The Rough and Tumble Travel by Stagecoach

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A "Concord Stage" built by the Abbot Downing Company.

Anyone that knows the American Old West, will surely recognize the iconic shape of the horse drawn stagecoach, as a tall silhouette with a wooden cabin perched on top of four open spoke wheels.  A series of horses set two abreast with a minimum of four, but typically six would pull the stagecoach at a steady pace of five miles per hour. These horses would be exchanged for a new team every 3 hours at changing stations that had been built along the route, and 45 miles was the typical distance covered by the stage each day. For paying customers, the stagecoach was the primary method of overland travel in the Old West until the railroad laid down its tracks.

The stagecoach had its origins in Great Britain during the 13th century, with the first commercial stage route not in operation until 1610. In America, the 18th century brought the first stagecoaches of transporting people and mail delivery throughout the New England colonies. With the opening of the way westward in the mid 1800’s, companies such as American Express, Wells Fargo, and the Overland Mail Company began offering passenger, mail and freight services from Missouri to California. 

The dominant manufacturer of the American stagecoach was the Abbot Downing Company of New Hampshire. Through clever engineering, Abbot instituted the leather strap suspension system in place of metal springs. This resulted in a more comfortable ride over the undeveloped western trails, and gave longevity to the coach from being shaken apart by the terrain. Each Abbot, “Concord Stage” as it was named, had a cost of $1,500 to $1,800 each.
Seating conditions inside the coach was tight, typically holding 9 passengers that sat three across on either the front, back or middle seat. To keep from bouncing up and down, a rider would normally lock knees with the passenger sitting across from them. The coach could also handle another 6 or more passengers riding on the cabin’s roof, but most often this space was reserved for luggage and freight. 

Two operators handled the stage on the forward perching seat. One drove the horses, while the other sat with a rifle or “shotgun”, protecting any valuable cargo, and ready to fire upon anyone that might try their luck at holding-up the stage and its passengers. Stagecoach travel west was said to be difficult, dusty, hot, and particularly dangerous at times. One such document posted on the station wall of the Overland Mail Company, even went so far as to remind the boarding passengers,

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