Butterfield Overland Mail Record Book
[The overland mail trail is] the longest and most important route ever established in any country
Postmaster General Aaron Brown
Stage line entrepreneur John Butterfield produced this record book for distribution to his conductors and station agents along the Butterfield Overland Mail trail. Butterfield received the contract to carry the mail after Congress authorized Postmaster General Aaron Brown to find a way to move mail overland to California on a regular basis. Brown was told to select a route that would ensure that the mail was carried from end to end in 25 days or less. A Kentuckian by birth, Brown selected a route that ran approximately 2,800 miles through the southern portion of the nation. The eastern terminus of the route began in Tipton, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee, with the lines converging at Ft. Smith, Arkansas.
Butterfield received this lucrative contract of $600,000 per year 1857 and was given a year to get ready. He poured $1 million into setting up the route. His company rounded up over 200 coaches, almost 2000 horses and mules, and 1200 employees, from superintendents, drivers and conductors to harness makers and blacksmiths, to service the line. Employees were sent out along the route, building 200 stations and helping build bridges or ensure roads were passable.
According to the company’s schedule, westbound stages would leave Tipton and Memphis every Monday and Thursday at 8am, the same days and time that eastbound stages were scheduled to leave San Francisco. Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company began service on September 16, 1858. The first westbound stage arrived in San Francisco 23 days and 23 hours later. The schedule was very specific. The westbound stage was scheduled to leave Tucson, Arizona, for instance, every Tuesday and Friday at 1:30pm, arriving at Ft. Yuma, California three days later at 3am. But even as Butterfield encouraged his employees to “conform as nearly as possible to the schedule,” he acknowledged that “the length of the route, the state of the roads and streams, will, of necessity, cause variations during certain seasons of the year.”
Armed conductors rode alongside drivers on the stages and were in charge of the mail and passengers. Each conductor carried a record book such as this. The book included information on the company, a map of the Butterfield mail route, a time schedule, special instructions to all employees, and pages for keeping notes.
• Special Instructions >>
• Passengers’ Impressions >>
The Butterfield Overland Mail
By Waterman L. Ormsby
Edited by Lyle H. Wright and Josephine M. Bynum
Arizona in the '50s
By James Henry Tevis
University of New Mexico Press, 1954.
Moving West >>
Written by Nancy A. Pope