HARRISON & MCCULLOCH STAGE LINES
HARRISON & MCCULLOCH STAGE LINES. During the days of the Republic between 1836 and 1846, there were only a few stage lines operating in Texas. Most of the lines were in East Texas and ran along the coastline from Houston to Galveston and down to Indianola and Port Lavaca. John S. Harrison and his brother-in-law, William H. McCulloch, ran their stage lines from the coast to the central part of Texas as far back as the mid-1840s.
Texas stage lines were picking up immigrants who were arriving on steamers from New Orleans and other major ports of entry along the East Coast. Many European settlers arrived at New Orleans and took ships down to Galveston and Indianola to move inland into Texas. Between 1847 and 1850 there existed a rivalry between stage lines as to which city, Houston or Port Lavaca, offered the best route to the interior of Texas. An ad placed in the December 29, 1848, issue of the Galveston Weekly News stated:
The U.S. Mail stage leaves the Planter’s House on the arrival of the steamers from New Orleans and Galveston by which travellers will have a speedy and direct passage to Victoria, Cuero, Gonzales, Seguin, New Braunfels, San Antonio, and Austin. Messrs. Harrison and McCulloch, the well known proprietors of the line, have placed upon it an excellent coach, and will make their trips so as to enable passengers landing at Indian Point to proceed to the interior with as little delay as possible.
Competition for passengers became fierce as more settlers began arriving to Texas. The successful line of the enterprise of Brown & Tarbox (James F. Brown and Lyman Tarbox) prompted a strong response from Harrison & McCulloch in November 1847, when they “inaugurated the United States Line of stages between Port Lavaca and Victoria.” They then extended their route from Lavaca and provided a “four-horse stage weekly service to New Braunfels via Cuero, Gonzales and Seguin. It connected with the Houston stage at Gonzales and the San Antonio to Austin line at New Braunfels.” Edward Clegg became the first agent at Lavaca; the stage depot was located at the livery stable next door to his hotel.
Viktor Bracht in his accounting of his days spent in Texas in 1848 referenced the two main competing stage lines providing service between Austin and San Antonio:
Many of the Texas roads are traveled regularly by mail coaches. Thus Brown and Tarbox’s stage goes four times a week from Houston via Washington and Bastrop to Austin, and twice a week from there via New Braunfels to Bexar and back. The fare for the entire distance is twenty dollars, but only thirty pounds of baggage is carried free. Two competing stage coaches make at least two weekly round trips from Bexar via New Braunfels and Victoria to Port La Vaca, where they make connection with the steamboat to Galveston. I can recommend the stage coaches of Wm. and R. McCullough and of Harrison. The fare is ten dollars, and very little is charged for baggage. From the foregoing, it will be seen that stage coaches pass through New Braunfels eight times a week. Between the towns of Indian Point (Karlshafen) and Victoria, which are inhabited by many Germans, regular omnibus service has been inaugurated.
Austin and San Antonio sat on the western edge of the Texas frontier, and the land between them was subject to frequent Comanche attacks which made trade difficult and delayed the establishment of a safe route.
Mail was carried on the early stage lines as the result of contracts with the United States Post Office. These mail routes were given “Star Route” numbers. Harrison & McCulloch, had two star routes—No. 6154 (Gonzales through Belmont [previously Bellville], Seguin, and into New Braunfels) and No. 6155 (Gonzales through China Grove, Cuero, and into Port Lavaca) from about 1846 to 1850. The Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States on December 16, 1850, recorded: “…The petition of Messrs. Harrison and McCulloch, praying compensation for mail service on routes Nos. 6154 and 6155, in the State of Texas.” This denotes that they were seeking payment from the federal government for their postal Routes 6154 and 6155.
John S. Harrison also operated the Victoria Hotel in Victoria, Texas, from which he ran his stage office, and he advertised the business as the “Victoria Hotel and General Stage Office” in the Texian Advocate in 1848. The hotel was located at Bridge and Forrest streets, which later was the first site of the Trinity Episcopal Church. The well-known establishment on the coast of Texas was recommended as a stopping place for German settlers passing through Victoria in the 1840s. In connection with the hotel was a tavern on the west side of the building. Harrison’s Victoria Hotel was mentioned by Viktor Bracht in his book Texas in 1848 as being eleven miles from Indian Point on the “Route to the Interior.”
On December 6, 1849, Harrison advertised his route from San Antonio to Port Lavaca in the San Antonio Western Texan, with the name “Harrison & Brown.” John S. Harrison and Gonzales resident Dr. Caleb S. Brown, who was a prominent physician, civic leader, and business partner of Charles Braches in Gonzales, dissolved their stage line which ran between Port Lavaca and New Braunfels on June 17, 1850. Terms of the dissolution indemnified the partners for unpaid partnership debts, one means of which was the transfer to the “said Brown a deed of trust on a negro woman named Judi and her child three years old named Tennessee….”
On May 11, 1850, the federal government awarded a contract to Harrison & McCulloch to operate their stagecoach service from Austin to San Antonio with their route No. 6285. The route ran from Austin through Manchac, San Marcos, Bonita, New Braunfels, Frier, Cibolo (later to be named “Selma”) and into San Antonio. They successfully outbid four other stage lines for that route. Those lines that lost out on the postal contract were: Brown & Tarbox, Capshaw & Grant, L. Sims & Brothers, and Levi Shackelford. Harrison & McCulloch won the contract and upgraded their service from a two to a four-horse stage. Their stage would leave Austin at 3:00 a.m. and not arrive into San Antonio until 9:00 p.m. that night—an eighteen-hour trip.
In the June 5, 1851, edition of the San Antonio Ledger, John S. Harrison placed the following ad which he had written on July 13, 1850:
THE Proprietor respectfully informs the travelling public that he has fully organized this Line and is now prepared to carry passengers between Austin and San Antonio. He has provided pleasant and convenient coaches and fresh teams and skilled and accommodating drivers. He will make the trip through in one day. No visitor to the State should fail to pass over this route as it leads through one of the most beautiful portions of Texas, by way of San Marcos and New Braunfels. This Line connects at Austin with the Line to Houston and that to Gonzales, and at New Braunfels with the Line to La Vaca Bay.
The fare from Austin to San Antonio was $6. Capt. A. Coleman was the agent in San Antonio; Col. Durham at San Marcos; and Capt. J. M. W. Hall at Austin. With these three combined Star Routes—6285, 6154 and 6155—passage was afforded to travelers and mail all the way from Port Lavaca to New Braunfels where they could then catch the next stage on up to Austin or down to San Antonio. Those three routes made up a continuous circle from Austin to the coast and back by the early 1850s and was responsible for bringing in settlers to the central part of Texas during the first years of statehood. McCulloch, who moved to San Antonio by 1851, died about 1854. Harrison, who left Selma in 1854, died in Waco in 1864.
Noted on December 1, 1852, on the postal contract for Route 6285 was the transfer of the route on October 4, 1852, to William M. Rice (of Houston) who bid $3,000 and provided a four-horse stage. The Texas Almanac of 1861 listed a reference to the Sawyer and Risher Stage Line (see RISHER AND HALL STAGE LINES) running the same route from Austin to San Antonio. In 1871 Catherine Miller and her husband, John G. Miller (a former postmaster of Selma), leased their new “Stage stable” to this line, and in 1875 Catherine again leased her property to an incoming postmaster, Daniel Hofheinz; the lease included the outbuildings, the stables, and “the little stone house” which is believed to be the stage stop.
The Harrison & McCulloch Stage Stop, located on the access road of Interstate 35 at Evans Road in Selma, Texas, was declared a State Archeological Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission in October 2000. As the recipient of a Texas Department of Transportation TEA-21 federal grant in 2002, the stage stop was reconstructed using the original formula of limecrete, a type of early concrete. Archeological digs by the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2000 and again during the reconstruction phase failed to pinpoint the exact time period of construction of the building. The property was tilled and farmed over many years, and looters and relic hunters had free access to the building and its surrounding area. Some artifacts that were found, however, establish that the building dates to at least the early 1850s. A Texas Department of Transportation Visitors Center, built next to the stage stop, opened in June 2009 and is open to tourists traveling the Interstate 35 corridor.
Bexar County Deed of Records, Bexar County Clerk’s Office, San Antonio. Viktor F. Bracht, Texas im Jahre 1848 (Iserlohn, Westphalia: J. Bädeker, 1849; trans. C. F. Schmidt, San Antonio: Naylor, 1931). Oscar Haas, History of New Braunfels and Comal County, Texas, 1844–1946 (Austin: Steck, 1968). Galveston Weekly News, December 29, 1848. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States being the Second Session of the Thirty-First Congress, 1850–1851 (Washington, D. C.: 1851). Brownson Malsch, Indianola: The Mother of Western Texas (Abilene: State House Press, 1988). David L. Nickels and José E. Zapata, et. al., Archeological Testing at the Selma Stagecoach Stop and Post Office (41BX1409), Bexar County, Texas (San Antonio: Center for Archaeological Research, University of Texas At San Antonio, Archaeological Survey Report, No. 307, 2005). Registers of Star Route Contracts, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Texian Advocate (Victoria), October 12, 1848. Robert H. Thonhoff, San Antonio Stage Lines, 1847–1881 (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1971). Victoria Advocate, May 17, 1970.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Jean M. Heide, "HARRISON & MCCULLOCH STAGE LINES," accessed July 10, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/erh03.
Uploaded on August 3, 2012. Modified on August 6, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.