BUTTERFIELD OVERLAND STAGE
Background – The California Gold Rush resulted in more than a quarter of a
million men heading west to California
in search of their fortunes during the bonanza years of 1849 through
1853. Most of them left their families behind and keeping in touch was a
major effort. Private companies, some of which were under federal
contract, conveyed the mail. These companies used various routes,
including ocean steamer around South America or overland across the Isthmus of Panama. Mail service was extremely
sporadic, at best once or twice a month. There was a definite need for a
regular mail service. On 3 March 1857, Congress passed a bill authorizing
the Post Master General to issue a cross-country mail-carrying contract.
The route selection was to be determined by agreement between the contractor
and the Post Master General but was to run between some point on the
Mississippi River and San Francisco,
a distance of over 2800 miles. However, the bill stipulated that the coaches
had to be capable of carrying passengers, that each trip had to be completed
within 25 days and that service must start within one year of the letting of
John Butterfield – John Butterfield was born in 1801 in Berne, New York.
He became a professional stage driver by the age of 19 and soon became the
owner and operator of a livery service. In 1850, he convinced Henry Wells
and William Fargo to consolidate their express companies with his own
Butterfield & Wasson Company to form the American Express Company, which
Butterfield then directed. In 1857, Butterfield won the $600,000 contract
to deliver the mail from St. Louis to San Francisco. The
Butterfield Overland Stage Company, a subsidiary of the American Express
Company had outbid nine other groups to win the contract.
Butterfield Overland Stage Company – After signing the contract,
Butterfield had to develop the route and resources to fulfill the contract. His
first task was to hire about 800 men that he would need to operate the company.
He primarily hired experienced frontiersman, men friendly with the various
Indian tribes that would be encountered along the right-of-way. Using the most
capable men, he began laying out the route and erecting almost two hundred
stage stations. The stage stations were located approximately twenty miles
apart. Next came the purchase of the animals and
rolling stock. He acquired more than a thousand horses, about seven
hundred mules, eight hundred sets of harnesses and about two hundred and fifty Concord stagecoaches and
spring wagons. In addition, hay, grain and other supplies, including
food, had to be stockpiled at the way stations and arrangements made for
regular deliveries to them after the coaches began rolling.
The Dragoon Springs Station was located just north of the Dragoon Mountains
near Dragoon Springs. In the 1850s Dragoon Springs was an assured water
source. The exact location of the springs is difficult to determine today
because they stopped flowing after the earthquake of 3 May 1887. The
Dragoon Station was a “swing” station used for changing horses or mules. The
animals were kept inside the station in a stock corral. The walls were 10
feet high and constructed of stone. The ruins of the station’s walls
exist today. There were six stations between what is currently the Arizona border and Tucson
(San Simon, Apache
Pass, E Wells, Dragoon
Springs, San Pedro and Cienega). E Wells was 25
miles to the east and San Pedro (Benson) was 21 miles to the west. The
fare between St. Louis and San Francisco was $200 for westbound
passengers and $100 for east bound.
The first run of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company left St. Louis at 0800, 18 September 1858, passed through Tucson on 2 October and arrived in San Francisco on 10 October. The total
elapsed time was 23 days, 23 ˝ hours which beat the contract requirement of 25
days. The average speed was 5 miles per hour for the 2866-mile
trip. The time was reduced on future runs with most stages arriving
at their final destination 22 days later. The Overland Mail Company continued
to make two trips a week from each direction for the next 2 ˝ years. In
March of 1860, Butterfield was forced out of his position as head of the
company due to the large debts he owed to Wells and Fargo. The
Overland Stage Company was taken over by Wells Fargo and Company. The
stage line continued to run for another year and the last run was made in March
Race with the Great Eastern - In 1859,
Butterfield made a $100,000 bet with Captain Harrison, the captain of the Great
Eastern which was the largest and fastest steam ship in the world. The
bet was that the Overland Stage could make the trip from St.
Louis to San Francisco in less time
than the Great Eastern could sail from New York
to San Francisco.
They both departed their respective departure points at the same time.
The Overland Stage pulled into San
Francisco twenty days later. The Great Eastern
docked in San Francisco
36 hours after the stage had arrived.
Apache Relationships – The route of the stage line through what was to
become Southeastern Arizona ran through the
territory controlled by the Chiricahua Apaches.
During the early runs of the stage line, the Apaches were not openly hostile to
the Anglo-Americans. It is thought that he actually entered into an “agreement”
with the staff of the stage line that he limit his raids to south of the border
and would leave the stage line alone In fact, Cochise even had a contract with
the stage line during the winter of 1860 to provide wood to the stations.
This all changed during February 1861 following a major blunder by 2nd Lt.
George Nicholas Bascom. Lt Bascom
had been sent from Fort
Buchanan to question
Cochise about the abduction of a child from a ranch near Sonoita.
Cochise and several of his relatives met with Lt. Bascom
near Apache Pass. Bascom
accused Cochise of the abduction and tried to arrest him but Cochise escaped.
The rest of his party were held as hostages by the
Army. During the next few days, Cochise also took hostages hoping to negotiate
the release of his people. Both sides ended up killing some of their
hostages. Three of the Apaches that were hanged were Cochise’s
relatives. This incident resulted in 10 years of bloody retaliation by
the Apaches. Within 60 days, 150 Anglo-Americans were killed and it has
been charged that the series of blunders, which loosed Cochise upon the
Americans, cost 5,000 American lives and the destruction of hundreds of
thousands of dollars worth of property. This was one of the main reasons
the stage route was shut down a month later.
For more information, click on the following links.
1. John Butterfield
Summary prepared December 2004 by T. Johnson from material found in several web
Supplemental Information: The Australian-based mining and petroleum firm
of BHP Billiton has filed an intent to conduct a surface exploration for
minerals in a 2 square mile section of land centering around Jordan Canyon (The
Stage Station is located at the entrance to Jordan Canyon). The survey
was to take place between 10 February and 9 April 2006. The exploration
is for the presence of porphyry copper. Although the land was made
available to ranchers under the 1916 Stock Raising Homestead Act (SHRA), the
mineral rights of the property were retained by the federal government.
The mineral rights are available for leasing through the Bureau of Land
Management with provisions similar to the 1872 Mining Act. Both acts
permit surface exploration and the picking up of surface samples, and later,
the establishment of exploraty wells. Mining
could take place after the BLM conducts an environmental assessment if
environmental impacts can be addressed.
Summarized from the 1 February, 2006 Arizona
Additional Material: GVHC Library File 28