Saturday, May 7, 2011

Capital Invested in Kirby Lumber and Houston Oil

Excerpt from Mitchell Charles Harrison, Prominent and Progressive Americans; An Encyclopædia of Contemporaneous Biography. (New York: New York Tribune, 1902).

John Henry Kirby, one of the prominent and representative business men of the South, is of English and Italian ancestry. On his father's side he is descended from Edmund Kirby, who, with his two brothers, all youths, came from England to Virginia about 1768. The three brothers were all soldiers in the Revolutionary army. Edmund Kirby married a daughter of William Shepherd, and settled in Stokes County, North Carolina, where a son, James Kirby, was born. The latter, growing up, married Elizabeth Longino, daughter of John Thomas Longino, an Italian nobleman who had been banished from Italy for political reasons and had married Mary Ransom of North Carolina. To James and Elizabeth Kirby was born a son, John Thomas Kirby, who was born in Kentucky, married Sarah Payne at Monticello, Mississippi, in 1841, and settled in Tyler County, Texas, in 1852, where he followed the occupation of a farmer.

To this latter couple the subject of this sketch was born, in Tyler County, Texas, on November 16, 1860. He was educated in the common schools of Tyler County, and at the Southwestern University at Georgetown, Texas. Until he was twenty years of age he worked upon his father's farm in the intervals of schooling.

He also taught a country school for a time, and was a clerk in the county Tax Office of Tyler County. Following the latter engagement he became for two years a clerk in the Texas State Senate. While in the Tax Office and the Senate clerkship he read law under S. B. Cooper, and in 1885, at the age of twenty-five years, he was admitted to practice at the bar. He entered upon the practice of his profession at Woodville, Tyler County, Texas, and there remained until 1890, when he removed to Houston, Texas.

This brief record of professional activity by no means, however, represents the doings of Mr. Kirby's busy life. In 1886 he was professionally engaged by a wealthy citizen of Boston, Massachusetts, to look after some small interests in Texas which were then in litigation. He persuaded his patron and client to invest extensively in Texas timber-lands, he sharing in the enterprise.

The outcome of the venture was most profitable, and Mr. Kirby was encouraged to continue in the lumber business, and has done so down to the present time with marked success, being now president of the Kirby Lumber Company, a corporation with $10,000,000 capital.

His lumber enterprises naturally led Mr. Kirby into other important undertakings, especially the construction of railroads.

In 1893, when the business of the whole country was suffering from acute depression, he began the construction of the Gulf, Beaumont & Kansas City Railroad, running into the heart of the pine-lumber country. Seven years later the completed road was sold to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and now forms part of its great system, which affords to eastern Texas a highway to the North and Central West of great practical value.

Mr. Kirby is still a practicing lawyer, at the head of the leading Houston firm of Kirby, Martin & Eagle. Besides being president of the Kirby Lumber Company above mentioned, he is president of the Planters' and Mechanics' National Bank of Houston, with $200,000 capital, and vice-president of the Gulf, Beaumont & Kansas City Railroad, of the Gulf, Beaumont & Northern Railroad, and of the Beaumont Wharf & Terminal Company. He is a director of the Houston Electric Street Railway Company, and also of the Houston Oil Company, a corporation with $30,000,000 capital. These various business activities have left Mr. Kirby no time even to think of engaging in politics, though he is one of the most popular citizens of the State. He is a member of the Houston Club of Houston, Texas, and of the Manhattan Club of New York city. He also belongs to the Magnolia Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, to the Washington Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, to the Ruthven Commandery of Knights Templar, to the Scottish Rite Masons of the Thirty-second Degree, to the Houston Lodge of Elks, and to the Knights of Pythias.

He was married in early life — on November 14, 1883, when he was only twenty-three years old — to Miss Lelia Stewart, at Woodville, Texas. They have one child, Miss Bessie May Kirby, who was born in 1886.

Speaking of the affairs of Mr. Kirby's big lumber company, one of the directors recently said:
"The Kirby Lumber Company has already purchased five sawmills having an annual aggregate sawing capacity of 250,000,000 feet. We have contracted for others and will probably require an additional 100,000,000 feet of capacity through mills which we now have under contract. In addition to this, the company purposes to build five or more large mills in the big forest, having an annual capacity of 150,000,000 feet. This will bring the output of the Kirby Lumber Company up to more than 1,000,000 feet per day.
"The chief weakness of the lumber business in the eastern Texas district up to the present time has been that there was no concern here, prior to the organization of the Kirby Lumber Company, big enough to take care of the business. We are now preparing to take anything that comes, and we expect to supply promptly not only the domestic trade, but to take desirable large business from abroad. Through economies of management we expect to reduce the cost of production, at the same time increasing our facilities for distribution, so that we will be prepared to compete for the business of the whole world, no matter where the market may lie. Three of our mills are in Beaumont and two in Orange. Two other mills in Orange will be forced to stop their saws and to go out of business because we now own the forest from which they would have to draw their supply of timber."


Cadwell Walton Raines, Year Book for Texas. Vol. II. (Austin, Tex: Gammel-Statesman Pub. Co, 1903).

The past is the reason for the present and prophet for the future. The romance, the chivalry, the suffering, the toil, the great accomplishments, the failures, and all the complex incidents of former days that constitute the inspiring and monitory substance of Texas history live now only upon the printed page, in musty archives, in the memories of a few aged persons, and in results.

To those who have gone before the State is indebted for its system of laws, and the inception of its expanding institutions, and the unobstructed field for further progress that lies out before it ; but, by far their greatest bequest has been their sons — the native-born Texans who are now rapidly assuming the parts of principal actors in the deepening and unfolding drama of Texas progress.

While perhaps not far distant, the time has not yet arrived for Texas-born United States senators ; but one ex-governor of Texas, several members of the United States House of Representatives, State Legislature, higher courts, and University of Texas and other college faculties, and many of the leading figures in business circles are native to the soil.

It may be truthfully said that of the men of prominence born in Texas, the one most widely known and whose labors promise the greatest material good to the State, is the able lawyer and financier who has been selected as the subject of this memoir.

John H. Kirby was born in Tyler county, Texas, November 16, 1860; the son of John Thomas Kirby and Mrs. Sarah (Payne) Kirby, who moved to Texas from Mississippi in 1850 and now live on the old homestead (2000 acres of land) near Chester. His parents were married at Monticello, Miss., in 1841, and celebrated the sixty-first anniversary of that event December 18, 1902. His father, born in Kentucky, February 4, 1821, was sheriff of Tyler county, Texas, in 1860-1, served gallantly as a Confederate soldier during the war between the States, and then resumed farming, which he has subsequently followed. His mother is a daughter of the late Nelson Payne, of Copiah county, Mississippi.

The Kirby family is of English descent. Three brothers of the name came to America before the revolution of 1775-83, and served in the Continental army. After the close of the war for independence, one of the number, Edmund Kirby, moved to Virginia, there married Mary Shepherd, and then moved with his wife to Stokes county, North Carolina, where James Kirby was born. James Kirby married Elizabeth Longino, daughter of John Thomas Longino, an Italian nobleman who was banished from Italy in 1773. To them was born John Thomas Kirby, father of John H. Kirby. The Longinos have contributed a number of distinguished men to the country, among others, Hon. Houston Longino, the present governor of Mississippi.

Mr. Kirby was educated in the common schools of Tyler county, the high school of that county at Woodville, and the Southwestern University at Georgetown, earning the money to pay his tuition and other expenses.

He was united in marriage to Miss Lelia Stewart, daughter of the late John W. Stewart, at Woodville, in 1883, and has one child, a daughter, Miss Bessie May, now seventeen years of age.

It is a common experience that when hardships are long past, we derive pleasure instead of pain from viewing them in perspective — the inconvenience or suffering they caused no longer harasses, and the humorous side, which at the time was not evident, becomes apparent; witness the fireside tales of pioneers, soldiers, seamen, and men now wealthy, but who were once poor. This is true in Mr. Kirby's case as in that of others. He recalls with much zest the fact that when he married he did not have enough money to commence housekeeping, and that he obtained it by serving as a committee clerk in the Eighteenth Legislature, and working in the office of the county clerk of Tyler county. While so engaged he read law in the office of Hon. S. B. Cooper, at Woodville, and was admitted to the bar in 1885. He secured law business from the beginning and was soon in independent circumstances, and in 1896 was compelled to retire from practice to attend to the large industrial interests of which he had become the directing head.

He has been a delegate to every State Democratic convention held since 1882, and has taken an active interest in public affairs, not as an office-seeker, but to aid in securing party success and its concomitant — good government.

In every great undertaking having for its object the upbuilding of Texas and the Southwest, his services have been demanded in a leading capacity and freely given.

At this writing he is president of the Trans-Mississippi Commercial Congress and President of the Texas World's Fair Commission.

He became a Master Mason in 1881, a Royal Arch Mason in 1882, a Knight Templar in 1888, a Scottish Rite 32d Degree Mason in 1890, a Knight of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Mystic Shrine in 1902, a member of the Knights of Pythias fraternity in 1888, and a member of the Benevolent Order of Elks in 1889.

Religiously, he is of the Episcopal persuasion.

He is tall, and somewhat athletically built, his features regular, his eyes blue, bright, clear and steady; his manner decided, but courteous and kindly, and his bearing and conversation, while unaffected, such as would mark him in any society as a man of distinction and a gentleman — defining the latter term to mean one who, in those respects, and in adherence to the principles of honor, may have equals, but can have no superior.

Speaking of him the "American Lumberman", the great trade journal published at Chicago, says: "Shortly after beginning the practice of law Dame Fortune knocked at his door and was bidden to enter.

Some Boston parties were in trouble about a land deal and needed the services of an attorney to settle the matter. The same energetic traits that had made an attorney of the farmer boy won this important case for him. They won far more. The confidence of the Eastern capitalists was gained and resulted in the formation of the Texas and Louisiana Land and Lumber Company. This was in 1886. From this time until the present Mr. Kirby's career has been signalized by the formation of company after company for the exploitation of the rich resources of eastern Texas. The first lumber company organized was for the purpose of manufacturing lumber and purchasing timber lands. This was followed by the launching of the Texas Pine Lands Association, of which corporation he became general manager.

[Frederick Gray and Samuel T. [Torrey] Morse both invested in the Texas and Louisiana Land and Lumber Company, which was established in February, 1887 to purchase timber land in Texas and Louisiana and sell the stumpage to saw mills in the area. Papers related to the company consist of the charter, stockholder bulletins, maps of the land owned, lists of stockholders, and letters to Samuel T. Morse, from N. D. Silbee, the president of the company, and Horatio R. Fletcher....The family real estate papers relate primarily to five properties in Boston: 34 Chauncey Street, Nos. 4 and 5 Dock Square, and Nos. 55 and 57 Commercial Street, a house on Marlborough Street, and a house on Mount Vernon Street. They also relate to Samuel T. Morse’s summer house in Beverly, Mass. Papers include leases, work agreements, accounts and bills for work completed, receipts for rent collected, and insurance policies on the properties. The papers also include Samuel Morse’s lease for his house on Marlborough Street, Henry L. Morse’s lease for his house on Park Square, and Eliakim Morse’s records of land agreements and an insurance policy on his house on Galen Street.
Excerpt from July 12, 1910 New Hampshire newspaper
Society Leaders Form a Bucket Brigade and Fight Flames
Beverly Farms, Mass., July 12.—Major Henry L. Higginson, head of the Boston banking firm of Lee, Higginson & Co., attired in evening clothes, headed fifty odd members of the social set of the exclusive North Shore in a valiant fight against a fire which caused $15,000 damage to the estate of Mrs. Samuel T. Morse here last night. Rushing to the scene in automobiles in response to telephone calls from Miss Frances R. Morse, who discovered the fire, these society leaders, the majority of them in evening clothes, formed a bucket brigade, and through their heroic work as firemen saved the manor house of the estate.]
"His interests became so great that in 1890, in order to be able to see people and to be seen by them, he moved to Houston, where he has resided ever since. He was then thirty years of age and was at the head of two of the largest timber companies in Texas.

"The difficulties and loss caused by the logging methods then in operation, as well as the immense quantities of timber that were inaccessible on account of lack of transportation facilities, next attracted his attention. In 1893 he conceived and carried to successful termination the building of the Gulf, Beaumont & Kansas City Railway, which penetrated the heart of the eastern Texas pine district. The force of his character is shown by this accomplishment. The panic of the succeeding years carried many of the strongest institutions in the country to the wall, but the road was built. How? is a question that few understand.

Even those engaged with him in the enterprise scarcely know how the money for carrying out the plans was obtained. The road, when sold to the Santa Fe system, ran north from Beaumont a distance of about seventy-five miles, and right of way had been secured for its completion to San Augustine and thence to Center, fifty miles further to the north. The road is today a part of the Santa Fe system and is a substantial dividend payer.

"It was after disposing of the railroad that the great scheme of Eastern Texas was presented to his mind. This embodied nothing less than the purchase of the various tracts of timber lands then on the market in East Texas. He had confidence in his plans, and inspired a confidence in the minds of his associates which has since been amply justified by results. The timber lands purchased during the panicky times of 1893-96 are today worth many times the prices paid for them.

"Capitalists were tired of holding as an investment tracts of timber that were apparently depreciating in value every day. It was Mr. Kirby's chance to buy timber and get it at his own figure. He continued to purchase as long as there was any offered for sale, regardless of the expressions of others that he would go to smash with the timber which had proven a burden to former owners. The plans for uniting his vast holdings were then in process of formation. He would form a lumber company able to take contracts for bills of timber and deliver them to any part of the world, a company that would be able to fill any order, regardless of its magnitude.

"His plans, together with the resources he was willing to put up as an expression of his faith in them, were laid before critical Eastern capitalists, and the result was the formation of a $10,000,000 lumber company. Ready cash was needed in large quantities, but was forthcoming, and has been ever since when necessary. The company now owns and operates the mills of what were previously fourteen companies, viz, The Reliance Lumber Company, the Texas Tram and Lumber Company, the Beaumont Lumber Company, all of Beaumont; the Bancroft Lumber Company, of Orange, Texas; Texas Pine Lands Association, of Silsbee, Texas; Yellow Pine Tie and Timber Company, of Lillard, Texas; Cow Creek Tram Company, of Call, Texas; Kirby Lumber Company, of Kirbyville, Texas; Roganville Lumber Company, of Roganville, Texas; J. F. Keith Company, of Sharon, Texas; Village Mills Lumber Company, of Village, Texas; Southwestern Lumber Company, of Mobile, Texas"; Doucette & Chapman Mills, of Woodville, Texas, and the T. H. Hackney Lumber Company, of Menard, Texas."

He was the leading spirit in the formation of the Houston Oil Company, which owns the lands and timber which have been contracted for by the Kirby Lumber Company. This concern has been capitalized at $30,000,000," and has assets to its credit of nearly $50,000,000, mostly in yellow pine stumpage, though owning and controlling some of the best oil lands and oil interests in Texas. The main body of the company's holdings lies in the famous Neches valley, celebrated for its fine timber lands and good oil prospects.

Timber and oil lands are owned in fee simple in Jefferson, Liberty, Hardin, Tyler, Newton, Jasper, Sabine, Polk, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Aransas, and a number of other counties. After the formation of the company it entered into a stumpage contract with John H. Kirby for the sale to him of 8,000,000,000 [8 billion?] feet of longleaf yellow pine timber. Under this contract a tree unless capable of producing a log twelve inches in diameter at the small end shall not be cut. This contract with Mr. Kirby as an individual was assigned, with the consent of the Houston Oil Company, to the Kirby Lumber Company, the latter obligating itself to be bound by the same restrictions imposed upon the original vendee."

The mills now owned by the Kirby Lumber Company are capable of producing about 350,000,000 feet of merchantable lumber each year.

The construction of additional mills is contemplated, until a capacity of 500,000,000 feet annually is reached. Under the scientific forestry methods adopted, the forests owned by this company will increase rather than diminish in value as the years go by.

The affairs of the Kirby Lumber Company are directed by its general officers from its home in Houston. When the company was launched the offices occupied the second floor of the Planters and Mechanics Bank on Main Street, but these quarters soon became too small, and shortly afterwards the sales and accounting departments were given an entire floor on Franklin Street. The two offices are connected by a rear passage, which practically puts all the offices on one floor, as the distance traversed by the passage-way is short. Many of the heads of departments retain their private quarters in the bank building, and there also is located the main general office of the Houston Oil Company. In every enterprise with which Mr. Kirby has been connected, he has accomplished what was expected of him and earned the highest eulogiums from his friends and co-workers. He was receiver of the Houston Electric Railway, and with skill and judgment put that company's affairs into splendid shape. He is at the head of the Southwestern Oil Company, a producer, refiner and distributor of oil, with headquarters in Houston and branches in all the principal cities of Texas ; and, in addition, lie has various other interests, not the least of which are in connection with recently located Texas oil fields. Among positions held by him, he is president of the Kirby Lumber Company, president of the Planters and Mechanics National Bank of Houston, president of the Southwestern Oil Company, and until recently president of the First National Bank of Austin.

The first National Bank of Austin closed its doors August 4, 1901, with several hundred thousand dollars of the State's money in its vaults. This money came there under the operation of a system of collecting drafts sent to the State treasury that had been in vogue for more than twenty years and the danger attending which no one suspected until this denouement. Those owning an interest in the institution expressed a willingness to do all in their power to protect the collections made for the State and the deposits of private individuals. The affairs of the bank, however, were in a bad and much tangled condition — hopeless, unless some man of great financial genius, broad patriotism, devoted and unselfish attachment to the Democratic party, and large means could be found to straighten them.

The Governor and the Legislature (then in session) turned at once to Mr. Kirby as the man. They were not disappointed in his ability, love for the State, or party fealty. Surveying the situation, his brain at once found a solution of the difficulties. In accordance with the plan he suggested, the bank was reopened under an arrangement submitted in a message by Governor Sayers and authorized by the Legislature, and in a few months paid in installments all of the money due the State, and shortly thereafter had in its vaults cash to the credit and subject to sight checks of all depositors, to the full amount due them. To accomplish this Mr. Kirby was made president of the bank.

The good work was later continued by him. He was determined to stop at nothing short of putting the affairs of the bank in a thoroughly healthy condition, establishing the most conservative and safest methods of management, restoring public confidence in it, and building up a large, paying and constantly growing business for it.

These objects attained, he resigned the presidency May 27, 1903, and Mr. J. L. Hume was elected to succeed him. At the same time Mr. A. S. Vandervoort resigned the position of cashier and Mr. Geo. L. Hume was elected in his stead.

The "Austin Statesman" of May 28th contained the following:

To a reporter of The Statesman, who saw Mr. Kirby at the Driskill last night, he said:
"It is true that I have sold a part of my stock in the bank. I did so because it is not at all convenient for me to give personal attention to the management, and I have confidence that the Messrs. Hume will achieve flattering success in its administration. The institution is thoroughly sound and is growing rapidly. I still retain quite a large interest in the bank, and it was not so much to realize upon my holdings as it was to relieve myself of the responsibility of the management that I have disposed of a part of my shares. Having accomplished my primary purpose, viz., the protection of the State treasury by assuming control of this bank, and having placed it, through the favor of the commercial community, on a thrifty basis, there is no reason why I should remain longer in control of its current business. The bank is a winner, and I have confidence in its future.
"Mr. A. S. Vandervoort was seen at the bank, and in reply to The Statesman's inquiries, said the negotiations had been under way but a short time.
"The truth is", he said, "Mr. Kirby has large interests all over Texas. He believes in his State. He opened this bank more from motives of patriotism, and to aid certain of his friends, than to make money for himself. The venture, however, like everything else he undertakes, has been entirely successful. I came here at his instance. My reception by the people of Austin has been most gratifying. I expect to remain here for some time looking after Mr. Kirby's investments and may stay permanently. I shall continue as a director, and as a member of the finance committee, unless my duties take me elsewhere. * * *
"Upon his return from New York in the fall of 1901, after having financed the Kirby Lumber Company, Mr. Kirby was the recipient of a monster demonstration, the counterpart of which has never been given to Another Texan. Representative citizens of the State, as well as the city of Houston, assembled to do honor to the man and the occasion. On the evening of November 12, 1901, there were gathered in the parlors of the Rice Hotel at Houston, men not only from all parts of Texas, but from the leading cities of the Union. Among the speakers was Governor Joseph D. Sayers.
The demonstration came as a complete surprise to Mr. Kirby, and will linger long in the memory of all present.

He has not amassed his fortune from the wreck of others. His is a creative genius, not a destroying power. He has enriched, not impoverished, those with whom he has been associated.

It has been said that generations succeed one another like shadows on the grass? — that, compared with the endlessness of time, they are as fleeting as moisture upon a mirror ; but, it is well to remember that these statements are only partially true — true as to rapidity of succession and brevity of duration, but false as to want of substantiality and as to failure to leave behind anything of a permanent nature, and false, also, in the lesson they are intended to inculcate, viz., the uselessness and want of value of effort.

Survey the world as it is, contrast it with the period of the prehistoric cave-dwellers, and realize the immensity of what has been accomplished during the interval as the race has struggled bravely upward through the ages, mounting to higher planes, and these facts are apparent.

The idle and aimless dreamer, the world-weary cynic, the selfish plodder, the person of little faith, and the heir of wealth contenting himself with being a mere votary of pleasure have had no part in bringing to pass by steady accretion, the results that are everywhere apparent.

Not melancholy, soliloquizing Hamlets, but stout-hearted Fortinbras (capable men of action, troubled with no ghostly visions) are those who have pushed forward the lines of human advancement from one coign of vantage to another, until the race has at last deployed into the light of the twentieth century, buoyant, virile, and intrepid, conquering and to conquer.

Blessed as this generation is, its responsibilities are correspondingly great. It has much to do. It has great need of men such as John H. Kirby, and should properly value them, for upon their shoulders have fallen the mantles of the builders and valiant ones of old.

Texas proudly acknowledges him as a favorite son.


Excerpt from American Lumberman, "The Personal History and Public and Business Achievements of One Hundred Eminent Lumbermen of the United States", Second Series, pp. 385-388. American Lumberman, (Chicago, 1906).

Patience, perseverance and conservatism are the most prominent of the business traits of J. Frank Keith, of Beaumont, Texas, and make up what is really the key chord of his successful career in public and private life. Jehu Franklin Keith or Frank Keith, as his friends know him is the first son and third child of Henry Cortez De Soto Fayette Keith and Sarah Elizabeth La Porte Keith, and was born in Jasper County, Texas, December 18, 1857. His father was born in Decatur, Georgia, and his mother in Monroe County, Alabama. His paternal grandfather was of Irish descent and took a prominent part in the stirring scenes of the Revolutionary War, particularly those which were enacted on South Carolina soil. He was a patriot and soldier and, as his son's name indicates, was an admirer of men who did things. The grandmother was of French descent and came from that sturdy Huguenot stock that has made Georgia famous in song and story. Mr. Keith's maternal grandfather, John La Porte, was born on the Atlantic Ocean while his parents were en route from France to the United States. The maternal grandmother's maiden name was Hannah Mims Smith and she was born in Alabama.

The parents of J. Frank Keith migrated from Alabama to Texas and settled at Pinetucky, in Jasper County, in the fall of 1854. The country was a wilderness and the pioneer in those days had to carve his way in the forest with such resources as were at his command. With his own hands Henry Keith cut the logs in the woods, built a house, cleared a small farm and became a progressive citizen. When Frank was twelve years old his father died and the responsibility of helping to make a living devolved upon him. There were few schools in those days and all the education the boy received did not exceed six months in duration. The first job he had was sitting on one of the old-fashioned gin levers and driving the horses around and around, day after day. He inherited from his ancestors an inclination to follow the sea, but gave up this desire to please his mother.

When fifteen years old he went to Beaumont, where he began bunching shingles for Long & Co. and devoted several hours each night to the study of the few school books he possessed. After working in the shingle mills six months as general roustabout, he was promoted successively to the positions of engineer, saw filer and foreman. During these days in the mill he learned every detail of each operation, and today not a man in his employ knows more than he about any piece of machinery and how it should be run. In 1875 Long & Co. bought what was known as the old Black mill on the Sabine River, a short distance below Orange, and put Mr. Keith in charge. The mill cut ties, stringers and other heavy timber for the Texas & New Orleans Railroad, then being built from Orange to Beaumont. The mill was moved to Beaumont in the early part of 1876 and afterward became the property of the Beaumont Lumber Company. Mr. Keith remained with the mill and in 1881 superintended the building of a mill for his employers at Village Mills, Hardin County, on the Sabine & East Texas Railway, now the Southern Pacific.

In order to be abreast of the development of the lumber industry, Long & Co. decided to widen their business scope and organized the Tram & Lumber Company, in Beaumont, which later was changed to the Texas Tram & Lumber Company, and subsequently took over the property of the Eagle mill at Beaumont, which had been built by Smith & Scale. The property was consolidated with the holdings at Village Mills and a tram road to Yellow Bluff, in Jasper County, in 1889. Mr. Keith was elected vice president and general manager of the new concern, which for several years was one of the largest lumber and timber enterprises in the State.

Mr. Keith held this position with credit to himself and profit to the company until 1898, when he left the Texas Tram & Lumber Company to embark in business for himself. With Colonel Sam Park, now president of the Industrial Lumber Company, of Beaumont, he organized the J. F. Keith Company, which has for its main purpose the operating of a line of vessels between Texas ports and the principal ports of the West Indies and Mexico. Colonel Park soon sold his interest to B. R. Norvell, and at about the same time the J. F. Keith Company bought the interest of the Consolidated Lumber Export Company, the principal asset of which was a lumber yard and large sheds and wharves at Tampico, Mexico. In addition to this purchase the Keith company bought a big sawmill at Ariola, then owned by the Hooks Lumber Company, and the great lumber tonnage of this mill was added to the business carried on with the Mexican and West Indian ports. In 1901, upon his own terms, Mr. Keith, in behalf of his company, sold the entire property to the Kirby Lumber Company. Mr. Keith had a varied experience while he was engaged in the maritime business between southeast Texas and Mexico. During this period, he visited all the principal ports along Mexico's Gulf coast.

In 1902 Mr. Keith organized the Keith Lumber Company, with headquarters at Beaumont, in the Keith Building, on Pearl Street, of which company he is president and general manager. About 100,000,000 feet of timber is owned. The mill of the company is at Voth, on the Sabine division of the Southern Pacific, and is one of the largest and best mills in southeastern Texas. It has a daily cutting capacity of 80,000 feet, has a number of planers and edgers, four dry kilns and eight miles of first-class standard gauge tramroad. This tram road has been incorporated under the name of the Beaumont & Saratoga Transportation Company, of which Mr. Keith is vice president and general manager, and is building steadily toward the oil fields of Saratoga, in Hardin County. Associated with Mr. Keith in the mill operations are W. A. Fletcher, W. C. Tyrrell, B. R. Norvell, J. H. Broom, E. A. Fletcher and L. E. Ingram, who are also the principal stockholders in the railroad company.

Other important enterprises of Beaumont, with which Mr. Keith is connected, and his relations to them are as follows: Director in the Beaumont Ice, Light & Refrigerating Company; director in the American National Bank; director in the Heisig & Norvell Wholesale Grocery Company; president of the Park Bank & Trust Company; director in the Andrus-Park Grocer Company. He is also a stockholder and director in the Beaumont, Sour Lake & Western Railway, which runs from Beaumont to Sour Lake and which will be extended westward. He is the owner of some of the most valuable and desirable property in the city where he makes his home.

Mr. Keith married Miss Alice Carroll, the daughter of F. L. Carroll, one of the principals in the Long & Co. lumber enterprise, March 29, 1882. The union has been singularly happy, and five children make the home circle complete. They are as follows: Mrs. C. A. Easley, W. C. Keith, Olga Keith, Azille Keith and Alice Keith.

Mr. Keith is a member of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, the Woodmen of the World and the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo. 

Olga Keith would grow up to marry Harry Carothers Weiss, also from Beaumont, who settled his family in Houston and became a founder of Humble Oil Company (later named Exxon). Co-founders included W.S. Farish, J.S. Blaffer, Ross Sterling and Fondren.

The "Eastern capitalists" who invested in John Henry Kirby's lumber company were Gray and Morse of Boston. In 1848 Samuel Torrey Gray had married Harriet Jackson Lee, a member of the family of Henry and Mary Jackson Lee, and whose siblings included:
  • Mary Cabot Lee (wife of George Higginson), mother of George Higginson, Jr., Henry Lee Higginson, James Jackson Higginson, Mary Lee Higginson Blake and Francis Lee Higginson.
  • Henry Lee (married to Elizabeth Perkins Cabot)
  • Francis L. Lee
  • Elizabeth Cabot Lee (Mrs. Charles Eliot) Ware
Henry Lee Higginson was born in New York City on November 18, 1834, the second child of George and Mary (Cabot Lee) Higginson. When he was four years old, his father—who operated a small commission merchant business with his cousin—lost a great deal of money in the great panic of 1837 and moved the family to a smaller home in Boston. Here Henry was raised in a pleasant home with his three brothers and one sister, and enjoyed jokes and pranks with his friends Charles Russell Lowell, Jr. and James Savage, Jr. They skated and played at the Boston Commons or in the little court at Bedford Place where they lived.

In 1846, Henry entered the Boston Latin School and did fairly well, though constant colds and headaches interfered with his work. After one year at a private school, he was sent back to the Latin School where he fared much better. At 15 years of age, Henry lost his mother to tuberculosis in August 1849. Though her loss was devastating, his father raised the children himself, and the family got along as best as they could.

Following his graduation from the Latin School in 1851, Henry began attending Harvard College, but six months later his eyes grew weak. He was sent to Europe—a common prescription for this type of condition during the time—and placed under the guardianship of Reverend Eliot of Northampton, Massachusetts who also was staying overseas. During this first trip abroad, Henry developed a taste for music that had been "nourished by a few concerts in Boston and by the opera" prior to his departure. Henry's fondness of music flourished after attending several operas in London, England and in Germany.

By 1853 Henry's eyes improved, but much to his father's dismay he expressed his desire to pursue a career as a musician. Upon returning to Boston in March 1855, Henry's father secured a position for him at the India Wharf where he worked as the company's sole clerk and bookkeeper. To relieve his boredom during this period of his life, Henry attended parties and made new friends and acquaintances. He also spent a lot of time with his friends and classmates Charles, James, and Stephen Perkins, discussing current events and topics such as slavery.
When the class of 1855 graduated from Harvard, Henry—who did not complete all of his coursework—did not graduate with them, though he attended the festivities. Following a year-and-a-half's work in the office on the wharf, Henry received an unexpected inheritance from an uncle and in November 1856 returned to Europe with Stephen and another friend. Charles eventually joined the trio abroad, after recovering from an illness to his lungs.

In the following year, the October 1857 panic threatened financial ruin for businessmen in the states and Henry reconsidered his plans for remaining overseas with his friends. He offered to surrender his musical ambitions and return home to assist his father in the stock brokerage house of Lee, Higginson and Co., but his father reassured him otherwise.
  Henry's class photo, 1855
Henry's class photo of 1855 from Bliss Perry's book, image courtesy of Brian Pohanka.
A few months later, Henry's dreams of becoming a musician ended following a visit to the doctor for a severe headache of three days' duration. A bloodletting session caused his left arm to become lame, and though he continued practicing and playing the piano for another year in Vienna, Austria, the arm never fully healed.

With his hopes for a musical occupation no longer foreseeable, Henry contemplated a career as a wine merchant, then considered a clerkship in a wholesale drug business. As he searched for a practical occupation suited to his liking, unrest erupted on the home front in America. A day before his 26th birthday in November 1860, Henry set sail once more for Boston.
From an Infantryman to a Cavalryman
Returning home to Boston, Henry spent the winter confined to his father's house on Chauncy Street with a sprained foot, patiently seeking opportunities for employment as the outlook grew increasingly dim. All the while tension steadily mounted between various groups of citizens, culminating in the firing upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

One by one, Henry's friends enlisted in the army, and it was not long before he also joined them. On May 11, 1861, Higginson was mustered in Colonel George H. Gordon's 2nd Massachusetts Regiment as second lieutenant of Company D. Jim Savage already had been appointed captain, and other friends of Henry's who had enlisted in this regiment were: Greely Curtis (Captain of Company B), Charles F. Morse (First Lieutenant), Henry S. Russell (First Lieutenant), William D. Sedgwick (First Lieutenant), Robert Gould Shaw (Second Lieutenant in Company F), Richard Cary (Captain of Company G), and Stephen Perkins (Second Lieutenant).

The men of Company D were drilled at Brook Farm (renamed Camp Andrew for Governor John A. Andrew), and officers recited their lessons daily to the lieutenant colonel. On July 8, Higginson was commissioned first lieutenant, the same day the regiment headed to Boston. From Boston they moved on to New York, and finally reached their destination of Hagerstown, Maryland. Three days later, the troops crossed the Potomac and started for Winchester, Virginia to face General Joseph E. Johnston's men. However, on the event of the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run) on the 21st, the 2nd Massachusetts was ordered to hold the nearby town of Harpers Ferry. Though the Union army suffered a great defeat at Manassas, Lieutenant Higginson philosophically believed the eventual outcome would be good for the men.

The following month, the 2nd Massachusetts was spared the defeat the Union army faced at the Battle of Ball's Bluff on October 21. They witnessed the aftermath of this disaster for their friends of 20th Massachusetts, better known as the "Harvard Regiment." Among those killed in this battle was William Putnam, cousin of Charles and James Jackson Lowell—the latter who also was wounded in combat, but survived. With Putnam's death, Higginson experienced his first great loss in the war. William had been a friend—he and Henry had traveled abroad in Europe in happier times. As the reality of war set in, and the trials of daily life weighed heavily upon him, Higginson came to terms with his dissatisfaction of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry and requested a transfer.

On October 31, 1861, Higginson and Greely Curtis received commissions in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry as a captain and major, respectively. They resigned from the infantry and departed for Boston to enlist with the new regiment that was to be mustered in. But Higginson would not become an active member of the unit any time soon, much to his disappointment. Having contracted typhoid fever, Higginson was not able to join his new comrades in camp at Readville until December.

When he arrived in camp as senior captain of Company A, Higginson faced the challenging task of disciplining these men, as some of them were prize-fighters. However, with his superb social and leadership skills he earned the respect of his men. On Christmas Day, the First Battalion (comprised of Companies A, B, C, and D) under Major Curtis, departed for Annapolis, Maryland, expecting to join General Ambrose Burnside's expedition to North Carolina. But after drilling for a few weeks, they were instead ordered to join the troops under the command of General David Hunter on Beaufort Island off the coast of South Carolina.

Higginson was commissioned major on March 26, 1862, a deserved promotion he did not expect. In addition to working well with the men, as a cavalry officer he discovered that he had an affinity for working with horses and came up with clever names for them such as "Rats-in-a-barrel." Higginson particularly enjoyed participating in horse races the men had in camp, riding his best mount "Rats" in competitions.
Among the First of the Fallen
In July 1862, Higginson and his friends received tragic news about James Lowell. While leading his company across an open field during the Union army's retreat in the Battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862, James was shot in the abdomen. Having survived his wound at Ball's Bluff, he would not be fortunate a second time. Lowell died on July 4, calmly accepting death and hoping this was acceptable to his friends.

By mid-August Company A finally was ordered North. Higginson expressed optimism and enthusiasm for the whole of the Union army. Unbeknownst to him however, only days before on August 9 his friends and comrades of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry had been dealt a blow by General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's troops at Cedar Mountain. This engagement found the 2nd Massachusetts experiencing their baptism of fire, and Major James Savage and Lieutenant Stephen Perkins were among the casualties.

Savage's right arm and leg had been severely shattered by two minié balls. After the battle he was captured and taken prisoner then died a week later, following the amputation of his leg. Reverend Francis Tiffany, an agent of the Sanitary Commission, said of Savage: "Of all the officers I ever saw, Major Savage was the noblest Christian gentleman." Perkins, who had been wounded in the hand during combat, remained in action to continue the fight and was found dead after the battle, his body pierced by three bullets. Charles Francis Adams, Jr. of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry wrote about Perkins in his diary, and later in his memoirs: "Stephen Perkins is reported dead...the ablest man I ever knew, the finest mind I ever met, is lost forever.... I realized that a place was made vacant in my circle not again to be filled."

Upon learning about the death of his friends, Higginson was devastated. In his boyhood days, Stephen had written to Henry words that would now bear greater significance to him in retrospect: "I wonder whether we shall go on constantly expecting life to unfold itself, and the great possibilities to appear in us and outside of us, until we are surprised that death has come for us, when we hardly seem to ourselves to have lived."

Throughout autumn and winter, a mood of gloom as grey as the weather hung about the camp. With dissention prevailing in the ranks, Higginson admonished his brother Jim against entering the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. But the younger, naïve sibling took little heed and enlisted with the regiment as a second lieutenant. In December, the troops bivouacked near Fredericksburg though were not ordered to fight in the battle on the 13th that month.

By spring 1863, the dark mood that enshrouded the camp had lifted. Though Higginson privately mourned the loss of companions and comrades, he displayed more of the lighter and spirited side of himself to the world after returning from furlough. From April to May, Henry recorded the regiment's activities prior to and during the days on which the Battle of Chancellorsville was fought. The troops passed the scene of Kellysville fight, and a few days later marched to Stevensburg, then on to Ely's Ford. On May 2nd the men heard firing towards Chancellorsville, but they did not participate in the fighting.

Less than a week later, Higginson announced pleasant news to his father on the event of the weddings of Robert Gould Shaw to Annie Haggerty, and Charles Lowell to Shaw's sister Josephine ("Effie"). He also was pleased to report that brother Jim fared well, and that brother Frank—now a first lieutenant in Shaw's 54th Massachusetts regiment—was held in high regards in his regiment. It would be the last happy news to share for some time.
The Battle of Aldie and Aftermath
The following month, on June 17, 1863, the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry engaged in a fierce combat with the soldiers of General John Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart and General FitzHugh Lee's cavalry at Aldie Gap. Higginson told his account of the Battle of Aldie in his reminiscences, how the men rode into the town of Aldie and engaged in a "little shindy" with Lieutenant Alexander Payne's squadron from Colonel Thomas Munford's 4th Virginia Cavalry. During this encounter, Major Higginson crossed sabers with a foe and was knocked out of his saddle—a bullet lodged at the base of his spine; a saber gash across his right cheek. While unhorsed and wounded in the road, Higginson was struck on the head and told by his assailant that he would be taken prisoner. When the major informed his attacker that he believed he would not live, the man robbed him, leaving only his horse that had been shot several times.

On June 30, Major Higginson was granted a 60-day leave of absence for his injuries (three saber cuts and two pistol wounds), and returned to the house on Chauncy Street where he was tended by his father. Days later, his old regiments fought at Gettysburg and Henry regretted that he could not participate in this monumental battle. Not long after hearing the news of this Union victory, on July 18 Robert Gould Shaw was killed in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry's assault on Fort Wagner. Higginson learned of this great personal loss long after the event.

Fortunately, Higginson's brother Frank did not participate in the assault, having been assigned fatigue detail. As for his brother Jim—who had been captured by the enemy at the Battle of Aldie—Henry received good natured letters from him at Libby Prison, indicating that he was surviving successfully despite "a few scurvy sores." Jim expressed surprise regarding Henry's wounds; he had no knowledge of what happened to him in the chaos of that battle.

Little did Higginson or his doctors know, but his injuries were far more critical than they realized. In late August 1863 he appeared to be on the mend, but by the end of October the bullet wound in his back became abscessed. However, by mid-November, the doctors reported that Higginson began to make a rapid recovery. Perhaps his improved health was the result of the comfort and cheer he received from Ida Agassiz to whom he proposed marriage that autumn. If not for Ida's affection and companionship, Henry's condition might have worsened.

Henry felt blessed with good fortune to have Ida Agassiz as his fiancée. The daughter of Harvard zoology professor Louis Agassiz, Ida was his ideal woman—gracious, charming, cultured and refined, and an old friend from the neighborhood. Henry and Ida were married on December 5, 1863 in a "quiet, simple, and sacred" wedding. The couple spent Christmas at her father and stepmother's home, then went to the Agassiz cottage at Nahant for spring.

The major served with the recruiting service that winter and had hoped to soon rejoin his regiment. But he was not well enough to resume his duties, as he could not sit in the saddle without enduring severe pain. Meanwhile, his post had been filled by officer Samuel E. Chamberlain, and Henry received letters from commander Charles Adams, telling of the demoralization of the troops. It was not until June 1864 that Higginson was allowed to return to service with his unit, just as the Campaign of the Wilderness opened. However, he was unable to partake in any action for the remainder of his career with the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.
The Last Phase of the Major's Civil War Career
On July 4, 1864, Higginson was assigned to the staff of Major General Francis C. Barlow of the Second Corps. He headed south by steamer on the 18th, passing Point Lookout where his brother Frank was stationed. Later, at City Point near Petersburg, Higginson was welcomed to the camp by former Harvard classmate Dr. Edward B. Dalton—Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac—who was placed in charge of the 10,000 sick and wounded men recently exchanged from Libby Prison. He spoke with the doctor about his wound, and also was briefly reunited with his brother Jim who was among the newly released prisoners.

Not long after Higginson joined the staff of General Barlow, at the end of July he was asked by Barlow to accompany him home to see his ailing wife. That journey to Washington would be the major's final adventure in the military. For though he had hoped and believed he could return to active service after his convalescence, Higginson was forced to face the inevitable truth that he would never again be physically well enough to serve his country in the war. When he arrived at the Capitol, Higginson tendered his resignation and was discharged from the army on August 9, 1864.

Returning to life as a civilian, through correspondence Higginson shared in the Union's victories in Atlanta. But by October, the celebrations had ended for him. On the 19th Henry lost his best friend, Charles Lowell, at the Battle of Cedar Creek. While leading his brigade in a charge, Colonel Lowell was struck by a minié ball that did not break the skin but damaged his right lung to the extent that he was barely able to speak above a whisper. Despite the severity of this injury, Lowell remained in command, giving orders through a member of his staff. As his regiment plunged into the hail of fire and lead, Lowell was struck in the neck by a ball that severed his spine, paralyzing his body from the wound down, and causing his death. General Philip Sheridan, commander of the Army of the Shenandoah, said of Lowell: "I do not think there was a quality which I could have added to Lowell. He was the perfection of a man and a soldier."

As for Henry Higginson who attended Lowell's services as one of his pallbearers, the memory of James Savage and of Charles Lowell forever remained in Higginson's thoughts, long after he received his brevet as Lieutenant Colonel on March 13, 1865 "for gallant and meritorious service during the war...especially in the campaign of 1864 of the Army of the Potomac." Their untimely deaths cut deeply into his soul, leaving a wound that—unlike any ones he received during the war—would never heal. In Lowell's last letter to him, on September 10, 1864, Charley had responded to Henry's resignation from the army, in his usual, friendly and philosophical manner. But these words never deserted Higginson and thereafter profoundly affected his view of life—forming the basis of his own "practical idealism."

"...I felt very sorry, old fellow, at your being finally obliged to give up, for I know you would have liked to see it out.... I hope, Mr. Higginson, that you are going to live like a plain Republican, mindful of the beauty and the duty of simplicity.... I hope you have outgrown all foolish ambitions and are now content to become a 'useful citizen.' ...Don't grow rich; if you once begin, you will find it much more difficult to be a useful citizen. The useful citizen is a mighty unpretending hero. But we are not going to have any country very long unless such heroism is developed.

"There! what a stale sermon I'm preaching; but being a soldier, it does seem to me that I should like nothing else so well as being a useful citizen.... By Jove! what I have wasted through crude and stupid theories. I wish old Stephen [Perkins] were alive. I should like to poke fingers through his theories and have him poke through mine. How I do envy (or rather admire) the young fellows who have something to do now without theories, and do it. I believe I have lost all my ambitions, old fellow.... All I now care about is to be a useful citizen, with money enough to buy my bread and firewood and to teach my children how to ride on horseback and look strangers in the face, especially Southern strangers.... I wonder whether I shall ever see you again...."

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