WHEN SOUTHEAST TEXAS MAIL HAD 4 FEET:
BEAUMONT'S FRONTIER POSTAL SYSTEM
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE-JOURNAL, August 17, 1975
While Texas was still a Mexican province in December, 1835, the lone
horseman who reined eastward into Beaumont at sunset was most likely the Liberty post
rider. The 107-mile mail route No. 6 from Liberty to "Calcasieu, U. S. A.," with
its stops at Beaumont, Old Jefferson (present-day Bridge City), and Ballew's Ferry (near
Deweyville), required three days to cover the entire distance to Lake Charles. One can
readily imagine the harshness of the saddle journey in an era when only the rivers had
ferries, the bayous and creeks had to be swum or forded, and the jungle trails were marked
by miles of cattle tracks.
At Old Jefferson, where Claiborne West was the grocer and postmaster,
the Liberty post rider made connection with the mail from Jasper, contracted by Stephen H.
Everett of Jasper County. In November, 1835, both West and Everett neglected their postal
duties long enough to attend the Consultation at San Felipe, where each man signed a list
of grievances compiled against Mexico. Four months later, each attended another convention
at Washington-on-the-Brazos and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.
In conjunction with Colonel Henry Millard of Beaumont and other
delegates at San Felipe, the members of the Consultation passed legislation on December 8,
1835, which created the Municipality of Jefferson, which had the same identical boundaries
with present-day Orange County. As also the first elected delegation from extreme
Southeast Texas to the First Texas Congress in December, 1836, West and Everett (the
latter being president pro tempore of the Texas Senate) were soon instrumental in
enlarging Jefferson Municipality to Jefferson County, to include all of present-day
Jefferson and Orange Counties and half of Hardin County.
William F. Gray's diary of April, 1836, reported Beaumont as containing
"only three or four houses," whereas the Old Jefferson of 1840 was only a
scattering of about twenty log cabins. In 1835, the Mexican customs collector and
postmaster at Beaumont had been Capt. Samuel Rodgers. After becoming the county seat in
December, 1837, Beaumont was destined to grow and prosper, however, while the Cow Bayou
community was already in a state of retrogression. Since Capt. Benjamin Harper enlisted 28
men at Beaumont on March 4, 1836, to fight at the Battle of San Jacinto, it is obvious
that many farm families resided in the immediate vicinity.
As a stop on the 1835 post route, it certainly appears logical that
Beaumont had both a post office and a postmaster, but additional information is lacking.
Even Col. Henry Millard may have been Beaumont's postmaster at his store at some point in
late 1835. Both Millard and Rodgers are believed to have owned stores in 1835, and both
were certainly connected with the earliest townite promotion at the crossroads hamlet.
(Apparently Rodgers died in 1836.)
Beaumont's first Texas Republic postmaster of record, however, was
Joseph P. Pulsifer, whose name appeared on a list of Texas postmasters in 1840 (although
he was probably appointed in 1837). He was also a druggist; Millard's partner in the old
Millard store and in the original Beaumont townsite; as well as the Republic of Texas'
second collector of customs for Sabine "Bay." In May, 1846, Pulsifer and
Millard's brother, Dr. D. J. Otho Millard, bought the store, and the firm's named was
changed to J. P. Pulsifer and Company.
Elsewhere in the Jefferson County of 1840, Wyatt McGaffey was
postmaster at Sabine Pass, and the infamous Thomas D. Yocum, who was lynched for his
murders in 1841, served the postal patrons of the Pine Island Post Office. Where the Old
Spanish (cattle) Trail intersected the Jasper Road, 12 miles east of Beaumont, George A.
Pattillo was postmaster at Pattillo's Station on Cow Bayou. R. E. Booth ran the post
office at Mount Holland in north Orange County (exact location unknown but near Ballew's
Ferry). In Jasper County, Seth Swift was postmaster at Salem (on Sabine River); N. H.
Cochrane at Cochrane's Retreat; B. Richardson was postmaster at Richardson's Ferry (now
Evadale); and Thomas B. Huling at Old Zavala (not the present town of that name).
In March, 1839, in a letter written at Beaumont to President Mirabeau
B. Lamar, S. H. Everett reported that no post office existed at Sabine Pass, and no post
route connected that seaport with the county seat. As a result, all custom house mail had
to carried by boat for posting at Beaumont.
By May, 1840, mail route No. 29 linked Sabine Pass and Beaumont. Post
Route No. 12 ran from Liberty, via Pine Island, Beaumont, Pattillo's Station, Old
Jefferson, and Mount Holland, to Lyons, Louisiana, on the Calcasieu River. Route No. 13
connected Jefferson, via Jasper, Zavala, San Augustine, and Shelbyville, with East
Hamilton on the Sabine River. Each route was designed to complete one round-trip weekly.
By 1842, the 112-mile mail route No. 3 linked Houston with Pattillo's
Station, with stops at Liberty, Beaumont, and Jefferson. By 1846, Beaumont's post office
had been moved to Herring's Store, on the Neches River at the foot of Main Street, where
William Perry Herring was postmaster.
In April, 1846, a new route connected Beaumont with Galveston. Between
1850-1852, a Beaumont patriarch, Capt. George W. O'Brien, was employed as the Galveston
mail rider. Along the route he reported seeing large herds of deer, one estimated to
number 500 heads. In his memoirs, entitled "Early Days of Beaumont," O'Brien
reported that the Beaumont of 1850 was "nothing but a hamlet, although the county
seat, with a much larger territory than at present (1905)."
"Nearly all of the little town then was near where the present
courthouse stands, but at that time there was no courthouse. A rented, wooden, one-story
building was used as the courthouse. It was on the southeast corner of the present
courthouse square....At that time there were no more than one dozen buildings in the town,
and among them was only one two-story house, it being occupied on the first floor by the
old Millard store. D. J. Otho Millard was the proprietor of the store."
Until May, 1846, when he moved to Galveston, Capt. O'Brien father, who
was a brother-in-law of Henry Millard, had owned a half-interest in the Millard store. In
1847, he began the Galveston and Sabine Bay Stage Line, carrying the Sabine Pass mail one
round-trip weekly along the beach. One-way fare was $6 for those passengers "with no
other luggage than saddle bags."
In 1848, the United States postal system authorized three new routes in
Jefferson County. One connected Beaumont, "via Jonas Cravey's," with Town Bluff
in Tyler County. Another route linked Green's Bluff (Orange), "via Lawhon's
Mills," and Newton. Still a third route ran from Lyons, La., via Green's Bluff, to
In 1852, new routes were established between Sabine Pass, Wiess Bluff,
and Nacogdoches and between Sabine and New Orleans, via the Gulf of Mexico. By 1854, other
post routes connected Beaumont with Ballew's Ferry, Beaumont and Woodville, Sabine with
Jasper, and Sabine and Green's Bluff. In 1850, Beaumont, Pattillo's Station, Sabine City,
and Green's Bluff were the only post offices in Jefferson County (which included all of
Orange County until 1852).
In 1855, Duncan Woods in Orange County became a post office, and was
followed in 1859 by two others in Jefferson, including Holmsville (location unknown) and
Grigsby's Bluff (now Port Neches), where Samuel Remley was the first postmaster.
By 1856, steamboats were domiciled permanently in Jefferson County, and
mail service from Sabine to inland points increased to sometimes three round-trips weekly.
The steamer "Doctor Massie," owned by C. H. Alexander and Co. of Sabine Pass,
connected that seaport with Beaumont, Wiess Bluff, Town Bluff, and Bevilport in Jasper
County. In 1857, the steamboat "T. J. Smith," owned by H. C. Smith and Henry B.
Force of Orange, was built at Town Bluff, Tyler County, expressly as a mail packet to
connect Beaumont, Sabine and Orange.
By 1858, the packet "Mary Falvey," owned by C. H. Ruff of
Beaumont, made scheduled weekly voyages between Sabine, Beaumont, Concord on Pine Island
Bayou, and Wiess Bluff in southwest Jasper County. At the latter point, the steamboat
connected with Taylor's Stage Line to San Augustine, Nacogdoches, and other points to the
Between 1861, when the first Texas and New Orleans rails reached
Beaumont, and 1867, letters from Beaumont could reach Houston in eight hours. That stretch
of railroad had rotted away by 1867 and lay abandoned for nine years. It was 1876,
however, before the railroad to Houston was rebuilt and became a reliable transportation
artery to other points in Texas, and it was 1881 before the first mail train crossed the
Sabine River en route to New Orleans. By 1861, the telegraph line provided a quick
communications link between Beaumont, Houston, and Galveston, but many more years elapsed
before telegraph messages could be transmitted to points east of Orange. As of 1867,
Galveston was still complaining because it had no telegraph links outside the state of
During the antebellum era, when loneliness and separation from the
outside world were every rural Texan's inheritance, one can readily fathom the jubilation
which welcomed the arrival of each post rider, mail train, or cotton steamboat.
Two-thirds or more of the mail volume reaching Jefferson County consisted of the
Houston and Galveston newspapers, as well as such periodicals as "Godey's Ladies
Book," "DeBow's Review," and "Harper's Weekly." However old, each
letter or publication was read and reread many times, was passed along to friends and
neighbors, and provided a momentary diversion from the harshness and monotony of frontier