Butterfield Overland Despatch – Staging on the Smoky Hill Trail


Butterfield Overland Despatch departs Atchison, Kansas

Butterfield Overland Despatch departs Atchison, Kansas

David Butterfield’s Overland Despatch, in direct competition of Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company. Though other trails had been blazed along here, stage lines had not been successful due a scarcity of water and frequent Indian attacks. However, David Butterfield was determined that it could be profitable. The smooth-talking businessman soon obtained capital for the “Butterfield Overland Despatch” and the first stage left Atchison on June 4, 1865, arriving in Denver on September 23rd.

Along the 592 mile long route, relay stations were built about every twelve miles, for passenger’s rest, food, and changing of horses. The line was an initial success, providing tri-weekly express service between Atchison, Kansas and Denver, Colorado  in only 8-12 days.

Soldiers were also posted along the pathway at Fort Downer, Fort Harker, Fort Monument, Fort Wallace and other stops to protect the stations and the travelers from Indian attacks. However, the soldiers could not keep up with the furious Indians who felt their land was being invaded. Additionally, these “Indians” were not always as they appeared, but were allegedly Ben Holladay’s hired men dressed in Indian attire, who not only frightened those on the coaches, but also robbed them and burned their equipment and supplies.

By January, 1866 the David Butterfield’s Overland Despatch was in serious financial trouble and the company was reorganized with David Bray becoming the president. However, it was too little too late and just two months later, the line was sold to their competitor, Ben Holladay. Later that year, Holladay sold it to Wells-Fargo. During this time, the Kansas Pacific Railroad was also pushing towards Denver and by 1870, the stage line was no longer needed.


By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, September, 2017.

Also See: 

John Butterfield & the Overland Mail Company

Tales & Trails of the American Frontier


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