Frontier Reporter Dirt asks...
Two laundresses with pots

Question by Frontier Reporter, May 1876:

Pardon me, m'am, but you're a swell sight for sore eyes, stepping out of that stage! What's a fine lady like you doing in a rough town like The Flat?


Lady from Baltimore answers:

Are you speaking to me? You are? Well, wait just a minute. I can't hear a word you're saying. This street is so noisy. Mercy, this must be the wildest town on earth! What is the meaning of such excitement? There must be a party going on in every shop in town—all that shouting, banjo music, and war whoops are making my head just pound. There's a hitching post in front of every business and every one of them is tied with horses. I don't know how the stagecoach will be able to leave, after the driver picks up the mail. This street is just jammed solid with mules and wagons.

All of a sudden, I feel a bit faint. Did I tell you that I just stepped off that stage? My legs are as stiff as boards from being crammed in that hot little box for miles and miles and my head is starting to spinů photo of a glass of lemonade

Yes, thank you, I think some liquid refreshment is in order. My throat is simply parched with thirst and I can't utter another syllable untilů

map of Main Stree in The FlatThank you. A cool drink is just what I needed. This lemonade tastes like nectar of the gods. Yes, yes, I remember. You asked me, why I am here at the Flat. Well, I'm visiting my sister, Marie. It's been years since we've seen one another—and I simply adore Marie. We keep up in letters, you know. She's married to an officer stationed up at the fort.

I've come all the way from Baltimore to see them. And what a tedious trip it has been—part by rail, part by stage. It has taken me weeks to get here, traveling through wild prairies and across flooded rivers! I hardly had a wink of sleep, worrying about Indians and wild animals along the way. And crowded as I was between the other passengers, there was no way to sleep anyway, except sitting straight up!

painting of a stagecoach going down a hillJust look at my brand new velvet-trimmed traveling dress, will you? Brand-new and all covered in dust! It's a good thing I had it made up in a dark-colored fabric, don't you think? I'm not worried about it though. I can brush it clean. But my silk stockings are simply ruined, I tell you, and there's nowhere to buy another pair this side of Baltimore. Right now, in this wild west town, filled with people of every type in every sort of costume—white and black soldiers, armed gamblers, painted Indians, b photo of a trunk uffalo hunters, saloon girls, dangerous outlaws—Baltimore seems as far away as Egypt.

I had my trunk sent to the hotel across from the post office. Marie wrote that we're to have a bit of fun together. She plans to introduce me to some of the bachelor officers. She said we'll have a jolly time riding horseback over the prairie with the men and maybe have a picnic and look for buffalo or wolves. I do hope the green wool riding suit I packed will be suitable for such a pleasant adventure. You don't think wool will be too heavy to wear in Texas in May, do you?

Stage Travel on the Frontier

photo of a stagecoach stuck in the mudStagecoach journeys were bumpy, boring, and often dangerous, but passengers were willing to undergo the discomfort to reach their destinations. Speed was always on the minds of the drivers, even though they usually averaged only about 4 to 5 miles per hour. They had to stay on schedule in order to get fresh horses at stations along the way. They had mail to deliver and passengers to pick up and drop off. Stage roads were nothing like the roads we know today. Sometimes they were little more than a rocky ledge along a steep hillside—with barely enough space to run the wheels—or muddy ruts across grassy prairies. photo of the Butterfield Overland Mail scheduleWater crossings were especially treacherous, when the horses might have to swim across rain-swollen rivers. Across craggy mountains and through muddy prairies, the threat of breakdowns was constant. Many a stage driver found himself stranded miles away from the nearest help, with a group of frightened passengers on his hands. Stage stations along the route provided a place for travelers to briefly escape their cramped quarters, refresh themselves and have a hurried meal. While some provided rooms for travelers to rest, other stations were little more than crude huts made of sticks and mud. The trip from St. Louis to San Francisco on the Butterfield Stage took about 25 days, and some passengers never left the stage to rest, other than for the brief stops along the way. (The Butterfield Stage Company operated in Texas from 1857 to 1861, before Fort Griffin was constructed. Other stage companies later ran lines through many of the same stops across the state.)

painting of stagecoachA Scare in the Night

Stage Traveler's Diary: Near Colbert's Ferry on the Red River, Texas (1858) I awoke but once during the night, having been jolted into a position where my neck felt as if it had a knot in it. They had stopped at a station to change horses, and for the time not a sound could I hear. I had been dreaming of the Comanche Indians, and in the confusion of drowsiness, first thought that the driver and the mail agent had been murdered, and that I, being covered up in the blankets, had been missed; then I recollected that I had a pistol and thought of feeling for it; but finally I thought I would not stir, for fear the Indians would see me—when I was brought to me senses by a familiar voice saying, "Git up there, old hoss," and found it was the driver hitching up a new team.
(From "The Butterfield Overland Mail," written by stage traveler Waterman L. Orsmby.)

 

Credits: Character dialogue by Lisa Waller Rogers; top illustration by Charles Shaw; map of Main Street in The Flat, adapted from map by Lester Galbraith; painting (night time) of Old Stagecoach of the Plains by Frederick Remington; ladies trunk with dress and hats created by Joyce Bernard (http://www.themetrunks.com/trunks.htm);stagecoach from painting of Fort Mason by Melvin Warren, courtesy of Mrs. Melvin Warren; photo of stagecoach mired in mud, courtesy of Fort Concho NHL.

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