Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Stagecoach History in the West

Over the last two decades, we’ve been fortunate to build a sizeable library of wood-wheeled transportation references.  From original photography to primary source literature, correspondence, signage, and the vehicles themselves, each element holds the potential of revealing significant information for restoration, identification, provenance, and overall research projects.
One of the truly special books in our collection is a volume we’ve briefly listed before.  It’s a huge labor of love unveiled almost three quarters of a century ago.  In 1942, Mae Hélène Bacon Boggs published a compilation of early newspaper writings primarily related to stage coaching in the American West.  The title of the oversized and very thick tome is “My Playhouse Was A Concord Coach.”  It’s an intriguing label further explained by the author in the opening pages of the book.  
When asked why she wrote the book, Ms. Boggs shares in the introduction, “I did not write a book but compiled a book of those who made California history, placing it in the path of those who follow, hoping that they, too, will leave it just a little better for having traveled this road.” 

Well said - and, with that, we hope through our writings, travels, and research we’re also able to leave things a little better than we found them.

The book, “My Playhouse Was A Concord Coach,” provides impressive historical insights into the business and operation of stage coaches in the American West.

If you’re lucky enough to come across one of these original books, it will likely run you a few hundred dollars for the privilege of owning it.  Nonetheless, if you enjoy early western history and stagecoaches, it’s a wonderful piece to have in your library.  At 763 pages in length, it’s a safe bet it will take some time to commit it to memory.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. Boggs for her tremendous dedication to this volume.  In tribute to this massive and classic collection of western staging history, below are a few excerpts from the work…  

Yreka Journal - Wednesday, June 24, 1874
“The C. & O. (California & Oregon) Stage Co. are putting up another shop, near their stable in town, in which the wood work, and wood repairs of their coaches and wagons will be attended to, which with the blacksmith shop built last year, will enable the company to do all their own stage work by employing mechanics to take charge of the shops…”

New Hampshire Statesman – Friday, April 17, 1868
“One of the most pleasing sights, in a mechanical point of view ever seen in Concord was enjoyed on Wednesday.  At 1 P.M., a large company of people assembled near the Freight House of the Concord R.R., where thirty elegant coaches from the establishment of Abbot, Downing & Co., stood upon platform cars, about to depart for Omaha.  The running portion of each vehicle is yellow, the body a rich red.  Each bore the firm name of ‘WELLS, FARGO & CO.’  The ornamental painting on the doors and other portions of the body of each is very beautiful.  The coaches were all in line, with no intervening freight.  At a few minutes past 1 the locomotive “Pembroke” gave a premonitory puff, and the beautiful train passed off.  It was made up to undergo no change until the coaches reach Omaha.  The train was photographed by Benj. Carr…”

Shasta Courier – Saturday, November 21, 1863
“… The CALIFORNIA STAGE COMPANY have received one of their new style sleighs for use on Scott Mountain soon as the snows require a change from wheel to runners.  We have lived in snow country for many years but have never seen a snow vehicle of the pattern here presented.  The runners are six inches wide, shod with steel half an inch thick.  In the center of each runner, and midway the body of the sleigh, are two bars of iron, one inch in diameter, which pass down through the runners, and are worked with the usual appliances attached to brakes upon a coach, and the pressure of the feet upon the brake strap forces the bolts through the runners into the snow, and thus checks its progress.  The seats are arranged in regular omnibus style.  It is a novel yet durable snow craft for mountain travel.”

Shasta Republican – October 2, 1858
“Wednesday last, on his last trip, Davis, one of the messengers of Wells, Fargo & Co., saved some lives and the wreck of a coach.  The driver had dismounted at the Blue Tent for the purpose of watering the horses – entrusting the lines to a passenger who was sitting beside him.  The horses soon started, when the person who held the reins jumped from the coach, and the team broke into a run.  Davis had been sleeping under the driver’s seat, and being soon awakened, he at once perceived the perilous condition of affairs.  He immediately climbed down to the tongue of the coach and from thence to the back, and finally to the neck of the wheel horse, and succeeded in gathering up the flying reins of the leaders, and stopping the team…”

The excitement of the early West certainly kept the nation talking.  The country was big and so were the stories.  Today, we continue to celebrate the determination and spirit of those early pioneers and argonauts.  The vast majority were everyday people with extraordinary dreams.  From cattle drives and military expeditions to overland freighting, community growth, family ambitions, and countless other ventures, we’re continually reminded that the history and heritage that America possesses is unique and dramatic.  Driven by a desire for freedom, opportunity, and a better life, we still carry the same basic DNA of our emigrant ancestors.  With that in mind and before I close this week’s blog, I thought I’d share one other entry compiled in this book.  Carried by the Shasta Courier at the close of the Civil War, it’s a reminder of what the people considered to be their strongest foundation – even amongst the greatest of trials…

Shasta Courier – Saturday, May 20, 1865
“The GOVERNMENT has decided that the motto, “In God is our trust,” shall hereafter be stamped upon coin issued from the United States Mints.  This is a proper recognition of the Great Creator, who has so wonderfully shaped the destinies of this nation, and preserved it from dangers human foresight and human strength could not have averted.”