Archive for the 'Overland Mail' Category

Friday, September 16th, 2016

An Overland Stage Trip

The Overland Mail was created by an act of Congress on March 3, 1857, to convey mail between St. Louis, Missouri and San Francisco, California. The U. S. Postal Service contract to transport the mail was awarded to John W. Butterfield. The mail contract subsidized the creation of a stage coach line, permitting the Butterfield Company to ferry passengers, along with the mail, for a reasonable fare.

The first stage of the Butterfield Overland Mail left St. Louis on September 16, 1858. The planned transit time was 25 days, although once operation began, it was found that the trip could usually be made in just over 23 days. Stages left twice a week for the opposite end of the 2,800 mile route. The Overland Stage service to San Francisco ceased June 30, 1861, put out of operation by the start of the Civil War.

The following is a personal account of a trip on the Overland Stage that began July 21, 1860, at Madison, Arkansas and ended August 11 at San Francisco. The author, who doesn’t identify himself, published his account on September 27, 1860.

“A Trip Overland”

“Having recently returned by the overland stage from a visit to the Atlantic States, and in compliance with a request and a promise, I will notice a few points of interest to some, at least, of the readers of the Democrat….”

“[On July 19, I] bought two through tickets or seats in the overland stage, for which I paid three hundred and fifty dollars, with the privilege of carrying 50 pounds baggage to each passenger – but I had the good luck to bring a few extra pounds without charge….”

On July 21, the writer boarded the Overland stage at Madison, Arkansas.

“Some time elapsed in getting the passengers all seated and their baggage and trinkets well secured on the stage – which was a three seat Concord wagon. The usual call, ‘All aboard!’ was given, and off we started, with ten passengers – only two of whom were booked through.”

“My introduction to overland staging was not pleasant; the night was uncomfortably warm, stage crowded, very dark, no lamps, and a green Dutchman that had never been on the road but once before, for a driver. Before we reached the five-mile house, we were thrown into confusion by having our stag capsized; fortunately no one was hurt. It was so dark that the passengers were compelled to pilot the craft through the heavy timber for several miles by carrying a light ahead. I began to think that Jordan was a hard road to travel, indeed. But soon the moon rose, and we made good time; the rest of the night passed pleasantly.”

“The morning of the 22nd found us running along at a lively pace, and in the forenoon we passed the little villages of Seaborn, Switzer and Clarendon; the latter on the left bank of White river. Passed the river, and followed up the west bank till we struck Grand Prairie – Crossed Grand Prairie, and passed the thriving little town of Brownville, late in the evening. We made poor headway during the night – landed on the left bank of the Arkansas, opposite Little Rock, at 1 a.m. on the 23rd. Here we were compelled to stay until daylight, as the ferryman refused to ferry us over at that hour. We made ourselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, the balance of the night. Some of the passengers stretched themselves out on the dry sand and were soon in the arms of “Morphy,” at the mercy of myriads of mosquitoes. The seats in the stage were generously left to the comfort of the lady passengers….”

“Our number now comprised six passengers, the diver and a conductor. The day passed off pleasantly, after repeated halts and changes, considering the extreme heat and dust endured. Late in the evening we passed Lewisburg, a small town on the left bank of the Arkansas river. Traveled up the river all night, and crossed at daylight on the 24th at Dardanelles. Nothing of interest to note. Passed Charleston in the evening – arrived at Fort Smith at 2 a.m., on the 25th, after a drive of four nights and three days, and seventeen changes of drivers and horses. Met two overland stages going East, between Madison and Fort Smith. I put up at the City Hotel; a miserable shift to bear the name of a first-class hotel, and to receive the patronage it does. Here I remained until the 27th, waiting for the mail which left St. Louis on the 23rd….”

“The morning of the 26th, my time was employed in preparing little necessaries of the long journey; and soon after the arrival of the stage with the St. Louis mail, all was ready, and out we rolled, with three passengers, one way passenger, conductor and driver. At 11 a.m., we crossed the little river Porto, the boundary between Arkansas and Indian Territory. The first fifteen miles after we crossed the Porto was dense forest of timber and thick cane brakes, with an occasional field of corn – the best of any I saw on the whole route. Before we got off the fertile bottoms of the two rivers, Porto and Arkansas, we had a good share of what one of our passengers called “corduroy roads,” not at all agreeable to one opposed to being jolted….”

“July 27th – We passed Mountain station this morning at sunrise – traveled over some rough road; extremely hot; crossed two high bridges, call Boggy Bridge and Muddy Boggy; passed Boddy depot late in the evening – a small village of some dozen or fifteen houses, neatly put up, with a respectable brick church. This town is in the Chickesaw Nation and is surrounded by a rich and productive country.”

“We crossed Red river at daylight on the morning of the 28th, and took breakfast at Sherman, Texas, a promising little town, surrounded by a beautiful and fertile country. Here we changed stages again, and rolled off at a lively pace, with a new conductor and only three passengers. We had a new driver at every change of horses – which ranged from ten to twenty-eight miles apart. Passed Whitestown in the forenoon, and Gainesville in the afternoon. This is the county seat of Cook county, and is a flourishing town. Road very rough all night; passed Locksboro, at daylight on the 29th – a town of some importance – able to boast one newspaper called the White Man. Arrived at Fort Belknap at 1 p.m. Here we changed stages and conductors again. Our number increased to six in this change, but the road was fine and we made good time after crossing the Brazos; a wide channel, but bone dry at this season of the year. Crossed the Clear Fork of the Brazos, which had some water in its channel; traveled at a lively rate all night, over a beautiful plain, by a bright moonlight.”

“July 30th – made good time; level country, water scarce; one drive of thirty-five miles through a mountain pass – arrived at Fort Chadman at 4 p.m. Changed stages and conductors again – crossed the Colorado river late in the evening (no water in the channel), and the Concha at 10 p.m. – a bold stream but narrow. The road continues good, and water scarce. Passed two companies of U. S. troops early on the morning of the 31st. Water very brackish and scarce. We made one drive of 28 miles today, between stations, and another of 40 miles. Passed through Castle Mountain canyon late in the afternoon; quite a romantic spot, surrounded by some beautiful mountain scenery. Crossed the river Pecos at 10 p.m. – another deep but narrow stream. We passed Camp Stockton at daylight on the morning of August 1st – a beautiful site. The buildings are all made of adobe brick. Another forty-mile drive today – some pretty mountains scenery in the distance; through Davis Pass, and arrived at Fort Davis at 6 p.m. Changed stages again, and were soon on the move, making good time over a fine road.”

“August 2nd – road continues good today, and water scarce; barren mountains on each side of the road all day. One drive of forty-two miles between stations today. Passed Ten-mile canyon, and landed at Camp Fargo at sundown. The distance between Camp Fargo and Eagle Springs is 42 miles, and has been traveled over twice in one day by the same team. The day I came through, the same team went East from Camp Fargo to Eagle Springs in the forenoon, and returned with our stage in the afternoon. This almost incredible feat was performed by five little mules. Camp Fargo is situated on the left bank of the Rio Grande. Here we had heavy sand to contend with. Passed Fort Quitman at 10 p.m.”

“Continued up the left bank of the river, through an old Mexican settlement to Franklin, on the opposite river from El Paso in Mexico. Here we changed stages again – dropped one of our passengers, and picked up one through passenger and two way passengers. Leaving with six passengers and a new conductor we continued up the river to Fort Fillmore, and crossed the Rio Grande at Mesilla at 12 o’clock at night. This town is in the Gadsden purchase, and built after the Mexican fashion, all of adobe brick.”

“We had a good day on the 4th. Changed stages again at Cook’s station – crossed Membres river at 3 p.m., within 25 miles of the new Piatto gold mines, situated near the head waters of the Gila and Membres rivers. Here I was shown about five dollars of placer gold, with some small specimens of quartz – the proceeds of five days panning – a very fine specimen of fine gold, round and heavy. One of our fellow passengers stopped at Membres station, to purchase of a Mexican, an animal of the dog species, claimed to be a native of Arizona. It is a prodigy – a nondescript. The gentleman’s object was to bring it to California and exhibit it. If the half we were told is to be believed, it will eclipse anything belonging to the animal kingdom that has ever been exhibited on the Pacific. We arrived at Doubtful Pass at 4 a.m. on the 5th, and at Apache Pass at sunrise – changed stages again. Crossed San Pedro river in the evening; heavy thunder showers all the afternoon.”

“Arrived at Tucson Arizona at 2 a.m. on the 6th. This is an old Mexican City of some importance. Changed stages again at Tucson, and got a new conductor. Crossed the 80 mile desert in the morning. Struck the Gila river at Pimo Station in the evening. Changed stages again – passed through the Pimo Reservation late in the afternoon. Crossed the 40 mile desert during the night, and reached the Gila Bend at sunrise on the 7th. Road continues down the left bank of the Gila – very rough and dusty. Crossed Texas Hill at night; arrived at Gila City at 10 a.m. on the 8th – a small adobe town, inhabited by Indians and Mexicans.”

“Passed Arizona City in the afternoon, and crossed the Rio Colorado river below Fort Yuma at 4 p.m. Changed stages again at the crossing, traveled down the river for fifteen miles through heavy sand, and continued all night, and all day of 9th and the forenoon of the 10th, on the great desert of the Rio Colorado. Deep sandy road, and water scarce. Passed through Devil’s canyon, and arrived at San Phillippi at 2 p.m., and changed stages at Oak Grove station, late in the evening.”

“We crossed St. Anna river on the morning of the 11th; traveled down a beautiful valley, well improved; passed through the thriving little town of El Monte and landed at Los Angeles at 2 p.m. Here we hitched onto a twelve-passenger Concord wagon, and our number increased to twelve passengers; with a new conductor and driver. Passed over Fremont’s Pass, and through San Francisco canyon during the night. Some very rough road and beautiful mountain scenery. Passed Fort Tejon, and through the canyon of the same name, in the forenoon of the 12th. Passed Tulare Plains in sight of Tulare Lake, to the left of the road and crossed Kern river late in the evening.”

“We arrived in Visalia City at 9 a.m., on the 13th; There we changed off our wagon for a genuine coach and took on five more passengers. Crossed King’s river at 12 p.m.; passed Fresno City and reached San Joaquin river at dark. We had some rough mountain road during the night; passed Mountain View early on the 11th; through the town of Gilroy, the valley of the same name, and arrived at San Jose at 2 p.m. Took on two more passengers, making nineteen in all. Passed through Santa Clara and landed at San Francisco at 9 p.m., in good health, and not much the worse for wear, after the long and fatiguing journey – nor yet sorry that it was ended.”

“It cannot, by any means be called a pleasant ride, to be rocked and jolted for twenty-three consecutive days and night; but I prefer the overland stage to the steamer, for several reasons. It is undoubtedly the safest route, and the chances for health are better. One is free from the terror of fire and flood, constantly felt on the ocean steamer, and the horror of sea-sickness, so much dreaded and suffered.”

“In the whole distance between Fort Smith and Los Angeles, I did not see a sick man among the passengers or those in the employ of the company, numbering over two thousand. For a good portion of the route the fare is rather hard for one accustomed to good living. We paid 50 cents a meal on the first part of the road, and once on the Rio Grande paid 75 cents. After we left Tucson, we paid 75 cents and as high as $1, through to Los Angeles; and 75 cents each meal from there to San Francisco. A man can go through, and live reasonably well on $30, by taking a few pounds of crackers, cakes and etc. for an occasional lunch.”

“The Eastern end of the route is supplied with American horses, and on the plains of Texas they drive Mexican or mustang horses; and between Fort Belknap and Camp Fargo, on the Rio Grande, they drive Mexican mules nearly all the way – five in the team – three abreast in front. From Tucson through this way, California horses are used, and five or six on one stage where the road is heavy.”

“It is hardly credible how fast they travel where the road is good; fourteen miles an hour is frequently made; 35 miles is often made in 4 1/4 hours. The distances between stations range respectively from 10 to 42 miles. In Arkansas, and on the Eastern end of the road, the drivers change at every station; but West of the Rio Grande, they drive from 80 to 125 miles. Much credit is due to the conductors and drivers on the whole route, for their sobriety, courtesy, and attention to the passengers.”

“I like the overland travel, and were I going to the Atlantic States this Fall, or any other time, I would prefer it to any other route.”

Source: The Plumas Argus (Quincy, CA), September 27, 1860

See also:
Picacho — Forgotten Butterfield Stage Stop
Picacho Cemetery
Picacho — A Brief History
Picacho Peak
Rough and Ready — Butterfield Stage Stop
Trip to Mason’s Ranch

 

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Did Billy the Kid Stay at La Posta in Mesilla?

“Best history of Mesilla.”

“La Posta: From the Founding of Mesilla, to the Corn Exchange Hotel, to Billy the Kid Museum, to Famous Landmark” consists of 5 sections:

  • Chapter 1 is a history of Mesilla, beginning with its founding in 1850 by Rafael Ruelas.
  • Chapter 2 gives the original and early ownership of all the properties around the public square in Mesilla, identifying previously uncertain locations such as the Butterfield Overland Stage location.
  • Chapter 3 is a history of the Corn Exchange Hotel, founded in 1874, the most famous hotel in New Mexico at the time. Almost all the major participants of the Lincoln County War stayed at the hotel.
  • Chapter 4 is a history of the Billy the Kid museum and its founder, Mesilla pioneer and impresario George Griggs.
  • Chapter 5 is a history of La Posta, Mesilla’s most famous landmark.

“Mesilla is full of Billy the Kid history. It’s where he started off rustling with Jesse Evans and it’s where he was tried and convicted of murder. At one point, rumor has it, he even stayed at the Corn Exchange Hotel (along with many of the other heavy hitters from the Lincoln County War).”

“For someone who grew up in the area of Mesilla, it’s nice to have a well-researched book about the area — and the giant photographs don’t hurt either (honestly, I love to see photos that take up the whole page so you can actually make out the detail)….”

“And the thing I was most excited to see is a photo of the hotel registry where the name of “William Bonney” is scrawled on the page. I knew this registry had existed at one point but I always thought it was missing…. There is some debate as to whether or not Billy the Kid really signed the book, which the author goes into, but what would Billy the Kid history be without a little controversy.”

Billy the Kid Outlaw Gang Newsletter, Winter, 2013

See also:
Billy the Kid’s Grave
Mesilla Museum Display
Billy the Kid Display – Mesilla
Saving the Pat Garrett Marker
Billy’s DNA
Old Mesilla Courthouse
Billy the Kid
Butterfield Overland Stage

 

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Trip to Mason’s Ranch

Map to Mason's Ranch

The site known as Mason’s Ranch or Slocum’s Ranch is about 20 miles west of Las Cruces and 10 miles north of Hwy 10. From 1862 to 1883, it was a life-saving lodging and watering stop for travelers heading west from the Mesilla Valley.

The site has natural water that is available part of the year, most years. Prior to 1862 it was known as “Water Holes” and had been used by Native Americans as a camping and watering spot for hundreds of years.
Mason's Ranch and Overland Stage Route

In 1862 Virgil Mastin built a stage stop on the site. The site was not a stop for the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Line, but was for subsequent stage lines. As the satellite image above shows, the site is a short distance south of the old Overland Stage route. When the Civil War started, the Federal government, which had contracted with the Butterfield Overland Stage to carry mail, ordered the company to sell or recover its property and cease operations. The agents of the company sold their Mesilla properties on May 18, 1861.*

Mastin installed water tanks for supplying water when the springs were dry. When these tanks could not be filled from the local water, he hauled water by wagon from Mesilla. He also dug a large dirt reservoir to save rain water.

In 1865-66 Mastin took on John D. Slocum as a partner. Slocum had been running the stop for some time as an employee of Mastin.

On May 18, 1868, Mastin is killed by Indians. He was traveling to Pinos Altos by buggy, accompanied by two men on horseback:

“The horsemen stopped behind to allow their horses to drink at the crossing of Whiskey Creek, and Mr. Mastin drove on slowly, and when fired upon by the Indians was about half a mile beyond the creek and three miles from Pinos Altos. The horsemen hearing the firing rode up and fired upon the Indians – some forty in number – who were on foot and all after Mr M. who had turned his buggy about and was trying to get back into the road with the intention of running this way, but, unfortunately for him, just as he got back into the road the buggy turned over and threw him out when he was shot full of holes….”**

Slocum buys Mastin’s half of the stop from his estate on March 1, 1870, for $258. Slocum expands the stop with additional structures and corrals and calls it Slocum’s Ranch. The 1870 census shows Slocum, age 40, living at the stop with his wife Jesusa, 28, and two children Louis, 3, and John, 1. Two employees also live there, John Perry, 32, and John Brown, 26.
Mason's Ranch Aerial View 1974

The design of the stage stop is marked on the aerial photo above, taken by Keith J. Humphries in 1974. As indicated, the south section contained rooms, the north section two large corrals. All were protected by an adobe wall. The reservoir is south of the walled structure. Even though the site continues to degrade, you can still see the outline of the stop in this recent satellite photo:
Mason's Ranch Satellite Image
On October 25, 1875, Slocum leases the stop to Richard S. Mason for $75 a month. Mason advertises in the Mesilla paper:

“TRAVELLERS, ATTENTION!

R. S. Mason having leased the place heretofore known as

SLOCUM’S RANCH

situate 25 miles west of Mesilla on the road to Silver City and the west, informs the public generally that he is prepared to receive and accommodate travellers, and to supply passing trains or herds of animals with water.

This is the only watering place between the Rio Grande and Fort Cummins. I always have an abundance of water on hand, which I will furnish at reasonable rates.

My table will be kept supplied with the best the market affords.

I have pleasant and comfortable rooms furnished with clean beds for the use of travellers. Also comfortable and secure stabling for animals. I always keep a good supply of hay and grain on hand.

Travellers will find at my place everything requisite to supply their wants and add to their comfort, my charges will not be found unreasonable.

R. S. Mason”***

Mason ran into financial trouble in 1879, borrowing money that year, and by 1884 had abandoned the site.

Some images as the site appears today:
Mason's Ranch - Stage Stop
(Above) Looking at the northeast corner of the compound. The rock structure served two purposes: to retain the dirt fill necessary to level the corral and as the foundation of the adobe wall surrounding the stage stop. Note the erosion.
Mason's Ranch - Stage Stop
Looking at the base of the foundation.
Mason's Ranch - Stage Stop
Looking south along the east wall. You can see the ruins of the housing section of the compound in the distance.
Mason's Ranch - Stage Stop
The housing ruins. Note the rock portion of the standing wall. The part of the structure used as a fireplace was rocked, the rest of the structure was adobe.

*La Posta – From the Founding of Mesilla, to Corn Exchange Hotel, to Billy the Kid Museum, to Famous Landmark, David G. Thomas, 2013.
**Santa Fe New Mexican, June 2, 1868.
***Mesilla Valley Independent, Oct 13, 1877.

See also:
Picacho — Forgotten Butterfield Stage Stop
Rough and Ready – Butterfield Stage Stop

 

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Rough and Ready – Butterfield Stage Stop

Rough and Ready was the second stop of the Overland Mail Stage Line after leaving Mesilla. (The first stop was Picacho.)

The Rough and Ready station is on the west side of the Rough and Ready Hills. Upon leaving Picacho, the trail led through Box Canyon north of Picacho peak, across flat tableland, and then through a pass to the station, as shown below. The hills to the north of the pass are the Sleeping Lady Hills, to the south the Rough and Ready Hills. The distance as traveled by the trail is about 15 miles. Traces of the trail are still easily seen in damage to the terrain and wagon-wheel wear-marks in rocks.Rough and Ready Butterfield Stage Stop

Here is a close view of the station location:
Rough and Ready Butterfield Stage Stop

If you climb the summit above the station, you see Picacho Peak in the distance (circled) and the environmental disturbance due to the trail:
Rough and Ready Butterfield Trail

In the foreground of the photo above is one of the cairns established by the Bartlett-Conde* survey to mark the border between Mexico and the United States. Following the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848, both countries agreed to a joint survey to establish the border. The survey was to start at El Paso del Norte and go west. Because of a bad map, the starting location was mistakenly set 42 miles north of where it should have been. This mistake put Mesilla in Mexico and led to a nasty border dispute that was only settled by the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. The map below shows the mistaken area (click for a larger map):
Bartlett-Conde Survey Map - 1848

There is little left of the Rough and Ready station. Many of the still visible ruins are likely of a later date. An archaeological excavation established that the station consisted of a two-room stone and adobe house with chimneys and a large adobe corral. There was no water source at the station. A dirt tank was dug to capture rain water and water was also hauled from Mesilla.

Here are some ruins:
Rough and Ready Butterfield Stage Stop

Here is one of the stakes marking a corner of the archaeological excavation:
Rough and Ready Butterfield Stage Stop

There is a mysterious burial or memorial of unknown origin a short distance from the old station that reads “Stubs, RIP.” It has no date, but can not be more than 20 years old. If you have any information on this cement marker, please communicate it.
Rough and Ready Butterfield Stage Stop - Stubs, RIP

*The lead American surveyor was John Russell Bartlett, the lead Mexican surveyor was Pedro Garcia Conde.

See also:
Picacho Cemetery
Picacho – A Brief History
Picacho Peak
Picacho — Forgotten Butterfield Stage Stop
Trip to Mason’s Ranch

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Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Picacho — A Brief History

Evangelisto Chavez

Evangelisto Chavez

Picacho was founded in 1855 by Juan (or Jose) Evangelisto Chaves, known as Evangelisto Chaves. Evangelisto, born May 8, 1827, had moved to Mesilla from Socorro, New Mexico some time before 1855. Evangelisto’s family history goes back to Pedro Gomez Duran Y Chaves*, who was born in Valverde de Llerena, Spain, and was one of the founding residents of Santa Fe in 1602. Evangelisto married Maria Petra de Jesus Trujillo in Socorro in 1851.

Picacho had long been a camping spot because it was located just south of a natural Rio Grande River crossing known as Apache or Indian Ford. It was also near one of the few places where it was possible to get wagons or coaches up the western slope of the Mesilla Valley. Even though the valley is not that steep, the west side consists of deep sand that provides a formidable barrier to horse-drawn conveyances.

Local tradition says that Evangelisto built the first house in Picacho. He established a large farm and a mercantile business and began employing many workers. He also started a ferry boat service at Apache Ford. Because he owned almost the entire town, it was sometimes called Chaves.

With Evangelisto’s financial acumen and the business provided by the Overland Mail Stage Stop established in 1858, the settlement grew fast. Just how fast can be seen in an 1859 Territorial vote:

Dona Ana, 240
Las Cruces, 100
Brazito, 19
La Mesa, 212
Santo Tomas, 69
Mesilla, 1101
Picacho, 136
Tucson, 267
Colorado City (Rodey), 100

These numbers are votes, i.e., United States male citizens, but they give an idea of the relative populations of the towns of southern New Mexico at this time (Arizona was part of New Mexico until February 24, 1863).

Picacho’s close proximity to the mountains made it vulnerable to Indian attacks, and there are accounts of raids in which livestock were taken and citizens lost their lives. Here is a typical account:

“On the morning of the 30th ult., five Apaches stole out of a corral at the village of Picacho, two hundred head of cattle. To show the audacity of these Indians, we will note that the stock was stolen within five miles of a camp of 650 soldiers.” (September 30, 1861)

During the Civil War, Picacho’s position as a transit point to Arizona led to its use for that purpose by both Confederate and Union troops.

With the arrival of the train at Las Cruces in 1881, Picacho along with Mesilla, La Mesa, Dona Ana, and Santo Tomas began a decline that led, by 1900, to almost insignificance.

Evangelisto, who is enumerated in the census of 1880 as living in Picacho, recognized Picacho’s dwindling importance and moved to Las Cruces in July, 1881, where he built a large house. In Las Cruces he had many business interests and served as Justice of the Peace, county treasurer, and school commissioner. He died unexpectedly on March 2, 1886.

*Although about 250 Spanish men and a few wives settled in Santa Fe following Don Juan de Oñate’s expedition there in 1598, by 1608 only about 50 remained, of which Pedro Gomez Duran Y Chaves was one. He was appointed Military Commander of New Mexico in 1627. His descendents spell the name both Chavas and Chavez.

See also:
Picacho Cemetery
Picacho Peak
Picacho — Forgotten Butterfield Stage Stop
Rough and Ready – Butterfield Stage Stop

Sources:
Research by Dan Aranda; Photo of Evangelisto Chaves Copyright 2012 Dan Aranda; “Santa Fe Weekly Gazette,” January 8, 1859; “The Daily Dispatch,” November 5, 1861; “Rio Grande Republican,” March 6, 1886; Chavez, A Distinctive American Clan of New Mexico, by Fray Angelico Chavez.

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Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Picacho — Forgotten Butterfield Stage Stop

Many who have written about the Butterfield Overland Mail have left out the Picacho stage stop, sometimes called Rancho Picacho, in their accounts. This is a bit surprising as the very first written account of the Butterfield trail mentions the Picacho stop.
Waterman Lilly Ormsby
Waterman Lilly Ormsby, a special correspondent for the New York Herald, took the first stage from St. Louis to San Francisco so he could report on the experience. He was the only passenger with a straight-through ticket. He left St. Louis on September 16, 1858 and arrived in San Francisco 24 days later, the stage having traveled day and night, stopping so passengers could sleep only every second or third night.

During the trip Ormsby wrote 8 articles about the trip, which were published in the Herald.

Mesilla was almost exactly half way between St. Louis and San Francisco.

Here is what Ormsby wrote on leaving Mesilla:

“A few miles from Messilla [Mesilla] we changed our horses for another team of those interminable mules, and started on a dreary ride of 52 miles for Cook’s Spring. This is the commencement of that series of deserts without water extending from the Rio Grande to the Gila – one of the most tedious portions of the route.

Our road lay through what was called the Pecatch [Picacho] Pass, and, as I walked nearly all the way through it, it seemed to me rather mountainous. It was about 2 miles long and had some very bad hills. In comparison with other passes and canyons on the route, it was not very bad, though quite bad enough and all uphill. When, however, we reached the summit, we were upon the border of a broad and level plain extending as far away as the eye could reach. At our backs were the ranges of the Oregon [Organ] Mountains, the debris of the Rocky Mountains, forming the Eastern boundary of the Messilla [Mesilla] Valley. In front we could just see in the distance Cooke’s peak, rising from the plain in bold prominence from among the surrounding hills.”

The stop where the stage changed from horses to mules was the Picacho stop. Mules were used when the road was rough and mountainous. Mules could handle rougher terrain, but were slower than horses, so the Picacho stop was important, else mules would have had to be put on in Mesilla, making it a tough pull to reach the first stage stop after Picacho, Rough and Ready.

As noted in this post and confirmed by the Ormsby quote above, the stage went north of Picacho peak, not south as almost all writers have it. There was a southern road that stayed on the plains, which horse riders often took, but the water necessary for animals pulling a stage was available only on the mountainous route.

The last remains of the stage stop in Picacho were torn down in 1954, but here is the location today in the old village of Picacho:
Picacho Station
Below is a Google satellite image with the location of the Picacho station marked (white square). The GPS is 32.32459, -106.84989. The black line shows the route the stage took through Picacho.
Picacho Butterfield Stage Station Map
Here is an old adobe in Picacho probably built in the 1890s.
Picacho Old Adobe

See also:
Picacho Cemetery
Picacho — A Brief History
Picacho Peak
Rough and Ready — Butterfield Stage Stop
Trip to Mason’s Ranch

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Monday, February 1st, 2010

Picacho Peak


Picacho Peak, 4959 feet, about 7 miles from Las Cruces. (Click for a larger image.)

The old village of Picacho is located southeast of the peak, at the edge of the Mesilla Valley. Picacho was a stage stop on the , the first stop after Mesilla. From Picacho, the stage climbed the mesa and went around the north side of Picacho Peak through Box Canyon. This lead to a very difficult route through several mountain ranges, but was the only route on which water could be supplied at the stage stops, which were located about one hour of travel time apart.

From Mesilla the stage stops to the Arizona border were: Picacho, Rough and Ready, Goodsight, Cooke’s Springs, Mimbres, Cow Springs, Soldiers’s Farewell, Barney’s, Steins Peak.

The Butterfield Stage began operation on September 15, 1858, with stages leaving San Francisco and St. Louis, the two ends of the line, on that day. Mesilla was located about the middle of the route.

The Butterfield Stage was put out of operation by the start of the Civil War.

See also:
Picacho Cemetery
Picacho — A Brief History

Rough and Ready — Butterfield Stage Stop

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Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Mesilla Stage Coach – More

As noted in this prior post, , Louis Cardis had just established a stage coach line from Mesilla to San Antonio/Austin, with rail connections to St. Louis, when he was murdered.

Cardis’ line was called The Texas & California Stage Company. As shown in this, his first of only two advertisements, his line used four-horse .

The one-way cost from Mesilla to St. Louis, which included the train fare, was $107.50. It’s interesting that it was not rounded either up or down.

Mesilla Valley Independent (newspaper), October 13, 1877

His Way Table from the same issue shows the stops from Mesilla to Fort Concho. The average distance between stops is about 30 miles. At each stop the horses would be changed. If the stage broke down between stops, the plan would have been to unsaddle a horse and ride to the nearest stop to obtain what was necessary to repair the coach.

Time was important even in that age. That is why the stage rode night and day for several days before pausing to permit the passengers to sleep a little. Hotel or sleep accommodation charges were not included in the fare.

Meals were available at each stop for 50 cents.

Mesilla Valley Independent (newspaper), October 13, 1877

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Friday, March 6th, 2009

Stage Coach from Mesilla – Unfulfilled Promise

Stage Leaving Town – Library of Congress Photo

“Hon. of El Paso was in town during the early part of the week completing arrangements for starting a line of coaches between Mesilla and El Paso. This line fills the break and gives us a through line of coaches from San Diego, Cal., to San Antonio and Austin Texas. Mr. Cardis is the proprietor of the line of coaches running from El Paso to Fort Davis Texas, from which point there is close connection with other lines of coaches that connect with the railroads. He has now extended his line to Mesilla and Las Cruces, and has succeeded in effecting an arrangement with the other state companies on the route by which through tickets to St. Louis from Silver City, Mesilla, Las Cruces or El Paso are furnished at remarkably low rates.”

“Mr. Cardis has met and overcome many obstacles in bringing about this happy result, obstacles that would have dismayed and discouraged a man of less energy; and he is not only entitled to great credit, but also deserves a liberal support from the traveling public. Under the new arrangement, a person desiring to visit the east from this place can procure a through ticket to St. Louis over this route for $107.50, or a ticket to go and return for $161.25. This is a very great reduction on former rates of fare and is as low as can reasonably be expected. Speaking from personal experience we recommend the Southern route as being far superior to any other; the roads are better, frequent opportunities are afforded to obtain rest and sleep; incidental expenses are less, and the traveler in winter never suffers from the severe cold that is experienced on the northern route.”

“Mr. Cardis’ coach leaves here every Monday* morning at 7 o’clock; at mid-day cottonwood ranche is reached and the traveler can obtain a good meal and an hour’s rest. El Paso is reached the same evening; here the traveler will find good hotel accommodations, and he takes his seat at seven o’clock the next morning in one of Mr. Cardis’ elegant Four Horse Coaches and rolls out of El Paso refreshed by a full night’s sleep.”

Fort Davis – Library of Congress Photo

“Two days takes him to where he again lays over one night and has another opportunity to obtain a good rest, and where he will find persons who will take pleasure in administering to his wants and comfort.”

Fort Concho – Library of Congress Photo

“He starts the next morning for which is reached in three days. Here the traveler will again find comfortable quarters and can rely upon being well cared for. Leaving Fort Concho in a fine concord coach eh arrives at either San Antonio or Austin in two days, and there takes the rail for St. Louis, or New Orleans.”

“The traveler over this route will discover that nothing has been left undone to contribute to his comfort. He will find it to be the cheapest, the safest, the most comfortable route by which to reach the States. He will find stations, every few miles between Mesilla and the Railroad, where he can get good meals at 50 cents per meal. On the whole we recommend this route in preference to any other.”

Mesilla Valley Independent, Sept 22, 1877 (newspaper)

*Sunday

This stage line was a promise unfulfilled. 18 days after this article appeared, Cardis was murdered by , one of the many victims of the .

“On… October 10… Cardis entered the store of E. Schutz and Brother, and asked one of the clerks to write a letter for him. He was sitting in a rocker with his back to the door when… Howard enter[ed] the front door with a double-barreled shotgun…. Cardis immediately rose, passed behind the clerk, and took a position back of the desk which concealed the upper part of his body. Howard emptied one barrel into the lower part of [Cardis’] body and legs and as the torso sank into view, the second charge of buckshot penetrated his heart.”The Texas Rangers by Walter Prescott Webb.

On December 12, 1877, Howard went to San Elizario with a guard of Texas Rangers. They were attacked by a enraged mob demanding Howard be surrendered. On December 17, he gave himself up to the mob, which quickly organized a firing squad of Mexicans, to provide the shooters with some legal protection from American consequences:

“After they fired, Jesús Telles ran up and attempted to slash Howard’s face with a machete. He swung his weapon, but Howard twisted away, and Telles cut off two of his own toes instead. The bodies of Howard and two of his agents, also shot by the firing squad, were mutilated and dumped down an old well about a half mile away.”

A Ride You Don’t Want To Take

Stage Coach Hanging – Library of Congress Photo

Links:





Books:
The Texas Rangers, by Walter Prescott Webb
Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio Grande by Paul Cool

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