Dragoon Springs Stage Station
Dragoon Springs is a stage stop located in south-eastern Arizona. It was used by the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Dragoon Springs was the westernmost, stone fortified station on the route. Being located in the heart of Apache Territory, in the north tip of the Dragoon Mountains and just a few miles north of Cochise’s Stronghold, this stage stop played an important role in protecting the stage route. This station and the mountains to the south of it are within the Coronado National Forest and are named for the 3rd U.S. Calvary Dragoons who patrolled this area between Fort Bowie and Fort Huachuca.
In July of 1857, the San Antonio & San Diego Mail Line began its service across Arizona. The route stretched from San Antonio, Texas to Sand Diego, California and had a stop here near Dragoon Springs (the actual Dragoon Spring is 1 mile further east along the road). This mail line became known as “Jackass Mail” due to the fact that mules were often used to pull coaches and sometimes passengers even had to ride the mules themselves.
Later that same year (1857), Congress passed the Overland Mail Bill. The purpose of this bill was to establish a twice weekly mail run between St. Louis and San Francisco. The 2700 mile route had 200 stations, including the one at Dragoon Springs. In August of 1858, construction began on the station at Dragoon Springs. On September 8, 1858, tragedy struck. Three of the Overland Employees were bludgeoned to death by the Mexican laborers at the station. Station manager Silas St. John suffered an axe wound to the left arm, which severed it, and one to the hip. Somehow he survived and fought off his attackers. For three days, he also managed to fight off coyotes and buzzards from his three dying companions. After those three days, help arrived and a surgeon was called for. Dr. B.J. Irwin rode over 120 miles from Fort Buchanan to attend to St. John’s, who he successfully saved. Progress was slowed, but the station was soon completed.
The Dragoon Spring Stage Station was known as a “swing” station. “Swing” stations were used only for changing teams of horses or mules as well as allow the passengers to have a quick stretch break. Compared to a “home” station, where passengers could get a meal, these stations had a much quicker turn around. Station masters, cooks, as well as maintenance men also could be found at “home” stations.
This fortified station has 10 foot high rock walls with two small rooms, a corral, and even a flagstaff. By March of 1861, the route was discontinued. The beginning of the Civil War, the increasing conflicts with the Indians, and the much quicker Pony Express Route (which began in 1860) are all factors for why the Butterfield Overland Route was stopped. The stage route, although it only lasted just over two years, had a significant impact on Arizona. The Butterfield Overland Mail Company employed many and helped attract new settlers to Arizona.
May 5th, 1862, near the abandoned stage station, a Confederate foraging party was rounding up cattle when they were suddenly attacked by Apache Indians. The Confederate Soldiers were members of Company A of Governor John R. Baylor’s Regiment of Arizona Rangers. They were under command of Captain Sheron Hunter, who was based at Tucson and engaged with Union forces from California. Arizona at the time (March of 1861) had succeeded from the Union. Four of the Confederates were killed and the Apaches took their 25 horses and 30 mules. A group of 5 Apache were later killed, but it is not thought to have occurred during the battle.
Cochise, the famous Apache leader lived in the nearby Dragoon Mountains. The Bascom Affair, which started the long Indian Wars, happened just a few months prior. Any soldier was seen as a threat to the Apaches and they frequently engaged with both Union and Confederate troops in battle. The four graves are only a few yards away from the stage station. We only found 1 marked: Sergeant Samuel Ford, the others appeared unmarked. These 4 men are the only Confederate Soldiers known to have been killed in Battle in Arizona.
The stage coach stop and graves have been partially preserved and can still be seen today. From Dragoon Road exit on I-10, follow the road passed the railroad tracks to the town of Dragoon. Where the paved road turns left, N. Old Ranch road goes right. Follow this road for 2.3 miles. A signed turnoff continues indicated to stay left. Follow this for an additional 1.1 miles. This road is rougher and requires a high-clearance vehicle. Click here to view Dragoon Springs on a map.
Varney, Philip. Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. 10th printing. Phoenix, AZ: Department of Transportation, State of Arizona, 1994. 129-130. Print.
"Dragoon Springs ~ Cochise County, Arizona ~."Ghost Town Trails: Cochise County, Arizona(2009): Web. 21 July 2011. <http://www.arizonaghosttowntrails.com/dragoonsprings.html>.
Informational signs at Dragoon Springs Stage Stop.