Bryan County History: Mr. Butterfield’s road helped get mail to residents

Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives
Special to Texoma Marketing and Media Group
A marker details the history of the Nail's Crossing stage stand of the Butterfield Overland Mail Route.

Jefferson City, Mo., Oct. 9, 1858

To the President of the United States:

Sir: The Great Overland Mail arrived in St. Louis today from San Francisco in twenty-three days and four hours. The stages brought through six passengers.

With great respect,

John Butterfield,

President, Overland Mail Company

Washington, Oct. 9, 1858

To John Butterfield, Esq., President of the Overland Mail Company:

Sir: Your dispatch has been received. I cordially congratulate you upon the result. It is a glorious triumph for civilization and the Union - settlements will soon follow the course of the road and the East and the West will be bound together by a chain of living Americans which can never be broken.

James Buchanan

In January of 1848, a shiny precious metal was discovered in California and for the next few years a great migration of hopeful gold seekers risked danger, disease and death to find their fortune out West.

Once they reached their destination, they wanted to inform those left behind that they had arrived safely. After months in California, they became anxious to learn of events back home. The government provided a sporadic mail service, but by 1856 a petition signed by 75,000 residents demanded something better.

In 1857, the Post Office Appropriation Act authorized a regular mail service between Tipton, Missouri, and San Francisco with delivery guaranteed in 25 days. Bids were sought for a route, and one of those submitted was from John Butterfield, who believed a southern route would mean warmer winters and better grasslands for the horse teams.

The proposed route included Indian Territory and crossed the Red River at Colbert’s Ferry. It took a year to mark the 2,812-mile route to California and set up the stations or “stands” needed at regular intervals to allow passenger changes, meals, mail pickups and maintenance of the wagons and teams.

Some of the stations included Skullyville, Buffalo Station, Geary’s, Atoka and Nail’s Crossing. In a tribute to Mrs. A. E. Flack of Atoka, the editor of the paper said that her stand was “celebrated far and near for its clean, nice tables and good eating.”

Of course, the success of the weekly mail delivery depended on sturdy coaches and fast horses. Concord Coaches had iron-reinforced wooden bodies with wide-set wheels and leather braces. Passengers were somewhat protected from the elements by leather curtains.

In August of 1858, the Sacramento Bee newspaper in California reported that 300 horses and 55 employees had been deployed to Stockton, California, for the use of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. Coaches required teams of four or six horses each.

There was a huge celebration in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, when the first bag of mail from California was delivered. The town had a barbecue and military procession, speeches and a very special cake decorated as a replica of a mail bag and containing a real letter, which was opened and read by John Butterfield.

Stage coach travel wasn’t always successful or even pleasant. Weather was often bad and roads were muddy. Highwaymen robbed passengers and drivers alike. Coaches broke down and horses suffered injuries. But the mail and passengers continued to travel on Mr. Butterfield’s road for many years. Actually, they still do.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.