Ron Stewart Bronze

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Tucson Bound

by Ron Stewart Bronze

Medium: Bronze
Edition Size: 25


Through the 1840's and 1850's there was a desire for better communication between the east and west coasts of the US. Though there were several proposals for railroads connecting the two coasts, a more immediate solution was an overland mail route across the west. Congress authorized the Postmaster General to contract for mail service from Missouri to California to facilitate settlement in the west. The Post Office Department advertised for bids for an overland mail service on April 20, 1857.
John Butterfield and his associates created a proposal for a southern route from St. Louis to California, one of 9 bids received by The Post Office Department. The Postmaster General advocated a southerly route, known as the Oxbow Route, with the idea that it could remain in operation during the Winter.
This route was 600 miles longer than the central and northern routes through Denver, CO and Salt Lake City, UT 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.
The first 2,800-mile route began on September 15, 1858. 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 Tipton and San Francisco on their cross continent, carrying passengers, freight, and up to 12,000 letters. The western fare one-way from Memphis or St. Louis to the Golden Gate with most stages arriving at their final destination 22 days later. The mail went through almost without exception in the 25 days required. However, the Overland Mail was continually plagued by the lack of water and conflicts with native Indian peoples. Butterfield famously exhorted his employees, "Remember boys, nothing on God's earth must stop the United States Mail!"

The Overland Mail stage departing for San Francisco, October 23, 1858
From Frank Leslie's Illustrated News

"Though the stages had the mail as its first priority, hardy, adventurous passengers were also accepted. Passage over the entire route cost $200. Twenty-five pounds of baggage were allowed, along with two blankets and a canteen. Stages traveled at breakneck speeds, twenty-four hours a day. There were no overnight hotel stops, only hurried intervals at stations where the teams were changed. Waterman L. Ormsby, a reporter for the New York Herald and the only 'through' passenger on the first westbound Butterfield Overland Mail Stage, expressed his opinion of his experiences over the 2,812-mile journey upon his arrival in San Francisco in 1858, 'Had I not just come out over the route, I would be perfectly willing to go back, but I know what Hell is like. I've just had 24 days of it.'"

Price: $19500
Santa Fe Phone: 505-983-1050