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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 Sabine Pass.

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 north.

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 Texas.

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 living.

Copyright 1998-2018 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
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