Yoakum, Benjamin Franklin (1859–1929)

By: Mary M. Orozco-Vallejo

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 1, 1996

Benjamin Franklin Yoakum, railroad executive, was born near Tehuacana, Texas, in Limestone County on August 20, 1859, the son of Narcissa (Teague) and Franklin L. Yoakum. At age twenty he became a rodman and chain bearer in a railroad surveying gang, laying the International-Great Northern Railroad into Palestine, Texas. He later became a land boomer and immigration agent for the Jay Gould Lines. He drilled artesian wells and brought European immigrants from New York to farm the land of the Trans-Mississippi and Rio Grande valley. In 1886 he became traffic manager of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway. In 1887 the town of Yoakum, Texas, was named for him. In 1889 he was promoted to general manager of the railways, and in 1890 he became receiver. For three years he was general manager and third vice president of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe. In 1897 he became general manager of the Frisco (St. Louis and San Francisco Railway Company). Under him the lines grew from 1,200 to 6,000 miles. In 1905 the Frisco and Rock Island lines were joined, and Yoakum was the chairman of the executive committee. This line was known as the Yoakum Line and at the time was the largest railroad system under a single control. His career was one of the most colorful of the many men in railroad history. He knew each branch of work: engineering, traffic, operating, and finance. In his later years he became very interested in the farm problem. He was an advocate of an agricultural cooperative society, growing and marketing farm products to reduce the spread between farm and consumer. It is said that his genius made Hidalgo and Cameron counties into agricultural communities. In 1907 Yoakum moved to New York, where he had a farm in Farmingdale, Long Island. He became president and later chairman of the board of the Empire Board and Mortgage Company. He wrote articles for popular magazines and lectured about railways to clubs and labor unions. He worked for farm legislation in Congress but deserted the Democratic party in 1928, because he considered their farm relief programs inadequate. Yoakum married Elizabeth Bennett of San Antonio, the daughter of a pioneer Southwestern banker. They had two daughters. Yoakum died at his home in New York on November 28, 1929.

Paul C. Boethel, The History of Lavaca County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1936; rev. ed., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1959). Dictionary of American Biography. S. G. Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads (Houston: St. Clair, 1941; rpt., New York: Arno, 1981). Who Was Who in America, Vol. 1.

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

Mary M. Orozco-Vallejo, “Yoakum, Benjamin Franklin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/yoakum-benjamin-franklin.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996