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Local History

Butterfield Overland Mail Route

In this segment of KSMU's ongoing series, A Sense of Place, Michele Skalicky talks with the owner of an original Butterfield Stagecoach and the director of the History Museum for Springfield-Greene County about the Butterfield Overland Mail Route.
On a recent cool morning in west Springfield several horses waited impatiently for their ride to begin.
Four were hooked up to a stagecoach at the Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park—others were ready to carry riders on their backs. The stagecoach—looking like something straight out of the old west--was the draw for people who had come to the park that day. They stood around snapping pictures and waiting for the horses to be given the order to take out.
Rick Hamby owns the stagecoach. He looks every bit the cowboy. Wearing chaps, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, he, too, looks like someone straight out of the Old West.
Hamby and his wife Bev along with a crew of six, take the stagecoach pulled by a team of four horses along and near the old Butterfield Overland Mail Route to teach people about that significant period in our past.
This month is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the mail route, and the Hambys and their crew travelled through Springfield recently. Their stop at Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park allowed them to share an important slice of history with visitors…
As we sit around the smouldering remains of a campfire, only the distant sound of chickens welcoming the morning in their coop mingled with the voices of Hamby’s crew can be heard as we talk.
He tells me how he came to purchase a stagecoach with its roots deep in history. According to Hamby, the vehicle was one of 250 stagecoaches used on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. When the mail route ended in 1861, it stayed in service in Southern Arizona until around 1900. A collector owned it until 1960 when the Herschend family, which owns Silver Dollar City, bought it, and it became the original Silver Dollar Line…
Hamby and his crew have driven the stagecoach from Springfield all the way to San Francisco. He says it’s impossible to stay on the original route all the way, but they ride on it when they can…
The Butterfield Overland Mail Route was started after the US government mandated a transcontinental mail system. John Butterfield and about eight other companies bid for the contract, and Butterfield was awarded it…
Butterfield put in 150 relay stations from Tipton, MO to San Francisco, CA. He had about 1800 head of animals, 250 stagecoaches and about 300 employees.
According to John Sellars, director of the History Museum for Springfield/Greene County, the Butterfield stagecoach Route ran right thru the heart of Springfield. A depot was located at General Nicholas Smith’s tavern on the NE corner of Park Central Square. Interestingly enough, that’s the site of the History Museum’s future home.
Sellars says John Butterfield needed land to put stables for housing horses to be used on the route. Adjacent to Smith’s property was the business of Jake Painter—famous in the Old West as a gunsmith. He made guns called “Jake’s Best,” used by most people going into the Old West at that time…
Depots were scattered throughout Southwest MO—they were as close as 10 miles apart and as far as 25 miles apart. Passengers paid 15 cents a mile or 200 dollars for a one-way ticket to San Francisco.
According to Rick Hamby, John Butterfield would incorporate already established trails and hire locals…
Hamby says drivers on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route were each designated a 60-mile stretch of road so they were familiar with it inside and out. According to Sellars, drivers had to know their way in the light of day and at night.
Hamby says life was difficult for drivers…
He says one of the most famous drivers on the route was Charlie Parkhurst…
The Butterfield Mail Route was a major event for Springfield and other cities along the route. John Sellars says it opened up communication significantly…
He says the mail route made Springfield something it had not been before—a crossroads of travel.
After about 2 and a half years, the Butterfield Overland Mail Route wet out of business…
The route was absorbed by other companies. Eventually, the railroad completely replaced stagecoaches as a way of delivering mail.
But one stagecoach still travels along and near the original route—reminding people about its importance 150 years ago.
Rick Hamby, his stagecoach and his crew took off from Springfield recently headed to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield’s Ray House—one of the original stops on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. There, waiting for the stagecoach to arrive was a class of 5th graders from Republic Elementary.
They had in hand letters they had written to school kids who would get a chance to see the stagecoach in the next few days. Rick Hamby and his stagecoach would deliver them.
For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.