The Butterfield Stage

The Butterfield Stage

Written by: Armor Todd for

Jack Lasseter spins a great yarn as he brings Apache history to life in the vast expanses of southeastern Arizona. I-10 East points the way as the Dragoon Mountains appear in the distance and move ever closer, much the same way as a stagecoach or train would have done over 150 years ago, a small point of reference growing ever larger in a sea of emptiness.

The four lane gives way to a narrow two lane highway heading into the two bit town of Dragoon, barely a dot on the map. A quick right paralleling the tracks soon heads south into the endless grasslands, through a gate (please leave it the way you found it) and on toward the historic mountain fastness of Cochise and his band.

Now the road becomes little more than a rough double track, strewn with rocks, laced with erosion channels and certainly reminiscent of the original stage road built here in 1857 by John Butterfield, he of the famous Butterfield Overland Mail.

Even today, arriving somewhat shaken, but not stirred, at the ruins of the Dragoon Springs Station, the westernmost fortified station along the 2800 mile (!) line, visitors are subject to an immediate sense of humility and perhaps unease when confronted by the absolute remoteness and silence of the station. Imagine the year 1858, when the very nearby mountains were alive with Apache. In that year, at this point, stage passengers had endured roughly 12 days of a 25 day trip, traveling at about 5 miles per hour 24 hours a day with only occasional breaks for the changing of the team and a brief meal. No baths, close quarters, blowing dust, wild temperature shifts and the constant threat of Apache attack made the trip somewhat less than a pleasure. And the cost was sky high, $200 in those days, not including meals.

The era of the Butterfield Stage was short lived however. In 1861 the Bascom Affair ignited the route through this part of Arizona into a fiery inferno of Apache depredations, as Cochise went to war against the United States. Not until 1886, with Geronimo’s surrender, did peace finally return of this corner of the west.