Frank Kell

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Franklin M. "Frank" Kell

(One of two principal founding entrepreneurs in Wichita Falls, Texas)​

Frank Kell of TX.jpg

Born December 2, 1859​
Clifton, Bosque County, Texas​
Died September 17, 1941 (aged 81)​
Wichita Falls, Texas, United States​

Resting place:
Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls

Political Party Republican
Spouse Lula Kemp Kell (married 1885 to 1941, his death)​

Seven children:
Willie May Kell
Sadie Bullington
Carrie O'Donohoe
Bess Blair
Sibyl Cahoon
Mary Joe Kell Putty
Joseph Archibald Kell
Francis Marion and Sarah Lucinda Potter
Joseph A. Kemp (brother-in-law)
Frank Kell Cahoon (grandson)
Orville Bullington (son-in-law)

Religion Presbyterian

Franklin M. Kell, known as Frank Kell (December 2, 1859 – September 17, 1941), along with his brother-in-law Joseph A. Kemp, was one of the two principal entrepreneurs in the early development of Wichita Falls, Texas.


A son of Francis Marion Kell (1832-1918) and the former Sarah Lucinda Potter (1832-1871), who died when Frank was twelve years of age. Kell was born of Irish descent in Clifton, Texas, a community founded by Norwegian settlers in the 1850s. His irregular formal education ended when, at the age of 18, he was hired to clerk in a store in Clifton. He soon relocated to Galveston, Texas, where he was employed in the export of grain, but he returned to Clifton to engage for a number of years there in the milling business.[1][2] In 1885, Kell married Lula Kemp (1866–1957), the younger sister of Joseph Kemp.​


​ In 1896, the brothers-in-law Kell and Kemp purchased control of the Wichita Valley Milling Company, and Frank and Lula Kell relocated from Clifton to Wichita Falls, where they spent the remainder of their lives. Joseph Kemp had already moved to Wichita Falls in 1883. Kell became the manager of the milling firm, renamed the Wichita Mill and Elevator Company. Despite a fire in 1900, Wichita Mill and Elevator Company managed to augment its daily capacity to a thousand barrels of grain. In 1905, Kell and W. O. Anderson purchased a mill in Vernon to the west of Wichita Falls in Wilbarger County.[1]

Kell's Wichita Mill and Elevator Company increased its daily capacity to 3,500 barrels; by 1917, he had 2 million barrels of storage space. In 1918, Kell became the sole owner of the company. Thereafter, a hundred small-town grain elevators were constructed in the general region, and plants were added at Waco, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, and Perry, Oklahoma. In 1928, Kell sold the company to General Mills for cash and stock holdings in that corporation.[1]​ ​ Kell also engaged in the railroad business as either the owner or a partner in six rail lines, including:​ ​

  • Wichita Falls Railway
  • Wichita Falls and Southern Railroad
  • Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway​
  • Clinton-Oklahoma-Western Railroad Company of Texas​
  • San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railroad​
  • Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad​

​ Collectively, the companies had more than 1,300 miles of track. The Wichita Falls and Northwestern and the Wichita Falls and Southern railroads reached into wheat and coal-producing areas. In 1911, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, also known as "the Katy," purchased from Kemp and Kell the Wichita Falls Railway, which linked Wichita Falls with Henrietta in Clay County.[3] Until his death in 1941 at the age of 81, Kell still owned and managed 565 miles of railroad track.[1] The Wichita Falls and Northwestern operated from 1906 to 1923 from Wichita Falls to Forgan in the Oklahoma Panhandle; it, too, was absorbed by the Katy.[4]​ ​ Kell was further heavily engaged in cattle ranching, farming, and the refining of petroleum and cottonseed oil. From 1914 to 1927, he was appointed as a director of the Eleventh District Federal Reserve Bank, based in Dallas. During World War I, he was the chairman of the milling division for both Texas and New Mexico under Food Administrator and later U.S. President Herbert Hoover. In 1920, Kell was named a director of the United States Chamber of Commerce.[1]

Republican politics

One of Kell's sons-in-law, Orville Bullington, a Missouri native and lawyer and businessman in Wichita Falls, was the 1932 Republican gubernatorialnominee. He polled some 38 percent of the general election vote against the Democrat former Governor Miriam Amanda Wallace "Ma" Ferguson (1875-1961), even as President Hoover was crushed in his re-election bid in Texas and nationally.[5] After Kell's death, Bullington became president of the Wichita Falls and Southern Railroad and was its executive at the time the company was liquidated.[6]

Kell himself was involved with the Republican Party after his son-in-law, Orville Bullington, in 1918 left the Democratic Party. In 1922, Kell was among the fundraisers for George Peddy of Shelby County in East Texas, a former short-term state representative and an assistant district attorney in Houston, who became a combination Republican/Independent candidate for the U.S. Senate.[7] Peddy, however, was handily defeated by the Democratic nominee, Earle Bradford Mayfield (1881-1964) of Overton, also in East Texas, in the general election held on November 7. An outgoing member of the Texas Railroad Commission, Mayfield carried the backing of the Ku Klux Klan and the prohibition forces. For months thereafter, the election was disputed because of questions over filing deadlines which had forced Peddy to run as a write-in candidate. After a nine-month delay, the Senate awarded the seat to Mayfield, who beat Peddy by a two-to-one margin, an outcome attributed to party loyalty among the state's then large mass of Democratic voters. Mayfield, in turn, was unseated in the 1928 Democratic runoff election by U.S. Representative Thomas Terry "Tom" Connally (1877-1963), a native of McLennan County.[8][9]

Kell's namesake grandson, Frank Kell Cahoon, left Wichita Falls as a young man to enter the oil and natural gas business in Midland and was in 1965 the only Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives, during a portion of his four-year stint in the chamber. He was the son of the former Sibyl Kell and Charles Wilbur Cahoon, Jr. (1897–1979).[10]

Personal life

Prior to 1909, the Kells lived in a residence downtown on Scott Street. They then moved into the Kell House, a two-story Victorian home constructed between 1908 and 1910 at 900 Bluff Street and located just east of the Central Freeway and across from the First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls. Lula Kemp Kell remained in the home until her death in 1957; their only unmarried daughter, Willie May Kell (1888–1980), thereafter lived in the residence until her death, after which time the Wichita County Heritage Society purchased the property and converted it into a museum.[11]

Kell House Museum in Wichita Falls

The Kell House has unique features, including an elegant spiral staircase to the second floor. A formal parlor on the left side of the lower floor was in use only for a few special days of the year and otherwise closed off; it was opened with full decorations at Christmas and for weddings and even funerals. Frank Kell himself lay in state in the parlor. The idea of closing off the parlor for most of the year was intended to reinforce its special features. One room contained both a small library and a pool table. The kitchen was modern by the standards of that time. One of the five bedrooms, with a red quilt over the bed, was occupied by the daughter who had become engaged to marry; she would remain there until the day of her wedding. Her sisters, except for Willie May, would follow in line. Three daughters were married in the house; two others were wed in Wichita Falls churches. A fire occurred in one bedroom in the 1970s, but the house was quickly restored.[11]

In addition to Willie May, the other five daughters were Sadie Kell Bullington (1886–1960), who in 1911 became the first of the daughters to marry in the Kell House formal parlor, Carrie Kell O'Donohoe (1890–1974), Bess Kell Blair (1893–1989), Sibyl Kell Cahoon (1899–1991), and Mary Joe Kell Putty (1906–1981). Twenty years separated the oldest and the youngest Kell children. The one son was Joseph Archibald Kell (1895-1939),[12] a veteran of World War I who worked with his father in the railroad industry. Joseph Kell was killed in an automobile accident at the age of forty-four. He was married to the former Corinne Jo Sharp (1897–1949), who died at the age of fifty-one. Except for the two youngest daughters, Sibyl and Mary Joe, the other Kell children were born in Clifton, prior to the parents' relocation to Wichita Falls.[12]

The Kells and Kemps were Presbyterian.[13] Frank and Lula Kell and most other family members, except for among others Orville and Sadie Bullington and Frank Kell Cahoon, are interred at Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls.[12]

The Kells donated rare books, many on the history and literature of Texas and the Southwest, to the University of Texas library in Austin. In 1930, the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce honored Kell as the "Outstanding Philanthropist" of the community. He is considered a "founding father" of Wichita Falls because of his pioneering work in the oil, railroads, and flour-milling industries.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 J. W. Williams. Kell, Frank. The Handbook of Texas. Retrieved on July 10, 2020.
  2. The Texas State Historical Association Handbook, bases its article on Frank Kell from these sources: Jonnie R. Morgan, The History of Wichita ​Falls (Wichita Falls, 1931; reprinted, Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1971); S. G. Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads (Houston, Texas: St. Clair, 1941; reprinted, New York City: Arno, 1981); J. N. Williams, "Frank Kell", Year Book 17 (1941) of the West Texas Historical Association.
  3. Wichita Falls Railway. Retrieved on July 10, 2020.
  4. Donovan L. Hofsommer. The Wichita Falls and Northwestern Retrieved on July 10, 2020.
  5. Elections of Texas Governors, 1845–2006. Retrieved on June 11, 2010.
  6. The Handbook of Texas on-line: Orville Bullington. Retrieved on July 10, 2020.
  7. Norman D. Brown. Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug: Texas Politics, 1921-1928. Texas A&M University Southwestern Studies, 1984; ISBN 0-89096-157-3. Retrieved on April 16, 2013. 
  8. The Election Case of George E. B. Peddy v. Earle B. Mayfield of Texas (1925). Retrieved on July 10, 2020.
  9. Mayfield, Earle Bradford. Retrieved on July 10, 2020.
  10. Frank Kell Cahoon (1934-2013). Retrieved on April 13, 2013; obituary no longer accessible on-line.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Stacie Flood, Kell House Museum, "A Tale of Two Houses (The Kell House in Wichita Falls)," West Texas Historical Association, Wichita Falls, Texas, April 5, 2013.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Frank Kell (1859–1941). Retrieved on July 10, 2020.
  13. Tenth and Travis 1904-1914. First Presbyterian Church. Retrieved on December 7, 2015; material no longer accessible on-line.