The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company, commonly called the Rock Island, had its origin as the Rock Island and LaSalle Rail Road Company, which was chartered in Illinois on February 27, 1847. The name was changed to the Chicago and Rock Island Rail Road Company on February 7, 1851, and to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company in 1866. In 1892 the Rock Island completed a line from Kansas across Oklahoma Territory to the Red River. In order to extend this line into Texas, a charter was obtained on July 15, 1892, for the Chicago, Rock Island and Texas Railway Company to build from the north line of Montague County south to Weatherford in Parker County, a distance of seventy-five miles. On February 2, 1893, the charter of the Chicago, Rock Island and Texas was amended to provide for an extension to Fort Worth and Dallas. By 1894, ninety-two miles of track was opened between the Oklahoma-Texas line and Fort Worth. The charter was further amended to authorize a line from Bridgeport to Graham, and the fifty-five mile line was completed in 1903.
A new company, the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway Company, was chartered on May 13, 1902, to build from Fort Worth through Dallas to Houston and Galveston. The thirty-three miles from Fort Worth to Dallas opened on December 1, 1903. At that time the Rock Island interchanged considerable tonnage with both the International and Great Northern Railroad Company and the Houston and Texas Central Railway Company at Fort Worth, and the proposed extension south from Dallas would have had serious impact on the earnings of the two Texas railroads. Both companies reacted, with the International and Great Northern offering to sell its Fort Worth to Houston line or to grant trackage rights to the Rock Island. This offer was declined. E. H. Harriman, who then controlled the Southern Pacific and its Texas subsidiaries, made a more substantial proposal which was accepted. Harriman offered to sell 48 percent of the Houston and Texas Central, the Houston East and West Texas Railway Company, the Galveston, Houston and Northern Railway Company, and the Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company to the Rock Island. The Southern Pacific would retain a 48 percent interest in the companies, while the remaining 4 percent would be sold to a neutral third party. The Railroad Commission, however, disapproved the sale and joint ownership of the existing lines. However, in 1906 the Rock Island acquired a 50 percent interest in the Trinity and Brazos Valley Railway Company, then under construction, which gave it access to the Houston and Galveston markets.
While the Rock Island was developing what later became known as its Mid-Continent Route, it was also active in the Panhandle. On December 17, 1900, the Chicago, Rock Island and Mexico Railway Company was chartered to build the Texas portion of the projected line from Liberal, Kansas, to Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Construction took place in 1901 and 1902, when ninety-two miles were built from Texhoma, Oklahoma, through Dalhart to Bravo, Texas. This line formed part of the Golden State Route of the Rock Island and Southern Pacific. Another component of the Rock Island was the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Texas Railroad Company. This company was originally a subsidiary of the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad Company (Choctaw) which ran from Memphis, Tennessee, through Oklahoma City to Western Oklahoma. The Choctaw, Oklahoma and Texas was chartered on June 21, 1901, to build from the Oklahoma-Texas border near Texola to Amarillo. In 1902 the company built ninety-eight miles to Yarnall and in 1903 completed the line to Amarillo. By this time the Choctaw and its Texas subsidiary had been acquired by the Rock Island.
The Rock Island now had four relatively short Texas subsidiaries each operated by its own organization. On December 1, 1903, the Chicago, Rock Island and Texas, the Chicago, Rock Island and Mexico, and the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Texas were merged into the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf. The merger created a 387-mile system. An extension from Amarillo to the Texas-New Mexico border near Glenrio was completed in 1910. At Glenrio the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf connected with another Rock Island line to Tucumcari, New Mexico. A connection at Tucumcari with what later became the Southern Pacific completed a through route between Memphis and the Pacific Coast. No other major new construction occurred until the late 1920s, when a series of lines were projected for the Texas Panhandle and adjoining states. The lines built included a route between Amarillo and Liberal, Kansas. The Texas portion opened as far as Stinnett in 1927 and was extended to Hitchland in 1929. Another Panhandle branch between Dalhart and Morse opened in 1930, giving the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf a total of 633 miles of main track. In 1940 the company acquired the track of the Gulf, Texas and Western Railway Company running seventy-five miles between Jacksboro and Seymour. However, the attempt to revive this line was unsuccessful, and it was abandoned in 1942.
The Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf was leased to its parent, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company, on September 1, 1939. Both companies had entered receivership in 1933 and were merged to form the reorganized Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company on January 1, 1948. At the time of the merger the Rock Island operated 732 miles of main track in Texas, which included the lease of ninety-six miles of the Burlington-Rock Island Railroad Company (formerly Trinity and Brazos Valley) between Dallas and Teague. In 1955 the Rock Island acquired thirty-nine miles of the Wichita Falls and Southern Railroad Company between Graham and South Hanlon, but this line was abandoned in 1969. In 1930 the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf and the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway Company jointly leased the Burlington-Rock Island between Dallas and Teague, and in 1950 it leased the balance between Teague and Houston. The Burlington-Rock Island was merged into its parent companies in 1964, with each owner receiving an undivided one-half interest in the property. In addition, the Rock Island owned a 50 percent interest in the Galveston Terminal Railway Company, a 45 percent interest in the Great Southwest Railroad, and a one-eighth interest in both the Houston Belt and Terminal Railway Company and the Union Terminal Company at Dallas. Track abandonment by the Rock Island included 12½ miles between Dalhart and Wilco in 1960 and forty-five miles between Amarillo and Stinett in 1972. The branch between Bridgeport and Graham was sold to the Texas Export Railroad Company in 1973.
Although the Rock Island served fourteen states with nearly 8,000 miles of main track, it was one of the weaker of the major railroads. It reentered receivership in 1975. At that time the company owned 609 diesel units and 27,736 freight cars. Attempts to sell the railroad were delayed by regulatory hearings while the financial and physical condition of the Rock Island continued to deteriorate. The line was unable to withstand the effects of a strike and ceased operations on March 31, 1980. Major portions of the Rock Island in Texas were acquired by other railroads, including the Golden State Route by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company and the Mid-Continent Route from Kansas City to Fort Worth by the Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas Railroad Company. The jointly-owned line between Dallas and Houston continued to be operated by the Burlington Northern Railroad Company. Most of the Choctaw Route, however, was abandoned.