Hidden History: Butterfield Overland Mail, Part 1


John Butterfield started his career at the age of 19 as a stagecoach driver.

He owned his own livery business within a few years, and before long, he controlled most of the coach lines from the East Coast into the newly-opened western territories.

We’ve mentioned previously in our Hidden History series that Butterfield teamed with Theodore Faxton in the development of telegraph lines to enhance his commercial stagecoach operation.

In March of 1850, Butterfield merged one of his coach operations with others to form American Express.

Congress sent a contract for overland mail delivery from Missouri to California out for bids in the spring of 1857.

The idea was to get a letter cross-country in 25 days, instead of sending it by ship to Panama, crossing the isthmus and then taking it on another ship up the Pacific coast.

Nine bids came in, and John Butterfield was the winner with a bid of six years at $600,000 a year.

The route he chose was from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco and he struck deals with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations for safe passage through their lands.

The route had more than 160 way stations, and workers from upstate New York did most of the labor to set them up.

Next week: the Butterfield Overland Mail Company starts its run.

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