San Antonio-El Paso Road

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The San Antonio-El Paso Road also known as the Lower Emigrant Road or Military Road was an economically important trade route between the Texas cities of San Antonio and El Paso between 1849 and 1882. The road carried mail, freight and passengers by horse and wagon across the Edwards Plateau and dangerous Trans-Pecos region of West Texas.

The "Upper Emigrant Road" originated at Austin and skirted the north of the Edwards Plateau. It intersected the Lower Road near Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos River.[1]

In 1848, businessmen in San Antonio hired John Coffee Hays to find a route to El Paso. Hays and a squad of Texas Rangers spent three and a half months on their quest but only made it as far as Presidio due to lack of food and water.

By 1849, gold-seekers wishing to get to California to stake claims were arriving in Texas and looking for opportunities to travel west. Brevet Major General William J. Worth ordered Lieutenant William H.C. Whiting and Lieutenant William Farrar Smith to find a suitable route to El Paso. They were to follow Hays' trail to Presidio and continue up the Rio Grande to El Paso. The team made it to El Paso but believed the route was unsatisfactory. On the return trip, they traveled down the Rio Grande only 100 miles then headed east for the Pecos River. They followed the Pecos to Devils River and the Devils back to the Rio Grande. From there, they headed east to San Antonio.

Brevet Brigadier General William S. Harney, now in command of the army in Texas after General Worth's death ordered Lieutenant Smith to accompany Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Johnston on another survey expedition to El Paso. The survey party was escorted by a company of the First Infantry. There were also six companies of the Third Infantry and a group of California bound immigrants. The trail they followed to El Paso differed only slightly from Whiting and Smith's return route. This trail would become known as the Lower or Military Road and then the San Antonio-El Paso Road.

To protect people and supplies along the road from indians and bandits, a series of fortifications were established by the army. These included Fort Inge, Fort Clark, Fort Lancaster, Fort Stockton, Fort Davis, Fort Quitman and Fort Bliss. The road was used for part of the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line. The Butterfield Overland Mail began using the Lower Road from Fort Stockton to El Paso in 1859.


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