Texas Forts Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Having a Great Time! Wish You Were Here

The trans-continental mail route, authorized by Congress in the mid-19th century, passed through Texas during its brief, four year existence, helping to achieve one of several criteria for delivering the mail from one end of the country to the other – a snow-free passage! Among the routes under consideration, the southernmost trail called the Oxbow Route was the winner, dipping into northern Texas from Franklin (later called El Paso) to the Colbert’s Ferry crossing of the Red River. In 1857, the Postmaster General sent out a call for bids to provide cross-country mail service along the route, receiving nine in all including one from John W. Butterfield (together with his associates, among them William G. Fargo). Butterfield won the bid, including the obligation to provide bi-weekly trips of mail delivery across the country.

The horse-drawn wagons and stagecoaches were also required to accommodate passengers. The trip, a twenty-five day marathon, was considered hell on the hoof by many surviving accounts. Dusty, bumpy, and, at times, dangerous, the frontier crossing required, on average, a two hundred dollar fare one way, an amount, figuring inflation, equal to about five thousand dollars today. Any passengers choosing to depart the coach for a night of rest on solid ground stood to lose their seat.

The Texas segment encompassed approximately seven hundred and forty miles of rugged country, passing through historic Hueco Tanks where hundreds of pictographs had already resided on shelter walls for centuries, below the towering Guadalupe Peak – the highest elevation in the state, across the Pecos River and on to Fort Chadbourne, then Fort Belknap, and finally crossing the Red River in Grayson County. Its overall profitability can be disputed (Butterfield was paid $600,000 per year by the U.S. Post Office for providing the service while the Postal Service reported earned receipts in postage rates of a little more than $100,000) but Butterfield, apparently over-extended, eventually succumbed to debt pressure and was forced out of the Overland Stage Company, his assets absorbed by his former business associates – the Wells Fargo partners. He may have dodged a bigger financial bullet, however, as shortly after his ouster the pending Civil War required the U. S. government to terminate the contract and the mail route was abandoned. Remnants of the route through Texas can still be seen at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site east of El Paso and in Guadalupe Mountains National Park where a segment of the route converges with Williams Road, a jeep trail crossing the foothills below Guadalupe Peak, and the Pinery where ruins of a Butterfield Stage station survive.

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