The Overland Stage
America’s Greatest Historical Relay”
“It is not a pleasant, but it is certainly an interesting trip. Coaches will be overloaded, it will rain, the dust will drive, baggage will be left to the storm, passengers will get sick, a gentleman of gallantry well (sic) get angry, the drivers will swear, the sensitive will shrink, rations will give out, potatoes become worth a gold dollar, and not to be had at that, the water brackish, the whiskey abominable, and the dirt almost unendurable.”. . . Demas Barns’ diary dated 1866. (And) the original Overland Stage trip, St. Joseph, Missouri to Salt Lake City, took 21 days to complete.
In 1860, W. H. Russell of Pony Express fame joined Hockaday & Liggett as a business partner, bringing modern innovations to the Stage Coach Company. He placed relay stations every 10–12 miles, with fresh horses or mules at each station. He assigned new drivers every 80 miles, and cut the travel time to 10 days. He also had stagecoaches leaving daily, traveling in either direction. The coaches followed the Platte River to Fort Kearney, then to Julesburg, where it crossed the river, from there to Fort Laramie, to Fort Bridger, and through Echo Canyon to Parley’s Canyon with station stops at Wanship, Silver Creek (Kimball’s Junction), Mt. Dell, and at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon (in front of you, and just to the left). Later this station was called Dudler’s Tavern, and was owned by the Shear (Schaer) family.
The “old line” stage coach was a swinging, swaying vehicle hung on thoroughbraces (multiple leather straps) instead of springs, drawn by 6 mules or 6 strong horses. The drivers covered the same route in either direction, and knew the road so well they could travel at high noon, or during the dark of night without hesitation.
The coaches carried express packages and mail in addition to passengers. Each Passenger was allowed 25 pounds of luggage. The mail was sent for 10¢ a letter (compared to the later cost of $5.00 for ½ once for the Pony Express).
In March 1862, the stage coach line was purchased by Ben Holliday, a Salt Lake Valley resident. He had served as a courier for Col. Doniphan, and when he was only 28 years old, was a Wagon Master, bringing 50 wagons into Salt Lake City. For this he received sincere congratulations from Brigham Young.
As a new owner, Holliday extended the stage coach routes into many small towns and mining camps, still using the coach road through Parley’s Canyon as the main route. At the pinnacle of his career, he had 5,000 miles of stage coach line in operation, extending from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, and into Idaho, Montana and Oregon. He employed 15,000 men, and had 20,000 wagons or coaches, and 150,000 animals in his company.
In November 1866, a “Grand Consolidation” took place, and Holliday merged with Wells Fargo, the assets of his company being placed at $2.4 million.