Modern technology affords us the opportunity to communicate with people from all over the world at the touch of a button, but for most of our nation’s history, mail has been the heart and soul of communication. The American entrepreneurial spirit created methods to improve and accelerate the delivery of mail which became more critical as the country expanded westward.
It’s important to remember that the early postal routes to the west crossed through Arkansas. These historic trails help tell the story of the development of the Natural State and the settlement of our country.
U.S. Mail contracted the Butterfield Overland Mail Company to transport mail and passengers between St. Louis and Memphis to San Francisco on the Butterfield Overland Trail, which was more commonly referred to as the “Ox-Bow Route” due to its curved path that ran approximately 3,553 miles. It was the first overland transcontinental route by stagecoach.
The stagecoaches traveled through much of Arkansas, making stops in St. Francis, Prairie, Lonoke, Faulkner, Conway, Pope, Yell, Logan and Franklin counties. The northwestern route included stops in Benton, Washington and Crawford counties. The routes merged in Fort Smith before continuing all the way to the Pacific coast.
From 1858 through 1861, the Butterfield Overland Trail served as the connector between the East and West, providing reliable mail service, transportation of goods and a route for settlers to the western frontier. Its significance is evident today. Four segments of the trail in Arkansas have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in addition to the Potts Inn in Pottsville and the Fitzgerald Station barn in Springdale–two of the original buildings along the trail that are still standing.
We are blessed to have a state filled with many areas of historical significance. This piece of our national history is also a tool for educating future generations and an opportunity to attract tourists interested in learning more about the settlement and growth of our country. Preserving these pieces of history is important to our future. We are on our way to recognizing the Butterfield Overland Trail as a national historic trail.
The National Park Service (NPS) recently approved the Butterfield Overland Trail’s designation as a national historic trail. This is the result of more than a decade-long effort. In 2007, as a member of the House of Representatives, I introduced the Butterfield Overland Trail Study Act to study the historical Ox-Bow Route for potential addition to the National Trails System. This was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2009. The NPS thoroughly analyzed its historical relevance and incorporated public meetings along the proposed route including in Fort Smith and Fayetteville.
This puts us one step closer to recognizing the Butterfield Overland Trail for what it is, a national historic trail. Now it’s up to Congress to approve the designation. I will be working with my colleagues to ensure this path that our ancestors took to expand our country is appropriately preserved for future generations to visit and learn about, because it will help them gain a better appreciation for and understanding our state’s history and its role in our nation’s development.