Butterfield Overland Mail in California

The Butterfield Overland Mail in California was created by the United States Congress on March 3, 1857, and operated until June 30, 1861. Subsequently, other stage lines operated along the route until the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in Yuma, Arizona in 1877.


The route lasted from 1857 to 1861 and became one of the most important roads in the early settlement and development of California.


Second Division

The Second Division's route from Fort Yuma to Warners Pass followed the Sonora Road, an old Spanish and Mexican trail from Sonora, México to San Diego. The Sonora Road linked with the Kearney Trail that was used during the Mexican–American War by the U.S. Army. During the California Gold Rush the route pioneered by Kearny and Cooke, with the addition of a road from Warner's Pass to the Pueblo of Los Angeles, became the Southern Emigrant Trail used by American immigrants.

The route crossed the Colorado River from New Mexico Territory at present day Yuma, Arizona to Fort Yuma in California, then descended into Baja California Mexico for 129 miles (208 km) to avoid the Algodones Dunes sand barrier in the dry southern Colorado Desert. The Mexican route also provided stations with water in the Sonoran Desert, from the Colorado River's spring flooding into the Alamo River and New River.

The route then reentered California to cross the Yuha Desert, and proceeded through the present day Carrizo Impact Area, then up Carrizo Wash through the Carrizo Badlands, to Carrizo Springs Station. It proceeded up Carrizo Creek to the oasis of Vallicito Station. From there the route ascended northwest into the Peninsular Ranges, crossing the Laguna Mountains at Warner's Pass to Warner's Ranch Station, and then on to Temecula Station. This route's terminus was Los Angeles, the headquarters of the Second Division of the Overland Mail. The 2nd Division was headquartered in a brick building at the Pueblo de Los Angeles, consisting of an office, blacksmith shop, stables and sheds.[1]

First Division

The First Division's California route north from Los Angeles followed the Stockton - Los Angeles Road that was established as a southern route to the goldfields during the California Gold Rush. The route went through the San Fernando Valley, with a stop at Rancho Los Encinos. It proceeded over Fremont Pass out of the Valley, up San Francisquito Canyon and over San Francisquito Pass, to the Fort Tejon Pass, where it dropped to the San Joaquin Valley.

The Butterfield route split off the Stockton - Los Angeles Road at Elkhorn Spring Station. From there it went west across the upper San Joaquin Valley, crossing El Camino Viejo on the Rancho San Luis Gonzaga (St. Louis Ranch). It crossed over the Diablo Mountains at Pacheco Pass to reach to Gilroy. It then proceeded north through the Santa Clara Valley and San Jose, to its western terminus in San Francisco, also the headquarters of the First Division of the Butterfield Overland Mail.[2]

Stage stations

There were originally fifty three Butterfield stage stations in California. Thirty four stations were in the First Division (Bay Area to Los Angeles) and nineteen stations in the Second Division (Los Angeles to Colorado River). These stations were located from 8 miles (13 km) to 38 miles (61 km) apart. The total length of the route across the state was approximately 742 miles (1,194 km).[3]

Later some of the larger gaps between stations were filled by six new stations.

See also


  1. Leroy R. Hafen; David Dary (2004). The overland mail, 1849–1869: promoter of settlement precursor of railroads. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 97.
  2. Warren E. Beck, Ynez D. Haase, Historical Atlas of California, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, 1974. pp. 51–52.
  3. Waterman L. Ormsby, Lyle H. Wright, Josephine M. Bynum, The Butterfield Overland Mail: Only Through Passenger on the First Westbound Stage. Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, 2007. pp. 92–93.
  4. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A COMPILATION OF THE OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE UNION AND CONFEDERATE ARMIES. CHAPTER LXII. OPERATIONS ON THE PACIFIC COAST. JANUARY 1, 1861–JUNE 30, 1865. PART I., CORRESPONDENCE., pp. 710-712, Journal of the march of Companies E, G, and H, First Infantry California Volunteers, commanded by Lieut. Col. Joseph R. West, from Camp Latham to Fort Yuma.
  5. Notes of a Trip to Los Angeles No. 1, Daily Alta California, Volume 12, Number 3888, 5 October 1860 – Page 1
  6. Lech, Steve (2012). Pioneers of Riverside County: The Spanish, Mexican and Early American Periods. Charleston, SC: The History Press. pp. 88–9. ISBN 978-1609498313. OCLC 814373331.
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