The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland MailThe Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail 1858-1861, Glen Sample Ely, University of Oklahoma Press, $34.95, Cloth, 440 pages, Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Notes, Index.

Anyone interested in early Texas history will find this book a fascinating journey across that state during the years prior to the Civil War.  While the Butterfield Overland Mail extended 2,795 miles from St. Louis, Missouri to San Francisco, California this book targets the 740 miles, border to border, across the Texas frontier.

The book combines Texas politics and intrigues while at the same time explaining the history and workings of the Butterfield stagecoach line.  Throughout the book readers find both early photos taken by original Butterfield researchers Margaret and Roscoe Conkling, with modern-day pictures taken by author Ely as he meticulously followed their trail.  Comparisons are made between Conkling photos taken 80 years ago, and the new pictures and how the sites look today.  Changes due to weather erosion and human agricultural disruptions are noted.

All of the stagecoach sites are pictured; the crumbling walls, rock foundations, and long-forgotten artifacts help tell the story.  Belt buckles, bullets, bridle bits, forks and knives plus various tools have been unearthed and on display here, including some graves with the stories of their occupants.  At the end of the book readers will find notes containing all of the information available regarding dates, locations, employees, station masters, Indian raids, and everything you could ever possibly want to know about these stagecoach station sites.

As the author and friends traipsed from one location to the next across Texas, he brings to us the stories of those people who braved this frontier at a time when great changes were occurring in our country.  Prospectors, adventurers, cattle ranchers, military men, schemers as well as honest pioneers tried to build and tame this unforgiving land.  Always the threat of murderous Indian raids loomed as hardy people determined to make homes for themselves.

Meanwhile, scattered throughout the book are wonderful paintings done by Frederic Remington showing the dangerous journey traveled by these coaches.  Butterfield crews, passengers, and hostlers alike braved this rugged road.  Indians lurked along the way, and the accommodations at home stations usually offered little more than poor food and scant lodging.  The coaches are described as rough-riding, jostling contraptions rattling over hard-packed roads or wallowing in muddy streams.

Apart from the actual everyday management of the stagecoaches, there were business executives back east busily working to make the enterprise financially lucrative.  Some joined with Texas politicians and businessmen to make decisions about everything from toll bridges to the establishment of small communities.

Readers are taken on a journey through a rough and tumble time in antebellum Texas, covering everything good and bad about people striving to settle a wild frontier.

This book is a huge project by author Glen Sample Ely, a Texas historian and documentary producer. His love for Texas history is proudly displayed here, along with his talent for careful research and dogged determination to get it right.  Readers will learn from the narrative, while being mesmerized by the haunting photographs showing what happened here.  He also authored the book Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity.

The book is a must for your Old West library if you are interested in Texas history and the Butterfield Overland Mail.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de Ia Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including the novel Charissa of the Overland, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845) 726-3434.  www.silklabelbooks.com

Filed under: Old West Book Reviews

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