Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The Jackass Mail: San Antonio to San Diego, 1857-1861.

Plus: The Gravestone of Silas St. John.


On July 1, 1857, the Post Ofice Department awarded the first transcontinental mail contract, No. 8076, to James E. Birch. Although the purpose of the contract was to establish a land route for delivering mail to California, the long-term plan was also to put in place a more efficient trail for emigrants to help settle the west and also to act as a forerunner for the eventual building of a transcontinental railroad.

Click map to enlarge.

About the Author.

Gerald T. Ahnert

Gerald T. Ahnert has been researching the history of the Butterfield Trail in Arizona since 1970, when an aerospace contract first took him to the Grand Canyon State. In 2011 his research culminated in the publication of his second book, "The Butterfield Trail and Overland Mail Co. in Arizona, 1858-1861."

Ahnert is a member of the Arizona Historical Society, which honored him in 2011 for his efforts to preserve the trail on the Sentinel Plain in Western Arizona; and of the Southern Trails Chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association. He has recently written about the Butterfield Trail for the association's Desert Tracks publication and for the Overland Journal. His articles have been published in the Sunday New York Times, Antiques Journal, Coin World and other hobby periodicals, and online by the California Parks Department.

Before his wanderlust took hold, Ahnert had been a micro-electronic designer for the NASA-2 spaceflight simulator on the Apollo 11 project. Then, bitten by the trail bug, Ahnert and his wife spent 1973 and 1974 crossing the Sahara Desert on one of the world's longest desert trails, the Tanezrouf. For the past 35 years the couple has owned gold mining claims in the Klondike in Canada's Yukon Territory, where they make their summer home.

The rest of the year they live in Syracuse, N.Y. — where Gerald studied photojournalism — except for January and February when they return to Arizona to warm up, walk the trail and lecture about the Overland Mail Co.

AH1901: Download original documents and images here. Courtesy of the author.
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