The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail, 1858–1861
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
442 Pages | 8 x 10 | 292 b&w illus., 6 maps
This is the story of the antebellum frontier in Texas, from the Red River to El Paso, a raw and primitive country punctuated by chaos, lawlessness, and violence. During this time, the federal government and the State of Texas often worked at cross-purposes, their confused and contradictory policies leaving settlers on their own to deal with vigilantes, lynchings, raiding American Indians, and Anglo-American outlaws. Before the Civil War, the Texas frontier was a sectional transition zone where southern ideology clashed with western perspectives and where diverse cultures with differing worldviews collided.
This is also the tale of the Butterfield Overland Mail, which carried passengers and mail west from St. Louis to San Francisco through Texas. While it operated, the transcontinental mail line intersected and influenced much of the region's frontier history. Through meticulous research, including visits to all the sites he describes, Glen Sample Ely uncovers the fascinating story of the Butterfield Overland Mail in Texas.
Until the U.S. Army and Butterfield built West Texas’s infrastructure, the region’s primitive transportation network hampered its development. As Ely shows, the Overland Mail Company and the army jump-started growth, serving together as both the economic engine and the advance agent for European American settlement. Used by soldiers, emigrants, freighters, and stagecoaches, the Overland Mail Road was the nineteenth-century equivalent of the modern interstate highway system, stimulating passenger traffic, commercial freighting, and business.
Although most of the action takes place within the Lone Star State, this is in many respects an American tale. The same concerns that challenged frontier residents confronted citizens across the country. Written in an engaging style that transports readers to the rowdy frontier and the bustle of the overland road, The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail offers a rare view of Texas’s antebellum past.
“The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail, 1858–1861 may well be the most fascinating and intelligently written book I have read in decades. Glen Sample Ely offers us an exhaustively researched, compelling story, sumptuously illustrated throughout. This is frontier history at its best.”—Jerry D. Thompson, Regents Professor of History, Texas A&M International University, Laredo
“More than a history of the short-lived operations of the Butterfield Overland Mail in Texas, this is, as Glen Sample Ely explains, ‘an American tale’ of the dreams, achievements, failures, and violence of the nineteenth-century American West. The impressive product of a twenty-five year labor of love, it is built upon the author’s personal observations and field research as well as his extraordinary command of private, local, state, and federal records.”—Robert Wooster, author of The American Military Frontiers: The United States Army in the West, 1783–1900
"No other book in the modern era matches the scope of Glen Sample Ely’s. His volume will supplant that of Roscoe and Margaret Conkling’s 1947 work on the Butterfield Overland Mail and become the starting point for many other studies.”—Richard B. McCaslin, author of Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas, 1862 and Fighting Stock: John S. “Rip” Ford of Texas
“Glen Sample Ely has written an extraordinarily readable, realistic, and accurate history of the Butterfield Overland Mail route through Texas. His superb narration is enhanced by maps and photographs and bolstered by his exhaustive research in government, state, and museum archives, as well as by interviews with descendants of those who lived and died on the Texas Overland Trail.”—Howard R. Lamar, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University
“Anyone interested in early Texas history will find this book a fascinating journey across that state during the years prior to the Civil War. . . . a must for your Old West library.”—Chronicle of the Old West
“Ely’s narrative is sweeping, comprehensive, and eloquent, covering the details of local history along the way as well as the statewide and national issues impacting Texas, the Army, Indians, and the Butterfield Company during this period.”—Terrae Incognitae
“Public and traditional historians of the American 19th century should consider Ely’s The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail as the model for future comprehensive archaeological-history studies of national, regional, state, and local roads and transportation corridors. Ely’s study of the stage line’s route across the Lone Star State, from the Red River to the New Mexico state line, will stand the test of time.”—True West magazine
“Ely spent a quarter century on this project, . . . visiting every [Butterfield Overland Mail] place mentioned, and telling the larger story. The research is thorough, organization and style are impeccable, and the writing is superb, spiced with quotations from travelers, station agents, reporters, military personnel, and others. . . . The result is inspiring, encompassing much more than history of the BOM.”—Leo E. Oliva, in the Western History Quarterly
“The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail is audacious, enthralling, entertaining, and a testament to the depth of Ely’s research of the frontier. It will certainly be referenced in future studies of the Texas frontier, and raises the bar for those who currently study this fascinating region.”—Southwestern Historical Quarterly