Railroads Come to Southeast Missouri

Thomas Hart Benton proposed a railroad from St. Louis to San Francisco at the Second St. Louis Railroad Convention in 1849. That year the Pacific Railroad was chartered and named with expectations of the company reaching the West Coast.  A survey was started for a route from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast.

On July 4, 1851, Mayor Luther M. Kennett of St. Louis turned the first spadesful of dirt for the construction of Missouri’s first railroad. The first iron for the rails arrived in 1852. Thomas Allen began serving as president of the company in 1850. By 1853, rails had reached Pacific a community southwest of St. Louis in Franklin County on Federal Highways 44 and 50.

In 1856, the southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad was chartered. In 1860 the line extended to Rolla.  By 1860, financial difficulties increased to the point the State Government took control of the railroad. Great strips of the Pacific Railroad was destroyed during General Price’s Civil War raid in 1864.

  In 1866 an act of Congress created the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and authorized a road to be built to the Pacific Ocean. In 1871 rails were completed to Vinita in Indiana Territory. In 1872, the Pacific Railroad was leased to the Atlantic and Pacific Company never reaching its proposed destination.

The Pacific Company was then sold at public auction to Andrew Price Jr. on September 6, 1876 and two days later sold to L. K. Garrison and the newly organized St. Louis San Francisco Railroad (Frisco) to become part of the Jay Gould system in 1879.

The St. Louis Iron Mountain Railroad was incorporate on March 3, 1851.  Its name indicated a desire to construct a rail line between St. Louis and Iron Mountain or Pilot Knob. Preliminary surveys were made in 1852. Only twelve miles of road were built by 1856. However, in 1858, the road reached Pilot Knob.

In 1866, debts prompted Missouri to sell the railroad, however, since bids did not cover the indebtedness, the commissioners purchased it. Because of public outrage the road went to Thomas Allen, who had resigned as president of the (Missouri) Pacific railroad in 1854. A survey had been made in 1854 by J. H. Morley civil. Engineer for the St. Louis Iron Mountain Railroad completing the 119 miles from Bismarck in St. Francois County to Belmont in Mississippi County passing through Madison, Bollinger, and Cape Girardeau counties.

Construction started on both end of the line, Belmont and Bismarck; and at midnight August 14, 1869to two part of the line met in the middle of the Bollinger County Tunnel. It opened for travel August 19, 1869. In 1880, the Missouri Pacific purchased the St. Louis Iron Mountain Railroad and still known by that name. That branch of the St. Louis Iron Mountain Railroad extending from Bismarck to Belmont on the Mississippi River became known as the Elmont Branch, from it terminus.

 Permission was then grained to extend to road to the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau and other points south. It was started south with the proposed to begin at Cape Girardeau to the Arkansas line in 1869 by the Cape Girardeau and State Line Railroad Company (1859-1880. No work was done on this route. Then in 1871, Missouri Governor Fletcher reorganized to company as the Illinois, Missouri and Texas Railroad Company hoping to connect the three states by rail.

 Louis Houck purchased this charter in 1880 and organized the Cape Girardeau Railroad Company (1880-1881) financed by business men of that community. A name change, Cape Girardeau and Southwestern Railroad Company (1880-1891), indicated the direction from Cape Girardeau the rails were to go. Part of this construction included a railroad line extension from Cape Girardeau to Thebes Bridge (in Scott County), sometimes it was now the Gulf Branch and now abandoned by the Frisco system. In 1891 another name change, St.  Louis, Cape Girardeau, and Fort Smith (Arkansas) Railroad (1880-1898), described the company’s new ambition. This design included the line of the Missouri and Arkansas Railroad (1893-1902) organized in 1891 by Houck to build a road from Morley to Cape Girardeau, and the St. Louis, Kennett and Southern Railroad, (1890-1895) from Campbell to Kennett, and the Kennett to Caruthersville Railroad, (1894-1902). The Morley and Morehouse Railroad (1897-1902) became part of his Missouri and Arkansas Railroad. In 1902, all these roads were consolidated under the Name St. Louis and Gulf Railroad (1902-1904). All eventually became part of the Frisco system.

Other short line railroads became part of the St. Louis San Francisco Railroad system through a series of complex mergers. Several, but not all were railways build by the Cape Girardeau lawyer, large land owner and railroad builder, Louis Houck. Included in Southeast Missouri are the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway company (Missouri) (1880-1881); St. Louis, Memphis and Southeastern Railroad Company (1898 -1907); St. Louis, Caruthersville & Memphis railroad Company (1897-1901); Southern Missouri and Arkansas Railroad Company (1899-1902).

Pemiscott Southern Railroad Company (1900-1902); Lt. Louis, Morehouse and Southern Railroad Company ( 1896-1902); Pilot Knob, Cape Girardeau and Belmont Railroad  (1859-1869); Clarkton Branch St. Louis, Kennett and Southern Railroad (1901-1902); Cape Girardeau, Bloomfield and Southern Railway (1887-1902); Missouri Southeastern Railway (1891-1898); and Pemiscot Railroad Company (1892-1895).
Pemiscot Southern Railroad Company (1900-1902); Lt. Louis, Morehouse and Southern Railroad Company ( 1896-1902); Pilot Knob, Cape Girardeau and Belmont Railroad  (1859-1869); Clarkton Branch St. Louis, Kennett and Southern Railroad (1901-1902); Cape Girardeau, Bloomfield and Southern Railway (1887-1902); Missouri Southeastern Railway (1891-1898); and Pemiscot Railroad Company (1892-1895).

The Cottonbelt Railroad, uncommonly known at the St. Louis Southwest Railroad, is primarily a Texas rail line. Being organized in 1890, it purchased roads already created and then extended the line. Entering Missouri from Piggott Arkansas crossing the St. Francis River at St. Francis, Arkansas to continue north-north-east towards Campbell and Malden where it turns north. Then through Bernie into Dexter turning to skirt Crowley’s ridge past Bloomfield then past Painton into Perkins. Turning north the White River, the Cottonbelt enter Cape Girardeau County following the river to Randles. Turning east again at Deltas the rails split at Scott City. One branch went across the Mississippi at Thebes with another line running north into it northern terminal in Cape Girardeau.

Not many branch line switch of the Cottonbelt. At Dexter, a short line braches eastward into Essex. The map shows this line running through Gray Ridge and Morehouse. However, Essex is the only with the line east of here has be removed.

The Cottonbelt enters New Madrid County from Malden then arches north through Parma and Como before moving south into Carton, Lilbourn into New Madrid. This branch of the Cottonbelt system was first incorporated as the Little River Valley and Arkansas Railroad in 1876. Early plans were for this to be a tow road between New Madrid and Malden. Before construction plans changed it to a narrow gage railroad between these two communities plus connecting Malden to Kennett. Great hopes were for this line through the heart of the Little River Valley with a connection crossing into Arkansas.

The road from New Madrid to Malden was finished in 1878 by Otto Kochtitzky and George B. Clark .It was extended to the state line of Arkansas and Missouri and consolidated with the Texas and St.  Louis Railroad Company of Missouri and Arkansas in 1881. Next year a branch was built from Lilbourn to Bird’s Point in Mississippi County.

In 1886, the Cottonbelt went into the receivership of Mr. Fordyce to be reorganized as the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railroad in order to extend the road to Texarkana, Texas. The line was sold again in in 1890 to be reorganized as the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad Company in in 1893, because it has its terminus in Texas the in the Cottonbelt of the United States, as the Cottonbelt Route.

The Deering Southwestern Railroad was built from Deering, Pemiscot County, to Caruthersville to carry lumber from the Wisconsin Lumber Company. It was absorbed by the Cottonbelt System. Sometime after 1945, the line fell out of use and is no longer on maps.

Indian Names in Stoddard County 

A number of Indian Mounds were found in the Stoddard County before 1945. According to Historian Louis Houck, 3,211 with the most famous being in Elk Township in Southeast Stoddard County.

Indian Ford was an old Indian Ford crossing the St. Francis River in the eastern part of Duck Creek Township. A post office (Indian Ford) was established a few miles north of the ford on the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad in 1867 and closed in 1873. The name does not appear after the Post Office closed and is though that the river was no longer shallow enough to permit fording in this place. Hodges Ferry was established a short distance south of this place in1903.

Indian Spur was a short track built the Frisco Railroad about 1907 to transport lumber from the Himmelberger Harrison Lumber Camp. It was named by the railroad officials at the request of the company. It was o name because the Himmelberger family came from Indiana.

An old Indian Trail, still pointed out in 1945 as a land mark lead north from Bloomfield. Houck in Vol. I of A History of Missouri from the Earliest Explorations and Settlements Until the Admission of the State into the Union, that in 1816, Shawnee and Delaware Indians living on Castor River traveled this trail twice a year, spring and fall. During the spring they sold their furs and bear and winter deer skins, and in the fall their summer skins, honey and bear’s oil[NV1] .

Gobler Mercantile Store in Pemiscot County   

The largest business in the town of Gobler (Pemiscot County) was the Gobler Mercantile Store. Here you could find about anything you wanted. The business started in 1937. By 1939, the inventory was worth about a thousand dollars (according to web site Measuring Worth, the 2011 income value was $69,000).  

Dennye Mitchell owned and worked as clerk in his store with his brother Stanley assisting. Investing his profits back into his business it grew in a few years to cover five acres. For several years he did over two million dollars in sales (2011 real price is $61,000,000). He used twenty-three trailer trucks, each costing $30,000 picked us his merchandise from everywhere.

His stock included groceries, housewares, appliances, furniture, lumber, medical supplies, barb war ammunition, clothing, and later added television sets with his own TV repair service. He also supplied farmers with cottonseed, animal feet and practically everything he need. After the store burned on March 31, 1956, the town started declining and never recovered.




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Dennye Mitchell owned and worked as clerk in his store with his brother Stanley assisting.

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    Having grown up on Little River, I have been fascinated with it. Over the past several years, as a local historian, this area has been a special interest. 

     These areas have been treated much like step-children by Jefferson City and Little Rock. They seem to believe nothing has ever happened here.  Our history has been long and varied. Hope you enjoy my trip.  

    Near Puxico is the swampy Mingo Wildlife Refuge. One hundred and fifty year ago, most of the Little River Valley appeared that way. This valley covering two million acres was part of the largest wetland in America.

    Floods frequently intimated the Valley. Between 1815 and 2011, 15 major floods covered or threatened the area.

    Timber companies came in at the end of the 19th Century to clean cut the forest. Louis Houck, a Cape Girardeau lawyer and railroad builder, envisioned a rail network that covered the wetlands.

    Little River Drainage District (LRDD) Corporation was established in 1907 by an act of the Butler County (MO) Circuit Court. 

    Between 1909 and 1928 the LRDD dug nearly 1000 miles of ditches and constructed 30 miles of levees to drain 1.2 million acres of swamp and overflow land in Southeast Missouri. More dirt was moved than in building the Panama Canal.

    One surprise I had was the number of settlements in the area before 1811-1812. Another was the water connection between the Mississippi River and the St. Francis and I had no idea that Little River had enough current to run a grist mill.

    Norman Vickers


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    Little River's Geographic Past