Butterfield Overland Mail

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1859 Butterfield Overland Mail route St. Louis/Memphis to Fort Smith, El Paso, Yuma, Los Angeles & San Francisco.

Historical Background

In 1853 the United States bought the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico. This was land in what is now New Mexico and Arizona south of the Gila River. It was purchased in order to have a snow-free route from the rest of the United States to California.

From 1857 to 1861 a mail and stage coach route was used called the Butterfield Overland Mail, or Oxbow Route, or Butterfield Overland Stage. The route went from eastern terminals at St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee and joined at Fort Smith, Arkansas. From there it went through Indian Territory (Oklahoma), El Paso (Texas), New Mexico, Yuma (Arizona), Los Angeles, and San Francisco, California. The Wells Fargo and American Express companies operated this stage coach and mail service contract.

In 1861 Congress discontinued this mail route in favor of the Central Overland Route (Pony Express and telegraph) to California (St. Joseph, Missouri to Placerville, California). In 1881 a route like the old Butterfield Overland Mail was followed by the Southern Pacific Railroad from Los Angeles to El Paso.


  • San Francisco, California
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Yuma, Arizona
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • Franklin (near El Paso), Texas
  • Fort Chadbourne, Texas (central west Texas)
  • Cobert's Ferry, Indian Territory (on Red River near Colbert, Oklahoma)
  • Fort Smith, Arkansas
  • Tipton, Missouri (near Jefferson City) railroad to St. Louis
  • St. Louis, Missouri

Settlers and Records 

Most of the settlers who used this stage line would have settled in California. Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee are the most likely origins of people who used this route.

No known passenger lists are available.

Internet Links