Tragedy on the Butterfield Line

Butterfield Station Site

On September 8th, 1858, during construction of the Butterfield Stage Station at Dragoon Springs in Cochise County, Butterfield employees Silas St. John, Jim Laing, Bill Cunningham and Jim Hughes were attacked with axes and a sledge hammer by three Mexican laborers. Although badly wounded St. John drove them off with his pistol.

His left arm was nearly severed and he suffered a gaping axe wound in his hip. He managed to stop the bleeding in his arm by making a tourniquet with a handkerchief and stick. The hip wound was the full width of an axe-blade and more difficult, but by remaining immobile the blood coagulated, stopping the hemorrhaging.

Hughes was the first to die, his skull crushed by the sledge hammer. Cunningham suffered a deep gash to his head, and died next. Laing, with a severe axe wound in his head was the last to die.

Despite a nearly severed arm and an ax wound in his hip St. John continued to fight off buzzards, wolves and coyotes with his pistol.

On the third night the wolves grew bolder and attacked Hughes’ body, fighting over the remains just a few feet from where St. John lay.

Four days after the attack a traveler arrived at the station followed by a road-building crew and some escort soldiers. They revived St. John, dressed his wounds and two of them rode to Ft. Buchanan for help. Army Asst. Surgeon B.J.D. Irwin rode 116 miles, arriving on the ninth day after the attack. St. John’s arm was amputated at the socket. Less than a week later he was loaded into a wagon and taken to the fort.

Amazingly twenty-one days after the surgery St. John mounted a horse and rode to Tucson. He died in San Diego in 1919, living to the ripe old age of eighty-four

The killers escaped to Mexico and were never apprehended.

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