THE BIRTH OF THE ORIENT ROAD
I got a map of the United States and Mexico, and Dr. Woods and the other directors went over the idea of the railroad with great interest. I told them that President Diaz was very friendly and that he had mentioned to D. J. Haff that he appreciated the splendid service I had given to the east Coast of Mexico by the steamship of the Southern road), that had operated between Port Arthur and Progreso, stopping at Tampico and Vera Cruz. He told Mr. Haff that any time I wished his help in Mexico he would do all in his power to aid me.
I explained to Dr. Woods and the directors that it was useless for me to think or brood over my loss of the Guardian Trust Company or the Kansas City Southern; that I was yet a young man, and that I felt sure that this new railroad would add such an empire to the trade of Kansas City that I would in time be more than satisfied that the other railroad had been taken from me. From that day I never talked over the loss of the Southern Railroad to any one, nor allowed any one to attempt to interest me in conversing on this subject.
Dr. Woods said: "Well, Stilwell, we have made good money on the old railroad, and there is no reason in the world why we should not all co-operate with you in the new road, and I certainly want to do everything I can to bring to Kansas City such an immense aid in the upbuilding of the city as this new railroad you have designed will be for our town. You say that you expect to leave tomorrow with Mrs. Stilwell for Mexico. Go down there, and when you come back we will give you five hundred thousand dollars in subscriptions among your friends here in the bank, of which I myself will take a good share."
The next day after the interview, which meant so much to me, I left for Chihuahua and the City of Mexico. Before I left, I heard that the auditors were busy in the Guardian Trust Company hunting for my crooked work, so that they could expose me. But this did not worry me. As I had never done any crooked work, my sleep was undisturbed by the fact that they were looking for it.
After a two and a half days' ride, Mrs. Stilwell and I arrived at Chihuahua and the Palace Hotel. I will not attempt to describe the room which was assigned us in this hotel. Words fail me. All I can say is that Mrs. Stilwell was as brave as she always is, and accepted as she always does, with a smile, any seeming misfortune. That perpetual sunshine of hers has helped me many day when life would not have been worth the living without it.
The next day I called on one of the great men of Mexico, Enrique C. Creel, president of the Bank of Minero, afterwards Governor of Chihuahua, later Ambassador to the United States, and afterwards Secretary of State, Mr. Creel is a fine executive and every inch a gentleman. We have been great friends from that day to this, and I hope we will be until the end of time. It is impossible for me to express my appreciation of Mr. Creel. I hope some day to see him President of Mexico, and as President of Mexico I can assure the people of that Republic they would have one of the best governments possible and prosperity would follow every day of Mr. Creel's administration; the greatest confidence would be inspired in that Republic, and Mexico would have a wonderful era of prosperity.
I had a long talk with Mr. Creel and explained to him the plan of the great railroad that I hoped to build. He agreed with me that he knew of no railroad enterprise in Mexico that could be a greater success than this; that it had been the dream of his life, and that his connection with the Chihuahua & Pacific had only been in the hope that this railroad would eventually reach the Pacific. He told me of the wealth of the Sierra Madres in timber, of the millions of tons of ore on the dump heaps left there by the ancients (one dump heap I had assayed ran four hundred and ten thousand tons of ore of eleven dollars value, and this value above ground). Governor Creel used this illustration in our interview. He said:
And I am positive, after years of study of the territory, that he was right.
We left for the City of Mexico, and I found to my great surprise that President Diaz knew I was coming, and had one of his family to meet me at the hotel to take me to the palace for an interview. I shall never forget that wonderful interview, What a man! He was the most wonderful man I ever met in my life, and words cannot describe my years of business relations with him. His great friendship is one of the things that I love to dwell upon. How he looked me over! I thought I could feel his eyes reaching into my brain and looking over its cells to see just what kind of a brain it was. He had such a piercing look that you wondered if he could see your back hair. I must have passed muster at the first interview, for he afterwards said he was my friend before I had spoken a word. And what a friend he was!
Wall street bombarded him. He told me after the concession was granted that he read thirty letters in thirty days telling him I could never build the road, and telling him that I was not a man to trust. Think of such a system! What had I ever done to justify such a treatment, except develop my beloved city and the Golden West? What had I ever done but bring in panic years the gold of Europe to our land? I have built great railroads, formed great companies given employment to thousands during panic years, added millions to the value of Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana land and property, had built a great harbor, financed the operations of two fleets of steamers, and increased our export and import business. Yet the President of Mexico was daily bombarded in an effort to undermine his confidence in me, a man who had only lived a constructive life, a man who in other nations would have been honored by titles and decorations. But in a nation where in times of panic they destroyed a number of solvent banks, as Samuel Untermeyer says, what else could be expected?
President Diaz went over my maps and plans with great interest. He told me that the building of this railroad and the opening up of the harbor of Topolobampo had been the great ambition of his life. He told me that twenty years before, President Grant had organized a company with this same object in view, and was president of it for two years, but that Mexico was too poor to grant a subsidy; that after President Grant resigned, ex-Secretary Windom had then taken the presidency of the enterprise, and had for seven years attempted to get financial aid and subsidy in the building of the line.
He then told me that later Mr. Huntington for several years had attempted to get financial aid and subsidy in the building of the line. He then told me that later Mr. Huntington for several years had attempted to find a line over the mountains. He said: "It has the greatest value as transcontinental railroad. Humboldt has visited this section where you intend to put this railroad, Senor Stilwell, and he pronounced it the treasure-house of the world." I was thrilled by the story of other men who had seen this line as I had. He then asked me what I desired from the Mexican Government. I told him that I wanted national and federal aid that would equal three millions of dollars or five thousand dollars a mile. He said that he would request the State of Chihuahua to give us six hundred thousand dollars, and that a concession would be sent me the next day at eleven o'clock, and in that concession the Mexican Government would give us enough federal aid to equal about what I desired. As he promised, the next day at eleven o'clock the concession arrived.
During the interview, President Diaz told me that three or four years before, the railroad laws of Mexico had been amended, and that it was mentioned that no more subsidies could be granted without the aid of Congress, except for a railroad from Chihuahua to the Pacific, which was of such great importance that the President might grant it without the sanction of Congress. So bear this in mind: this project of mine had been considered of such great value to the Republic of Mexico that it had been specified in the railroad laws. They must have seen me coming from afar when they passed that law.
I asked President Diaz how it was that he had known that I was coming to Mexico.
"Why," he said, "from the telegrams from the governors."
"What governors?" I asked. "I do not understand what you mean."
He was surprised that I did not know about it. He then brought a bunch of telegrams from the governors of the following states; Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Louisiana, and Iowa, all telling of the wonderful work that I had done in the upbuilding of the West; also one from Assistant Secretary of State Ryan, who was in Topeka at that time. I had never before read such wonderfully complimentary telegrams. They were grand. President Diaz said: "Senor Stilwell, no man has ever come to Mexico with such an endorsement as you have in these telegrams. I will always do all in my power to aid you." And he always did. Now will the reader please contrast these messages of praise, from men who governed the territory which I had served, with the letters from the great financiers of New York which came to the President a few days later, warning him against me?
I was never able to find out who started these telegrams, but whoever did start them has my heartfelt thanks, and I have always believe, from my understanding of the great heart of W. A. Rule, who was always thinking of some way to help a friend, that he was the one who started bombardment of respect.
The next day, as I stated before, the concession was in my hands, and I made the deposit with the government. The concession I had started for was mine.
Shortly after this I left the City of Mexico and returned to Kansas City to start building the railroad. I cannot describe the satisfaction with which I laid all of my documents before Dr. Woods and Mr. Rule and the directors of the Bank of Commerce. The five hundred thousand dollars was subscribed at once to help start this work, and my subscription was on the same basis as that of any one else, I receiving no compensation whatever at that time for the ownership of the concession. Engineers were started out over the railroad, and the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient was really born.
Shortly after my arrival in Kansas City, a meeting was called of the directors of the Guardian Trust Company, to elect a president. As I was a director, I went to the meeting. Twenty-one of the directors out of twenty-four were present, as I now remember. Among them was my good friend, Mr. William Waterall, of whom I have spoken before. Mr. William S. Taylor, our secretary from Philadelphia, was there, one of my very loyal friends, and on who had in ever way possible helped me get the securities of the Kansas City Southern together, and without whose help I probably never could have succeeded. He had been promised the position of treasurer in the Southern Railroad, when it was organized, but the promise was broken, as their promises to me had been.
After the reading of the last minutes of the Trust Company, Mr. Waterall said: "I have come a long way, and so has Mr. Barnes, and other directors, to hear this awful expose, of Mr. Stilwell's management. I believe we are all more anxious for that than anything, and as far as I am concerned, as I say, that is what I came here for." The auditor's report was read. All books and documents had started, but the Auditor reported that I had paid out eighteen hundred dollars a few week before I had resigned, without the Executive Committee's O K, which was not according to the company's by-laws.
I never shall forget the look on the faces of the directors when this report was read. I was sitting in the back part of the room and did not care to take any active part in the proceedings, although I was very anxious to hear all about the crooked work I had done.
Mr. Waterall said: "Do I understand, Mr. Secretary, that that is all?"
The secretary, who had read the report, said: "That is all, Mr. Waterall."
Mr. Waterall then jumped to his feet and said: "Of all the farces, this is the greatest. I move that we all re-elect Mr. Stilwell by a rising vote at once." This was done, and Mr. Waterall escorted me back to the chair of my great trust company. My salary was fixed at twenty thousand dollars a year, where it was before. I now was president of the Guardian Trust Company. I had been reinstated and vindicated; my new railroad was fairly launched, and my old trust company could now have the privilege of financing it. It seemed to me a thought the world was coming back again, after having been lost to me a few weeks before.
The trust company, as soon as I was re-elected, took on its old-time life, business commenced pouring in from all directions, and we were back again on a good dividend-earning basis in a few weeks.