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This webpage reproduces an article in
Pacific Historical Review
Vol. 8 No. 1 (Mar. 1939), pp89‑96

The text is in the public domain.

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 p89  The Entrance of the Santa Fé Railroad
into California​*

Lewis B. Lesley

The first transcontinental railroad to come into California was the Central Pacific, controlled by the "Big Four," which became famous in railroad annals of the State as the "monopoly," determined to prevent the entrance into California of any competing road from the east. The Texas and Pacific company, with San Diego designated as the western terminus of a railroad from the Mississippi to the Pacific, was held back near El Paso, Texas, while the Southern Pacific (controlled by the Central Pacific) built eastward from the California border to control the southeast entrance at Yuma. This activity of the monopoly took place in the seventies of the last century and resulted in a great victory for the "Big Four."1

No sooner, however, had the southern Pacific group finished its battle with the Texas and Pacific than a new menace to the monopoly appeared on the railroad horizon — the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé company (the Santa Fé, as it is popularly known), determined to build through to southern California. The road, in 1879, acquired the Atlantic and Pacific company, which had been chartered by an act of Congress of July 27, 1866.​2 The route designated for the Atlantic and Pacific was from Springfield, Missouri, to Albuquerque, and thence "along the thirty-fifth parallel of latitude as near as may be found most suitable for a railway route, to the Colorado river, at such a point as may be selected by said company for crossing; thence by the most practicable and eligible route to the Pacific."

Very important was section 18 of this act, revealing again, as in the case of the fight against the Texas and Pacific company, the  p90 influence of the Central Pacific monopoly interests in their determination to keep any competing transcontinental line from entering California. This clause read as follows:

The Southern Pacific railroad . . . is hereby authorized to connect with the said Atlantic and Pacific railroad . . . at such point near the boundary line of the State of California as they shall deem suitable for a railroad line to San Francisco, and shall have . . . similar grants of land . . . with the Atlantic and Pacific railroad herein provided for.

Casting about for a prospective Pacific coast outlet, the Atlantic and Pacific officials visited San Francisco in April, 1872, where a dispute was waging between the Central Pacific company and certain citizens of the bay city who were anxious to prevent the monopoly from gaining a strangle-hold on that municipality. The hope of the Atlantic and Pacific was that an independent road might be completed between St. Louis and San Francisco.​3 However, the San Francisco railroad committee, after an investigation of the Atlantic and Pacific, discarded the eastern offer, and the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific interests continued their activities in the bay region undisturbed by further threats from the Atlantic and Pacific, at least for the time being.

In 1879, as has been stated, the Santa Fé company took over the Atlantic and Pacific interests, with Thomas Nickerson, president of the Santa Fé, heading the new combination.​4 An announcement followed to the effect that the main concern of the moment was the completion of a line as soon as possible to the Colorado river along the 35th parallel, reaching the California border at Needles, there to await a decision as to choice of ports on the Pacific.

San Diego had meanwhile been examined as a prospective terminus of the road and a favorable report had been forwarded to Santa Fé headquarters by the company agents on the coast.​5 Further  p91 to impress the Santa Fé officials with the value of choosing San Diego bay as the terminus for the railroad, Frank A. Kimball, of National City, just south of San Diego, raised huge land and cash subsidies and made two trips to Boston, the headquarters of the company. There, in spite of the opposition of the San Francisco port interests, Kimball was able to win the Santa Fé officials to the choice of San Diego as the Pacific terminus of the road.​6 The Santa Fé agreed to the formation of a company to build a railroad from San Diego bay to a connection with the Atlantic and Pacific in California. To carry out this agreement, the California Southern Railroad company was chartered on October 12, 1880, to be completed by January, 1882.​7 The line was to run up the coast from National City and San Diego to Oceanside, thence inland through Temecula canyon by way of Fallbrook. In early June, 1881, track laying commenced at National City, and most important in that event, commented the San Diego Union, was "the cheering fact that a most onerous monopoly, whose oppressions and exactions have been felt for years by the people of this coast, will have had its day."​8 But the battle with the Central Pacific monopoly was far from ended, as we shall see.

Ominous developments had meanwhile been taking place in railroad circles in the east which were designed to block the consummation of plans on the part of the Santa Fé for a road into California via Needles, to San Diego and possibly San Francisco. Announcement of the organization of the California Southern brought to the attention of rival railway magnates the serious competitive nature of the Santa Fé-Atlantic and Pacific enterprise. Just at this point the Southern Pacific decided to enter the lists and drive off the threatened invasion of California by the rapidly advancing "35th Parallel Road."

The story is at points a complicated one. During the seventies Jay Gould was building his vast system of roads and beating down  p92 all opposition to his plans.​9 In 1880 he was in control of the Texas and Pacific, and, in November, 1881, he and Collis P. Huntington came to an agreement by which the Southern Pacific, then building across Arizona and New Mexico, was to meet the Texas and Pacific near El Paso, in Texas.​10 Thus by January, 1882, Gould and Huntington were working hand in hand in their railroad maneuvers and both were determined to keep the Atlantic and Pacific out of California.

During January, 1882, the Atlantic and Pacific announced the early issue of securities amounting to $16,500,000, to push the line west to the Colorado and thence to the Pacific coast. But, early in February, a new announcement was made to the effect that owing to changes going on in the owner­ship of the St. Louis and San Francisco road (popularly known as the Frisco line), a part of the Santa Fé system, the sale of the securities issue was suspended. Briefly, what had happened was that through joint action Gould and Huntington had purchased a large share of the stock of the Frisco road, thus gaining a controlling interest in the concern, and obtaining places on the directorate of the Atlantic and Pacific company.11

William B. Strong was now president of the Santa Fé, having been elected to that position in July, 1881. He saw at once that the only solution to the position in which his company had been placed was to work out a compromise with the Southern Pacific-Texas and Pacific combination for the time being.

Soon after his entrance into control of the Frisco road, Huntington suggested to the Santa Fé that all plans for building into California by the latter concern beyond Needles be abandoned, and that the Southern Pacific construct a road from its main line at  p93 Mojave, California, to Needles. Strong consented to this proposal late in 1882, but forced the Southern Pacific to permit the completion of the Atlantic and Pacific west to the Colorado river.​12 Thus it appeared that the Atlantic and Pacific was to be held at the Colorado river, forced to use the Southern Pacific tracks as a traffic outlet to the Pacific coast. But as G. D. Bradley has pointed out, this agreement at least brought the Santa Fé "a foothold on the very border of the enemy's country," affording a strategic point for Strong from which to continue the battle for an independent road across California to the Pacific.13

Under the vigorous leader­ship of William B. Strong, the Atlantic and Pacific reached Needles from the east in August, 1883, and a month later the California Southern was completed to San Bernardino from San Diego.​14 "The Southern Pacific had completed its branch from Mojave to the Colorado, a distance of 242 miles, a short time before the arrival of the Atlantic and Pacific at Needles.​15 "At this point the Santa Fé had to admit defeat for the time being, and to content itself with somewhat unsatisfactory traffic arrangements."16

Meanwhile the California Southern road from San Diego to San Bernardino found itself in financial difficulties due to lack of passengers and freight, and the continued hostility of the Southern Pacific, whose tracks were crossed by the California Southern at Colton.​17 E. W. Morse, a prominent citizen of San Diego, made a careful study of the situation, suspicious and fearful as he had always been of the monopoly, and discovered that the Southern Pacific was refusing to receive or deliver freight to or from the California Southern line, "in the face of a plain, direct law to the  p94 contrary, for which the Southern Pacific cares naught, as it controls the courts."​18 Freight sent from the east marked "San Diego via Colton and the California Southern" was carried by the Southern Pacific past Colton to San Pedro, and there left for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company to carry to San Diego. Furthermore, the freight charge from Colton to Los Angeles was made nearly as high as from Los Angeles to Chicago. In addition to all of these difficulties floods washed out a portion of the California Southern line, and repairs were not made for more than a year.19

Very little business had resulted to the Santa Fé from its arrangement for the use of the Southern Pacific tracks to Mojave. President Strong of the Santa Fé, after a study of the situation in the summer of 1884, saw several alternative courses of action open to his road in relation to California and the Pacific coast.

In the first place, the Atlantic and Pacific could be kept solvent by enduring the present state of affairs, with hope of an eventual return on the investment. Secondly, there was the possible alternative of abandonment of the entire enterprise of building to the Pacific. Strong felt that such a course would spell ruin to the Santa Fé, and wrote in his report to the stockholders that "in such a state of things the Atlantic and Pacific, left to its fate, could hardly fail to fall into the hands of the Southern Pacific."​20 A third alternative was that of paralleling the southern Pacific tracks in California by building an entirely new road from Needles to San Francisco, a distance of 600 miles. Strong saw that this was not practicable, for financially the owners of the Atlantic and Pacific could not take over such a vast project.

There seemed to be but one solution to the problem: to purchase the Southern Pacific division from Mojave to Needles "on such terms as to secure to the Atlantic and Pacific a practically independent right of way by Mojave to Oakland and San Francisco."​21 Such a purchase was arranged and an agreement duly  p95 signed with the Southern Pacific on August 20, 1884.​22 Meanwhile both Huntington and Gould had withdrawn from a controlling position in the St. Louis and San Francisco company, and had sold their holdings therein to the Santa Fé. Here at last was a real victory for Strong.23

However, the management of the Santa Fé was not willing to let matters rest until an outlet to the Pacific coast could be reached free of all dependence upon the Southern Pacific, "a rail connection," said Strong, "which could not be interrupted or impaired."​24 To the directors of the Santa Fé such a connection was available in the completion of the California Southern from San Bernardino north to Barstow, on the Needles to Mojave line, thus affording an independent road to San Diego. This plan indeed saved the life of the moribund California Southern, and work commenced at once on the eighty-mile extension from San Bernardino to Barstow, via Cajon Pass, as well as general repairing of the damaged California Southern road in Temecula canyon.​25 Commenting on the arrangement thus completed with the California Southern, Strong wrote to the stockholders of the Santa Fé:26

The completion of the California Southern . . . will enable the Atlantic and Pacific to command a considerable portion of the large and rapidly increasing business of Southern California. In the event of any disturbance of existing arrangements, it will enable the Atlantic and Pacific to retain its fair share of business to and from San Francisco and California points to the northward, transportation by steamer from these points to San Diego involving but small cost and but little loss of time. And it enables this Company to affirm with entire positiveness that, in the matter of making the Atlantic and Pacific a through line to the Pacific Coast, it has not only performed  p96 every legal contract, but has kept the strictest good faith with the public by redeeming to the letter every assurance it has ever made.

The Santa Fé entered California on an independent road when, on November 14, 1885, the last spike was driven on the extension, and connection made at last with the Atlantic and Pacific.​27 The first through passenger train left San Diego for the east on November 15; the first train from the east reached the bay on November 16.28

During the celebration in San Diego commemorating the through rail connection with the east, there were many speeches marked with flights of imagination concerning the tremendous benefits which were to accrue to the city now that an eastern railroad had at last arrived on the shores of the bay. In the midst of a particularly lengthy peroration the British consul referred to San Diego as the "Cinderella of the Pacific."​29 A prominent citizen wrote a poem for the occasion containing the lines:

Here at this southern gateway by the sea,

United firmly with a bond of steel,

The East and West clasp hands, two oceans join —

Two empires mingle with a common weal.

In contrast to all this enthusiasm as staged in San Diego, the citizens of San Bernardino decided that the moment was so great as to be above vulgar jollity and rejoicing. Wrote the editor of the San Bernardino Times: "The turning point in our history has come and we greet it as we do all other blessings — in silence. San Diego is preparing for a great celebration on the completion of the road and we — well, we'll let 'em, but we'll just be durned if we'll make any fuss about it."​30 Certainly self-assurance as to present and future has rarely scaled such heights!

Lewis B. Lesley

San Diego State College

The Editor's Note:

* A paper read at the meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association at Stanford University, December 28, 1938 [Editor].

The Author's Notes:

1 Lewis B. Lesley, "A Southern Transcontinental Railroad into California: Texas and Pacific versus Southern Pacific, 1865‑1885," in Pacific Historical Review, V, no. 1 (March, 1936), 52‑60.

2 U. S. Statutes at Large (1866), 292‑99.

3 Glenn D. Bradley, The Story of the Santa Fé (Boston, 1920), 212; Hubert H. Bancroft, Chronicles of the Builders of the Commonwealth: Historical Character Study (San Francisco, 1891‑92. 7 vols.), VI, 302.

4 Bradley, op. cit., 208.

5 Letter of the agents, Wilbur and Pratt, to E. W. Morse, of San Diego, February 19, 1880. Ephraim W. Morse, Morse Letters, X, 183. Correspondence of E. W. Morse, concerning railroad matters, 1868‑85. Copies preserved in twelve volumes now in the possession of the Pioneer Society of San Diego and housed in the Serra Museum of that city.

6 Kimball wrote the story of his railroad activities in a series of letters, the Kimball Letters. Correspondence of Frank A. Kimball, of National City, California, in the possession of the Kimball family.

7 The articles of incorporation of the California Southern are given in the San Diego Union, October 21, 1880.

8 Ibid., June 24, 1881.

9 An excellent account of Gould's activities is to be found in Robert E. Riegel, The Story of the Western Railroads (New York, 1926), Chapter XI. See also, Bradley, Story of the Santa Fé, 198‑201, 221‑23.

10 Riegel, op. cit., 183.

11 Poor's Manual of the Railroads of the United States, Street Railway and Traction Companies, Industrial and other Corporations . . . (New York, 1868‑1924. 57 vols.), XIX (1886), 622. Bradley, op. cit., 222, states that Huntington "bought a majority of the shares of the $25,000,000 capital stock of the St. Louis and San Francisco and turned one‑half of the shares thus purchased to Gould."

12 Riegel, op. cit., 191.

13 Bradley, op. cit., 223.

14 Poor's Manual, XVII (1884), 886.

15 Ibid., XVI (1883), 923. The Atlantic and Pacific had commenced building west from Albuquerque in May, 1880.

16 Riegel, op. cit., 191. W. B. Strong reported to the Santa Fé stockholders in his annual statement for 1884, that the line through Needles meant nothing for the Atlantic and Pacific as long as the Southern Pacific owned the road from Needles to Mojave, as the latter company was deliberately diverting business from the Atlantic and Pacific by routing it via Ogden and El Paso. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Railway Company, Annual Report (New York, 1879‑ –––––), I, 29.

17 Poor's Manual, XVII (1994), 886. Total revenue for 1883 was $90,803.28; total expenses, $105,252.14. See also, Railroad Commission of California, Annual Report (Sacramento, 1884‑ –––––), (1884), 82.

18 Morse to M. W. Brown, San Diego, December 16, 1882, Morse Letters, XI, 670. See also, Morse to L. Patton, San Diego, October 21, 1883. Ibid., XII, 227‑28.

19 San Diego Union, February 23, and March 12, 1884.

20 Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Company, Annual Report (1884), 29‑36.

21 Ibid., 31.

22 The price for the Mojave division was set at $30,000 per mile; trackage and traffic rights between Mojave and Oakland and San Francisco were secured by payment of an annual rental of $1200 per mile to the Southern Pacific. The Mojave division was taken over by the Atlantic and Pacific on October 1, 1884.

23 In describing the arrangement with the Southern Pacific in 1884, Strong wrote: "The St. Louis and San Francisco, being now free from southern influences, was both able and willing to act for its own interest." Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Company, Annual Report (1884), 29. Concerning Jay Gould's withdrawal from the Frisco road, see Riegel, op. cit., 175, 192, and Bradley, op. cit., 237.

24 Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Company, Annual Report (1884), 32.

25 California Board of Railroad Commissioners, Annual Report (1889), 97.

26 Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé Company, Annual Report (1884), 33.

27 San Diego Union, November 15, 1885.

28 Ibid., November 17, 1885.

29 Ibid., November 19, 1885.

30 San Bernardino Times, November 14, 1885.

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