Stilwell, Arthur Edward (1859–1928)

By: Keith L. Bryant, Jr.

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 1, 1996

Arthur Edward Stilwell, railroad builder and urban promoter, son of Charles Herbert and Mary Augusta (Pierson) Stilwell, was born in Rochester, New York, on October 21, 1859. At the age of fourteen or fifteen, following the collapse of his father's jewelry business in Rochester, he ran away from home and became a clerk, traveling salesman, and insurance policy developer. In 1886 he moved to Kansas City, where he founded trust companies and built belt-line railways. Stilwell's first major project was a railway south from Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico for the purpose of exporting midwestern agricultural products. The original terminal point was Sabine Pass, Texas, but Stilwell formed a syndicate that founded the town of Port Arthur on Sabine Lake. Despite the depression of 1893, the flamboyant Stilwell drove the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad (later Kansas City Southern) south from Kansas City to Port Arthur in 1897. The railway, built with capital from eastern and Dutch investors, failed in 1899, and Stillwell lost control. In order for Port Arthur to become a viable seaport, a canal had to be cut around the lake to Sabine Pass, a costly and much-delayed project that was completed in 1899. In 1900 Stilwell announced a project to connect Kansas City with the closest port on the Pacific Ocean. His goal was to secure trade with east Asia for the Midwest, bypassing California ports. Near the town of Topolobampo, Sinaloa, Mexico, on the Gulf of California, he founded Port Stilwell. From 1900 until 1912 he constructed the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway from Wichita, Kansas, south through Oklahoma to San Angelo and eventually to Alpine, Texas. The Mexican Revolution and a lack of traffic led to bankruptcy for the railway, and Stilwell was forced out of his firm. Stilwell blamed the "Cannibals of Wall Street," and John W. Gates in particular, for his losses, and wrote several books on finance and world affairs. He then published novels, poems, and stories alleging that the ideas for his railways and Port Arthur came to him from "brownies." Stilwell was a Christian Scientist. He married Jennie A. Wood on June 10, 1879, and they had no children. He died in New York on September 26, 1928. Among the other Texas communities founded by his firms were Nederland, Diaz, Rochester, Hamlin, Odell, Sylvester, and Rule.

Keith L. Bryant, Jr., "Arthur E. Stilwell and the Founding of Port Arthur: A Case of Entrepreneurial Error," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 75 (July 1971). Keith L. Bryant, Jr., Arthur E. Stilwell: Promoter with a Hunch (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1971). David M. Pletcher, Rails, Mines, and Progress: Seven American Promoters in Mexico, 1867–1911 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1958). Arthur E. Stilwell and James R. Crowell, I Had a Hunch (Port Arthur Historical Society, 1972).


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

Keith L. Bryant, Jr., “Stilwell, Arthur Edward,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 27, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1996