San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line

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The San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line, also known as the Jackass Mail,[1] was the earliest overland stagecoach and mail operation from the eastern United States to California. It was created, organized and financed by James E. Birch the head of the California Stage Company. Birch was awarded the first contract for over land service on the "Southern Route", designated Route 8076. This contract required a semi-monthly service in four-horse coaches, scheduled to leave San Antonio and San Diego on the ninth and the 24th of each month, with 30 days allowed for each trip.

Foundation of the Line[edit]

Birch envisioned that at New Orleans, one could take a five-times-a-week mail steamer to 540 miles to Indianola, Texas. There one transferred to a daily line of four-horse mail coaches traveling 140 miles to San Antonio, Texas. Then one would take the San Antonio and San Diego Line 1,476 miles from San Antonio via the San Antonio-El Paso Road and then continue north to Messilla and take the Southern Emigrant Trail from there to San Diego. Once on the Pacific Coast the passenger could board a California Steam Navigation Company vessel to San Francisco.

To accomplish this Birch entered a partnership with George H. Giddings, of the San Antonio-El Paso Mail that already ran over half of the route to La Mesilla.[2] 87 watering places and stage stations were organized by Superintendent Isaiah C. Woods, formerly of Adams & Company of California in San Francisco. On the first mail run, they were setting up the line as the mule trains and coaches journeyed west from San Antonio. Superintendent Woods prepared a self-contained outfit for this journey across the unsettled country of Texas, New Mexico Territory and Southern California with almost no existing infrastructure. The vehicles used were celerity wagons or mud wagons, also called ambulances, (which was the military use for the same type of vehicle at that time), rather than the better known Concord stagecoach.

Stations, water stops and camping places[edit]

Water holes were set up at 30 mile intervals but many were unmanned and actual stations sometimes were separated by as much as 100 miles.[3] These first stations were at most a brush corral and a jacal to house the keeper, while most were merely camping places at springs or stream crossings, camps would be made where the coaches stopped for the night. Only the three at San Antonio, El Paso and San Diego, had substantial buildings. The largest and most important station between El Paso and San Diego was at Maricopa Wells, Arizona, the dividing point on the route, where the eastbound and westbound mails met and turned back. Here was erected an adobe house and corral. During the company's existence it employed 65 men in all capacities, and owned 50 coaches and 400 mules.

Table of distances from one station or watering-place to another from starting point[4][edit]

(Stations in bold)

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  • San Antonio to San Diego total, 1,475.76 miles

Stagecoach Road from Carrizo Creek Station to San Diego[5][edit]

Record of the San Antonio to San Diego route[edit]

On July 9, 1857, 17 days after Birch concluded his contract, the first mail left San Antonio and was carried on horseback, arriving at San Diego from San Antonio in 53 days. The second mail, which left San Antonio July 24, was sent by coach and arrived in San Diego 38 days later. The average rate of travel over the route was about 40 miles a day.

Following the death of Birch at sea before the first mails reached their destinations, his contract was transferred to George H. Giddings and R. E. Doyle. Woods was retained as superintendent with company headquarters in New York. Only about 40 trips were ever made over the entire route before the service was curtailed.

Supplanted by the Butterfield Overland Mail[edit]

On September 20, 1858, the Butterfield Overland Mail Company began operating their stageline over the road, and using the station sites pioneered by Birch and Woods from El Paso, Texas, to Warner's Ranch, California. The San Antonio-San Diego Line was not absorbed by the Butterfield line but on December 1, 1858, the portion of the route between El Paso and Fort Yuma was cut from the service because it duplicated the service of the Butterfield Butterfield Overland. The service from San Antonio to El Paso and from Fort Yuma to San Diego was improved from semi-monthly to weekly trips and its subsidy was increased.

During the year 1860, the west end of the route from Fort Yuma to San Diego was ended, leaving nothing but the 367-mile portion from San Antonio to Camp Stockton which was put on a weekly basis. Between Camp Stockton and El Paso it was put on a weekly basis. The service was thus improved to a weekly basis all the way from New Orleans to San Francisco.

Overland Mail Corporation[edit]

After the final suspension of the Butterfield Overland mail, March 12, 1861, the San Antonio and San Diego Mail Line reorganized and merged its interests under the title of the Overland Mail Corporation. In May 1861, this company was given a new contract for the year ending June 30, 1862, to operate a mail service over the entire route from San Antonio via Camp Stockton, to Tucson and points in California. An attempt was made to fulfill the contract, beginning April 1, but with the development of the Civil War, and Apache attacks on the stations and coaches of the line resulting from the Bascom Affair the contractors were compelled to give up. The eastern portion of the line was curtailed June 30, 1861. The end came when the Camp Stockton to Tucson part of the line was discontinued August 2, 1861.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Basil C. Pearce, The Jackass Mail—San Antonio and San Diego Mail Line, The Journal of San Diego History, San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, Spring 1969, Volume 15, Number 2
  2. ^ Beth Schneider, "GIDDINGS, GEORGE HENRY," Handbook of Texas Online , accessed November 30, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  3. ^ Victor Walsh, State Park Historian, Celebrating the West on the Move, 150th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Overland Mail, San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park website, accessed December 14, 2010
  4. ^ Table of distances from Texas Almanac, 1859, Book, ca. 1859; digital images, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth123765/ accessed November 12, 2013), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association, Denton, Texas
  5. ^ San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line Stations and Mileage between them, derived from the newspaper article by a traveler to the Gadsden Purchase printed in the Sacramento Daily Union, 11 January 1858, p.4, A TRIP TO THE GADSDEN PURCHASE

External links[edit]