Idaho Stagecoach History
Wells Fargo Stagecoach
source: Wells Fargo History
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Wells Fargo Stage Lines posted the following set of rules to be observed by passengers on their routes that give an idea of what some of the conditions were:
1) Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink, share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
2) If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of some is repugnant to the gentler sex.
3) Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
4) Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
5) 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.
6) 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.
7) In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in a panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry coyotes.
8) 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.
9) Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
10) 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.
It is interesting to note that each of these rules was created due to some passengers committing these offenses in the past.
excerpted from: Stagecoach travel in Nevada, Mesquite Local News
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Stagecoach Routes in Idaho
Stagecoach in Blue Lakes Canyon – circa 1910
Stage lines began to replace saddle trains in 1864 as soon as wagon roads were built. Stagecoaches were pulled by teams of four or six horses. They carried passengers, mail, and “fast” freight. Much of the gold and silver from the mines was shipped out by stagecoach. In fact, the stagecoach was to be far more important west of the Mississippi River than east of it, because in the West there were fewer navigable rivers and canals to compete with land transport. Stagecoaches were the most important means of travel in the west until the railroads were built.
Riding a stage was not always fun. The stage was noisy and bumpy, and the passengers were jammed together inside. It was an uncomfortable ride, and the rest stops were few and very poor. Stage stations were almost always dirty and smelly, and often the food was bad. Passengers suffered from dust and heat in the summer, mud in the spring and fall, and snow and cold in the winter. There were always mosquitoes and rattlesnakes in warm weather. Sometimes stagecoaches were held up by bandits who robbed the passengers and stole the mail and gold if any was aboard.
Stagecoach beginnings usually followed established trails in an effort to connect frontier settlements, or often forts, with established communities. A mail contract was indispensable to such an operation, but there were also government express and passengers, either military personnel or their dependents, to be hauled. In many cases stage fines acted as feeders to navigation on rivers like the Missouri, the Columbia, or the Sacramento. Whenever settlement began, small operators tried to make a living by transporting goods and passengers. The key to the success of these alone man-one horse” operations was a contract to carry the U.S. mail.
Idaho was served by two important stage lines. One line ran 675 miles from Salt Lake City to The Dalles, Oregon. It made three trips a week. The route passed through the Malad and Raft river valleys, through the Snake River Valley and Boise City, then west to the Columbia River. The other stage line ran from Salt Lake City to Virginia City, Montana. It passed through eastern Idaho and crossed the river at Eagle Rock (Idaho Falls).
source: Idaho Digial Atlas
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When stagecoach was king in Idaho, not everything went smoothly
By Arthur Hart Special to the Idaho Statesman June 11, 2016
Travel by stagecoach in early Idaho was an adventure, whether it started that way or not, and you could never be sure what might happen before you reached your destination. There was always the chance that highwaymen would stop the coach at gunpoint, demand that the driver throw down the Wells Fargo strong box and that you might be robbed of all the money and valuables you had with you.
Lewiston, established on May 13, 1861, in what was then Washington Territory, had a stagecoach line to Walla Walla in February 1863, a month before Idaho Territory was created. Its advertisements in the Lewiston Golden Age, Idaho’s first newspaper, stated, “Walla Walla and Lewiston Stage Line. Thatcher, Rickey & Co. Proprietors. This line of Concord Coaches carrying the United States Mail and Wells Fargo & Co.’s Express leave Lewiston every morning at 3 o’clock. This line is in perfect order and has good careful and experienced drivers, and all passengers can go through comfortably as well as safely.”
It is noteworthy that this stage line employed Concord coaches, the finest made in America in the 19th century. In 1826 in Concord, N.H., wheelwrights J.S. Abbot and Lewis Downing teamed up to build the first of more than 3,000 stagecoaches, the unique feature of which was a suspension system of wide leather straps that allowed the coach body to swing back and forth, absorbing the jolts of the rough roads. Mark Twain, who traveled across the country from Missouri to Nevada in 1861 in a Concord coach, called it “a cradle on wheels.” His brother Orion had just been appointed Secretary of Nevada Territory, and their great adventure, described in “Roughing It,” was written in part from access to his brother’s diary.
Six-horse teams were replaced with fresh ones every 10 or 12 miles at way-stations that could also feed the passengers poor meals, typically made up of salt pork, stale bread and beans.
Stage travel was slow, typically about five miles per hour. Travel time from Boise to Portland in October 1863, was advertised as “about 7 days,” and from Boise to Lewiston as “about 3 days.” In winter, stagecoaches were equipped with runners in place of wheels, and snowstorms could make the road ahead impossible to follow, thus “about 3 days” was only a guess. If, as sometimes happened, a stagecoach was snowed in between stations, passengers could bundle up and wait for rescue or a change in the weather, but if young and physically fit, they might decide to walk or snowshoe the rest of the way. Some died trying that.
In August 1864, Boise was served by the Overland Stage Line, Ben Holladay, proprietor. The Statesman praised the company with, “They have good comfortable coaches, and good stock, but their time through from Salt Lake is proof enough of that. They expect to do even better yet, for their teams strayed away twice on the trip which delayed them nearly a day. They can be depended upon now with as much certainty as any line in the country.”
Ben Holladay, known as the “Stagecoach King,” started the Overland Stage line across the country during the height of the gold rush to California in 1849. In 1861 he won the contract for mail service to Salt Lake, which required establishing stage stops along the route between there and Boise. As for all successful stage line operators, Holladay’s key to profit was getting contracts to carry the mail and Wells Fargo & Co.’s treasure boxes.
Despite his successes, Ben Holladay was not a lovable human being. He was described by Henry Villard, who knew him well, as “illiterate, coarse, boastful, false, and cunning,” and by another business associate as “clever, shrewd, cunning, illiterate, coarse, and completely unscrupulous.” At one point in his career he is said to have bought a large mansion, had it remodeled and installed “a harem of high-class prostitutes.” It is unlikely that many felt sorry for Holladay when he lost most of his fortune in the stock market collapse of Sept. 18, 1873.
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Idaho’s stagecoach history long remembered by those who lived it
By Arthur Hart Special to the Idaho Statesman June 18, 2016
Photo caption: An Idaho “mud wagon” arrives at Silver City’s Idaho Hotel. Provided by Arthur Hart
Among the inconveniences of stagecoach travel in early Idaho were the early departure times. In August 1864, Ward & Co.’s Idaho City stage line, with an office in Riggs & Agnew’s saloon, left the City Hotel on Main Street in Boise at 4 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, arriving at 3 p.m.
The return trip left Idaho City at 4 a.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Mondays, arriving in Boise at 3 p.m. The company’s ad in the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman promised, “All packages &c. entrusted to them will be promptly delivered.”
Stagecoaches arrived in Boise regularly in 1864, and there was usually a small group of idle men on hand to welcome them. It was a sight long remembered by old-timers.
John Hailey, a Stagecoach King in his day and first director of the Idaho State Historical Society, told the Statesman on July 7, 1907, “When I saw that old stage in the (Fourth of July) parade, decorated with sagebrush and being drawn by miss-mated horses, I felt like turning my head and not looking at it — such a burlesque. That looked nothing like the old-time stage coaches. They should have had six spirited horses and the coach stacked with trunks and baggage in the rear and on top, and a dozen or so persons riding, then they would have had a coach similar to the ones we used to drive. I’ve carried as many as 24 persons at a time, many of them riding on top of the coach. People used to sit at the Overland Hotel until two o’clock in the morning just to see the stage start out. The driver used to come down the street at a clanking trot, and the horses were trained so they would whirl in at the hotel with a flourish. They were always pulling against the bit and ready to go.”
In 1908 the Statesman reported that John Sandborn, one of Hailey’s old-time drivers, had returned to Baker City, Ore., after an absence of 23 years. After the railroad came, “The jehus (drivers) of that day were scattered to every point of the compass and few survive to tell the experiences of those pioneer days when the driver of a stage was looked upon as occupying as important a position as the conductor of a railroad train at the present time. John Sandborn was then a driver in the employ of John Hailey, the pioneer stage man of Oregon and Idaho. He was on the Blue Mountain division, and when the O. R. & N. closed up the gap between Baker City and Pendleton, George stepped down from the box and a few months later went to Montana and for the past 17 years has been driving stage in Yellowstone National Park.”
No railroad was ever allowed in the park, so there has always been a need for stages and drivers to give visitors tours. Today, of course, these vehicles are gasoline powered and run in winter as well as summer.
When Nampa celebrated Pacific Fruit Express Days in May 1926, Tom Ranahan, a veteran stagecoach driver who had been one of those who brought the first mail from Salt Lake City to Boise in 1864, drove a stage in the parade. No Concord coach could be found anywhere in Southern Idaho, so a more primitive “mud wagon” was used instead.
In April 1874, the Statesman described the Northwest Stage Company’s “establishment for building and repairing stagecoaches.” It listed some of the craftsmen who worked there: William C. Carlton, wood workman; Thomas Maupin, blacksmith; H. Barheyd, painter; and Joseph Baylor, harness maker.
In July 1890, the Statesman noted, “Boise is becoming quite a manufacturing center in the way of wagons, carriages and stagecoaches, especially the latter. Several were shipped to the west yesterday from one of our largest factories. They were models of workmanship and strength.”
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Stagecoach robbers told Idaho drivers to ‘throw down the box!’
By Arthur Hart Special to the Idaho Statesman June 25, 2016
Wells Fargo Box
When masked men held up a stagecoach in early Idaho, the prize they hoped to steal, above any other loot, was the Wells, Fargo & Co. treasure box.
Here is a typical example of such a robbery, reported on page one of the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman on Sept. 7, 1869: “The Wells, Fargo & Co. stage from Helena, Mont., to Corinne, Utah, was robbed six miles north of Malad City, Idaho, by 4 masked men, while 3 others could be seen ‘on picket duty.’ The moon was just up on a night that was light and pleasant.”
The robbers got away with two strongboxes filled with gold dust and bullion, but the driver, another company employee, and 10 passengers were not robbed.
In August 1870, the Idaho World reported: “Two stage robberies have occurred within the past week in both of which the road agents appear to have ‘got away’ with considerable booty. The Idaho stage was stopped by four men … about four miles from Elko on the Cope road, and Wells, Fargo & Co.’s treasure box taken. We have learned no further particulars as to whether they robbed the mail or not or whether anybody was hurt. The express company offers a reward of $3,000 in coin for the capture of the robbers.
“The other robbery took place in the eastern end of our Territory. … The coach going from Helena, Mont., to Corinne, Utah, was stopped by six men at Snake River and the W.F. & Co.’s treasure box carried off, for which, and the capture of the road gentry, the Company offers a reward of $6,000 in coin.”
In October 1871, the stage between Boise and Umatilla, Ore., was stopped and robbed at about 10 o’clock at night 2 miles from Old’s Ferry by two men who took only the Wells, Fargo & Co. treasure box. Just two days later, Sheriff Bryon brought two men suspected of being the robbers to Boise. For an arrest to have been made so soon, the two must have been recognized at the time of the robbery.
Wells, Fargo & Co. was the target again when a daring nighttime thief dug under the company’s office in Silver City, pried up the floor boards and stole a treasure box containing $600. Highwaymen and burglars must have thought it nice of Wells, Fargo & Co. to box the loot in handy-sized portable containers. Robbers who held up the stage on Kelton Road on July 27, 1875, however, didn’t take the treasure box with them. Instead, they broke it open, emptied it and left it beside the road.
Stagecoach robberies were reported regularly in the Idaho Statesman throughout the rest of the 19th century, and almost always the Wells, Fargo & Co. box was the target, as the Statesman reported several times between Oct. 28, 1875, and Dec. 26, 1881. In May 1876, famed Deputy Sheriff Orlando “Rube” Robbins was one of the lawmen who went to Silver City and brought back a gang of four stage robbers. Robbins was often charged with tracking down road agents and other criminals and bringing them back to Boise for trial. He had a reputation for “always getting his man.”
Following the holdup of the Overland stage by a lone gunman in July 1881, Robbins was again sent in pursuit. The Statesman reported, “In the stage that was robbed were a gentleman, his wife and three children, and a hostler in the employ of the company. The box that was thrown out was the Wood River box, and contained, besides some small sums of money, six hundred dollars belonging to N. Falk & Bro.”
The Wood River mining boom that began in 1880 was at its peak when this robbery took place, and the Wood River Valley had become a major destination of travelers using John Hailey’s Utah, Oregon & Idaho Stage Co. coaches. After Hailey took up land between Bellevue and Ketchum, the new town started there was named for him.
Stagecoach robberies were common in Idaho in the 1880s and ’90s, sometimes within days of each other on the same route, but armed guards rarely rode along to protect them.
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Armored Stagecoach (Reproduction)
(from the movie “3:10 to Yuma” – filmed in New Mexico)
courtesy: Hugh Hartman Idaho History 1860s to 1960s
link to: Idaho Stage Coach History (part 2)
link to: Idaho Stage Coach History (part 3)
updated Dec 23, 2018