Historic stagecoach rolls into Cassville

Thursday, September 18, 2008
Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly, Representative David Sater and Herb Primrose donned authentic western gear to participate in a mock trial that was held on the square in Cassville on Sept. 11. The trial commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail, which operated from 1857 to 1861. Pictured above, from left, are: David Sater, who played Representative William McConnell; Primrose, who played Wild Bill Hickok; and Epperly. More pictures can be found on page 12. Democrat Photo

Barry County residents stepped back in time when the Butterfield Stagecoach made a stop on the square in Cassville on Sept. 11. Community members attending the event enjoyed a mock trial that featured characters from the 1800s.

Cassville Mayor Tracy Holle opened the event by reading a proclamation that designated Sept. 11, 2008, as a tribute to the Butterfield Stagecoach's sesquicentennial journey across southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas. The proclamation was followed by opening remarks by Rick Hamby, who oversaw the stagecoach trip with his wife, Bev.

"It is such an honor to travel the same ruts that were pioneered and traveled by the Butterfield Stagecoach," said Rick. "In 1858, if you wanted to get a letter to your relatives in California you could either ship it around the Isthmus of Panama or it would take six months to send it across the prairie.

"John Butterfield thought he could get it there quicker so he started the first transcontinental mail route in the United States and the world," said Rick. "The impact was unimaginable. It brought the country together.

"We need to have an appreciation for the history of our country," said Rick. "We need to know where we've been in addition to where we are going."

Rick introduced his stagecoach team, which included: Bill Hobb, Bill Petty, Galen Chapman, Scott Lees, Winchester Wilson, Rod "Maverick" Hamby, Brandy Wilson, Wendy Lees, Terry Donahue and June Herman.

"Now, I think we are interrupting a trial," Rick commented before Sheriff Mick Epperly introduced Rick Ricardo, a desperado that the sheriff's posse arrested near Merl's Chapel earlier in the morning.

"I was riding the Butterfield Stagecoach this morning looking for a group of desperados who have been robbing the coach, taking gold and committing other crimes," said Epperly. "We found this man near Merl's Chapel when we were riding into town.

"I owe his capture to my deputies," said Epperly. "They were able to nab him before he got a chance to run. I guess we caught him off guard."

After Epperly's initial remarks, several witnesses were able to speak to the crowd regarding the capture of the wanted desperado.

"You are all my friends and you all voted for me," said Representative William McConnell, who was played by Representative David Sater. "I know every one of you and you all know me. I own the hotel across the street."

McConnell said that he was on the stagecoach and witnessed the capture of Ricardo earlier in the morning.

Union scout James Butler, who was also known as Wild Bill Hickok, was played by Herb Primrose, of Cassville. Hickok said that he was also on the stagecoach and had an opportunity to assist in the arrest of Ricardo.

After the opening remarks, the trial was called to order by Judge Mike Garrett, who introduced the prosecutor, played by Johnnie Cox, and the defense attorney, played by Don Trotter.

Cox and Trotter called several witnesses to the stand, but ultimately, due to his loyal commitment to the Union army, Ricardo was found innocent of robbing the stagecoach.

"We had a good time here today remembering the events of 150 years ago," said Garrett. "I want to call attention to an event that took place seven years ago, on Sept. 11. We have a lot to be thankful for, not just in the long ago past, but in the recent past."

Garrett led the crowd in singing God Bless America in honor of the men and women who perished in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001.

In addition to stopping in Cassville, the Butterfield Stagecoach appeared at Hilton Church near Osa, the Star City Ranch north of Cassville, Cassville Elementary School and Southwest School. As it journeyed through Barry County, the stagecoach exchanged pen pal letters with area youngsters.

The stagecoach's journey through southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas was in honor of the the United States' largest recorded land-mail contract, which was awarded to John Warren Butterfield in September of 1957.

During its operation, the Butterfield Overland Mail traveled a 22-day route from St. Louis to San Francisco, Calif., twice a week. It employed over 800 individuals and used 250 Concord Stagecoaches, 1,800 head of stock and 139 relay stations. The mail route ceased operation in 1961.

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