Saturday, October 6, 2018

So you want to travel by Stage...

In early America, travel happened by foot, by boat, or by stage. We all know 'a stage" is a four wheel driven vehicle powered by horses or mules. They run on established routes, following a regular schedule. Early stage routes trans versed the early colonies and later the west shuffling people in a simplified, lighter coach than their English counterparts. These coaches were often referred to as a stage wagon or a mud coach. Navigation was done by a driver or coachman accompanied by a guard called a shot gun messenger.
                       Example of a mud coach from the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego.

The role of travel was slow five to seven miles per hour, however over a day, they might cover sixty to seventy miles. Breaks occurred at places called swing stations or home stations. Stages began running regular routes in 1744, between the budding metropolis of New York and Philadelphia. The distance took three days to cover until the year 1766 when a new more trustworthy coach was implemented. These coaches carried not only letters, but packages, merchandise, and in some cases - money. By 1832, Boston alone had over 77 lines.

While these vehicles were great in moving the masses, they were not comfortable. Iron and steel springs did not allow the body of the coach to compensate for the pot holes by moving side to side. They instead bounced up and down jostling the passengers and often tossing them against their co riders. In 1829, a major innovation came through the use of leather straps that allowed the body to be somewhat suspended and move not only up and down, but also side to side. In Twain's book, Ruffing It, he described his travels by stage as "riding a cradle on wheels".

Space meant money. People were often crammed inside on three hard seats. If riding in the middle they held on to straps suspended from the ceiling to keep from pitching back or forward. Others decided it was safer to be perched on top of the stage. If you think about it, you can understand why. Imagine, if you will, nine passengers, layered with dust, boots covered with animal waste, perhaps bodies and/or clothing unwashed for months - yeah, it's a good thing Hollywood made it glamorous.

 Notice in this picture from 1868, Buffalo soldiers guard the stage. Their posts on top depict where passengers might sit. Photo from the American West 1861-1912 National Archives


So how much did this 'luxury' travel cost. Remember, no coke and peanuts. Nope. Meals were extra and cost $1.00 for each meal consumed. Our passengers could chose their travel. First class, cost $7.00 and they rode for the whole trip. Second class passengers were required to walk when the road was bad. And those economy seats in third class, they  not only had to walk, but if the coach was going up hill, they were required to push. Something to write home about for sure.

Most stage routes followed the Pony Express examples. Stages stopped in intervals of twelve and fifty miles at two types of stations, a swing station or a home station. Home stations would be at the fifty mile route marker. These would be run by families and served hot meals and allowing their 'guests' to sleep over night on the hard floors. Home stations would also be where drivers changes occurred. A swing station came at the twelve mile markers and would be run by bachelor stock men. Their accommodations would be a cabin or barnc. The stage would stay long enough to change teams and allow passengers to stretch their legs. From Kansas to California there were one hundred and fifty of these type stations.

All good things do come to an end. Railroads pushed the stage lines from the most prominent towns. Routes they followed, now took them to towns the trains didn't service. However, the death blow to the stage lines came with the invention of the automobile in the early 1900's.

Famous stage lines were:
Buutterfield's Overland Mail Company
Wells Fargo and Company
Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company.

              The more iconic stage. Again from the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Diego.


Until next time

Nan O'Berry


 

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