Jones, Morgan (1839–1926)

By: Vernon Gladden Spence

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: October 2, 2020

Morgan Jones, railroad builder, son of Morgan and Mary (Charles) Jones, was born near Tregynon, Montgomery County, Wales, on October 7, 1839. A boyhood fascination with the railroad industry caused him, as he approached his twentieth birthday, to leave the family farm and seek his fortune in railroad construction. He served a seven-year apprenticeship with the Cambrian Railway Company in Wales, and in 1866 he sailed to the United States, where his skill was in great demand. He presented his credentials to Grenville M. Dodge, chief construction engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad, who immediately placed him on the line as foreman of a construction crew. Moving westward from Omaha, the Union Pacific met the Central Pacific, which was moving eastward from Sacramento. The combined lines, completed in 1869, formed the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.

Under Dodge, Jones learned that American railroad construction differed in two vital respects-time and distance-from British. His new exercise in rapid construction later enabled him to meet seemingly impossible construction deadlines throughout the Southwest. The little town of Fort Worth was the first to benefit from Jones's legendary skills. In 1876 the 1,600 residents of Fort Worth were frustrated when construction of the Texas and Pacific Railway tracks stalled just sixteen miles to the east at Eagle Ford. Eager to reach Fort Worth before the Texas legislature could revoke its charter and withhold its land subsidy, the T&P hired Jones to complete the line into Fort Worth. The project developed into "a patriotic crusade to bring the railroad home" before the legislature adjourned. Fort Worth businessmen released their employees to work on the railroad, and the workers' wives provided them food and drink on the job. Work continued day and night, while a little more than a mile a day of track was laid. According to legend, Nicholas H. Darnell, state representative from Tarrant County, entered the legislative hall each day on a stretcher to cast his vote against adjournment. A holiday spirit filled the town as, finally, on July 19, 1876, Jones's line reached Fort Worth on time. The success made the Welshman a local hero and marked the beginning of a new era of growth for Fort Worth.

During the next five decades Jones built hundreds of miles of Texas railroads and engaged in numerous industrial, farming, banking, lumber, and ranching enterprises throughout the West. He constructed lengthy sections of the Southern Transcontinental (predecessor to the Southern Pacific), the Texas and Pacific, and the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe. He was almost entirely responsible for the construction of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway between Wichita Falls and Union Park, New Mexico, and he served the FW&DC during its first critical decade as vice president, president, and receiver. After the major trans-Texas roads were completed, Jones constructed, operated, and controlled numerous short-line railroads, including the Panhandle, the Wichita Falls and Oklahoma, the Wichita Valley, the Abilene and Southern, and the Abilene and Northern. His plans to build railroads in other areas of the state forced the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe and the Texas Central to construct long extensions to their main lines. Without federal or state land subsidies, and in the face of severe droughts and financial depressions, Jones built most of his railroads in a semiarid, largely unoccupied region. As a result, he helped to open the unexpected bounties of the Texas plains.

Supremely successful at avoiding public attention, Jones never released a photograph for publication and did not grant an interview until his eighty-third year. He was a lifelong member of the Church of England; in Abilene, where he made his final home, he attended the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest. He died in Abilene on April 11, 1926, in his eighty-sixth year.

Richard Cleghorn Overton, Gulf to Rockies: The Heritage of the Fort Worth and Denver, Colorado and Southern Railways (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1953; rpt., Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1970). Vernon Gladden Spence, Colonel Morgan Jones (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971).

  • Peoples
  • English
  • Business
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

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

Vernon Gladden Spence, “Jones, Morgan,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 2, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: