BUTTERFIELD OVERLAND DESPATCH FAST-FREIGHT LINE. Page 397.
IS OVERLAND SMOKY HILL ROUTE--BUTTERFIELD DESPATCH.
of Denver's leading business men in the early '60's was D.
A. Butterfield, engaged in the grocery and commission trade.
Butterfield left Denver in the latter part of June, 1864,
and took up his residence in Atchison, Kan., then one of the
most prosperous towns on the Missouri river. He embarked in
the commission business in a large stone warehouse fronting
on the levee and Second street, opposite the old Massasoit
House, at the foot of Main street. He was agent, also, for a
line of packets that made semiweekly trips on the Missouri
river between St. Louis and Atchison, their names being, the
Marcella, Isabella, Clara, and Paragon. At that time there
were no railroads on Kansas soil, and steamboats on the "Big
Muddy" did most of the transportation of freight from St.
Louis to Kansas.
could be had to Denver in a distance of 606 miles; in other words, the proposed route shortened the distance about seventy-five miles, as compared with the route that was then being traveled from Leavenworth via Fort Kearney and the Platte.
Before the opening of the Smoky Hill route there was only one direct line across the plains to Denver. It was a long, tedious ride for Kansas passengers to get from the Missouri river to the mountains in the later '60's, after the stages were withdrawn on that portion of the overland route between Atchison and Fort Kearney. Necessity, on account of the increasing traffic, compelled the establishment of another line, making two routes of travel from the Missouri river to Colorado, Salt Lake, and California. One route was by steamboat up the Missouri river to Omaha; thence by rail over the Union Pacific to Kearney; thence by stage along the south bank of the Platte, on the great overland highway to the foot-hills of the Rockies. The other route--the last one opened to Denver--was the "short line," via the Kansas river and the Smoky Hill fork.
The cost of the journey to the mountains via Omaha and the Platte was considerably in excess of that over the new "Smoky" route, and it took a day or two longer to make the trip. Passengers from Kansas were not long in finding this out. During the '60's fully one-half of the business and professional men in Denver were made up of citizens from Kansas and western Missouri, the largest number from any one place at the time being from Atchison, though there were many from Leavenworth.
In the spring of 1865 an advertisement in the Atchison Daily Free Press, announced the new enterprise, as follows:
BUTTERFIELD'S OVERLAND DESPATCH,
to all points in
COLORADO, UTAH, IDAHO, AND MONTANA
PRINCIPAL OFFICE, ATCHISON, KAN
NEW YORK OFFICE,
No. I VESBY STREET, ASTOR HOUSE.
Through Bills of Lading Given From
NEW YORK, BOSTON, PHILADELPHIA.
PITTSBURG, CHICAGO, ST. Louis,
and BURLINGTON, IOWA.
D. A. BUTTERFIELD Proprietor,
A. W. SPALDING, Gen'l Ag't, New York.
in addition to what appears in the advertisement, the object of the "Overland Despatch" was to control the bulk of the vast traffic of the plains; in short, to transport merchandise and all kinds of freight from the Missouri river to Denver and other towns in Colorado; also to supply the rich mining camps then being developed in the territories of the great Northwest.
Butterfield, as all who knew him had to admit, was a shrewd, indefatigable worker. He was untiring in his efforts to succeed in the new enterprise he had inaugurated. He had his Eastern headquarters in New York city, with large, attractive signs--one of them a train of mammoth white-covered prairie-schooners drawn by several spans of mules and five or six yoke of oxen, painted in genuine Western style, and put up in a conspicuous place near the Astor House. The signs could be seen from quite a distance, and drew the attention of thousands of men prominent in business circles from all parts of the country then sojourning in New York. The home or Western office of the "Despatch" was at Atchison, the western terminus of the only railway reaching across the country to the Missouri river and the eastern border of Kansas. Atchison was likewise the headquarters and starting-point for the great overland California mail.
A complimentary visit was given Butterfield at his residence on the evening of June 7, 1865, by the employees of the "Overland Despatch," when a beautifully engraved golden tablet, in honor of the originator of the great enterprise, was given him.
On one side was engraved a representation of an ox train loaded with merchandise for the plains, with the words encircling it: "Butterfield Overland Despatch; established by D. A. Butterfield, Esq., 1865." On the other side were the words: "Presented to D. A. Butterfield by his employees, in token of their estimation of him as a man and an employer." A banquet followed, and speeches were made by Col. Isaac E. Eaton, Judge Albert R. Horton, and others. The program wound up with dancing, which was kept up until morning.
The direct route chosen by Butterfield was out of Atchison in a southwesterly direction to Grasshopper Falls,* where the Grasshopper river was crossed; thence over the rolling prairies, where the route intersected the old Fort Riley military road a few
* Since changed to Valley Falls by act of the Kansas legislature of 1875. The name of Grasshopper river was subsequently changed to Delaware.
miles northeast of Topeka, traversing it, and crossing Soldier creek about three miles northwest of Topeka, at the then prosperous town of Indianola. Here the stages stopped and changed mules at the Clinton House.* Thence it continued westward up the Kansas river, via, Silver Lake, St. Mary's, and Manhattan, to Fort Riley and Junction City. It was first operated by wagon trains hauled by mule and ox teams. The wagons were loaded with various kinds of merchandise, mills, mining machinery, etc., for points in Colorado, Utah, and Montana. So successful did everything appear for building up a mammoth business on the plains--especially in Denver, which was so rapidly growing that it was not long until the new short route was equipped with a line of four-horse stage-coaches.
Ruins of the Clinton House, at Indianola Kan., a
station on the Butterfield Overland
Despatch route in 1865.*
It was not known how much money Butterfield was worth at the time, but he was believed to be a rich man, for he was assessed a short time afterward for a Government income tax at $74,400. It was plainly evident, however, in spite of his snug fortune, that he was not lacking in the matter of "cheek." He was a smooth talker, could almost always interest his listeners, was exceedingly ambitious, and had few equals as a successful organizer. He managed in some way to interest a good deal of Eastern capital; not the least of which was that of three prominent express com-
*This old, two-story building, erected in the later '50's or early '60's, is still standing, and is now used as a barn on the farm of W. W. Phillips, one of the Kansas free state pioneers and early citizens of Topeka.
panies--the United States, the American, and the Adams. Steadily the scheme on which he was quietly working ripened, and, early in the summer of 1865, most of the various preliminaries connected with the enterprise were well matured. At first it was intended to transport freight only, by mule and ox trains; but the prospects of the undertaking being unusually bright, and everything connected with it appearing so promising, it was decided to put on a line of four-horse stages. The coaches were to run through to Denver, special efforts being made for carrying passengers and express matter. Suitable stations were to be located on the line, averaging about fifteen miles apart.
Dave Butterfield, as he was known, from his several years' residence in Denver in the early days of that city, with his extensive acquaintance among the business men and prominent mining representatives in that section, and with the bright future prospects of the "Pike's Peak Mining Region," evidently imagined that he could give Ben. Holladay, the New York millionaire overland stage proprietor, a lively tilt in the transportation of passengers and express across the plains to Denver.
It could not be disputed that Butterfield had the advantage of a route to the Rocky Mountains considerably shorter--across the country a little south of west from Atchison to Manhattan and Junction City, and up the Kansas valley and along the Smoky Hill fork--than Holladay had via the Little Blue river, Fort Kearney, and the Platte valley. His staging business he proposed to confine exclusively to the transportation of passengers and express, while Holladay had a great prestige--the monopoly in carrying the overland mail at good, round figures.
The exact route across the plains had not yet been mapped out, except that it had been decided to follow the Smoky Hill fork if, after a thorough investigation, it proved feasible. Accordingly an expedition was sent out in the summer of 1865 to determine the practicability of the Smoky Hill route, for the new Butterfield Overland Despatch. The expedition fitted out was in charge of Col. Isaac E. Eaton, of Leavenworth, who, after making a careful survey of the entire route, sent in the following telegram:
"DENVER, August 7, 1865.
"To D. A. Butterfield, Supt. B. 0. D. Co., Atchison, Kan. : Expedition a Perfect success. Best road from the Missouri river to the mountains. Living water every five miles, except from the head of Smoky Hill
to Sand creek--twenty-one miles. Grass and wood abundant the whole route. Distance from Leavenworth to Denver, 585 miles. Shall I arrange for building stations from here? ISAAC E. EATON."*
Large sums of money were lavishly spent by Butterfield in the spring of 1865 advertising his new enterprise, through the leading newspapers in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Atchison, Denver, and Salt Lake. His Atchison homestead, on Fifth street, comprised a block of ground, and he lived in sumptuous style. He gave frequent "swell" parties, to which were invited most of the "upper tens," the city officials, and prominent merchants and business men of Atchison. At these banquets the choicest wines and sparkling champagnes flowed like water, and the finest cigars were smoked by his guests. For anything that could be done to increase notoriety he spared neither pains nor expense.
Evidently the idea of Butterfield was to make it appear in the eyes of the masses that the "B. O. D." was a gigantic enterprise, backed with unlimited capital. It was thought by many around Atchison who knew the man well, and who found it difficult to collect even small bills against the concern, that there was really more "wind" connected with the head of the outfit than there was ready money to back it. It was short-lived. Dave Butterfield was a very different character from his New York namesake, John Butterfield, who established the southern or original "Butterfield Line" of stages, as has already been mentioned, between St. Louis and San Francisco.
It took money--and lots of it, too--to equip and put in operation such a vast enterprise as the "Overland Despatch" promised to become. Everything now appeared to be ripe for it. It was talked about all over the country. It was one of the leading topics at the breakfast and dinner tables. The leading newspapers had column after column about it, and it was discussed in all circles. Butterfield went to New York and Boston and laid his plans before prominent capitalists of the two cities. He was highly successful in his efforts, for the company was re-organized in June, 1865, and capitalized at three million dollars, with one
*In building this Smoky Hill route Colonel Eaton had a heavy military escort; hence met no difficulties in getting through. The Atchison Daily Free Press spoke of the enterprise at the time as follows:
"We must say that we admire Butterfield's pluck. Croakers on the Missouri river, skeptics in Denver and secret vindictive enemies who proposed 'to fight the thing to death' have produced no effect upon the master mind of this new and immense overland enterprise. Succeed it will, and such a triumph would warrant any man in fostering a feeling of pride for the work accomplished."
half paid in. Branch offices were opened, and agents appointed in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, Atchison, Leavenworth, Denver, and Salt Lake City.
E. P. Bray, one of the leading express men in the country, as chosen president, and W. K. Kitchen treasurer, both wealthy residents of New York. D. A. Butterfield, of Atchison, was made superintendent and manager. John A. Kinney, an old-timer and pioneer business man of Atchison, who had been with Butterfield almost from the first opening of the "Despatch" headquarters, was continued in charge of the Atchison office and his salary raised from $1500 to $2500 a year. Mr. Kinney was known to be an expert accountant, and no man in Atchison was better fitted, by long business experience west of the Missouri river, for this trying and responsible position. He had complete supervision of the mammoth enterprise, and, single-handed, could do the work of three ordinary men.
On the 30th of June, 1865, there appeared in the Atchison Free Press a column advertisement, the contents of which were as follows:
BUTTERFIELD OVERLAND DESPATCH,
To All Points in
Colorado Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
and Montana Territories and the State of Nevada.
Contracts can be made with this Company
through their Agents, to Transport Freight
from all of the Eastern Cities, to all lo-
calities in the Territories, the rate to
include Railroad and Overland
carriage and all commissions
upon the Missouri River.
The Company owns its own transportation and
gives a through Bill of Lading which pro-
tects the shipper from the extreme
East to the Far West.
About August 1, 1865, the Company will have a
line of Express Coaches running daily be-
tween Atchison, Kansas, and Denver,
Colorado; and, about September 1, to
Santa Fe. New Mexico, and, as soon in the spring
as possible, a tri-weekly between Denver and
Salt Lake City over which merchandise
will be carried at fair express rates.
TIME TO DENVER, EIGHT DAYS.
Mark Goods for Cattle and Mule Trains "But'd
Ov'd Desp'h." Mark Goods for Express
B. O. D. Express, Atchison."
The wagon-trains and stage-coaches of
the B. O. D. Company went out from Atchison via Grasshopper
Falls and the defunct town of Indianola to St. Mary's,
Manhattan, and Junction City;
thence westward up the Smoky Hill fork. The distance from Atchison via Junction City to Denver by this route, as the new short line was then operated, was 592 miles, or sixty-one ]miles less than the old route traveled from Atchison by the Little Blue, Fort Kearney, and Platte valley.
Some changes were made in the location of the route after it was first established. Following are the names of stations and table of distances, as permanently located by the Butterfield Overland Despatch Company; those marked with a (*) are "home" or eating stations:
Anticipating the early completion of the Kansas Pacific railway up the Kaw valley to Junction City, the stage stations from that point to Denver were numbered. Junction City was number 1; sixteen miles west was Hersey's, No. 2; sixteen miles farther, Solomon River, No. 3; Salina was fourteen and a half miles beyond, and was No. 4; Pritchard's (on Spring creek), fifteen miles, was No. 5; and Ellsworth, fifteen miles, was No. 6; and so on to destination, the stations averaging about fifteen miles. From No. 6 to Denver the distance was reported as 375 miles.
Some idea of the cost of operating an overland transportation line may be had when it is known that work oxen, in the summer of 1865, cost, in Atchison, $160 to $170 a yoke. The company bought for the line 1200 mules, the most of them being purchased in St. Louis, then (as now) believed to be the best mule market in the country. The first train sent out--a small one--was on June 24, 1865, and was known as "Train A." It was
loaded with 150,000 pounds of freight for Denver and other Colorado Points. On the 15th of July a train left Atchison for Colorado with seventeen large steam-boilers; and soon thereafter a trail of six-mule wagons started for Virginia City, Mont., carrying 150,000 pounds of machinery, the freight on which was twenty-two and a half cents per pound. The parties in charge of this train expected to go through in eighty days.
The business of the new company was big from the start, and it continued to grow rapidly. Steamboats discharged great quantities of freight on the Atchison levee for shipment by the "Despatch" line. A large amount of stuff also came by railroad via St. Joseph. In one day during the month of July, 1865, nineteen car-loads of freight, consigned to the "B.O. D." at Atchison, were received for transportation by this line. Early in August that year a train was loaded with 600,000 pounds of merchandise for business men in Salt Lake City.
While the "B. O. D." enterprise was in operation on the Smoky Hill route, a vast amount of freight was transported by it from Atchison to Denver via Manhattan, Junction City, Salina, Fort Harker, Wallace, and Cheyenne Wells. During the summer of 1865 the route was equipped, also, for a tri-weekly passenger and express stage line, twenty good coaches bought in Chicago being the vehicles utilized. The first stage to leave Atchison by this route reached Denver on September 23, 1865. The general superintendent himself accompanied this coach. The people of Denver had the utmost confidence in Butterfield and his enterprise. They fairly worshiped him. He was met a few miles out by a delegation of prominent citizens--his old friends and former neighbors--headed by George T. Clark, Denver's popular young mayor. As might naturally be inferred, the "Despatch" man was given an enthusiastic welcome. He was transferred to a seat in a carriage and driven direct to the Planter's House, corner of Blake and Sixteenth streets, where, for a time, he was the hero of the hour. An impromptu meeting was held, enthusiastic speeches were made, and a royal reception, with a grand banquet, followed.
One of the early stages that left Atchison on the "B. O. D." line made the run across to Junction City, 119 miles, in twenty two hours--a fraction less than five and one-half miles an hour, including all stops.
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