Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Great Butterfield Stage Expedition
“How did we happen to get here?”

In the late winter of 2003 my brother Paul found himself on a spur of the moment quest to visit and explore Organ Pipe National Park located in southern Arizona. With a little coaxing and bribing it didn’t take long to rope my other brother Steve into jumping on a plane and heading into Phoenix for a photographic opportunity unavailable in his home state of Missouri. Although the trip went well they were met with some challenges in Organ Pipe that ultimately lead them to the Chiricahua National Monument. On the way a small note on Paul's map read, “Fort Bowie National Historic Site.” Never being one to pass up a national site he took off down dirt roads and up over passes once home to Cochise and the Apache Indians.

They found a remote parking lot and after a 1 ½ mile walk through desert, passed cougar warning signs and a stop at Apache Spring they arrived at Fort Bowie also known as Fort Apache.

It was during this side trip that Paul happened upon a book in the gift shop relating to the Butterfield stage coach line which ran just north of the fort.

He was familiar with the Butterfield Overland Mail from his travels but this book answered for him persistant questions.

In 1858 John Butterfield of Utica, N.Y. won a government contract of $600,000 a year for six years to carry mail from St Louis to San Francisco twice a week. Butterfield spent more than a million dollars getting the company started. Between September of 1857 and September of 1858 John Butterfield set up over 200 stations spanning a distance of 2,812 miles. An effort compared by some to be the equal of putting a man on the moon. He ran between 100 and 250 coaches, 1000 horses, 500 mules and had about 800 employees.

The Butterfield Overland Mail Company initially followed a southern route between St. Louis and San Francisco that skirted the Rocky Mountains and avoided the heavy winter mountain snows by traveling through Texas, southern New Mexico Territory and southern California. The 2,812 mile trip was made in twenty-five days and sometimes less.

Paul's questions were answered and my obsession started when he passed this book along to me. What followed was an ongoing search for the path of the Butterfield through Missouri, Arkansas and eventually all the way back to Fort Bowie.

With maps in hand and a GPS strapped to the handle bars we set out on a pair of motorcycles to retrace best we could the Butterfield route.

I kept some notes and Paul took pictures along the way. What follows is a description of our journey.

Day One: Tipton to Springfield