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You've Got Mail - On the Historic Butterfield Trail

Historic Butterfield Trail-slide0
Ann McLaughlin

In this day and age, it's hard to imagine there was a time when it took weeks to get a piece of mail. Express mail didn't exist, neither did email. Those brave enough to move from the east to the west coast knew that it could be months before their family and friends received word of their safe travels.

Historic Butterfield Trail
Ann McLaughlin

In 1857, the US Post Office asked for bids for an overland mail route from St. Louis to San Francisco, and John Warren Butterfield and his associates were awarded the contract for the southern route, 700 miles of which crossed through Texas. In 1858, the Butterfield Overland Stage company started carrying passengers and mail between St. Louis and San Francisco on a scheduled 25 day route that included eight stops on the nearly 3,000 mile journey. This continued until 1861, with stages leaving twice a week, carrying the passengers and nearly 12,000 letters to their destinations. The terrain was tough, and the ride was hard and tiring, with the stages being harassed at times by bandits and Indians. The stages pushed through and, due to the ingenuity, bravery and hard work of the company's 800 employees, family and friends could now receive mail in less than a month.

In 1861, after Congress passed an act to discontinue the contract, the Butterfield Overland Stage Company ran its last route right before the start of the Civil War. Remnants of the Historic Butterfield Trail can still be found today from Missouri to California, including one in Newcastle, Texas and one in Atoka, Oklahoma, both close enough for an historic weekend trip.

Take a ride along the Historic Butterfield Trail and discover a time before express mail, email and text messages, when family and friends cherished a simple hand-written letter that possibly survived attacks from bandits and Indians before reaching them safe and sound. A time when the words "you've got mail" meant so much more.