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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 2
June, 1936

By James D. Morrison

Page 173

In the West the boom of railroad construction which followed the Civil War was merely the continuation of that activity which had for its object a rail connection between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast. The name of any railroad company, which happened to be laying its rails in the general direction of the setting sun, was, west of the Mississippi, very likely to end in the words "and Pacific." It is not generally known that the original name of the first railroad to put iron on the soil of what is now the state of Oklahoma was "Union Pacific, Southern Branch;" or that the original charter and land grant to the railroad now known as the Missouri-Kansas-Texas was made to men who were interested in the Union Pacific.

Even before the Civil War at least one route had been proposed to cross the Indian country;1 and it was natural that one of the feeder lines proposed for sustaining the Union Pacific should be a direct line from the Gulf, through Texas, and across the Indian Territory. Since the acquisition of Texas and the consequent Mexican War, the national government in Washington had felt that a rail connection with Texas across the country of the five tribes would be highly desirable; and that it might be possible to build the proposed road along such a route that it would be a chain connecting the frontier forts of the Southwest which had been established to aid in controlling the Indians.2 In line with this idea the act of Congress which made the land grant to the Union Pacific, Southern Branch, stated that the road should be built from the edge of the Fort Riley military reservation in Kansas down the valleys of the Grand and Arkansas Rivers via Fort Gibson to Fort Smith.3

There were advantages apparent other than that of facilitating the movement of troops through the Indian country.4 The mail service would be made more efficient. The North and East would be connected more directly with Texas and the Southwest. The

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North wished to have the Southwestern and Mexican markets closer at hand and to have easier access to the cattle, hides, and cotton which the Southwest exported. The pioneer farmers along the Kansas border of the Cherokee Nation perceived another advantage which was not officially recognized, although many individuals in office must have known what these farmers were thinking: this last advantage is mentionad by Beadle in his volume The Undeveloped West.5 Attempts to settle in the Indian country had been made by white men even at this time, especially in the Cherokee Outlet, and these early Boomers felt that the construction of the railroad would afford an entering wedge into the Indian land for the white man. The attitude of the typical southern Kansas farmer was expressed by one of them at the time that the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas was in course of construction. This man held that the Indian land had been placed there by the Lord for the purpose of being cultivated and improved; and, since the Indians were not cultivating and improving it, "why damn 'em, the Government ought to let them have it that will do it!"6

The Indians naturally opposed the entrance of railroads into their country, though not very actively, for they realized that it was the beginning of a flood of white invasion which they could not hope to oppose successfully.7 Each of the treaties of 1866 had contained a provision that the construction of one north-south and one east-west railroad would be allowed;8 and the Five Tribes found themselves in the position of conquered nations which must agree to whatever the conqueror demanded. The fear of the Indians, that railroad construction was the beginning of the end for them as semi-independent nations, was justified when Congress made a land grant to each of two railroad companies, the Union Pacific, Southern Branch, and the Atlantic and Pacific, which were to construct lines through the Indian Territory. The land under the provisions of the grant was to go to the railroads when the Indian title was extinguished.9 This could only mean that the officials of the Government already envisioned the Indian Territory, supposedly

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granted to the tribes forever, as a part of the public domain. The white man's historic policy toward the Indians' land was to be continued until the last acre was gone.

The Cherokee agent reported in 1873—after the railroads had been actually constructed—that if the Government wished the Cherokees to adopt the Okmulgee Constitution or to consent to the allotment of the lands in severalty, there must be an unconditional repeal of all land grants to railroads.10 The Cherokees were more opposed to railroad land grants than were the other four of the civilized tribes because of the fact that the route of the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas ran approximately along the valley of the Grand River; and that railroad would receive the very heart of the Cherokee country if the land grant ever became effective.11 In the other nations the route ran across the valleys. The educated Cherokees knew that the coming of a railroad was ordinarily followed by an industrial revolution which would be fatal to their type of civilization. The specific objections of this tribe have been classified as follows: first, land would be taken for rights of way; second, timber would be cut for ties, bridges, and buildings; third, coal would be stripped from strip beds for locomotive fuel; and last, an influx of white settlers was feared.12 These same doubts seem to have been common to the members of the other tribes.

The report of the Creek agent to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on October 20, 1871, mentions the fact that a great number of whites have come into the Creek country with the construction of a railroad, which furnished a new cause of "excitement and apprehension" for the Indians.13 The Seminole Nation was not crossed by either of the railroads proposed and the Chickasaw Nation was touched only by the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas in a ten-mile stretch between Island Bayou and Red River, so that these two tribes took little part in the anti-railroad agitation.

The Choctaw attitude toward the entrance of the railroads illustrates the division caused by the subject within each of the tribes affected. Some of the leaders, the intermarried citizens and

12Chronicles of Oklahoma, March 1926, IV, 21-2: V. A. Travis, "Life in the Cherokee Nation."

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part-bloods, favored railroad entrance while the fullblood element feared such an event. In March, 1869, the Choctaw National Council granted to the "Thirty-fifth Parallel Railroad Company" a right of way and the land of alternate sections for six miles on either side all the way across the Nation from east to west. The same agreement was made with the "Choctaw and Chickasaw Railroad Company," planned to run north and south.14 This grant was probably the result of a desire of an element in the Nation who wished to see the coal fields around what is now McAlester developed.15 However, the Secetary of the Interior ruled that surveys for railroads could not be run in the Indian Territory without the express permission of his department. Since the secretary refused to grant permission for the surveys and since the Chickasaws refused to grant the projected lines any land, nothing much was done further in the interests of the two companies.16

J. S. Murrow of Atoka told an amusing story which illustrates the fears of the full-bloods and the arguments which they used against the construction of railroads in their country. According to Father Murrow one fullblood Choctaw spoke in this wise:

"I have ridden on those railroads east of the Mississippi. They have little houses on wheels—whole strings of them. One string can carry several hundred people. These little houses can be shut up and the doors locked. If we allow the railroads to come, the white men will give a picnic some time by the side of the iron road and will invite all the fullbloods to attend. They will get the men to play ball off a piece. Then they will get our women to go into the little houses on wheels and will lock them up and run off with them into Texas or Missouri. Then what will we do for women?"17 For a time the Government quieted the fears of the Indians with promises not to allow the white people to come in and take over their lands. Lulled by these promises, the Indians ceased to agitate the railroad question among themselves for a time.18

The Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway Company and the

Page 177

Atlantic and Pacific Railway Company, the east-west road which has since become a part of the Frisco system, attempted in the meantime to obtain land grants from the Indian Nations before construction was begun; and when their attemps failed to obtain the desired grants, the railroad companies began to use threats which once more aroused the fears of the Five Tribes.19 This reaction is shown by a resolution passed during the fall of 1870 by the General Council of Indian Territory which met at Okmulgee for the purpose of organizing a central government for the Territory as provided in the treaties of 1866.20 This resolution took the form of a protest to the President of the United States and read in part:

"and also against the sale or grant of any lands directly or contingent upon the extinguishment of the Indian title, to any railroad company . . . . . now chartered for the purpose of constructing a railroad . . . . through the Indian Territory."21

A report of the commitee on agriculture of the same body mentions "the teeming population that moves with restless activity around our borders" and further states that "The people who have homes and cultivated fields . . . . . . are more secure from intrusion and aggression than those who have no fixed residence or abiding place."22 In general, then, the attitude of the Indian toward the entrance of the railroads was about the same as their later attitude was to be toward the opening of Oklahoma Territory to white settlement. And it seems safe to assert that the same forces which favored or opposed the entrance of the railroads were to be found later favoring or opposing the opening of the Oklahoma lands.23

As stated above, the first railroad actually constructed through the Territory was designed to be a connection with the Gulf of Mexico for the Union Pacific and bore the name originally "Union Pacific Railway, Southern Branch," although actually the first company was independent of the Union Pacific.24 The Union Pacific Railway, Southern Branch, was incorporated under the

Page 178

laws of the state of Kansas in September, 1865,25 the projected route being the one mentioned above as connecting the frontier forts in the Southwest. An act of Congrss in 1866 provided land grants to railroads in Kansas which should be built in certain specified directions, the actual award of land to be made by the state of Kansas. The Southern Branch was to receive alternate sections in a strip five miles wide on each side of the right of way in Kansas and the same provision was made for land in Indian Territory when the Indian title should be extinguished.26

Nothing was done by any railroad company to take advantage of the offer of land in Indian Territory for two or three years. In November, 1868, the Union Pacific, Southern Branch, began construction under a contract with the Land Grant Railway and Trust Company, which financed the project by selling the bonds of the railroad company to Dutch capitalists.27 Some of the representatives of the Dutch bondholders took leading parts in the promotion and construction of the line, among whom were R. S. Stevens of Utica, New York, H. D. Mirick of Athens, Ohio, and George Denison also of Ohio.28

In the meantime James F. Joy of Detroit bought the Kansas and Neosho Valley Railroad, reorganized it under the name, "Missouri River, Ft. Scott and Gulf," and decided that his railroad should be the one which would get the land grant through the Indian Territory.29 Early in the February of 1870 the Union Pacific, Southern Branch, was reorganized as the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad Company, a consolidation with three other roads to give access to Kansas City and St. Louis was effected, and a definite decision to secure the Indian Territory land grant was made.30 It was obvious that, since only one north-south railroad was to be allowed through the Territory, the road which was forced to stop at the northern border of the Indian country and

Page 179

keep that point as its southern terminus until such time as the Indian Territory became a part of the public domain would receive little traffic because of the fact that it would end nowhere; and the road which was allowed to build through to Texas would immediately obtain a lucrative business. The race between the Joy road and the Katy would furnish a rich prize to the winner and it was fiercely run. One other company, the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Ft. Gibson also attempted to obtain the land grant, but it never had a chance.31 The newly organized Missouri, Kansas and Texas—now popularly called the "Katy"—pushed work on the extension of its line from Junction City to Chetopa in Kansas, and began work on a line from Sedalia, Missouri, to Parsons, Kans., a section of road destined to be a part of the St. Louis connection.32

Ironically enough the race between the Katy and the Missouri River, Ft. Scott and Gulf was really won by the Joy line, since the tracks of the latter were built to Baxter Springs, on the border of the Territory, on April 30, 1870; the tracks of the Katy did not reach the south line of Kansas until noon of June 6.33 The story of the construction of the Katy during the last few days of the race has attracted much attention. On May 24 the rails were yet twenty-four miles from the coveted objective; the Missouri River, Ft. Scott and Gulf was already on the line awaiting the permission of the Interior Department to build south through the Territory. Even though bridges, grade and culverts were still unfinished, the Katy contractors laid track regardless of obstacles—twenty-six and one-half miles in eleven days and four of these miles in one day.34 The prize was worth the exertion—more than three million acres of land reputed to be as fine as could be found anywhere.

The Missouri, Kansas and Texas claimed the right to proceed into the Territory on the ground that the land grant act of 1866 had designated that the north-south railroad should enter the Indian country through the valley of the Grand River down which the Katy was building. Joy's company held that the Missouri River, Ft. Scott and Gulf had fulfilled the conditions of the act since Baxter Springs was situated on the banks of a tributary of

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the Grand and hence it was in the valley of that river.35 A special board of commissioners investigated the case and reported to the Secretary of the Interior, Jacob D. Cog, that the Missouri, Kansas and Texas had fulfilled the terms of the land grant act of 1866, since it had built closer to the designated point than had the Missouri River, Ft. Scott and Gulf; and the committee recommended that the Katy be the railroad to which permission should be given to build through to Texas.36 The secretary agreed with the findings of the special board and so reported the case to the President whose approval of July 20, 1870, gave the Katy the right to proceed across the Territory with its construction.37

After the decision of the Government the work progressed at a less furious pace, although the Katy tracklayers still made good time. A vice-president of the company claimed that his road built an average of one-half mile of road per working day during the period of two years which was consumed in construction across the Indian country.38 The locating engineer for most of the route through Oklahoma, at least from Ft. Gibson south to Red River, was George M. Walker, who worked with surveying parties of the company from September, 1866, until the survey to Texas was completed.39 The route followed was that of the Texas Road, roughly speaking.40 Over this trail a stage line had run from Baxter Springs, Kansas, to El Paso, Texas,41 and the famous Butterfield Overland Mail route seems to have come into the road, from Ft. Smith, at a point close to Perryville, from which place it proceeded south to Colbert's Ferry on Red River.42 As the railroad was built south the stage and wagon freight lines were shortened correspondingly, though for the time they did an unprecedented business.43 During the period of construction Colbert's Ferry, at

40Chronicles of Oklahoma, June 1925, III, 118: Grant Foreman, "Early Trails Through Oklahoma."

Page 181

the Red River crossing, used two boats instead of the customary one and often handled more than two hundred wagons a day, not to mention the loose live stock.44 Frank Colbert, owner of the ferry, is reported to have guided the Katy surveying party to a suitable site for a bridge across the Red and to have entertained them at his home, allowing them to camp in his yard at Riverside Plantation.45

Among the men who had charge of the actual construction were Robert S. Stevens, general manager; O. B. Gunn of Kansas City, chief engineer; John Scullin of St. Louis, who laid the rails; and George Melville, who built the stations and other necessary buildings.46 The road was completed to the Arkansas River in 1871 and by January 1, 1872, was in actual operation as a railroad as far as Muskogee in the Creek Nation.47 The company seems to have desired to cross the Cherokee at "the narrowest place accessible,"48 because of the opposition of the Cherokees who regarded railroads as "introducers of calamities rather than blessings."49 The Creeks, according to their treaty of 1866, had agreed to sell to the railroad company along the right of way "not exceeding on each side thereof a belt or strip of land three miles in width."50 When the Katy reached the land of the Muskogees, the Indians offered to sell the company a strip three feet wide which they claimed would satisfy the terms of the compact;51 so that their attitude seems as hostitle to the coming of the railroad as was that of the Cherokees. During the summer of 1871 malarial fever disabled one-half of the workmen and added to the troubles of the management.52 However, construction was pushed on into the Choctaw Nation for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas found itself engaged in another track-laying contest.

Page 182

The Houston and Texas Central—now a part of the Southern Pacific system—was building north from Galveston to effect a junction with the Territory road at the Red River;53 and it was idling along until it could be ascertained definitely the point at which the Katy would arrive at the river. It was thought that the point of junction would become the site of a city which would be the metropolis of north Texas and perhaps of the Southwest. As a result of this belief the promoters of the Central and of the Katy each organized a townsite company in, order to benefit by the ownership of the site of the future city.54 The Katy could not enter Texas without a charter and the officials of the Central company had secured the land on the Texas side of the bridge site selected by the Katy engineers. The Territory road wished to reach the Texas side of Red River before the Texas Central so that it could build a mile or two past the townsite owned by the Central land company and procure its own townsite; hence, the race. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas was successful in doing this and thus made a new survey unnecessary; the site of Denison, Texas, south of the land owned by the H. and T. C. at the bridge head, was owned by Katy officials.55 There had been some difficult construction work in the southern part of the Indian Territory through regions like the Boggy bottoms and the approaches to Red River; Red River itself had been bridged; but the Katy arrived first.

It is said that the town of Sherman, Texas, refused to pay a bonus of $50,000 or the Missouri, Kansas and Texas might have extended its line ten miles south to that city.56 For some time there was bad blood between the officials of the Houston and Texas Central—which had arrived at Sherman by this time—and those of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas. As a result of this ill feeling the connection toward which each had been building for several years was not made immediately. The first union of the tracks of the two lines seems to have been made early in 1873 at the order of the War Department—a temporary connection for the purpose of transferring a trainload of soldiers.57

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The new town to be built on Red River had been widely advertised as Red River City, but the Katy officials proceeded to name the new wonder metropolis which they had laid out after one of the Katy promoters, George Denison.58 The first passenger train over the Missouri, Kansas and Texas entered the Lone Star state on December 25, 1872,59 with P. H. Tobin as engineer. Further construction work on the Katy was delayed by the lack of a charter to build into Texas and by the collapse of the financial world known as the Panic of 1873.

The railroad had been built through the Territory without interference from the Indians. The Choctaws objected to the railroad's policy of purchasing ties and bridge timbers from unauthorized individuals60—a point of controversy with each nation through which the Katy passed—but the chief difficulty was encountered in keeping order among the rough characters, white and halfbreed outlaws, who congregated in the mushroom towns which grew up at each successive end of track.61 Descriptions of these early railroad towns remind one of descriptions made of the Union Pacific "cities." Most of them still exist and many have grown into real cities.

Vinita came into existence because the Atlantic and Pacific reached that point on the Katy early in 1872.62 The Katy had wished to make the junction at Big Cabin and refused to stop its trains at Vinita for some time. The Atlantic and Pacific remedied this inconvenience for its passengers by stopping a freight on the crossing each time a Katy passenger train was due. The M. K. and T. finally capitulated and built a station at Vinita.63 Other towns of early importance were Muskogee, from which a regular stage and freight line made connections with Ft. Smith;64 McAlester, in the Choctaw coal fields; Stringtown, planned to be a leading lumber market;65 Atoka, important town of the Choctaw country and form-

Page 184

erly a stage stand on the Overland Mail;66 and Caddo, from which a branch line was planned to Paris, Texas, and which was the railroad point of supply for Ft. Sill.67 Every few miles, of course, there would be a lonesome switch so that trains could pass on the single track and goods from the countryside could be loaded. Some towns, like Durant and Wagoner, originated as settlements alongside these switches.68

Life in these early towns must have been anything but pleasant to those of peaceable natures, especially when the railroad was in the course of construction. While the terminus of the Katy and the offices of the connecting stage lines were at Muskogee and Ft. Gibson, sixteen murders were said to have been committed.69 While the terminus was at the Canadian River, the Secretary of the Interior came down on an inspection trip and stayed one night there in his car. During the night a murder was committed within one hundred yards of the Secretary's car and within the same zone a man was robbed of eighty dollars in gold.70 The Secretary, after seeing conditions for himself and feeling that nothing short of military supervision could control the lawless element, sent a detachment to clean out the outlaws. This detachment was under the command of Lieutenant De Hart G. Quinby. Later Colonel J. A. Hardie, Inspector General, U. S. Army, visited the Choctaw country "to supervise the removal, which was effected thoroughly and without serious trouble."71

R. S. Stevens is said to have remarked that he "had built the Katy through a tunnel two hundred and fifty miles long."72 In a sense this statement is true, but there was a little traffic to be handled by the railroad in the Territory from the very first. Cattle shipments increased as the road was built south,73 although the cattle traffic never did come up to expectations. The Northern Drive had moved west and developed into something of a science

Page 185

before the Katy arrived on Red River and the cattlemen evidently thought it more economical to drive across the western part of the Territory than to ship their cattle by railroad; also, the Katy had arrived in a somewhat settled part of Texas which was a little east of the real cattle country. The first shipment of cattle out of Indian Territory was said to have been made from Chouteau; the first shipment of cotton from Gibson Station.74 There was quite a large traffic in transporting military supplies to the different forts along the route or close to it.75 A Parsons, Kansas, dispatch to the St. Louis Republican gives some idea of the traffic on the new road just before its completion to Denison—the dispatch is dated September 20, 1872:

"Yesterday a train of sixteen cars of cattle from Red River City, or Denison, as the new city at the terminus of the road in Texas is called, passed through Parsons, under contract to be unloaded at St. Louis in five days from time of starting. They had to drive two days out of the five; also a rest of twelve hours at Schell City. This road during the last fifteen days of this month has shipped 499 carloads of cattle, 375 carloads of coal, 170 carloads of material from the A. T. and S. F. Railroad and about 300 cars of merchandise for Texas. Immigration to Texas is increasing rapidly. Eight trains pass this place daily, averaging eighteen cars per train. Tonight the track is within twenty-three miles of Red River. This road will ship 30,000 bales of cotton into St. Louis this year."76

The new city of Denison attracted a special correspondent of the New York Graphic in February, 1874, who reported that twelve hundred live cattle were shipped daily from Denison in the fall of 1873 and that the drovers were beginning to learn that freights are cheaper than "expenses of tedious driving."77 This correspondent also reported the presence of J. P. McCoy in the city of Denison as an employee of "The American and Texas Refrigerator Car Company" to aid that firm in persuading the cattlemen to ship their beef in refrigerator cars.78 Business through the "tunnel" could have been worse.

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Although the Katy never did receive its conditional land grant in the Indian Territory,79 the company eventually completed its own trackage to the Gulf. However, that is a later story. The building of the Katy through Indian Territory completed the orginal project which had resulted in the chartering of the Union Pacific, Southern Branch. This construction was accomplished in spite of the protests of the Five Civilized Tribes and afforded a means by which the white men could view the heart of the forbidden country and covet the fertile, uncultivated stretches. Kansans, Texans, and others who crossed the Territory must have picked out spots which they desired to possess. White men came into the country as intermarried citizens, storekeepers, land leasers, millers, and to take up other occupations. The Panic of 1873 which forced the Katy to keep its southern terminus at Denison was also the beginning of a period of depression which aided those agitators who desired the opening of the Indian Territory to white settlement and the allotment of the Indian land in severalty so that the remainder would be available under the public land laws. The channel for the flood of white men, ostensibly constructed as a short cut to the Gulf, had been constructed through the heart of the Indian country; and though the flood was kept within bounds for some years, it was inevitable that overflow would eventually come in which the Indian would lose his separate identity.


A. Secondary Works

Beadle, J. H., The Undeveloped West.

           National Publishing Company
           Philadelphia                c 1873

Buchanan, J. S. and Dale, E. E., A History of Oklahoma.

           Row, Peterson, and Company
           Chicago                     c 1924

Dale, E. E. and Rader, J. L., Readings in Oklahoma History.

           Row, Peterson, and Company
           Evanston, Illinois           c 1930

Page 187

Gideon, D. C., Indian Territory.

           Lewis Publishing Company
           New York                       1901

Hafen, L. R., The Overland Mail, 1849-1869.

           Arthur H. Clark Company
           Cleveland                       1926

Riegel, R. E., The Story of the Western Railroads.

           MacMillan and Company
           New York                       1926

Rister, C. C., The Southwestern Frontier, 1865-1881.

           Arthur H. Clark Company
           Cleveland                       1928

Thoburn, J. B., A Standard History of Oklahoma. 5 vols.

           American Historical Society
           Chicago                          1916

Thoburn, J. B., and Wright, M. H., Oklahoma—A History of the State and Its People.

           Lewis Historical Publishing Company
           New York                         1929

B. Legal and Government Publications

Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

           Government Printing Office
No. 103, 1870
No. 104, 1871
No. 105, 1872
No. 106, 1873

Tenth Census of the United States, v. IV, Railroads.

           Government Printing Office
           Washington                      1883

United States Supreme Court Reports, October Term, 1914.

           Book 59      Lawyers Edition
           Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Co.
           Rochester, New York          1915

Page 188

C. Periodicals

Chronicles of Oklahoma.

               Oklahoma Historical Society
         Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
      v. II, No. 2, June 1924:
     Grant Foreman: "The Centennial of Ft. Gibson."
      v. III, No. 1, April 1925, pp. 33-44:
     "Journal of the General Council of the Indian Territory."
     No. 2, June 1925, pp. 120-140:
     "Journal of the General Council of the Indian Territory" (cont.).
        No. 2, June 1925, pp. 99-119:
   Grant Foreman, "Early Trails through Oklahoma."
        No. 3, September 1925, pp. 216-228:
     "Okmulgee Constitution."
      v. IV, No. 1, March 1926, pp. 16-30:
     V. A. Travis, "Life in the Cherokee Nation."

Daily Oklahoman.

               Oklahoma Publishing Company
         Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
      v. XXXVII, No. 361, January 5, 1930, p. D-1:
     W. B. Morrison, "The Passing of the Ferryman."

Historic Denison.

               Mort M. Sholl, Editor
         Denison, Texas
         January 1 and February 15, 1929.

Kansas Historical Collections.

               State Printing Office
         Topeka, Kansas
      v. XI, 1909-10, pp. 81-215:
     R. L. Douglas, "A History of Manufactures in the Kansas District. "
      v. XII, 1911-12, pp. 37-43:
     O. C. Hull, "Railroads in Kansas."
      v. XIII, 1913-14, pp. 539-544:
     G. M. Walker, "Reminiscences of an Old Civil Engineer."

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