Saturday, May 11, 2013

OLD WEST: Tips for Stagecoach Travelers

In the days of the Old West, the only mode of public transportation was the stagecoach. 

Stage stops dotted the Western plains like bus depots do today. And like independent bus companies of today, the stagecoach companies back then were independent.

And yes, some made it and some didn't. They came and went, flourished and died, starved out, sold out, and merged with others to grow larger and become stronger.

It is said that Wyatt Earp hit Tombstone with a desire to open a stage line but when he got there two rival companies already existed so he gave up on the idea.

Though on May 10, 1869, the famous "Golden Spike" was driven in Promontory Summit, Utah, and the track had been completed linking America's first transcontinental railroad, the stagecoach would endure until after the turn of the century. And yes, it was actually replaced by the automobile.

At the top of the heap after such a merger was Wells Fargo & Company Overland Stage, who established among many stage stops one in Silver City, Idaho, a mining district high in the Owyhee Mountains.

There, the Wells Fargo vault still stands next to the Idaho Hotel that was established during the boom of 1863.

Though journeys by stagecoach were long and tidious for the most part, made worse by the dust and hard road against your backsides, coach travel flourished.

Coaches were usually cramped and loaded down with heavy merchandise and luggage; passengers jammed in like sardines.

A given trip might find a veteran of the Civil War, a mason, a carpenter, a railroad carman, a drummer (traveling salesman), a banker, a Texas cattle rancher and a lady of refinement from one of the eastern states aboard.

Depending on whether the coach boasted a center bench inside, from 6 to 8 passengers might crowded into the interior, with perhaps two more riding topside with the driver. Togetherness prevailed, with each passenger squeezed into about 15 inches of seating space.

No, it was not unusual for as many as 8 to 12 people to be aboard at one time, some riding up front with the driver and even atop on the luggage. Passenger comfort took a poor second place to the economic necessity of maintaining schedules.

These crowded conditions required the establishment of company rules; a list of acceptable and unacceptable passenger behavior while aboard.

Stagecoach passengers were expected to observe a few rules of the road, most of them directed at gentlemen.

And yes, since proper stagecoach etiquette was a must, the following was posted in Silver City's Idaho Hotel stage depot:


Adherence to the Following Rules Will Insure a Pleasant Trip for All

1.Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink, share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.

2.If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the Gentle Sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit WITH the wind, not against it.

3.Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.

4.Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort during cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.

5.Don't snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger's shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.

6.Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.

7.In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry wolves.

8.Forbidden topics of discussion are stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.

9.Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It's a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.

- Wells Fargo & Company, late 1860s.

Of course the Omaha Herald published the below Tips for Stagecoach Travelers in 1877 :


The best seat inside a stage is the one next to the driver. Even if you have a tendency to seasickness when riding backwards - you'll get over it and will get less jolts and jostling. Don't let "sly elph" trade you his mid-seat.

In cold weather, don't ride with tight-fitting shoes, or gloves.

When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do so without grumbling, he won't request it unless absolutely necessary.

If the team runs away - sit still and take your chances.

If you jump, nine out of ten times you will get hurt.

In very cold weather, abstain entirely from liquor when on the road, because you will freeze twice as quickly when under its influence.

Don't growl at the food received at the station - stage companies generally provide the best they can get.

Don't keep the stage waiting.

Don't smoke a strong pipe inside the coach.

Spit on the leeward side.

If you have anything to drink in a bottle, pass it around.

Procure your stimulants before starting, as "ranch" (stage depot) whisky is not "nectar."

Don't lean or lop over neighbors when sleeping.

Take small change to pay expenses.

Never shoot on the road, as the noise might frighten the horses.

Don't discuss politics or religion.

Don't point out where murders have been committed, especially if there are women passengers.

Don't lag at the wash basin.

Don't grease your hair, because travel is dusty.

Don't imagine for a moment that you are going on a picnic.

Expect annoyances, discomfort, and some hardships.

- Omaha Herald, 1877

Here's a copy of what the poster looked like:

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