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Upper and Lower Roads

THE TRAIL BLAZED BY FORD AND NEIGHBORS and improved by Bryan became known as the Upper Road, that opened by Whiting and Smith and improved by Johnston as the Lower Road. At once they became the two recognized routes of transportation across West Texas. By either road, El Paso was more than 600 miles from San Antonio. But as the Lower Road was slightly shorter and offered more dependable sources of water and wood, it quickly emerged as the more popular. By the middle 1850's, this was the San Antonio-El Paso road.

The gold rush furnished the first heavy traffic. During 1849 alone, about 3,000 argonauts made their way to California by way of Texas. Many used trails through northern Mexico, but a large share followed the Upper and Lower Roads. Some preceded the official surveys. One company, led by John C. Hays, marched west as far as El Paso del Norte under the protection of Major Van Horne's infantry. The immigrant parties suffered hardship and misfortune. Some flew apart from internal dissension and strung out over the road in small groups. Besides suffering from heat and lack of water, many were not properly provisioned, and before reaching El Paso they found themselves subsisting on the meat of horses, mules, and even snakes. The migration continued throughout the 1850's, and the Painted Comanche Camp on the Limpia played host to several thousand travelers who, like Whiting, were delighted by the pleasant campsite with its abundant water, grass, and fuel.

The gold rush gave birth to an American settlement on the Rio Grande opposite the Mexican city of El Paso del Norte. First called Magoffinsville, it was named Franklin in 1852 and El Paso in 1859. The Santa Fe-Chihuahua trail here crossed the Texas-California trails, and local merchants enjoyed a lively business supplying the large numbers of travelers who used these routes. Freight trains began to ply the Lower Road, reaching Chihuahua and Santa Fe by way of El Paso. The Trans-Pecos trails became established avenues of commerce, and Texas at last had her longsought share of the Santa Fe-Chihuahua trade.

Mail carriers, freighters, and immigrants all risked Indian attack on the journey to El Paso. Almost from the edge of San Antonio to the Davis Mountains they rode in constant terror of Kiowa and Comanche warriors traveling between Mexico and their northern homes. From the eastern foothills of the Davis Mountains to Franklin, opposite El Paso, Mescalero war parties might at any moment dash upon a luckless train. With mounting frequency, Indians swept down on wagon trains and mail parties, ran off the stock, and, if the prey were weak enough, killed the whites and plundered the wagons. This they could do with impunity, for once a traveler left Fort Clark, 130 miles west of San Antonio, he could expect to see no soldiers until he reached Fort Bliss at Franklin. By 1854 military protection of the Lower Road had become a necessity.


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Last Modified: Fri, Oct 18 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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