Empire, Progress, and the American Southwest: The Texas and Pacific Railroad, 1850--1882

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John D.W. Guice

Advisor Department



When completed in 1882, the Texas and Pacific Railroad ultimately ran between New Orleans, Louisiana and E1 Paso, Texas. In Texas, it ran along the thirty-second parallel, and fulfilled a long-sought goal of building a southern transcontinental railroad from the Mississippi River to San Diego, California. Several projects initiated in the 1850s and 1860s failed. Congress therefore chartered the Texas and Pacific (T&P) in 1871. One will learn about the numerous problems that workers and company officials faced in constructing and financing the Texas and Pacific. How the Panic of 1873 forced Texas and Pacific president Tom Scott to seek federal aid in Washington to finish the railroad is covered at length. Moreover, the story of a long tense period of competition between the T&P which built westward, and another company the Southern Pacific Railroad which built eastward from California is analyzed. Perhaps more importantly, however, I ground the early history of the T&P into the methodological school of cultural studies and American business. I am interested in how supporters of the project defined it, justified the railroad, and how they articulated their staunch support for it. Two themes of empire and progress run throughout this dissertation. The fruits of an empire carved out of the American Southwest would include not just new farms, cities and economic opportunity, but ever greater linear leaps in progress toward human perfectibility. By the time Texans and north Louisianians heard the whistle of the new railroad, towns and cities like Dallas developed into resounding examples of material progress that confirmed much of the ideology of progress that drove the Texas and Pacific project forward during its construction. In this manuscript I explain how railroad builders and promoters built the Texas and Pacific in the context of a four decade-long project to build a transcontinental railroad across the southwestern United States. Yet, the promotion of Texas and Pacific Railroad provided the main forum for discussions related to progress and expansion in the American Southwest.