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November 20, 2012


California Stagecoach Drivers
California Stagecoach Drivers
click on picture to enlarge

Drivers had to be an elite breed, because their job involved being sent to drive strange horses on strange roads in unpredictable weather. Nothing seemed to daunt the drivers, but careening hell-bent around hairpin turns daunted the passengers. Passengers crowded into coaches caused conditions that prompted Wells Fargo to post these rules for passenger behavior.

  1. Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
  2. If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking of cigars and pipes as the odor is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
  3. Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presents of ladies and children.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. In the event of runaway horses remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry coyotes.
  8. Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies, and Indian uprisings.
  9. 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.

Temperance was not the average driver's long suit. Hank Monk a driver for Wells Fargo was famous for his intemperance. It was said that he had his only accident in thirty years when, he took his coach out while sober. Another time he got so drunk that he wiskeyed his horses and watered himself, thereby sobering up long enough to manage his pixilated animals.

Horace Greeley, owner and editor of the New York Tribune, en route to Sacramento from Carson City told Hank that he had an engagement in Placerville that he did not want to be late for. Hank cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down so bad that it shook the buttons off Horace's coat and finally shot his head clean through the roof. Arriving in Placerville Greely staggered from the coach and into the Cary House for a banquet in his honor. Responding to several toasts the battered Horace had to rise from a couch instead of a chair. The Cary House proprietor recalled that the coach had three holes in the roof and Horace's stovepipe hat was caved in.

The most improbable stage driver has to be Charlie Parkhurst. Tobacco-chewing "Old Charlie" was pushing forty when he came West in 1851. He drove many a stage for the California Stage Company. You could always count on Charlie, whip a-cracking and cheek a-bulging with tobacco to bring the stage through along the treacherous roads of the gold country. He had a rare talent for handling horses, a talent so uncanny that the stable hands could only explain it as hoodoo.

Charlie never got mad at anyone, except a road agent that stuck a pistol into his belly and ordered him to surrender the strongbox. Charlie nearly exploded: "Next time you try and stop me, I'll be ready!" He was ready the next time. When some bandits yelled "Halt!" Charlie tore out a pistol and killed the leader in his tracks. He lashed his horses and escaped the others and was never bothered again.

One time an ornery horse kicked him in the face and put out one eye, so he reckoned he must be getting too old and it was time to hang up the whip. After operating a stage for over twenty years he retired to another job, operating a combination saloon and stagecoach stop on the road between Santa Cruz and Watsonville. Then he tried cattle raising. But rheumatism forced him to hang up his saddle. After moving to a small adobe near Watsonville, he died December 29, 1879.

As friends prepared to dress him in his best outfit to lay him away properly, they were flabbergasted to discover that Old Charlie was a woman.

Besides pioneering as a woman stagecoach driver, Charlie voted in one or more elections, making her the first woman to ever cast a ballot.

With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 the overland stages rolled into history. Smaller stage lines continued to lurch in and out of California's mining communities. The last ceased to operate around 1915.

Reported by,

Brother Fred "Mr Magoo" Willcox

Robert Willilam Service
California Stagecoach Drivers
click on picture to enlarge