Courtesy of Wells Fargo
Through all manner of weather, stagecoaches were a major form of transportation to and from the West Coast
Before the railroad, the stagecoach was the way to travel from coast to coast in style.
The growing western population quickly revealed a need for a transportation and mail service, and John Butterfield stepped up to fill the need.
With the help of a six-hundred-thousand-dollar contract with the government, Butterfield built a stage line that premiered on September 16, 1858. The Butterfield Overland Stage Route left Tipton on a 2,800-mile trip to San Francisco, California.
Pulled by four to six horses, the coaches were used to deliver mail and transport passengers several days a week. Passengers usually paid two hundred dollars to ride the entire distance west and one thousand dollars to return. The Abbot-Downing Company made stagecoaches of the finest woods. They were usually painted with bright colors and could hold two tons. Coach drivers were often rough men who had strict policies on the stagecoach ride. The coaches only stopped for a change of horses and brief meal breaks. This was assuming that outlaws didn’t pull the coaches over to rob them.
Stage lines began appearing within the state as well. According to the Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, “A four-horse daily stage line ran around Missouri from St. Louis to St. Charles, St. Charles to Warrenton, and Danville to Fulton. Another one ran from St. Louis to Union, to Jefferson City, and from Jefferson City through California, and Georgetown to Independence.”
The average time it takes to drive from Jefferson City to Springfield via car is approximately two and a half hours. During the stagecoach period, it took about forty hours. Coaches frequently stopped at The Old Stagecoach Stop in Waynesville, previously known as The Waynesville House, on the St. Louis to Springfield route to rest and feed passengers and horses. This road became a critical location during the Civil War when the Union army moved men and supplies along the line. The restored stop is a house museum where each room is decorated to represent what the building was used for throughout the decades, including a dentist’s office and cabin.
Butterfield’s line was coming to an end, with worn-down horses and coaches, when Missourian Ben Holladay purchased it. He bought new horses and Concord coaches and created Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company. He acquired a near-complete monopoly of the stage line business and earned the title “The Stagecoach King.”
In 1866, Wells Fargo & Co. bought Holladay’s coaches and combined them all. It was shortly after in 1869 that the transcontinental railroad was completed, and stagecoach use declined.