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Although this railroad was incorporated in 1865 as Union Pacific Railway Southern Branch, it had nothing to do with the transcontinental of that name then being built. In 1870 it was renamed the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company (MK&T), colloquially known as the Katy. Building started at Junction City, Kansas, near Fort Riley, southward to Parsons, which was reached in 1871. The United States government, in an attempt to link army outposts more effectively, had promised the exclusive right to build through the Indian territories, plus a land grant in those regions, to the railroad company that was first to reach the southern Kansas border at a point in the Neosho Valley.

On July 12, 1870, the MK&T reached that spot, south of Chetopa, Kansas, just ahead of the competition. Therefore, it was the lucky one to receive the permission to construct a line southward, largely following the old-established Texas Road. The land grant, however, was contested in the courts by the Indian Nations and came to naught.

However, the prospect of this grant was enough to attract foreign investors, chiefly German and Dutch, to finance construction. Muskogee was reached early in 1872, and the Red River was crossed at the end of the same year. Denison, Texas, was founded in the next year and became the operational headquarters of the southern district of the railroad. A planned branch to Fort Gibson was successfully opposed by the Cherokee Nation.

The Panic of 1873 found the Katy overextended, and it went into receivership. Reorganized in 1876, it was leased to railroad tycoon Jay Gould's Missouri Pacific from 1880 to 1888. By then it had some 1,380 miles of trackage and extended far into Texas and Missouri but had only a few short feeders in Indian Territory in the coal region around McAlester. Only in the twentieth century did the Katy again branch out in Oklahoma with a line from the Kansas border to Oklahoma City (1903) and with the lease of the Wichita Falls and Northwestern (1914, taken over 1922), a locally organized company that ran a line from Wichita Falls, Texas, through Frederick, Altus, and Woodward to Forgan. From Altus another subsidiary, the Altus, Wichita Falls and Hollis Railway, incorporated in 1910, ran west to Wellington, Texas. In Forgan connection was made with another locally incorporated line, the Beaver, Meade and Englewood (taken over 1931), which stretched west into the Oklahoma Panhandle.

By 1915 the Katy had more than four thousand miles of line but again suffered a receivership that lasted until 1923, when it was reorganized as the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. The new company weathered the Great Depression but at the expense of maintenance. The line from Altus to Wellington was abandoned in 1958 but taken over by a local company, the Hollis and Eastern. The old Wichita Falls and Northwestern north of Altus was abandoned in 1973, but a new acquisition was the old main line of the Rock Island from Abilene, Kansas, south through Enid and El Reno to Fort Worth, which at the end of the twentieth century was being operated as the Oklahoma-Kansas-Texas. Another former Rock Island line taken over was the railroad from Oklahoma City east to Shawnee, Holdenville and McAlester. The Katy itself was acquired by the Union Pacific in 1989.

Although Oklahoma was only part of the Katy's railroad system, the company contributed much to the development of the coal industry around McAlester and Atoka and to agriculture and the oil industry in the western counties of Oklahoma. However, it was late in participating in the land and oil booms of the early twentieth century elsewhere in the young state.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Donovan L. Hofsommer, Katy Northwest: The Story of a Branch Line Railroad (Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Publishing Co., 1976). Walter A. Johnson, "Brief History of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Lines," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 24 (Autumn 1946). V. V. Masterson, The Katy Railroad and the Last Frontier (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978). James D. Morrison, "The Union Pacific, Southern Branch," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 14 (Spring 1936). Nancy Hope Self, "The Building of the Railroads in the Cherokee Nation," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 49 (Summer 1971).

Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr.

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