On Monday, July 1, 1850, the first stage-transported U.S. mail left Independence, Missouri for Santa Fe, New Mexico with eight men guarding the mule-drawn coach.
This was the first Congressionally authorized four-year contract for mail transported by vehicle between Independence and New Mexico. It had initially been set to leave Fort Leavenworth but the contract was modified to send it out of Independence instead, reducing the route distance from 885 to 840 miles.
The mail contractors in 1850 were Dr. David Waldo of New Mexico and Jacob Hall of Independence. The stage not only carried the mail, it also provided passenger service, with fares of $100 in the summer and $150 during the winter. A letter of less than half an ounce cost $0.10 and could be sent collect, postage to be paid by the recipient.
The company that Waldo and Hall formed in 1850 dissolved four years later, when Hall bought Waldo out and teamed up with John M. Hockaday to transport the mail for the next contract period. In 1857, service moved to semimonthly and the following year Hall again placed a successful bid, this time as sole proprietor. In 1862, he bid again, but the contract was awarded to George H. Vickroy and Thomas J. Barnum.
The Eastern terminus for the stage also shifted that year, moving west to Kansas City. Now the shortening of the line that had begun on the first run accelerated, responding to the growth of the railroads. Stage service to Santa Fe would end completely in 1880 with the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. But the idea of the stage and its symbolic connection to the American frontier would linger much longer.
Throughout the month of September, 1855, the Santa Fe Weekly Gazette informed its readers that the U.S. mail contract had recently been transferred to Hockaday and Hall and was providing mail and passenger transport to and from Independence, Missouri for a mere $125 per passenger.
Packages and extra baggage could also be sent via the Hockaday and Hall coaches, at a cost of 25 cents per pound, although there was a minimum charge of $1.00 and the contractors could not be held responsible for anything worth more than $50.
These rates remained the same two years later, even when service increased to twice monthly. This may have been because, no matter how often the mail left Santa Fe, it took about the same length of time to travel to or from its destination. Round trip to St. Louis was still about three months and delivery from the Atlantic seaboard to Santa Fe remained around six weeks. Letters and packages continuing from Santa Fe on to El Paso were transferred to George H. Gidding’s service south and could take an additional week to ten days.
Interestingly, the front page items about the new contractors and their service are not set off in a box or with any other markings to indicate that they’re advertisements. They’re treated like news items. Repeating news items—the same language shows up in every September 1855 issue of the Gazette.
While news of the mail was critical to the functioning of business and politics in New Mexico Territory, the decision to promote its service and fees in this way may have been the result of other factors. The Hockaday and Hall agent in Santa Fe just happened to be W. W. H. Davis, the newspaper’s editor.
Sources: Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, September 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, 1855; Morris F. Taylor, First Mail West, stagecoach lines on the santa fe trail, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1971.
On April 8, 1853, the readers of the Santa Fe Weekly Gazette were reminded that winter wasn’t truly over in New Mexico—the mail and passengers to and from Texas were still being transported under the “winter arrangement.”
There really wasn’t any difference between the summer and winter time schedule. Each month, the stage left Santa Fe on the 15th and arrived in El Paso six to eight days later. The next leg of the trip was from El Paso to San Antonio, where it arrived on the 14th or 15th of the following month. So it took about a week to get from Santa Fe to El Paso, a trip which takes about five hours today. Interestingly, the fare from Santa Fe to El Paso was $30, only about $10 more than the cost of gas for the same route today. In fact, if wear and tear on one’s vehicle is factored in, it might have been cheaper to travel between Santa Fe and El Paso in 1853 than it is now. That is, of course, if you have seven or eight days for the trip.
On the other hand, the cost to travel from Santa Fe to San Antonio was significantly higher in 1853 than it is today—$125 as opposed to $48 in fuel costs. The timeframe for the trip is also considerably less now—about 12 hours as opposed to 30 days.
One thing has remained the same. The advertisement in the Gazette points out that the trip to and from “the States” via the San Antonio route was considerably more pleasant during the winter months than was travel via the Santa Fe Trail to Independence, Missouri. The southern route was, and is still likely to be, “entirely free from the intense cold and heavy snows that so frequently obstruct” the northern Trail.
There was another advantage to taking the stage to San Antonio. Passengers were not required to stand guard.
Sources: Santa Fe Weekly Gazette, April 8, 1853, first page; MapQuest.com, accessed March 5, 2019.
On May 1, 1894, the stagecoach once again arrived in Etown, New Mexico: The Springer and Moreno Valley Stage Line began daily passenger runs between Elizabethtown and Springer, where passengers could connect with the railroad. Even with fares at $5 a day, demand was high. The line was soon running double headers every other day. It didn’t just carry passengers. There were also contracts with Wells Fargo Express and the United States Post Office. In fact, the endeavor was so lucrative that H.H. Hankins jumped to serve the same route with the Moreno Valley Stage and Freight Company line.
These transportation services replaced Col. Valentine “Jim” S. Shelby’s 1868 Moreno Valley Stage and Freight Line, which had run three times a week between Maxwell’s Ranch (today’s Cimarron) and Elizabethtown, departing from Maxwell’s one day and returning from Elizabethtown the next. Fares in 1868 were $8 each way. Shelby, a former army wagon master, seems to have enjoyed a good challenge. A co-owner of the Aztec Mine, he also helped fund the construction project that diverted water from Red River to the Baldy Mountain mining district, then took it over when it failed to live up to projections, on the chance that he could find a buyer—which he did. Shelby eventually left the Etown area and ended up in Santa Fe, where he ran a large gambling “resort”—yet another service in high demand in New Mexico Territory.