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San Diego to San Antonio, $150

AT OLD TOWN, atop a hill overlooking beautiful San Diego Bay and the tropical wilderness that was destined to become modern San Diego, California, a great celebration was in progress on July 9, 1857. Rugged and fun-loving pioneers poured black powder between two anvils and touched matches to the crude fuses that protruded out. The resultant explosions shook the whole hillside. Crude firecrackers boomed. Beer flowed freely. Bells pealed from the ancient church to add a note of dignity to the boisterous occasion. Local statesmen made speeches to those who would listen.

The celebration marked a great epoch in the history of Old Town and of the entire nation, although the average celebrant did not recognize the far-reaching significance of it then.

The start of the first overland mail, from San Diego to San Antonio, Texas, thence on to New Orleans on a route already established, brought to realization the dream of James E. Birch, who had planned an overland mail route since 1849.

It required 56 days to make the first run from San Diego to San Antonio. The first east-west stage arrived on September 5, 1857, after only 34 days on the road, and another great celebration broke out in Old Town. A. W. Lane was the first driver out of San Diego, and James Mason drove the first stage out of San Antonio, west.

Postage was reasonable enough, considering the hazardous journey and the great time-saving effected, the rate being three and one-half cents per ounce, but there was a hitch in arrangements when it was discovered that the San Diego postmaster had no stamps, the nearest source of supply being San Francisco.

Transportation tickets an the overland stage were sold only from San Francisco, passengers going from there to San Diego by boat.

That an overland trip in those roaring frontier days was both hazardous and expensive, is shown by a typical Birch stage advertisement:

"Passengers must take arms and thick boots, woolen pants, three linen shirts and three woolen overshirts, a wide-awake hat, sack overcoat, soldier's overcoat, blankets, a piece of India rubber cloth, needles and thread, hair brush, 3 or 4 towels, money in silver or small gold. Price San Diego to San Antonio $150.00."

Although Birch swung his route far south over the mountains, it was necessary for many years to abandon the stage at Green Valley ranch, at the foot of Cuymaca mountain. Here passengers mounted burros and rode l8 miles to Callecito in the desert.

—Ruel McDaniel.