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The Butterfield Overland Stage Route

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. He ran between 100 and 250 coaches, 1000 horses, 500 mules and had about 800 employees. The large, high quality coaches were manufactured in Concord, New Hampshire, weighed about 2,500 pounds and cost $1,300 at that time.

The Butterfield Overland Mail Company initially followed a route between St. Louis and San Francisco which skirted the Rocky Mountains and avoided the heavy winter mountain snows by traveling through Texas, southern New Mexico Territory and southern California. The trip, about 2,800 miles, was made in twenty-five days and sometimes less. Lack of water and hostile Indians plagued the route throughout its existence.

Though the coaches had the mail as their first priority they also accepted as passengers any hardy souls who were game for the adventure. Passage for the whole route cost $200, and a passenger was allowed twenty-five pounds of baggage, two blankets and a canteen. The coaches traveled at breakneck speed twenty-four hours a day; there were no stops for bed and breakfast--only the hurried intervals at the station houses when they changed horses. Travelers were then offered meals of bread, coffee, cured meat and, on occasion, beans. Coaches passed through southeast Arizona twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays. The route through southeastern Arizona from 1858 to 1861 crossed into what is now Arizona from Mesilla, New Mexico Territory at Stein's Pass, then headed west/southwest to San Simon, through Apache Pass, Ewell Springs, and Dragoon Springs (about twenty miles north of Tombstone). It crossed the San Pedro River just north of the present Benson and then veered slightly north to pass Cienega and head up to Tucson and on to San Francisco via Yuma and Los Angeles.

The outbreak of the Civil War caused the hasty withdrawal of almost all Federal troops from the frontier territory, leaving the area unprotected. In February 1861, when the citizens of Texas, voted to secede from the Union, the southern mail route was discontinued in favor of a more northerly route through Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah, but the old Butterfield Road was later used by both the Confederate and the Union armies. During the Civil War Arizona territory was virtually cut off from adequate communication with the outside world. The next public mail to reach Tucson came from California on horseback September 1, 1865. The first through mail from the east arrived August 25, 1866, but it was not until the coming of the miners and the railroads in the 1870s and 1880s that regular contact with the States was restored.

Fort Bowie National Historic Site
(520) 847-2500

Established during the Civil War on a former Overland Mail route, Fort Bowie (1862-1894) played a key role in the pursuit of Geronimo and his band of renegade Apaches. Free

Fort Bowie was established in 1862 on a former station of the Overland Mail route. The fort played an important role in the U.S. Army's campaigns against the Chiricahua Apaches. After Geronimo's surrender in 1886 the fort was no longer needed, and the last troops were withdrawn in 1894. When local citizens removed doorframes and other useful items, the adobe walls began a rapid deterioration, which continued until 1964 when the former fort was declared a National Historic Site and stabilization was undertaken on the ruins. A Visitor Center contains information on the fort's history and has available for purchase a variety of books on the Indian Wars and life in early Arizona. To reach the Fort take Highway 186 south from Willcox to Apache Pass Road. Follow Apache Pass Road to the parking lot. (There's also a restroom there which it's wise to use before attempting the hike.)

From the parking lot visitors can hike approximately three miles (round trip) to the site of the original fort, passing the remains of the old Butterfield stationhouse and other points of interest. Displays in the Visitor Center highlight the colorful history of the fort. Free

Some of the sites to be seen along the hiking trail include:

Apache Station of the Butterfield Stage

The ruins of the Butterfield Stage Station at Apache Pass are one of the points of interest of the hike to the ruins of the Fort. Prior to the Civil War the Butterfield Overland Stage route ran through southern Arizona, to avoid the heavy winter snows of the Rocky Mountains. Entering present Cochise County at Stein's Pass, the stages headed west/southwest to San Simon, Apache Pass, Ewell Springs and Dragoon Springs. They crossed the San Pedro near the present town of Benson and then veered slightly north to pass Cienega and head up to Tucson and on to San Francisco via Yuma and Los Angeles.

Other stopping points along the hiking trail are the post cemetery, an Apache wickiup, and the foundation ruins of the old Chiricahua Apache Indian Agency once occupied by the controversial Indian agent Tom Jeffords.

The spring at Apache Pass

Anyone traveling across Arizona in the early days, whether by coach, pony or wagon train, soon learned that the trail led from watering place to watering place. Men needed to drink and so did horses and mules. One of the few dependable watering places in this stretch of southeastern Arizona was Apache Spring. It still runs today, and you can pause to rest there as you hike to the ruins of Fort Bowie. It is not recommended to drink the water. Early travelers complained that it was not what they were used to, but most of them drank it anyway.

Site of the Battle of Apache Pass

One of the few Civil War battles Union forces fought in Arizona was not against Confederates but against Apache Indians. The California Volunteers, on their way east, had to fight the Indians at a strategic location that became the site of Fort Bowie.

Fort Bowie (1862-1894)

Fort Bowie was established in 1862 and played an important role in the campaigns against the Chiricahua Apaches. After the surrender of Geronimo and his band in 1886, the fort was no longer needed, and it was closed, over the protests of nearby residents, in 1894. A Visitor Center contains information on the fort's history, and offers a variety of books on the Indian Wars and life in early Arizona.

In Pursuit of Geronimo
In May 1885, a band of Apaches, led by Geronimo, Nana and Nachez, left the San Carlos
reservation and fled to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. From Fort Bowie and Fort Huachuca, General George Crook pursued the Indians for ten months. At one point, Geronimo agreed to surrender, but, on the night before, changed his mind and again took off across the border, leaving an embarrassed General George Crook to explain the fiasco to his superiors. At this point Crook resigned his command and was replaced by the ambitious General Nelson A. Miles. Geronimo's final surrender took place at Skeleton Canyon (near Douglas) in September 1886. From there he was escorted to Fort Bowie and later removed to Florida. He lived until 1909, becoming a public figure and national celebrity in his old age.

 

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Map of Arizona

 

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Map of the reservations and Four Corners 

 

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