with tight security, computer glitches, unruly passengers and fees
for what used to be free, airline travel is more trying these days
than it used to be.
But anyone facing a long trip can at least be thankful that public
transportation has advanced considerably since the 19th century.
Amazingly, not until the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (fondly
known for decades as The Katy) hit Denison
on Dec. 25, 1872 was it even possible to take a train from another
state to Texas. As late as 1870, the
only rail service in the state extended from Galveston
to Houston to Calvert.
That amounted to only 181 miles of track.
to Houston, the Houston
and Texas Central Railway operated along 130 miles of rail. The
Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railway ran trains from the island
city to Houston and back,
a total of 51 miles one-way.
That was fine for folks living in Galveston
or Houston or other points
along the line, but it was an enclosed system. Visitors from another
state who wished to travel by rail in Texas
first had to get to Houston
by stagecoach or Galveston
by water. Someone boarding a train in New Orleans could travel only
80 miles to Brashear, La. before reaching the figurative end of
the line. There, the journey continued aboard a steamship operated
by the Morgan Line. The steamship company sent one of its vessels
three times a week.
Until people could board a train for the Lone Star State, the only
way to reach Texas was by foot, horse,
wagon or stagecoach. Train travelers wishing to come to Austin
got off the iron horse at Brenham
to catch the stagecoach that would take them the rest of the way.
to go from Texas to California faced
and even longer and more difficult journey. In 1858, an Austin
newspaper marveled that a stagecoach trip from Texas westward to
the Golden State had been made in a mere 18 days.
The State Gazette, a newspaper published in Austin
back then, reported that "the great enterprise of connecting the
Atlantic and Pacific by rapid overland mail communication has been
crowned with success."
The first east-bound through trip of the Butterfield Overland stage
arrived at Fort Belknap
in Young County
on the morning of October 4, two weeks and four days into its anticipated
24-day journey from San Francisco to St. Louis.
In reaching Fort
Belknap when it did, the newspaper reported, the stage was running
"a little under schedule time."
A year before, Congress had approved a $600,000 annual contract
for twice weekly overland mail service between California and St.
Louis. The agreement stipulated that the 2,795 mile distance should
be covered within 25 days. The stage, pulled by four horses, carried
six passengers in addition to mail.
"Everything so far, owing to the superior organization of the line,
has gone on with complete success," the newspaper report continued.
"This is entirely owing to the energy of the Superintendents and
Once the stage passed Sherman,
"arrangements have been made to illuminate all the towns through
which the line passes" with "a grand jubilee" scheduled at each
stop and at St. Louis.
"Bring out your big gun, rooster, or something that will make a
noise," the newspaper's enthusiastic correspondent gushed. "Next
to the Atlantic Cable, this is the greatest triumph of the present
To send a letter half-way across the continent cost 10 cents per
as the mail distribution point for Texas, service along the Overland
route continued until March 1861, when the it was moved farther
north. Not long after that, the Civil War ended the transportation
The glorious news from Fort
Belknap about the first stage trip had taken its own sweet time
reaching the capital city. The story reporting the stage coach's
October 4 arrival in Northwest Texas did not appear until October
16, nearly two weeks after the fact.
"Texas Tales" June
28, 2017 column