In September, 1857, going East to West, the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage route started in St. Louis, went south to Ft. Smith, Arkansas; then west through Texas to El Paso; through New Mexico to Apache Pass in Southeastern Arizona.
Although the Butterfield Stage discontinued service in Arizona in March 1861, Fort Bowie was built there in July 1862 to protect the springs for the U.S. Army and the growing number of Anglo and Mexican travelers on their journey between El Paso, Texas and Tucson, Arizona.
From Apache Pass, westbound stages made their way to Benson, then Cienega Station (Vail), then Tucson. Generally, the Butterfield Stage route through Arizona followed what is today Interstate 10. In all, there were 26 stations in Arizona.
The route from St. Louis to San Francisco was a little more than 2800 miles and typically required 23-24 days. That’s averaging about 5 miles per hour. An amazing feat with 1860’s technology.
The passengers, crammed together as they were, carried their luggage on their laps with mail pouches beneath their feet. Travel on the stage was a brutal 24/7 ordeal, only a few brief moments at way stations to stretch and get some terrible food. They suffered sleep deprivation; dust and heat in the summer; biting cold rain in the winter. The price for this misery was $200; about $3,000 in today’s money. But amazingly they all got to their destination alive.
A Butterfield Stage was attacked by Indians on February 4, 1861, however no one on the stage was killed. To its credit, no one on a Butterfield Stage was every killed. Nor was a stage ever held up by outlaws, because it was well-known that these stages never carried gold or other valuables.
With the advent of the Civil War in April 1861, the Butterfield stages were diverted to a more northerly route. You can read more about the Dragoon Springs Stage Station here.
For a brief history of this time and place, click here.
For more information on the Apaches and the history surrounding the Apache Wars, see our page on the Local History of the Apaches.