By Tim Davis.
Reprinted from North Texas e-News, June 17, 2014
Photos to right: Jay Gould, circa 1880 and George Gould
When one studies the development of a railroad in a community, it is usually a story about a larger rail line rolling into town from far away.
The Denison, Bonham & New Orleans Railroad (D. B. & N. O. RR) was different because it was an attempt by local investors to start a local railroad. It all makes for an interesting story, especially when funding quickly ran dry and the whole project was sold to a powerful New York/Wall Street-based business family that many hoped would save it.
The earliest mention of the D. B. & N. O. RR came in late 1886. The December 24 Bonham News reported that Capt. S. B. Allen and W. A. Nunelee of Bonham visited Denison at the request of some of their citizens “to consult in regard to the building of another railroad to [Bonham].”
The December 31 News reported that a meeting of Fannin County citizens was held at the courthouse to discuss the proposed railroad. Leading citizens such as W. A. Evans, Charles Carlton (of Carlton College fame), S. B. Allen and others made speeches supporting the idea.
The News further noted: “It was the unanimous opinion that a charter should be obtained for a road to be called the Denison, Bonham & New Orleans railroad.” It also reported that the “road will extend from Denison by way of Bonham and thence in a southeast direction to New Orleans.” The paper finally noted that the distance from Denison to Bonham should be complete within twelve months. A positive and ambitious spirit filled the air.
The January 19, 1887 Dallas Morning News reported that a meeting was held at the city hall in Denison the day before to further discuss the newly proposed railroad. It reported that a board of directors was elected and that it would go to Bonham the next day to confer about the road, and that “the road is looked upon as a certainty.” Various sources note that the road was chartered that month as well.
The February 5th Dallas Weekly Herald reported that the “Denison, Bonham & New Orleans Railroad surveying party started out this morning to make a preliminary line” from Denison to Bonham. The March 27 Dallas News reported that four men by the names of Collins, Star, Eddie and McWillie had left Denison “to go over and locate the line for the Denison, Bonham and New Orleans Road from this city to Bonham.”
The April 16 Dallas News reported that a meeting of the D. B. & N. O. board of directors ordered that work on the road begin immediately. S. B. Allen and J. A. Sparger, directors from Bonham, left the meeting “with the expectations to soon hear the cry of ‘All aboard for Denison’ over the new line.”
From early to mid 1887 all seemed to be going well for the D. B. & N. O. In a clipping about developments in Bonham, the June 24 Dallas News noted that the line from Denison to Bonham “is being graded now,” and that “the contracts for getting out ties are being let. Soon the people of Red River bottom will be awakened from their peaceful slumbers by the trot and ding of the iron horse.”
Perhaps the first signs that the financial underpinnings of the new road were collapsing came in late 1887. The November 29 Dallas News reported that a meeting of the directors would be held in Bonham on December 14 “for the purpose of considering the putting forth of $15,000 bonds per mile with a view of raising funds to equip and run the road.”
In the spring of 1888 came the announcement that if the D. B. & N. O. directors could just get the road operational from Denison to Bonham, the line would then be taken over by the Choctaw Coal and Railway Company (CCRC). A copy of the formal offer appeared in the May 13 issue of the Sunday Gazetteer, Denison’s weekly newspaper. The CCRC stipulated that its offer was good for only eight months.
The next bit of news relative to the D. B. & N. O. came in the December 30, 1888 Sunday Gazetteer (SG) when it noted: “Men and teams for hauling ties for the Denison, Bonham and New Orleans have been advertised for and sufficient iron has been ordered to complete the first ten miles of the road. The prospects for the early completion of the road are brightening.”
The January 27, 1889 SG noted that a meeting of the D. B. & N. O. board had been held at the Munson Brothers building in Denison, “the object being the election of a board of directors for the coming year and the transaction of minor business.” The directors elected were S. B. Allen, W. A. Nunnelee, John Sparger and H. E. Taylor (son of the legendary Robert H. Taylor) of Bonham, and W. B. Munson, Sam Hanna, Ed. Perry, W. C. Tighor and Paul Waples of Denison.
By early 1889 the D. B. & N. O. was still not operational, and it was well outside the eight month deal offered by the Choctaw Coal and Railway Company. It obviously needed help.
A lease on life apparently came from state legislators. The January 27 and February 3 Sunday Gazetteers reported that the legislature had granted railway companies “additional time to build and equip their roads . . . .” As a result, a W. S. Nevins, with the First National Bank of Denison, was made a receiver of the D. B. & N. O., and the road’s charter was extended until January 1891. The SG concluded: “This move furnishes a solution for the D. B. & N. O. question as it puts it in such shape as renders its completion possible at no distant day.”
Despite the hopeful changes, work on the D. B. & N. O. remained unimpressive. By June 9 the SG reported that the “roadbed of the Denison, Bonham and New Orleans railway . . . is being seriously washed by rains. It will take thousands of dollars to restore it.”
The rest of 1889 saw no more newspaper articles about the D. B. & N. O. It seems safe to assume that the road was probably neglected due to a lack of funding.
By early 1890 it was apparent to the D. B. & N. O. board of directors that a new infusion of capital was necessary to save the project. And it looked like the obvious solution was a New York-based financier who had become legendary in the world of southwestern railroads – Jay Gould.
The March 9, 1890 SG reported that Gould would be touring north Texas within a few days, and it noted that Denison was on his list of cities to visit. And why not? Gould had a keen interest in railroads of the area, including the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, the Cotton Belt and the Texas & Pacific (which of course ran through the middle of Fannin County).
A front page piece in the April 20 SG noted that Gould visited Denison on April 14. As luck would have it, the D. B. & N. O. representative appointed to meet Gould, Denison’s William B. Munson, thought it would be best to catch him in Dallas. As a result, Munson headed for Dallas at roughly the same time that Gould left for Denison. Needless to say, the two men missed each other. Munson decided to stay in Dallas for Gould’s return lest the whole trip be wasted.
The April 20 article also noted that while in Denison, Gould made a quick inspection tour of the D. B. & N. O. terminus there. “What Mr. Gould intends by this visit,” the article noted, “will, of course, never be known until that intention is accomplished...”
The article further noted that W. B. Munson had received a telegram from Gould inquiring as to the condition of the Bonham road and its standing. Munson, of course, had all of that information with him in Dallas.
Jay Gould returned to Dallas later on the 14th and met with Munson. The SG article noted that Munson returned to Denison the night of Tuesday, the 15th. Speaking with an SG reporter the next morning, Munson is quoted as saying:
"Yes, I saw Mr. Gould, and with results quite as satisfactory as I had hoped for. Mr. Gould expressed himself as thoroughly interested in the matter of securing an entrance into Denison for the Texas and Pacific, and admitted the entire practicability and convenience of using the Denison and Bonham in effecting that entrance. He was given a full statement of the standing of the Bonham road and said enough to warrant the reasonable expectation that the matter would be laid before the Texas and Pacific company, and that a proposition looking to the entrance of that road into the city would shortly be made to the citizens of Denison. Of course, nothing like this may supervene, but it is one of the possibilities of the future that it can do no particular harm to mention."
Sounding an equally positive note, the May 25 Dallas News reported that the citizens of Bonham were buzzing about the prospects of Gould taking over and finishing the D. B. & N. O. RR.
By late June even national newspapers were reporting on the affairs of the D. B. & N. O. The June 25 Philadelphia Inquirer reported that all recent developments on the road were “directed by Mr. Jay Gould.” The New York Times (June 25) noted that George Gould, Jay Gould’s oldest son and heir apparent to the Gould business empire, had been given a seat on the D. B. & N. O. board of directors. The August 3 Sunday Gazetteer reported the same.
The papers also reported that the road had been approved to run to the south line of Grayson County, and north to Red River. The SG, in a separate piece, also quoted a dispatch from the Dallas News reporting that it “is already given out as an accepted fact that this line will also go north from Denison through the Indian Territory where it will connect at Wagoner with the Missouri Pacific.” (The Missouri Pacific was the chief line owned by Jay Gould, his pride and joy.)
In spite of the rosy outlook, there was one snag in the matter. The SG article also noted that some D. B. & N. O. stockholders were stubborn about selling their stock to Gould and his Texas & Pacific Railroad company. With reference to the issue, the SG noted:
"There is a lamentable disposition being exhibited by a few holders of stock in the old D. B. & N. O. enterprise to play the dog in the manger by hanging onto their worthless possession, thus jeopardizing the success of an enterprise of inestimable value to this and neighboring cities without securing to themselves the slightest [particle] of financial benefit. There is still outstanding $11,700 of this stock, of which a little over one-third is owned in Denison and the balance in Bonham. The proposition of the Texas & Pacific people called for the transfer of all stock of the company and from the stipulations of this proposition they will not recede."
Despite the stock ownership squabble, there seemed to be progress on the road. The October 19 SG noted that a survey crew with the D. B. & N. O. had been in Bonham along with a “Mr. John Bacon, of the Texas & Pacific railroad. They are surveying out a new entrance for the road into town with a view to changing the present location.”
Roughly two months later sour notes were heard again. The December 14 SG reported: “The papers tell us that J. Gould made $30,000,000 in the recent financial panic, but he announces that money is too tight for him to attempt the completion of ten miles of the Denison & Bonham road this year.”
Setbacks aside, it appears that by early 1891 the stock ownership problem had at least been settled. The January 7 Dallas News carried a short piece noting that the D. B. & N. O. had been “purchased by the Texas and Pacific to be operated as a part of their system . . . .” The SG carried basically the same clipping in its January 11 issue.
Another encouraging note came when Jay Gould, along with his son George, toured North Texas in early 1891. Among his stops was a brief horse and buggy tour of Bonham on April 10. The April 11 Fort Worth Gazette noted that while in Bonham, Gould asked about the location and condition of the D. B. & N. O. roadbed.
Although resolution of the stock ownership battle and Gould’s personal tour of North Texas were positive notes, the rest of 1891 must have gone sour. Newspaper reports of any kind about the rail line virtually disappeared. In fact, the next piece of news about the D. B. & N. O. did not appear until late 1892, and it was negative. An editorial in the November 27 SG stated:
"When Denison and Bonham transferred ownership of the Denison and Bonham railway to Mr. Jay Gould the consideration was that the road should be finished and put into operation within a given time. The stock and bonds represent a value of over $100,000, and since the deal not a peg has been driven nor a wheel turned toward complying with the terms of the contract. The GAZETTEER very much mistakes the temper of the men with whom Mr. Gould made the deal if suit is not filed in a short time with the federal court at Dallas, the object of which will be to compel Mr. Gould to live up to the contract."
While the editor of the Sunday Gazetteer may have had good intentions, he perhaps would have withheld his harsh remarks had he known the condition of Gould’s health. Less than one week after the editorial was published, Gould died in his Manhattan home on December 2 after a lengthy fight with tuberculosis and other ailments.
Perhaps also dead that day was any hope that the Goulds would do anything with the D. B. & N. O. RR. One recent biography on Jay Gould notes that George was not the astute business manager that his father was. It argues, in fact, that he was much more interested in lavish parties and the New York social scene than in attending to detailed business matters. Therefore, a short rail line in North Texas probably received little or no further attention.
Moreover, with respect to Jay Gould’s desire, told to William B. Munson in their April 1890 meeting in Dallas, to secure “an entrance into Denison for the Texas and Pacific,” such a line took shape by the mid 1890s and was widely reported on in Grayson County newspapers of late 1895. Unfortunately for Bonham leaders, it was a different line that started in Sherman.
It seems possible that the original directors, at least those in Bonham, followed the recommendation of the Denison paper and filed a lawsuit to regain control of their stock. A brief entry in the April 23, 1893 SG hints at the possibility: “The Texas & Pacific will come over [to Denison] rather than go into a long litigation with the Bonham people – so it is thought.” Moreover, the January 18, 1897 Dallas News, in a dispatch from Bonham reporting on the status of the D. B. & N. O. at that time, noted that the Gould’s failure to do anything with the line resulted “in a suit: the result of which was that all the stock fell back into the hands of the original owners, and remains that way to-day.”
If such a lawsuit was indeed filed and won, it must have been the early to mid 1890s; when the February 2, 1896 SG reported on the election of a new board of directors for that year, the surname Gould was conspicuously absent.
In the end, involvement in the D. B. & N. O. Railroad by the powerful Gould family came to virtually nothing. In fact, it might be argued that they impeded progress by keeping the stock tied up for a relatively long period of time. Once the original board of directors regained control, they finally got the beleaguered railroad up and running, albeit slowly, by 1902. Perhaps they would have done so sooner if not impeded by the Goulds?
Thanks to the ladies at the Bonham Public Library for research help.
Tim Davis teaches at Bonham High School.