Local group highlights story of key trail in 19th century Missouri

Mike Genet

Although it's not a path that ran through Independence, the Butterfield Overland Trail holds 19th-century historical significance similar to that of this city. 

Jeremy Neely, history professor at Missouri State University, discusses the Wilson's Creek Battlefield site near Springfield with crew members while recording for a documentary about the Butterfield Overland Trail. The Independence-based Oregon-California Trails Association is producing the documentary.

The Oregon-California Trails Association, headquartered in Independence, is producing a documentary on the Wire Road that ran generally from St. Louis to Springfield and into Arkansas, including through the area outside of Springfield that became the Wilson's Creek battlefield site in the Civil War. In the decades before the Civil War, the Butterfield Overland stagecoach line also ran along that road near Springfield. 

Travis Boley, OCTA’s president, said the documentary is focused on the stagecoach path where it ran along with Wire Road. The Butterfield Overland is up for consideration in Congress to be designated a national trail, like the Oregon, California and Santa Fe trails that originated in or came through from Independence. 

“Between troop movements and strategic location, it was the maybe second important battle of the Civil War,” Boley said of Wilson's Creek, which itself is part of the National Park system. “We wanted to showcase the fact they were fighting over a trail.” 

The Wire Road's name came from the telegraph line established between St. Louis and Springfield in the early half of the 19th century. The Butterfield Overland stagecoach line essentially ran along the Missouri River west to Jefferson City, continued west to Tipton and went south from there to Springfield and then Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas and then westward into California. 

“The Overland Road line, like the Pony Express, ended with the Civil War,” Boley said. 

After recording at several locations last summer, Boley's group has put together a 10-minute version of their documentary, and it incorporates music from local composer and violinist Dana Mengel, who has added his talents to previous historical productions related to Independence.  

Their goal, Boley said, is to get the documentary to a “PBS length” of about 24 or 46 minutes, depending on the time slot available. They have enough footage, but it needs paring, which requires a few thousand dollars still in fundraising. A grant from the Missouri Humanities Council and a donation from the Truman Heartland Community Foundation have helped fund the project thus far. 

“We have plenty of material,” said Boley, who presented the early version last week to the Rotary Club of Independence. “I need to be able to pay my editor.” 

“I'd like to get in on a PBS station, and ideally the whole system,” he said. “It would raise awareness of the national trails system, and Independence could benefit from that.”