AR Briefly

Butterfield Overland Trail historic designation headed to Biden’s desk

By: - December 22, 2022 12:30 pm
U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) viewed an authentic Butterfield stagecoach, a piece of the trail’s history earlier this year. A Boozman-authored bill to designate the Butterfield Overland Mail route a National Historic Trail is headed to President Biden to be signed into law. (Photo courtesy of Boozman's office)

U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) viewed an authentic Butterfield stagecoach, a piece of the trail’s history earlier this year. A Boozman-authored bill to designate the Butterfield Overland Mail route a National Historic Trail is headed to President Biden to be signed into law. (Photo courtesy of Boozman’s office)

Legislation designating a stage coach route that ran through Arkansas from 1858-1861 as a National Historic Trail is headed to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

The bill, authored by Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, passed the House on Thursday, according to a press release from the senator’s office.

The law recognizes the historic importance of the Butterfield Overland Mail Co. route. Also known as the Butterfield Stage, the company used the route to transport U.S. mail and passengers between St. Louis, Memphis and San Francisco.

It became known as the “ox-bow route” due to its curved path comprised of approximately 3,553 miles of trail routes in eight states: Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

“This is a long-overdue recognition for the Butterfield Trail. Designating it as a National Historic Trail will preserve the story of westward expansion and Arkansas’ significant role in the growth and development of our country,” Boozman said.

The routes from St. Louis and Memphis merged in Fort Smith, and the Butterfield Overland Mail Company’s stagecoaches traveled through much of Arkansas. Stagecoaches made stops between Memphis and Fort Smith in St. Francis, Prairie, Lonoke, Faulkner, Conway, Pope, Yell, Logan and Franklin counties. The northwestern route that came out of Missouri included stops in Benton, Washington and Crawford counties.

“This is the result of the vision of Arkansans passionate and determined to achieve this designation. I’m proud to champion this initiative and get it across the finish line,” Boozman said.

A map shows the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company that is being designated a National Historic Trail. (Map from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, https://arkansasheritagetrails.com/Butterfield/)
A map shows the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company that is being designated a National Historic Trail. (Map from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, https://arkansasheritagetrails.com/Butterfield/)

Four segments of the Butterfield Trail in Arkansas have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Potts home, a well-preserved Arkansas way station along the path, is still standing in Pope County and is maintained as the Potts Inn Museum by the Pope County Historical Foundation.

Arkansas’ other Republican senator, Tom Cotton, said he was proud to support the bill in Congress.

Arkansas’ 4th District Rep. Bruce Westerman also supported the legislation.

“The 170-year-old trail, reaching 3,000 miles from Arkansas to California, is steeped in history, and this designation will ensure that future generations learn about its importance,” Westerman said.

The historic designation won’t affect future energy development, production or transmission, according to the press release.

In 2018, after conducting a study to evaluate the significance, feasibility, suitability and desirability of designating the routes associated with the Butterfield Overland Trail as a National Historic Trail, the National Park Service (NPS) announced they meet the requirements. The study was required by a provision of Public Law 111-11 authored by Boozman during his tenure as Congressman for the Third District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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