Genealogy Trails

Stagecoach History


Stagecoach picture 1

"Typical stage of the Concord type used by express companies on the overland trails.
Buffalo Soldiers guard from atop, ca. 1869."

[Picture from the Library of Congress]

stage coach animation


Capt. John Silas, Pioneer Stage and Rail Man



The first Concord stagecoach was built in 1827. Costing $1200 - $1500, these coaches weighed more than two thousand pounds. Abbot Downing Company employed leather strap braces under their stagecoaches which gave a swinging motion instead of the jolting up and down of a spring suspension. The company manufactured over 40 different types of carriages and wagons at the wagon factory in Concord, New Hampshire. Abbot Downing Company disbanded in 1847. They merged again in 1865, when Lewis Downing, Jr., and J.S. and E.A. Abbott Company formed the Abbott-Downing Company. They continued to manufacture coaches, wagons, and carriages under that company's name until 1919. Most of the time, the Abbot-Downing Company employed about 300 people. All were men except for one: from 1865 to 1895 Marie F. Putnam stitched leather seats and trim for every stagecoach that rolled out of the Concord factory, including those purchased by Wells Fargo & Company. For the entire 30 years, she was the company's only female employee.

Each coach was given a number by the Abbot-Downing factory. The Concord Coaches had a reputation for being sturdy, roomy, and comfortable. At the front and back of the stagecoach were leather 'boots' where baggage, mail and valuables were stored during the journey, with the remainder of the luggage being placed on top of the coach. Sometimes, even passengers sat atop the coach, but most chose to endure the rugged trip inside, if it wasn't too crowded. If it was, a single stagecoach would hold nine passengers inside, and a dozen or more on the roof. The windows of a stagecoach had leather roll-down curtains, and three leather-covered seats that offered little legroom. Most travellers had about fifteen inches to squeeze themselves into if the coach carried a capacity of nine passengers. The one stuck in the middle usually had the worst of it, because there was no back support. Instead, they had to hold onto leather straps that hung from the ceiling. The average speed was only eight miles an hour.

A sample fare schedule posted at Lincoln, New Hampshire:
- 1st class: $7.00 (rode all the way)
- 2nd class: had to walk at bad places on the road
- 3rd class: same as above, but also had to push at hills

During the Civil War, when sectional tensions were tearing the United States apart, stagecoaches provided regular transportation and communication between St. Louis, Missouri in the East and San Francisco, California in the West.

Although the
Pony Express is often credited with being the first fast mail line across the North American continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast, the Butterfield Stage predated the Pony Express by nearly three years. Butterfield Overland Stage began rolling on September 15, 1858, when the twice-weekly mail service began. A Butterfield Overland Concord Stagecoach was started in San Francisco and another Overland Stage in Tipton, Missouri where they ran over the better roads. As the going got rougher, the passengers and mail were transferred to "celerity wagons" designed for the roughest conditions. Each run encompassed 2,812 miles and had to be completed in 25 days or less in order to qualify for the $600,000 government grant for mail service.

The last American chapter in the use of the stage coaches took place between 1890 and about 1915. In the end, it was the motor bus, not the train, that caused the final disuse of these horse-drawn vehicles. After the main railroad lines were established, it was frequently not practical to go to a place of higher elevation by rail lines if the distance was short. By 1918 stage coaches were only operating in a few mountain resorts or western National Parks as part of the "old west" romance for tourists.
[Source: Excerpted from and other various sources


Travel Diaries

Journey from St. Paul to Crow Wing, MN - October 1856

An overland journey from San Francisco to New York by way of the Salt Lake City, 1866

Capt. Silas St. John - Pioneer mail stage and railroad man on the frontier in the early 1850's

Names in 1850 Journal of John BAILHACHE


Stagecoach Decorum
While today's travelers may be put off by the increased security hassles of air travel post 9-11, consider what travelers had to put up with during the days when stagecoaches rumbled across Arizona. In the late 19th century, travelers on the Butterfield Stage line discovered the discomfort of close quarters, dusty trails and lonely stage stations, as well as the threat of Indian attacks and outlaw robbers. But as hard as travel was in those days, the Old West still had a code of etiquette for stagecoach passengers. Here are some of the rules of stagecoach travel during the 1870s:

• When a driver asked a passenger to get out and walk, one was advised to do so, and not grumble about it.

• If the team of horses ran away, it was better to sit in the coach because most passengers who jumped were seriously injured.

• Smoking and spitting on the leeward side of the coach was discouraged.

• Drinking spirits was allowed, but passengers were expected to share.

• Swearing was not allowed, and neither was sleeping on your neighbor's shoulder.

• Travelers shouldn't point out spots where murders had occurred, especially when "delicate" passengers were aboard.

• Greasing one's hair was discouraged because dust would stick to it.

And according to the Omaha Herald in 1877, "Don't imagine for a moment you are going on a picnic. Expect annoyance, discomfort, and some hardships. If you are disappointed, thank heaven."
[Source: From "Arizona Highways", contributed by Sara Hemp]



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