Butterfield Overland Mail Route: Fort Bowie to Anza-Borrego

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Fort Bowie, Arizona to Anza-Borrego, California

A Love Your Parks Tour Story by Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid   

Glynn Burrows, historian and owner of Norfolk Tours in England, discusses on Big Blend Radio, the historic family connection that John Butterfield, founder of the The Butterfield Overland Mail Company, had with England. 

Operating between 1858-1861, John Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company transported passengers and U.S. Mail from Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri, to San Francisco, California. It was the first successful transcontinental mail and stage line that connected the eastern US States with the new state of California. Traveling day and night for nearly 3,000 miles, the average stagecoach trip would take 23 days with brief stops at the various 140 stations for fresh mules and water.

“Remember boys, nothing on God’s earth must stop the US Mail!” John Butterfield

Imagine being one of the nine travelers squeezed into Butterfield’s custom-designed Celerity wagon, especially living in today’s age of overnight deliveries and text messaging and the advent of self-driving cars! Though they fared better in rugged mountain and desert terrain than the better-known, high-bodied, Concord Stagecoach, the low-slung Butterfield Celerity was not built with comfort in mind. In fact, passengers often got nauseous from the swaying seats, stifling heat, and thick trail dust. And, there were rules to be followed: Don’t drink unless you share the bottle, no spitting into the wind, leave your valuables behind, plus, there’s an extra charge for food!

To preserve, protect and interpret the historic sites on the trail, the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail Route is currently being considered as a possible National Historic Trail. From Fort Bowie in southern Arizona to Anza-Borrego in southern California, here are five parks that are part of the historic Butterfield Trail corridor.

Located in southeast Arizona, the artifacts, ruins and stories about this fort can spark your imagination and take you back to what is was like to live during this time. Fort Bowie was established by the California Volunteers in 1862 after a series of engagements between the California Column and the Chiricahua Apaches. From the Bascom Affair to the Battle of Apache Pass, the amount of historic happenings that occurred right along the 1 ½ mile hike to the fort from the parking lot, is astounding. The hike takes you along the wagon trail used to service the fort during the years the military fought the Apaches. You cross over the Overland Butterfield Stage route, and make your way to the remnants of the fort and the cemetery, as well as the visitors center. www.NPS.gov/fobo

On October 29, 1775, Father Font described that the Anza Expedition camped at a place “a little beyond a picacho or peak which the Indians called Tacca.” Through the years, Picacho Peak was used as a landmark by Father Kino and the Mormon Battalion, the California forty-niners, and the Butterfield Overland Stage Route in the late 1850s. It’s also the site of the 1862 Battle of Picacho Pass, which was the largest Civil War clash to take place in Arizona. Located off Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix, and near Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and featuring the prominent 1,500-foot Picacho Peak, this park is a beautiful hiking, bird watching, camping, and picnic destination with wildflowers in spring. There are historic markers in the park, as well as a LEED certified visitors center with exhibits and a gift shop. https://azstateparks.com/picacho/

Located west of Gila Bend, and just off Interstate 8, this historic site is home to an incredible collection of early petroglyphs etched on a mound of black rocks. The Anza expedition called this site Agua Caliente, named after the hot spring of water. There are RV and camping sites, a shaded picnic area, and interpretive panels covering the Anza Expedition, as well as the Mormon Battalion and Butterfield Overland Mail expeditions which also traveled through this historic corridor. https://www.blm.gov/visit/painted-rock-petroglyph-site

Located in southern California, across the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona, Fort Yuma was on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route from 1858-1861. Today the Fort Yuma Indian School and the Saint Thomas Yuma Indian Mission occupy the site, which is one of the associated sites on the National Register of Historic Places in the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. It is also a registered California Historical Landmark. Of historic significance, the Colorado River was once a water highway and major crossing point at the narrows, which was the easiest place to cross the Colorado River into California. Many crossed here including expeditions such as Juan Bautista de Anza and the Mormon Battalion, and fortune seekers off to try their luck in the California gold rush. 

Named after the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word borrego, or bighorn sheep, this 600,000 acre desert park features wildflowers, palm grove oases, and a variety of cactus as well as desert bird and wildlife. The largest state park in California, Anza-Borrego is an anchor in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve, along with being part of the route for the Anza Expedition, Butterfield Overland Mail, Mormon Battalion and California Gold Rush. The Park’s Visitor Center is on the outskirts of the small village of Borrego Springs, and along with informative exhibits, features a nature trail through the desert garden, complete with desert pupfish. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638

This Love Your Parks Tour Historic USA/UK Connection Story was assigned by Glynn Burrows, family history expert and owner of Norfolk Tours in England. Read his story about John Butterfield’s family history in England, here: https://nationalparktraveling.com/listing/butterfield-family-connection-with-england/


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