completed to Dodge City in August 1872, and on to the western state line December 23, 1872. It followed substantially the course of the old Santa Fe trail through this region along the north bank of the Arkansas river. The line was placed in operation to Granada, Colorado, May 10, 1873.

There was no money in operating the road at that time for several years afterward. During the winter of 1873 and '74 one man had charge of the track from Larned to the state line. He went west on the 5 o'clock train in the morning and returned on the 8 o'clock train the next evening. He rode on the platform of the rear car, and if anything wrong was noticed, the train was stopped and he made repairs. The first rails were iron, the engines small and the cars and coaches of wood construction. The passenger coaches had brakes on the end, that turned by hand, and there were no vestibules.

Peter Tellin was one of the first engineers on a Santa Fe passenger train into Dodge City and continued on the line for many years. He is now nearly blind, but has a vivid recollection of those first years of railroading in this region, and said recently:

"In 1874 soldiers were stationed at Sherlock and Kendall. That summer we had to carry two loaded rifles in the engine cab and six in the baggage car for protection against the Indians. We were always afraid the Indians would attack the trains.

"During the summer of 1874, I hauled the Syracuse colony (they came from Syracuse, N.Y.) from Dodge City to Syracuse. There were twelve cars. Besides the passengers, the train was loaded with horses, wagons and farm implements. In about three years, they were nearly all starved out. The drouth and grasshoppers took everything. Nearly all had to leave. The Santa Fe helped them to get land in eastern Kansas. A number of them settled around Strong City.

"Game was plentiful in those days. Buffalo, antelope, and deer. The buffalo did not last long. I saw my last herd in 1878. At that time I saw what was called the main herd. I don't know how many there were. We just had to run the train through the herd, making all the noise we could, and running very slowly. They could not run, as there were too many in the herd. One time, Buffalo Jones, who was mail agent on our train, jumped off near where Garden City is now, to shoot some buffalo. I did not see him jump off as he thought I had, so die train went on without him.

"The winter of 1874 was very cold. I was told that over 1,000 head of cattle drifted into the north bank of the Arkansas river, all the way from the Colorado line to Dodge City. For 21 days that winter the line was blocked between Dodge and Granada and no regular trains were run. The snow laid on the ground for six weeks. There was a large herd of antelope around Sherlock, and they got so poor you could go right up to them and they wouldn't move."

During the summer of 1875 Lieut. Spencer of the 17th Infantry, stationed at Fort Larned with a detail of five or six soldiers, went west every morning and returned in the evening as a guard. There was only one train each way a day and that was freight and passenger combined. Larned was the end of the freight division. In 1874-75 the cattle shipped over the Santa Fe were all loaded at Great Bend. That was the cattle town of the valley, and it was a lively place with all the good and bad that Dodge City had the name of having. There was no settlement south of the river except occasional cattle ranches, and the great herds came over the trails straight to Great Bend or passed north to the Union Pacific. It made little difference in those days where the herds crossed, as there was nothing to intrude on but Indians and buffaloes. From Dodge City to the state line there was next to nothing in the way of stations. Pierceville made a start, but the Indians filed a contest and ruined the town in 1874.

Cambell M. Johnston, now of Garden City, entered the service of the Santa Fe in June 1882. His uncle, Thomas Sherlock, was a director of the road, and through him, young Johnston secured a job as a clerk in the offices at Dodge City. He remained there as a cashier for six years and then was an agent at various stations, including Coolidge and Lamar. Mr. Johnston recalls an incident that happened the first morning he took up his duties in the depot.

"I noticed a tall, good-looking young fellow walk upon the depot platform, dressed from Stetson hat to high-top boots in most expensive cowboy garb, but for all that he looked like a tenderfoot. He swaggered along clicking his long spurs, just drunk enough to act smart. He took a position on the platform and every time anyone came along the trail that passed the depot, he would twirl his hat, jump up and crack his heels together and clap his hands. Then he would shout at them: 'Approach me! Approach me! I am wild and wooly and full of fleas. I dare you approach me!'

"Before long a cowboy from off the plains came jogging along. His mind was apparently deeply absorbed in his own business, but he heard the taunt directed at him from the man on the platform. His horse stopped instantly and he watched with silent regard the performance of the dude cowboy for a few minutes. Then without a word he gave a spring and landed upon the splendid-appearing cowboy and proceeded to mop up the platform with him, and did not seem in the least excited or elated over his victory as he got on his horse and rode on his way. The man who had been so boastful got up and shook himself, entirely sobered, and remarked that he guessed he got what he deserved." 

Pliney C. Pegan, a pioneer resident of Garden City, went to work for the Santa Fe railroad in 1885 and continued with them until he retired on a pension in June 1930. For twenty-five years he was a passenger conductor on Nos. 5 and 8 between Dodge City and Denver. He traveled about 72,000 miles a year while on this run and was never responsible for a wreck or a bad accident. He is now seventy-five, and lives in Denver, Colorado. Mr. Pegan came to Great Bend soon after the Santa Fe reached that point. He had many thrilling pioneer experiences.

He says:

"When I first came to Great Bend I lived with F. M. Dodge who was the second man to settle in Barton county. His home was in a dugout on the Walnut, four miles north of Great Bend. It was in line with the herds of buffalo as they moved to the salt marshes while traveling north and south. One season the main herd came thundering across the prairie, and for three days and nights they passed the dugout in a solid, continuous mass." On September 29, 1883, about 12:30 a.m., an attempt was made at Coolidge, Kansas, to rob the eastbound "cannonball" passenger train on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. The train arrived at Coolidge on time but was detained about ten minutes by a hot box. Conductor S. F. Greeley gave the signal to start and as he did so, noticed several men walking along the depot platform just ahead of him. One of the party jumped on the platform betv^een the express and mail cars and another jumped into the side door of the express car, which was open. The conductor called to the man entering the express car, asking what he was doing there. He was answered by a shot from a pistol, but it missed him. The robber fired a second and third shot both directed toward expressman S. S. Peterson, who was asleep on his couch in the car. He jumped up at once and returned the fire, the assaultant retreating to the other end of the car where he made his escape and disappeared in the darkness. In the meantime others of the bunch proceeded to the engine and commanded John Hilton, engineer, to pull out. Hilton had his hand on the lever and as he turned to look at his visitor, he was shot through the body and died instantly. The robber now directed his attention to fireman George Fadel and shot him through the neck, and then jumped from the engine and made his escape. The plan of the robbers was to capture the train and run it out to a point where confederates were in waiting. Telegraph wire had been tampered with so as to prevent messages being sent east or west. Special trains were sent to Coolidge from Las Animas, Colorado, with the sheriff and a posse and from Dodge City with deputy sheriff Dave Matthews, Billy Combs and Nelson Cary. The Santa Fe officers made every effort to find the men who were connected with the crime and offered a big reward, but they failed to even find a clue.

Many of the first settlers in Southwest Kansas were enabled to remain on their homesteads by doing section work, and in taking care of pumps at the water tanks. Others were employed to walk the tracks until steel rails were laid. The Santa Fe extended every reasonable inducement to get settlers interested in coming and in remaining in this region.

image courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society

The Garden City, Gulf & Northern Railroad

Railroad building in Western Kansas has not all been confined to large companies. Some roads have been promoted and build by local men. Among these railroads was the Garden City, Gulf and Northern, now a part of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe system. Ground for this road was broken July 8, 1908. The company was organized by Basil M. McCue, who came to Finney county from Hasting, Nebraska, in 1904, and became extensively engaged in the real estate business.

A petition was filed with the county commissioners April 4, 1907, asking the county to subscribe one hundred and ninety thousand dollars to the capital stock of the proposed railroad, which was to be built from Garden City to Scott City. A bond election was held later and carried 693 for and 158 against. The road was finished and trains were running over it before December 31, 1908. E. A. Tennis was general manager of the road.

A grade was later built through the sand hills south of Garden City to the Haskell county line, but that section of the road was never completed. In 1910 and 1911 Mr. McCue extended his railroad north from Scott City to Winona, a distance of 53 miles. This section of the road was later abandoned and the steel taken up. Gillispie station on the Garden City, Gulf & Northern railroad, was named for F. A. Gillispie, a representative of the Garden City sugar company, and Tennis station for the general manager of the road. The townsite of McCue, now Friend, was named in honor of the builder of the railroad. After operating the railroad for two years Mr. Mc-Cue sold it to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe for $500,000.

The Garden City-Western Railroad

The Garden City Western railroad was built in 1915. The officials are: J. Stewart, president; Spencer Penrose, vice-president; F. A. Gillispie, secretary-treasurer, and W. B. Benson, general freight agent. The road is fourteen miles in length, and was built primarily for the purpose of serving the beet and alfalfa district. But there has been a big increase in wheat acreage in the northwest part of the county, and the railroad now ships many carloads of grain every year. There are three principal stations or loading points on this line. Wolfe station has in addition to beet and alfalfa loading equipment, a 15,000-bushel-capacity elevator, owned by Tom Daniels of Deerfield. At Lowe Station the Everly Grain Company has a 15,000-bushel elevator. This point also has large stockyards and a grocery store. Peterson is also a beet-loading station.

Railroads That Were Chartered But Never Built

Several railroads have been surveyed through Finney county, and bonds voted by the citizens to help promote them, but they were never built and the bonds were never issued. The surveys and half-finished grades were abandoned by the promoters, and their story is almost forgotten.

The charter of the Nebraska, Garden City and Southwestern railroad was filed with the Secretary of State March 8, 1886. It was to be built from Red Cloud, Nebraska, to the coal fields of Colorado, and Garden City was to be the most important intermediate point on the railroad. A vote was cast at the Garden City township election September 27, 1886, for the purpose of subscribing $50,000 to the capital stock of the Kansas, Texas and Southwestern railroad. The election carried, seven hundred in favor and two against. The road was to be constructed from Garden City to some point on the Union Pacific, and also south to some indefinite point.

June 28, 1887, a petition signed by Porter D. Perry and 106 other persons in Terry and Pleasant Valley townships, asking for a special election to vote upon a proposition to subscribe $21,000 to the capital stock of the Garfield-Pawnee Valley and Colorado railroad company. The election carried by seventeen votes.

A petition signed by C. J. Jones, J. A. Stevens, and 651 other resident taxpayers was presented to the board of commissioners May 31, 1887. They were asking the county to subscribe $120,000, to be issued in $1000 bonds, to the Denver, Garden City and Southwestern railroad, which was to be built from some point in Meade county to Garden City, and north to the Finney county line. They also asked for the same amount to be issued to the Garden City Nickel Plate, which was to be built from Garden City to some point in Ness or Lane county. A right of way for this road was secured, surveyed and several miles of grading completed.

The Nebraska, Kansas and Southern was surveyed through the county in 1907. The town of Burham was platted in Garfield township, and the road completed from Garden City to a point seventeen miles northeast. The project failed to go any farther, and the stockholders lost all their investment.


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