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Texas Lakes Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Butterfield Overland Trail


OVERNIGHT DELIVERY NOT AN OPTION

The Southern Overland Trail, also called the Butterfield after John Butterfield who had been awarded the contract to deliver mail along the country's southern route, was as remarkable as it was short-lived. The twice-weekly mail delivery system traversed the nation from St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee to San Francisco, California, traveling through northern Texas on its routine, two thousand seven hundred ninety-five mile journey. The route was in use for only four years, from 1858 until 1861 before it was moved farther north and beyond the Texas border.

During its Texas operation, passengers could book transport alongside the mail at two hundred dollars a ticket one-way, sharing a crowded coach or spring wagon with a half-dozen fellow passengers and their firearms. The entire trek took twenty-five days for each horse-drawn coach yet layovers were ill-advised as passengers were likely to lose their seats, often waiting a month in whatever outpost they regretfully stopped in before catching another coach out. Despite an arduous, circuitous route that required crossing swollen rivers, negotiating washouts, traversing deserts and dusty plains, and navigating the dangers of hostile territory, the Butterfield delivered mail almost without fail at ten cents per half ounce. Together with the contract's federal compensation, passenger and express receipts grossed contractor John Butterfield almost three quarters of a million dollars per year. Calculating for inflation, that sum would amount to almost eighteen million bucks today, minus the long bumpy ride.

Map of Theme

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Read more about Butterfiel Overland Mail in the Handbook of Texas Online.