Despite all the sound and fury, however, the Post Route Bill enjoyed surprisingly good progress and early in February reached the upper house. In it was a provision for daily mail between California and the Missouri River for which the government would pay not over $800,000 per year. Russell’s optimism flew high. His inquisition by the Select Committee was ended, the inquiry having been closed February 8th, and he had already cleared the indictment hurdle. In a letter to Waddell he expressed “great faith in getting the mail contract, all right.”
Hardly had the Senate begun deliberations when sobering advice reached the capital: Confederate forces had cut the Butterfield line near Fort Chadbourne, its stages had been stopped and the movement of mail halted. As it eventually turned out, the accused Texas Rangers actually hadn’t stopped stages but merely had appropriated a large amount of the company’s grain and several horses. The mail delay had taken place coincidentally, when Indians swooped down on the line in the treacherous Apache Pass.
But the first word, coming at the climax of national tension, gave Washington the jitters. The danger was all too apparent. Prominent voices in California had been loudly sympathetic with the southern cause. The Golden State’s strategic location and Midas-like mineral wealth were rich prizes for both secessionists and loyalists-prizes the Union could ill afford to lose on default, for lack of an unbroken line of communication.