Stagecoach History Facts; Wells Fargo Stagecoaches Were the Prairie Buses of The Old West


Stagecoaches differed from most public transportation as they followed the same routes and had schedules. The only other passenger accommodations were the railroads, but it was the stage lines that connected to those locations without a rail terminus. Stages carried mail, bank cash transfers and minor freight as well.

Stagecoaches of the Old West

Traditionally the stagecoach was a four wheel enclosed wagon, with passenger seats and a boot (we would call it a trunk, as in car trunk). A car trunk is still referred to as ‘boot’ in a lot of the Commonwealth countries, for luggage and the mail. There was also a top rack for bulkier items. Most stages had a one or two-man crews. A driver and someone riding as armed protection. Drivers were on the left side generally and the one ‘riding shotgun’ on the right, hence the term “I’ve got shotgun” when claiming the front passenger outside position.

How Far Did a Stagecoach Travel in a Day?

Coaches had way stations, a concept going back to the Romans, where fresh horse teams where located and sometimes relief crews at longer intervals. A stagecoach could make five miles and hour and cover over 50 miles in a day. Where the hay-day of stagecoach service was winding down in England by 1830 across the pond in the former colonies it would reach be later, higher and longer.

Where Was Wells Fargo Founded?

A pioneering company ‘American Express’ was formed by two East Coast businessmen from New York, Henry Wells and William Fargo. During the gold rush years, formed in 1853 Wells Fargo & Co. with two goals. The relationship between the two companies remained cooperative for many years. The first goal was transportation, and another was banking. No railroads existed in California during this period and Well Fargo & Co. opened an office in San Francisco followed shortly by Sacramento, Monterey and San Diego, spreading to nearly every mining camp in California. Early on Wells Fargo subcontracted with local stage lines and invested in those companies. They were and express company and had interests in wagons, carriages and stagecoaches.

Wells Fargo Stagecoaches

During the Civil War Wells Fargo altered their routes and moved out on the prairie. After the war as the railroads moved west, the cross-country routes where shortened but still linked to those locations with no railroads. In fact, Wells Fargo invested in express transport with the railroads. One of the earliest priorities was the transportation of gold from the Philadelphia mint, until 1854 when the mint in San Francisco opened. Mail via Wells Fargo was faster and cheaper than the US Mail Service!

Famous Stagecoach Robbers

Given the long, sometime remote routes, lack of law enforcement and no means of communications this left the stage lines to the mercy or thieves. Black Bart (yeah, he was real, not just a cartoon character) born Charles “Black Bart” Boles robbed 28 stages before he was caught along with luminaries as the James-Younger Gang, Red Jack Gang and “Rattlesnake Dick”, sort of sounds like a biker gang name. The Red Jack Gang was led by “Red Jack” Almer, who specialized in hitting stagecoaches in Arizona. He fell to Sheriff Bob Paul and his posse trying to shoot his way out in 1883. Richard Butler aka: “Rattlesnake Dick” was an immigrant from Quebec, Canada he settled around the Rattlesnake Bar in Placer County and began his life of crime, starting with horse rustling, but got caught. After two years in prison he returned and joined with Cyrus and George Skinner and some others and started to hit the pack mule trains around Trinity Mountain intercepting gold shipments from the Yreka and Klamath River mines. Intercepted by a Wells Fargo posse George Skinner was killed and recovered then what was $4O,000 in gold, in 1860 gold was about $20.00 an ounce versus about $1,343.00 today. The other $40,000 was never recovered. “Dick” and Cy Skinner never made the rendezvous at Folsom as they had been jailed for stealing mules. The never found the gold buried by Cy’s brother George, some somewhere in those mountain……there is a fortune buried. Hmmm, a potential treasure hunt plot here. Dick the snake was shot by a posse led by Sheriff J. Boggs in 1859 and Skinner went away to a very long sentence.

Baseball, Military & Automotive Museums in Auburn, Indiana

Well Fargo’s history is America’s history and a major financial player today as well as in the taming of the Old West. Come by Kruse Museums and see our fully restored Wells Fargo Stagecoach!

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