The identity of the steamer which carried San Diego’s first overland mail west from New Orleans to Indianola, and thence by the San Antonio & San Diego Mail Line through to this city is believed, at long last, to have been established.
Through the co-operation of the New Orleans Public Library, steamer schedules for the spring and summer of 1857 have been made available, by the painstaking process of searching, their old newspaper files. The files of the Daily True Delta and the Daily Picayune show the scheduled departure of the steamer Mexico for Indianola on June 28, 1857, and the Charles Morgan on July 5; it took each steamer about two days to reach Indianola, on Matagorda Bay.
As the first mail left San Antonio at 6 a.m. July 9, it could have come to Indianola in the Mexico, arriving at Indianola June 30, or – by a very close connection – in the Charles Morgan, arriving July 7. The mails, of course, went on from Indianola (now Port Lavaca) to San Antonio by stage.
Isaiah Woods, superintendent of the line, planned to be at San Antonio in time to supervise the loading of the first mail. However, he made the following entry in his diary:
July 7. – We were due in Indianola this morning at daylight, but unfortunately grounded in a fog on a sand bar at the entrance of the bay, which lost us the connexion with the coach for San Antonio. This delay prevented my attending in person to despatching the mail on the 9th from San Antonio, as I had much desired to do.
It thus becomes apparent that Woods reached Indianola in the Charles Morgan, that being the vessel due there on that date. It also is obvious that the mail must have come in on the steamer before – the Mexico, arriving on June 30.
According to Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1807-1868, a monumental work compiled by the late William M. Lytle, the Mexico was a side-wheel steamer of 1043 tons, built at New York in 1851, and sold foreign in 1870. While probably of the same general design as the famous Orizaba of San Diego’s early days, she was considerably smaller; the Orizaba measured 1335 tons.
Leonard V. Huber, of New Orleans, co-author of Tales of the Mississippi, made available to the Quarterly a steamer schedule for 1859, which had an electrifying effect, for it showed that the steamers then operating to Indianola were the Gen. Rusk, the Matagorda — and the Orizaba! Again “The Lytle List,” as it is popularly known, came to the rescue, by revealing that there were two steamers of that name. The second one was a little 595-ton side-wheeler built in 1858 – after our own Orizaba came to the Pacific Coast – and lost in 1865, after having served as the C.S.S. Orizaba during the Civil War.
It must have been shortly after the Birch mail started that they began sending the mail from New Orleans by rail to Berwick’s Bay (Morgan City, La.) and thence by steamer to Indianola; Huber fixes the time as “about 1857.” The steamers listed in that 1859 schedule were, no doubt, carrying San Diego-bound mail for the coaches which Birch’s successors continued to operate after his tragic death.