21. Butterfield Overland Stage
Our mural depicts passengers traveling through the Arizona territory in the late 1800's. Benson has been a transportation hub since its beginning and has earned its name as the Gateway to Cochise County. Benson became an important destination point as a fording station across the San Pedro River for the Butterfield Stage Company.
The Butterfield Overland Stage ran between Independence, Missouri and California between 1857 and 1861. The stage route ran through Benson just north of the current town. The stage crossed the river in the vicinity of the present-day gas pipeline bridges, just north of Interstate 10. Benson commemorates its relationship with the Butterfield Stage every year in the month of October.
Benson lies between two stations, Cienega (Seneca) station and Dragoon Springs. Both of these stations were called "Swing" stations compared to "Home" stations. Swing stations were used only for changing teams of horses or mules as well as allowing passengers to have a quick break and stretch their legs. These stations had a quick turnaround. Home stations were where passengers could get a meal. Station Masters, cooks, as well as maintenance men also could be found at home stations.
A Brief History of the Butterfield Overland Stage Company
John W. Butterfield and his associates William B. Dinsmore, William G. Fargo, James V. P. Gardner, Marcus L. Kinyon, Alexander Holland, and Hamilton Spencer created a proposal for a southern route from St. Louis to California. The Post Office Department received nine bids. Brown, the Postmaster General, was from Tennessee and favored a southern route. Although none of the bidders had provided for the route, the Postmaster General advocated a southerly route, known as the Oxbow Route, with the idea that it could remain in operation during the winter, "from St. Louis, Missouri, and from Memphis Tennessee, converging at Little Rock, Arkansas; thence, via Preston, Texas, or as nearly so as may be found advisable, to the best point of crossing the Rio Grande, above El Paso and not far from Fort Fillmore; thence along the new road being opened and constructed under direction of the Secretary of the Interior, to Fort Yuma, California; thence, through the best passes and along the best valleys for safe and expeditious staging, to San Francisco."
The Butterfield Overland Stage ran between Independence Missouri and California from 1857 and ending its run in March 1861. Just before the American Civil War began the US Government formally revoked the contract of the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Company in anticipation of the coming conflict.
This southern stage route was 600 miles (970 km) longer than the central and northern routes through Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah, but was snow-free. The bid and route was awarded to Butterfield and his associates, for semi-weekly mail at $600,000 per year. At that time it was the largest land-mail contract ever awarded in the US.
During the 1860's there were few routes westward. The Overland Stagecoach Route was one of the primary routes and had to be kept open for settlers, miners and businessmen traveling west. Because the Overland Stagecoach route was being harassed by bandits and Indians, Lincoln's War Department responded by assigning a detachment from the 9th Kansas Cavalry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins from Fort Laramie in the Wyoming Territory. Collins' detachment guarded the route between Independence, Missouri and Sacramento, California.
The Butterfield Overland Mail Company held a 6-year US Mail contract beginning September 15, 1857. On that date stages departed from St. Louis and San Francisco for the first time. The stage from San Francisco arrived in St. Louis 23 days and four hours later with the mail and six passengers. The scheduled time between the two points was 25 days.
The Overland Mail made two trips a week over a period of two and a half years. Each Monday and Thursday morning the stagecoach would leave San Francisco on their cross continent trip, carrying passengers, freight, and up to 12,000 letters. The western fare one-way from Memphis or St. Louis to the Golden Gate was $200, with most stages arriving at their final destination 22 days later. The Butterfield Overland Stage Company had more than 800 people in its employ, had 139 relay stations, 1800 head of stock and 250 Concord Stagecoaches in service at one time.
Proposed Butterfield Overland Trail National Historic Trail
On March 30, 2009, President Barack Obama signed Congressional legislation (Sec. 7209 of P.L. 111-11) to conduct a study of designating the trail a National Historic Trail. The United States National Park Service is conducting meetings in affected communities and doing Special Resource Study/Environmental Assessment to determine whether it should become a trail and what the route should be. (See National Park Service Significance Statement)
For Additional Information
Wikipedia article: Butterfield Overland Mail Hike Arizona
Southern Arizona Guide Directions to Dragoon Springs Stage Station
Artist: Doug Quarles
Size: 14' x 35'
Completed: April 2014