Dragoon Springs, Arizona

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Dragoon Springs
historic site
Dragoon Springs is located in Arizona
Dragoon Springs
Dragoon Springs
Location in Arizona
Coordinates: 31°59′51″N 110°01′20″W / 31.99750°N 110.02222°W / 31.99750; -110.02222
Country United States
State Arizona
County Cochise County
Elevation[1] 4,925 ft (1,501 m)

Dragoon Springs is an historic site in what is now Cochise County, Arizona, at an elevation of 4,925 feet (1,501 m). The name comes from a nearby natural spring, Dragoon Spring, to the south in the Dragoon Mountains at 5,148 feet (1,569 m) (31°59′5″N 110°0′56″W / 31.98472°N 110.01556°W / 31.98472; -110.01556).[1] The spring was named for those who discovered it here in 1856, the U. S. Dragoons that were on their way to establish Fort Buchanan.

Map for location of Dragoon Springs Stage Station. Map by Gerald T. Ahnert.

Present day (2013) Photo by Gerald T. Ahnert-2013

1860 from same point above showing the graves, north of the gate, of the three massacred Butterfield employees. (Two were buried in one grave)1860 drawing of station surroundings

Dragoon Spring was a watering place on the Southern Emigrant Trail in territory which eventually joined the United States in the Gadsden Purchase, becoming part of the New Mexico Territory. Following the purchase, Dragoon Spring was used as a watering place by the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line , commonly called the "Jackass Mail", starting in July 1857. After Butterfield started service in September 1858, the Jackass Mail was still operating using Butterfield's improved trail.[2]

Dragoon Springs Stage Station was the second of the two stone fortified stations constructed in Arizona and was the last going west on the 2,700 mile trail from Tipton, Missouri, to San Francisco, California. A six year mail contract, No. 12,578, was awarded to John Butterfield to start on September 1858 and end on September 15, 1864. [3] [4] [5] This station was built in August and early September 1858 by Butterfield's Overland Mail Company to house employees and livestock. The construction of the station was supervised by Butterfield Division Superintendent William Buckley of Watertown, New York. [6]

Station plan showing the sleeping rooms of the Butterfield employees during the massacre of September 9, 1858.

During the construction three of the Butterfield employees were massacred on September 9, 1858, by three laborers. They were buried north of the station. William Buckley wrote a brief description of the massacre to his hometown newspapers, as one of those killed was his uncle:

Particulars of the Murder of Mr. James Burr and Companions

The last hope that there might be an error or falsehood in the first report of the massacre of our old fellow townsman, Mr. James Burr, and his companions, at Dragoon Springs has been dispelled by a letter from William Buckley, one of the superintendents of the overland mail company, to his father. The details of the horrid murder equal in atrocity anything we read in the annals of crime. Mr. B. writes from Tucson, seventy-five miles from Dragoon Springs, September 14, five days after the murder. We copy from his letter:

Uncle James, Mr. St. John, Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Laing, together with three Mexicans in our employ, were stationed at that place, [Dragoon Springs.] Everything had gone on well. I had not learned of an trouble between the men. I had eight mules with quite a large amount of property at the place. The murder was committed by the three Mexicans. Mr. Laing is undoubtedly dead before this. Mr. St. John is wounded, but I think with good care he will recover. The murder was committed in order to steal the property, as I had quite a large amount there. Uncle James was lying outside the corral when he was found, which was on Sunday morning. The murder was committed on Wednesday night. He lay in his blankets, with his head on one side all broken in. He had been killed with a stone hammer, and from all appearances he was struck two blows. He undoubtedly died without a struggle, from his appearance and position when found. Mr. Colwell and another man I had sent up to Dragoon Springs arrived there Sunday morning. Soon after the stage came up with Lieutenant Mowry, Colonel Leach, and several other passengers. Immediately on their arrival they buried uncle James and attended to the wants of the wounded men. They had nothing to eat or drink from Wednesday night to Sunday morning, being unable to move from the corral. Everything was done for them that men could do.

— The New York Reformer (Watertown, New York) November 4, 1858

Butterfield employee Silas St. John was the sole survivor of this massacre. [7]In a 1908 letter to Arizona historian Sharlot Hall, he stated that his amputated arm was buried between the two graves. In the letter, St. John also stated that there are two soldier's graves between the Butterfield graves.

The station was used by the Butterfield Overland Mail from September 1858 to March 1861 and by other stage lines from 1865 to about 1880. An order dated March 2, 1861, was sent to the Overland Mail Company to transfer the contract to the Central Overland Trail, because of the start of the Civil War. The present marker at the station states that one of the reasons was because of competition from the Pony Express, but the Pony Express never existed in Arizona and was not in competition with any stage line.

The earliest stage line to use the station, when a through service returned to the Southern Overland Trail, was Tomlinson & Co. [8]

During the American Civil War, it was the site of the First Battle of Dragoon Springs and near to the site of the Second Battle of Dragoon Springs, fought between Apache warriors and Confederate soldiers.

Stone ruins of the station and 4 graves remain at the site.

An important event happened at the station October 12, 1872, Chiricahua Apache chief Cochise and General O.O. Howard ended 11 bloody years of warfare with a treaty that granted the Apache most of what has become Cochise County as a reservation. [9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Dragoon Spring
  2. ^ Maj. Woods, The Texas Almanac for 1858, Galveston, 1857, "Overland Mail Route Between San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego, California," "Report to the Postoffice Department, "Table of distances, and from one watering-place to another from starting point," A few notes and distances from San Antonio to San Diego," and "Supplemental," pp. 139-150.
  3. ^ Report of the Postmaster General, Post Office Department, March 3, 1859, 35th Congress, 2d Session, Senate, Ex. Doc. No. 48, pp. 1-12.
  4. ^ Letter from The Postmaster General, Post-Office Department, Washington, D. C., January 13, 1881, "Contract with Overland Mail Company," 46th Congress, 3d Session, Senate, Ex. Doc. No. 21, pp. 1-36. Note: These outline the entire contract over its six year history including all the changes and the order dated March 2, 1861, to transfer the contract to the Central Overland Trail.
  5. ^ Gerald T. Ahnert, The Butterfield Trail and Overland Mail Company in Arizona, 1858-1861, 2011, Canastota Press, Canastota, New York.
  6. ^ John Warner Barber and Henry Howe, Our Whole Country or the Past and Present of the United States, Volume II, Cincinnati, 1861, pp. 1448-1449.
  7. ^ Isaac Hays, M. D., The American Journal of Medical Sciences, "Art. III.--Amputation of the Shoulder-Joint. By B. J. D. Irwin, M.D., Assistant Surgeon, U. S. Army," New Series, Vol. XXXVIII, Philadelphia, 1859, pp. 350-351. Note: Irwin was stationed at Fort Buchanan and amputated Silas St. John's arm at Dragoon Springs Stage Station nine days after the massacre.
  8. ^ "Mail at Last." Arizona Miner, Prescott, Arizona, May 18, 1867
  9. ^ Doug Hocking, Tom Jeffords--Friend of Cochise, A TwoDot Book, Roman & Littlefield, National Book Network, 2017, Gilford Connecticut & Helena, Montana.

Coordinates: 31°59′51″N 110°01′20″W / 31.99750°N 110.02222°W / 31.99750; -110.02222