Hannibal Stockyards: Where Texas longhorns grazed en route to market
Archie Hayden, a railroad aficionado, shares this photo of a lock used at the Hannibal stockyards during the late 19th Century.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
In July 1873, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (Katy) Railroad announced, with great economic anticipation, that the northern extension connecting Sedalia to Hannibal in Missouri was open for business.
The completion of this route served as the link between the cattle hub of Denison, Texas, and Hannibal, which was strategically located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Trains leaving Hannibal for Chicago crossed the new railroad bridge at Hannibal, which opened in 1871. The route went from Hannibal to Quincy, Ill., and on to the terminus of Chicago, where a lucrative market for the Texas longhorns existed.
Stringtown, to the west of Hannibal (later renamed Oakwood) was the primary beneficiary of this new railroad connection, because of its location. It was here at Stringtown that a stockyards was constructed on acreage to the south of what would later be named Market Street.
W.Z. (Buzz) Link, who moved to Stringtown in 1882, was a long-time resident and business entrepreneur of Oakwood. He sat down for an interview with the Hannibal Courier-Post in 1938, and shared his memories of the old stockyards for inclusion in the the newspaper’s Centennial edition.
This facility served as a feeding and watering station for cattle, which were being shipped from Texas to market in Chicago, Link said. He noted that it was one of two such stations along the route to market.
The stockyards were located between the tracks of the Hannibal & St. Joe and the Katy railroads. The land was opposite the Market street end of Prince Avenue.
During the fall, “a day seldom passed without at least one train stopping to discharge its load of cattle into the pens, and frequently there would be three trains in a 24-hour period,” the newspaper noted.
The process of unloading, feeding, watering and reloading the cattle typically took six to eight hours or more, and this task was completed by a crew of about 10 stockyard employees. Link explained that cowboys, hired by the Texas stockmen, typically accompanied the herd; the men often spending the night in the nearby Stockyard Hotel.
In 1889, one of those Texas men, J.R. Wells, was run over by the train cars at the Hannibal stockyards, and died a few hours later. (Palmyra Spectator, July 4, 1889)
On a lighter note, Mr. Link told the 1938 newspaper reporter, “Occasionally one of the Texas Longhorns would get loose from the handlers at the stockyards and stage a one-steer stampede through Oakwood, causing considerable excitement while it lasted.”
Upon the anticipated opening of the Hannibal extension in 1873, the Galveston Daily News reported on July 2, 1873, that the MK&T Railroad had ordered 25 new engines, and that a new “lightning express” train would be established between Hannibal, in Northeast Missouri, and Parsons, located in Southeast Kansas.
Life was not easy for railroad employees during the 1870s-1880s. Rail accidents were frequent and the list of associated casualties long. The lifespan of the average rail worker was typically cut short.
The May 11, 1883 edition of the Palmyra Spectator noted the death of Frank Hardy, “an ‘old’ and well known passenger engineer on the MK&T Railroad.” Mr. Hardy was just 43 at the time of his death, which was attributed to a short illness. He left behind a widow and three young children, ages 10, 7 and 5.
In 1875, Miner J. Matteson was working as an engineer for the MK&T Railroad. He lived with his wife at 1111 Broadway in Hannibal. They moved to Atchison, Kansas, prior to 1880, where he continued his craft. Death claimed Matteson on July 22, 1885, at the age of 42. He was buried in Thayer, Oregon Co., Missouri.
Frank Tessmer was a switchman working for the MK&T Railroad in 1875. In August of that same year, he was the hind brakeman on train No. 9. According to the Aug. 22, 1875 edition of the Hannibal Clipper newspaper: He “discovered the roof of a car near the middle of the train to be on fire. He ran to the engine, jumping through the flames of the burning car, and informed the engineer who immediately stopped the train.”
The crew carried water to the scene and extinguished the fire.
The Hannibal Clipper continued: “Upon arriving at Monroe the car was opened and examined. It was loaded with general merchandise, along which were four barrels of coal oil, one of the barrels being still on fire, and three kegs of gun powder. Conductor Black, Engineer Salisbury and the remainder of the crew deserve great credit for the energy displayed in extinguishing what might have been a destructive conflagration.”
George Wedgewood was another veteran railroader working for the MK&T in 1875. He previously worked as a fireman for the Toledo, Wabash and Western Railroad. While on that earlier route, James R. Clark, engineer for engine 127, saw something on the tracks ahead, near the Chatton Station in Adams County, Ill., north of Golden. As the train got closer, the engineer saw that it was a young child. The Quincy Daily Whig told the story on Sept. 26, 1872:
James R. Clark, engineer, said, “I called for brakes, reversed the engine and pulled the throttle wide open. My fireman (Wedgewood) set the tender brake, ran out to the front end, got down on the pilot, and I should judge, we were going at least fifteen miles an hour, when he caught the little thing up and fell back on the pilot with it, saving its life. … But for the bravery of George Wedgewood it, in all probability, would have been killed, but as it was, I don’t think the engine struck it at all…. I think it was very brave act of Mr. Wedgewood.”
By the spring of 1880, George Wedgewood’s wife was a widow, with four young children in her charge. Family genealogy suggests that Mr. Wedgewood was killed in a railroad-related accident near Hannibal on Jan. 20, 1880. He would have been about 34 years old at the time of his death.
What happened next?
In November 1896, a rash of Texas fever broke out among the cattle at Oakwood, according to the Nov. 26, 1896 edition of the Quincy Daily Journal. Oliver Duck of Schell City owned the yards, and those whose cattle were infected by the disease in Hannibal threatened lawsuits. The yards were abandoned.
In March 1903, W.Z. Link purchased the old stockyards from Oliver Duck for $1,500.
An excellent map of the MK&T route from Hannibal to Denison Texas is accessible through this website: https://mktrr.com/prototype/
This image from the 1875 Hannibal city directory, accessed digitally via the Hannibal Free Public Library, shows the mileage between Hannibal and points south on the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (Katy) Railroad.
The Hannibal stockyards, Township 56, Range 5, NW 1/4 of Section 6, Ralls County, Mo., 1878.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.email@example.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com