Texas history buffs will love The Grace Museum’s newest exhibition that tells the unique story of Smith’s Station and the old Butterfield Overland Mail Route, located on Chimney Creek Ranch just over 30 miles northeast of Abilene.
Established in 1876, Chimney Creek Ranch is home to cattle and native animal species along with conserved grasslands and vital water sources. However, before the ranch was formed, the Butterfield Overland Mail Route (which operated 1858-1861) made its 2,800-milelong trek through the region to deliver mail and passengers from St. Louis to San Francisco in 25 days. On the ranch stands the remnants of Smith’s Station, the only stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route located in Shackleford County.
Smith’s Station gave employees and passengers a place to quickly eat, rest, trade supplies, have their mules groomed or switched out, and add additional freight if necessary. The stage stop was in between two others: Clear Fork Station 28 miles to the north and Fort Phantom Hill 12 miles to the southwest.
In 2002, the current owners of the Chimney Creek Ranch, brothers Hank and Ted Paup, were approached by historians and archaeologists for research on Smith’s Station, which subsequently led to the excavation of the site. Led by archaeologist Joe R. Allen, they uncovered hundreds of artifacts, including horse and mule shoes, wagon parts, nails, small tools, military items and casings, kitchen utensils, and various other artifacts. These artifacts provide a telling story of the interesting yet challenging life on the stage line and show the importance of these stage stops on the Butterfield.
Smith’s Station operated from October 1858 until the impending Civil War. The last Butterfield Overland Mail Route stagecoach most likely went through Smith’s Station in March 1861, marking the end of an era with the longest stage line in the world.
Hank and Ted Paup decided to re-create Smith’s Station in 2011, adding to the many preservation and conservation efforts on Chimney Creek Ranch. Ted, who currently serves on the museum’s advisory board, expresses his enthusiasm about being able to work on a project so close to his heart.
“As a former president of the Abilene Fine Arts Museum involved in the formation of The Grace Museum, it is such an honor for me and my family to be involved in this exhibition,” Ted Paup said. “Smith’s Station on the Butterfield has been an important part of our ownership of the Chimney Creek Ranch.”
Smith’s Station received a Texas Historical Commission Marker in 1982.
Guests who visit The Grace can read about each segment of the site’s history, view various maps of the area, and see three-dimensional models of Smith’s Station and a Butterfield stagecoach. Also included are many artifacts discovered during the excavation. These items shine a light on the way of life in the mid-1800s and the importance of the mail route at the time. There is even an interactive area where visitors can learn more about the importance of archaeology and dig for hidden “artifacts.”
The Grace celebrated the exhibition’s opening with a reception on Dec. 1. More than 125 people attended from all over Texas, including exhibition partners and sponsors Hank and Ted Paup, project archaeologist Joe R. Allen, and Texas State Historian Dr. Monte Monroe.
This program is made possible in part by grants from the Texas Historical Foundation and Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Contributed By The Grace Museum