|The Butterfield Overland Stage Route
In 1858 John Butterfield of Utica, N.Y. won a government contract of $600,000 a year for six years to carry mail from St Louis to San Francisco twice a week. Butterfield spent more than a million dollars getting the company started. He ran between 100 and 250 coaches, 1000 horses, 500 mules and had about 800 employees. The large, high quality coaches were manufactured in Concord, New Hampshire, weighed about 2,500 pounds and cost $1,300 at that time.
The Butterfield Overland Mail Company initially followed a southern route between St. Louis and San Francisco that skirted the Rocky Mountains and avoided the heavy winter mountain snows by traveling through Texas, southern New Mexico Territory and southern California. The trip, about 2,800 miles, was made in twenty-five days and sometimes less. Lack of water and hostile Indians plagued the route throughout its existence.
Though the coaches had the mail as their first priority they also accepted as passengers any hardy souls who were game for the adventure. Passage for the whole route cost $200, and a passenger was allowed twenty-five pounds of baggage, two blankets and a canteen. The coaches traveled at breakneck speed twenty-four hours a day; there were no stops for bed and breakfast--only the hurried intervals at the station houses when they changed horses. Travelers were then offered meals of bread, coffee, cured meat and, on occasion, beans. Mark Twain described the beverage he was offered by one station keeper, who called it slumgullion: "It purported to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler. He had no sugar and no milk--nor even a spoon to stir the ingredients with." (Mark Twain described travel in 1861 on the overland stage in Roughing It. Read an excerpt.)
Coaches passed through southeast Arizona twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays. The route through southeastern Arizona from 1858 to 1861 crossed into what is now Arizona from Mesilla, New Mexico Territory at Stein's Pass, then headed west/southwest to San Simon, through Apache Pass, Ewell Springs, and Dragoon Springs (about twenty miles north of Tombstone). It crossed the San Pedro River just north of the present Benson and then veered slightly north to pass Cienega and head up to Tucson and on to San Francisco via Yuma and Los Angeles. The ruins of the Butterfield Station at Apache Pass are part of the Fort Bowie National Historic Site near Willcox. James Tevis, an employee who helped build the Apache Pass station house describes it as follows: "A stone corral was built with portholes in every stall. Inside, on the southwest corner, were built, in L shape, the kitchen and sleeping rooms. At the west end, on the inside of the carral, space about ten feet wide was apportioned for grain room and storeroom, and here were kept the firearms and ammunition." [Tevis, Arizona in the '50s, p. 94]
An Overland Station: Indians Coming in with the Stage, by Frederic Remington
The Butterfield Stage terminated operations along the southern route at the outbreak of the Civil War. When Texas seceded from the Union early in 1861, the Overland Mail abandoned the Southwest. Officials in Washington rewrote the mail contract so that stages would travel through Nebraska and Utah. This was a devastating blow to the settlers in the New Mexico Territory, which included all of present-day Arizona. The change was immediately obvious to the Apaches who must have watched from the mountains as the wagons, horses and mules were gathered up in an ever-growing caravan heading for California. The ominous parade included more than 200 horses, wagons, supplies, and twenty-one stagecoaches, empty except for the driver. The Overland Mail was moving out "lock, stock, and barrel."
Some months before reporter Thompson Turner predicted that the removal of the Overland route would be a "death blow to Arizona."
The old Butterfield Road was later used by both the Confederate and the Union armies. During the Civil War Arizona territory was virtually cut off from adequate communication with the outside world.
J. Ross Browne described the lack of communications in the territory as follows:
The next public mail to reach Tucson came from California on horseback September 1, 1865. The first through mail from the east arrived August 25, 1866, but it was not until the coming of the miners and the railroads in the 1870s and 1880s that regular contact with the States was restored.
To go to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site:
Mark Twain described travel in 1861 on the overland stage in Roughing It. Read an excerpt. Adventures in the Apache Country will soon be available as a free e-book.
** Altshuler, Constance Wynn. Latest from Arizona! The Hesperian Letters, 1859-1861. Tucson: Arizona Pioneers' Historical Society, 1969