Page images

ada, stopped at the farm of the elder Hill and there dropped, as he rode away, a month-old newspaper. That paper boasted the untouched, virgin glories of the great Northwest and it set on fire the mind of the eighteen-year old boy, who picked it up. So strong was the call which the new empire made upon the boy, so compelling was the vision which it opened before him, that within the week he had borrowed the money to pay his fare and had started, driven by demons, to take possession of his kingdom.

One passes over the seventeen years during which the boy of eighteen was growing to be a man of thirty-five years. They were years spent from the first in learning at first hand the limitless resources of the land and in helping to make things move back and forth across its surface. Following the course of the Red River of the North, the little carts of the fur traders crept down to the central market in St. Paul. Each of them was drawn by a single ox and their two wheels were as high as a man's head. Where they had broken the surface of the soil Hill saw that the wild prairie grass grew twice as high as elsewhere. That proved to him the marvelous fertility of the country—waiting only cultivation—and the vision grew brighter. In the cold northern winter he tied on snowshoes and went out with Indian guides to explore the country. On dog sledges he rode far out into the wilderness, over the great flat table lands and up into the mountains. Thus he learned that the Indian trails had already found out passes and cuts through which it would be possible to build a railroad. And the vision took wings.

In '73, what by being the first to bring coal to St. Paul and the first to bring furs from Winnipeg on the wonderful Red River of the North, which runs between Minnesota and what are now the two Dakotas, he had accumulated a capital of $100,000. Beyond that he was now fully possessed of his vision and felt himself ready to set about its realization. He borrowed $400,000 from the bank of Montreal, which made the loan grudg- in particular. It was part of his vision ingly, and bought for half a million the that this country west of St. Paul should St. Paul & Pacific, a bankrupt railroad, be quickly filled with prosperous farms. which started at St. Paul and stretched But where were the men to come from away West for a few miles to nowhere who should till the land? They must be

[ocr errors]

able to stand the cold winters and strong bleak and forbidding, alone, unaided by and industrious to do the hard work. financial support from Washington ? The eye of the dreamer, guided by the But the Hill jaw was set and the deepbrain of the man who was born for the set Hill eyes were lit with superb selfgrand strategy of business, looked round confidence. In 1893 the Master of the the spinning globe and fixed itself upon Great Northern looked out, like Balboa, the Scandinavian peninsula. Forthwith upon the Pacific. It was the year of the trainloads of sturdy Swedes and Nor- great panic. He had realized his dream wegians crossed the Atlantic and settled just in time to be overwhelmed by the along the line of "Jim" Hill's little road, tidal wave of bankruptcy which swept the which the wise men had laughed at him country. The Northern Pacific fell back for buying.

gasping into the arms of a receiver. Most "This is a hard wheat belt," Hill told of the other transcontinental lines went the settlers. “Plant wheat."

down in the storm. But the Hill road They followed his advice and pros- had been buttressed with the fine strategy pered. But lean years came. Occasion of a great business general. From the ally the wheat crop was well nigh a fail- first he had planned so that, in case of ure. Then there was nothing to fill his necessity, his lines might almost live upon freight cars and that stood in the way the local traffic of the country through of making his dreams come true.

which they marched. And, more im“It was years ago,” Mr. Hill told me, portant still, he, alone among the rivals, "that I made up my mind something had found, in the giant trees of Puget must be done to keep the people along Sound, a dependable nail on which to our lines from being forced to depend on hang the steel chain which stretched a single crop. So I bought 900 Polled across the continent. Angus and Short Horn bulls and as many But, at first, the lumber of Puget thousand blooded swine and distributed Sound did not move eastward. The Hill them among the farmers. That got them freight cars, going West with supplies interested in stock raising and, as a re- and manufactured products, came back sult, the Great Northern handles more empty across the mountains. It costs cattle and hogs than any other line run- nearly as much to move an empty freight ning into St. Paul.”

car as one which is loaded. And a proBut how the wise men laughed at the cession of "empties” from the Pacific time that “Jim” Hill was giving away meant quick ruin. A committee of lumhis "black bulls !"

bermen were called to consult with the Six years later even his vast patience president of the Great Northern at St. could restrain itself no longer. He had Paul. The rate on lumber from Puget seen the huge forests which cover mil- Sound was sixty cents a hundred pounds. lions of acres about Puget Sound. To “The rate is too high," they told Hill. him that meant the irresistible widening “We cannot pay it and make a living of his vision-lumber-a tremendous profit.” freight traffic to the eastward.

"Well,” he asked, "what rate shall I “I shall build the Great Northern make you?” through to the Pacific coast at Puget “If you could cut it down to fifty Sound," he announced publicly. That, of cents?" they pleaded. course, was the supreme folly which The lower lip projected in its slow roused the loudest—and last risibilities smile and the dark eyes shone with the of the wise in their own conceit. To the light of far-seeing vision. South lay the Northern Pacific, a lusty "I will make the rate forty cents," he “infant industry," thick swaddled in huge said. “Go home and start the saw-mills." grants of land from the national govern- In a twinkling the Hill problem was ment; to the North the Canadian Pacific reversed. Such a flood of lumber was was being rushed through to the coast, loaded at Puget Sound that hundreds of backed also by large subsidies. How was freight cars for its carriage eastward, this dreamer to build a great line between had to be pulled empty across the Rockthem, through a country most men be- ies. The Pacific coast was a land of lieved to be half-sterile and altogether vast natural resources and, as it became

[ocr errors]

more thickly settled, its people manu- and notions of the people. They came back factured for themselves more and more and reported that the yellow people were of the products which Hill had at first desperately poor and had small need of brought them from eastern factories, Western luxuries or even what most men This cut down the West bound freight, call the necessities of life. at the same time that the lumber trade “Yes," said the Master, “but all men with the East was increasing in a geo- must eat, and wear something to cover metrical ratio.

their nakedness. We must send them our But the mind of the great business cotton and our flour. That shall furnish


strategist had long ago foreseen the the Western traffic to balance the lumber emergency and laid plans to meet it. He coming East." was well used to thinking in terms of By this time men laughed no longer. continents, for, when money had been They simply wondered. But one still needed by millions for the building of had his objection and he was fresh from “Hill's Folly," he had simply packed a the field. “The Japanese are satisfied country satchel, taken steamer and bor- with the short staple cotton from India,' rowed the required sums from conserva- he put in. tive old Dutch and German bankers on “Ours is better,” Hill answered and, bits of paper signed with the single name presently, when a party of Japanese capiof James J. Hill. Also he had seen, in a talists visited this country,he caught them vision, that the Norsemen were the fittest on the wing and made this proposal: "I settlers for his new empire and that will send you a cargo of our long staple dream had long ago proved its truth. So cotton. Use it to mix with the stuff you now his imagination had crossed the Pa- are now using. If it is not satisfactory I cific and pictured the swarming yellow will pay the bill.” So, in the face of millions on the far shores of that ocean Oriental prejudice, the trial was made. buying the goods which Great Northern And, since then, the shipments of raw steamers should bring them from the dis- cotton from the southern states to Asia tant Western terminus of the railroad on have approximated two hundred millions Puget Sound. Already Hill agents were of pounds in a single year, of which the at work in all the ports of China and Great Northern carries more than sevJapan, copying off the bills of lading of enty-five per cent over the mountains. coastwise junks and studying the needs But long before the dream of clothing

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

the yellow coolies had come so far true, Already the exports from the new the man was so sure of his vision that he cities on Puget Sound had passed those had put on the stocks for service on the which went out through the portals of Pacific the two greatest freight carrying the Golden Gate. And now from the steamships in the world, twin sisters so East came the menacing fulminations of enormous that their joint tonnage equals other great dreamers—though, born of that of whole fleets of modern freighters. Wall street frenzies, theirs were chiefly

He sent also a score of men to knock at visions of piratical exploitation. The the doors of New England cotton mills, gray old Emperor of the Northwest was drumming up trade with the far East, injuring their interests, which centered at and filling empty West bound Great San Francisco—meaning to them that Northern freight cars. In a few years the tremendous success of the Great the shipments of rough cotton cloths, fit Northern was inevitably and unintentionfor the clothing of the Chinese, who ally bearing their stocks and making bought, rather than manufactured, their profitable coups in the stock market diffiwearing apparel, was multiplied by six, cult. So these men set about teaching and Hill got most of them. The Great the frontiersman a bitter lesson in the Northern road was carrying also the hard New York art of high finance. wheat flour of the Northwest, by the mil- Hill needed no warning. He had dealt lion barrels to the great cargo ships on too much with other and more literal Puget Sound. And the lumber came Indians to mistake the signs of coming streaming back, inexhaustible. The Hill treachery and trouble. Perhaps he smiled freight cars were full both ways.

his slow smile as he sat at the old desk Now, one might well conclude, the far- and the deep-set eyes lit with the joy of thest limit of the man's vision had been battle. At any rate he took out of the reached. His great, new, silent empire, inexhaustible pocket-book he has seemed wrapped in drifts of snow, had been always able to command the vast sum of quickened into marvelous life. Across it two hundred million dollars and bought, swept the splendid trains of his railroad, out of hand, before the staring, increduthe only line across the continent which lous eyes of New York's craftiest, the has always stood on its own bottom, great Burlington railroad system, with its never passed a dividend or lost a cent nearly 9,000 miles of through trackage. for its stockholders. The dream of '56 He must, at whatever cost, make his was vastly more than realized.

just-realized vision a permanent reality. Possession of the Burlington gave Hill lision, a more than immovable body. his own markets in the greatest lumber- After each shock one sees still standing, consuming states of the Union; it gave unshaken and impregnable, the embodied him a base on the Great Lakes at Chicago reality of "Jim” Hill's early dream-his and terminals at St. Louis, Kansas City, loaded freight trains moving swiftly East Denver and the Black Hills. At Chicago · and West across the continent on unhe might load, on his own cars, goods broken lines—his great Empire growing brought from the East by train or lake ever richer and more imperial. boats; at St. Louis he made direct con- Only the other day, to celebrate his nections with roads which tapped the sixty-eighth birthday, Mr. Hill, by closgreat Southern cotton belt and made that ing a contract with the Steel Trust for part of his export business secure; the the mining of iron ore along the southother branches put him in close touch ern shore of Lake Superior, gave to the with the great packing houses, the smelt- stockholders of the Great Northern a ing furnaces and steel mills, the factories present of four hundred millions of doland farms of the whole middle West. lars, which vast sum will go to enrich

The sullen masters of the New York the children and grand-children of the stock market roused from their trance to men who, in the days when the wise were find that, at a single tremendous stroke, still laughing, proved their confidence in “Jim” Hill had not only won his own “Hill's Folly.” battle, but had, at the same potent in- But though to him, more than to any stant, dealt them a blow from which other, is due the prodigious development they have not yet recovered. And East of their country, one may hear among ern respect for the business strategy of sincere and prominent citizens of the the crude Northwest, as exemplified by great Northwest much savage criticism the grizzled old pioneer, became, direct- of the man and of his methods. Hill is ly, both deep and somewhat fearful. denounced as a relentless and domineer

How Hill has borne himself in the re- ing tyrant. To a large extent the charge lentless struggle which has raged since may be admitted. But his critics fail to then, sometimes beneath the surface and realize that the man could not have been sometimes in the public eye, men who other than he is and do his work. They read current newspapers have seen and fail to realize the compelling power of a pondered. It becomes apparent, that the vision which seizes the soul of a strong hitherto irresistible forces of Wall street man and drives him over all obstacles to manipulation have met, in head-on col- its realization.

« PreviousContinue »