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THE NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD AND SOME
OF ITS HISTORY
The Act of Congress passed July 2nd, 1864, granted to the North-
ern Pacific Railroad Company the lands on both sides of its main line
from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, with a branch line via the Co-
lumbia River, to the extent of every alternate section (not mineral)
not to exceed twenty sections to the mile on each side of its located
line through the territories, and ten sections to the mile through any
of the states that it might pass — with the right to take timber and
other material for construction from any unoccupied Government
lands. A very wise and astute clause was inserted in the Act, as a
sort of compensation: That the company should not charge the Gov-
ernment higher rates for transportation and telegraph service than
they charged individuals. The mineral referred to did not include
iron and coal.
The first meeting of the original incorporators was held in the
city of Boston.
It ought to be remembered here that for every mile of road con-
structed in a state they got 12,800 acres of land while in the terri-
tories they acquired 25,600 acres. In this connection it may be ex-
plained that the two Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, and Washington were
not admitted to the Union until the road was completed and the lands
earned. This also accounts for the original location of the main line,
that many engineers now find fault with. Mileage in the territories
was evidently the main object.
In 1870, about the time of the beginning of construction on the
Pacific Coast at Kalama, Washington, the maps of the first prelim-
inary survey were filed and the lands within the forty-mile limit on
the odd numbered sections, surveyed and unsurveyed, were withdrawn.
By the way, maps of location were filed via the Columbia River and
Cascade Mountains. The Columbia River Branch Grant extended
over into Western Oregon and covered part of the Oregon Central
Grant secured by Ben Holliday and his associates. This was after-
wards adjusted amicably by the United States Land Office.
The Puget Mill Company, Port Gamble Mill Company, — in fact
all the mills and loggers on Puget Sound were then cutting the timber
on the shore line of Puget Sound and within the company's grant and
shipping it to San Francisco and South America. General John W.
Sprague, then the general agent and direct representative of the com-
96 Hanford W. Fairweather
pany, attempted to protect the company by collecting stumpage on
lands thus invaded and within the company's grant. General Hazard
Stevens was. the company's attorney.
He seized large rafts of logs and spent a great deal of company
funds and finally checked these depredations. Hon. Silucius Gar-
fielde was delegate to Congress and stood in with the mills and was
unfriendly to General Sprague and his administration of the com-
pany's affairs. A United States Grand Jury convened at Olympia and
indicted General Sprague for collecting stumpage in advance ; a "nolle
proseque" was entered by the United States Government and prosecu-
tion ceased as well as further depredations on the company's lands.
The withdrawal by the General Land Office of the odd num-
bered sections on the Columbia River Route and the Cascade Moun-
tains covered nearly half the State ( then Territory) of Washington
and extended into Eastern and Western Oregon. The protection of
this land grant devolved upon the company's agents and they came
constantly in conflict with speculators who had selected good points
for townsites in advance of construction, but these matters were finally
After the failure of Jay Cooke & Co. during the "panic of 1878"
General Geo. W. Cass, then the President of the company, was ap-
pointed receiver for the road.
The company had then completed about 500 miles of its road in
Minnesota and Dakota on its eastern end, and nearly 108 miles in
Washington, from Kalama to Tacoma.
General Cass' receivership — the first — lasted six months, ended
under this arrangement: The company's first mortgage bonds were
receivable at par and cancelled and retired in exchange for lands —
thus the great Dalrymple Farm, the Cheney Holdings, the Fargo
lands in Minnesota and Dakota were obtained. Those of Charle-
magne Tower in this, state, comprising the best timber in the Sound
and Columbia River districts, were acquired in the same way.
At the close of the Cass receivership in 1875, Mr. C. B. Wright
of Philadelphia — the promoter of Tacoma — was elected President,
and about this time a man named Robert £. Spraul, who was hung a
few years later at Victoria, B. C, for killing Hommel on Kootenai
Lake over the Ainsworth Grant to mineral claims, discovered the
Puyallup coal mines. He was a bridge carpenter, a religious fanatic,
and in addition a fair geologist. He was staked in his prospecting
by H. S. Alger and Ed McCall, a locomotive engineer now a resident
of Spokane. After this discovery, mostly on Northern Pacific Rail-
road lands, Mr. C. B. Wright sent an expert from Pennsylvania to
The Northern Pacific Railroad 97
report on it. That expert stayed three days, went back and made a
report that was published stating that he found the formation of lime
and sandstone all right but that no coal existed there.
General George Stark, then vice-president of the company, ar-
rived soon after this report and confirmed it. It remained for Captain
P. B. Cornwall and C. B. Crochet of the Canadian Pacific Railroad,
old Pacific Coast coal operators, to acquire and develop that great
coal property. Their manager was the late Robert Wingate of Ta-
coma, who subsequently acquired fine properties of his own, a Scotch-
man and a coal miner.
In 1877 the financial world began to look for investment and
brokers and bankers turned their attention to the Northern Pacific
Railroad property. Charles B. Wright was then its president, and
president and principal stockholder of the Tacoma Land Company,
also a director of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, and owner
of about one-sixth of the stock of that company, and drawing the then
large salary therefrom of $1,000 a month.
Efforts were being made constantly to get Congress, to forfeit
the Northern Pacific Land Grant and it became a political issue in the
north half of the Union.
About this time, the late Hon. Frederick Billings of Vermont was
elected president of the company. He was one of the "Argonauts"
of California — a good lawyer and very wealthy. He borrowed, soon
after, $40,000,000 (forty millions) — some loan in those days — and
telegraphed all over the Northwest that "with this fund anybody
could build a railroad." He immediately purchased for the Pacific
end 300 miles of steel rails and track material, ten locomotives and
ten passenger coaches, and forgings, castings and materials for 300
cars, with other railroad material and shop machinery in abundance.
He loaded eight ships and sent them around Cape Horn to Tacoma.
Construction began at Ainsworth, at the mouth of the Snake
River in Whitman County; this for two reasons: First, it gave the
Oregon Steam Navigation Company the carrying of the track ma-
terials and supplies from Portland, swelling that company's receipts
and earnings enormously and enabling the Northern Pacific Railroad
directors, who were its large stockholders, to draw big dividends;
second, it was then easy and cheap construction, and again its was
earning 25,600 acres of the best land on earth. Much of this land
the company sold at from $1.75 to $2.60 per acre. It is now valued at
from $12.50 to $40.00 per acre. Such has been the development of
this section in the last twenty years. (This was written about 1893).
98 Hanford W. Fairwether
It has been claimed that the construction was expensive, but
when all the conditions are considered, it must be admitted that these
gentlemen were not so shortsighted as many supposed. The pros-
perity of the Inland Empire today is evidence of their good judgment.
Of all the men interested in Eastern Washington and its. develop-
ment, the late Dr. D. S. Baker is entitled to the most credit. He
constructed, operated and acted alone. He had a system of narrow
gauge railroads that commanded the entire tonnage of Southeastern
Washington and part of Oregon. Crude and original as it was, for the
good doctor believed that he had invented it all, no system of trans-
portation on the American continent was as profitable as his.
He sold it to the Villard Combine for $1,000,000 and ever after-
wards deplored that he had not bought their system instead of selling
After the great Spike Drive in 1883, when the road was completed
to the Coast, Mr. Henry Villard made the mistake of inviting all
Europe and America to attend the ceremony, with all the so-called
palace and dining cars that could be then had in America. At this
ceremony, going to and from which they could see from the windows
an uninhabited wilderness, not knowing that a railroad had to follow
the lowest grades and streams in its course and that the promised
land was not often in view from the car windows, his guests became
alarmed; they could see nothing in the "Godforsaken wilderness"
through which they traveled to support a railroad. Most of them
abandoned Villard's special at Portland, Oregon, and immediately
telegraphed their brokers to sell their stocks and bonds without delay,
and so brought on the panic that ruined "Old Henry" Villard.
A receiver was again appointed, being the second receivership
of the great railroad. The company's affairs were soon adjusted, and
the property restored again to the stockholders. I think that T. F.
Oakes and the late Henry C. Paine were the receivers during this
In 1 893, during the great financial panic of that year the railroad
again defaulted and another application for a receiver was made; the
several United States Courts became at loggerheads and could not
agree; so three sets of receivers were appointed this time: In Wis-
consin, Minnesota, Montana and Washington, and the line was han-
dled practically in four sections.
Its last reorganization seemed to be complete and permanent,
when to the astonishment of the public, Jim Hill showed up with his
"merger" and claimed to control it.
I know not who controls it now, but I believe it to be the greatest
The Northern Pacific Railroad 99
transportation property in the world; having a traffic contributory
to it in various communities unequaled, and undeveloped resources
that no carrying corporation in the world today possesses.
Its kindred corporations, and they have been many, like a lot of
poor relatives, have always been its ruin. Henry Villard was right
when he referred to it as a "Benevolent Monopoly." Its first cousin
was the Lake Superior & Puget Sound Company, which claimed all the
available townsites from Duluth to Whatcom; it is now deceased. Its
second cousin was the Northwest Construction Company, which made
$5,000 a mile in building the Minnesota Division and died in affluent
old age. Its third cousin, the Tacoma Land Company, is now in bad
health. Its fourth cousin, the Montana Improvement Company, that
wanted all the railroad's timber in the inter-mountain district, is now
on leave of absence — it left nothing but the stumps to show for its
stay here. Its fifth cousin, the Oregon Improvement Company, got
its best lands in the Palouse country, and now has designs on its coal
properties; it is in vigorous health. Its brother-in-law, the Great
Northern, is doing well.
Its stepfather was the Oregon Transcontinental Company —
Oregon Transcontinental Survey — was organized and an army of
savants was sent through the northern tier of states to report on its
resources, including everything from a mosquito to Puget Sound sal-
mon; so much data was collected at a great expense that it could never
be digested or made of use. Hanford W. Fairweather.
COMMENT ON MR. FAIRWEATHER'S ARTICLE*
This is rather a cursory sketch of some incidents that occurred
in the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The protection
of the timber on Puget Sound on the odd numbered sections that was
withdrawn from sale for the ultimate benefit of the company was en-
trusted to the undersigned during 1870 to 1874 as mentioned in the
Mr. Fairweather remarks, correctly enough, that "He seized large
rafts of logs and spent a great deal of company funds and finally
checked these depredations."
Mr. Fairweather, however, omits to state the fact that the logs
thus seized were sold at auction, or redeemed by the loggers, and the
funds thus derived more than paid the entire cost of protection, being
in round numbers $10,000.
•The late General Hazard Stevens was one of the contributing editors of the Washington
Historical Quarterly. Being mentioned in Mr. Falrweather's article, he was asked to comment
on the manuscript. — Editor.