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Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad:
a Brief History

including the:

Kansas & Neosho Valley Railroad
Missouri River Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad
Kansas City Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad
Kansas City Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad
Kansas City Clinton & Springfield Railroad

Preliminary Version, some portions not complete.

The Kansas & Neosho Valley Railroad

The Kansas & Neosho Valley Railroad Company was organized on March 8, 1865 under the general laws of Kansas to build a line from Kansas City south into the Neosho Valley of eastern Kansas, and thence, hopefully, south to the Gulf of Mexico. Its president was Kersey Coates, a pominent land owner in Kansas City. The City of Kansas City immediately voted $200,000 in city bonds to be exchanged for stock of the road, and Johnson and Miami counties in Kansas in November, 1865 voted $200,000 each in aid of the K&NV.

Both the city and county bonds proved hard to sell, and work on the line proceeded very slowly at first. The company also became involved in the controversy over the acquisition of the Cherokee Neutral Lands, an 800,000 acre strip in southeast Kansas comprising poresent day Crawford and Cherokee counties. The Cherokee tribe had ceded the tract on August 19, 1866. A sale of the lands to a Connecticut company, the American Immmigrant Company was arranged by Secretary of the Interior James Harlan, but through the influence of Thomas Ewing, Jr., the sale was voided, and the group backing the K&NV stepped in to try and obtain the lands.

In the scene now came James F. Joy, a Detroit lawyer who had in the early 1850s brought together a group of Boston capitalists headed by John Murray Forbes to buy out and complete the Michigan Central Railroad. Joy then rounded up a number of projects in Illinois which were combined and completed as the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Joy and Forbes had then backed construction of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad across northern Missouri.

At this time Kansas City and Leavenworth were both working to build a connection with the Hannibal & St. Joseph to provide a direct route to Chicago for traffic from the West. Joy visited Kansas City in late 1866 and finally decided that it offered the best opporuntity for developing traffic for the Hannibal & St. Joseph. More than that, Joy saw an opporunity in putting together a system of railroads in western Missouri, eastern Kansas and eastern Nebraska, as he had before with the CB&Q and H&SJ.

Joy did more, however, than just to arrange for the Hannibal to complete the line to Kansas City and bridge the Missouri River there. He invested heavily in real estate in Kansas City and began to work towards purchase of the Cherokee Neutral lands himself. Joy had a close relationship withn Orville Browning, the new Secretary of the Interior, and after striking a deal with the American Immigrant Company, in June, 1868 he was able to have a supplementary treaty approved by the U. S. Senate, giving the Neutral Lands to the his group.

Kersey Coates had invested in Joy's land syndicates, but his attempts to get the Kansas & Neosho Valley built had not proceeded far. The city and county bonds were hard to sell, and the Boston group led by Forbes was not much interested in going beyond Kansas City. Joy was, but he apparently was willing to wait until the Neutral land purchase was settled.

Once the land sale was approved, Joy quickly moved to take over control of the Kansas & Neosho Valley. In August of 1868 the City of Kansas City voted to turn over the Kansas & neosho Valley stock it had received for city aid bonds to the Joy group, provided at least 80 miles of line be finished by September 1, 1869. By the end of August the Joy group was in full control of the K&NV. This group included some members of the Boston group led by Forbes, including H. H. Hunnewell, Nathaniel Thayer, and Sidney Bartlett, but others, most notably Forbes himself, stayed out of the project.

The Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad

On October 10, 1868, the Kansas & Neosho Valley Railroad changed its name to the Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad. The Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek tribes in Indian Territory had authorized the construction of a railroad across the Territory to Texas, and the U. S. Congress had proceeded to authorize not one, but three railroads to build on the route: the Kansas & Neosho Valley, now the Missouri River Fort Scott & Gulf, the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston, and the Union Pacific Railroad, Southern Branch (later to be the Missouri Kansas & Texas Railroad). The Indians objected to three railroads being built - their treaty had specified only one - so the Interior Department turned the question into a race. Whichever of the three railroads first reached the northern border of Indian Territory would be the one authorized to proceed south to Texas.

With the backing now of Joy and his Boston allies work on the Missouri River Fort Scott & Gulf - various nicknamed the "Fort Scott" or the "Border Tier" (because it ran down the tier of counties in Kansas next to the Missouri border) - got underway in earnest. The line was opened to Olathe, Kansas in December of 1868, to Paola in May of 1869 and to Fort Scott in September of 1869. This put the Fort Scott in the lead in the race to the border, as the Leavenworth Lawrence & Galveston had run out of money and stopped at Ottawa, Kansas, while the Union Pacific Southern Branch had only gotten as far as Emporia.

Construction work south of Fort Scott, Kansas was repeatedly delayed and finally brought to a halt by troubles with the Settlers League, organized by a large number of persons, both farmers and speculators, who hoped to get land in the Neutral Zone for nothing by squatting on it, despite the fact that the land had never been made available for free homesteads under the Homestead Act. As an end run around the problem, in June of 1869 Joy bought control of the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad. Joy completed that line south to Richmond, Kansas and started work on a link from Ottawa to Olathe on the Fort Scott, so LL&G trains could reach Kansas City.

The Settlers League understood Joy's threat - if they didn't let up he would halt the Fort Scott where it was, and reach Indian Terrtitory further west. Without a railroad the Neutral lands would be worth much less to the settlers as well as to Joy. So the harrassments and destruction of railroad property quickly eased off, and the Fort Scott resumed its construction march southwards.

On May 4, 1870 the Fort Scott tracks reached the town of Baxter Springs, Kansas, located just north of the border, and shortly afterwards they reached the Indian Terrtitory line, the apparent winners of the race for the land grant. But in the process of trying to improve the value of the Cherokee Neutral lands, Joy and his engineers had committed a serious mistake. Instead of angling southwest from Columbus, the Cherokee County seat, towards the Neosho River the line had been swung southeast to Baxter Springs, probably with the view of tapping into the traffic on the newly developing lead mines just across the state line in Missouri. As a result, the end of track of the Fort Scott had landed in the lands of the Quapaw tribe, where it had no right to be, and not in the lands of the Cherokee, where it did.

On June 6, 1870 the track of the Union Pacific Railroad Southern Branch, soon to be the Missouri Kansas & Texas Railroad, crossed the Territory line just south of Chetopa, Kansas. Chetopa was just west of the Neosho River, and the crossing point was in the lands of the Cherokee tribe. On July 12, 1870 Secretary of the Interior J. D. Cox recommended granting the right of way through Indian Territory to the MK&T and on July 20, 1870 President U. S. Grant signed the recommendation. The Fort Scott had lost the race for Texas.

In 1870 Joy completed the LL&G's link from Ottawa to Olathe, Kansas and thereafter LL&G trains operated out of Kansas City, using the Fort Scott's line to Olathe. The LL&G's line to the border at Coffeyville, Kansas in was completed in 1871, and in 1872 the road built a short branch west to Independence, Kansas as a start on the line to the west. Although it remained a separate company, the LL&G was operated in close co-ordination with the MRFS&G in this period, both being Joy controlled lines.

The early 1870's were not kind to either the Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf or the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston. They had lost the chance to build to Texas. The completion in 1871 of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later the Frisco) to a connection with the Missouri Kansas & Texas at Vinita, Indian Territory combined with a strong feeling against the importantion of cattle that might be carrying Texas fever into eastern Kansas had cut off all chance of benefiting from the Texas cattle trade. The opening of an A&P branch line to Brownville, Kansas - a short distance east of Columbus and the Fort Scott line - in 1873 siphoned off most of the business from the booming Jasper County, Missouri lead mines that might have otherwise taken the Fort Scott. The feuding and fighting between the settlers and the Fort Scott railroad over the Cherokee Neutral lands continued, mostly in the courts, with the result that the Fort Scott was getting little profit from the lands and spending much on legal fees. Drought hit Kansas hard in 1874, and what the drought hadn't burnt up the grasshoppers ate up.

James F. Joy and his Boston associates had also been expanding too far, too fast, and the financial stringencies leading to the Panic of 1873 had cut off their sources of new funds. Joy himself was ousted from his commanding position as President of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy in 1874 by John Murray Forbes, upset over the way Joy had handled the financing of construction for two railroads in eastern Iowa and Minnesota that the Burlington had been interested in. Hunnewell and most of the other Boston investors in the Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf and Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston lines were also ousted from the Burlington's board of directors. The associates in turn ousted Joy from his position with the two roads, and H. H. Hunnewell became the leader of the Boston investors.

Without the support that Joy had previously been able to give the line, the Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf defaulted on the payment of interest on its second mortgage bonds October 15, 1873 and on the first mortgage interest on July 1, 1875. The Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston also went into receivership, on March 10, 1875. The Fort Scott line was sold under foreclosure on February 5, 1879 and reorganized on April 1, 1879 as the Kansas City Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad. On March 5, 1879 the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad was reorganized as the Lawrence & Galveston Railroad, and then merged with its subsidiaries March 29, 1879 to form the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Railroad. H. H. Hunnewell was Chairman of the Board of both companies.

Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad

Barred from going south by the Indians, both the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf and the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern, had to make a turn and head off in a different direction if they were to expand. Logically, the Fort Scott would go southeast, while the Lawrence line would go west.

The first steps towards expanding the Fort Scott system had been taken back in 1874, with the chartering of the Fort Scott, Southeastern & Memphis Railroad in June of that year. By November 15 miles of line had been built from a junction (later called Edwards), south of Fort Scott, southeast then south to the town of Coalvale. Here the road was able to tap into the developing Crawford County coal field.

In 1876 a group of Joplin mine owners organized and built the Joplin Railroad, from Joplin northwest through Pittsburg, Kansas - in the heart of the Crawford county coal field - to Girard on the Fort Scott line, at last permitting the Fort Scott to tap into the business available from the Joplin area lead mines. This boon lasted less than 3 years, for in early 1879 the St. Louis & San Francisco (Frisco), successor to the Atlantic & Pacific, bought the Joplin Railroad, shutting the Fort Scott out of the lead district once more.

It didn't take long for the Fort Scott to react. In June of 1879 the Short Creek & Joplin Railroad was chartered and it was completed in October of 1879 from a junction near Baxter Springs, Kansas east to Joplin, Missouri.

In February of 1880 the Fort Scott leased the narrow gauge Memphis, Kansas & Colroado Railroad; it later bought up all the stock and merged the property into the Fort Scott Southeastern & Memphis. The Memphis, Kansas and Colorado Railroad Company had been chartered November 26, 1877 with the idea of building a narrow gauge railroad from Memphis through Kansas to a connection with the Denver & Rio Grande in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. In August of 1878 the MK&C acquired the Memphis and Ellsworth Narrow Gauge Railroad Company, which had been chartered in Kansas on October 10, 1876, to build a narrow gauge railroad along some of the same route, from Memphis, Tennessee to Ellsworth in Kansas. Tracklaying had actually started with the ceremonial laying of the first rail on April 10, 1878 at the Fort Scott crossing in Cherokee, Kansas and the first 7 miles of 3' gauge track was completed from Cherokee east and south to Weir City in 1878, and the 25 miles west from Cherokee to Parsons, Kansas was completed in April of 1879.

The Fort Scott was not interested in a narrow gauge route to Memphis, it was going standard gauge, and by way of a route further north, through Springfield, Missouri, but the Memphis, Kansas & Colorado tapped the coal fields and would also be potentially useful as a southern tie between the Fort Scott and Lawrence lines. The 18 miles from Parsons to the connection with the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern at Cherryvale, Kansas were completed in April, 1881. Some grading had been done from Cherryvale west and from Weir City southeast, but the Fort Scott never laid track on this. In October of 1882 the entire MK&C line was converted to standard gauge.

The Kansas City & Memphis Railroad had been chartered in Missouri in 1872 and obtained bond subsidies from several Missouri counties. The money had been spent on grading a line from Springfield, Missouri northwest to Greenfield, headed for Kansas City, but the financial Panic of 1873 had brought down the company before it could reach the stage of laying track. On September 5, 1875 the Springfield Western & Southern Railroad Company was chartered to try and revive the Kansas City & Memphis project. The company then changed its name to the Springfield & Western Missouri Railroad Company and in April of 1878 completed 16 miles of the line from Springfield to Ash Grove, Missouri.

The Fort Scott in 1879 bought control of the Springfield & Western Missouri and took that line under lease. It then surveyed a connecting link from Arcadia, Kansas, on the Fort Scott Southeastern & Mmephis line, to near Greenfield, Missouri. With the funds from the Fort Scott, the Springfield & Western Missouri was able to push its line west from Ash Grove to Greenfield Station in May of 1880, while the Fort Scott Southeastern & Memphis was completed from the Arcadia, Kansas through Lamar to Golden City, Missouri in 1880 and on to a junction with the Springfield & Western Missouri at Greenfield on May 25, 1881. This brought the Fort Scott to Springfield, Missouri, the northern gateway to the Ozarks.

While the Fort Scott was engaged in looking southeast, the Lawrence & Southern had begun looking west. In 1879 the Southern Kansas & Western Railroad was built from Independence, Kansas west to Grenola, and in 1880 extended from grenola to Wellington, Kansas, with branches from Wellington south to Hunnewell and southwest to Caldwell, Kansas, both towns located just north of the Indian Territory border and thus well placed to intercept northbound cattle from Texas.

In building west, however, the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern had invaded territory which the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad had regarded as its own. The Santa Fe had built lines to Wellington and to Howard, Kansas, and was projecting additional lines into the area. It crossed the expanding Lawrence & Southern system at a number of points, and the two roads spent much of 1880 in a nasty rate war, cutting deeply into both roads profits.

Hunnewell realized that he lacked the resources to go head to head with the Santa Fe at the same time he was pushing the Fort Scott towards the south east. He decided to give up the western half of the system, and concentrate his efforts solely on the Fort Scott. The negotiations with the Santa Fe did not take long, and on December 15, 1880 the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway acquired nearly all the stock of the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Railroad, and its subsidiaries. The line continued to operate separately until 1888, first as the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Kansas and then as the Southern Kansas Railway, and for legal reasons the Santa Fe even used the Southern Kansas charter for its two lines into Indiana Territory, the first of which became the main line to Texas and the second, eventually, the main transcontinental freight line. Use of the Fort Scott line to reach Kansas City lasted less than a year, then Santa Fe building a connecting line from Olathe north to Holliday on its own Kansas City line, and diverting the Southern Kansas trains to this route in November of 1882.

Having given up their western amibitions, Hunnewell and George Nettleton, who had become President and General Manager of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf, now looked strongly to the southeast. Plans for extending the line Springfield to Memphis on the Mississippi River were already underway. The Springfield & Memphis Railroad was chartered in Arkansas on December 3, 1880 and the Kansas City, Springfield & Memphis Railroad Company was chartered in Missouri on September 10, 1881. The two companies consolidated in March of 1883 under the Kansas City, Springfield & Memphis Railroad title. A route to Memphis was surveyed, running east from Springfield through Cedar Gap to Cabool, thence south east to the Arkansas border at Mammoth Springs. From there the line followed the Spring River to Hoxie, on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern RR, and then angled southeast almost in a straight line through Jonesboro to West Memphis.

Construction work began on the line from Springfield to Memphis began in earnest in 1882 and tracklaying was pushed 97 miles east from Springfield to Willows Springs, Missouri, and the 42 miles from Willow Springs through new railroad division point of Thayer, Missouri to the Arkansas State Line was completed in early 1883. (Thayer, located just north of the Mammoth Springs, was named after Nathaniel Thayer, one of the Boston investors.) Tracklaying had been pushed in Arkansas from West Memphis north, and line was opened to service on October 23, 1883. Unfortunately it proved just in time to be hit by one of the biggest floods on the central Mississippi River, and the line was almost immediately shut down by flood waters from the Mississippi, Black, and St. Francis rivers. Regular operations finally resumed on May 1, 1884.


The Memphis Bridge

The Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham

Rich Hill RR, to Rich Hill and Carbon Center, and the projected but never built line from Rich Hill to Deepwater.

Fort Scott & Carthage, Coalvale to Weir City Junction.

Extension to Webb City

The Current River Railroad

The Kansas City Clinton & Springfield Railroad

Richard Keith of the Keith & Perry Coal Company brought the the Henry County coal fields to the attention of the Nettleton, and the Fort Scott decided to build a "loop line" from a point on its main line near Kansas City through Clinton and the coal field back to the main line near Springfield. The Kansas City Clinton & Springfield Railroad was chartered in Missouri on ?, 1884 to build the Missouri portion of the line.

The Fort Scott on ?, 1884 acquired the Pleasant Hill & De Soto Railroad from the Santa Fe, which had acquired it largely to satisfy the bondholders, who also held the mortgage on a key portion of the Santa Fe's line to Kansas City. The original KCC&S and the PH&D were consoidated on January 20, 1885 as the Kansas City Clinton & Springfield Railroad. The bonds of the new company were guaranteed by the Fort Scott, exchange for receiving half the common stock, and the bonds and stock were sold through an offering to the Fort Scott's own stockholders.

Construction on the KCC&S line proceeded quite quickly. The portion of the PH&D from De Soto to the west side of Olathe was torn up. The track from the Santa Fe crossing to the Fort Scott crossing was retained, owned jointly by both roads and used to interchange traffic and serve industries. From Olathe to Raymore Junction, east of Belton, the old PH&D was rehabilitated with new rails and ties. A new line was built from Raynmore Junction south through Harrisonville, Clinton, Osceola, and Humansville to Ash Grove, on the Fort Scott's main line to Memphis about ?? miles west of Springfield. Service was opened to Clinton as early as ?, 1885 and the entire line was opened to regular service on November 27, 1885.

Unlike the earlier subsidiaries of the Fort Scott, the KCC&S line was not leased to the Fort Scott for direct operation, but remained separately operated, although closely integrated. Late in 1900 the Memphis Route devised a plan to buy out all the remaining independent stockholders and take complete control of the line. By the time of the Frisco merger in 1901 they had acquired all the common stock of the KCC&S, but the merger suddenly gave the Frisco control of not one, but all three of the rail lines from Kansas to Springfield. This was too much for the State of Missouri to stomach, and to defuse the pressure to dispose of one of the routes, the Frisco placed at the KCC&S stock in trust and gave the company at least the appearance of independence.

Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad

The Kansas City Fort Scott & Gulf consolidated with most of its subsidiaries January 4, 1888 to form the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Springfield Railroad Company. On April 18, 1888 this company consolidated withn the Kansas City, Springfield & Memphis Railroad to form the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad.

In early 1901 the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad made an offer to buy all the stock of the Kansas City Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad and by May, 1901 the transaction was essentially complete. The Fort Scott was leased to the St. Louis & San Francisco RR on ?, 1901 and thereby became a part of the much enlarged Frisco system. All of the subsidiary lines except the Kansas City Clinton & Springfield Railroad were included in the lease. For legal reasons the KCC&S remained independent, with all its stock placed in the hands of trustees, until in ?, 1926 the Interstate Commerce Commission authorized the Frisco to acquire the stock and take direct control of that line.

Nicknames:
The earliest nickname for the Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf was "The Border Tier", for the road's route down the tier of counties along the Kansas / Missouri River.
The title the "Fort Scott" was also used, honoring the the town about half way along the original route from Kansas City to Baxter Springs, that had grown out of old Fort Scott military post. This remained a secondary name for the system throughout its history.
In the late 1870's and through most of the 1880's the road's established nickname was "The Gulf Road".
After the big merger in 1888 that renamed the company the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis, the company emphasized the title the "Memphis Route".
The nickname of the "Leaky Roof" for the Kansas City, Clinton & Springfield was a late addition. From 1885 until the merger of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis with the Frisco in 1901 the KCC&S line was treated almost as an integral part of its parent's system, being known as the "Gulf Road" in its early years and later as the "Memphis Route".
After the 1901 merger the Frisco had good reasons for keeping the KCC&S line legally separate from the combined Frisco / Memphis Route system, and it formally adopted the title of the "Clinton Line" for the KCC&S. This is what was used in the newspapers advertisements and what was painted on the cabooses right through until the Frisco finally took back full control of its orphaned child in 1925.
At some point, probably either not long before or just after the merger, the title "Leaky Roof" was applied to a batch of KCC&S box cars by someone from the White Swan Flour Mill in Clinton, and the nickname quickly spread to the railroad itself. The W. S. Dickey Tile Company plant at Deepwater, the largest source of traffic for the line, might not care if its carloads of sewer and drainage tiles got wet, but the White Swan couldn't afford to have its flour soaked. So when someone at the Mill noticed a bunch of KCC&S cars in the yards, he allegedly stated: "Don't send out any flour today, they've got another bunch of those Leaky Roofs in the yard." - and the Clinton Line had acquired its enduring nickname. After all, the KCC&S was part of the Gulf Line / Memphis Route for 16 years, legally independent under its "Clinton Line" / "Leaky Roof" title for 24 years, and actually part of the Frisco proper for only 9 years. The residents of the area still use the title when referring to the line.


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Last modified: Monday, 02-Jun-2008 14:06:36 CDT