Stephen F. Austin State University

East Texas stage line owner was a first class male (May 2018)

East Texas stage line owner was a first class male

By Van Craddock

Before the iron horse arrived in East Texas, there was the stagecoach. William T. Bradfield's four-horse coaches helped make him a rich man. His stage line served the prosperous new village of Earpville, which predated Longview and was located in what later became Gregg County.

In addition, Rockwall Farm opened in 1854 two miles west of what eventually became the town of Longview. Rockwall Farm was a large colonial-style home that was an overnight stop on Bradfield's stage line.

Bradfield, born in 1813 in North Carolina, married Georgia native Ann Elizabeth Talley in 1840. A dozen years later the couple moved to East Texas, settling in Harrison County.

The Bradfields raised a large family and grew cotton on their sizable plantation near Marshall. But William believed he could prosper even more with a stagecoach line. He also secured a lucrative contract with the federal government to carry the U.S. mail on his coaches.

Bradfield was operating a stagecoach from Marshall to Shreveport, La., by the late 1850s. He ran an advertisement in Rusk's Texas Enquirer newspaper in April 1859 noting his "line of four-horse Post Coaches runs regularly three times per week from Shreveport via Marshall, Henderson and Rusk to Crockett."

According to Bradfield, his stages and horses were "the best that can be procured, drivers sober and accommodating. Travelers from the older states can take this line at Shreveport and pass through the rich counties of Harrison, Rusk and Cherokee to Crockett where they will find conveyance to any part of West Texas."

When the Civil War began in 1861, son John Bradfield led the stage company while father William joined the Confederate cause. He served as quartermaster of the Seventh Texas Regiment, later returning to Marshall as provost marshal and with the rank of major.

After the war, Bradfield expanded his stagecoach operation. In April 1869 Marshall's Texas Republican newspaper reported:

"Stage Route to Dallas - We notice that Messrs. William Bradfield & Co. has established a direct stage from Marshall to Dallas. This is a convenience that has long been required, and our only surprise is that it was not inaugurated years ago."

Bradfield's stage line ran from Marshall to Hallsville, Earpville, Starrville, Tyler, Garden Valley, Canton, Prairieville, Kaufman and Dallas. A trip from Hallsville to Dallas cost $20; from Tyler to Big D was $13. Passengers could "rest all night at Tyler and Prairieville. At present the trip is made through in four days. After the first of May this line will carry the mail and will make the trip in three days without any night travel."

In August 1869, the Southern Pacific railroad line was extended from Marshall to Hallsville, making the latter the railroad's western terminus.

"This line connects at Hallsville with the Southern Pacific Railroad to Shreveport," Bradfield boasted, "and also, by way of Marshall, with stages for Jefferson … It is the cheapest, most expeditious, and pleasantest route in the state."

Stage lines began to decline as more railroads were built across Texas. In 1869 the Texas Republican had told readers, "When we get our railroad completed, the entire distance (from Marshall to Dallas) can be traversed in eight hours."

Travelers could save time and money by taking the train instead of a stagecoach. The four-horse coaches generally were too hot or too cold, dusty, muddy and jolting on East Texas' primitive roads. Coaches also could be dangerous with washouts and the occasional road bandit.

As stagecoach travel declined, William Bradfield sold his coach line and served as a director for the Texas and Pacific railroad, which had acquired the Southern Pacific in 1872. In 1873 he was station agent for the T&P's depot at the new town of Mesquite. The Bradfields are considered to be that Dallas County town's first settlers.

The Bradfields returned to North Carolina in 1875. Bradfield, 86, died May 26, 1899, and was buried in Madison Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Rockingham County, N.C.