Friday, July 26, 2019


One of the things I am happy I haven’t done is travel across the country on a stagecoach. I’ve ridden one for about five minutes at a re-enactment village. That was enough for me. In my latest work, AN AGENT FOR MAGDALA, the Pinkerton Matchmaker series, my hero and heroine must ride the stage from Denver, Colorado to San Antonio, Texas.

Officially, a stagecoach was a closed four-wheeled vehicle drawn by horses or mules. Used as a public conveyance on an established route, it usually kept a regular schedule. That might be daily or once a week. Every ten to fifteen miles, horses or mules were changed at a station. Their average was five miles per hour. If the inside was filled with passengers, more could ride on top of the coach.  Rather than fares from passengers, the most profitable thing for the stage owners was a mail contract with the U.S. Government.

1869 Stagecoach

 The station where stock was changed might be nothing more than a soddie or dugout with a corral. Or, it might be a decent building in which a family lived. Stages stopped at a stage station only long enough for the animals to be changed. At a waystation, however, the stop might involve food of varying quality being served. Some way stations even had beds to rent for those travelers too weary to ride any further—but the stage kept going.

In fact, stages ran all night. Passengers slept sitting up. In addition, each passenger was supposed to use only fifteen inches of seat space. This puzzles me. My shoulder to shoulder measurement is twenty-six inches. Even if my seat requirements were not more than fifteen inches (way more), my shoulders bone to bone require more than that. Did people pack in and overlap? How did women with long skirts and several petticoats squish into the allotted space? What did the people riding on top of the coach do to sleep?

An example of a Concord coach
The driver was also called “the whip” or “Charlie”. If there was a valuable shipment, a second man rode on the bench with the driver. He was equipped with a shotgun and that meant he was called the “shotgun” or “shotgun-messenger”. You’ve probably heard children call, “I get to ride shotgun”, meaning the front passenger seat. The cash box was usually tucked under the driver’s seat.

A Wells Fargo stagecoach
Not all stagecoaches were equal. The classic used in movies and the one I identify as a stagecoach is the Concord. Even those were not always the same. They might have two or three rows of seats. If they had three rows, the center row had barely enough support to be called a back. This would be for nine passengers.

The windows had leather curtains which could be rolled down. The doors had pocket windows which could be raised. I suspect that even with the curtains down and door window up, a lot of dust and cold air in winter and hot air in summer poured inside the coach.

Coach for tourists at
Fort Worth, TX Stockyards

A Concord might also have only two rows of seats because the center seat was removable. Doesn't that sound like an SUV? Whether six or nine passengers, it had a suspension system that had the coach body riding on leather strapping called thoroughbraces. 

Cheyenne, Wyoming stage 1880

In his 1861 book Roughing It, Mark Twain described the Concord stage's ride as like "a cradle on wheels". Perhaps the vehicle in which he rode was new, although they were reported to be long-lasting.
Other passengers were not so kind. In 1880 John Pleasant Gray recorded after travelling from Tucson to Tombstone:
That day's stage ride will always live in my memory – but not for its beauty spots. Jammed like sardines on the hard seats of an old time leather spring coach – a Concord – leaving Pantano, creeping much of the way, letting the horses walk, through miles of alkali dust that the wheels rolled up in thick clouds of which we received the full benefit ... It is always a mystery to the passenger how many can be wedged into and on top of a stagecoach. If it had not been for the long stretches when the horses had to walk, enabling most of us to get out and "foot it" as a relaxation, it seems as if we could never have survived the trip.

A Celerity stagecoach with extra
seating arranged on top,
the Deadwood stage.

Another type of   stagecoach was the Celerity, also called a mud-coach or mud-wagon. It had a wider wheel-base and lower center of gravity. The Celerity often had canvas sides and top but also could have wooden sides. Many also had collapsing seats so that they made a bed. I suppose one side could be made a bed and the other remain as seats. There was no padding on the seats. I’ve never seen one of these coaches other than in pictures. They were best where the terrain was muddy or had steep grades.

Arizona (year unknown)
When rail travel became more available, stage lines suffered. What actually killed the stage coach travel was the Ford motor bus, also called a motor-coach. By 1918, only a few stagecoaches were in operation. Those were in mountainous areas or in national parks for tourists.

1906 Motor Coach

Photos: Google commons

AN AGENT FOR MAGDALA, Pinkerton Matchmaker Series, is now available for preorder for the August 9 release. Preorder and on August 9, POOF, the e-book magically appears on your reader. The buy link at Amazon is:

Here's a summary:

She craves adventure, but this may be too much.
His job means the world to him…
Capturing jewel thieves will test them…

Magdala leaps at the opportunity to become a Pinkerton agent. Learning that the position requires a paper marriage shocks but doesn’t deter her. She plans to get an annulment before her unusual family learns of the situation. She’s determined to prove she has the grit to be an excellent investigator. But, why does she have to be partnered with the one man who has been rude to her?

Douglas “Cloud” Ryan loves being a Pinkerton agent. Otherwise, he’d never go along with his boss’ crazy plan to marry him to a female agent. He’s certain women have no business dealing with criminals. After barely surviving the stagecoach trip from Denver to San Antonio Maggie needs to stay in the background and let him solve the case. He has reasons to distrust women, especially women like Maggie.

Can Maggie and Cloud catch the jewel thieves plaguing an historic San Antonio hotel without becoming victims? Will they take a chance on the love growing between them?

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment so we know you were here.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, This is so very interesting!! How stagecoaches changed! Thank you so much for sharing this, I have learned a lot from these posts and I enjoy history a lot more then when I was in school, thank you for making it so interesting! Have a Great weekend. God Bless you.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.