Pioneer Museum

Esperanza’s World – Transportation Center – Passenger Accounts

Esperanza’s World – Transportation Center – Passenger Accounts




Activities / Teacher Resources

Passengers’ Eyewitness Accounts

~A newspaper reporter, Waterman Ormsby, was the only passenger on the first East-West run of the Butterfield Stage who journeyed the entire distance of the mail route. He sent reports to the New York Harold newspaper describing his journey; he later wrote a book about his experiences on the trip.

Start of the journey:
Our horses were four in number, that being the allotment all along the line from St. Louis to San Francisco. They were harnessed at this point and to change teams was the work of but a few minutes, and we were off again. This time we got a driver who was slow . . . [and] did not know the road well, and we had to feel our way along. As the night was dark, the roads difficult, and the coach lamps seemed to be of little use in the dim moonlight . . . I began to feel some fear of wet feet and mail bags when the water reached the hub, but we got over safely and pretty dry, as the water was not deeper than half of the wheel. . . I must confess it was a matter of utmost astonishment to me how the driver ever found his way in the wilderness.

Food:
[We had…] jerked beef (cooked on the [buffalo] ‘chips’), raw onions, crackers slightly wormy, and a bit of bacon.

Desert Flora and Fauna:
As we travelled leisurely through the desert, we were refreshed with a decidedly cool and delicious breeze, while the atmosphere was by no means so unpleasant to me as in New York in a hot August day, though we were then about half way between the thirtieth and thirty-second parallels of latitude. There seemed to be an abundance of animal life on the desert. We saw large droves of antelopes frequently, and numbers of quail, snipe, and other specimens of the feathered tribe, while the “dog towns,” or holes, of the prairie dogs were innumerable. This animal seems to be a cross between a squirrel and a rat terrier, and lives in holes that it digs in the ground. As we approached their towns we could see their shaking tails as they rushed frightened to their homes. They live on grass and weeds, and never trouble anybody except by undermining the road with their [underground] borings.

Crossing the Pecos River:
As I lay dozing on the seat, about three o’clock on Sunday morning, I heard a cry from Jones that we had reached the Pecos River, and there we were, true enough, right into it. After hallooing and blowing our horn, we obtained an answer, as we supposed, from the other side of the river, telling us to drive up stream, which advice we followed, when to our astonishment we found ourselves in camp on the same side of the river. The fact is the Pecos makes such a turn here that you can hardly tell which side you are on. It is a swift stream, with a good body of water, rising away up in the Rocky Mountains and emptying into the Rio Grande. It is much the color of the Mississippi. There were no trees or any unusual…foliage on the banks at the point where we struck it; so that if our driver had not been on the lookout we might have been wallowing in its muddy depth.

~James Henry Tevis was an adventurous young man who found employment with the Butterfield Overland Mail Company, first helping to build the Apache Pass station, and then staying on as the station agent. He described the Apache Pass station:

A stone corral was built with portholes in every stall. Inside, on the southwest corner, were built, in L shape, the kitchen and sleeping rooms. At the west end, on the inside of the corral, space about ten feet wide was apportioned for grain room and storeroom, and here were kept the firearms and ammunition.

~William Tallack rode from San Francisco to St. Louis on the Butterfield Overland Mail Company stages June and July, 1860. The Englishman was returning to England from Australia by way of the United States. He shared some of his observations of traveling on this trail.

Stagecoach Comfort:
[I] often felt doubtful as to how far [I] might be able to endure a continuous ride of five hundred and forty hours, with no other intermission than a stoppage of about forty minutes twice a day, and a walk, from time to time, over the more difficult ground, or up and down stiff hills and mountain passes, and with only such {sleep] at night as could be obtained whilst in a sitting posture and closely wedged in by fellow-travelers and tightly filled mailbags.

Changing Stagecoaches:
It being one o’clock in the morning, and a dark night, we had to be very careful that none of our respective packages or blankets were left behind in the hurried operation of changing; so we tumbled hastily into our new wagon, wrapping ourselves up in coats or blankets nearly as they came to hand, waiting till morning for more light and leisure to see which was our own. By means of a blanket each, in addition to an overcoat, we managed to settle down warmly and closely together for a jolting but sound slumber.

Food:
Meals (at extra charge) are provided for the passengers twice a day. The fare, though rough, is better than could be expected so far from civilized districts, and consists of bread, tea, and fried steaks of bacon, venison, antelope, or mule flesh—the latter tough enough.

On the scenery:
The Apache Pass was a rugged, but very picturesque portion of our route and will be long remembered…as the scene of the finest storm and sunset…ever witnessed.

~Raphael Pumpelly was a noted American geologist who rode on Overland Mail Company stages west to Tucson.

On the stagecoach:
The coach was fitted with three seats, occupied by nine passengers. As the occupants of the front and middle seats faced each other, it was necessary for these six people to interlock their knees; and there being room inside for only ten of the twelve legs, each side of the coach was graced by a foot, now dangling near the wheel, now trying in vain to find a place of support. An unusually heavy mail in the boot, by weighing down the rear, kept those of us who were on the front seat constantly bent forward. The fatigue of uninterrupted traveling by day and night in a crowded coach, and in the most uncomfortable positions, was beginning to tell seriously upon all the passengers, and was producing in me a condition bordering on insanity.

Accounts adapted from The Over-Land.



Review the advertisement to sale tickets on the Southern Pacific Railroad Line’s Sunset Route through Arizona.  Does it sound like today’s tourism ads?

A whistle-stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad route, the Willcox, Arizona’s (passenger) Depot Station, is the only original Southern Pacific building left in Arizona; today it is the Willcox Town Hall.