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Stagelines, Stagecoaches and Stage Robberies of the Old West
by R. Michael Wilson
The Stagecoach was an icon of the old west. It played a key role in opening the western
frontier to settlement before trains made their
way west of the Mississippi River. Wagons could take months to
make the trip west, but stagecoaches made it to San Francisco
in less than a month.
What is a “Stage?”
Wasn’t a stage a vehicle? Sometimes terms become misused through repeated use, and
this was the case with the term STAGE. Originally “stage” was a measure of distance.
Coaches traveled from one place to another in “stages” of about 12-
Locating a station on a route depended on finding necessities, and if they were not
available they would have to be hauled in by wagon. These necessities included GRASS
for the stock; WATER for the stock, farm animals, personnel and travelers; GAME to
feed the personnel and travelers; and WOOD for heating, cooking, and building. In
addition, stations stocked grain for the stock, and various spare parts and other
items for repair or replacement such as king pins, harness, grease, horse shoes and
nails, wheels or wheel parts, and the tools needed to keep coaches in good repair
and the horses shoed. The horses changed out at a station one day might be used the
following day, or if there were sufficient horses at a station they might sit out
one or two trips before they returned to the previous station. Teams often went from
one station to another and returned to the previous station for years, and came to
know every detail of that small piece of roadway.
Stagecoaches traveled at the approximate rate of 8 miles per hour, so the time between stations generally was less than a two hour ride, and between home stations about a 6 or 7 hour ride.
What is a “stage” coach?
A stagecoach was any FOUR WHEELED VEHICLE pulled by HORSES or MULES. A stagecoach
would carry passengers, express, mails, and freight, though on any trip the “coach”
might be empty. To qualify as being a “stagecoach” the vehicle had to be a PUBLIC
CONVEYANCE, run on an ESTABLISHED ROUTE, and on a REGULAR SCHEDULE; and even if empty
it had to make the trip as it had to run on schedule, and there might be a full load
on the return run. Stagecoach vehicles included spring wagons or dead axle wagons,
surplus army ambulances, celerity coaches or mud wagons, and of course the deluxe
concord coach. The mud wagon (known also as the celerity wagon) was used in the mountains
and on soft roadways, if there were passengers, as they were lighter and the wheels
were three inches wide, as opposed to Concord’s two-
The size of a team depended on a variety of circumstances. First it was determined
by the type of vehicle used and the terrain to be covered; the weather and the load,
both in going from and in returning to the head office. In the mountains or on the
desert a six-
R. Michael Wilson -
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