Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Railroad Affectionately Called "Katy"

By Lyn Horner

Look for big news at the end of this post!

I briefly mentioned the Katy Railroad in a post about Denison, Texas, back in November 2013 ( ), but this Texas icon deserves a closer look.
Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway (Katy) map, circa 1918
First, some back story:

By the end of 1861 nine railroad companies with about 470 miles of track operated within Texas. Five of the railroads centered around Houston. None were long lines and most ran from either a seaport or river port. Although all of the companies operated for relatively short periods of time, they brought about improvements in travel and transport in Texas.

A writer to the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph recalled a 35-mile trip by stagecoach that took a day and a half in December 1854 following days of rain. Less than two years later, a similar trip aboard the Houston and Texas Central was accomplished in one hour and forty minutes.

Previous to 1876, when prohibited by law, individual cities and counties issued about $2.4 million in bonds to aid railroad construction. The state provided major incentives in the form of land grants and loans.

Although three railroads were completed and opened after the outbreak of the Civil War, other operating companies, such as the Houston and Texas Central, were forced to halt construction. Many were unable to resume building until much later. Most existing Texas railroads did not suffer the destruction caused by war as in the rest of the South, but all were in bad physical condition when the conflict ended.

After the war, railroad building in Texas was slow until the 1870s, although the Houston and Texas Central did resume construction in 1867. Building northward, the H & TC reached Corsicana in 1871, Dallas in 1872, and the Red River in 1873. But it was not the first line to cross the Red and connect Texas with the rest of the nation. That honor went to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway Company (the M-K-T or Katy.)

The M-K-T’s  predecessor, the Union Pacific Railway Company, Southern Branch, was chartered in 1865 by the State of Kansas to build from Fort Riley, Kansas, to the state's southern border. Investors grew highly interested in the road after the federal government pledged that right-of-way through Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and a liberal bonus of land would be given to the railroad that first reached the Territory's northern border.


Texas was eager for the road to be built. In 1866 the state’s first legislature after the Civil War passed a resolution recommending that Congress insure the building of the Union Pacific, Southern Branch, through the state, since at that time none of Texas's railroads connected to those in other states. The company had no charter to build in Texas, but the one granted by Kansas was approved by the Texas legislature on August 2, 1870, and the company was given the same rights as if it were incorporated in Texas.

In 1870 the railway's name was changed to the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway Company, making clear the railway's planned service area. Its purpose was to carry goods and people from Missouri, Kansas, and points north and east across Indian Territory into Texas. The Katy, advertised as the “Gateway to Texas,” bridged the Red River at Colbert’s Ferry, entering Texas near the site of Denison, where the first regular train arrived on Christmas Day, 1872.

Katy Railway bridge across Red River

However, no land in Indian Territory except the right-of-way was given to the company. The courts ruled that Congress had no authority to give land to the railroad that belonged to the Indians. Nevertheless, the MKT prospered, acquiring other small railroads while reaching Dallas in 1886, Waco in 1888, Houston in April 1893 and San Antonio in 1901.

When the Katy reached Houston, its joint ownership of the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad gave it access to the Port of Galveston and shipping via the Gulf of Mexico. This was one of the company’s ultimate goals.

MKT Ad 1881
In 1896, as a publicity stunt set up by William Crush, the Katy crashed two locomotives head-on, pulling loaded trains, at a site that came to be known as Crush, Texas. More than 40,000 spectators watched the spectacle. Three were killed and several injured by debris from the exploding boilers. The ragtime composer and pianist Scott Joplin, who was performing in the area at the time, commemorated the event in his song "The Great Crush Collision March," dedicated to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway.

Only in Texas, folks!
Over the next few decades the MKT acquired several more railroad lines, allowing the company to service other portions of Texas and Oklahoma. Between 1915 and January 4, 1959, the Katy in combination with the St. Louis – San Francisco Railway (known as the Frisco), operated the Texas Special from St. Louis to Dallas, Ft. Worth, and San Antonio. The rail cars bore names including Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, David Crockett and James Bowie.
The Katy Limited circa 1910
Although the road intermittently experienced financial difficulties, it opened a huge territory and aided the development of its service area by supplying economical and reliable freight and passenger service. On August 12, 1988 the Missouri Pacific Railroad (MoPac) and its owner, Union Pacific, purchased the Katy. It merged into the MoPac, becoming part of the Union Pacific system.

Since then much of the Missouri track line has become part of the Katy Trail State Park and the Missouri State Park. In downtown Dallas (location of the Katy’s last headquarters) a 3.5-mile-long section called the Katy Trail is a multi-use trail running from White Rock Lake to the American Airlines Center. In 1997 the segment linking Katy, Texas (named after the railroad) to downtown Houston was abandoned and soon stripped of rails. Another section was purchased by the Texas Department of Transportation in 1998 for the expansion of the Katy Freeway.

Now for my exciting news. Rescuing Lara (Romancing the Guardians, Book One) has been nominated for a Reviewer's Choice Award by the Paranormal Romance Guild. It's in the Paranormal Erotic / Romance Suspense Thriller Novel category. Quite a mouthful, right? By the way, I don't consider my books as erotica but evidently the reviewer does. I don't mind. She gave me 5 stars!
If you would like to help me win, you can vote here:


  1. I visited the Katy museum only to find it had been kicked out of the Katy building and artifacts moved across to an antique mall where there was almost no security. The man working there said things were being stolen at an alarming rate. I was able to get very helpful information, though.

  2. Sad to hear the museum was closed (moved?) Historical artifacts should certainly be well secured. I'm glad you found valuable info. Now I know who to ask if I ever need details for a story. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Hi, Lyn--a great post and an important one, too. I have a small map showing all the railroads in Texas before 1900. None ran west all the way to the New Mexico border, but one did run from Houston west toward El Paso and westward. So no railroads out on the high plains of Texas until much later. I tried to set a bride series out there...but I needed a railroad! So, I had to move my series to Central Texas.
    One of my newer releases Beyond the Blue Mountains features a vintage locomotive on the front. It is an artist's rendering of The Katy that appeared on a postcard back then. My publisher also found a refrigerator magnet with the image! How special is that?...since I collect refrigerator magnets that feature an image.
    Congratulations on your nomination, and I hope you win.

    1. Thanks, Celia. I'm jealous of your magnet! Must be a honey. Researching railroad travel in the Old West has long interested me. I spent many hours at libraries, digging through books about the Union Pacific and lines that ran through Utah when writing my first book, Darlin' Irish. I haven't needed to use Texas RRs in any of my books -- yet. But I'm sure I will. :)

  4. I love history regarding the railroad. It was such a huge undertaking during that time. It's amazing how much track they actually got put down. Thanks for sharing, Lyn.

    Congrats on the nomination. Keeping good thoughts you'll walk away the winner.

    1. Thank you, Paisley. Yes, railroad building is a major part of U.S. history. The men who laid those tracks were heroes.

  5. Quite an informative article, Lyn. I liked that the congress did not allow the sale on Indian land, but instead, just gave a right of way for the railroad. After all the past abuses to Native Americans, that was the right thing to do. This article was so rich in information, you must have researched it a long time. Railroads changed everything in American history.
    Great article, Lyn. I wish you all the best.

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  7. Thank you, Sarah. I did spend most of a day researching and enjoyed every minute. Most of the info came from The Handbook of Texas on the Texas State Historical Association site, and from Wikipedia. Best wishes to you!

  8. Lyn, first, CONGRATULATIONS on RESCUING LARA. Secondly, oh my goodness, I cannot believe I missed this article when it posted. My great-grandfather (the Pinkerton) often worked for the KATY (undercover)on numerous occasions when there were threats or situations needing his services. I always wanted to visit the museum and delve into their archives. Hate to think of that history lost, or not protected. Great post!


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