Butterfield Goes Bankrupt

By 1860, overland stagecoaches carried more mail across America’s sea of grass than steamships on the rivers and oceans, but not even the postal subsidy and passenger revenue combined could sustain Butterfield’s stupendously costly enterprise. In March of that year, he was forced out of his own firm for failing to cover large debts to Wells Fargo, its major creditor, which took over his entire operation. A year later, just days before the Civil War began, the government awarded the postal contract to the renamed Overland Mail Company, which operated on the more northerly, soon-to-be-safer “Central” route, from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Placerville, California.