Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway

By: Craig H. Roell

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: January 23, 2020

On August 4, 1870, the Texas legislature authorized the consolidation of two coastal rail lines, the Indianola Railroad Company and the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad Company, into a new corporation to be called the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway Company. The company's charter allowed the railroad the option of extending to Austin or San Antonio and stipulated that immigrants were to be transported at a passage rate of 2½ cents per mile. The two companies merged on April 22, 1871, with the combination confirmed by the legislature on May 19. The new owners, steamship magnate Charles Morgan and his associate Henry S. McComb, were required to build at least thirty miles of track a year north of Victoria or forfeit their charter. Morgan had already purchased Indianola wharf properties in 1869 in anticipation of this railroad venture. The wharves and railroad were part of his plan to protect his Gulf maritime interests from the threat of railroads extending into western Texas. In 1871 Henry E. McCulloch, acting as agent for the GWT&P, proposed to the citizens of Travis County a scheme to finance the building of the line to Austin. However, the extension of the Houston and Texas Central Railway to Austin before the end of 1871 doomed this plan. Nevertheless, Morgan's new company began work in April 1872 on an extension of the line north from Victoria into DeWitt County. Gustav Schleicher and John C. French surveyed a terminus at midcounty, and on March 3, 1873, the tracks reached the new town of Cuero. As a result Cuero became the county seat, and Clinton, the old county seat, declined rapidly. Morgan offered transportation from San Antonio to New Orleans by securing stage service of the United States Mail Fast Line from San Antonio to Cuero, rail service to Indianola, and steamship passage to Galveston and New Orleans.

On May 23, 1873, the state legislature approved the company's designs to build the road through Gonzales and Seguin to Lockhart and New Braunfels and also to connect with other lines serving Austin or San Antonio. But much of Morgan's and Indianola's business was siphoned off by the completion of the Houston and Texas Central to Austin and the extension of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway from Columbus to San Antonio between 1873 and 1877. The panic of 1873 also caused much financial distress, and terminus of the GWT&P remained at Cuero. Indianola was partially destroyed by the hurricane of September 16, 1875, which wrecked Morgan's docks and damaged fifteen miles of track. Although he repaired the line from Indianola to Clark's Station (the original Indianola railroad tracks), he abandoned the six-mile branch from Clark's Station to Port Lavaca. This setback, along with an attempt by Morgan to get personal ownership of the company, induced him to force the organization into receivership and discontinue rail service temporarily in 1876, thereby financially distressing many businesses dependent on GWT&P service. Morgan bought the railroad back on April 3, 1877, and reorganized it under the original charter as a subsidiary of his Morgan's Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company on April 8, 1878. Morgan died a month later, on May 7, 1878, and his son-in-law Charles A. Whitney became president of the Morgan interests. In 1882 Whitney planned to visit Europe to secure financing to extend the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific, but he died in New York the day before his scheduled departure. This occasioned much unhappiness in Cuero and Victoria. The Victoria Advocate reported a feeling of "gloom." Collis P. Huntington, acting for the Southern Pacific interests, acquired the Morgan properties, including the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific in 1883.

Indianola was destroyed by the great hurricane of August 20, 1886, which again wrecked the Morgan docks and miles of the railroad, and by the devastating fire of April 1887. The state legislature authorized the abandonment of the fifteen-mile leg from Clark's Station to Indianola; the last train ran from the ruined port to Cuero on June 18, 1887. The old section to Port Lavaca was rebuilt, however, and trains were running by November 5, 1887. The company's only further building occurred in 1888 and 1889. The New York, Texas and Mexican Railway Company's projected line to the Rio Grande had stopped at Victoria, frustrating the citizens of Goliad, Beeville, and the Rio Grande valley. In 1888 a prominent Beeville stockman, A. C. Jones, raised $60,000 in cash for Huntington to extend the GWT&P line to Beeville, Brownsville, Laredo, and Eagle Pass. Huntington completed the line from Victoria through Goliad to Beeville, a distance of fifty-five miles, in 1889; but construction stopped there. Nevertheless, this extension ended the lucrative wagon freighting business west of Victoria that had prospered since before the Republic of Texas.

Between March 1, 1885, and June 30, 1889, the railroad was operated under lease by the Southern Pacific Company as part of its Atlantic System. On July 1, 1889, in accord with Texas law requiring railroads operating in the state to be headquartered in Texas, the line was again operated by its own organization with headquarters in Victoria. This lasted until August 8, 1905, when the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific was merged into the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio. The railroad's final report to the Railroad Commission noted that in June 1905 233 freight cars were in service on the 111.42 miles of company track and that the oil-burning locomotives were pulling an average train of eight cars. Despite the annual $66,605 in passenger earnings and $79,373 in freight, the company was operating at a $29,000 deficit at the time of its consolidation (see RAILROADS, SOUTHERN PACIFIC SYSTEM, and HURRICANES).

Roy Grimes, ed., 300 Years in Victoria County (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1968; rpt., Austin: Nortex, 1985). Brownson Malsch, Indianola-The Mother of Western Texas (Austin: Shoal Creek, 1977). Railroad Commission of Texas, Annual Reports (1870–1905). S. G. Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads (Houston: St. Clair, 1941; rpt., New York: Arno, 1981).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Craig H. Roell, “Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 23, 2020