By 1858, the population of California and the west had grown considerably, and there were a number of people traveling from the East to the West, and the West to the East. Stage routes were a series of undependable smaller lines. So Congress decided to pass legislation to authorize the establishment of one line that would transport passengers and mail from St. Louis to San Francisco.
 
As the Northern legislators saw it, the stage line would follow the great emigrant trail… a route that was a straight line between the two cities. However, the Southern legislators had a different view of the route. According to the legislation, the choice of the route was up to the Postmaster General. And the Postmaster General was from Tennessee.
 
The Postmaster General decided there would be two starting points… St. Louis and Memphis, his hometown. This was nearly 1,000 miles longer than necessary, and it lay across vast amounts of unsettled country. The press dubbed it “the oxbow route.”
 
 The contract, with a $600,000 a year subsidy, was given to John Butterfield. A lesser man would have failed… but not Butterfield. On September 15, 1858, the first stage started down the oxbow route. The route was to have been traveled in 25 days. But Butterfield scheduled his stages to make it in 24 days.
 
 
 

 

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the oxbow route was suspended. However, by that time The Butterfield Overland Stage Line was delivering more mail to the West than all the ships at sea.

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