1856, the people of California had become extremely vocal in demanding
faster mail service with the east. In March 1857, Congress
passed a Post Office Appropriations Bill with amendments providing
for an overland mail route. Coaches were to carry passengers
and mail and make the trip from Missouri to San Francisco in 25
days. While bids were being considered, James E. Birch, (No
relation to John Birch), entered into a contract to carry mail from
San Antonio to San Diego. The first trip began in August of
1857. It passed through Vallecito but took the old Fages route
through the Oriflamme Mountains. This required that passengers
and mail had to be transported on mules over the mountains.
Because of this, the route became known as the "Jackass Mail".
It lasted only 18 months until Birch was drowned at sea when his
ship sank off Cape Hatteras enroute back from Washington DC .
Butterfield was awarded the mail contract to San Francisco in September
of 1857, and a year later, after securing sites for stations and
buying equipment, horses and mules and hiring men, the first trip
was started from Tipton, Missouri on September 16, 1858. Butterfield's
son drove the first leg of the journey with Waterman L. Ormsby,
a reporter from the New York Herald. (Ormsby's
description of the journey from Missouri to San Francisco on the
Butterfield-Overland stage is recounted in the book The
Butterfield Overland Mail, published in 1942 by the Henry
E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, CA.)
stops along the trail were for only a few minutes to change horses
and drivers. Passengers had a good meal only once every 24
hours at what were called "Home Stations". Vallecito
was a Home Station, and good meals were provided to the travelers
from produce and meat supplied by farmers on Mt. Palomar.
Meals mentioned as having been served at Vallecito include beef
stew, venison and sauerkraut. There were two coaches a week,
and passengers could wait for the next coach, but the only sleeping
accommodations were their own two blankets on the dirt floor.
Civil War Era in the Anza-Borrego
the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Butterfield Stage Route
was moved north to the 34th parallel to avoid going through Arizona
and New Mexico, which were contested territories and both under
Confederate control at the outbreak of war. Although stages
no longer stopped at Vallecito, it was still an important stopping
place for emigrants and the military. There were many men going
east to enlist in one side of the War or the other, and soon there
were many veterans and deserters from both sides travelling west
through Vallecito seeking a better life in California.
the Civil War, there were approximately 15,000 troops enlisted into
the California Volunteers. Most of these troops saw no real
battles in the war, however the 2nd Regiment of Cavalry and the
3rd Infantry kept the overland route to California open and free
from attacks from Indians. California troops manned posts
from Puget Sound to Texas while the regular troops from these posts
were sent to battles in the east. In the Anza-Borrego region,
these troops manned the forts near Warner's Ranch and Yuma.
The old stage stations at San Felipe, Vallecito and Carrizo Creek
were pressed into service as supply stations.