Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Butterfield Overland Mail Route, Lucian Wood Road Segment
Butterfield Overland Mail Route, Lucian Wood Road Segment

BUTTERFIELD OVERLAND MAIL ROUTE, LUCIAN WOOD ROAD SEGMENT, CEDARVILLE VIC., CRAWFORD COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Butterfield Overland Mail Route Lucian Wood Road Segment is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with statewide significance as a remarkably intact remnant of the stagecoach route that ran from 1858 to 1861 and provided the first overland transcontinental mail by stagecoach.

ELABORATION

In March of 1857, Senator William K. Gwinn of California and Representative John S. Phelps of Missouri sponsored legislation to speed the rate at which mail could be delivered to the Pacific Coast from the Mississippi River valley, addressing a situation under which it took a letter three months to get to San Francisco from Philadelphia via steamship. The bill authorized the Postmaster General to “contract for the conveyance of the entire letter mail form such point on the Mississippi River as the contractors might select, to San Francisco . . . at a cost not exceeding three hundred thousand dollars per annum for a semimonthly, four hundred and fifty thousand for weekly, or six hundred thousand dollars for semiweekly service.”[i]

John Butterfield of New York, already president of the newly formed American Express Company, submitted the winning proposal, with a contract signed September 16, 1857, calling for routes beginning at St. Louis, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee, to converge at Little Rock. The convergence point was soon moved to Fort Smith, and service was to commence on September 16, 1858.[ii]

In the year before service commenced, Butterfield purchased 250 closed Concord coaches, 500 open-sided Celerity coaches and other vehicles, 1,800 horses and mules, and 3,000 tons of grain and hay delivered to stations along the route. In addition he arranged for provisions to be warehoused along the route, had wells dug or water supplies arranged, and hired 1,200 superintendents, drivers, guards, blacksmiths and other personnel. The bulk of the drivers hailed from New England and had been apprenticed on some of Butterfield’s other stage lines.[iii]

Passengers traveling the entire distance from St. Louis to San Francisco would pay $200 for the trip (and were allowed 40 pounds of luggage at no extra cost), while “way passengers” traveling between stations would pay 10 cents per mile. Postal rates were a dime for each letter. The Butterfield Overland Mail Route covered about 120 miles every 24 hours, stopping at 141 stations located about 20 miles from each other along the entire route.[iv]

The Butterfield Overland Mail Route from Memphis made its first mail run on September 16, 1858. This initial endeavor started by taking the Memphis-Little Rock Railroad to its terminus 12 miles east of Madison on the St. Francis River before heading overland through the wilderness to Des Arc on the White River. Butterfield had contracted with the Chidester, Reeside & Co. line to carry the mail from there to Norristown (near modern-day Russellville). Butterfield stages then carried the mail from Dardanelle to Fort Smith, beating the mail from St. Louis – which had left St. Louis at about the same time, some 66 hours earlier – by 15 minutes.[v]

Unlike the St. Louis-based route, the Butterfield’s Memphis run utilized numerous routes and methods of travel. When the Arkansas River was high enough, the mail would travel down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas, then travel up that river to Little Rock from which it would move on by stagecoach. When the Arkansas was too low for steamboat traffic, the Butterfield would take the White River to Clarendon or Des Arc before switching to stagecoach travel. Sometimes the entire route across eastern Arkansas would be taken by stage.[vi]

Despite the uncertainty of the mode of travel of the Memphis route, several stops at established stations could be anticipated. The first was at Madison, then on to the Jackson House in Des Arc. From there, the stage would go to the Atlanta Hotel in Atlanta (later named Austin) before heading to Little Rock’s noted Anthony House at Markham and Main streets. The stage would head west, crossing Palarm Creek near modern-day Mayflower, and go to Rocky Gap (southwest of modern Conway) to August Hartje’s Inn. Crossing Cadron Creek by ferry, the stage would strike north toward Plummer’s Station (NR listed 8-11-75) in Plummerville, then west to Lewisburg (south of modern Morrilton). The Butterfield would move west through Hurricane to Pott’s Inn (NR listed 6-22-70) in Pottsville, then to Norristown where it crossed the Arkansas River and took the Little Rock to Cantonment Gibson Road from Dardanelle to Fort Smith (including the Short Mountain Road Segment, NR listed 1-24-08), and then west to San Francisco.[vii]

The St. Louis-based Butterfield Overland Mail Route would travel its first 160 miles to Tipton, Missouri, by train, where the mail and passengers would transfer to stagecoaches for 17 stops in Missouri before entering Arkansas. It followed the Springfield to Fayetteville Road into Arkansas, a path that had been laid out in the summer of 1835 and that was used extensively by Cherokee Indian detachments during the removals of the late 1830s. The first stop was at Callahan’s Tavern in what later became Rogers, then the stage went south through Cross Hollows and Mudtown to Fitzgerald’s Station (NR listed 5-29-03) at present-day Springdale. From there, it headed to Fayetteville, where Butterfield had constructed a hotel, a station, and several large barns to serve the company.[viii]

From Fayetteville, the Butterfield followed a path through the Boston Mountains. Passing through Cato Springs, the stagecoach went to Hog Eye – a settlement noted for its tavern – then to Park’s Station, and then seven miles to Strickler’s. From there to Cedarville, the ride became interesting and the stretch became known as “the roughest 10 miles between St. Louis and San Francisco.” One Butterfield employee wrote that “the stage reels from side to side like a storm-tossed bark, and the din of the heavily ironed wheels in constant contact with the flinty rock, is truly appalling.” Traveler William Talleck wrote in 1860 that “our principle danger was the extreme liability of an overset; but, though often apparently within a hair’s breadth, we escaped the unpleasantness.” A white-knuckled reporter from New York noted that “I might say the road was steep, rugged, jagged, rough and mountainous and then wish for more impressive words,” while the Postmaster General’s Report for 1858 simply stated that “it is impossible that any road could be worse.”[ix]

The relieved travelers would next reach Brodie’s Station south of Lee Creek, then follow the nominated road segment to reach Woosley’s Station south of Cedarville, and then on to Van Buren where the stage would cross the Arkansas River by ferry to Fort Smith. From there it headed west, following a route roughly through Spiro and Durant, Oklahoma, through Sherman, San Angelo and El Paso, Texas, then through Deming and Lordsburg, New Mexico, Tombstone, Arizona, and finally through Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. The first west-bound mail, which included John Butterfield as a passenger, left St. Louis on September 16, 1858, and arrived at San Francisco on October 10, a total of 24 days.[x]

The Butterfield Overland Mail continued in business for around three years, but after the onset of the Civil War its stock and stages were targeted for seizure by Confederate authorities and proved tempting targets for opportunistic guerrillas in Missouri, Arkansas and Texas, as well as for Native Americans to the west. In addition, the Pony Express, which opened for business on April 2, 1860, had proved to be a faster and more economical means of delivering mail, and the Western Union opened its transcontinental telegraph on October 24, 1861. John Butterfield was ousted from the company because of debt in 1860 and the firm merged with the Wells Fargo, continuing to carry the mail with that company until 1869.[xi]

The Butterfield Overland Mail Route Lucian Wood Road Segment is a tangible reminder of the stagecoach line that provided the first transcontinental mail service in the United States. The road provides a unique opportunity to share the experiences of the nineteenth-century travelers who braved the rough roads from Missouri to California.



[i] Kirby Sanders, Driver’s Guide to The Butterfield Overland Mail Route (Springdale, AR: Heritage Trail Partners, 2008) ii.

[ii] Ibid., ii-iii; W.J. Lemke, “The Butterfield Overland Mail Through Northwest Arkansas” in W.J. Lemke and Ted R. Worley, The Butterfield Overland Mail in Arkansas (Little Rock: Arkansas History Commission, 1957) 3.

[iii] Sanders, Driver’s Guide, iii; Lemke, “The Butterfield Overland Mail,” 3.

[iv] Lemke, “The Butterfield Overland Mail,” 3. Several other stations were added after 1858.

[v] Ted R. Worley, “The Butterfield Overland Mail – Memphis to Fort Smith Branch,” in Lemke and Worley, The Butterfield Overland Mail in Arkansas, 11-12.

[vi] Worley, “The Butterfield Overland Mail,” 12-13.

[vii] Ibid., 14-16.

[viii] Dan Littlefield, Jr., Amanda L. Paige and Fuller Bumpers, “The Pea Ridge National Military Park Site: Interpretive Contexts,” found at http://anpa.ualr.edu/trail_of_tears/indian_removal_project/site_reports/pea_ridge/pea_ridge_1.htm, downloaded February 3, 2009; Lemke, “The Butterfield Overland Mail,” 4-6.

[ix] Lemke, “The Butterfield Overland Mail,” 5-7; Earl J. Hess, Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston and William L. Shea, Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge & Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide with a Section on Wire Road (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 252.

[x] Ibid., 8-9; Sanders, Driver’s Guide, iv.

[xi] Sanders, Driver’s Guide, iv; Nancy Hendricks, “Butterfield Overland Express,” found at http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2308, downloaded February 2, 2009.

SIGNIFICANCE

The Butterfield Overland Mail Route Lucian Wood Road Segment is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with statewide significance as a remarkably intact remnant of the stagecoach route that ran from 1858 to 1861 and provided the first overland transcontinental mail by stagecoach.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hendricks, Nancy. “Butterfield Overland Express,” found at http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2308, downloaded February 2, 2009.

Hess, Earl J. , Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston and William L. Shea, Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge & Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide with a Section on Wire Road (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2006)

Lemke, W.J.,  and Ted R. Worley. The Butterfield Overland Mail in Arkansas (Little Rock: Arkansas History Commission, 1957)

Littlefield, Dan, Amanda L. Paige and Fuller Bumpers. “The Pea Ridge National Military Park Site: Interpretive Contexts,” found at http://anpa.ualr.edu/trail_of_tears/indian_removal_project/site_reports/pea_ridge/pea_ridge_1.htm, downloaded February 3, 2009

Sanders, Kirby. Driver’s Guide to The Butterfield Overland Mail Route (Springdale, AR: Heritage Trail Partners, 2008)