Recently, I finished reading volume one of The Butterfield Overland Mail, 1857-1869, a three-volume work by Roscoe P. Conkling and Margaret B. Conkling. The trail passed by Fort Chadbourne, located about halfway between present day Abilene and San Angelo, Texas. The following passage documents an encounter on the plains between passengers and “secessionists.”
“The last east-bound through Butterfield Mail passed through Fort Chadbourne on March 12, 1861, when the post was in Confederate hands. Anson Mills, who was one of the eight passengers, gives an account of their experience. ‘The secessionists,’ he writes, ‘had organized several companies of state troops commanded by the McCullough [McCulloch] brothers and others… We met part of this force under the younger McCullough, near Fort Chadbourne, and we were all excitement to know what they would do, as it was rumored they would seize the mail company horses for cavalry. Marching in columns of two, they separated, one column to the right and the other to the left of the stage coach. We told the driver to drive fast and to say that we were carrying United States mail. The soldiers laughed at this, and four of them taking hold of the right-hand wheels and four of the left, the driver could not, with the greatest whipping, induce the horses to proceed. They laughed again and called out: ‘Is Horace Greely aboard?’ Horace Greely [sic] had been lecturing in California, and had announced his return by the Butterfield route. The soldiers were familiar with his picture, and after examining us, allowed up to proceed’” (volume 1, p. 343).
I’ve never visited the fort, but I was impressed to learn that the Fort Chadbourne Foundation has been active in restoring this historic site—looks like a neat place to visit!