Cameron O. Coffin biography

In the early days of Texas’ development it was supposed that her broad prairies and fields would be worth little except as a range for cattle, but some adventurous spirits and far-sighted business men undertook the task of proving that it might be made a rich farming country and then came the horticulturist to show that even fruit could likewise be produced on its soil. Among those now extensively and successfully engaged in fruit raising is Cameron O. Coffin, of El Paso, who has a splendidly improved property equipped with all conveniences and accessories to scientific fruit raising.

He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, October 20, 1845, and in the year 1872 made his way westward. After spending a year in Indianapolis, Indiana, he went to California in 1873, locating at San Jose. In 1876 he came to eastern Texas and engaged in the lumber business in the lumber region between Marshall and Texarkana. In 1878 he went to Trinidad, Colorado, where he entered into a contract to cut and furnish lumber for use on the construction work of the Santa Fe Railroad, which at that time was being extended in the business in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, having his headquarters at various times in Trinidad, Raton and Albuquerque until the latter part of 1880, when he came to El Paso, arriving here on the 28th of December of that year. Consequently he was an "old citizen" when on the 6th of June of the following year, 1881, he aided in celebrating the completion of the first road built to El Paso. This was the Southern Pacific, which was extended to this city from the west. The completion of the Texas & Pacific and of the Santa Fe Railroad soon followed during the same year, and thus El Paso became a railroad center of considerable importance and has ever since been a center for a large tributary territory.

Not long after arriving here Mr. Coffin and his brother William embarked in business, leasing the building that had been the headquarters of the Butterfield stage line, located on El Paso street near where the hardware store of Krakauer, Zork & Moye now stands. In 1882 Mr. Coffin entered into partnership with Oliver G. Seeton under the firm name of Coffin & Seeton in the hay, grain and feed business, as there was a demand for an enterprise of that character. Mr. Coffin was actively engaged in this line with Mr. Seeton until 1894, when he withdrew from the firm, since which time the business has been carried on by Mr. Seeton alone. About the time that he severed his connection with commercial interests Mr. Coffin became interested in ranching in the Rio Grande valley, having acquired an extensive tract of land twenty-one miles below El Paso near the river. It was first his intention to raise fine stock, and he bought and imported from the east some blooded cattle and horses with that end in view, spending considerable money thereon, but the long and severe seasons of drouth during the latter part of 1895 brought about exorbitant prices for feed stuff and Mr. Coffin accordingly decided to discontinue the stock business. At that time he started in systematically and intelligently to build up a fine fruit business which has resulted in his present position as a leader among the successful horticulturists of the United States. To those who are not familiar with the possibilities of Texas in the line of fruit production it would seem a remarkable fact that the pears which Mr. Coffin placed on exhibition at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis in 1904 won first prize, for which he was not only given the diploma, but in addition a bronze medal setting for these facts. These pears came into competition with those from California and other fruit-raising states, but the judges, all men of authority on such matters, awarded the prize to Mr. Coffin. His splendid results as a horticulturist are due to the scientific methods which he follows together with the aid of the dry climate of this region, which it seems is more favorable for the production and excellence of good fruit than a more moist and foggy climate of the fruit regions of California. It is well known that many generations ago under the old Spanish regime this was a noted wine-making region, producing the finest grapes for this purpose. Mr. Coffin has two fruit ranches in this vicinity, both lying in El Paso county, not far distant from the Clint post office. One of these ranches covers three hundred and sixty-three acres and contains his celebrated pear orchard. The other ranch is fifty-four acres in extent and contains the vineyard. In addition to these traits in Texas he also has a place of two hundred acres, at Socorro, New Mexico. These ranches are all included in the recently formed irrigation district, extending from Engle, New Mexico, down the Rio Grande Valley at Fort Quitman, Texas, all of which will be brought under the ditch that will be supplied from water from the dam to be built by the government at Engle. Up to the this time and pending the completion of the irrigation project referred to, Mr. Coffin’s fruit ranches have been irrigated by means of pumps operated by gasoline engines and the San Elizario ditch. He was the first man to put in a pump for irrigation purpose in this lower valley and he has always been a leader in matters of progress and improvement here.

Mr. Coffin has in fact been a pioneer in the fruit business in this lower valley, making costly experiments from year to year and spending much time, money and study in bringing about the best results. He has labored against such handicaps as the lack of experienced help together from any one, as it was thought that horticulture could never prove a profitable industry in Texas. But although he will probably never see the full results of his persistency of purpose and his indefatigable industry, he is already beginning to reap the reward of having produced the finest fruit in the United States. He is now witnessing the beginning of the development of the valley which with the advent of the government irrigation ditch will undoubtedly make this one of the great horticultural sections of the country. Mr. Coffin now has every modern convenience and device for a successful conduct of a commercial fruit business, employing skilled packers and other classes of help equal to those to be secured in California. He likewise has the best facilities for loading and shipping and his produce is in such demand that it is contracted for at the highest prices in advance by one of the largest fruit firms in New Orleans. Mr. Coffin is an enthusiast as to the question of fruit culture in the country adjacent to El Paso, and he has accomplished, and moreover this portion that may be accomplished in fruit raising in this state without the expense of experiment that he has made to enter upon a work that will prove profitable. In 1903 a connection with J. J. Mundy, of El Paso, Mr. Coffin leased the old Franklin irrigation ditch that was constructed for a distance of twenty-eight miles through El Paso and down the valley several years ago by the El Paso corporation and is now owned by an English syndicate. This canal had been allowed to fall into disuse and neglect but is now being cleaned out and put into good shape for service by Mr. Coffin and Mr. Mundy. There are about three thousand acres of land under this ditch and more will be added. Mr. Coffin is local correspondent to the horticultural department of the government at Washington and is a member of the board of governors appointed by the government, constituting ten men, who are to act in an advisory capacity in the construction of the Engle irrigation project.

An inherited fondness may have had something to do with Mr. Coffin’s interest in the fruit business as his father was a fruit grower of North Carolina. His brother-in-law, J. Van Lindley, of Greensboro, North Carolina, is also a noted representative of the business, being one of the largest growers in the country and an authority on the subject of horticulture, while at one time he was president of the National Horticultural Society. Mr. Coffin has made a close and discriminating study of his chosen work, has formed his plans carefully and has then been determined in their execution. As the years have gone by he has added indefatigable industry that has been the chief source of his success and gained for him more than state-wide fame along horticultural lines.

Mr. Coffin married Miss Rebecca Browning in January, 1883, at Kildare, Texas. They have three children: Anna, Howard and Althea.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 461-463.