John H. Chrisman
Only someone dedicated to saving as much of days gone by in Texas as I can understand just how excited I was decades ago to suddenly find the words penned by John H. Chrisman right in front of me there in the town of Gatesville, Texas, the place where at the time Rickey and I owned a gym. Mr. Chrisman was born in 1821, but what really made me sit up and take notice was the fact that he moved to Gatesville, in 1854! In fact, he was there at the time the town was organized and lived in the first house built in the new town.
Now, if you are like the young people I once taught at Comanche High School I can hear it now. “So?”
Well, the “so” is that the first settlers arrived in what would eventually become Comanche County in 1854, and at that time, the county seat of the area was none other than Gatesville. Can you just imagine needing to “run up to the courthouse” and having to saddle up and ride the 65 miles or so…across Indian Territory, a land with no real roads? Somehow, I just had a feeling that if I read far enough, Chrisman was going to figure into the beginnings of this country as we know them….and I was right! As it turned out, John H. Chrisman might even be called Comanche’s first mailman. Of course, the town of Comanche did not exist at the time, and the county seat (the only real settlement in the county) was located at Cora, twelve miles south of present day Comanche.
“We were trying to live in an Indian country, and if some of us did not risk our lives in trying to beat the Indians back, and open up the country to civilization, we would all have to take the back track and let the Indians have the country. I concluded to send a bid for the mail route from Gatesville to Cora, but I thought I would make the bid so large that the government would not accept it.
“So I sent up a bid for $460.00 a year, which was nine dollars a trip once a week. But to my surprise, the government accepted my bid…so it mattered not what the danger was; I was in for it. I then got a good horse, the two main things for a frontierman’s safety is a fast horse and a good lookout….”
It was on June 1, 1858, that Chrisman began what was to become a four-year job and in the beginning, he found himself a bit lost, often going miles out of his way to get from Gatesville to Cora. He finally worked out the straightest possible route for himself by creating tall piles of rocks that he could see from one to the other along the way. Gradually, he moved the piles as he figured out the straightest way to get from one point to the other.
Chrisman went on to explain that he then had a log drug to create something of a trail that he could follow, and thus, the mail was delivered to Comanche County once upon a time, a long time ago!*I do not have a photo of Chrisman. The mailbag is simply one I found on Pinterest, claiming to be from the 1850s.