Friday, February 24, 2012

The Stagecoach

The Stagecoach

Those stylish, elegant coaches of yesteryear are so nostalgic, romantic, cozy and quaint. Or perhaps it’s our imagination that makes them so appealing. 

The term Stagecoach came about because of the ‘coaches’ that carried passengers along a route in ‘stages’. Stagecoaches could be anything from buckboard wagons to elaborate ‘coaches.’ As long as they were used for public transportation and ran a regularly scheduled route, they were considered stagecoaches. Depending on the route, the number of regular passengers, the weather, and the distance, the coaches would vary, as would the number of horses or mules. Four was the usual number, but six-team coaches were not uncommon, especially for the larger, ‘overland’ stages, and the smaller, shorter coaches and routes were usually pulled by two horses. The average speed was five to twelve miles and hour.

Despite close quarters, long, bumpy and dusty roads, and threats of Indian or outlaw attacks, stagecoaches flourished and were widely used, even after the railroads crossed the nation.  The term stationwagon came about when long wagons boasting three wide bench seats came into service for the specific role of carrying passengers to and from railroad stations.      

In most vehicles, passengers were provided an average of 15 inches each, and sat with their knees dovetailed with the traveler across from them, and depending on other cargo the stage was carrying, passengers often had to hold their luggage on their laps. Etiquette, and/or, passenger behavior was strictly enforced. Wells Fargo had this list of rules posted:

·  Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
·  If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
·  Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
·  Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort in cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
·  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.
·  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.
·  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 coyotes.
·  Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
·  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.

Fares varied, not only due to distance, but class as well.
First class meant you rode all the way.
Second class meant you had to walk at bad places along the road.
Third class meant you had to push the coach when needed, especially on hilly terrain.

Depending on the schedule, stagecoaches would travel all night, stopping only for fresh horses and quick meals. When an overnight stay was included, the coach often arrived around midnight, and left again by six the following morning. Passengers were encouraged to pack food provisions and they were also told not to grease their hair before traveling because dust would stick to it.
Stagecoaches came to an end around 1915, when motor buses took the place of the horse-drawn coaches.

I’ve ridden in a few ‘tourist’ stagecoaches, and the short rides were fun, but I must admit I prefer modern transportation options. However, my heroines—and heroes—do not have that option. Here’s the short clip from a story that will be released in November from Harlequin Historicals. (Title yet to be determined)

Wyoming Territory
November 1877

The bitter wind that had trampled upon the leather curtains covering the stage windows and snuck beneath the buffalo robe now piled on the hard seat could easily have stolen her breath away, but Constance Jennings’s first glimpse of her destination already had her lungs locked tight. Pinning her quivering bottom lip between her teeth, she glanced over her shoulder, half-hoping the other passenger—an aging pastor who’d conversed pleasantly during the last leg of her journey—would indicate this wasn’t their stop after all.
No such luck. Reverend Stillman smiled kindly as he waved a hand for her to climb down the steps.
The trip had been long and cold, and days of sitting left her legs stiff and her knees popping. As her dress boots hit the dirt street, tremors seized her toes, and then traveled, snaked their way all the way to her scalp until every hair follicle tingled.
Had she completely lost her senses back in New York?
A gust of unrelenting Wyoming wind caught on her head-dress. The covering had once been stylish, but was now as tired and worn as the rest of traveling suit. She grabbed the curled straw brim to keep the wind from stealing the hat, and gulped at the swelling in her throat.
Which one was he? Ashton Kramer—the man who’d ordered a bride.


  1. Great information on stage coaches. I wouldn't' have made a good passenger. I need more than 15 inches to sit down and don't like other people in my space. ;) The main reason I hate flying is having someone I don't know so close to me.

    Fun excerpt.

  2. I'm with you on that, Paty. I don't even like malls. I heard a speaker one time explain 'space' issues can have a lot to do with where you were raised. If you were raised in a big city, you have a much smaller and more tolerable 'personal space' than those raised in small towns. Yep, I'm a small towner.

  3. Lauri, I knew a teensie bit about stagecoaches, but this
    Post is so wonderfully comprehensive, I know I'll be referring to it often for my own research. I have ridden a tourist stage too and was so worried about the horses LOL...not understanding that's just what they do .

    I visited the Wells Fargo little museum in Old Sacramento, and one of my favorite places is Cold Spring Tavern in the mountains near Santa Barbara, California ...a stage coach stop from the 1860s and still in fabulous shape. Lots of game on the menu but I stick with the chili Burger. Both places have the "rules of the road" posted.

    Congrats on the new release!

  4. Lauri, that excerpt really grabbed my attention. The post was interesting, and I can see where the automobile term station wagon was copied from the stage station wagon.

  5. Lauri--I finally got in through typing the url into Google.
    I love the stagecoach, and always enjoy a story that includes something to do with one. I saw a very old stagecoach in October at "My Old Kentucky Home State Park", in the carriage house behind the home. Loved it. But man, don't you think they would have been just horribly uncomfortable?
    Thanks for such a good post.

  6. Lauri, this is great. My current work in progress has a woman as whip on the stagecoaches. She is based on a woman who everyone thought was a man for 50 years because she dressed and acted like a man while she drove the stages in the Sierra Mountains of California. You gave me some ideas - thanks.

  7. Thanks, Tanya. I'm glad the post was helpful. I love the posted rules. ;)

    Yes, Caroline, that's where the car name station wagon came from.

    Very uncomfortable, Celia, especially considering the condition of the 'roads' they traveled on. Sorry this post caused so many problems!

    Paisley, is the woman you referred to the same one they didn't know was a woman until she died and the undertaker figured it out?

  8. Yes, she was One-eyed Charley Parkhurst. That is who my character is based on and I'm having so much fun with her. :)

  9. That's wonderful Paisley! I look forward to reading your story when it's done!


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