Butterfield Overland Despatch on the road.
The Butterfield Overland Despatch line
was not long in operation before it met with obstacles. Like
the old, established Government highway, which followed
along the south side of the Platte river, it was not spared
raids by the Indians. The Smoky Hill route lacked the
protection given on the great military highway which
followed the Platte. A number of severe encounters with
Indians were had along the new route. One of the fights took
place between Chalky Bluffs station and Denver, in November,
1865, when it shortly became necessary to run the stages
with a mounted guard in advance. Messengers were put on the
stage line from the first, but it afterwards became so
dangerous that all who valued their lives were finally
compelled to quit. They were all competent, faithful,
obliging young men. I was personally acquainted with each
one. Among those employed in 1865 were J. C. Alderson, B. S.
Barbour, A. S. Cole, Fred Merwin, William S. Moorhouse,
Thad. Platt, and A. D. Stevens.
distance it was beset with large numbers of hostiles. Young Merwin, one of the fearless and faithful messengers, had made two unsuccessful attempts to get his stage-coach through to Denver.
Before starting again, and the last time, he made his will, stating this was his third attempt, and he was going with it through to Denver or die on the way. He was killed by the treacherous savages, but not until after one of the chiefs had come up and smoked with him the "pipe of peace."
Owing to the frequent troubles by the Indians on the Smoky Hill route, the uncertainty of traveling it, and the risk of life, the originator of the "Overland Despatch," whose company was daily becoming more financially embarrassed, was finally obliged to abandon it and retire. In the later '50's, practically the same route had been abandoned by the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company, which was forced to move its stages, stock and supplies north to the Platte route, over which nine-tenths of all the travel across the plains then passed. The Platte route, the old military highway, in the early days of overland traffic, was deemed the only feasible road to Colorado and Utah; besides, at frequent intervals, it had protection from prowling Indians furnished by Government.
The wide-awake, public spirited citizens of Denver, most of whom were well acquainted with Butterfield and his new enterprise, continued to have the greatest faith in the future of the "Overland Despatch." Even when it seemed to be "on its last legs," the Colorado territorial legislature of 1865- '66 passed an act incorporating the enterprise, and, on the 30th of January, 1866, the incorporators met for organization. They mapped out their route west over the continental divide via Berthoud Pass, a portion of which line had been built by Gen. Bela M. Hughes, on which a large amount of money had been expended. Work on this road soon closed, and the proposed new short wagon and stage route across the Rockies was abandoned.
Preliminary arrangements were at once made for the early construction of a telegraph line from the Kansas and Colorado boundary to Central City. By a resolution, this company claimed the right to use Berthoud Pass, and the construction of the road west through it to Salt Lake was to be commenced at the earliest practicable date. Nothing more, however, than the mere passing of the resolution was ever done by the company, except to adver-
tise, in February, 1866, for bids for the delivery, along the Smoky Hill route, of 6000 telegraph poles.
During the short time that it lasted, the B. O. D." was widely known at all the ranches and points on the plains and in the mountains. Eastward, it was known in most of the leading cities from the Missouri river to the Atlantic coast. It soon, however, became apparent that, with the country so sparsely settled, but few of the mining camps having come into prominence, there was not business enough in the '60's, with the lively competition existing, to warrant an enterprise of such magnitude. While it continued under the management of Butterfield the organization cut largely into the receipts of the Holladay line and neither company made money on passengers or express matter. Passenger traffic decreased on account of the Indians. In March, 1866, there were rumors of a consolidation of the two companies, and, on the 17th of that month, the following advertisement appeared in the Atchison Daily Free Press:
To the Employees of the
OVERLAND DESPATCH COMPANY.
THE OVERLAND STAGE LINE and the OVER-
LAND DESPATCH COMPANY have become one
property under the name of the "HOLLADAY
OVERLAND MAIL AND EXPRESS COMPANY."
The new Company guarantees payment to the
employees of the late Overland Despatch Co.
An agent is now en route from New York to
pay them, DAVID STREET,
Gen'l Ag't "Holladay Overland Mail & Exp. Co."
ATCHISON, KAN., March 17, 1866.
The Smoky Hill line, which had for
something over a year been operated by the Butterfield
Overland Despatch Company under trying difficulties and at a
heavy loss, was now the property of Ben. Holladay and, with
his old overland stage line, was afterward known--as long as
the great stage man owned it--as the "Holladay Overland Mail
and Express Company."
on their persons, in order to lighten their "baggage," especially coin and gold dust, so they would not have to pay on excess at the rate of one dollar a pound. To prevent such practice, the new company issued an edict which, in black and white, stated that each adult passenger was allowed twenty-five pounds of baggage; but it was expressly understood by those going through as passengers "that neither gold dust, bullion, coin, bank or treasury notes could, under any circumstances, be carried under the designation of 'baggage.'"
The business that had been worked up was continued by the new company, but Butterfield, by this time, had become hopelessly embarrassed financially. He doubtless saw, after it was too late, that he could not successfully operate, without immense sums of money, the gigantic enterprise he had proposed to make of the "Overland Despatch." He tried every way possible to keep it going, but there was no improvement visible for the future. The longer he continued to operate it the deeper he became entangled in the meshes of financial misfortune. While in the midst of what seemed to be a prosperous freighting business, with many tons of ponderous boilers and machinery in transit to far-away camps, the mining bubble vanished. He then realized, as did the company he represented, the situation in which they were placed, and saw there was little if any hope of collecting freight bills that were accumulating on the machinery that was being transported. The only alternative was to unload it on the plains, and there it was left to rust out. Butterfield saw that he was financially ruined. His enterprise had collapsed. His fortune had been swept away. The stage stock, coaches, oxen, mules, wagons, supplies, etc., were bought by Holladay and consolidated with his overland line.
It was less than eighteen months from the first organization of the "Overland Despatch" until there was nothing left of it, Butterfield may have saved a little from the ruins, but he lost nearly everything he had, and bills against the company were still coming in from all quarters. In time the financial affairs were satisfactorily adjusted, and all who had claims were paid. In spite of his misfortune, Butterfield had many friends and admirers. Apparently there was no end to the schemes he originated and which at the time looked to be practicable. Leaving Atchison he located in Mississippi, where he some time afterward
organized a railroad company. He met one of his old friends from Atchison at Memphis in 1873, and in conversation he told a number of things he contemplated in the "Sunny South." One of them was a railroad scheme, which he regarded second only to his "Overland Despatch" in its palmiest days. He told what a big thing he had in Mississippi and how easy a matter it was to control the legislature of that state.
Leaving Mississippi, the originator of endless schemes settled at Hot Springs, Ark., where he built and operated a horse-car line, and was said to be prospering. But one day he evidently awoke the wrong passenger. He became involved in a quarrel with one of his employees, who, being called a "blankety- blank" name, brained him with a neck-yoke. And thus ended the career of one of the most widely known men who operated on the plains during the year 1865.
In connection with the early history of the "Despatch" company, and its subsequent reorganization in 1865, Butterfield was shrewd enough to associate with him some of the solid men of the country. Among them was William H. Fogg, a wealthy tea merchant of Boston; Eugene Kelley, a wealthy private banker of St. Louis; George E. Cock, a prominent capitalist of New York; and the president of the Park Bank, New York, also president of the "Despatch" company. The new company represented millions of capital and it stocked the line up in splendid style. Good stations were built, and in fact no expense was spared to thoroughly equip the route as a passenger and express line and fast ordinary freight line. Connected with the enterprise were a great number of mule and ox trains--twenty-six wagons to the train--and, but for the serious Indian outbreaks and lack of Government protection, it would have proved a formidable rival of the Holladay overland line. But, after the expenditure of over 11 million dollars, the latter part of the winter of 1865-'66 found them practically tied up, principally on account of Indian troubles.
The express companies doing business in the West and California had for years been pressing Holladay for through rates and a pro rata on express business; but he would not listen to them, and held them at bay on the east at the Missouri river, and on the west at Salt Lake City, Wells, Fargo & Co. having gained control of the old Overland Mail Company from Salt Lake to Sacramento. The express managers found they could make
terms with the Butterfield Overland Despatch from the Missouri river to Denver. This would leave only the gap of 600 miles from Denver to Salt Lake City. They had threatened to fill in this gap by stocking a line themselves. As late as February, 1866, they had entered into no binding arrangement with the B. O. D. Company, but Holladay was afraid they would, and, this accomplished, they might carry out their threat to stock the line from Denver to Salt Lake and accomplish their purpose of a through line in opposition to the overland line of Holladay's.
Mr. Holladay quietly formed his plans; he instructed David Street, his general agent in the West, to send a competent practical stage man and a clerk over the line of the B. O. D. Company as passengers--not to make themselves or business known--and to make a careful examination of the property, its condition, and estimated value; in fact, as complete an inventory as possible under the circumstances. Mr. Street started them from Denver, and at the same time started for Atchison by the "Overland" line, where the parties were to meet him. They accomplished the object for which they were sent very successfully and made their report to Mr. Street, with which, under instructions, he immediately started to New York, and laid it before Mr. Holladay. The next day after his arrival in New York, Mr. Holladay received from the three great express companies--the American, United States, and Wells, Fargo & Co.--an identical note (or round robin, it might be termed), demanding a through rate and some division of territory or business, accompanied by the threat that, in case of a failure to comply, they would stock the gap in their lines, viz., between Denver and Salt Lake City. Mr. Holladay had just had time to fully acquaint himself with the report on the "B. O. D.," and, on receipt of the notes from the express companies, he arose, as if snuffing the battle and eager for the fray, and said: "Now, I am going to take the bull by the horns." He sent his private secretary to the president of the Park Bank (who was also the preseident of the B. O. D. Company) with his compliments, and a request that he would take lunch with him at his office that they might talk over a business matter.
Holladay's office then was in William street, just off Wall street, and not far from Delmonico's Beaver Street restaurant. He told a clerk to go down there and order a fine lunch, with wines and cigars, to be served at his office. The bank president
came on time, and Mr. Street says he can remember well Mr. Holladay putting the case to him. In stature he was a small man, and Mr. Holladay a large one; and the latter, in that domineering though pleasant manner of his, had crowded him up into a corner. Mr. Holladay said: "I want to see you about your 'Despatch' line"; and, continuing, said: "I know more about your line than you do yourselves." Then he told him of the report he had had made, and said: "You are out over a million dollars; and that is not the end of the expense or outlay. you can never get your money all back; if you do n't do something quickly you will be out a whole lot more. But," he continued, "I can get you out of it in better shape than any one else."
Then he laid his plans before the banker, and told him if he did anything he must know it immediately. The president promised to call his board together at once and give Mr. Holladay an answer by three P. M. By that time Mr. Holladay had an answer that they would carry out the deal on the line proposed. Then Mr. Holladay turned to his private secretary and said: "Answer those express companies, and tell them to stock and be d----." The secretary did not probably put it exactly in those words, but it was as emphatic as he could word it. When the express companies heard of the deal--that Holladay had bought out the B. 0. D. Company--they realized that they had lost the game. This really paved the way for Holladay selling out the whole overland business to Wells, Fargo & Co.
The transfer of property by the B. O. D. Company to the Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company included a large number of oxen and wagons and mule teams and wagons--about 150 of those large "Santa Fe" wagons, (six yoke of oxen to the team), and about fifty large mule wagons (with six mules to the team), all in first-class condition, new and completely equipped, in trains of twenty-six wagons. This immense outfit was used profitably by Holladay in transporting supplies for the line; and afterwards, when Wells, Fargo & Co. had bought out the line and, in the spring of 1867, had taken a large Government freight contract for supplying the line of forts to the Big Horn country, viz., Fort Laramie, Fort Fetterman, Fort Reno, Fort Kearney, and Fort C. F. Smith, these trains formed the nucleus of the vast transportation outfit it was necessary to provide.
Wells, Fargo & Co., who some months afterwards bought of
Holladay the Smoky Hill line, lost heavily in operating it in 1867, when the Indians burnt a large amount of property, including the stations at Stormy Hollow, Lookout, Walker Creek, Lake, Downer, Chalk Bluff, White Rock, Castle Rock, and Carlisle. The cost of these several stations ranged from $500 to $9000 each. At one of the stations--Big Creek--fifty-two horses were run off. The torch was applied to the stations for a distance of more than 100 miles, and at Lookout three men were butchered by the savages. The loss of stage property by Wells, Fargo & Co. on the Smoky Hill and Platte that year aggregated several hundred thousand dollars, including the horses and mules, stations, vehicles, harness, hay, corn, oats, household furniture, utensils, provisions, etc. Everything that the Indians could not take away with them was destroyed.
Wood was scarce along the Smoky Hill in 1867 and brought fabulous prices; $100 a cord was a common price. During the summer the Government purchased some in the vicinity which had been cut in the pineries above Denver and hauled over 200 miles. "Uncle Sam" paid for it as high as $112 a cord.
Work on the west end of the railroad in 1869 was also pushed eastward from Denver, the two gangs working towards each other with remarkable rapidity. The pioneer Kansas Pacific railway, built up the Kaw valley and Smoky Hill fork in the later '60's, was completed through the State of Kansas and on west to the Colorado capital, near the eastern base of the mountains, and opened for through traffic on the 15th of August, 1870.
Among the stage-drivers employed from time to time in the later '60's on the Smoky Hill route were the following:
*Driver and assistant division agent.
¶Killed by Indians in 1867 On Smoky Hill route.
Mardos Memorial Library