Communication Before Telephones
Edith Grierson was 9 years old when she moved with her family to the frontier of Texas. Her father, Benjamin H. Grierson, was in the military and served as post commander of Fort Concho in West Texas from April 1875 to July 1882. Col. Grierson commanded the 10th Cavalry, a unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Since there were no schools, the Griersons brought with them a cousin, Olive McFarland, to serve as governess for the children. Olive returned home in 1876, and another cousin took her place.
Dances were a favorite form of entertainment at Fort Concho. The Griersons held dances or hops at their home on special occasions while other dances were held in the mess halls. Edith loved to dance, and her mother often described the hops in her letters to her friends back in Illinois.
The children at Fort Concho had numerous diversions to entertain them. Edith enjoyed needlework, but she also had a pony she loved to ride. Her brothers, Robert, Harry, and George, built bird traps and went hunting and fishing with the soldiers.
Edith and others at the fort had to communicate with family and friends through letters. Fort Concho was on the San Antonio-El Paso Mail route.
Samuel Finley Breese Morse
The telegraph was invented by Samuel Finley Breese Morse in the 1840s. He had found the first practical use for electricity - even before the light bulb and the telephone were invented!
On January 6, 1838, Morse and his partner, Alfred Vail, sent the first “message” on three miles of wire stretched around a large room. A month later Morse demonstrated the telegraph before President Martin Van Buren in Washington. In 1843 Congress appropriated $30,000 to build an experimental telegraph line from Washington DC to Baltimore.
On May 24, 1844, Morse demonstrated the telegraph to members of Congress. He was seated in the Capitol in Washington DC and tapped out his famous message: “What hath God Wrought?” The message was flashed to Alfred Vail at the railroad depot in Baltimore. The age of telecommunications had begun.
Within ten years, 23,000 miles of wire crossed the country. The telegraph greatly affected the development of the American West. Railroad traffic was improved by the telegraph as was industry and the military.
By October 1861 telegraph wires united the nation. The first transcontinental telegram was sent to President Abraham Lincoln assuring him that California would “stand by the Union on this, its day of trial.”
Telegraph service to Texas first began on a very limited basis in 1854. In the early days, wires were strung from treetop to treetop. Western Union Telegraph Company began operating in Texas in 1866, and by 1870 there were an estimated 1,500 miles of telegraph wire in Texas. At this time telegrams cost a quarter for distances under 25 miles. In 1876 a military telegraph line linking the San Antonio post with other army posts was completed.
The Pony Express operated for only a short period of time: April 1860 - October 1861. But despite its short life, the Pony Express gave rise to one of the most colorful episodes in the history of the American West.
The Pony Express was a mail delivery system using horse and rider relays. The route went between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. There were 157 stops on the 1,800-mile route. The riders changed horses six to eight times between stations. The most famous of the Pony Express riders was William Cody, known as “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
The Pony Express was a financial disaster and ended two days after the transcontinental telegraph line was completed.
Between the years of 1851 and 1881, United States mail and passengers were carried between San Antonio and El Paso by several different contractors: Henry Skillman, George Giddings, James Birch, Bethel Coopwood, Benjamin Ficklin, and Francis C. Taylor.
After the Civil War, Ficklin managed the field operations. This was similar to the job he had held in establishing the Pony Express. Ficklin reinvigorated the line, changed the route, and set up branch routes. The line now traveled north to the Middle Concho River near Fort Concho and then west to Fort Stockton.
Ficklin died in 1871, and Taylor took over. Taylor named the little village that had sprung up near the Middle Concho stage stop, Benficklin, in honor of his friend and partner. The coming of the railroad put the stage lines out of business.