Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stagecoaches in the Old West

Thanks to western movies, we all have visions of what travel by stagecoach was like in the 19th century. Here's the truth.
  • It was expensive. Mark Twain and his brother traveled from St. Joseph, Missouri to Carson City, Nevada in 1861. It cost them $200 apiece. (See Roughing It.) Even shorter trips cost 5 to 10 cents a mile and more. Most common laborers were paid $2 to $5 a day.
  • It was not egalitarian travel. On some routes there were fare classes. First class passengers road all the way. Second class passengers had to get out and walk the more difficult stretches of road. There was also a third, economy, class. Those folks had to get out and help push the stage up the steeper hills. 
  • Stagecoaches didn't gallop all the way. They weren't slow but they only averaged 5 to 9 miles per hour, which is a quick walk. That doesn't include having to stop to change horses every couple of hours and change drivers every 60 miles. Stagecoaches traveled about 120 miles per day. 
  • They couldn't outrun Indian raiders. Stagecoaches weighted over a ton, empty. Fully loaded with passengers and freight and those horses couldn't maintain a run for more than a few hundred feet.
  • Mail had priority. Riders might see their luggage left behind because the stagelines were all about getting freight and mail through. The passengers were only a sideline.
  • There were no free rides. Remember a horseless John Wayne in Stagecoach being picked up in the middle of nowhere?  The reality is he would have had to pay his fare or walk. 
Never happened.
Interesting links: A Brief History of Stagecoaches
Montana Stage and Steam Travel
The Butterfield Overland Stage
Stagecoach slang

1 comment:

Megan Smith said...

Hi there,

My name is Megan Smith. I'm with a production company in Los Angeles, California. We are very interested in using one of your Stagecoach photos in a television show were working on! Please contact me if you can! I appreciate your help.

Megan Smith