Baca County & the Deep Harbor Conventions of the Late 1880s & Early 1890s

This piece provides an answer to  a note in the upcoming Plainsman Herald  Piece by Mark Schmidt on the first twelve years of Baca County Commissioner minutes in which he states the following:

A curious note from April 9th 1891 minutes is the appointment of F.M. Friend as delegate to attend “The Deep Harbor Convention at Denver in May”. 

Reading this sentence jarred a memory of a different news clipping (below) from the same era related to the same topic. So I began to dig a little deeper.  The answer is probably too long for the question but it does help explain what might seem an obscure statement in the Baca County Commissioners minutes from long ago.  There were two different delegates, Friend mentioned above and J. W. Cecil, the editor of the Vilas Republican newspaper.

Morton County Monitor (Morton, Kansas) 05 Oct 1889

So what was this deep harbor Convention?

Essentially it was a combined effort by the western states to combat the high rates that railroads were charging to ship goods to the east coast.  They felt the best way to do this was to get the federal government to finance a deepwater harbor on the Texas Coast to reduce the distance westerners and thus the costs (See Image Below).  The first convention was in 1888 in Denver the 2nd in Topeka and apparently there was another in Denver as evidenced by the Baca County Commissioners being willing to finance the attendance for a representative.  Per the minutes that rep was to be F. M. Friend of Springfield. It seems Baca residents were very involved in efforts to settle the west even beyond the county. This effort appears to have gotten the funds to improve Galveston Harbor in 1895.   

Excerpt from the Third Deep Harbor Convention available in full at the link below:

Deep Water Conventions.-Along in the 1880s, when the subject of railroad rates became of such vital interest to the people of the western states, the attention of the people of those states was called to the expe­dient of having the government establish a deep water harbor somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico, where the railroad haul would he much shorter than to the Atlantic sea-board. The agitation finally culminated in a deep harbor convention at Denver, Aug. 28-31, 1888, in which several of the western states and territories were represented. At that convention a permanent interstate deep harbor committee was appointed, with John Evans of Denver as chairman. Under the direction of this committee, a larger and more representative convention was called to meet at Topeka, Kan., Oct. 1, 1889. In the meantime, however, Congress, in response to the resolutions adopted by the Denver convention, incorporated in the sundry civil appropriations bill a provision authorizing the secretary of war to appoint three engineer officers of the United States army to make an examination of the gulf coast and report as to the most eligible point for the establishment of a deep harbor. 

When the Topeka convention met on Oct. 1, 1889, it was called to order by Gov. Humphrey. All the states and territories west of the Mis­sissippi were represented by a full quota of delegates, and there were 16 delegates from Illinois. Kansas was represented by 24 delegates. Preston B. Plumb, United States senator from Kansas, was chosen per­manent chairman of the convention, and F. L. Dana of Denver was elected secretary. Of course, the principal object was to influence Con­gress to make an appropriation sufficient for the construction and main­tenance of a deep water harbor where the largest vessels could find safe anchorage. The subject was discussed at length. and resolutions urging an appropriation were adopted. As the resolutions show the trend of thought in the West at that time, they are given below: 

“Whereas, The general welfare of the country, in so far as it relates to navigable rivers, harbors and commerce, is committed by the consti­tution of the United States to the exclusive charge of Congress; and 

“Whereas, Cheap transportation of our commercial products consti­tutes one of the most important elements of the general welfare: “Whereas, The Congress has donated to private corporations more than $100,000,000 of money and upwards of 200,000.000 acres of our national lands with which to construct artificial, and therefore much more expensive highways, owned by private individuals, while they have neglected to make adequate appropriation for even one feasible harbor on the northwest coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which would not only afford very much cheaper transportation, but which, by our organic law, is under the exclusive care and control of Congress; and 

“Whereas, There can be no justification of this discrimination in favor of private highways, which, during the last year, cost the commerce of the West an enormous loss in transportation expense, estimated at more than $120,000,000, or upwards of $10,000,000 per month; therefore. 

“Resolved, first, That in reaffirmance of the action of the Denver con­vention, and of the committees organized thereunder, it is the sense of this convention that it is the duty of Congress to appropriate immediately and for immediate use, whatever amount is necessary to secure a deep water port on the northwest coast of the Gulf of Mexico, west of 93° 30′ west longitude, capable of admitting the largest vessels, at which the best and most accessible harbor can be secured and maintained in the shortest possible time, and at the least cost ; the time, place and cost to be ascertained from the board of engineers appointed under an act of Congress passed at its last session. 

“Resolved, second, That this convention, oon behalf of the people it represents, thanks the Congress of the United States for the prompt and satisfactory action heretofore taken in recognition of the requests of the Denver deep harbor convention.” 

The 51st Congress made a permanent appropriation of $6,200,000 for the development of a deep harbor at Galveston, and in Aug., 1895, the work was so far advanced that Gov. Culberson of Texas wrote to Gov. Morrill of Kansas, requesting him to call another deep water convention to meet at Topeka on Oct. I, 1895. Gov. Culberson also suggested in his letter the advisability of holding a great industrial exposition at Galves­ton, “to bring together the people and products of the West and encour­age Inter-American commerce.” 

Gov. Morrill accordingly issued the call for the convention. When it met at Topeka on Oct. 1, Senator George G. Vest of Missouri was made permanent chairman, and Thomas Richardson, secretary. The principal action of the convention was to authorize the appointment of a com­mittee, to consist of five members from each western state and three members from each territory, and to be known as the “permanent deep water utilization committee.” The purposes for which this committee was created were: to gather and disseminate information; to correspond with steamship lines and boards of trade; to secure freight rates; to pro­vide for an international exposition; to encourage the construction of north and south railroads; to call another convention or conference, and also to call an international commercial congress if it deemed advisable. Another deep water convention was held at Fort Smith, Ark., Dec. 15, 18<)6, but by that time railroad commissions had been established in several of the western states, and through the work of these commissions better freight rates had been secured on the railroads. Interest in the deep water project therefore waned, and after a short time the agitation ceased altogether. 

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