Monday, June 4, 2018

THE JEHU, THE WHIP, THE STAGECOACH DRIVER by Cheri Kay Clifton




 As an historical western author, I am constantly researching factual information to weave into my fictional stories. As I’m sure other historical authors will agree, it can be both interesting and time-consuming, even becoming an obsession to the detriment of getting the book written!

In Destiny’s Journey, Book 2 of my Wheels of Destiny Trilogy, a secondary character works for the Wells, Fargo and Company Stagecoach Line as a stagecoach driver. Of course, I found a wealth of information about the history of stagecoaches and in particular, Wells, Fargo and Company. However, I had to delve deeper to better understand the extremely difficult job of driving a stagecoach as well as appreciate the man holding the reins.


Drivers were often called nicknames such as, “whip,” “jehu,” and reinsman. The name, “jehu” came from the biblical King Jehu in the Old Testament who was known for driving his chariot fast and furiously. The jehu’s profession required excellent horsemanship, driving skills and often demanded great courage traveling through hostile Indian country and the possibility of being threatened by highway robbers.



Many of the stage routes traveled over rugged roads, wheels sinking into deep sand or thick mud; other routes wound through mountains, the trails hugging the sides of steep and narrow cliffs. Stagecoaches averaged about 5 miles per hour, depending on the terrain. On some routes, the driver would have his own section, driven over and over, usually covering about 50 miles. A driver could make a good salary, sometimes as much as $125 a month, plus room and board. Average age for most drivers were under the age of 40.



The nickname, “whip,” is self-explanatory. Many stagecoach drivers considered their whips as badges of honor. They took pride in them, some handcrafted with silver layered over handles made of hickory.  The whips had buckskin lashes, usually 11 to 12 feet long. Unlike the way they were depicted in the movies, stagecoach drivers seldom used cracking of the whip. They were concerned the sharp sounds could not only startle their passengers but worse yet, spook their horses.




Obviously, most important were the two or three pairs of reins the driver held in his hands, depending on a four or six-horse team. Sensitive to the driver’s lead, the horses responded to the slightest movement of the reins and depended on the driver for continual guidance. Often shouting commands, the reinsman just as often soothed his horses with soft spoken words to encourage them along precarious mountain trails.

Among the most daring and legendary who rode the “box,” were Clark Foss, George Monroe, Henry “Hank” Monk, and Charlie Webster. Although they were mostly men drivers, there were also women, namely Charley Parkhurst, Mary Fields and Delia Haskett Rawson.  Tobacco-chewin’ Charley Parkhurst, who was well-known throughout California for being one of the best jehus in the stage business, to everyone’s shock, was discovered to be a biological woman when her body was prepared for burial.


Noted whip of the Gold Rush days. 
Drove a stage over Mt. Madonna in 
early days of valley. Last run
San Juan to Santa Cruz. Death in
cabin near the 7-mile house,
revealed "One Eyed Charlie",
a woman. The first woman to vote
in the U.S. Nov. 3, 1868

Erected 1955

Pajaro Valley Historical Ass'n.


Stagecoaches were not just for passengers. They often carried legal documents, large bank deposits, company payrolls as well as the U.S. Mail. When carrying valuable freight, for added protection, “shotgun messengers” rode beside the driver, armed with their trusty double-barreled shotguns.



Even though trains were being used more and more for transporting both passengers and cargo, they were still confined to their tracks.  It wasn’t until the early 1900’s when the introduction of the automobile actually led to the end of the stagecoach. 







6 comments:

  1. What a great post, Cheri. I love fact-filled articles like yours that give good background for our writing. I am embarrassed that I did not remember King Jehu and did not know where the term "jehu" came from. Thanks also for including the photos.

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  2. Thank you, Caroline, for reading and commenting on my post. As always, you're attentive to our blog and I know much appreciated by all the members. We do have so many fine authors who share their extensive research here on SOTW.

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  3. Cheri,

    Research and those rabbit holes to tumble down sometimes lead to the most interesting tidbits of history, but invariably another rabbit hole shows itself. *wink*

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    1. Yep, Kaye, you're right - one rabbit hole usually leads to another. Gotta know when to dig ourself out and get on with our writing. "wink" Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. Cheri,

    Those drivers had to be so fun to research, and the pay was pretty darn good for that time. Thank you for adding to our knowledge. I for one appreciate it. Doris

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    1. When developing our characters, it's important we do sufficient research to bring them to life for our readers and in doing so, be sure we're accurate in our historical descriptions of them. Thanks, Doris, for reading the post.

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