Stagecoaches were the prime means of transportation in the old west. These coaches were 4-wheeled vehicles. They were designed to be used for many purposes. And they were.
Even today people have an interest in them. Why might you be interested?
The stagecoaches of the frontier and the Wild West of American history are quite an interest and a tradition. Yet the origins were actually in the "Old World" - in England.
Stagecoaches were first mentioned as early as the 1200s. And the first regular Stagecoach Route in Great Britain is documented in the early 1600s.1 As soon as multiple settlements were established in the "New World" - transportation of people and goods between them were needed. Stagecoaches were the vehicle recognized for their practical utility.
Routes between villages were created. Roads were built. First they were very basic and rugged. But more stagecoach traffic traveled them, and they extended farther and farther. The need for improvement was essential. Crews were hired for road improvement on the Eastern roads. That's where stages traveled first and most often.
As expansion moved West, Stagecoach Routes were formed to supply the needs in those areas. The government in Washington became involved by offering contracts to move the mail. First steamships had contracts to get the mail West, through the Panama Canal. Then entrepreneur George Chorpenning entered into an overland contract in 1854, using horse and mule transport. Before long he began using wagons also.9
In mid 1857 a stagecoach company now secured a contract: the California Stage Company owned by James Birch. He met some logistics difficulties. But the operation ended after Birch drowned in a ship-wreck later that year.9
With previous mail delivery experiences lacking, Congress authorized a specific contract. The Butterfield Overland Stage was subsequently given the main government contract for hauling the mail through the West.8,9
Stagecoach axles were first made of wood. Iron covered areas of rough wear. Wheels and the spokes were also made of wood. The stagecoach brand Concord made their coach wheels to be of particularly high quality. They were constructed of well-dried and seasoned white oak, which didn't warp or crack.5 The outer edge rim was lined with steel, a reinforcement as it rolled on the ground.
The larger the wheel, the easier it is for the horse or mule to pull the stagecoach. But the front wheels of coaches are always smaller than the back wheels. That's to make it logistically possibly for ease in turning.4
Steel springs formed the suspension. They made quite a bumpy, bouncy, unstable and uncomfortable ride. Concord stagecoaches had a suspension system of leather straps. Its true purpose was to ease the work burden on horses. A side benefit was a rocking motion for passengers,5 which made their ride more comfortable.
A few types of braking systems were used. Concord created a foot pedal for the driver that activated a wooden block. This block pressed the rim of the wheel that slowed the coach. All stress points had iron reinforcement.4
A variety of stagecoaches were available. For instance, when ordering/building they considered:
The builders constructed these coaches accordingly. Among the many choices that became available were:
Horses were changed out at each Stage Stop, which were a minimum of 10 miles apart. But normally not more than 15 miles from the last stop.7,8
The horse team required 4 horses by government contract.8 Sometimes there was a 6-horse team, and sometimes the team consisted of mules.
Teams were referenced by the number of members used.5
Teams pulling a stagecoach had their roles. Each horse or mule was especially trained and suited to their position in the team. They know it, are used to it, and that's what they actually wanted to do.5 They're really set in their ways!
Kids love to play with little toy stagecoaches. Children act out scenarios with little figures. Their cowboys and cowgirls, little plastic horses, play the parts of the Old West. Interacting with the Native People they meet, as they drive along the trails in their pretend world!
Do you remember doing that as a child? We sure do! We played with our miniature wagons of all sorts - the stagecoaches. We watched all those Westerns, those Saturday morning TV features. The television Westerns of the 1950s like Tombstone Territory, Broken Arrow, Wyatt Earp, the Lone Ranger, the Rifleman, Roy Rogers, Sky King, Fury - they were some of our favorites.
You know, some of us loved to get out our big box of Crayola Crayons to color in our coloring books! Kids still do. In fact, so do lots of adults now. There are even adult specialty coloring books!! It's a fabulous activity for parents and grandparents to get together with the young ones - and do some coloring together.
Here's a Free Kid's Coloring Page! Get it - have it for your kids to color in their own stagecoach. Get a conversation going with them. Talk about the parts of the coach. How they were actually painted in the Old West. Maybe even take them on a trip to a museum where they have vintage stagecoaches to learn about. Or even take a ride on! When you vacation in an old west town, for instance, like Tombstone Arizona!
So now - get your Free Stagecoach Coloring Page to Download & Print Out:
See even more historic stagecoach photos from the old West. A terrific vintage gallery: Click Here>
Because of the Western connotation, the word Stagecoach or a related word comes in to play with festivals associated with Western style music, Western themed life, or Western history.
Let's see some of them:
1 Gascoigne, B. (From 2001, ongoing). History of transport and travel. HistoryWorld. Retrieved from www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?ParagraphID=kwq#1973
2 Helmich, M.A. (2008). State styles - Not all were coaches! California Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved from www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=25449
3 GEO*Trailblazer1 (2008). Mile marker M to B 82 - U.S. Historic Survey Stones and Monuments. Retrieved from waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3A0A
4 Nelson, A. (2012). FAQs & wagon history. Retrieved from hansenwheel.com/resources/faqs-wagon-history#frontwheelssmaller
5 Larson E. (1996-2001). The Concord coach. Retrieved from www.over-land.com/ccoach.html & horses.html
6 Grace, M. (2011-2018). Know your phaeton from your curricle. Retrieved from randombitsoffascination.com/portfolio/know-your-phaeton-from-your-curricle/
7 Wells Fargo (2018). Stagecoach era. Retrieved from wellsfargohistory.com/since1852/stagecoach-history7.html & resources/stagecoach_brochure.pdf
8 King, H. (1857, April 20). Report of the Postmaster General: Contract with J. Butterfield and Co. P. 1-4. Congressional Series of United States Public Documents, Senate, 35th Congress, 2d Session, Ex. Doc., No. 48, Volume 984, page 151. Retrieved from Google Books.
9 United Postal Service Historian (2010, Aug.) Overland mail to California in the 1850s. USPS. Retrieved from about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/overland-mail.htm#08