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Discovering America: Pinery Station, Texas

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the locations in the El Paso region that just continues to draw me back time and time again due to its rugged beauty that is protected by its isolation deep in the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas:

Picture from the Guadalupe Mountains
(Note:  You can click the images for a larger version of the picture.)

Getting to the park is rather strait forward with US 180/62 going right in front of the park, but it is a long drive to get here from the major population center in the area El Paso, Texas.  From El Paso it is just under a 2 hour drive east to the park:


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As far as that may seem today just imagine how far and isolated the Guadalupes must have felt 150 years ago when stagecoaches used to go by these mountains on their journey to California?  The Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach service was the forerunner of the Pony Express and the Trans-Continental Railroad.  This stagecoach service would become the first successful attempt to link the nation from east to west.  The stagecoach service was successful because of the number of small stations that were established along what became known as the Butterfield Trail that started in St. Louis, Missouri and ended in San Francisco, California:

Picture from the Guadalupe Mountains

Here is a excerpted history of the Butterfield Trail from Mary A. Helmich of the California State Parks:

On September 15, 1857, businessman and financier John Butterfield of Utica, New York won a coveted six-year, $600,000-a-year federal contract to transport mail twice a week between St. Louis, Missouri and San Francisco in 25 days. At the time, it was the largest land-mail contract ever awarded in the United States, requiring mail deliveries year-round.  (……..)

The undertaking was enormous. Butterfield, in association with the principals for Wells, Fargo & Co. (for the American Express Co.), invested more than a million dollars getting the stage line organized. The company had to build or repair roads and bridges, set up and staff about 150 stations, purchase stagecoaches and wagons, as well as buy horses, mules, and feed. Water wells had to be dug and mountain passes cleared. And, there were 800 employees to be hired!

Operation of the 2,800-mile route began on September 15, 1858. The mail went through almost without exception in the 25 days required. However, the lack of water and conflicts with native Indian peoples continually plagued the Overland Mail throughout its existence. Butterfield famously exhorted his employees, “Remember boys, nothing on God’s earth must stop the United States Mail!” (……..)

In March 1860 with debts mounting for the stage line’s upkeep and repairs, Wells, Fargo and Co. (which held several unsettled loans) took control of the Butterfield Overland Stage Company from John Butterfield, forcing him out as president. Congress ordered the southern route discontinued and the service transferred to the central course at the beginning of the Civil War on March 12, 1861. (5)  The contract directed mail stages to travel through Nebraska, South Pass and Salt Lake City and designated the line the “Central Overland California Route.”

 

The last mail run on the Oxbow Route occurred in March 861 thus ending this unique chapter of American history, which the Guadalupe Mountains played a small part of.  The remains of a stagecoach station from this early mail service can still be seen today at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The ruins are reached by walking the Pinery Trail, which can be accessed from either the park’s Visitor Center of from a rest stop on US Highway 180/62.  The start of this trail from both locations is well labeled and handicap accessible:

Picture from the Guadalupe Mountains

The Pinery Trail is a short walk of about a mile round trip.  During the walk to the ruins there are these two markers that were constructed

Picture from the Guadalupe Mountains

The marker on the right was erected by the state of Texas in 1936 in recognition of the Pinery Station of the Butterfield Trail.  The marker on the left is a copy of the plaque on the summit of Guadalupe Peak put up there by American Airlines.  The plaque was put up on the mountain in 1958 in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the Butterfield Trail.  The plaque says:

Dedicated to the airmen who like the stage drivers before them, challenged the elements through this pass with the pioneer spirit and courage which resulted in a vast system of airline transport known as “American Airlines”.

Here is the view from the two markers looking back towards the park’s visitor center and the lower slopes of Guadalupe Peak:

Picture from the Guadalupe Mountains

Just a short walk up from the two markers is the ruins of the Pinery Station of the Butterfield Trail:

Picture from the Guadalupe Mountains

The Pinery Station was named for the pine trees that grow in the area due to the various springs that provide water to this arid landscape.  At 5,700 feet in altitude the Pinery Station was the highest built station along the entirety of the Butterfield Trail.  This station would not last very long due to the fact that it was closed only 11 months after its opening due to a change in the Butterfield Trail route that would pass through the Davis Mountains instead of the Guadalupes.  The change was made due to the danger the stagecoaches faced in this area from the Mescalero Apaches.  For those few months though this station would provide water, food, rest, and protection for the weary travelers along this route.

Picture from the Guadalupe Mountains

Overall, walking around the station provided an interesting look into an important part of Old West history that was the Butterfield Trail.  For anyone visiting the park this place is just to easy visit to not check it out.  Also for those just traveling by on Highway 180 / 62 stopping here and walking to the ruins makes for a good rest stop before continuing down the highway towards either El Paso or Carlsbad.  The Pinery Station is just another reminder of the interesting Old West history that can be found all around El Paso for those willing to look, so check it out.

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