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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
Pacific Historical Review
Vol. 5 No. 1 (Mar. 1936), pp52‑60

The text is in the public domain.

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 p52  A Southern Transcontinental Railroad into
California: Texas and Pacific versus
Southern Pacific, 1865‑1885​*

Lewis B. Lesley

The well-known story of the building of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads has overshadowed another narrative of interest — the attempt of the Texas and Pacific Railroad to enter southern California. Plans for a southern transcontinental railroad were prominently mentioned along with those for a northern and central route during the forties and fifties of the last century, San Diego being named asst Pacific terminus for the southern line, which it was hoped would be the first constructed to the coast. The coming of the Civil War dealt a temporary blow to the transcontinental railroad plans of the South, and Congress, rid of the southern agitators, passed the Union Pacific Act in 1862, providing for a railroad over the central route to Sacramento or San Francisco.

Shortly after the close of the war, the advocates of a southern route renewed their efforts to build along a line which the government railroad surveys of the fifties had proved vastly superior to the northern and central routes.​1 San Diego citizens had organized a railroad company as early as 1854, the "San Diego and Gila, Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railroad Company,"2  p53 to build east across the mountain on a direct line to Yuma, there to connect with the proposed southern transcontinental railroad. In 1869, this company passed into the hands of the Memphis, El Paso and Pacific Railroad, headed by John Charles Frémont. However, in 1870, thanks to the financial manipulations of Frémont, the Memphis and El Paso found itself bankrupt.​3 No government aid had been given to this company, although Texas had granted generous portions of state lands.

On March 3, 1871, Congress passed the "Texas Pacific Railway Bill," making provision at last for a southern transcontinental railroad. The route of the Pacific was to be from Marshall, on the eastern border of Texas, to the bay of San Diego, "pursuing in the location thereof, as near as may be, the route known as the 32d parallel of latitude."​4 Twenty alternate sections of land per mile, on each side of the track, were provided through the territories, and ten alternate sections in California. The act omitted mention of financial aid of any sort. Construction on the road was to start simultaneously at San Diego and Marshall, and fifty miles of consecutive road were to be completed from each point within two years after the passage of the bill, the entire line to be finished within ten years.

The Texas Pacific Railway Company was organized on April 15, 1871, and Colonel Thomas A. Scott,a then head of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was chosen president.​5 Steps were immediately taken to absorb the Memphis and El Paso road, as well as the property of the San Diego and Gila still in the hands of the bankrupt company. New legislation was put  p54 through Congress in May, 1872, providing additional time for the commencement of work on the line, and, at the same time, the name of the company was changed to the Texas and Pacific.6

Great rejoicing followed in San Diego, a community whose plans for the future centered in the coming of a transcontinental railroad. However, just as things were beginning to look bright again for San Diego, the Panic of 1873 arrived, and all work on the Texas and Pacific was suspended. Only ten miles of roadbed had been graded out of San Diego, and not one foot of rail had been laid.

The year 1874 saw the opening of a legislative battle in the railroad committees of Congress to win financial support from the national coffers in aid of the Texas and Pacific. Certain obstacles presented themselves at once to the plans of Colonel Scott and his co‑workers. First and foremost was the animosity of the Central Pacific group of California, composed principally of Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins. The second obstacle was a general panic-caution against the further granting of government subsidies to corporations. These two factors killed the various bills presented to Congress by the friends of the southern railroad concern.

In 1865, the so‑called "Central Pacific Monopoly" organized the Southern Pacific Company of California, with plans to build south from San Francisco.​7 News had arrived of the formation of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, designed to build west along the 35th parallel (the route later followed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Railroad), entering California at Needles. In preparation for a fight to keep this company from entering California, the Central Pacific monopoly brought influence to bear upon Congress to add a section to the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Act of 1866 (Section 18),​8 allowing the Southern Pacific to meet the Atlantic  p55 and Pacific "at such a point, near the boundary line of the State of California, as they shall deem most suitable for a railroad line to San Francisco . . ." The story of the struggle between the Atlantic and Pacific and Southern Pacific interests, resulting in the victory of the former company, is beyond the scope of the present paper.

The next move of the Central Pacific monopoly was to turn against the possible encroachment of a competitive railroad along the southern route into California — the Texas and Pacific, headed, as we have noted, by energetic Colonel Thomas A. Scott. The prelude to this legislative battle came about when, in the Act of Congress incorporating the Texas Pacific, in 1871, there appeared a special section (number 23) providing "that for the purpose of connecting the Texas Pacific Railroad with the city of San Francisco, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company of California is hereby authorized . . . to construct a line of railroad from a point at or near Tehachapi Pass, by way of Los Angeles, to the Texas Pacific Railroad at or near the Colorado River . . ."9

Years later, Charles Crocker, testifying before a Senate committee, in 1887, stated that he and his associates saw the necessity of keeping the Texas and Pacific out of California because of the accompanying threat to the supremacy of the Central Pacific interests. To quote a part of his testimony: "It was better for us to build it [the southern road] because Tom Scott was bound to scalp the Central Pacific . . . Tom Scott had a land grant from the government and was going to build it . . . The only question was, who should control it, friends of the Central Pacific or enemies of the Central Pacific?"10

Scott, arguing for his first bill presented to Congress in 1874, showed that the Texas and Pacific had built 325 miles of road by that time, in the east, without a dollar of government money, whereas the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines had received $54,000,000 in bonds from the government, to say nothing  p56 of the vast land grants.​11 All that the Texas and Pacific requested was a government guarantee of interest on the company bonds to an amount less than $2,000,000 per year. Such a government guarantee would result in the disposal of the Texas and Pacific bonds on a stringent money market. As the Philadelphia Press pointed out, all anti-subsidy objections were overcome in this bill because the government was secured first and last by the fact that the railroad was pledging its road, stock, revenue and lands to the payment on the bonds which the government might endorse.​12 As Scott said to a House committee in 1875: "We ask for no grant of any nature or kind, no form of loan or bond of the government, but simply the aid of its credit, and that confined to the interest upon the bonds of the company, in which the government is amply secured."13

Facing Scott and his friends in Washington was the powerful Central Pacific lobby, headed by General Franchot, who, in the words of Huntington, "had a good many people in his employ."​14 As early as November, 1874, Huntington wrote to Crocker: "The coming session of congress will be composed of the hungriest set of men that ever got together, and the devil only knows what they will do."​15 Again, in 1876, Huntington wrote: "It cost money to fix things so that I would know his [Scott's] bill would not pass."16

Meanwhile Scott had decided to build from Yuma into San Diego via San Gorgonio Pass, rather than on the direct route across the desert to the coast. He wrote to the Central Pacific group stating that he was fully determined to build to San Diego because of the pledges made to the people of that community, and expressed hope that the Southern Pacific Company would build only to San Gorgonio Pass from Los Angeles,  p57 there to connect with the Texas and Pacific rather than to build on down to Yuma. Huntington's reply to this missileº was that two companies working from opposite directions, one from the Pacific coast and one from the east, could give the public what it desired — a road along the southern route to the Pacific at the earliest possible moment.​17 The Southern Pacific was already starting to build south from San Gorgonio Pass, and for Scott to build to Yuma and then parallel the Southern Pacific tracks from Yuma to San Gorgonio Pass was, according to the shocked Central Pacific group, sheer insanity.18

The bill of 1875 was forced back into the hands of the House Railroad Committee in spite of the report of the committee, a part of which read:19

The committee do not believe it to be to the true interest of the Government or the people to be dependent solely upon one line of railway across the continent . . . There can be no doubt that the people of our country have reached the conclusion that competitive lines of travel are an absolute necessity . . . and the South may well urge that, while the North and Northwest have been lavishly favored by the General Government, in appropriations for internal improvements, a very small sum indeed has been granted to that section, and that it is only reasonable and just that whatever can properly be done to revive her industries and restore her prosperity should more than ever be done at this time.

It was at this moment that Stanford, in an interview published in the San Francisco Chronicle, first set forth publicly the plan to push the Southern Pacific from Yuma across into Texas. In concluding his interview he said: "The people of San Francisco will never appreciate how great a danger menaced them . . . Had Tom Scott built his road to the Pacific he would have taken from us our best prospective traffic and carried it East . . . He would have given San Francisco a blow from which she would never have recovered."20

 p58  The congressional committee fight of 1875‑1876 was a continuation of the former tactics of the Central Pacific lobby. In this session of Congress the monopoly interests stated a willingness to build east from Yuma along the Texas and Pacific grant without a subsidy from the government. However, Congress adjourned, in March, 1876, with no bill reported out of the railroad committees.21

Years later, Huntington gave an interview to H. H. Bancroft, which has been preserved in the Bancroft Library of the University of California under the title of "The Collis P. Huntington Ms." Reminiscing about his relations with Scott, Huntington told Bancroft:22

He says to me, "Huntington, we are beating you." "Yes," said I, "that is the way you should state it, because you are beating me out of nine things and I shall beat you in one . . . in building the road . . ." He wanted to open a highway to the Pacific. He could not lay a rail every day. We were laying a mile and a half to three every day. When we were fighting him we were at Los Angeles. We got to Fort Yuma when the next Congress got together. I sent some men over there to work a little. He would come before the committee and tell what he wanted. I used to go before the committee; I did not care to take more than ten minutes. He used to take three or four hours. He would say what he was doing; and I, what we were doing every day; every morning I got a telegram of what we had done the day before, so that the committee could see what we were doing.

E. W. Morse, a prominent railroad enthusiast of San Diego, wrote to a friend late in March, 1876: "You can see that Stanford and his crowd prefer to scotch but not kill Scott's bill . . . In the meantime, by using the government money in his [Stanford's] hands, he will push forward his road into Arizona so far that Scott never could get private capital to invest in a parallel road opposed to the Central Pacific road."​23 To another friend Morse wrote in 1877: "San Diego is fighting to the best of her ability for life. She seems to be in the power of the boa‑constrictor, but she proposes to struggle and fight to  p59 the utmost while being relentlessly crushed. She does not propose to lick the hand that smites her."

Then took place the dramatic arrival of the Southern Pacific at Yuma, the attempt of the Texas and Pacific agent to prevent the monopoly line from crossing the bridge spanning the Colorado river at that point, been the defeat of this attempt of the Texas and Pacific because of pressure brought to bear upon the Secretary of War by the Central Pacific group in Washington.​24 On January 18, 1878, a bill passed Congress granting "the right of way through the military reservation at Fort Yuma to the Southern Pacific Railroad Company."​25 It is interesting to note that the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, when reporting this bill, availed itself of the opportunity to censure the Southern Pacific officials for their action in disobeying military orders at the time of laying the rails on the bridge at Yuma. "To disobey these restrictions was a manifest infraction of law and order," read the report, "such as your committee would not overlook were it not for certain considerations . . ." namely, the great hardships, etc., suffered by the people of southern California and Arizona by the holding up of railroad building at Yuma.

Thus we see the Central Pacific-Southern Pacific interests victorious in the battle to keep the Texas and Pacific from gaining an entrance into California via the southern route. The Texas and Pacific at the time had only built west as far as Fort Worth, Texas, and no construction program had been undertaken east from San Diego.

Eastward the Southern Pacific built it road from Yuma, through Arizona and New Mexico, confident that Congress would, at an early date, turn over to the new road the original land grant of the Texas and Pacific Company.​26 El Paso was reached  p60 by the Southern Pacific in April, 1881, and it was not until December of that year that the Southern Pacific tracks met those of the Texas and Pacific at Sierra Blanca, ninety miles east of El Paso. Arrived at El Paso, the Southern Pacific pressed for congressional action on behalf of the road across Arizona and New Mexico,​27 which had built through those areas with the permission of the legislatures but with only a grant of right of way. But Congress was not so amenable to the siren call of the monopoly interests at this late date and, in February, 1885, passed a law providing that "all lands granted to the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company under the Act of Congress entitled 'An Act to Incorporate the Texas Pacific Railroad Company, and to Aid in the Construction of its Road . . .' approved March 3, 1871, are hereby declared forfeited, and the whole of said lands restored to the public domain and made subject to disposal under the general laws of the United States, as though said grant had never been made."28

Meanwhile, the Texas and Pacific continued its fight in the congressional committees, but admitted defeat with the arrival of the Southern Pacific at Sierra Blanca. The fight of the Texas and Pacific against the Central Pacific monopoly was a hopeless one from the start, for, with one exception, no bill was sent out of the hands of the railroad committees of Congress. With the defeat of the Texas and Pacific plans to reach the Pacific, San Diego was forced to turn elsewhere for a transcontinental railroad connection. But that is another story.

Lewis B. Lesley

San Diego State College

The Editor's Note:

* This paper was read at the annual meeting of the Pacific coast Branch of the American Historical Association, at Santa Barbara in December, 1935. [Editor].

The Author's Notes:

1 The reports of the various surveys and explorations for the Pacific railroad were published by the government as Parts I‑XI of Senate Executive Documents (serial nos. 758‑768), 33 Cong., 2 sess., XIII, and this set is known as the Pacific railroad reports. Volume XII is Senate Executive Documents (992), 35 Cong., 2 sess., XVIII, no. 46. See also, House Executive Documents (791‑801), 33 Cong., 2 sess., XI, no. 91, Parts I‑XI; and ibid., (1054‑1055), 36 Cong., 1 sess., XI, no. 56, parts I‑II. The standard summary of these reports is, G. L. Albright, Official explorations for Pacific railroads, 1853‑1855 (University of California Publications in History, XI, Berkeley, 1921).

2 San Diego Herald, May 21, 1853, Nov. 4, 11, 1854; San Francisco Herald, Nov. 11, 1854. A brief account of the San Diego and Gila Company is to be found in H. H. Bancroft, Chronicles of the builders of the commonwealth. Historical character study (San Francisco, 1891‑1892, 7 v.), VI, ch. VIII.

3 Senate Executive Documents (1406), 41 Cong., 2 sess., no. 59; Senate Miscellaneous Documents (1408), 41 Cong., 2 sess., no. 96.

4 Statutes at Large, XVI, 573.

5 H. H. Bancroft, Chronicles of the builders, VI, 296. See also, Daily Alta California, April 16, 1871; San Francisco Daily Bulletin, April 17, 1871; and, San Diego Union, May 4, 1871.

6 Statutes at Large, XVII, 59.

7 An excellent brief account of the organization of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific companies is to be found in S. Daggett, Chapters on the history of the Southern Pacific (New York, 1922), chs. I‑VIII.

8 Statutes at Large, XIV, 292.

9 Statutes at Large, XVI, 579.

10 Senate Executive Documents (2508), 50 Cong., 1 sess., V, no. 51, 3683.

11 House Miscellaneous Documents (1653), 43 Cong., 2 sess., no. 36, 9‑10. Scott appeared before the Senate Railroad Committee on December 14, 1874. Ibid., 6‑8.

12 Quoted in San Diego Union, January 22, 1874. This article appeared while Scott's bill was in preparation.

13 House Miscellaneous Documents (1653), 43 Cong., 2 sess., no. 36, 2‑3.

14 Senate Executive Documents (2508), 50 Cong., 1 sess., V, no. 51, 3702. Huntington stated that, as far as he knew, Scott never once bought a vote.

15 Ibid., 3712.

16 Ibid., 3731.

17 House Miscellaneous Documents (1653), 43 Cong., 2 sess., no. 36, part I, 3716‑3717.

18 Ibid., part 2, passim.

19 House Reports (1662), 43 Cong., 2 sess. VII, no. 267, 3.

20 Reprinted in San Diego Union, May 27, 1875. See also, G. T. Clark, Leland Stanford, war governor of California, railroad builder and founder of Stanford University (Stanford University, 1931), 337.

21 San Diego Union, March 9, 1876.

22 The Collis P. Huntington Ms., 101‑103.

23 Private correspondence of Ephraim W. Morse, 1868‑1885. Unpublished letters.

24 For a detailed account of the building of the Southern Pacific across the Colorado river see House Executive Documents (1802), 45 Cong., 2 sess., no. 33.

25 Ibid., 1; Senate Reports (1790), 45 Cong., 2 sess., no. 491.

26 Acts, resolutions and memorials of the ninth legislative assembly of the Territory of Arizona (Tucson, 1877), 24‑33. See also, Poor's Manual, XIV (1879), 815, 949; and, C. F. Coan, A history of New Mexico (Chicago, 1925, 3 v.), I, 447.

27 House Reports (2070), 47 Cong., 1 sess., VI, no. 1803.

28 Statutes at Large XXIII, 337‑338.

Thayer's Note:

a Scott had risen thru the ranks of the Pennsylvania Railroad from station agent to become a vice president at the outbreak of the War between the States; because of his railroad background, he was at that time appointed colonel in the Pennsylvania militia by the state's governor, and Assistant Secretary of War in the Union government a short time after.

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