Tombstone Times Tombstone News, History and Information
Their Origin and Place in History
by Larry Noyes
Read what other travelers have to say about hotels in Tombstone Arizona

The Stagecoaches   Being a modern day Stagecoach Driver I have often wondered what it must have been like to drive the stage lines of the old west. This curiosity moved me to research these hardy modes of transportation used during the mid to late 1800s and to discover their origin and some of their illustrious and dangerous past.

   Two wheelwrights named J. S. Abbot and Lewis Downing perfected the first Concord Stagecoach in 1826. Their New Hampshire wagon factory became the place where Abbot and Downing would manufacture their Concord Stagecoaches along with over 40 other types of wagons and carriages. Of the Concord, Mark Twain once stated, "The Concord Stagecoach was like a cradle on wheels." And rightly so.

   The Abbot Downing Company employed thorough braces and a suspension system made of 3 inch leather straps under the coach which gave the ride a swinging motion instead of the jolting up and down of spring suspension. As for the outward appearance the undercarriage was typically painted bright yellow with the coach color being the purchaser's choice. The typical exterior colors used were scarlet red or green. The window in the door was glazed while the side windows were not. Canvas or leather curtains hung above each window and could be rolled down during bad weather. They had plush interiors that usually consisted of three upholstered bench seats that allowed up to twelve passengers to ride inside. There were also times when it was possible for passengers to ride on top of the coach as well. Between the years of 1827 through 1899 the companies of Abbot and Downing and Sons produced over three thousand Concord Stagecoaches.

   Other coaches such as the Celerity wagons also known as mud wagons, passenger wagons and mail wagons were used in the west for short hauls, branch routes or mountainous roads. These wagons could carry from four to twelve people depending on how they were made. Box styled with open sides, the celerity wagons were lighter in weight than the Concord Stagecoaches. The wagons generally cost less than half of what a true Concord coach would run. Abbot and Downing also made most of these Celerity wagons.

   On March 3, 1857, Congress authorized the Postmaster General of the United States, to seek bids for an overland stagecoach service to carry passengers and mail between the Missouri river and San Francisco, California. Nine overland stage owners had entered bids for the U.S. Mail contract. On September 15, 1857, John Butterfield Sr., won a $600,000 contract to deliver the St. Louis mail to San Francisco in 25 days. His company was known as The Butterfield Overland Stage Company.

   Originally all of the overland stage owners had submitted routes with relay stations and frontier forts that were north of Albuquerque, New Mexico territory. The southern Postmaster General soon mandated that the new line be required to go through Ft. Smith, Arkansas then proceed south to El Paso, Texas, onward to Ft. Yuma, California and then north to San Francisco. It was to be called the "Ox Bow Route"; it added an additional 600 miles to the original bid.

   John Butterfield Sr. immediately began the preparations. He hired crews to prepare stations along the estimated 2,600-mile route and water storage tanks to be constructed and installed every 30 miles along the route. Although Butterfield had never been west of Buffalo, New York, he decided to carry the mail himself on the first leg of the initial journey. On September 16, 1858, John Butterfield Sr., wearing a yellow linen duster, a flat brimmed hat, and his pants tucked into his high top boots, left the St. Louis Post Office with 2 bags of mail and one passenger, Waterman L. Ormsby, a correspondent for the New York Herald Newspaper. John Butterfield Sr. rode only as far as Fort Smith, but Mr. Ormsby rode the entire 2,812-mile route through deserts, mountains and bands of hostile Indians, all the way to San Francisco, arriving 24 days after leaving St. Louis.

   The Overland Mail continued to make two trips a week for 2 1/2 years. The western fare one way was $200, with most of the stages arriving at their final destination 22 days later. While it prospered, The Butterfield Overland Stage Company employed more than 800 people and had 139 relay stations, 1800 head of stock and 250 Concord Stagecoaches.

   In 1865 Butterfield, partially funded by Wells Fargo, was chosen to run the route from Missouri to Denver. This was in direct competition with Holladay Overland & Express Company owned and operated by Ben Holladay. Mr. Holladay was known throughout the industry as the Stagecoach King for his vast stagecoach empire. It was no coincidence that almost immediately Butterfield Overland ran into Indian problems. The truth was though that these Indians were not Native American but some of Ben Holladay's hired men dressed in Indian attire. Even though they burned the coaches and robbed the passengers, the victims were never killed or scalped. By January of 1866, Butterfield was in grave financial difficulties and was reorganized with David Butterfield becoming general manager and David Bray becoming President of the Butterfield Overland Dispatch. In March of 1866, the Stagecoach King, Ben Holladay, forced Butterfield to sell out to him. The company came to be known as Holladay Overland and Express Company. Less than a year later on November 1, 1866, Ben Holladay sold his stagecoach company to Wells Fargo for $1,800,000.

   Wells Fargo was the brainchild of two directors of the American Express Company, Henry Wells and William Fargo. Wells Fargo started in California on March 18, 1852 and was a subsidiary of the American Express Company. Wells Fargo rented space from other Overland Stagecoach lines, as they did not operate their own Overland Stagecoaches yet. Soon Wells Fargo acquired Pioneer Overland Stage Lines as well as Holladay Overland & Express Company and soon had over 180 depots throughout the west.

   On May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed. Wells Fargo would be changed beyond their expectations. A lawyer and entrepreneur by the name of Lloyd Trevis who had invested heavily with the Central Pacific Railroad, would become a very familiar name to the "Big Four". Leland Stevens, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Croker and Mark Hopkins, represent the conception of the railroad enterprises and its successful venture ending in Promontory. Lloyd Trevis convinced Charles Croker that there was a fortune to be made in hauling gold on the Central Pacific Railroad. He soon convinced him to create the express firm Pacific Union Express and to give its sole ownership of the contract to carry mail and gold on the Central Pacific Railroad. The express business grew fierce between Wells Fargo and Pacific Union Express. Soon Wells Fargo found itself out in the cold. In order for Wells Fargo to obtain the right to haul express on the railroad, they had to pay Lloyd Trevis five million dollars for the Pacific Union Express, a company whose only existence was on paper.

   Wells Fargo stocks quickly fell from $100 to $13 a share drawing little attention from all but Lloyd Trevis. Slowly he bought up Wells Fargo stocks and by October 1869, he was in control of Wells Fargo and Company. By 1870, Lloyd Trevis had moved the headquarters of Wells Fargo and Company from New York to San Francisco. Wells Fargo will forever be remembered for the Overland Stage Line with the large red Concord Stagecoaches so familiar to us all.

   In 1861, war broke out between the Union and Confederate States. This forced the federal government to close the southern Ox Bow trail. At the conclusion of the war, stage lines were very slow in their attempt to reorganize. Then, almost overnight, the mining frontiers started to expand. This opened the door for hundreds of small stagecoach lines to attempt service to the new districts. The competition was fierce. The owners of the stage lines battled for mail and express contracts required to service these new frontier towns.

   Looking back, the stagecoach era seems exciting and romantic. Visions of a stagecoaches swaying and being pulled by six horses at a dead run being chased by outlaws or Indians quite naturally appeals to ones imagination. In reality a stagecoach trip was extremely slow, very uncomfortable and quite boring. The average speed was about 5 miles an hour. Often the trips were very hot or cold. The dust and mud was intolerable, depending upon the season. It was very exhausting and only the most seasoned traveler could sleep. There were very few hotels along the routes and travelers sometimes had a choice between sleeping in corrals or in the street. The way stations along the routes were often crude structures made of either lumber or adobe. Stage Stops were traditionally famous for bad food. The usual menu consisted of jerky or salt pork, stale bread, bad coffee, and beans... always beans.

   Today, after a long hard day of driving the stages of Tombstone around our historical town, I hesitate before complaining of the adversities I face, like the heat, the crowds, the automobiles and motorcycles that sometimes make my job quite demanding. I now reflect back to what it was like back then and instead of frowning and whining, I chuckle to myself and tip my hat to those early day pioneers of transportation.


Click for Tombstone Arizona Forecast

from James J. Huble
A Collection of 16 Western Short Stories

These exciting Western stories will have you thinking. Sixteen short western stories each with a twist in appearances.

Cochise County Cowboys
from Joyce Aros
Who were the Cochise County Cowboys? This book fleshes out the peripheral characters of the Tombstone Saga!



Visit TombstoneWeb for Current Up-To-Date information about Tombstone Arizona.

Any Information on Tombstone's Past from the 1880's to 1990's including, but not limited to:


If you have or know of someone who has any of these items, we would be very interested in hearing from you. Please contact us:

Goose Flats Graphics
P.O. Box 813
Tombstone, AZ 85638
(520) 457-3884


Problems with this website? Email the webmaster at: