The press said it could not be done. However, on October 10, 1858, the first Overland Mail Coach arrived in San Francisco, California, only twenty-three days and twenty-three hours after leaving the Tipton, Missouri, train station. By the end of its service in 1861, the Overland Mail Company was considered a great success joining the East to the West.
The first Overland Mail run began the morning of September 16, 1858. John Butterfield personally placed the mail bags on the Pacific Railroad Company train in St. Louis. Ten hours and 160 miles later, Butterfield placed the mail on the coach and boarded along with six other passengers. From Tipton, the route went through the Ozarks to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where it met the stage from Memphis, Tennessee.
The first stage line entered Fort Smith over old Washington Street, now Second Street. At 2:00 a.m. Sunday, September 19, the city was awake with excitement. Music, cheering and even cannon fire was heard in honor of the event. When the stage started on its way to California, the celebration continued with champagne until daylight. From Fort Smith, the Overland Mail route crossed the Poteau River and angled through Indian Territory to Sherman, Texas, and on to San Francisco, by way of El Paso, Texas, Tucson, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California. At 7:30 a.m. on October 10, 1858, John Butterfield accomplished the impossible: connecting the East and West in less than 25 days.
This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.