Richard H. Keith Primarily a coal man, Richard H. Keith, of Kansas City, Missouri, president of the Central Coal & Coke Company, has become a lumberman by the steady growth and development of his interests, which now include the ownership of hundreds of miles of magnificent timber in the Southwest, the manufacture of which furnishes activity to a number of great mills.
Mr. Keith was born at Lexington, Lafayette county, Missouri, in 1842. His ancestors were among the first residents of Virginia and also belonged to one of the first families of that state. His parents moved to Missouri in 1839. Mr. Keith was educated at the old Masonic College at Lexington until his seventeenth year, when he became deputy clerk of the circuit and probate courts and recorder of deeds of the county. In 1861, when he had reached the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the Confederate service as a private in Colonel John Bowman's regiment of the Missouri State Guards. He saw active service in the battles of Lexington, Oak Hill and Pea Ridge. He then went to Memphis and enlisted in the Confederate service in the Landis battery of artillery. With that organization he went through the first and second battles of Corinth, Iuka, Hatchie River, Grand Gulf, Fort Gibson, Champion Hills, Black River and the siege of Vicksburg. Mr. Keith refused parole at Vicksburg and had a taste of Yankee prison life at Camp Morton, Indianapolis. At the conclusion of his army service, which terminated with his escape from prison, he went to California. He later spent two years trading between Leavenworth, Kansas, and New Mexico. For a year he was in the dry goods business at Leavenworth.
Mr. Keith went to Kansas City in 1871. His capital when he arrived there amounted to $40, with which he opened a small coal yard on Bluff street. At that time about thirty or forty cars of coal were handled daily in Kansas City. The quantity is now three hundred and fifty to four hundred. He operated this retail business for several years, and now, through his connection with the Central Coal & Coke Company, he is one of the largest retail coal dealers in the country.
He opened his first mine at Godfrey, Bourbon county, Kansas, in 1873. In 1874-5 he opened other mines at Rich Hill and subsequently extensive mines in the Bonanza, Arkansas district. The Central Coal & Coke Company now owns enough mines to aggregate in production 4,000,000 tons of coal a year.
When Colonel Keith began business on Bluff street in Kansas City he employed only two or three men; the men now employed by the Central Coal & Coke Company number about 10,000. By way of comparison it may also be stated that the annual coal output of the Central Coal & Coke Company is now 120,000 cars, making a business of $7,000,000 annually. The company mines coal in Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, Arkansas and Wyoming. In connection with its coal business the company owns twenty-five stores which handle $3,000,000 worth of merchandise annually. The company is also interested in the retail coal business at Wichita, Kansas; St. Joseph, Missouri; Omaha, Nebraska, and Salt Lake City, Utah. It owns three retail yards in Kansas City. It distributes its products over Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Indian Territory, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, California and Washington, and conducts the largest commercial coal business in the western states.
The Keith & Perry Coal Company was organized June 1, 1883, and reorganized as the Central Coal & Coke Company May 1, 1893. Before the reorganization of the company, it had been a dealer in lumber in a small way in connection with the coal business. The sale of lumber and coal frequently go hand in hand. But shortly after the Central Coal & Coke Company was chartered the lumber department took on greater importance, and the company assumed a place among lumber manufacturers as well as lumber dealers. The property of the Bowie Lumber Company, of Texarkana, Texas, was purchased, including twenty-five acres within the city limits of Texarkana. Shortly afterward the circular saw mill was torn down and replaced by a gang and the fastest band mill that ever sawed yellow pine.
The actual lumber manufacturing operations of the Central Coal & Coke Company began in January, 1894, at which time the new plant, begun the previous August, was ready for business. This plant at Texarkana was operated until the summer of 1902, when it was torn down and removed to Carson, Louisiana, as the timber holdings at Texarkana had become exhausted. At Carson the company's band and gang circular mill cuts about 5,000,000 feet a month, or about 175,ooo feet a day. The logs are brought in over a road practically owned by the Central Coal & Coke Company, known as the Missouri & Louisiana. It is fifty-one miles in length. The second saw mill plant erected by the Central Coal & Coke Company was at Keith, Louisiana, now known as Neame, two hundred miles south of Texarkana, on the Kansas City Southern. It manufactures 140,000 feet of logs into lumber every day.
Mr. Keith is also interested in 165,000 acres of pine lands in Houston county, Texas, lying between the Cotton Belt and the International & Great Northern railroads. The stumpage runs about 7,000 feet to the acre. This business is entirely separate from that of the Central Coal & Coke Company, having been incorporated under the name of the Louisiana & Texas Lumber Company. A mill plant was erected at Kennard, Texas, equipped with double bands and gang, with a capacity of 300,000 feet a day. This is the largest mill in the South. Mr. Keith is the president and Charles Campbell the secretary and treasurer of this company. The product of the Louisiana & Texas Lumber Company's plant is handled by the Central Coal & Coke Company.
Mr. Keith has always had that love of detail which is often more effective in the building up of a great business than reach of plan or enthusiasm of purpose. He has always been one of those practical men who have pushed their thought to useful result. While he has been able to look along extended lines of action, yet he has had the ability to deal with the smallest matters essential to success with unerring judgment and with rapidity. His independent and confident nature, together with his determination of purpose, all of which spurred him on in his young manhood, doubtless were instrumental in a large measure in raising him to be the power that he now is in the lumber and coal industries.