William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 7] [part 5] [Cutler's History]


After a country has once become familiar with the splendid advantages of communication furnished by railroads, it is a difficult matter to go back in memory to the days of old county, territorial and military roads, slow, lumbering stage coaches and bungling ferries. In the case of Atchison county it seems as if the old order of inconveniences had so ephemeral an existence as hardly to have live at all. Railroad and telegraphic communications entered almost hand-in-hand, before the ferries and the county roads and the great thoroughfares to Utah and California had been closed. In June, 1855, Atchison was selected by a number of Salt Lake freighters - the heaviest in the country - for their outfitting and starting point on the Missouri river. This is what gave the place its first business start, and the great channel through which this immense traffic poured - the great overland route to Utah and California - brought Atchison into intimate communication with the whole West. Subsequently the city became the eastern terminus of the Great Overland Stage Line - the longest single route in the world - the distance from Atchison to Folsom, the western terminus, being 1,918 miles. Even before the large freighters of the West had selected Atchison as their initial point on their long journey, and before the Overland Stage Line made it their eastern depot, the locality was known to traders as a splendid point of departure for the interior, being further west in Kansas by twelve miles than any other landing on the river. The old French voyageurs called the region the Grand Detour of the Missouri. This locality appeared to be the natural means of communication between the West, or the country to the Missouri, and that vast region of wilds beyond, called the "Great West" or the "Far West." Looking at the matter in this broad light, as did those who founded the town, Atchison was certain to become a thriving trading and transportation center - a great center of communication to an immense region of the country. Her destiny is being worked out, although, at times, she had dangerous rivals. A few miles above was Doniphan, and a few miles below on the river was Sumner, both possessing beautiful natural sites. But the selection of Atchison, on broad geographical grounds, as the depot of supplies for the western freighters, gave the town an impulse which it has since retained. Doniphan and Sumner are forgotten. These large trading firms established station stores between Atchison and Salt Lake City, and the amount of supplies which were started on their long journey from this point was simply immense. In 1859 came the gold excitement, and Atchison was made the base of supplies for that rushing horde of emigration. In the meantime for the convenience of the local population, which was rapidly increasing, county and territorial roads were established, one of the latter being from Atchison to Marysville. In October, 1855, George M. Million, Lewis Burnes, D. D. Burnes, James N. Burnes and Calvin F. Burnes commenced to run a ferry for the accommodation of the traveling public across the Missouri River. Their dock on the Kansas side was situated at the foot of Atchison street. They obtained their charter from the Legislature, and executed a bond of $1,000 for "faithful performance," etc. The rates fixed upon were as follows: two-horse wagon or wagon and one yoke of oxen (loaded), $1; ditto (empty), 75 cents; one additional pair of horses or oxen, 25 cents; loose cattle or oxen per head, 10 cents; sheep and hogs, 5 cents per head; man and horse, 25 cents; foot passengers, 10 cents; one horse and buggy or other vehicle, 50 cents; two-horse buggy or carriage, 75 cents. The next year the ferry company passed over their license to William S. and Luther C. Challiss and Willis E. Gaylord. There appears to have been some complaints against the original proprietors of the ferry, and the County Commissioners attempted to pass a resolution forfeiting their license. The aforesaid proprietors rightly, logically and legally objected to this course, on the ground that as they had received their charter from the Legislature it was not at all probable that the Court of Commissioners could take it away. The ferry, under different managements, continued in operation until the magnificent railroad bridge was built across the Missouri in 1875, when the old gave place to the new order of things.

In less than four years from the first survey of the town of Atchison her trade had so increased and her prospects were so glowing that it became evident to her public spirited citizens that she must have a railroad. The project was agitated and agitated. Col. P. T. Abell, then president of the Town Company, worked early and late, and finally, through the able "seconding" of Hon. R. M. Stewart, member of the Missouri Legislature, a charter was obtained from the State. (Gen. B. F. Stringfellow, so instrumental in founding this first road of Atchison, had the honor of delivering a well considered and interesting address at the laying of the Union Depot corner stone, September 7, 1880, when the city had made seven lines of road tributary to its energy.) The pioneer railroad charter provided for the building of a line from Atchison to St. Joe, and was considered merely as the extension of the Hannibal & St. Joe road. At the very first meeting ever held by the City Council of Atchison a resolution was adopted for holding an election March 18, 1858, to submit a proposition to take $100,000 in railroad stock - the election to be held at the storehouse of Burnes & Bro. S. H. Petefish, Charles E. Woolfolk and Dr. C. A. Logan were judges of election. There was no hesitating. The people voted the bonds heartily, and the Council appointed Hon. S. C. Pomeroy, who was a strong and active champion of the road, an agent in behalf of the city. Everybody was wildly in favor of the enterprise. In addition to the $100,000 voted by the city as a municipal body, the citizens subscribed in their individual capacities to the amount of $100,000. In May Messrs. Butcher, Auld & Dean were awarded the contract over fourteen bidders, at $3,700 per mile, they taking $2,500 in stock. The members of this firm were Thomas and Ephraim Butcher, David and James Auld and William Dean. By the 12th of that month work was commenced on the line above Rushville, but the road was not fully completed until February, 1860, and it is due to the energy and perseverance and business foresight of Col. P. T. Abel, Gen. B. F. Stringfellow, L. C. Challiss, Dr. J. H. Stringfellow, Samuel Dickson and Hon. S. C. Pomeroy that Atchison was at length placed upon the great iron highway of prosperity. The history and effects of this important event, which, to men of practical minds and business pride, reads like a novel drawn from real life, is well told by Gen. Stringfellow:

The influence of this road upon the destiny of our city has been such, and so much greater than that of any other road, that I will be excused from referring to it at greater length than to that of any other.

Its history will serve to show that of railroads, as of other things, mighty effects often result from apparently trifling causes; to show how the blind let opportunities escape, while the wise make haste to seize them.

There are, too, incidents in its history to expose the incredible folly of local jealousy, and the now incomprehensible lawlessness of the days when men had learned to trample law under the foot of military power.

This little road, the Atchison & St. Joseph, a road of but twenty miles in length, in its very infancy exerted a most vital influence on the destiny of Atchison. It gave us, by the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, direct lines to St. Louis, Chicago and the East, before any other was constructed to the west line of Missouri.

Its benefits to Atchison were, however, more special in demonstrating and securing to Atchison the advantages of its position as a central point for trade and travel.

1. It removed from Leavenworth to Atchison the shipment of vast amounts of government freight destined to the Western posts, and thus gave to Atchison its first advertisement as an outfitting place for the mining regions of Colorado.

2. It removed the starting point of the overland mail to the Pacific, to Atchison from St. Joseph, where it had been located by political favor.

3. It removed to Atchison the terminus branch of the Union Pacific road, which, by like political favor, had been located at St. Joseph, and thus secured the construction of the Central Branch Union Pacific, one of the most important roads in our State.

4. It thus made Atchison a point to be sought by railroads, brought all these other roads, and made this the great railroad center of Kansas.

The Atchison & St. Joseph Railroad was organized, and its stock taken, by a subscription by the then mere town site in its pretentious capacity as a city, and by the mere handful of citizens then resident here, with a small number of citizens along the line, in the county of Buchanan, in the State of Missouri. With this subscription, means were secured to get the road ready for the rails, and the work was let in the spring of 1858, to Butcher, Auld & Co., a firm composed of Thomas and Ephraim Butcher, and David and James Auld, and William Dean, who are all yet citizens of our county - living and witnessing the vast results of the work done by them. They completed their work, leaving only the rails to be laid to complete the road.

Railroads not being then, as now, appreciated as investments, the Directors found it difficult to raise the money to complete the road. The Legislature of Missouri had, before that, provided for the loan of $750,000 to aid in the construction of a road from Kansas City by St. Joseph to the northern line of the State, under the name of the Platte Country Railroad.

This grant, which would now be so greedily taken, lay idle, until Col. William Osborn, who had constructed the west half of the H. & St. Jo. R. R., and who afterward had charge of the construction of the C. B. U. P., with certain associates, secured the control of the company. The Directors of the Atchison & St. Joseph Railroad then proposed to transfer their road to this company, and to secure its completion.

In the meantime, another company, by the name of the Weston & Atchison Railroad, had been organized to build a road from Weston to Atchison. This road was also transferred to the Platte Country Railroad Company. With the State aid and and County subscriptions, the road was then completed to Weston, and to Savannah, a distance of fifty miles.

The rebellion occurring, all further work ceased, and this company, like the Pacific and other roads which had received State aid, was unable to pay interest on the State bonds.

The citizens of St. Joseph, blind as ever in their jealousy, deemed this their opportunity, and succeeded in inducing the Legislature to order a sale of the road.

The stockholders of the old companies, the Atchison & St. Jo., and Weston & Atchison, being advised that the sales of their roads to the Platte Country road were illegal, took steps to regain possession of their roads, and to resist the sale by the State. Suit was brought by the State, and an attempt made to dispossess the companies. It failed, and by order of the court the companies were left in possession until the decision of the suit.

Shortly thereafter the Legislature of Missouri met, and Col. J. N. Burnes, as President of the W.& A., and I, as President of the A. & St. Jo., submitted a proposition of compromise. We offered to pay the State the full principal and interest of its loan, in bonds of the State.

Will you believe that the then Mayor of St. Joseph, with other leading citizens of that city, were there, not only seeking to defeat out proposition, but gravely asking instead, that the Legislature should direct the road to be torn up, and the rails and ties given to St. Jo. for the construction of a road in Kansas, opposite to St. Jo.!

After a struggle seldom equaled, I am proud to say that the Legislature, under the active lead of W. L. Lovelace, then Speaker of the House, and afterward Chief Justice, accepted our proposition, and prevented the road from being torn up.

While this was pending, and we had possession of our roads under the order of the court of the State of Missouri, its then Governor, Thomas C. Fletcher, fresh from the camp, forgetting that the war no longer existed, under the influence of St. Jo., in contempt of the law and of the courts of his State, called out the militia and took possession of our roads!

I have no time to criticize such an act. I merely cite it as a historical event, to remind you of the lawlessness which prevails when the military rules the civil power, and to impress, especially on you young men, the danger of military rule.

On the adoption of our compromise, the companies were restored to the possession of our roads. They were, however, defeated in their efforts to make the payments agreed on, and Governor Fletcher again took possession. Before the Legislature met, Col. J. Condit Smith purchased the majority of the stock in these roads, and, believing that public sentiment had become more favorable, he presented another proposition to the Legislature. As his attorney I had charge of this proposition.

He did not, as we had, propose to pay the State its claim, but, instead, proposed that the State should release its entire claim in consideration that he should complete the road. Strange as it may seem, this proposition met no serious opposition! The Legislature, instead of destroying the roads, now was anxious to aid in their construction. Thus the road was completed from Kansas City to Hopkins. At this point it connected with a branch of the B. & M. of Iowa, and became part of a line from Missouri River to Chicago.

The two roads had been consolidated under the name of the Missouri Valley Railroad.

Afterward a road was built from Council Bluffs to St. Jo. Then these two roads were consolidated under the present name of "Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs Railroad," a name which, in these days, no one has time to pronounce, and which has no such significance as its old appropriate and beautiful name, the "Missouri Valley."

By its latest change, it is understood that the control of its stock and management has passed into the hands of the C., B. & Q. R. R. It has thus, in reality if not nominally, become a part of that great road.

As completed, it is a road of vast importance to Atchison. It has given us, in fact, three distinct lines, by three diverging routes, and is equivalent to three distinct roads leading from Atchison - one east to St. Louis, one northeast to Chicago, and one northwest to Omaha.

By its connections it gives us direct routes to all points, from the cattle ranches of Texas to the sugar plantations of Louisiana, the cotton fields of Mississippi and Alabama, the orange groves of Florida, the rice fields of Carolina, and so on around the coast; by the great markets for our produce, by the great lakes to the lumber forests of the Northwest and again on to the mines of Colorado and California. Were all the other roads leading to Atchison blotted out, this road would yet give us direct routes to three- fourths of the circle of our continent. The circle is completed by our Kansas roads.

Fully six months before the completion of Atchison's first railroad, her energetic spirit bubbled up in expressions of great joy over her first telegraphic line. In May, 1859, Charles M. Stebbins, President of the St. Louis & Missouri River Telegraph Line, proposed to the citizens of Atchison to connect their city with Leavenworth and thus with the Eastern United States. His provision was that the people subscribe $1,500 in stock. On the 15th of August, 1859, the first message went over the wires. Mayor Pomeroy sent greetings to his brothers, in office, H. B. Denman, of Leavenworth, and O. D. Filley, of St. Louis. The editorial fraternity of Atchison, Leavenworth and St. Louis, also joined hands, metaphorically speaking, and congratulated each other, literally speaking. At this time Atchison was the most westerly telegraph station on the continent; glory enough for one day!

The war put a complete embargo upon the building of railroads. The origin of the Central Branch of the Union Pacific road is found in the charter obtained by Hon. Luther C. Challiss for the building of the Atchison & Pike's Peak line. This was in the winter of 1859-60. During this year he obtained possession of 150,000 acres or land by treaty with the Kickapoo Indians. A company had in the meantime been formed and Mr. Challiss elected President. The referred to tract was situated in Atchison and adjoining counties. To Mr. Challiss, Charles B. Keith, Indian Agent, Col. G. W. Glick, and Senators Pomeroy and Lane, is due the construction of the Central Branch, which gave Atchison its first communication westward into Kansas. Those not familiar with the railroad history of the State often look at the map and wonder what the proposed terminus of the Central Branch was and is. When the charter of this road was obtained, provision was made for building to a point 100 miles west of Atchison. In June, 1860, ground was broken by E. Butcher, of Pennsylvania, the railroad contractor. But the war interfered and it was not until 1865 that Col. William Osborn completed this section to Waterville. Under the grant for a Pacific road, it was proposed, at this point, to make a connection with a branch running from Kansas City to the 100th meridian, near Fort Kearney, Neb. The route of the Kansas City road was changed to Denver, however, and the Central Branch was left to fight its own way westward. The western terminus of the branch is now nearly at the 100th meridian in North- western Kansas, and under the push of the Gould interest Denver will ultimately be reached. Thus Northern Kansas has become directly tributary to Atchison.

The Atchison & Nebraska road, running from Atchison to Columbus, Neb., via Lincoln, was commenced in 1868, and completed to Lincoln in August, 1872. Its general direction is northwest from Atchison, and it passes through the most fertile and enterprising sections of Southwestern and Central Nebraska.

In September, 1869, the Missouri Pacific was extended to Atchison.

Late in 1871, work was commenced on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe road. It was completed to Topeka in May, 1872. The construction of this magnificent line is peculiarly the work of Atchison men. Gen. B. F. Stringfellow was a member of the convention which met at Topeka, and was selected as one of a committee of three to draw the bill transferring the lands to the respective companies by the State, to which the grant was made by Congress. Of this road Gen. Stringfellow speaks as follows:

The charter provided not only for a main line in the direction of Santa Fe, but for a branch from the Neosho to the Gulf. At my suggestion that branch was made a separate road, and extended to connect with the K. P. at Fort Riley. It was intended thus to connect the Gulf States with Kansas and the Mountains.

That branch has become the Missouri, Kansas & Texas.

It not only connects Kansas and the Mountains with the Gulf, but has a branch through Missouri to Hannibal, on the Mississippi, and thus connects the Gulf with the Great Lakes.

This little Neosho Branch, by a blunder of J. F. Joy, secured the exclusive right to a line through the Indian Territory, and thus monopolized the trade from Texas to the North and became one of the great lines of our country.

The construction of the main line by another blunder, was started from Topeka, to reach the coal mines of the Osage. After thus losing for years, the advantages of railroad connection at Atchison, it was forced to begin at its proper starting point, and so placed itself in connection with the roads at this place.

Since then it has been extended southwest through Kansas, west through Colorado, and southwest through New Mexico. It has now connection west with Leadville, on the summit of the Rocky Mountain; with Denver, the great city of the vast mineral region of the mountains; it has passed Santa Fe, the oldest city in North America, its apparent destination, on beyond Alburquerque, whence starts the new line to the Pacific - the line favored by Col. Benton, the projector of the Pacific road - and is hastening on through Arizona, crossing the Southern Pacific, and on through the old Empire of Mexico to Guaymas, on the Gulf of California.

As already said, this road, in conjunction with the St. Louis and San Francisco, is building another road to the Pacific from Albuquerque, and a line of its own to Guaymas, one of the best harbors on the Pacific. This line will be by a thousand miles the shortest to the continent of Australia, and the shores of India and China, thus commanding the trade of countries whose population is of such countless millions that a number equal to the entire population of our country might be destroyed by pestilence or famine and not be missed.

So admirable is the management of this company, so ample is credit and resources, that the oldest of us may confidently expect to go on an excursion to celebrate the opening of the line to San Diego and San Francisco, and the other line through Mexico to Guaymas, with a possible extension of the trip, by invitation of the President, to his Capital, Mexico, the City of the Aztecs.

It may further be added that L. C. Challiss was chiefly instrumental in obtaining the charter of the A. T. & S. F. road, and that Atchison County subscribed $15,000 in stock.

The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, that great corporation which passes to the famed city of the Northwest through the old and rich sections of the West, was one of the last of the "cart-wheel" of eight railroads to make direct connection with Atchison. Originally the line was projected to Leavenworth, but Atchison was speedily made its western terminus. The construction of the Atchison branch was begun early in 1872, and on July 14 the first train run into the city. In November the extension of the H. & St. Joe was completed. The Burlington & Missouri Company run trains to and from Atchison, using the track of the K. C., St. J. & C. B. between Hopkins and this point.

To speak more particularly of Atchison County - the A. T. & S. F. passes southwest through the eastern and southeastern portions of the county, Parnell and Cummingsville being stations along its line. It joins the Central Branch of the Union Pacific at Parnell Junction, a few miles from Atchison. The branch runs southwest and west through the center of the county, its stations beyond Parnell Junction being Farmington, Monrovia, Effingham and Muscotah, Oak Mills and Dalby, on the Missouri Pacific, which follows the river in the southwestern part of the county, and Larkin, on the Kansas Central line which cuts through the southwestern part of the county, are other stations on these lines of roads centering at Atchison.

In July, 1882, the first through train from Atchison to Omaha run over the new line of the Missouri Pacific R. R., and thus is opened another valuable medium of communication. It is generally admitted that this line passing through the most fertile portions of Kansas and Nebraska, is a benefit to the whole northeastern part of this State, and primarily to Atchison. Thus it is that Atchison has fulfilled the prophecy made by those pioneers who saw in her geographical position the natural transportation center of a broad expanse of country, although she has St. Joe only twenty miles to the northeast and Kansas City fifty miles to the southeast. For further and more general information in regard to the railroads of Kansas the reader is referred to the State history. At this point they are treated merely as they have a local bearing and interest.

The great iron bridge which spans the Missouri river at Atchison, and which really connects the Missouri Pacific, the Central Branch, the A. & N., and the A. T. & S. F. lines on the western bank with the K. C., St. J. & C. B., the C., R. I. & P., the B. & M., and the Hannibal & St. Joe on its eastern shores, was commenced in August, 1874, and completed in July, 1875. Its length is 1,182 feet, with an approach of 500 feet on the western side and 1,500 feet on the eastern. The structure consists of one draw span and three fixed spans. The stone for the piers, and abutments was taken from the celebrated Cottonwood quarries. The bridge is floored, and is used for highway as well as railroad traffic, the superintendent of the company operating an engine for crossing trains. The American Bridge Company of Chicago, was the contractor for this magnificent piece of work.

But the most important and the finest of the "concentrating railroad agencies" which Atchison put in force was the building of her costly union depot, which was dedicated with impressive ceremonies September 7, 1880. Gen. Stringfellow, Col. Glick and Messrs. Brown and Bier were especially active in securing its fine location on Second street. But it was by the energy of J. F. Barnard, Supt. of the K. C., St. Joe & C. B. R. R.; to J. B. Carson, General Manager, and T. L. Dunn, Chief Engineer, of the H. & St. Joe R. R.; to A. Kimball, Supt. of the C. R. I. & P. R. R.; to A. A. Talmage, Gen. Supt. of the Missouri Pacific R. R.; to W. B. Strong, General Manager of the A., T. & S. F. R. R.; to W. F. Downs, late Supt. of the C. B. U. P. R. R.; and to L. W. Towne, late Supt. of the A. & N. R. R., that its construction really became an accomplished fact. The citizens of Atchison had seen for a long time that the building of a union depot was a necessity. On the 8th of January, 1879, the Atchison Union Depot Company was formed - President, Mr. Towne. Their capital stock was $100,000, of which amount the seven railroad companies whose roads terminated in this city, took $70,000. The cost of the building before its completion was $120,000. Its architect was Wm. E. Taylor, who had built the union depot at Kansas City, and who was considered one of the greatest experts in his line in the country. The work was let to Capt. James A. McGonigle, of Leavenworth, who had built the union depot at Kansas City, and was the "author of many superb works" throughout the State of Kansas. Work was begun in the fall of 1879, and the dedicatory ceremonies occurred Sept. 7, 1880. Gothic is the prevailing style of architecture. The finest of pressed brick from St. Louis and the beautiful stone from the quarries at Cottonwood Falls were used in its construction. Its length is 235 feet, with an L ninety-six feet. The width of the main building and L is forty-four feet. The center of the union of main building and L is of two stories, each in height eighteen feet; with a mansard in height seventeen feet. There is a basement under the entire building with rooms for an engine to heat the building, and other rooms for cellar use. Though its nominal length is 235 and its width forty-four feet, its real length is 346 feet and its width 146 feet, being the extent covered by the improvement of open roofs. It is thus, too, capable of indefinite extension. The contrast between the dark red brick and pure white stone, of which the pilasters are composed, is very pleasing. The interior of the depot, both the general railroad quarters and the space devoted to the wants of the fine union depot hotel, is keeping with the taste evinced outwardly. Two stories in height, with ornamental mansard roofs, and a tower which rises from their midst to an elevation of eighty feet from the ground, the union depot is a structure of which any city might be proud, and it is a fitting monument to her enterprise and to the magnitude of her railroad interests.

The ceremonies which took place upon the formal opening of the depot, September 7, were witnessed by a large crowd, many of them distinguished quests from all parts of the State. One of the popular features of the day was the competition of decorated engines for a $500 prize by the Exposition Company. Central Branch engine No. 162, carried off the prize. A speech by Gen. Stringfellow, filled to overflowing with timely facts and common sense - which is always timely; an elegant banquet served in the large assembly room, in the second story of the depot; a visit to the Exposition grounds; a grand procession, illumination and ball were all participated in, as indices of the joy felt by Atchison and the State at the completion of this last binding power of a complete circle of railroads.

On June 3, 1882, a fire broke out in the second story of the depot, and before the flames could be stayed the mansard roof in the west wing was destroyed, and much damage done by water. The total loss was $10,000. Rebuilding commenced at once.

[TOC] [part 7] [part 5] [Cutler's History]