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Stagecoaches of the Wild West

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Antique Abbot & Downing Stagecoach

Antique Abbot & Downing Stagecoach

Don't you just love Stagecoaches?

Every time I see a stagecoach in an old movie, I yearn to own a time machine! Wouldn't that be fun? Oh, I wouldn't really want to live back in the days when stagecoaches were the "long-haul taxi cabs" of the West - but I would love to take a ride in one!

It would be a "rollicking ride", because they had to cover a lot of rough terrain, and the wheels were certainly not covered with rubber tires as we are accustomed to, today! Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain called stagecoaches "cradles on wheels"!

The marvelous 19th Century Abbott & Downing Stagecoach shown above, is actually for sale, from Cowboy Cabin in Montana. There, a lovely couple, Ron and Eila Turner sell a few very unusual collectible Western treasures. They were kind enough to let me use a photo of this stagecoach, to introduce you to some Stagecoaches of the Wild West. Beautiful, isn't it?

Stagecoaches in U.S. History - From days gone by...

Four great antique stagecoaches

Four great antique stagecoaches

Aren't the Antique Stagecoaches Great?

I wonder if we fully appreciate the role stagecoaches played in the history of America. As beautiful as some of them are, settlers in the 19th century did not view them as we do. To us, they are a romantic, quaint, bygone mode of transportation. To them - they were a means of transportation, and often - survival.

Stagecoaches were built for utility and endurance; they had to carry passengers, mail, gold, silver, baggage, and arms. Companies that built them made them high enough to ford rivers, tough enough to traverse rocky terrain, climb narrow mountainous roads, and to withstand the blistering heat of summer and the freezing cold of winter. Some stagecoaches were constructed so sturdily, that many of them survive intact - today!

The years between roughly the 1750's and the 1920s are generally viewed as the "life of the stagecoach". They were in their "heydays" in the 1800's, being the standard "vehicles of choice" for transporting mail and passengers safely across long distances.

Indian attacks, dangerous wild animals, runaway horses, and armed robbery were a common fear among the passengers, but they weren't supposed to talk about it. It was almost "taboo". There is an excellent article on Wikipedia that even lists some of the rules for "etiquette while riding in the stagecoach". It is worth the reading!

Oh, by the way - the name "stagecoach" refers to it being the mode of travel between one stop, or station, and another; a "stage" of the journey. So, it was a coach that took you between your "stage" of departure, and your "stage" of arrival; hence, a stagecoach!

Photo credits: Top row - Both photos; Wells Fargo.

Bottom row - Left: Barre Historical Society. Right: Smithsonian.

A Stagecoach of your own! - Franklin Mint Wells Fargo Stagecoach Reproduction

Children today can STILL ride a Wells Fargo stagecoach!

Children today can STILL ride a Wells Fargo stagecoach!

Wells Fargo Stagecoach Appearances

Throughout the year, Wells Fargo puts one of its authentically reproduced, "Wells Fargo approved" stagecoaches on tour, in various locations across the United States. It is quite a site to see, all shiny and elaborately decorated, complete with stagecoach driver and horses.

Sometimes, the stagecoaches are merely on display, other times they become part of a parade, and on occasion, they are available for rides. If you take a ride on one of their stagecoaches, at least you'll be safe. The days of the stagecoach robberies are thankfully - over!

Their monthly schedule can be viewed here: Wells Fargo Stagecoach Events

A Stagecoach Set For Youngsters

Stagecoach Toys on Amazon

Boys and girls today still thrill to hear the tales of the Wild West, and love to play cowboys and Indians. Stagecoach toys are a perfect way to teach your little ones a bit about American History, in a manner they will never forget. What child wouldn't wish to play with their very own stagecoach? This Big Country Western Playset comes complete with a stagecoach, horses, a windmill, several cowboy figures, a corral, a covered wagon, a general store and much more!

In our present age, so many children are relegated to electronic devices for amusement. These are toys, that automatically provide parents with a fun way to tell their children how mail used to be delivered, how dirty it used to be to travel, and how dangerous travel could be. We have added, scattered throughout the article, a few stagecoach toys we found, that would make great gifts for any child, from Amazon.

Indian Attacks - Not the least of the passengers' worries...

Stagecoach attempting to escape Indians

Stagecoach attempting to escape Indians

Other Attacks That Stagecoach Riders Feared

History reveals that stagecoaches were attacked by several different Native American tribes, in the Wild West. Some of the tribes accused of the attacks, were the Apaches, Sioux, Arapahos, Cheyennes, Pawnees, and Kiowas, but there were others. When ambushed by Indians, one of the greatest fears of the stagecoach passengers was being scalped, before they were killed. That alone, kept many travelers at home.

Equally as feared as Indian attacks, were the armed bandits who preyed upon the stagecoaches on their travels. Some of the most famous of them were:

  • Sam Bass
  • Jack Harris
  • Milton Sharp
  • "Lame Johnny"
  • Henry Plummer
  • "Red Jack" Almer
  • Tiburcio Vasquez
  • "Bronco Bill" Walters
  • Pearl Hart and her "sidekick" Joe Boot
  • Richard Barter, aka "Rattlesnake Dick"
  • "Black Bart" - aka Charles Boles. We mentioned him, below.
  • Tom Bell, alternately referred to as Tom Hood and Tom Hodges, and...

there were others, many who had to meet their reward at the hands of their Maker!

Although stagecoaches were subject to danger from marauding Indians, and robbers - a little bit of research will show that they were just one of the many things that terrified some of the passengers. Over the years, stagecoaches journeys were often delayed by breakdowns, just as we deal with dead batteries, flat tires, and mechanical malfunctions that happen to our automobiles, today. That wasted valuable time, and often left the passengers stranded until either help came along, or more usually, the stagecoach was repaired.

In addition, there were no "frequent rest stops" along the way, and passengers often had to fend for themselves until the journey was resumed. Sometimes, there were "engineered breakdowns", either from obstacles put along the route, or corrupt stagecoach drivers and occasionally - passengers.

Photo credits: Wikimedia: Public Domain License

The infamous Black Bart - stagecoach robber

The infamous Black Bart - stagecoach robber

Black Bart, the suave stagecoach robber

He should have been known as the reluctant rider!

Most people think of Black Bart, the pirate - when they hear that name, but actually several "Black Barts" have decorated the annals of history. Our Black Bart was a notorious, gentlemanly, debonair stagecoach robber, who wreaked havoc on stagecoaches from 1875 to 1883. The Wells Fargo stagecoaches drivers along the Siskiyou Trail that runs between California and Oregon, were always on the lookout for him.

Born in England, as Charles Boles, he came to America with his nine siblings in 1831, when he was two years old. His family settled in New York, but he headed west to California during the Gold Rush Days. He served honorably in the Union Army during the Civil War, and later married and settled with his family in Illinois. Restless after a few years, he headed West again, where he eventually took to a life of crime, supposedly spurred by a story he read in a newspaper about a villain who robbed stagecoaches, named Black Bart. That's all it took - and a legend was born.

One interesting bit of trivia, from Wikipedia, is that our polite robber committed all of his crimes on foot. Horses terrified him! Another, is that one of the Wells Fargo detectives that was actively involved in attempts to bring Black Bart to justice, looked so much like him that people said he could pass for his twin!

Well over 20 stagecoach holdups were attributed to his hand, but he was only prosecuted by the Wells Fargo company, who persued him relentlessly - for the last one.

Photo credits: Wikimedia: Public Domain License

An Unforgettable Read

How well do you know your Stagecoach Robbers?

Oh, dear! Looks like the stagecoach robbers got the horses, too.

Oh, dear! Looks like the stagecoach robbers got the horses, too.

Stagecoach Outlaw Poll

We are all familiar with some of the Wild West outlaws, those daring, fiendish men who preyed on travelers and stagecoaches drivers. Evidently most of them thought that robbing a stagecoach was "easy pickin's".

How familiar are you, though? From the three options below, which ones NEVER robbed a stagecoach?

The correct answer, is at the bottom of the page....

Stagecoaches rides in Oklahoma City

Stagecoaches rides in Oklahoma City

Where Can I Take a Stagecoach Ride?

There are a few places where you can still take a stagecoach ride today! One of them, is at the annual Chuck Wagon Gathering and Children's Cowboy Festival. It is held in Oklahoma City, at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. For more information, check out their information, here: Travelok: Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

If you live near Knott's Berry Farm, you could also take a stagecoach ride there. For information, check out: Butterfield Stagecoach Rides

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park? At certain times of the year, you can embark on a stagecoach journey, there. For the schedule: Yellowstone National Park Stagecoach Adventure

Stagecoach reading material on Amazon

NOW, for MY stagecoaches...

Are MY stagecoaches fancy enough for you?

Are MY stagecoaches fancy enough for you?

Did you like MY stagecoaches?

All right --- they are not mine. That was merely wishful thinking, because I wish they were. The top one, is the Irish Royal State Coach, and the bottom one is the English Royal State Coach. I have a mirror in my jewelry store that is very ornate, and gilded, and huge, literally - but it cannot "hold a candle" to the opulence displayed here. Not from the Wild West, obviously - but thought they were worth a look, and they certainly have the right shape to be a "stagecoach"! I guess I misread the titles. I must have thought that they said "Irish Royal Stagecoach" and "English Royal Stage Coach". Have to check my eyesight...

Photo credits: Alexander Palace

For TRUE Stagecoach Lovers...

Love to read trivia about stagecoaches? - Here are some links for your reading pleasure...

You know, I just love stagecoaches, and the more I read, the more I appreciate them. Below are some links that are just plain "good reading" - all related to the "Stagecoach Era". I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

  • The Spell of the West
    Lots of impressive reading here, on several webpages, about stagecoaches - the routes they traveled, the bandits who robbed them, and Wells Fargo's losses along the way.
  • The Death of Fred Sullivan, Last Surviving Stagecoach Driver
    From the Niobrara County Library in Lusk, Wyoming - a tribute to Fred Sullivan, who died September 28, 1941, at 85½ years of age. He worked for the the Cheyenne-Black Hills Stage and Express line, along the Cheyenne-Deadwood route, about a 300-mile
  • The Last Wild West Stagecoach Robbery
    Well, I cannot really expand on this one - the title says it all!
  • History of the Stagecoach
    You'll enjoy reading "Tumbleweed's" History of the Stagecoach, accompanied by soothing music. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
  • From Treasure Net
    Really good, concise reading about some of the Wells Fargo robberies. Nicely done, no frills page.

The Answer to the Poll is...

Billy the Kid - he was innocent - but only, of stagecoach robbery.

Have you ever taken a stagecoach ride? Do you like the way they look? Would you like to own one? Did you like our article here? Please tell us what you think...

© 2010 Emily Tack

Do you like stagecoaches? Tell us...

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on July 21, 2017:

I've seen some old stagecoaches in museums that had carriage collections. Fascinating. I've not been inside one.

Emily Tack (author) from USA on January 03, 2015:

Thank you, John! I do love stagecoaches!

John on January 02, 2015:

Interesting article!

sierradawn lm on January 17, 2014:

I took a stagecoach ride at Knotts Berry Farm. I think stagecoaches look awesome. I would love to own one. I loved your lens and all of the cool pictures!

Emily Tack (author) from USA on October 16, 2013:

@SavioC: Thank you, SavioC!

Emily Tack (author) from USA on August 08, 2013:

@SavioC: Thank you! I just love the rustic look of those old stagecoaches. I agree, though, that I'd rather not take a ride in one on a bumpy road.

SavioC on August 08, 2013:

I honestly would like to take a ride in a stagecoach but not a too bumpy road. Your lens took me back in history. I have only seen them is movies and read about it in books . Nice lens .

Emily Tack (author) from USA on July 26, 2013:

To all of you who enjoyed our Stagecoaches of the Wild West Lens - THANK YOU!

Emily Tack (author) from USA on July 26, 2013:

@Wbisbill LM: Thank you! Enjoyed making it...

Emily Tack (author) from USA on July 26, 2013:

@BarbsSpot: Thank you! I am really glad that you enjoyed the Lens!

BarbsSpot on May 16, 2013:

@Lensmaster...This is a wonderful display of yesteryear's traveling coaches. Interesting how the stagecoach got its name! I had a whole Western town that looked like today's strip malls, complete with stagecoach, cowboys, Indians, etc., when I was a youngster. Loved it! Wish I would have kept it when I moved from home.

Barbara Isbill from New Market Tn 37820 on December 11, 2012:

Loved the lens~

eccles1 on September 19, 2012:

I love the posters they are beautiful.

fugeecat lm on March 07, 2012:

Wow, these are all really cool.

WriterJanis2 on November 18, 2011:

Great photos. I've been on one before in Virginia City, NV.

Dinostore on March 10, 2011:

Really interesting! I enjoyed reading through this, thumbs up and fav'd.

Paul Turner from Birmingham, Al. on February 16, 2011:

Great lens and gives us a flashback to a rougher but simpler time.

Michey LM on February 11, 2011:

Great lens you get a piece of history which is gone but has deep toots.

Thanks 5*

LadyFlashman from United Kingdom on December 31, 2010:

I love stagecoaches! It would be great to own one now and just use it instead of a car! Brilliant lens, loved it!

anonymous on December 14, 2010:

What fun and interesting information you have shared about the stagecoaches of the wild west. I would take a ride on one with you!

glenbrook on December 02, 2010:

My uncle used to work for Wells Fargo, one year for Christmas he gave all the nieces and nephews Wells Fargo Stagecoach piggy banks as gifts. Think I still have mine somewhere. Very nicely done lens.

Christene-S on November 14, 2010:

Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on November 12, 2010:

Love those stagecoach mugs and posters!

Mona from Iowa on November 12, 2010:

What a fun read. I particularly liked the bit about Black Bart. My first thought was he looked so nice, he could be my grandpa. Only to find out he was a gentleman robber. :)