Thursday, May 15, 2014

Butterfield Overland Mail Company


Click on photos to enlarge.
To keep up with the pace of territorial expansion of the United States and to establish mail routes through it, in March 1857, an Act of Congress authorized the Postmaster General to hire a company to convey letter mail from a point on the Mississippi River to San Francisco, California for six years. So on the morning of September 16, 1858, the first overland mail from St. Louis, Missouri to San Francisco, California, under contract with John Butterfield's Overland Mail Company, began its first westward trip of approximately 2,651 miles.

Mr. Butterfield (1801-69) persuaded the Postmaster General that the most practical route from St. Louis would be west to Jefferson City, then southward through Springfield to Arkansas where it would merge with a wagon coming from Memphis, Tennessee. On the first leg of the trip, Mr. Butterfield personally accompanied two leather mail pouches from the post office to the train, leaving St. Louis at 8 o'clock in the morning, traveling all the way to Tipton, Mo, arriving at 6:00 pm. Waiting for his father at Tipton, young John Butterfield rushed down the old Boonville Road, arriving at the station on the northeast corner of the square in Springfield four hours ahead of schedule around 3:15 pm on Friday, September 17, 1858. Beginning again at 4:00 pm, dashing along the Wire Road, the mail wagon arrived in San Francisco 24 days later.

Each relay station was ten to twenty miles apart along the route and teams were harnessed and waiting in advance of the wagon's arrival to save time. Jumping off, the driver's grabbed a bite to eat, transferred the mail bags and drove off down the line. Stations in Missouri were: near Tipton (1858), Syracuse (1859-1861), Florence, Cole Camp, Warsaw, Fairfield, Quincy, Elkton, Bolivar, Brighton, Springfield, Cassville, and Seligman.


More to Read:
1. Butterfield Overland Mail. by Waterman L. Ormsby, special correspondant for the New York Herald. Huntington Library Press, 1850; reprinted 2007.
2. The Butterfield Overland Mail markers along the route. 
3. "Butterfield Overland Mail Co.." By F. P. Rose. The Battle of Pea Ridge 1862. Pea Ridge National Military Park, P. 31-37. Repository:
Midwest Genealogy Center, Mid-Continent Library, Independence, MO
4. Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide with a Section on Wire Road. By Earl J. Hess, Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston, and William L. Shea. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Neb., 2006. Pp. 229.
6. The Driver's Guide to the Butterfield Overland Mail Route: Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. By Kirby Sanders. Heritage Trail Partners, 2008. Vol. 1.
8. One of the drivers for the stagecoach line -- James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok
9. Historic American Roads: From Frontier Trails to Superhighways. By Albert C. Rose. Crown Pub, NY; 1976. pp. 55, 58, 61, 66 (includes a map of the route used)


Places to Visit:
1. Jefferson Landing Museum, Jefferson City, MO.
2. Markers along the route -- See Historical Marker Database
3. Morgan County Historical Society Museum, Versailles, MO.
4. Wire Road near the Battle of Wilson's Creek National Park, Republic, MO.

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