Smith’s Station on the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Line

Tags: ,

The Butterfield Overland Mail Trail ran from about 1858 to 1861 on a route that began in either Memphis or St. Louis and terminated in San Francisco carrying passengers and U. S. Mail. It began with the Overland Mail Expedition, which was a test of the route in January of 1858 and took about 25 days.

In the late 1850s, Butterfield and his associates made a bid for federal mail delivery utilizing a route across the southern US with a view that it could be in service 12 months of the year. Though it was 600 miles longer than a more direct route to the coast, the theory was that it would not be interrupted by winter weather. It allowed for semi-weekly mail delivery and at $600,000 per year, it was accepted. The east to west coast route from St. Louis had the following stops: Ft. Smith, AK, Colbert’s Ferry (near Denison, TX), Ft Chadbourne (about 25 miles south of Sweetwater, TX), Franklin (El Paso, TX), Tucson, AZ, Ft Yuma, AZ, Los Angeles, San Francisco. In all, it ran about 2800 miles and took 600 hours. The route took between three and four weeks counting overnight stops. At its peak, it employed 800 individuals and had 139 relay stations, 1800 horses and mules and 250 coaches. Subject to attack by Indians and bandits, the route was guarded for a time by the 9th Kansas Cavalry.

There were apparently two routes through Texas. From east to west, the line entered Texas by crossing the Red River near current day Denison and then came through or close to these towns: Sherman, Gainesville, Jacksboro, Ft. Belknap, Woodson, west of Albany (where our video is oriented), west of Abilene, Bronte, Grape Creek and angled southwest to between Crane and McCamey. It split west of there with the southern leg going to Ft. Stockton, Ft. Davis, up to Van Horn, westerly to Ft. Quitman and then following the Rio Grande to current day El Paso. The northern leg angled westerly to Pecos, generally followed the Pecos River to the current New Mexico border and from there went west to current day El Paso.

Butterfield had organized the company with partners that included Henry Wells and W. S. Fargo, the namesakes of Wells Fargo to form the original American Express Company which in turn organized the Butterfield Overland Stage Company subsidiary to operate the line. In 1860, the stage company was taken over by parent Wells Fargo in settlement of debts and Butterfield was forced out of the business. The entire line itself was discontinued roughly with the outbreak of the Civil War. (edited from the Handbook of Texas Online).