A dusty stagecoach roared into a bleak place called San Jose 150 years ago this week, got fresh horses and raced off into history.

For 1858, this was a giant leap in modern communications.

Monday marks the sesquicentennial of the first transcontinental stagecoach mail route, bringing California and the Inland Empire far closer to the rest of the United States.

That San Jose stage stop, later called Spadra, is now part of today's Pomona.

On Sept. 15, 1858, the first eastbound stage of the Butterfield Overland Mail Co. left San Francisco for a 25-day trip that took it south through latter-day Pomona, Chino and Corona, east to El Paso, across Texas, and then northeast to St. Louis, the farthest west railroads then had reached.

A day later, the first stage left St. Louis for the West Coast.

But what's this got to do with modern communications?

In those times, it was a major effort to get word from one coast to the other. It took more than six weeks by clipper ships and mule (across Panama) for word of California's 1850 statehood to arrive in San Francisco.

To improve mail delivery to the West Coast, Congress in 1857 awarded a six-year contract to John Butterfield for $600,000 a year for a stage line system to deliver mail from St. Louis to San Francisco.

The task was huge, but within a year a series of stations stocked with fresh horses was set up all along the 2,866 mostly empty, often dangerous miles.

"This was a big advantage for California," said Dr. William F. King, author and recently retired professor of history at Mt. San Antonio College. "I don't know how much it helped the East, but it certainly was a boost for California, and especially Los Angeles."

Before Butterfield, mail to Southern California came by boat to San Diego then to San Francisco and then, with some delay, Los Angeles.

And as it turned out, the original plans didn't include stops in Pomona and Chino or even Los Angeles.

Butterfield's initial route was to go from Yuma through the Coachella Valley to San Bernardino, over the Cajon Pass on to Bakersfield.

Veteran Southern California teamsters hired by Butterfield knew that route had more than 100 miles without water and plenty of deadly summer heat. That, and the fact Los Angeles interests exploded at the thought of being bypassed and got the route changed.

Instead, the line crossed the Colorado River by ferry, dipped briefly into Mexico, and crossed the mountains near today's Anza-Borrego State Park. The line passed Temecula and Corona, through Chino, Pomona and El Monte, and then into Los Angeles.

While the main purpose of the line was mail delivery, you could travel on the stage from St. Louis to San Francisco for $200, what then was a fortune.

The hero of that first trip from the east was a tenacious newspaperman, Waterman L. Ormsby, a 23-year-old reporter from the New York Herald who was the only passenger to endure the 24 dusty days of continuous bouncing and banging.

He was very unimpressed when the stage reached the Chino Valley, noting that its fertile land seemed underutilized for grazing cattle and that early Inland Empire ranchers seemed a bit lazy.

"I could not but think what a different spectacle these fertile valleys would present were they populated by some of our sturdy, industrious eastern farmers," he wrote.

His stage stopped for breakfast on the morning of Oct. 7 at the ranch house of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, about three miles southwest of today's downtown Chino. Twenty-two days out of St. Louis, an undoubtedly weary Ormsby observed that with all the cattle in the Chino Valley, neither milk nor butter was available at the table.

"Their cattle dot the plains for miles around, and their land could produce everything; but they have not even the comforts of a Massachusetts farmer among his rocky hills," he wrote.

Ormsby may not have been impressed with Chino, but he failed to even mention San Jose (Pomona) in his dispatch.

San Jose, named for Rancho San Jose, was 12 miles from Chino at the ruins of an old Pomona-area adobe called Mission Graneros, according to a history of the stage line by Roscoe and Margaret Conkling written in 1947. 

Years later, that spot became Spadra, named by Billy Rubottom, who in 1868 built a hotel there near today's Valley Boulevard.

From the San Jose stop, the route went to El Monte and Los Angeles, turned north into the Central Valley and finally into San Francisco.

Ormsby's ordeal ended in San Francisco at 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 10, a couple of days after the first eastbound stage reached St. Louis. At its start, Butterfield stages left San Francisco and St. Louis every Monday and Thursday.

"Passengers will find it convenient to carry with them as much durable food as possible," he wrote in his dispatches published in September and October.

"As for sleeping, most of the wagons are arranged so that the backs of the seats let down and form a bed the length of the vehicle."

If the coach was full, passengers took turns sleeping.

"Perhaps the jolting will be found disagreeable at first, but a few nights without sleeping will obviate that difficulty, and soon the jolting will be as little of a disturbance as the rocking of a cradle to a suckling babe," wrote Ormsby.

The Butterfield line existed for only about four years and despite the government subsidy never did make any money.

"My take is that (Butterfield) thought he would make money by carrying passengers," said King.

"He figured by carrying six to eight passengers each trip, he'd make money on the deal. He did make money on the westbound trips but nothing on the eastbound trip, because nobody wanted to go the other way."

And as today, communication "technology" kept changing, each time dooming long-distance stagecoach operations.

In 1860-61, the Pony Express existed for about 18 months delivering letters from Missouri to Sacramento in about 11 days. By October 1861, the transcontinental telegraph was completed. And, in late 1869, you could board a train in Omaha and be on the West Coast in less than a week.