The three-seat red coach at the Film History Museum was made by John Butterfield between 1858 and 1861. It is actually a celerity wagon, similar to what was also called a Jersey wagon, and weighs half of what a standard coach weighs, one of which can also be seen in the Museum. You will not find Mr. Butterfield’s name on any of his coaches, at his request.
Although this coach has been renovated, it is true to the original. A red body and yellow wheels was common on all coaches of the era, sometimes with intricate landscapes painted on the doors. On many celerity wagons, the seat back could be let down to create a bed. The gold plaque behind the driver’s seat facing the front seat is still being researched, but it is thought that Ronald Regan, when he was Governor of California, may have ridden in this wagon during the Rose Parade.
Wagons such as this were designed for rough conditions where the trail was not as well developed, such as the sandy roads and steep inclines of the road connecting the gold rush towns along what is now Hwy. 49 on the western side of the Sierra. That’s why the floor of the coach is lower to the ground than a standard stage coach, as this allows for better shock absorption.
These coaches were used for passengers and mail, originally for Butterfield’s company called the Overland Mail Co. They were also sold to Wells Fargo Co., such as this one. The canvas top was common, with the sides being let down during dust storms or when it was raining or snowing. Unlike a standard stagecoach, with a metal rail around the top, passengers would not be carried on top of this coach. In the 1850’s a letter cost $5.00 a half ounce when mailed in the east and addressed to a town in the west.
On regular passenger stagecoaches, when they agreed to carry mail (under the driver’s feet up front), it was not uncommon for the mail to be dumped by the side of the road if paying passengers presented themselves on the journey. The next coach that came along might pick it up and deliver it to the next town, but sometimes it took months to get a letter across the country.
Luggage was carried in “the boot”, the leather draped area at the rear of the coach. Passengers were allowed a very limited amount, the quantity set by the individual stage line. It was not uncommon for a passenger to arrive for departure only to find that they had to hurriedly repack into only one satchel.
The stacked leather strips beneath the coach are called “thoroughbraces” and gave suspension to the coach, absorbing much of the shock of the rutted and rocky roads. This coach has been converted for parade use and you can see the disc brakes on the insides of the front wheels. Before that was done, however, you can see where the bolts from the brake handle on the right side cut into the body of the coach.
When these coaches were first used, they were pulled by 4 to 6 wild mules, and then it was learned that draft horses were easier to handle. The names on the side of the coach are towns just north of where Hwy. 120, Tioga Pass, ends on the west side of the Sierra. They were established in the 1850’s during the gold rush, and by the mid 1850’s were receiving mail service on a weekly to monthly basis. Research courtesy of Linda Haun
Butterfield Coach courtesy of Jim Rogers
Butterfield Stage & Overland Mail Trail
The Butterfield Overland Mail Trail, also known as the Oxbow Route, the Butterfield Overland Stage, or the Butterfield Stage, was a stagecoach route in the United States, operating from 1857 to 1861. It was a United States mail delivery service that began in two cities – Memphis, Tennessee and (Tipton) St. Louis, Missouri. The mail routes converged at Fort Smith, Arkansas and continued through Indian Territory, New Mexico, and southern Arizona to its final destination in San Francisco, California. (See map above.) The service provided communication between the eastern United States and the western states and territories before coast-to-coast railroad service began. The cost of mailing a letter was 10 cents.
The trip, about 2,800 miles, was made in twenty-five days and sometimes less. Lack of water and possible hostile attacks constantly troubled the route.
Though the coaches had the mail as their first priority they also accepted adventurous passengers at a cost of id="mce_marker"50 – $200. Passengers were allowed 25 – 40 pounds of luggage, two blankets and a canteen. The coaches traveled at very fast speeds twenty-four hours a day; there were no stops for bed and breakfast – only the hurried intervals at the station houses when they changed horses or mules – at all hours of the day and night.
As they approached the stations, they would blow a brass horn to let the station keepers know they were near and to get ready. Up to ten men worked at the stations to help with the exchanges.
At some of these stops, travelers were offered meals of bread, coffee, meat and, sometimes, beans, costing passengers an extra $25. Coaches passed through southeast Arizona twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays – from both California and Missouri.
The route through southeastern Arizona from 1858 to 1861 crossed into what is now Arizona from Mesilla, New Mexico Territory at Stein’s Pass, and then headed west/southwest to San Simon, through Apache Pass, Ewell Springs, and Dragoon Springs (about twenty miles north of Tombstone). It crossed the San Pedro River just north of present-day Benson and then veered slightly north to pass Cienega and head up to Tucson and on to San Francisco via Yuma and Los Angeles. In Arizona, the most dangerous station stop was at Apache Pass. It was situated there because of the availability of fresh water at Apache Spring.
The outbreak of the Civil War caused the quick withdrawal of almost all military troops from the frontier territory, leaving the area unprotected. In February 1861, when Texans voted to secede from the Union, the southern mail route was discontinued in favor of a northern route.
In fact, during the Civil War, Arizona Territory was cut off from much communication with the outside world. The next public mail to reach Tucson came from California on horseback on September 1, 1865. Regular mail delivery wasn’t restored until the 1870s and 1880s.
Although the Butterfield Overland Stage mail and passenger delivery lasted only 2 1/2 years, it opened up the West to further settlement and introduced the country to its newest territories.
The Celerity Butterfield Stagecoach
The Celerity or mud stagecoach (see above) carried mail, newspapers, small packages and passengers through the rougher, more mountainous western leg of the trip. It was lighter in weight, faster, could carry luggage on top, and had a canvas roof and curtains. (Though the curtains weren’t able to keep the wind, dust and rain off of passengers.)
It was one-half the cost of the deluxe Concord coach used on the earlier leg of the route. The red and yellow-trimmed mud coaches carried 9 passengers and its three seats could be folded into a small bed. A team of horses or mules – the number depended on weather and weight – pulled the Celerity. The name, Celerity, came from the Latin root, celer, meaning “swift”.
The stagecoaches traveled at an average speed of 4 – 7 miles per hour covering anywhere from 70 to 120 miles each day. It made stops at 139 relay stations or frontier forts, located every 20 miles, on the journey. They would load and unload the mail and passengers, eat, get fresh water and new horses. Butterfield employed over 800 people to drive the mail and passengers across the country.
The Butterfield Stage was only attacked once by Apaches, but also could be stopped by highway thieves or outlaws; due to this possibility, Butterfield did not allow gold or silver to be transported on his stagecoaches.