Butterfield's Overland Despatch.In the spring of 1865, David A. Butterfield, a pioneer of Colorado, but then a resident of Atchison, began preliminaries for inaugurating a gigantic freighting business between the Missouri river and the Rocky mountains and the territories beyond. Having succeeded in interesting some eastern capitalists in the proposed scheme, by early summer the stock and equipment for the concern were ready, considerable money having been spent in advertising the enterprise in the metropolitan papers of the east. The new company was capitalized at $3,000,000, of which amount one-half was paid in. E. P. Bray, a noted eastern express man, was elected president; W. K. Kitchen, treasurer; and D. A. Butterfield, the originator, was made superintendent and manager. The main office was at Atchison, with branch offices in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, Leavenworth, Denver and Salt Lake City. Up to this time no direct route had been mapped out, except that it had been decided to follow up the Kansas and Smoky Hill rivers, if, after a thorough investigation, it proved the shorter and more feasible. To determine this question, Col. Isaac E. Eaton, a civil engineer of Leavenworth, was sent out to make a survey of the entire route, and this he did, reporting the same entirely practicable. The new road as surveyed was between 60 and 70 miles shorter than the northern road via the Little Blue and the Platte. It also had the advantages of grass, wood and water every 5 miles of the distance, except from the head of the Smoky Hill to Sand creek, a distance of 21 miles. The new route being so much shorter it was plain that two days' travel could be saved, an item of some moment to a busy man.
An immense freight business soon developed between the Missouri river and Denver, and it was the ambition of Mr. Butterfield that his Overland Despatch should handle it. Twelve hundred mules and wagons in proportion had been purchased for the enterprise, and on June 25, 1865, the first wagon train left Atchison with 150,000 pounds of freight for Denver and other Colorado points. The enterprise was proving such a success that during the summer the route was stocked for a line of stages. The initial coach of this line, carrying passengers and express matter, left Atchison on Monday, Sept. 11, and arrived at Denver on the 23d, Mr. Butterfield accompanying this coach. The arrival of the first stage in Denver was the occasion for an imposing reception and royal banquet to its promoter. The route as finally decided on was 592 miles long, a saving of 61 miles over the road up the main Platte and its South Fork. The list of stations on the line after leaving Atchison was about as follows: Mount Pleasant, Grasshopper Falls, Indianola, Rossville, St. Mary's, Louisville, Manhattan, Fort Riley, Junction City, Chapman's creek, Abilene, Solomon river, Salina, Spring creek, Ellsworth, Buffalo creek, Hicks' Station, Fossil creek, Forsythe's creek, Big creek, Louisa Springs, Bluffton, Downer, Castle Rock Station, Eaton, Henshaw creek, Pond creek and Willow creek (this station being at about the west line of the state). From east to west the line traversed the counties of Atchison, Jefferson, Shawnee, Pottawatomie, Riley, Geary, Dickinson, Saline, Ellsworth, Russell, Ellis, Trego, Gove, Logan, and Wallace.
Transportation by this route grew from the start, and had it been accorded the military protection that the Holladay line enjoyed, it is believed that it would have been a money maker. Indians, however, gave the company much trouble. They attacked and burned several stations, waylaid stage coaches and killed the drivers, until finally the proprietors were forced to quit. Inside of eighteen months from the inauguration of the enterprise the whole business and equipment passed into the hands of Ben Holladay, the "overland stage king." This gentleman later sold out the Smoky Hill line to Wells, Fargo & Co., who operated the line at considerable loss from the time they took hold of it until the completion of the Kansas Pacific railroad to Denver, when they abandoned the line.Pages 266-267 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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