Butterfield Overland Stage
Sundance Studios- 160 N. Elmwood
The Butterfield Overland Stage was color painted as a Mural In A Day by a group of volunteers during the California Mural Symposium held in October, 2003.

The mural is 10 feet in height and 45 feet in width.

Historic research provided by Curtis Easton, member of Lindsay Mural and Public Art Society.

The year 1848 started quietly in California. That would change by the end of the year, for John Marshall discovered gold, and the state changed forever. The men were hungry for gold and they came by land or sea. Big cities, towns and camps sprang up, but a problem started with the U. S. mail. Once mail call went out in the early days of the gold rush, men gathered in long lines hoping for a letter from home. Miners would wait hours for their mail and some men would sell their space in line. Mail clerks worked 24 hours a stretch when mail came. A postmaster would tell the wild mountain miners in what line the personal letters were in. A letter to A. Q. Jones might go to many camps before he got it, for the camps had many names like Jackass Flat, Get Up, Preckerville, New Jerusalem or Long Level, also many other colorful names. This problem helped start Wells Fargo and Co. A mother from Utica NY might address a letter to her son “John L. Smith, a miner, in the California mines" and the letter might cost a dollar.

The first to have a U. S. Mail was J. E. Birch, the founder of the San Antonia and San Diego Mail Co. (later called the Jackass Mail) in 1857. It could only carry a small volume of mail and that was not what Aaron Brown wanted. He was the U.S. Postmaster General, and he told Congress in 1857 “a better route would have to be found, so that the west and east would know what was happening in the country, and the world. If not, the U.S.A. might not stay the United States of America and God only knew what could come of that."

Postmaster General Brown awarded the next contract to John Butterfield. The Postmaster told Mr. Butterfield the stage run would be 25 days or less. The first run was done in 23 days and 23 hours from Saint Louis to San Francisco. Butterfield’s concord coach could carry 1,000 pounds and would sit 9 people inside the coach.

In 1858 the officers of the Butterfield Overland Mail Co. were President John Butterfield, Vice President W. M. B Dinmore, Secretary Johnston Livingston, and Treasurer Alexander Holland. The Directors were H. Spencer, J. Gradner, D Barmen, E. Williams, H Crocker, M. Kinyor, G. Hawley, D Marelton, and W.M. Fargo of Wells Fargo Co.

John Butterfield’s (1801-1869) 1st job was as a stage driver and as an owner of a large network of stage lines in later years. He owned other companies in telegraph, and railroads. He was also Mayor of Utica, N.Y. in 1865-1869. He was going to run again but died. Butterfield had a rule about mail; it was “NOTHING ON GOD'S EARTH MUST STOP THE U.S. MAIL.” Butterfield Mail ran from 1858 to 1861 and he did not have Indian trouble for he gave them herds of Beavers (called cattle later on). In some cases the Indians helped the stage coaches.

J. W. Ormsby was a reporter for the N. Y. Herald Tribune and the 1st passenger. He kept a record of the trip in 1858. Some of the following is from his records. “When the stage is full, passengers must take turns sleeping; perhaps the jolting was very disagreeable at first but a few nights without sleep and they can sleep anytime they get a chance. Sometimes the bouncing of the wagon makes the peoples’ heads strike the top, bottom, or sides. Natures sweet restorer found welcome on the hard bottom, as in the beds of the St. Nicolas Hotel, on the meals he said, “the food could hardly be compared to the Astor House for it consists of bread, tea, black coffee, also steak, bacon, venison, antelope, or mule flesh the latter very tough, then too, there was milk, butter, mesquite, beans, corn cakes, and vegetables”.

The coach could travel about 120 miles in one day. It did real good on prairie land but was slower in the hills.

Butterfield and Wells Fargo worked together from the first and they did pay well but they had to keep workers. One worker said, “One minute I’d be sawing wood, the next, with my shotgun I’d be in a fight with renegades. It matters little if they are red or white renegades for you are fighting for your life with them.” The pay in 1860-1861 was: drivers $40.00 to 75.00, blacksmith $100.00 to 125.00, express messengers or guards $67.50, and carpenters $75.00 all per month. The Express in later years were called stalwartz, finally detectives.

The queen historian of Tulare County was Annie Mitchell, who wrote Porterville was named for Royal Porter Putnam (1837-1889), who came in 1859 as agent for the Tule River Butterfield Stage Station. The station included an inn that was on the north side of the scenic hill near the Tule River. He started west in 1857 but became very sick. He stayed in Los Angeles until he got better, and then came to work at the Packwood Station. Then in a few months went as agent to the bigger Tule Station. Years later Captain A. J. and his wife Sadie Lindsay Hutchinson came over the same route run, now by Wells Fargo. The town of Lindsay was named for Mrs. Hutchinson. The town was started by Southern Pacific Railroad and the Lindsay Land Co. headed by Capt. Hutchinson. 

The Butterfield Overland Mail could have run longer but the Civil War caused the company to move north. This move allowed Wells Fargo to get control of the company. They renamed it Overland Mail and the new boss was John Butterfield. He lost some stock and equipment to the confederates but he’d been moving stock north in Jan. 1861.

Louis McClain started the Pioneer Stage Line in Nevada in 1858. The next year 1859 the fabulous Comstock Lode was found and Mr. McClain controlled the route of the overland everything taken in or out. In 1861 Mr. McClain sold his stage line to Wells Fargo and the company needed it for their mail route.  McClain said, “Fighting Indians and outlaws can be done but how can you fight a grey coat army?” McClain was a District Agent, Director and President (for 2 years) of Wells Fargo, and then went into banking.

Butterfield, after the Civil War, became a Board of Director of Wells Fargo, but just months after he died from an illness he got in 1869.

Wells Fargo was started in 1859 to run service between New York City and San Francisco, and they established a stage lines and a banking empire on the west coast.

Henry Wells, 1809-1878, helped found other companies besides Wells Fargo, he also founded Wells College for women, in Aurora, N.Y. the year 1868.

William George Fargo, 1818-1881 got into the express Business in 1842 and by 1844 he and Wells organized Wells Fargo and Co. Wells & Co. was the first express company to go west of Buffalo and years later he became Mayor of Buffalo 1862 to 1866.