- The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail, 1858–1861 by Glen Sample Ely
Glen Sample Ely’s journey along the Butterfield Overland Mail route is a remarkable history of the antebellum Texas frontier. With the help of Joe Allen, a local history preservationist, and Patrick Dearen, an award-winning author of West Texas history, Ely leaves no stone unturned as he reconstructs the history of approximately fifty antebellum stage stops in Texas. This project has been his passion for more than twenty-five years, and it shows.
Ely’s statement in the preface, “I have conducted extensive research in city, county, state, and national archives” (ix), says nothing of the hours [End Page 512] it took him to reconstruct and discredit oft-repeated myths of life along the Texas frontier. For example, he examines the intricacies of people, policies, and perceptions from the moment the route enters Texas to its departure through El Paso. Some three hundred photographs, paintings, portraits, landscapes, and documents bring Ely’s study to life as he seamlessly weaves together the history of abandoned Texas stage stops. New maps contradict other sources and provide the stations’ correct locations. These, as well as original Butterfield maps, survey and topographical maps, and intricate details from location maps, ground readers as they travel from chapter to chapter.
Ely writes that this is an American story, containing elements that concerned citizens all over the country. Topics include the federal government’s role in westward internal improvements, economic development, secession, voter fraud, Indian removal, the military, ranching, vigilantes, the importance of water, and others that have seldom, if ever, been conjunctively used to tell the story of settlement.
The endnotes alone are staggering: there are fifty-five pages of references to family histories, descriptions and extended history of the stage stops, national and local records, additional information about Margaret and Roscoe Conkling, whose paths he traveled to recreate the history of the Butterfield, and much more. They are as captivating as the book itself, and should not be missed.
The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overall 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.