to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
Barbara Klein. Last week on our program, we described the underground world of
Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Carlsbad is in the southwestern state of New
Mexico. Today we cross the state line into Texas to tell you about another
national park -- but this time we stay above ground. We tell about its place in
the history of the first stagecoaches that carried mail to the American West.
the United States, the speed limit on fast roads is generally eighty-eight
kilometers an hour. But in the western United States, there are highways where
the speed limit is one hundred twenty-five kilometers an hour.
are usually in areas with little traffic but lots of open country. The roads
are good, a driver can see far -- and a trip hundreds of kilometers long can
take just a few hours. And if that is not fast enough, then people can drive to
another part of the modern transportation system: the airport.
used to be a time when the quickest way to travel across the western United
States was in a stagecoach. A stagecoach was a large, enclosed wagon pulled by
teams of horses or mules. The driver tried for a speed of about eight
kilometers an hour.
story really begins in Washington, D.C. Lawmakers in Congress wanted to make it
possible to send mail all the way across the United States by land. Mail was
usually carried west on ships that sailed around the bottom of South America
and then north to California. That could take several months.
eighteen fifty-seven, Congress offered to help any company that would try to
deliver mail overland to the West Coast. A man named John Butterfield accepted
this offer. He developed plans for a company that would carry the mail -- and
gave John Butterfield six hundred thousand dollars to start his company. In
return, he had to promise that the mail would travel from Saint Louis,
Missouri, to San Francisco, California, in twenty-five days or less.
not possible to travel straight through because of the Rocky Mountains and the
deep snow that fell in winter. So the stagecoach would travel south from Saint
Louis to El Paso, Texas, then over to southern California, then north to San
Francisco. The distance was about four thousand five hundred kilometers.
Butterfield hired more than one thousand men who knew the Southwest. Some
carefully planned the way the stagecoach would travel. Others built small
structures to house stagecoach workers and animals along the route.
hundred of these stations were built, each about thirty-two kilometers apart.
The workers were to quickly change the horses or mules whenever a stagecoach
reached the station. There could be no delay.
stagecoach was to travel nearly two hundred kilometers a day. Two-man teams
were responsible for the safety of the mail, the passengers and the stagecoach.
John Butterfield ordered his men never to let the mail out of their sight.
Butterfield Overland Mail company operated from eighteen fifty-eight until
eighteen sixty-one. It went out of business because of the Civil War, which
began that year.
hundred stagecoaches were built specially for the job. Each one was painted red
or dark green. These were the most modern coaches that money could buy. They
cost one thousand five hundred dollars each.
were designed to hold as many as nine passengers and twelve thousand pieces of
mail. The seats inside could be folded down to make beds. Passengers either
slept on them or on the bags of mail.
would be one hundred fifty dollars to travel from Saint Louis to San Francisco.
If a passenger was not going all the way, the cost was about ten cents a
kilometer. The passengers had to buy their own food at the stations. The
stagecoach would stop for forty minutes, two times a day.
Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach needed to travel as fast as possible. It
had to keep moving to reach San Francisco in twenty-five days as required by
the government contract.
company warned passengers about the possible dangers. A poster said: "You
will be traveling through Indian country and the safety of your person cannot
by vouchsafed by anyone but God."
Butterfield stagecoaches passed through dangerous areas. Some Indians did not
want anyone to get too near their settlements.
lands were home to the Chiricahua, Membreno, White Mountain and Mescalero
Apaches. Two of their chiefs became very famous in stories of the American
West. They were Cochise and Geronimo.
Native Americans were experts at surviving in the mountains and deserts of the
Southwest. They were also fierce fighters.
workers were instructed not to incite the Apaches in any way. Often the company
would use mules instead of horses to pull its stagecoaches because the Indians
had no interest in mules. But there was still trouble. Workers were killed,
animals were stolen and stations were burned.
first Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach left Missouri on September
sixteenth, eighteen fifty-eight, on its way to California. It made the trip in
twenty-three days, twenty-three hours.
passenger on that first stage to travel all the way through to San Francisco
was a newspaper reporter named Waterman Ormsby. He worked for the New York
Herald. He wrote several stories about the trip; later, they were put together
in a book, "The Butterfield Overland Mail." Here is part of what he
wrote about that trip.
finally got under way again and pursued our weary course along the edge of the
plain, thumping and bumping at a rate which threatened not to leave a whole
bone in my body. What with the dust and the sun pouring directly on our heads …
I found that day's ride quite unpleasant, and at our several camps readily
availed myself of the opportunity to plunge into the Pecos, muddy as it was;
and I was heartily glad when about 10 p.m. we reached a station fifty-eight
miles from our starting point in the morning ... "
people can visit the ruins of one of the Butterfield stagecoach stops, now
located in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. To reach the park, visitors drive
through the Guadalupe Pass, more than one thousand five hundred meters high.
description of that first trip west, Waterman Ormsby explained why the station
was called "the Pinery."
... on account of the number of pine trees that grow in the gorge of the
mountain in which it is situated. As we approached the mountain, the hills and
gulleys bore the appearance of having been created by some vast, fierce torrent
rushing around the base of the peak, and tearing its way through the loose
earth. ... [I]t seems as if nature had saved all her ruggedness to pile it up
in this colossal form of the Guadalupe Peak …
great peak towers as if ready at any moment to fall, while huge boulders hang
as if ready, with the weight of a rain drop, to be loosened from their
fastenings and descend with lumbering swiftness to the bottom, carrying
destruction in their paths."
Pinery Station was a series of three connected buildings. The walls were made
of local limestone and bricks of sun-dried mud called adobe. The roofs were
also mud. A wagon repair shop and blacksmith barn stood nearby.
Butterfield mail coaches used the buildings until August of eighteen
fifty-nine. Then a new road replaced the one through Guadalupe Pass. It was
better protected from Indian attacks because it passed by two Army forts. But
the buildings at Guadalupe continued to be used by soldiers and others who
passed that way.
the buildings are no longer there, just the outlines of where they stood, and
some of the original bricks. But visitors to Guadalupe Mountains National Park
in West Texas can still get a sense of their historic importance. The company
is said to have never broken its contract with the government in its two and a
half years of operation.
end of September two thousand eight, the park celebrated the one hundred
fiftieth anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail. There were stage coach
rides, living history programs and demonstrations of shoeing a mule.
It's easy to imagine those long-ago days of cowboys and Indians, and
the spirit of adventure that led travelers to ride the stagecoach west.
program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara
Bob Doughty. Doug Johnson was our reader. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our
programs can be found at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for
THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.