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Butterfield Overland Stage Company

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Butterfield Stage

The Butterfield Stage


"Had I not just come out over the route, I would be perfectly willing to go back, but I now know what Hell is like. I've just had 24 days of it."


-- Waterman Ormsby, special correspondent for the New York Herald, after having made the first westbound trip on the Butterfield Stage





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Butterfield Overland Stage Company (1857-1861) - Also known as the Butterfield Overland Mail Company, the stage line was the brainchild of John W. Butterfield, who had, in 1850, enticed his two rivals, Wells & Company and Livingston, Fargo & Company, to merge with his organization, which was called Butterfield, Wasson & Company. The merger formed the American Express Company (the same organization that exists today.)


Through the 1840's and 1850's, mail was carried between the east and west coasts by several private companies, some under federal contract, using various routes, including ocean steamers around South America, or overland, across the Isthmus of Panama. But, there was a desire for better and quicker communication. The government responded by authorizing the Postmaster General to contract for an overland mail route from Missouri to California. The Post Office Department advertised for bids for an overland mail service on April 20, 1857. Nine Overland Stage owners supplied bids and planned routes. The Postmaster-General preferred a southern route and Butterfield's proposal did just that.


John Warren ButterfieldFollowing what was called the Ox Bow Route, the path would run approximately 2,800 miles beginning in St. Louis, Missouri to Fort Smith, Arkansas, before proceeding on to El Paso, Texas; Fort Yuma, California and then to San Francisco. American Express won the coveted prize on September 15, 1857 and formed the Overland Mail Company to carry the mail, for which John W. Butterfield became president. When finalized, a six year mail contract, providing for payment of $600,000 per year, was the largest that had ever been awarded. The contract required that the twice weekly mail service running from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco, California, be made in 25 days or less. The 160 miles between St. Louis and Tipton, Missouri was traveled by train.


The company was given one year to get ready and soon poured more than a million dollars into establishing the route, building 139 stations, hiring 800 men, gathering over 250 Concord stagecoaches and almost 2,000 horses and mules. The route was divided into eastern and western divisions with Franklin, Texas (later to be named El Paso), as the dividing point. The two divisions were then subdivided into nine sections -- five in the East and four in the West. Each was managed by a superintendent.



Butterfield Overland Stage Route Map





Approximate Miles

Approximate Hours

Division 1

San Francisco to Los Angeles, California



Fort Tejon, California

Fort Tejon, California

Division 2

Los Angeles to Fort Yuma, California




Division 3

Fort Yuma, California  to Tucson, Arizona



Jaeger's Ferry at Fort Yuma, California

Jaeger's Ferry at Fort Yuma, California

Division 4

Tucson, Arizona to Franklin (El Paso), Texas



Apache Pass, Arizona

Apache Pass, Arizona

Division 5

Franklin (El Paso) to Fort Chadbourne, Texas



Ruins of the Pinery Station still stand in Guadalupe National Park in southwest

Texas; Kathy Weiser, February, 2008.

Division 6

Fort Chadbourne, Texas to Colbert's Ferry, Oklahoma



Fort Chadbourne, Texas

Fort Chadbourne, established in 1852, is located between Abilene and  San Angelo.  It also served

 as a stop for the Butterfield Overland Stage.

Kathy Weiser, November, 2009.

Division 7

Colbert's Ferry, Oklahoma to Fort Smith, Arkansas



Fort Smith National Historic Site

Fort Smith, Arkansas, October, 2007, Kathy Weiser.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!

Division 8

Fort Smith, Arkansas to Tipton, Missouri



The site of Bailey's Station on the Butterfield Trail in Missouri is now underwater at Truman Lake

The site of Bailey's Station,  located between Warsaw and Quincy, Missouri now sits under Truman Lake, Kathy Weiser, April, 2012.

Division 9

Tipton to St. Louis, Missouri



Union Station, St. Louis, Missouri

The stagecoach traveled only as far as Tipton,

where passengers and mail completed the trip

 to St. Louis by railroad.





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