The Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad was formed in 1846, at a meeting in the Hannibal, Missouri law office of Mark Twain’s father John Marshall Clemens. Construction began in 1851, and when completed in 1859 it became the first rail line to cross the State of Missouri, running from Hannibal on the Mississippi River to St. Joseph on the Missouri. Initial construction funding had came from a state bond issue and Boston investors, but in 1852 Congress granted the Railroad 600,000 acres of land adjacent to its route (See this 1860 map showing the Railroad and grant.) This was in keeping with the Federal strategy of providing western railroads with massive land grants: The sale thereof would fund construction and operations while engaging the railroads as the government’s de facto agents in encouraging western settlement.
For modern collectors a happy side effect of this phenomenon was a flood of pamphlets, maps and broadsides issued by the railroads to promote sales of their granted lands. Offered here is one of the most spectacular examples I have seen, issued by the Hannibal & St. Joseph either during the latter half of the Civil War or soon thereafter.
The broadside leads with the announcement that “Missouri Is Free!” in patriotic lettering across the top, a reference to the violence between Unionist and Secessionist forces that plagued the state during the Civil War. The text goes on to tout “500,000 Acres of the Best Prairie, Timber, and Coal Lands in the West!,” situated in northern Missouri. The message is emphasized by a central vignette of a very prosperous-looking “Missouri Farmer’s Home in 1866” flanked by two “Photographic Views of Lands of the Company,” one featuring a passenger train chugging along the prairie, the other a pastoral scene. The small print offers land in lots of 40 acres or more, payable by cash, land bonds, or preferred stock, on two or ten years credit, at an average cost of under $10 per acre. The broadside also includes an exhortation that “Emigrants settling in Colonies will contribute greatly to each member’s advantage.”
The broadside is signed in print by “Land Commissioner” George S. Harris (1815-1874), the officer of the Railroad charged with the crucial task of selling off its land grants to investors and prospective settlers. His efforts on behalf of the Railroad were responsible for bringing a staggering 100,000 settlers to Missouri. In 1869 he moved on to the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, where he sold off another 360,000 of granted land before his death in 1874.
I have located no institutional holdings for this broadside and am aware of only one other to have appeared on the market, in comparable condition and sold at Cowan’s in 2013 for $19,975. A small advertising card with identical text and colors is held in the collection of the Missouri History Museum.
In all, an exceedingly rare and spectacular display piece reflecting the central role of the railroads in western expansion.