In 1947, Roscoe P. Conkling, writing about the Butterfield Overland Mail (1858-1861) deemed Cienega Station lost having been obliterated when the railroad was built in 1880. On July 28, 2012, Matt Greenway, Dennis Sak, Gene Baker and I located the station at 32° 1′ 8″ N 110° 38′ 33″ W. It was the first station east of Tucson on the road between San Pedro Crossing and the aforementioned town.
All that remains is garbage and the faint outline of foundation stones but these elements tell a story and confirm the location. This line of stones is the clearest and also the closest to the railbed. They are not parallel to the railroad but at an angle disappearing under it. This is clear evidence that these foundations predate the building of the railroad in 1880 or 1881. What was in this area before 1880? Nothing except the Butterfield Station. The foundations outline a very large building including a corral 60×60 feet.
Although they are less clear to the eye, the
remaining foundations match the diagram Conkling provided. This is a very large structure unexpected in the desert Southwest where small buildings were the rule.
There is other evidence. There are tin cans that date to the period called hole-in-top cans. The can was soldered together, before the Civil War, by hand having a top with a large, round open hole. Food was inserted through the hole. Then a round top was soldered on. A small vent hole was left at top center to allow steam to escape, least the can explode, while the cap was being soldered on. A dot of solder closed the vent when everything else was complete. Lead solder oxidizes white. So cans showing white where parts come together were soldered with lead. After the Civil War this was done by machine. Rough, uneven solder is a sign of an early can as is a large dot of solder sealing the vent. Early cans were cut open with a knife; the can opener hadn’t been invented. In 1904, the Sanitary Can Co. invented a new process that sealed cans without soldering. We use Sanitary Cans today. The cans shown here were made before 1904 and probably before the Civil War. Who or what would have been along Cienega Creek before the Civil War? The Butterfield Overland Mail station.
Glass was tempered with various metals. 19th century glass often turns lavender when left in the sun. There are many shards of broken glass on the ground that were manufactured before 1890. Glass, after lying on the ground for 100 years or more, becomes covered with a white mineral deposit referred to as fairy dust. It is an indication of great age.
The base of a wooden post is buried in the ground near the middle of a 60 foot x 60 foot enclosure, probably the corral. Such a post would have been used to secure horses while they were being harnessed.
There is modern trash here and railroad trash as one might expect. The site, although close to trails, is not easy to approach. It is not somewhere one gets to by accident. Most of the trash comes from a very early era.
In review, the foundation is of a size and layout consistent with the drawing Conkling provided of the station presumably taken from Butterfield records. The terrain is as Conkling describes and there are road cuts east and west where the Butterfield Trail might have run down to Pantano Wash. A corner of the structure is under the railroad clearly indicating that it was here first. The trash is consistent with a pre-Civil War occupancy.