FORT DAVIS, Texas–Sheltered at the foot of Sleeping Lion Mountain, the route of the stagecoach is once again alive with prospectors, pioneers heading west, cowboys, mail carriers, and soldiers. Fort Davis, Texas, is one of many communities from Missouri to California celebrating its place on the Butterfield Overland Mail route this year. Stagecoaches began the first transcontinental mail delivery in 1858, along torturous routes through seas of towering prairie grass, parched desert, and across rocky mountain trails.
Prior to the Butterfield Overland Mail, there was no organized commercial transportation system west of the Mississippi. A New York businessman, John Butterfield, won a $600,000 government contract to establish and run the Overland Mail Company from St. Louis, Missouri, to San Francisco, California. The contract called for semi-weekly runs covering 2,800 miles in a maximum of 25 days. The first eastern- and western-bound stagecoaches met at Pinery Station, now part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, on September 28, 1858. The Butterfield Overland Stage service operated successfully until 1861.
“Fort Davis has the longest unpaved section of the route–also called the San Antonio-El Paso Road—more than a mile through the community of Fort Davis and nearly one mile on the grounds of Fort Davis National Historic Site,” says Chuck Hunt, Park Superintendent. “It is easy to feel transported back into time here. From the trail, a visitor can look at the unspoiled mountains and sense the hardship of travel through territory filled with danger and discomfort. Thousands of people traveled this road across the southern part of the United States on foot, in stagecoaches, and in wagons before the railroad came through this part of the country and before cars were invented. The road continued to be traveled after the Butterfield Stage disbanded. Park visitors of all ages are invited to walk the route anytime. Children participating in our July 19th Junior Ranger Day will walk a portion of the old San Antonio-El Paso Road—and meet volunteers posing as pioneers heading west, mail carriers, prospectors, cowboys and soldiers from 1860-1880.”
According to Lisa Nugent, Executive Director of the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce, “We still don’t have chain stores or stoplights, and that makes us a perfect place to experience the history of the west. People are drawn to our community for the small town charm, architecture, historic preservation, the friendliness of the people. At the same time more people are drawn to the slower pace of life. They are interested in working hard to preserve and sustain the unspoiled nature of what we have here.” The West Texas community of 1,200 residents is not only home to Fort Davis National Historic Site, one of the best restored frontier army forts in the nation, but also world-renowned McDonald Observatory.
Fort Davis won a 2008 Dozen Distinctive Destination® award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation® for its heritage tourism value. The clear skies and cool climate of this mile-high community in the Davis Mountains attract visitors to its wide open spaces, mountain vistas, hiking and biking, and adventures in the remaining Texas frontier. “We are proud of our connection with Butterfield Overland Mail’s history,” says Nugent, “and we’re planning more events for later this year.”
“The Overland Trail Museum is excited to host a Butterfield Pilgrimage on August 30 and a Storytelling Day on September 18,” says Daisy McCutcheon, President of the Fort Davis Historical Society. “We are so happy to share our history with others.” The museum is located on the unpaved portion of the original route, on Fort Street in the community of Fort Davis.
Fort Davis’ Butterfield events are listed on a web page (www.texasmountaintrail.com/butterfield) hosted by the Texas Mountain Trail, a non-profit organization participating in the state’s network of heritage trails coordinated by the Texas Historical Commission. A brochure of Butterfield celebrations can be downloaded from this page. Other events in Texas include: a fly-in and celebration in Grape Creek, Texas; a Butterfield Festival and rodeo in Monahans, Texas; the unveiling of a new life-sized replica of a stagecoach in Bridgeport, Texas; and stagecoach rides at Guadalupe Mountains National Park on September 27 and 28—exactly 150 years after the first meeting of the eastern- and western-bound stages on September 28, 1858.
To plan your visit to Fort Davis for the Butterfield Sesquicentennial events, see www.fortdavis.com or www.westtexastrip.com
For information on Fort Davis, Texas, visit: www.fortdavis.com or call 1-800-524-3015.
For flight information to Fort Davis, visit Midland “Your Window to the West” www.vistmidlandtexas.com
The National Park Service administers Fort Davis National Historic Site: www.nps.gov/foda
For trip planning across West Texas, visit: www.westtexastrip.com or www.texasmountaintrail.com
For more information on Butterfield Sesquicentennial events across Texas, visit: www.texasmountaintrail.com/butterfield
Source: Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce
Web site: http://www.westtexastrip.com/