Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Between 1851 and 1861 a succession of federal mail contractors operated overland stage companies between San Antonio and El Paso, Texas. At different times during this period they expanded their service to include Santa Fe, New Mexico and San Diego, California in the system as well. They thus provided not only commercial transportation to most of the major population centers in the American Southwest, but also created the first transcontinental postal service in the nation's history. These pioneering enterprises aided the region's development with improved communications and the infusion of government funds into an area that was admittedly dependent upon such expenditures for much of its economic growth. By acting as a precedent for the selection of a route for an anticipated transcontinental railroad the mail lines stroked the fires of Texas imperialism and Southern sectionalism while exacerbating Northern fears of a conspiratorial and expansionist slave power. In doing so the stage companies added at least indirectly to the tensions that tore the nation apart in 1861 and ended the federal contracts. During the Civil War the expressmen accepted Confederate contracts to perform the same service and briefly helped to sustain a Southern bid for hegemony over the entire Southwest. With the termination of the El Paso mail in 1864 after the death of the major contractor in a clash with Union troops the dream of empire died. Commercial transportation in the region awaited the opening of a new phase in which it was reduced to a factor of essentially local significance. There is a paucity of scholarly literature on the San Antonio-El Paso mail contracts. Federal postal records of the period are actually less comprehensive than the captured Confederate ones. While several useful articles and monographs have been published that deal at least peripherally with the subject, no major work has yet appeared. Researchers must rely extensively upon contemporary newspaper accounts, military correspondence, personal memoirs, and an extensive set of United States Court of Claims testimony assembled by one contractor, George H. Giddings, for their sources.