Arthur E. Stilwell and the Founding of Port Arthur:
A Case of Entrepreneurial Error
KEITH L. BRYANT, JR.
A RTHUR EDWARD STILWELL BUILT 2,300 MILES OF RAILWAY] FOUNDED
several dozen hamlets and villages, and created a city, Port
Arthur, Texas, during a lifetime devoted to railroad and urban pro-
motion. Between 1886 and 1912 Stilwell made sizable contributions
to the economic growth and the urbanization of the southwestern
states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, and helped to
make Kansas City a major railroad and industrial center. He built
the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad (now the Kansas City
Southern) "straight as the crow flies" from Kansas City to the Gulf
of Mexico, projected the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway
from Kansas City to the Gulf of California in Mexico, and completed
most of it before financial reversals terminated construction. The
economic developments which can be imputed to Stilwell are many,
but it is also evident that as a private decision-maker he made entre-
preneurial errors of enormous magnitude. One of these errors led
to the founding and early development of Port Arthur.
Blessed with many of the traits of Colonel Beriah Sellers, George
F. Babbitt, and Meredith Willson's Professor Harold Hill, Stilwell
possessed an insatiable thirst for self-aggrandizement, an unremitting
sense of optimism, and an ability to sell stocks, bonds, and city lots
to investors overwhelmed by his infectious enthusiasm. In what can
be labeled as only a slight overstatement, the Saint Louis Globe-
Democrat wrote of him: "He is the Collis P. Huntington and the
Edward H. Harriman of the present day, and it may well be of the
future, say the financial prognosticators. To the middle Southwest
he is what James J. Hill is to the great Northwest."' Although
neither as successful nor as prominent as Harriman, Hill, or Hunt-
ington, Stilwell was a born promoter and salesman. Over six feet
*Keith L. Bryant, Jr., is associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin,
Milwaukee, and the author of a biography of Stilwell to be published by Vanderbilt
University Press. He wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the Penrose Fund of the
American Philosophical Society for a travel grant in support of the research for this study.
'Saint Louis Globe-Democrat, December 18, 1910o.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/. Accessed May 4, 2016.