Cochise County

Benson, AZ


Benson is a city located in Cochise County in southeastern Arizona. It is located on Interstate 10 approximately 45 miles east-southeast of Tucson. Benson has a very rich history dating back millions of years. Benson is also home to the magnificent Kartchner Caverns State Park.

The history of Benson begins millions of years ago, in a very different looking world. Paleontologists and archaeologists have uncovered different bones that show that dinosaurs and mammoths once roamed around the area near Benson. In addition to the ancient dinosaurs that roamed around Benson, Kartchner Caverns (only 12 miles south) began forming tens of thousands of years ago. Very slowly, water and a mixture of other minerals carved out a massive and still “living” cave. If you’re ever in the area, be sure not to miss Kartchner Caverns.

In 1539, Fray Marcos de Niza and his guide Esteban passed through the area on an expedition for Coronado. Coronado himself, with other Spanish explorers, later passed through the area near Benson. Even the famous Father Eusebio Kino is known to have passed nearby.

Entering Benson, Arizona

In 1846, the Mormon Battalion passed just south of Benson on their way to California. They were under the command of Captain Philip St. George Cooke. In the lush valley, a herd of bulls (abandoned over 10 years earlier) roamed the area. They were fierce and halted the Battalion for a few days. After getting through the wild bulls with no losses, Capt. Cooke dubbed what just happened as the Battle of Bull Run, the same exact name of a Civil War battle 20 years later, and no way related.

In September 1858, Butterfield's Overland Mail Company built an adobe stage station about one mile east of present-day Benson on the east bank of the San Pedro River. William Buckley, from Watertown, New York, was in charge of the construction crew. John Butterfield appointed Buckley as Division Superintendent. His headquarters was in Tucson. The line built a bridge across the river a short distance north of the station. The station was abandoned and fell into ruins after March 2, 1861, when Congress ordered the Overland Mail Company to transfer the contract to the Central Trail because of the start of the Civil War.  

Butterfield Overland Mail Company's 1858 San Pedro River Stage Station. Map: Courtesy of Gerald T. Ahnert, "The Butterfield Trail and Overland Company in Arizona, "1858-1861."

For the first time in Benson an accurate representation of one of John Butterfield's stage (celerity) wagons can be seen. He didn't use stagecoaches, as he needed a lighter stage for the rough environment of the southwest deserts. Almost all the stage drivers were from Upstate New York. The mural is on the Cochise County Regional Services Center in Benson. Gerald T. Ahnert (shown) is a historian, whose specialty is the Butterfield Trail in Arizona, directed artist Doug Quarles for historical accuracy.

In about 1867, when regular stage service was again seen on the trail, the station was rebuilt by a man named "Schaublin." In 1879, William Ohnesoren rebuilt the station and bridge for his stage line to connect the new railroad town of Benson to Tombstone.

In 1880, the transcontinental Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in Benson. They city was founded this same year. Benson was named after Judge William B. Benson, a friend of the president of the Southern Pacific. Other railroads soon followed the Southern Pacific through Benson, including the El Paso & Southwestern (from Benson to Tucson) as well as the Sonoran Railroads (from Mexico to Benson). Benson quickly became a major transportation hub, and with the rest of Cochise County booming, mining equipment, ore, and other supplies were passing through Benson to Tombstone, Bisbee, Fairbank and Contention City. In 1882, a rail line was built from Benson to the milling town of Contention (just north of Fairbank).

Being a bustling railroad town, other businesses and accommodations quickly sprang up. This allowed Benson to thrive and survive the Great Depression. Today Benson is still alive and well and has a population just under 5,000 people.

Benson is definitely a neat place to visit. Close by are the San Pedro Riparian Management Area, Cochise’s Stronghold, 2 of the 18 abandoned Titan II Missile Sites (on private property) in southern Arizona, and the amazing Kartchner Caverns State Park. Benson is sometimes called the “gateway to the land of Cochise,” and with all it has to offer, we believe this saying is very true.

Overlooking Benson from the I-10

Kartchner Caverns State Park, just south of Benson



  1. Special thanks to Gerald Ahnert for helping us correct the section on the Butterfield Overland Route. Gerald is a historian who has extensively researched the Butterfield Overland route in Arizona. He also provided the historical picture and picture of the mural.

  2. Trimble, Marshall. Roadside History of Arizona. 2nd edition. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2004. 38. Print. 

  3. "Benson, AZ." Desert USA. Web. 28 July 2011. <>. 

  4. "About Benson." BENSON, ARIZONA Home of Kartchner Caverns State Park. Web. 28 July 2011. <{CD303D9E-C569-4A08-8128-8E78FFF75E25}>.

  5. "Benson, AZ." Wikipedia. Web. <,_Arizona>.