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 Comanche Springs west of 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 in the San Antonio cholera epidemic, 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. Also, six companies of the Third Infantry and a group of California-bound immigrants accompanied them.[2] One of these Forty-niners, Robert Eccleston, traveling with the expedition wrote a journal describing incidents of the journey, the land they passed over, with the mileage, each day along the route.[3] The trail they followed to El Paso differed only slightly from Whiting and Smith's return route. This trail became known as the Lower or Military Road and then the San Antonio-El Paso Road.

"In 1850, the largest supply train to use the road" left Fort Inge for El Paso with 340 wagons, 4000 animals, 450 civilians, and 175 soldiers.[2] To protect people and supplies along the road from Indians and bandits, a series of fortifications was established by the army. These included Fort Inge (1849–1869), Fort Clark (1852–1944), Fort Lancaster (1855–1862, 1867–1874), Fort Stockton (1859–1862, 1867–1886), Fort Davis (1854–1862, 1867–1891), Fort Quitman (1858–1861, 1868–1877, 1880–1882), and Fort Bliss (1849–). The road was used for the San Antonio-El Paso Mail from 1851–1862 and 1866–1882 and as part of the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line route in 1857–1858. The Butterfield Overland Mail began using the Lower Road from Fort Stockton to El Paso in 1859–1861.

1859 table of distances along the San Antonio-El Paso Road, from one station or watering-place to another from starting point[4][edit]







  1. ^ Map, page 27, Woodhouse, S.W., edited and annotated by Andrew Wallace and Richard H. Hevly, From Texas to San Diego in 1851: The Overland Journal of Dr. S.W. Woodhouse, Surgeon-Naturalist of the Sitgreaves Expedition, Texas Tech University Press (2007), hardcover, 358 pages ISBN 978-0-89672-597-3
  2. ^ a b Francell, Lawrence (1999). Fort Lancaster. Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. p. 27.
  3. ^ Eccleston, Robert, edited by Hammond, George P. and Howes, Edward H., Overland to California on the Southwestern Trail 1849, University of California Press, 1950.
  4. ^ Table of distances from Texas Almanac, 1859, Book, ca. 1859; digital images, ( accessed November 12, 2013), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Texas State Historical Association, Denton, Texas

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