Homeseeker Trains

..... ticket to San Patricio County

Several factors influenced the chang-ing of San Patricio County from ranch land to agriculture, but probably none were as efficient, and certainly none as dynamic, as the coming of the George H. Paul Co. homeseeker trains.

The story of George H. Paul could be told many ways: It could be a saga seen through the eyes of the immigrants themselves, who came with their house-hold goods, their faith and courage and stuck it out long enough to conquer one of the last frontiers. Or, perhaps, it could be about Paul himself and his Horatio Alger-like rise from a hired hand, who was making $18 a month, to that of the head of a multi-million dollar land devel-opment company. The man,the people and the times - they are inextricably interwoven to form a part of the history of San Patricio County.

The character of Paul can probably best be seen in his professed inherent love for good soil, combined with a concern for his fellowman. This engendered his desire to sell land.A lucky series of circumstances brought him into contact with the Luce Co. of Carroll, Iowa, wherehe received his training in the homeseeker business by selling land for them in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. Flushed with success in the project, and still less than 30 years old, he decided to go into business for himself in South Texas.

The heart of the homeseeker program was, of course, the advertising directed to selected northern markets to generate interest in cheap land in South Texas. At first Paul rented Pullman cars to transport the prospects to Texas. Later he bought his own cars, his favorite being the Wamduska that had once belonged toJ.J. Hill who had used it to colonize the West.

Later he bought two other cars, named the Etta and Taft.

Homeseeker rates were in effect on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Roundtrip fares for points north of Kansas City and St. Louis were $23 (less if closer). If a land company owned a Pullman car had 18 paid tickets, the railroad would take the car to its destination and back free. The price of the ticket could be applied on any land that was bought. Room and board were $1.50 a day, which was cheap, but it was charged to advertis-ing. With 150 paid fares, a special train would run.

Paul sold land around Hebbronville and had big success selling Driscoll ranch lands, helping found the town of Robstown. In the meantime, Joseph F. Green, man-ager of the Coleman-Fuiron Pasture Co. (later called Taft Ranch), had been authorized to sell part of the company land to 'further improve the holdings." of the remainder of the land. Green had tried to sell land without much luck and, noting Paul's success in Nueces County, he invited him to sell land forthe Taft Ranch.

Paul was impressed with the Taft holdings, and after looking over the records of J.S.M McKamey,who had been farming near Gregory for 10 years, as well as checking rainfall records, he signed a contract with Green on Friday, March 13, 1908 to buy company land and pay for it as sold.

SOLD HALF Million acres at prime farm land. George H. Paul was one of the biggest lard promoters in the country when be con-tracted for a huge block of the Welder land for St. Paul and another massive block from the Taft Ranch. Lyra Sparks visited with the old land promoter shortly before his death to get information for her story on the Homeseekers. Photo Lyra Sparks "I always tell everyone never to be afraid of Friday, the 13th," Paul said, "since this was the day I made my best ever deal."

The contract was for 56,000 acres, half to be released immediately and the other half when the first was sold. This provision was to keep fencing from hampering the movement of Taft Ranch livestock Three months later Paul and Green were in Charles P. Taft's office in Cincinnati to get a release on the other half. The success of the sale was caught by a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller on July 24, 1908:

"Your reporter was in Rockport the other day and saw Press Percival, the surveyor, who looked all fagged When asked the reason, he said the George H. Paul people had about worked him to death. The Paul people were selling the land so rapidly to actual settlers that Mr. Percival was unable to keep ahead."

Since 1908 was a presidential elec-tion year, and since Howard P. Taft was a candidate, Promoter Paul cashed in on the name. He emblazoned his posters with the word "Taft. "in huge letters, and when people rushed to see what was being said about the presidential candidate, they found themselves reading glowing reports about the opportunities of land in San Patricio County. Paul claimed this adver-tising campaign changed the name of the company from C-FP Co. to the Taft Ranch.

In January of 1910 Paul signed a contract with John J. Welder for 70,000 acres, again to be paid for as it was sold. This land included the town of St. Paul which the promoter developed completely. It was the first fully electrified town in San Patricio County, with a business district, modern homes, a large hotel (The Shary) and the gift of a church - all built by George H. Paul. The base abstract, made by the Haisley Abstract Co., is still in use today. A great many of these improvements were wiped out in a fire that hit the business district in


John Shary, an agent of Paul during the St. Paul operation, became a partner and took over management. The hotel took its name from him. Shary later went to the Valley. His daughter married Allen Shivers, former governor of Texas.

The Paul Co. had 1,200 agents scattered from the Rockies to West Virginia and from Canada to the Gulf. They had been trained on how to approach and nandle prospects. The manager, Dave I'ausscher, was described as a combination

a Pullman conductor, provider of food and lodging and the liason man between the company and railroad.

The problems of colonizing were many and varied. Surveyors had to work with grants where land was measured in varas and the landmarks and terminology vague, making it difficult to establish boundaries. After the lines were drawn, roads had to be hacked our through the thorny brush lands. Mostly they were senderos, the Spanish name for trails. Probably the biggest hurdle was to con-vince people, who were naturally sus-picious of land companies, to believe what they were being told. Paul told his igents to tell the story as near the truth as possible and to never oversell. The agents were instructed to tell prospects:

If you haven't been given the picture as exists, Mr. Paul will refund your money or your trip." They were also instructed never to ask the prospect to buy. His rtecords show that he never had to refund any money and that 85 per cent of the prospects did buy.

Another problem was one of trans-porting people to the land sites once the train arrived in San Patricio County. Since there were few cars, and the roads and narrow trails were largely impassable, the promoters used buggies and hacks. Often teams and rigs had to be hired from a distance of 60 miles. Sometimes natives would tell the homeseekers that the land would never be good for farming. Of course, many of the natives distrusted change and would discourage newcomers predicting that they would go broke.

The late William Doughty of Robstown called the Paul Company one of the smoothest organizations of its kind. He said the company never willfully misled anyone. Many northern agents were ignorant of swales and running mesquite. They thought prairies would produce crops like the Midwest. Actually, all of the things that were promised have perhaps, come true for those who came and stayed. As the late Charles French, farmer in the West Portland area, whose father came on the immigration wave of 1890, said, "Today, we know more about how to drain low places and how to farm them. All the land the company sold was good, using today's farming methods."

Jr would be hard to know how many came and how many actually settled. Population figures were growing fast in those days. The Corpus Christi Caller on Aug. 28, 1908 had this to say: "San Patricio, like Nueces County, is fast changing from stock raising to cotton country." The late Judge James C. Russell said that, "The Paul Company brought the best boosters, those who went to work to develop the area."

No doubt some over bought, but those who were able to hold on to their land were usually able to sell for a profit in a few years. Land that they bought for $25 in with industry to get a start.1908- 10 sold for around $42.50 by 1912. Some went home disappointed, but others battled the mud and brush and succeeded, as a letter in the Gulf Coast Magazine pointed out: "The Coastal Bend has good soil, good climate and is a good place for a poor man

Not all of the homeseekers were northerners, a lot came from Texas Counties like CaIdwell, Williamson, Bell, Hays and Bastrop were well represented among the settlers during this period. And not all bought land - A lot of families rented from people who purchased and gave up and returned to the north.

Paul was a man who had ideals and lived by them. He did not drink or smoke and was a religious man and would not sell land on Sunday. During his heyday he made a fortune, but he also had unhappy backsets and financial reverses. He lost his wife and son and in his old age lived in a basement apartment. He did not keep any of the cheap land that he sold, land that would have made him wealthy, nor did he keep any of the mineral rights. He had been told by good authorities that there were no minerals under the land.

In his twilight, Mr. Paul reminisced:

"All my agents told me I was making a big mistake (by not keeping some land), but I loved the work I was doing. It was so much fun to colonize the country. Here I was, just a green country kid, meeting presidents, governors and sen-ators. I'm afraid I didn't think much about the future."

But despite the fact that the name George H. Paul isn't etched in stone on some monument, as long as there are land exchanges made in San Patricio County in the homeseeker areas, the name of George H. Paul will appear on the legal papers. And when this occurs, perhaps memories of the cactus and mesquite, puffing steam trains, eager people, grub-bing hoes and steam plows and the immigrants who flocked to San Patricio County on homeseeker trains will rise up out of the old records.

No doubt, this would please George H. Paul.

-Lyra Sparks


Editor's postscript. Lyra Sparks spent several years gathering the information for this story, including a trip to Nebraska to visit the 88-year old homeseeker. She was greatly impressed by Mr. Paul, thrilled by his story and saddened by his misfortunes



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