The town of Dragoon is no show-off. It hides in Texas Canyon, displaying only a few things to catch the eye of the passing driver. But it is replete with history, both raw and cultivated. In the latter case, there is the Amerind Museum. The Amerind is a gem tucked away in the hills of what geologists call the "Little Dragoon Mountains." It is an anthropological and archeological museum, as well as research center, containing one of the finest private collections of Native American artifacts and artwork in the country. The Amerind is also the location of a wonderful little picnic area nestled in explore-able rocks. More information about the Amerind Museum can be found by clicking on the link below.
But Dragoon is full of raw, un-interpreted history as well. The spring in the mountains was well known to generations of Chiricahua Apache Indians, and is located just a few miles north of the stronghold of their chief Cochise. The occasional traveler crossing this rugged territory would have stopped here, as it was the only water for miles which ran year-round. When gold was discovered in California in 1849, travel through the area increased, and for the Americans at least, was relatively safe. Until 1861, Cochise was at peace with the Americans, whom he saw as an ally in his fight with the Mexicans. In 1856, the Third Cavalry made camp near the springs and it is probably because of them that people started calling it "Dragoon Springs". In 1857, the Butterfield Overland Stage Company was contracted to create the first "overland" route for mail and passengers linking California with the east. This was three years before the short-lived Pony Express came into being. The Butterfield Overland Stage was the only domestic connection between these two parts of the country. Before Butterfield, east-coast mail for California generally had to travel by ocean liner around the tip of South America and back up the Pacific coast. Alternately, it was sometimes offloaded on to wagons and horses and driven across the disease-infested Isthmus of Panama, where it was loaded again on ships and sent north. Human passengers fared no better. Depending on the season, winds, currents, and luck, such a trip might well take months. John Butterfield contracted to take mail and passengers from St. Louis to San Francisco in 25 days.
The Butterfield Overland Stage route ran 2800 miles, with stations located every 25 miles or so, wherever reliable water could be found. In these mountains, that meant Dragoon Springs. The stage came in from El Paso, traveling through Apache Pass (Fort Bowie), and into the valley. From Dragoon, it went west into Tucson (population 150), then north and west to the Gila and Colorado rivers and into California. Most of the Butterfield stations were constructed of adobe, but ten of them were built out of rock, as a protection against Indian attack. The Dragoon Springs station was one of those ten.
In August of 1858, the Butterfield construction crew completed the walls of the station, 45 feet by 55 feet and 10 feet high. There was just one door, with an interior office containing the safe. Humans occupied one half, animals were enclosed in the other half, to prevent rustling. On September 8, 1858, the four Butterfield men were attacked by their Mexican laborers and three were killed, leaving only Silas St. John. The three Butterfield men were buried near the station, and their graves can be visited today. Also at the site are the graves of four Confederate soldiers, killed in a skirmish with Apaches in May of 1862. A more detailed (and bloody) account of the Dragoon Springs graves can be found by clicking the "grave history" link below.