Thursday, July 14, 2011

Paty Jager: Stagecoach Rides

by Paty Jager
Copyright © 2011 Paty Jager

As a writer of historic romance I like to make sure I know all I can about modes of transportation during the era I write about. I've yet to use a stage coach in a published book but my character had a brief trek in one in a story that is making the editor rounds.

So here is a bit of info I gleaned from researching stage coaches.

The first Concord coach was built in 1827 and cost $1200-$1500.  It weighed 2,000 pounds and had leather strap braces rather than springs to give a swinging motion rather than a jolting ride.  They had leather boots in the front and back for holding baggage, mail and valuables. Extra luggage was also stored on top.

A single coach could hold nine passengers inside and up to a dozen on top.  The coach had leather roll down curtains and three leather upholstered seats with little leg room.  The front row who faced backwards had to dovetail their knees/legs with the passengers in the middle row facing them.  They figured fifteen inches per person to a seat when it carried the nine passenger capacity.  The persons in the middle had no back support other than a wide leather strap for support or a leather strap that dangled from the ceiling, which they could grab when the road was treacherous.  The average speed was five to eight miles an hour.

There were different rates for the same trip.  If you paid the highest price you were 1st class which meant you rode all the way, 2nd class you paid less and had to walk in the bad places, 3rd class you paid the least but you walked in the bad places and had to push at the hills.

The rides were either sweltering or freezing.  The weather wasn’t any easier to keep out of the coach than the dust and mud.  Women who were seasoned travelers knew to wear long duck cloth dusters to keep their clothing clean.  Few hotels sat along the routes and travelers sometimes had a choice of sleeping in corrals or in the street.  The way stations along the routes were often crude structures made of either lumber or adobe.  The Stops were famous for bad food. The usual menu consisted of jerky or salt pork, stale bread, bad coffee, and always beans.

Besides the close quarters, dusty trails, and rustic stage stops there was also the threat of Indian attacks and robberies from outlaws.

Raphael Pumpelly, who rode on the Butterfield Overland Mail stage west to Tucson, noted:
"The coach was fitted with three seats, and these were occupied by nine passengers. As the occupants of the front and middle seats faced each other, it was necessary for these six people to interlock their knees; and there being room inside for only ten of the twelve legs, each side of the coach was graced by a foot, now dangling near the wheel, now trying in vain to find a place of support. An unusually heavy mail in the boot, by weighing down the rear, kept those of us who were on the front seat constantly bent forward. The fatigue of uninterrupted traveling by day and night in a crowded coach, and in the most uncomfortable positions, was beginning to tell seriously upon all the passengers, and was producing in me a condition bordering on insanity…"
William Reed described the experience of motion sickness in a coach.
"The heat could be unbearable; the bodies of the passengers covered with sand, which permeated every inch of clothing. The rough roads gave to the coaches a motion not only from side to side, but a roll from front to back. Seasickness in the hot desert air, some said was far worse than the same ailment out on the cool Pacific waters. A seat in the front, in back, and a bench in the middle called for precise seating… Dust, sweat, insects, and a variety of irritating conditions made for an interesting, if not particularly pleasant trip across the arid desert."
Overland stages traveled continuously though the day and night. Trying to sleep in one, confined with eight other people, I think I'd go mad.  I don't do well on little sleep. LOL

If passengers, who had tickets to a town farther along the route, chose to stay in a town or at a home station to seek relief from their journey, they could become stranded for a week or more before resuming their travels. A ticket did not guarantee passengers the right to travel on the next stage, when the seat was occupied by another.

There were two types of stations, home and swing. The home station allowed passengers time for a hasty meal. The swing station was a ten minute stop to change the team of horses.

They also had a code of etiquette for traveling on the stage in the 1870's.
  • When a driver asked a passenger to get out and walk, one was advised to do so, and not grumble about it.
  • If the team of horses ran away, it was better to sit in the coach because most passengers who jumped were seriously injured.
  • Smoking and spitting on the leeward side of the coach was discouraged.
  • Drinking spirits was allowed, but passengers were expected to share.
  • Swearing was not allowed, and neither was sleeping on your neighbor's shoulder.
  • Travelers shouldn't point out spots where murders had occurred, especially when "delicate" passengers were aboard.
  • Greasing one's hair was discouraged because dust would stick to it.

Spirit of the Lake by Paty Jager
Buy links: Amazon, Wild Rose Press

Two generations after his brother became mortal, Wewukiye, the lake spirit, prevents a Nimiipuu maiden from drowning and becomes caught up in her sorrow and her heart. Her tribe ignores Dove's shameful accusations—a White man took her body, leaving her pregnant, and he plans to take their land.Wewukiye vows to care for her until she gives birth, to help her prove the White man is deceitful and restore her place in her tribe.

As they travel on their quest for justice, Dove reveals spiritual abilities yet unknown in her people, ensnaring Wewukiye’s respect and awe. But can love between a mortal and a spirit grow without consequences?

Read Paty's bio.


  1. Paty, thank you so much for sharing this information! Marvelous stuff! The historical Western erotic romance I plan to write starting early next year actually starts out in a stagecoach. You've given me some wonderful ideas for sexual tension in a crowded stagecoach. :)

    Here's a little snippet in my notes from a period source (1877). Some conflicting info on spitting, but the rest is the same. I thought it interesting that the most comfie seat was next to the driver! At least the air would be fresher!

    Source: Prelude to the Century: 1870-1900, by Our American Century series.

    Tips on stagecoach riding, Omaha Herald, 1877:

    “The best seat in a stage is the one next to the driver. If the team runs away—sit still and take your chances. If you jump, nine out of ten times you will get hurt. Don’t smoke a strong pipe inside the coach—spit on the leeward side. Don’t lop over neighbors when sleeping. Never shoot on the road as the noise might frighten the horses. Don’t discuss politics or religion. Don’t grease your hair, because travel is dusty.”

    I can't wait to start writing this--but have two other books to write first. Thanks again for sharing your research!


  2. Interesting and helpful information. Thanks, Paty!

  3. Paty, I can just imagine being stuck in a stagecoach with eight other people inside and a dozen on top--exterior temperatures over 100 degrees, and interior temps probably 5 degrees higher than that. Someone gets motion sickness, another is smoking a cigar, all are crushed together and the body odor would make the cigar smoke not seem so bad.

    Makes me appreciate my Camry. Thanks for contributing such an excellent article!

  4. D'Ann Linscott-DunhamJuly 14, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I have actually ridden on a stagecoach, for 10 miles, and it's very uncomfortable. Tight, small and claustrophobic.

    I always feel so sorry for the poor horses that had to pull all that weight. Horses back then weren't treated so well.

  5. I've seen two different stage coaches in museums in our area. They just look uncomfortable and so small as you pointed out. I guess one should not complain about traffic when when considers what our ancestors had to travel in. Great post, Paty.

  6. Kally, I'm glad I could help.

    Thanks, Devon.

    LOL, Jacquie. I'll never complain about an uncomfortable ride. I traveled for six hours yesterday with six kids in a car and my daughter and I decided the way they traveled in wagon trains with the kids walking was a good idea.;)

    D'Ann, I'd like to ride on a stagecoach sometime. I'm envious.

    Thanks, Paisley!

  7. Paty, what a terrific article! I'm going to bookmark this for future reference. It could come in handy for one of my stories. Lyn

  8. Paty, I wonder how it was decided which passengers were stuck on the middle seat? I rode a short distance in a stagecoach, but it only had two seats, one facing front and one facing back. Thanks for the info, I'm writing a short novella in which the heroine rides a stage coach.

  9. Lyn, Hi! thanks for checking the article out.

    Caroline, I don't know how the seating was figured out. Maybe the people who rode a lot learned to be the last ones to arrive and there fore had the outside by the windows/doors.

  10. Interesting post, Paty. I rode in a stagecoach once and don't know how the women managed. Even sitting on a padded seat, it was rough. I enjoyed riding up top with the drivers. Much more comfortable.

  11. Hi Paty ~

    While I've been in a stagecoach, it was on a nicely groomed road. Harris Stagelines is near where I live and offers tours and rides.

    I didn't know about that horrible middle seat! And the motion sickness!! When it's that crowded, what's a lady to do?

    Like many other items of the old west, the romantic vision of traveling even the shortest distance in a stagecoach has been proven false.

    Thank you for sharing your research!

  12. Wow, Paty,

    What an interesting article. Great stuff.

  13. And I use to complain when it was my turn to sit in the middle of the back seat of the family car. Sure puts things in perspective. Thanks for an informative post, Paty.

  14. Gah! I had no idea travel by stage was so bad! As someone else said, I truly feel spoiled. Think I'll go give my very comfy SUV a big hug. :)

    Thanks for the entertaining and interesting information.

  15. Hi Jacquie and Paty,

    I loved the post.

    I really like the code of etiquette for traveling on the stage in the 1870s.

    "Travelers shouldn't point out spots where murders had occurred, especially when "delicate" passengers were aboard."

    I could see how this would prove a problem. lol

    Thanks for the history tidbits. :)

  16. Sheri, I get car sick, I'd hate to think what I would have been like back then in a stage coach.


    LOL Judith. It does make you thankful.

    You're welcome, Genene. Thanks for stopping in.

    Thank you, Karen. It was fun doing the research for the book I used this in.

  17. Imagine a full load of passengers (9 inside and 12 on top) and their luggage on the first coach. Makes flying coach seem like luxury.

  18. Great info, Paty. I grew near Columbia in California. It's an old gold rush town. One of my favorite memories is taking a ride in the
    Stage coach. Thank you for posting this and reminding me of my youth.

  19. LOL Barbara, I agree. It puts a whole new spin on travel today.

    Terri, What fun! I'm glad I could bring you fond memories.

  20. Those were the days! I'm much too "delicate" for a stage ride. I'll appreciate planes and trains much more now. Great information here. Thanks for sharing it.

  21. Hi Paty,
    I've been doing some research lately on stagecoaches, so I've learn most of what you shared. I did not know, however about the differences in first, second and third class tickets. Great little detail to know. I hope I'll get a chance one day to take a ride in one.

  22. Hi Mary,I had a great time visiting with you over the weekend.

    Hey Kathy! Great minds think alike.;)

  23. Wonderful article, Paty!!! And what perfect timing: I'm writing a western romance right now.




  24. Cindy, Glad I could help. Thanks for stopping in.


Romancing The West welcomes you to show your appreciation of our guest blogger by leaving a comment. If there's a contest, don't forget to leave your contact information. Thanks!