Bud Dalton: A fleeting fantasy

Staff Writer
Hays Daily News
Bud Dalton

I am trying to do research on the date and origin of the town we now call Hays. What was here — when and why? It appears to be a chicken and egg dilemma. There was Ft. Fletcher, six miles south of Walker and the first site was established Oct. 11, 1865. It was renamed Ft. Hays and moved to the site we know (south side of Big Creek) June 23, 1867. Hays City was established 23 November, 1867. There had to be something here before the fort arrived and we adopted the name. In April 1867 William Cody (before title of Buffalo Bill) and his friend (railroad surveyor) William Rose started Rome. This was two months before Ft. Hays moved here. The year 1867 was a very busy year.

I became side tracked. I read a note where an Executive from The Butterfield Stage Line promised Cody and Rose he would place a stagecoach depot in their new town of Rome.

That name I knew and it triggered a memory. Until now I knew nothing of the history of a Butterfield Stage line, only the name. All I remembered was underneath the unfinished side of Lewis Field Stadium, there had been a stage coach parked, with that name on. As kids we played in it, on it and got filthy dirty.

This memory was the memory of a fantasy. In the summer between the 7th and 8th grade I was promoted from digging dandelions on the Ft. Hays campus to assisting in the dairy. The dairy was located where “Victor E. Village” is today. The dairy barn ran north and south and a horse barn ran to the west. We (college farm) had two Clydesdale horses — Pat and Mike — and they were good guys. Anyway, in my 13-year-old mind I had a good idea (fantasy). I would hitch Pat and Mike to that stagecoach and take some of my contemporaries to the drive-in theatre.

Actually, it was not much more than a passing “wouldn’t that be fun” thought. Only now, in remembering, I am recounting the logistical problems confronting such an endeavor. I had never harnessed a team of horses – hitched or driven a team of horses. The stage coach was over at Lewis Field and was facing the wall. How would I get the team and the stagecoach together? Maybe part of the hitching trace was missing. Lester Schmutz (my boss) was superintendent of the college farm. Mr. Schmutz was a very straight, by the book, no nonsense man. If (when) he found out about it, my career with Ft. Hays State would have ceased.

The drive-in theatre was at the southwest corner of Canterbury and Old 40, across the road west of the El Charro convenience store. In those days it was possible to get there the back way on country roads. The dike was not built and you could go through the park – to the roundabout flagpole – cross Chetolah Creek on a wooden bridge and straight out to the road that ran between The El Charro and the drive-in.

This indeed was “a bridge too far.” Fantasies are fun to remember – embarrassing to reveal — and this one lasted about 60 seconds.

And now, I found history of that coach I never knew. The Butterfield Stagecoach line was the longest line in the country and it was the only one going to the west coast. The ultimate goal was San Francisco. Our interest is it went through Ellis County. Actually, it went through the Phillip ranch and there was a published stop called the “Hays Creek Stop.”

There were two lines. We were on the central line. It started in St. Louis and went 2,300 miles. The southern “oxbow” route began in Memphis, Tenn., and took 2,800 miles and 25 days, 24-7 riding the coach. Sleeping was described as passing out. The southern route was the most popular. The “oxbow“ route dipped far down to Franklin, Texas, which we now call El Paso. The central route had snow and American Indians, which hurt its popularity. The original mission of Ft. Fletcher (13th Missouri Cavalry) was to protect Butterfield Stages from American Indians. Their first encounter was 20 Nov. 1865. Seven American Indians were killed. By 1867, that mission was abandoned, the 7th Cavalry had taken over, the name changed to Ft. Hays and moved where we know it now.

John Butterfield was from Utica, N.Y., and had experience running stagecoach lines, mainly north and south through New England. The Post Office department wished to establish a mail route to the west, and put it out for bids. There were nine bids. Butterfield won because he had experience. Some of the big boys like Wells Fargo and American Express didn’t bid because, at that time, they didn’t have any experience with stagecoach lines. Some of their executives were investors in the Butterfield line. It was called the Overland Mail Route and was abandoned when the trains took over.

Hundreds of surplus stage coaches became available. Many were purchased by movie companies and we saw them in our Saturday afternoon westerns. In one of the most popular movie scenes, you would see the stagecoach cut loose from the running team and going over a cliff. I wish our stagecoach had been preserved. I believe it was hauled out behind the machine shed on the college farm and I suppose there, it rotted away.