Roundup: November 9 2022




Roundup Synopsis

Taken From Branding Iron 308 Fall 2022.

Michael Johnson didn’t have a clever hat when he showed up at the Roundup in November. Thankfully for us, though, he did have a clever head under his usual cowboy hat. Mike used that clever head to edify those of us in attendance on the subject of the Overland Mail Company. The company was, as its name implied, a mail route which ran over land, particularly the southwestern parts of our land from 1858 to 1861, carrying mail between San Francisco in the West and both St. Louis and Memphis in the East.
The Overland Mail Company was founded by John Warren Butterfield (1801- 1869) and, as such, is sometimes referred to as the Butterfield Overland Mail. The company’s founding was the result of Butterfield winning a bid for a contract offered by the federal government to carry mail to the West. John Butterfield had a background in transportation. Having cut his teeth driving coaches in New York, he progressed to ownership of forty coach lines in Utica, as well as successful ventures into steamboats on lake Erie and trains on the rails of western New York. In 1850 John’s stagecoach interests, under the Butterfield Wesson Company, were merged with the express companies of Wells & Co., and Livingston, Fargo & Co., to create The American Express Company. However, it was Butterfield, under his own name, who won the contract for the route to be run by what became the Overland Mail Company.
The route chosen by Butterfield was the longest overland mail route in the world, and was sometimes known as the Oxbow Route because of the way it curved through the southwestern territories, recently claimed by the U.S. from Mexico. The route, though long, had the advantage of being free of snow, which perhaps gave it an advantage over the Central Route which made its way across the prairie towards Utah.
Although Butterfield adamantly stated, in the rulebook he published for his employees, that no cash was to be carried by the company along the route, one story—a set of rumors shrouded by the veil of time—persists. The consistent threads of its narrative are two men, the sum of $60,000, and the settings of the Vallecito and Carrizo stations. One story has $60,000 being taken in gold, by two men, from a coach at the Carrizo station, then sees the two robbers shooting it out at the Vallecito station. Another tells a tale of two brothers arguing and killing each other at the Vallecito station. A third has a driver leaving Yuma with a $60,000 payload and no shotgun rider. Indians, after waylaying the solo driver, purportedly buried the coach near the Carrizo station, being interested only in the horses. Though, as Mike pointed out, it’s a bit hard to imagine the thieves going to the trouble of burying the stagecoach when they could much more easily have burned or left it. Was the Butterfield stage robbed? It’s unlikely we’ll ever know, but it’s not a bad bet.
All good things come to an end, however, and the wild days of the southern stage coach are no exception. The secession of the South and the outbreak of the Civil War saw operations along the Oxbow Route halted, its four-year flash-in-the-pan burnt out. After the war, the new railroad superseded the overland routes, and closed a significant chapter in the history of the West.
— Alan Griffin


Photos from the Roundup

To be posted soon!