Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nameless in almost every western movie and novel, the Overland stage coach driver sat high on the box seat of his Concord coach and set his team racing across the country, up and down mountains. Day and night, he battled heat, cold, rain, bandits and Indians in his effort to get his passengers safely to their destinations--all for the sum of forty to seventy dollars a month, plus board.

These hardy and courageous men came from all kinds of backgrounds. They were known as reinsmen, whips, and Jehus. The name Jehu came from II Kings 9:20. “…and the driving is like the driving of Jehu… for he driveth furiously.” On a whole, they were shy, cheerful and polite men.

An excellent cross country time for a stage coach was 150 miles a day, or 6 miles an hour. The stage ran day and night with brief stops every 10-12 miles to change the horses or mules. These stations were known as ‘swing stations’ and in less than ten minutes the stage was underway again.
Each driver had a route of approximately fifty miles. At the beginning and end of his route was a station known as the ‘home station,’ (where passengers could also pay a dollar for a meal). From there another driver continued the route while the first stayed to rest up, until the return run when he would then retrace his route.

In a six horse team the distance from the tip of the leader’s nose to the rear wheels of the Concord coach was some 50 feet. From front to rear each pair of animals was referred to as leaders, swings, and wheelers. Off meant the right side, the near side was the left.

The driver sat with his hands in his lap. The reins for the leaders were held between the index and middle fingers; those for the swings, between the middle and third fingers; and the wheelers, between the third and little fingers. The driver would gather each line by drawing with the fingers and let the reins out by separating his fingers just enough for the ribbons to slide through.

The whip was grasped between the thumb and forefinger with the butt cupped against the heel of the thumb and the stock held parallel to the lines. It was used mainly to intimidate wheelers.

Made of hickory, about five feet long with an eleven or twelve foot buckskin lash, the driver’s whip was a very personal thing, and he would often have it engraved or embossed with silver or gold. They never let their whip out of their sight or loaned it to even their closest friends.
Drivers never wore gloves unless they were made out of silk or the finest buckskin, even in the bitter cold. They would risk frostbite rather than lose their ability to feel the reins.

Making a turn involved a combination of reining, slight braking, and voice. Driver’s preferred the teams to be hitched loosely so the horses could perform individually. A top driver could hold the wheelers steady while the leaders made the turn. The brake was not fully applied as it was better to keep the wheels rolling so they wouldn’t slide. Good coach horses knew their names and understood the driver’s tone of voice.

Drivers enjoyed showing off their skill and as they approached town, the might urge their team into a full gallop. Then as the neared the hotel, apply the brake and bring their team to stop right at the hotel steps.


  1. Hi All,
    Just want to quickly say that I have to head to work and won't be home til midnight. As I have no computer access I won't be able to respond to comments. So sorry. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Kathy, very interesting post. I can't imagine not wearing gloves in all kinds of weather. The drivers were a hardy lot, weren't they? To say nothing of the fact they were the first target in a holdup!

  3. Kathy--I never even thought about the stagecoach drivers, that they had particular titles, or anything. I have read how to hold a whip or reins, but nothing else to speak of. So the title Jehu from the Bible is very appropriate! I can imagine it's very hard work to drive a stagecoach. They not only had to be strong, they had to be brave.
    Thanks...we'll mind the store while you work...

  4. Fascinating post, Kathy. Not something I know very much about.
    And this is such a beautiful blog, ladies.

  5. It would have taken strength & skill.

  6. I couldn't believe that the drivers didn't wear gloves (except silk or fine buckskin). I never thought about the intricacies involved in driving a stage coach either. I know one thing--sure looks difficult to stay seated up there.
    What an interesting blog. You are like the guru of research, Kathy. It's always a pleasure to read your blogs.

  7. That's a lot of information--research really pays off, hmm? THanks for sharing!

  8. Thanks to everyone who stopped by today and to those who left comments. I started researching stage coaches, routes, fees, etc. for my newest WIP. My characters don't spend much time on the stage, but I did get a bit lost in the research.

  9. Great info, Kathy! The drivers played a large role in the expansion of the west.

    So does your next book have a stage coach segment in it??

  10. Ok, I should have read the comments first! LOL

  11. What an awesome post, Kathy. The detail is tremendous. My fingers are already cold, and I shudder about whips. They seem such mean things when horses and mules really do want to work. The Jehu tidbit was terrific. Thanks! oxox


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