In the 1840's/ 50's a need for mail service to California due to the gold rush when thousands of people headed west looking to make their fortunes. A bill was put forward and passed in March 1857 to create a cross country mail route. The bill left the of the route to the Postmaster General. The bill specified that there must be a good four horse coach, being able to carry passengers. As well as having a safe way to secure the mail. The route had to be completed from St. Louis, Mo. to San Francisco in a 25 day period of time. The service was required to begin within one year.
It was required that the route must begin in both St. Louis and Memphis, going to Little Rock, Preston, AZ, El Paso Tx, Ft Yuma, CA and ending up in San Francisco. There was nine bidder on the route and the contract was awarded to John Butterfield paying $600,000 a year to provided semi- weekly service. The company name was "the Overland Mail Company" , or also referred to as the "Butterfield Overland Company. The coach line purchased 1,200 horse and 600 mules. The animal were distributed between 141 stagecoach stops along the route. There were 1000 people hired and train for many different tasks along the route. Over 250 coaches and wagons were order. The route was to cover 2,795 miles. The first route was started on Sept. 17, 1858.
John Butterfield - Started the first Overland Mail Route
The route that came through northwest arkansas started in St. Louis, Mo. and the mail would travel by train to Tipton,Mo. as far as the train went at that time. From there it would go through Springfield, Mo. on its way to Arkansas. It would enter Arkansas just north of Elk Horn Tavern in Pea Ridge area. Little did they realize then that just three and a half years later the Battle of Pea Ridge would be fought there. Elk Horn Tavern was not a designated stop along the route, they would stop to pick up and let off passengers. Since the Elk Horn Tavern was a stopping point for several other stagecoach lines in the area. It was a popular rest stop known for its good food and liquor. The cost for traveling the whole route from St. Louis to San Francisco was $200. but could board for shorter distances for 10 cents a mile. The road used at that time ran parallel to that we know as highway 62 today, passing through Brightwater and Avoca on its way (the road was called Old Wire Rd. or Military Rd). .
From here the first designated stop in Arkansas was at Callahan's Tavern in the area that would later (23 Years) become Rogers. It was operated by Dennis Callahan. There was a spring by the taven call Callahan's Spring. This has been some questions raised as to where Callahan's Tavern was actually located. This writer believes from reading several early accounts that it was located on E. Spruce St. in the area of where the "Office of Human Concern" is located today. One account says that the front of that building is the original Callahan's station (Rogers Daily News May, 1963). At this time I don't think anyone knows for sure where it was located. There are some people who believe it might have been located down around Electric Springs on highway 12.
Like most station the axles were greased and horse changed out. While a passenger was waiting they could have a breakfast for 40 to 50 cents. This would all be done in an incredibly short period of time.
From Callahan's Tavern the stage coach would head due south through Cross Hollows towards Fitzgerald Station which is located between Lowell and Springdale. There the stage would make a quick stop here. At that location John Fitzgerald had a log house and a barn used for the Overland Mail Route. The house had been known as a tavern and inn as early as the 1830's. The house of Mr. Fitzgerald is long gone but the stone barn stables is still standing. The old barn is one of five remaining structures left from the Butterfield Overland Mail route, it is the only standing barn left. The barn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. This has been recent interest in the preservation of the old barn. Several steps have been taken toward this goal.
Historic Site in front of the location where Fitzgerald's Station used to sit
Remains of the stable at Fitzgerald Station
The next stagecoach stop would be in Fayetteville which would be 12 miles away. Fayetteville was considered an important stop along the line. It was the county seat with a court house, it had several school in town, two churches, and a large business area, with a population of 1,800 people. Due to a lack of a good hotel in town, John Butterfield had a hotel,a station and a large barn built in Fayetteville on a five acre plot of land. The hotel was just north and across the street from the old Washington Courthouse. The Fayetteville station was run by John Butterfield's son Charles. The original station sat where the old Old Washington Court House is located. Mr. Butterfield often visited Fayetteville because he loved the ozarks, calling the region "the most healthful and beautiful along the route." The trip from Callahan's Tavern to Fayetteville took about three hours at that time. The trip from Fayetteville to Ft. Smith the Butterfield used their most durable coaches , with the most experienced drivers, and the best horses.
In front of the Washington County courthouse at Fayetteville is this nice bronze plaque that makers. It marks the corner of five acres owned by the Butterfield where he built his station and stables.
From Fayetteville the route headed southwest 12 mile to Hog-Eye. This had become a popular stopping place known for its good food and drink served in the tavern. The distilled corn spirits was distributed to the customers out on earthenware jugs. This was not a station along the route but was stopped at regularly by the stage if it was ahead of schedule.
From Hog-Eye just two miles down the road was Parker's Station. The station agent was John Parks. The foundation of a large barn can still be seen at this location. As with most station extra horses and mules, even an extra stage in cases one was damaged or tuned over on this route would be kept at this location. From here the trail crossed a narrow rocky trail for 10 miles to the crossing at Lee's Creek. This part of the route to was said by a New York reporter, "I might say the road was steep, rugged, jagged, rough, and mountainous and they wished for more impressive words." The coaches didn't have springs, but sat on leather straps. The cab of the stage instead of bouncing up and down would swing back and forth. Sometime people departing the stage would have to get there land legs back before walking. The road between Park's and Brodie's Station reach an elevation of 1560 above sea level.
The next stop on this route was a Brodie's Station in Crawford County, located about twenty mile south of Park's Station. It was operated by Hiram Bodie. The station at that location was a two story log structure. This was about a mile from the Lee Creek crossing along the route. Once you crossed Lee's Creek the roads got a lot better for passengers.
From here the route went through Cedarville. Although this wasn't stop many time the coach would stop for refreshment . Two miles after Cedarville you came to Oosley's Station. It was run by George Oosley and had a house and store at this location.
From here you were off downhill to Van Buren. The road to enter Van Buren was called signal hill. The name coming from the stage blowing a bugle as they approaching the station in Van Buren. From there it was down to the ferry to cross the Arkansas River.
You would crossed the river on what would resemble a flat raft. The ferry was propelled by two horse walking on a treadmill which turned paddles to propel the boat.
Once you were to the other side you would find yourself in Ft. Smith. The Butterfield Overland Mail station was located in the City Hotel at that time. This was also where a stage also came in from Memphis. So the Overland Company kept a large stable with 50 to 100 horses. There were also additional coaches kept at this location. From Ft. Smith it was off to San Francisco
The first run of the Butterfield Overland Mail Route from Rogers To Ft. Smith took 18 hours. Butterfield had been granted a six year contract. But the Butterfield Overland Stage only lasted three years when the country was plinged into the Civil War.
Butterfield Overland Mail Route through Northwestern Arkansas