Although it was only in service for 2 years, the emergence of the Butterfield Overland Stage route in 1858 was a key historic event in the history of the United States (as well as overland transportation in general), and so it is with great pride that this humble town cherishes the role it played as a stage stop along the Arizona leg of the overland mail route.
A bit of history:
The U.S. found itself in need of better communication and transportation to and from California, and so a bill was passed that authorized the Postmaster General to contract a new mail service route to California, the route to be decided by the contractor. Many believed that the new route would determine the path for the future transcontinental railroad. The newly appointed PG, Aaron Brown awarded the mail service contract to New York businessman, John Butterfield and his associates including William G. Fargo. At the time, it took about 45 days, two steamer ships and an exhilarating trek across the jungles of Panama to get a letter from San Francisco to New York! John Butterfield's newly established southern route was 2, 795 miles one way with 139 relay stations and took only 25 days to complete a trip! The route Butterfield worked out took the mail service south through Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, then across southern Arizona into the San Diego area, and finally, northward to San Francisco. Gila Bend was the 13th relay station going east to west in Arizona. The Butterfield Overland Stage route would become the most legendary route in U.S. history.
It has long been believed that passengers traveling on the Butterfield Overland route enjoyed riding in the luxury Concord stage coach, but in fact, passengers, mail and supplies would be transferred twice along the route, before and after the southwest stretch. The stage coach was changed out for the more durable Celerity stage wagon and a team of wild mules in order to handle the rocky terrain, sand and hills across Arizona.
For just $200, a passenger would enjoy the experience of riding to San Francisco with up to seven other men and women inside an open air coach or wagon averaging 5 to 9 miles per hour with about 20 to 30 miles between relay stations! The Butterfield Overland Stage line even offered one free suitcase per passenger, up to 25 lbs, a common practice of today's modern airlines. And there was no "in-flight" food service. Sleeping was also done on the stage while on the go and bathing was an opportunity that happened maybe 3 to 4 times along the way. Passengers were scheduled to arrive in Gila Bend around 9PM every Wednesday and Saturday.
Significance to Gila Bend:
The Town of Gila Bend owes much of it's early history and growth to the establishment of the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, which put the town on the map and paved the way for it to be a stop on the modern Transcontinental Railroad. So you could say that we celebrate this moment in history because it helped shape Gila Bend and greatly influenced the town becoming a vital transportation hub. We also celebrate its significance as an historical element of the Civil War, and its contribution to Arizona's mining history.
The Gila Bend relay station, or "stage stop" continued to provide services after John Butterfield lost the line and his assets to the Wells Fargo group in 1860, and remained active during the Civil War under the management of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to early 1862. At this time, Arizona was a territory split between the Union in the west and the Confederates in the east with Tucson as it's western Confederate capitol. The Gila Bend station was used to help supply the Union Army as it advanced from Fort Yuma across Arizona until the summer of 1862 when the Confederates were driven from Arizona. Although no longer a Federal Mail Service route Wells Fargo continued stage runs along the Butterfield route to supply mining camps and transport passengers until the coming of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.
Today, visitors to our area can drive along a leg of the historic Butterfield Trail that runs parallel to Highway 238 from Gila Bend to Maricopa. This historic trail was established by the United States National Parks Service.
Butterfield Stage Days Event page