by Susan Page Davis
In 1858, The Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line opened its Southern Route, a large part of which went through Texas. Its name comes from John Butterfield, who with several associates bid on the western mail route. It was also known as the Oxbow Route, because of the shape of the path it took.
This route was convenient for several reasons, including the normally warm and dry weather. It did have its drawbacks, however, including the often hostile Comanche and Apache tribes and long stretches where water was scarce. It was chosen over proposed shorter routes farther to the north because of the promise of year-round delivery. Snowfall was a rarity on this route. At the time, the $600,000-a-year contract was the largest overland mail contract ever awarded in the United States.
|By Butterfield Overland Mail Company Uploaded by Zeamays at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
Most of the stagecoaches used on this route were Concord coaches, made by the Abbott-Downing Company in Concord, N.H. They carried passengers and cargo, along with the mail. The route started in Memphis and St. Louis, converging at Fort Smith, Arkansas. The coaches then entered Texas at Colbert’s Ferry on the Red River.
The line swept across northern Texas, dipping down to El Paso on the state’s far western edge, and went on to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The entire route was 2,700 miles long and held 164 stations, at an average of 20 miles apart.
Two types of stations lay along the road. At swing stations, the drivers stopped only for a few minutes to swap out their teams for fresh mules or horses. At home stations, the station agent provided meals for the drivers and passengers at about 50 cents a head. These stations were not known for their cuisine—beans, hard tack, beef jerky, and coffee were the staples. Some passengers carried their own food. Several forts were also at or near stops on the route.
|By BrokenSphere (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)|
Texans gladly welcomed the Butterfield Overland. They built bridges and roads to accommodate the stagecoaches and welcomed the passengers and information that flowed in because of the mail run.
However, this southern route was used only for a short time. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Texas seceded from the Union. Federal troops were withdrawn from the area, and the threat from hostile Indians increased. Supplies were harder to come by. The last Butterfield stagecoach eastbound through Texas rolled out of Fort Chadbourne on March 12, 1861, with a Confederate flag flying over the fort.
The company rerouted its California run to roads far north of Texas, following well-worn emigrant trails. This became known as the Central Overland Mail Route. It ran along the Platte River from Abilene, Kansas, through Nebraska and Wyoming, with a spur heading south to Denver.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than forty published novels. A history major, she’s always interested in the past. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: