Oct 14 2015

 

Mail service was provided using these roads. At a time when news traveled as fast as the fastest horse, these dirt roads were the only connection Texans had to each other and to the rest of the world. The San Antonio newspapers (like other local papers) reprinted news from newspapers from around the country. These newspapers were delivered to them by mail.

Unreliable mail delivery was a persistent problem. Most central Texas mail arrived at the ports of Indianola and Galveston. Coordinating the schedule of stagecoaches with the arrival of ships often cause delays. In the fall of 1848, a San Antonio newspaper lamented that “We receive but three mails a week, in this, the most important and populous city in Western Texas, viz: two from Galveston by the roundabout way of Houston, Washington (on the Brazos), and Austin, and one from Castroville.”

The Republic of Texas provided mail service by awarding contracts to winning bidders. With most of the population confined to the area of Austin’s Colony, Harrisburg, and coastal and central Texas the earliest Texas mail routes were relatively short. On December 26,1835, (before the fall of the Alamo) John R. Jones, Postmaster General, under the authority of the General Council of Texas in San Felipe de Austin requested bids for mail routes throughout the New Republic. Route #14 was described as: “From Gonzales, by Sandies and Cibolo to Bejar, seventy-six miles, once in two weeks.” When Texas became a part of United States, its mail contracts were included in the existing national bidding system for routes specified in the Congressional Record. 

The location and names of villages were often associated with the establishment of post offices. The opening of a post office could insure that one village would thrive, while another might disappear. At first, delivery of newspapers and mail were the main function of post offices. After the Civil War, the post office provided a safe means for transferring money through the issuance of money orders. For remote settlers, the post office provided a rudimentary form of banking.

Passenger Service

Mail coaches traveled in “stages”, stopping at designated locations along a route to pick up and deliver mail. These early mail coaches also carried passengers. While the driver operated the stagecoach, an additional employee collected passenger fares and dealt with the mail. This man sat beside the driver and carried a rifle or shotgun to protect the mail and passengers, creating the term “riding shotgun.”

A stagecoach travelled an average of 5 miles per hour. Depending on the condition of the road, availability of water, and the terrain, stage stops were established along a route to allow for a change of horses every 15 to 30 miles. Wells Fargo’s six-horse Concord coaches traveled an average of 5 to 12 miles an hour. A Houston newspaper in 1845 advertised a line of stages from Houston to Washington on the Brazos that would carry mail and passenger through in 30 hours.

Early coaches were often two horse wagons with “drop-down” canvas covers. Later coaches were pulled by four horses, enclosed, and designed to provide comfort for the passengers. Brown and Tarbox and Harrison and McCullogh used four horse coaches for their stage line. In 1850, the Harrison and Brown stage line advertised four-horse, covered, nine passenger coaches. J.L. Allen advertised, “superior coaches, fine horses, polite and skillful drivers.” D. A. Saltmarsh, an experienced stage operator from the East Coast, brought six fine Troy coaches (built in Troy, NY probably by Eaton & Gilbert) for his San Antonio to Port Lavaca line.

Additional options and services were constantly being offered to Texans traveling by stagecoach. Some company stage stops provided meals and accommodations for travelers. Stage lines charged for excess baggage that accompanied passengers; Tarbox and Brown, allowed a maximum of 30 pounds of baggage and charged 6 cents for each extra pound.

By the late 1840s, in the larger towns, stage offices/stops were located in hotels. The Houston House and The Old Capitol Hotel in Houston, John S. Harrison’s Victoria Hotel, Brown’s Hotel and the Guadalupe Hotel in Victoria, and Clegg’s Hotel in Port Lavaca were all stage stops in the 1840s. In San Antonio during the mid 19th century, the Central Hotel, the Navarro House, the Plaza House and the Veramendi House were among the stage offices/stops available to the public. The scheduled routes of stage lines intersected in villages and towns, allowing for connections to destinations throughout Texas.