The Amazing Place Called Lily Dale New York

A summer vacation to western New York is popular to many. It’s a beautiful part of our country and the lakes, hills and streams make for a lot of family fun. In the extreme western part of New York state is Chautauqua county which is very well known among tourists for beautiful Chautauqua Lake.

map of chautauqua countyTucked away in this picturesque corner of the state is the town of Lily Dale, a popular stop for close to one hundred years. Lily Dale is a very small settlement located in the town of Pomfret which is on the east side of Cassadaga Lake. This is about 50 miles southwest of Buffalo, about ten miles inland from Lake Erie. The closest main highway is Interstate-90. Lily Dale is also about 50 miles northeast of Erie PA. Traveling there from Buffalo you would exit Interstate-90 using the Hwy-60 exit in Dunkirk NY. 

Lily Dale might be considered the center of today’s modern spiritualist movement. Estimates today put Lily Dale’s visitor count to over 20,000 annually. The site of Lily Dale is also the home of many registered mediums and guest lecturers appear frequently. There are now dozens of mediums who hand a shingle in front of their home to promote their services. The Lily Dale Assembly acts as the governing body in registering mediums and those members are certified by the Assembly as being competent and upright.

The history of this hamlet is very interesting. Lily Dale became a hot spot for Spiritualism in 1916 when members relocated the home of its American founders, Kate and Margaret Fox, the celebrated Fox sisters, to the site after it was bought for a reported $27,000.

In the year 1848 at their home in Hydesville New York, the Fox sisters used “rappings” to convince their much older sister and neighbors that they were communicating with the spirit world. After this amazing occurrence, the oldest sister the fox sisters mediumstook over and essentially managed their careers for many years. All of the sisters went on to be world renown mediums. Under the older sisters guidance, the Fox sisters made appearances in many cities demonstrating their spiritualist powers. The sisters received a good amount of publicity in the press. Some newspaper stories declared them frauds while others seemed to verify these sensational demonstrations.

Very similar as with today, there are thousands of people working to unmask the art of spiritualism as being a fraud, in his lifetime the famous Harry Houdini was one of them, and there are thousands who work to document the movement’s credibility. It’s interesting to understand that, even as today, there were many staunch believers in spiritualism during the era of the Fox sisters. This included prominent people such as Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the writer and adventurer, Horace Greeley. By the mid 1850s, there were thought to be more than one million professing Spiritualists in the United States alone. During the peak years of Spiritualism from the 1840’s to about the 1920’s, membership in the United States and Europe combined was said to be than eight million. Most of the followers during that time seemed to be from the middle and upper classes. During this time Kate and Margaret Fox gave hundreds of seances for true believers as well as for the many people “investigating” the phenomena. It appears that Kate Fox in particular was considered to be a powerful medium. She was able to produce not only spirit raps, but “spirit lights, direct writing, and the appearance of materialized hands,” as well as the movement of all types of objects at a distance.

spiritualism posterOver the years there were many attempts to prove that what the Fox sisters were doing was fraudulent. Allegedly it was proven that the sounds heard indeed were emanating from the sisters toe joints. So called “experts” concluded that what was being done was a hoax and the sisters did reportedly make a confession as such. One sister recanted the confession about a year later. Regardless of the fact that there may certainly have been hoaxes put forward over the years and theories uncovered, there remains much that has not been explained about the work of the medium. The story of the Fox sisters is quite fascinating and offers perhaps the best glimpse of the phenomena during the 1800’s. There are several books written on the subject.

An interesting question was why the private site of Lily Dale was chosen as the place to relocate the home of the Fox sisters in 1916?

houdini posterIn seems that in 1871 a group of Spiritualists who eventually became the Lily Dale Assembly started having summer meetings on Cassadaga Lake. As time went by they constructed a good many cottages and other structures such as a hotel, auditorium and outdoor amphitheaters. As years progressed, Lily Dale’s popularity and name continued to grow with all those connected to the Spiritualist movement. Many famous names over the years visited Lily Dale including Susan B. Anthony, Harry Houdini and a few Hollywood celebrities. In 1916, while Lily Dale had a reputation as a meeting place for Spiritualists, it took on greater significance and became a type of mecca when the childhood home of Kate and Margaret Fox was literally moved there from Hydesville New York. Most followers at the time believed that Lily Dale would be the perfect site to further their movement.

Today, Lily Dale is the site of spiritualist workshops, classes and special events held each summer. Lily Dale hosts many modern day lecturers as guests including Dr. Wayne Dyer, Depak Chopra, John Edwards and others. It’s an annual pilgrimage site for thousands of spiritualists and people desiring to explore and learn more about the subject. Where Spiritualism was once a cohesive movement through periodicals and formal meetings, today it is practiced mostly through various Spiritualist churches in both the United States and United Kingdom.

Lily Dale is an interesting place with quite an interesting history and you may just wish to visit there when your summer vacation or travel plans take you near this part of New York state. (Photos and images in public domain)

 

A Visit to Historic Bisbee Arizona and a Story of Mass Deportation

Bisbee Arizona is not a town that people casually pass by. Many might say it’s quite a ways away from most things but I assure you that Bisbee is a terrific and interesting place to visit. Bisbee is located in one of those parts of Arizona that is filled with history. The legendary old west town of Tombstone is only a short drive away.

bisbee arizonaOne remarkable thing about Bisbee was that while being in a remote area of Arizona, about eight miles from the Mexican border, the town was a thriving metropolis during the early years of the 20th century. Streetcars, opera houses, theaters, amateur baseball teams along with several stock exchanges are what a traveler to this town would have seen. Bisbee AZ was so popular during this era that noted stage and silent film celebrities such as Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle, pictured below, traveled there to perform.

fatty arbuckleThe business of Bisbee Arizona was all about mining and where there’s mining there’s money and with money came the people. Bisbee was founded in 1880 as a copper, gold and silver mining settlement. The town derived it’s name from Judge DeWitt Bisbee. Judge Bisbee was a financial backer of the big Copper Queen mine. Many people today even refer to Bisbee as the Copper Queen City.

One of the most newsworthy events that occurred in Bisbee AZ was a result of labor and political atmosphere of the early 1900’s. The industrial revolution that began after the Civil War ushered in a very large number of immigrants from all over the globe. Jobs were to be had in America and peoples from Europe and just about anywhere else emigrated to North America seeking work and a new life. Industrialization also ushered in the labor unions. During the latter part of the 1800’s, federal labor regulations were almost non existent. This included issues such as working hours and child labor utilization. To be sure, there was many things that attracted laborers to unions.

haymarket riotAs a result, there were many strikes in these years, some of which were quite violent and brought in the military and local militia. Two highly publicized and violent strikes were those against the Pullman Company in Chicago and the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago which resulted in the Haymarket Riots. During the Haymarket Affair a policeman was shot and killed during the melee and as a result there were criminal convictions of union organizers and there were several hangings afterward.

Labor unrest also spread to the mines all the way from West Virginia to the western states. What occurred in Bisbee AZ in July 1917 was a culmination of general labor unrest combined with the United States buildup in anticipation of entering World War I. The Phelps Dodge Corporation was active in Bisbee with a number of copper mines. Mining conditions in the region were difficult in regards to safety, pay and general living conditions. During the winter of 1915–16, a successful and bitter four-month strike in the Clifton-Morenci district resulted in unionization among miners. At the same time members of Bisbee’s merchant group and non miners were organizing their own groups to oppose the quick growing unionism. The most aggressive union working to enlist mine workers was the IWW. This was the International Workers of the World. The IWW in Bisbee signed up about 1,000 workers. Their target were the large Phelps Dodge operations. Bisbee Arizona had about 8,000 total residents in 1917.

In May 1917, the union presented a long list of demands to Phelps Dodge.IWW Local 800 presented a list of demands to Phelps Dodge. Among the demands were and end to physical examinations, at least two workers on each drilling machine, two men working the ore elevators, an end to blasting while workers were inside the mines, an end to the bonus system, no more assignment of construction work to miners replacement as well as some wage issues. As was somewhat customary during this era, Phelps Dodge refused to negotiate.

The IWW called it’s strike for June 26, 1917 and about 1,000 miners walked off the job. This was also joined by miners working on other mines and resulted in about 3,000 miners on strike. This obviously decimated the local economy and although there was no violence at first, the sheriff requested federal troops to intervene and end the strike. The atmosphere was influenced by the nearing of America’s entrance into the war in Europe and the local authorities framed their request for troops with the accusation that the strike was part of a German and anti-American plot. The photo below was taken during the Bisbee AZ strikes.

bisbee arizona strikers in 1917What led up to the larger trouble to come in Bisbee actually occurred a bit earlier in Jerome Arizona as a result of strikes there. Local authorities and a group representing mining interest ejected about 100 miners, put them in jail and later deported over sixty of them on a train to Needles California. Phelps Dodge learned of what happened in Jerome and feeling it was a success for the mine owners, organized, along with local authorities, a deputized posse of some 2,000 men from Bisbee and nearby Douglas Arizona. On July 12, 1917, over 2,000 deputized men swept through the entire town of Bisbee and arrested some 2,000 men accused of everything from disturbing the peace to treason. The arrested men were told they would be freed to go back to work if they denounced the IWW union. About seven hundred did and the remainder were eventually put into twenty three railroad cattle cars. The train went eastward and ended up a bit past Columbus New Mexico. On the journey, while the train stopped for water, machine guns and posse members stood guard. It was also reported afterward that executives from Phelps Dodge took over the telephone and telegraph system in Bisbee to prevent news of the deportation from getting out. The deportees were escorted by troops to outside of Columbus New Mexico where they were maintained by the Government (War Department) until the middle of September. The incarceration lasted some three months. The photo below is of an IWW strike in New Yor City in 1914.

IWW demonstration in new yorkInterestingly enough, the news reporting of the forced deportation incident did not raise public ire. Most stories carried by newspapers editorialized that the workers must have been very unruly for the deportation to take place. By and large, the reporting of the time was in favor of the mine owners. Some stories suggested that the miners were fortunate they weren’t sent to prison. Probably the most noteworthy reaction was the statement uttered by former President Teddy Roosevelt who said “no human being in his senses doubts that the men deported from Bisbee were bent on destruction and murder.” I would have to conclude that the statement made by Roosevelt was colored by the events of the time, namely the warfare going on in Europe. What began as a labor dispute and work stoppage at the Phelps Dodge mines in Bisbee turned into one of the largest vigilante action against union members ever undertaken in the United States.

The Army census data concerning the Bisbee deportation which was collected shows that of those workers deported, 199 were native-born Americans, 468 were citizens, 472 were registered under the selective-draft law, and 433 were married. Of the foreign-born, over twenty nationalities were represented, including 141 British, 82 Serbians, and 179 Slavs. Surprisingly, based on the accusations made by the local Bisbee authorities, Germans and Austro-Hungarians (other than Slavs) were comparatively few.

 

The Peters Colony in Texas

There was a time during the settlement of pioneer Texas where large tracts of land were given to agents with the hope that adventurous pioneers would relocate there and help build communities. Pioneer life was never easy but the issuance of land was a big draw for many.

Land grants had actually been commonplace in the Texas region for quite some time. Both the Spaniards and then the Mexicans had encouraged European pioneer settlement for a variety of reasons. The most important reason was to help establish some type of buffer between the ruling government and the Indians. This of course was one of the big dangers of pioneer life on the frontier.

For a very long time the Comanche Indians had fought encroachment into this area. The fighting was often quite brutal and during one particular conflict the Comanches raided all the way southeastward to the very shores of the Gulf of Mexico in the area of Matagorda Bay. During the earliest days of Texas a coastal port, named Indianola, was one of the largest ports for immigrants coming to what is today the Lone Star State.

Many people may have heard of these “empresario colonies” being established in Texas while under Mexican rule but this colonization lasted well into the Republic of Texas era. Beginning in 1841 several contracts had been given out to the Texas Land and Emigration Company in  north Texas. This area extended roughly to Willbarger county to the west, down to the Dallas and Fort Worth area to the sou which today th and into present day Collin county to the east. It was a very large tract of land which today includes the largest concentration of North Texas population.

William S. Peters, the founder of the Peters colony of Texas, was born in England in 1779. He moved to North America in 1827 with his wife and six of his children. He worked in Canada as a military bandmaster and was forty-eight years old when he entered the United States.

After a musical partnership ended between Peters and a William Browning,  they traveled from Louisville Kentucky to England to find investors for what became known as the Peters Colony.It’s not really known why Peters became interested in Texas What is known is that he was and followed it up with an effort to find investors to make it happen. Peters eventually located the original twenty investors and they petitioned the Texas Republic to contract land to them which at first was to be a colony of Englishmen but the investors ended up being half American and half English. In response, the Republic of Texas through it’s Fifth Congress enacted a the law on February 4, 1841, that authorized the president of the Republic of Texas to enter into an “empresario contract” with Peters and his associates.

Of the American investors, six were related to Peters’ three sons and three sons-in-law. The entire arrangement was a business venture. It’s doubtful as to how many of the initial investors themselves  even journeyed to Texas if at all but at the same time the Texas Republic wanted all the settlers they could obtain. The image below is an example of a small Texas pioneer cabin from the author’s private collection.

During the decade of the 1840s William Peters made at least one trip to England to organize and contact immigration associations that might agree to send immigrants to the colony in Texas. He was unsuccessful in trying to talk Robert Owen, an English socialist, into his new project however he was successful in working out an arrangement with a Frenchman named Cabet. The land allocated in the agreement with Cabet was a tract the state had granted Peters’ colonization company in alternate sections with the implicit condition that they secure immigrants. The company in turn granted the Icarians (Cabet’s group) the right of acquiring half of each of its sections. Because of this, the lots the Texas pioneers eventually owned were not contiguous. It has been said that Peters initial goal back at the beginning was to establish a colony of hard working middle class Englishmen in the Texas Republic however The Peters Colony was ultimately settled by Americans.

The Texas Land and Emigration Company’s contract declared that the investors themselves would retain one half of the lands settled on the condition that at least two hundred families were to be settled in three years. The Republic of Texas also had colonization laws for pioneers that further stated that a married man was entitled to 640 acres and a single man to 320 in return for which the settler promised he would reside on and work the land. Today, the visitor on a Texas vacation can learn more about the very earliest settlement events that helped build Texas.

There are many historical societies in many towns and cities which are situated in what was the land of The Peters Colony. You will find some very detailed tract maps at the Texas Electric Railway Museum in downtown Plano Texas. Plano is about 20 miles north of Dallas off of US Hwy-75. The museum is on 15th St. just about five blocks east of US Hwy-75. Another good stop is the Frisco Heritage Museum in Frisco Texas at 6455 Page St. Frisco is about 25 miles north of Dallas just off the Dallas North Tollway. The city of Denton Texas which is about 30 miles northwest of Dallas is another good place to learn about the Peters Colony era. The Peters Colony contracts eventually covered all of Northeast Texas and the colony’s official land office was established near the settlement of Hebron in the southeast corner of present-day Denton County. An excellent stop in Denton is the Historical Park of Denton County located at 317 West Mulberry near the town square.

There are many reminders of the old peters Colony still today. One is the city of The Colony (city logo at left courtesy of The Colony) which is located north of Dallas Texas in Denton county. The Colony has a 2010 estimated population of over 40,000. The Colony is located inside the original Peters Colony lands. Several of it’s streets are named after the original Peters Colony landowners. There are also several streets and highways outside the present city of The Colony named after some of the people involved in the old Peters Colony. One example is Hedgcoxe Rd which is a large street in the residential Collin county city of Plano.

I think that anytime you bring people to a new land where a colony is established, the chances of having disagreements are pretty high. Everything was not smooth sailing in regards to the later years of the Peters colony. One such conflict actually ended up in what is referred to by historians as the Hedgcoxe War of 1852 or the Peters Colony Rebellion. The Peters colony colonists began protesting what they felt was an attempt by the land company to invalidate their land claims.

This conflict had really been simmering for quite some time. On February 10, 1852, the Texas legislature trying to put an end to this disagreement passed a law which was supposed to satisfy both parties, the land company and the settlers. According to its terms of the new bill, all of the current lawsuits between the state and the land company were to be withdrawn.  The colonists were given more time to file their claims with some new guidelines. Furthermore, the state of Texas was to give the land company 1,088,000 acres of land. The colonists were not satisfied. They were concerned both by the possible sale of some claims and they were angry over the legislature’s generosity towards the land company.

Things only got hotter in May of 1852. A man named Henry Oliver Hedgcoxe, the agent of the land company, threw gas on the fire when he published an explanatory proclamation that stated the colonists had until August 4 to establish their claims with him. The colonists were angered at both the proclamation and the attitude coming from Hedgcoxe.

The colonists were further aroused when the attorney general of Texas, Ebenezer Allen, issued an opinion upholding the law. On July 15,1852, during a meeting by the colonists, Hedgcoxe was accused of fraud and corruption by an investigating committee. This is when the real trouble started. A day later, on July 16, 1852, John J. Good led 100 armed men from the mass meeting to Hedgcoxe’s office in Collin county. They grabbed Hedgcoxe’s files and moved to the Dallas County Courthouse. Hedgcoxe was ordered to leave the colony and fled to Austin. After this mass rebellion of sorts the land company softened their tone. On February 7, 1853, an amendment to the compromise law which was agreed to by both sides was passed. This essentially ended the dispute and some very minor differences were worked out over the next years through both the courts and Texas legislature.

The Peters Colony establishment was a very unique undertaking in as much as it began during the time Texas was a separate republic and lasted through and after the time of statehood.

Also see our article on a Visit to Luling Texas / Railroads, Oil and Watermelons.

What it Was Like to Travel on the Butterfield Overland Stage Route

It’s not easy to find the site of an old Butterfield Stage station these days. The Butterfield stagecoach stations simply disappeared over the years but there is one remaining site located in southern California on the historic Butterfield trail.

butterfield oak grove stationThis is the Oak Grove Butterfield Stage Station located in Warner Springs California, about 50 miles east of Oceanside and 125 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and has the distinction of being the only surviving station on the old Butterfield Overland Mail route. During the Civil War the station was used as a Union outpost to help protect the route eastward towards Fort Yuma. Visiting this restored Butterfield station brings back thoughts about what it would have been like riding a stagecoach over the remote southwest. It certainly would have been an adventure and one with a lot of risks. The following descriptions may give you a sense of what a journey of this kind in the late 1850’s might have entailed.

A few years bbutterfield stage route mapefore the start of the Civil War in the year 1858 a key U.S. Mail contract was given out. It was the year that saw the emergence of the Butterfield Overland Stage route from St’ Louis Missouri to San Francisco California. This was a key historic event in the history of the United States as well as the history of overland transportation in general. At the time it was also considered the shortest route to California and it’s booming and growing towns, especially to the north around San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada gold fields. California had gained statehood in 1850 and with the booming port of San Francisco growing and the gold seekers still pouring into the state, it was apparent that communication and transportation had to be improved.

overland mail stampSimilar to other new means of transportation, the start was typically with a government mail contract. With the California Gold Rush in progress and with the state itself joining the Union in 1850, communication with the west coast was more important than ever. Remember, this was an era before the transcontinental railroad and before the telegraph lines to California. As an example, in the 1850’s it generally took about 45 days for a letter to make it’s way from San Francisco to New York. The route for that letter would have been a steamer from San Francisco to Panama and then through the jungles of Panama to another steamer on the eastern side of the Isthmus. Quite a journey.

The Butterfield Stage route from St Louis would shorten the time somewhat. What is generally described as a twenty-five day trek from St’ Louis to San Francisco was along what was called the southern route. The route went through Arkansas, Texas, present day New Mexico and Arizona into the San Diego area and the northward to San Francisco. To say the journey was adventuresome would be an understatement. All research on the subject I have done pretty much points to the mail itself as being the top priority. After all, the government mail contract was the financial seed to begin the stage line in the first place. Carrying passengers along the route was important but somehow secondary. The Butterfield Overland Stage Line began operation in 1858. The first westbound stage made it to Springfield September 17, 1858, some three hours ahead of schedule. The first eastbound stage arrived in Springfield on October 22, 1858 That stage was carrying five passengers, along with mail, freight, and express parcels. Below is a picture of the Fort Stockton Texas barracks from the 1800’s. Fort Stockton was directly on the Butterfield Stage route in southwest Texas.

fort stockton texasThere are interesting stories about the people who rode the Butterfield Stage route and their observations are enlightening. Many of these journey’s were anything but boring. In fact, the Butterfield Stage Line ran through Arizona during the long Apache Wars. Many of it’s stages were attacked near the Dragoon Mountains not far north of Tombstone Arizona where Cochise had his stronghold. Riding through Arizona in the 1860’s and 1870’s would be anything but boring. The first question you might ask is: What should I bring along? A reporter for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin who rode the route in 1858 was quoted in his article “All the traveler needed to render himself comfortable is a pair of blankets, a revolver or knife (just as he fancies), an overcoat, some wine to mix with the water (which is not of the sweeetest quality) and three or four dollars worth of provisions”. he went on to say that “Arms are not furnished the passengers by the Company”.

Another journalist by the name Waterman L. Ormsby rode with the first Butterfield Stage heading west on September 16, 1858. Ormsby, a 23-year-old reporter for the New York Herald on this historic first run. Ormsby reported that mules were used to pull the stage coaches over the frontier portions of the route because, to Indians, the mules were considered less valuable than horses as property. Ormsby goes on to say that one team of mules had been trained to come to feed at the sound of a large gong. The stage driver, or sometimes referred to as a “whip”, planned to use the gong to call the mules back in case the Indians managed to steal them. Ormsby described that it took about 30 minutes to harness each mule and he was quoted as saying… “By the time a mule was caught and harnessed, often nearly choked to death, he was almost always nearly tired out before his work had commenced.”

If you thought the seating arrangement inside the Concord coach was a benefit, here is what it looked like. Passengers rode three abreast. There were two back rows facing forward and a front row facing backwards. Your luggage would sometimes be on your lap and U.S. Mail would likely be under your seat. This arrangement might make your seat on today’s jetliner seem pretty roomy. The stagecoach ran day and night with only short stops at stations for what most described as fairly poor food.

Also, realize that a passenger essentially had about three times to bathe while on the Butterfield route. While there were plenty of Butterfield stations not many of them had the necessary facilities. Sleeping was another challenge. passengers slept in the Concord coach while it was on it’s bumpy ride. It’s been reported that it took most passengers about a week to become accustomed to sleeping while traveling. Sleep during the first week was near impossible but after getting a bit acclimated to the ride things got a lot better. Here is a description of the sleeping situation as described by an English passenger on the eastbound Butterfield route in 1860. The passenger was quoted describing the posture necessary to sleep in a moving stagecoach … “sometimes slinging our feet by loops from the top of the wagon, or letting them hang over the sides between the wheels . . . and not seldom nodding for hours together in attitudes grotesque and diverse.”

If you find your self on a southern California vacation and you’re staying at Los Angeles hotels or hotels in San Diego and have a rental car, a stop at the famous Oak Grove Butterfield Stage station makes for a fun and historic addition to your travel itinerary.

See the Deadwood Stagecoach in Cody Wyoming

Many people familiar with the old west would say that the most famous stagecoach to have plied the trails of the frontier west was the Deadwood Stagecoach. This is Deadwood as in Deadwood South Dakota and the Black Hills. Deadwood South Dakota could easily have been called the capitol of the Black Hills.The photo below is of Deadwood circa 1877.

deadwood south dakota

This is where people from all walks of life hastened to as soon as gold was discovered in the nearby hills. The fact is that Deadwood was, in a way, founded by none other than George Armstrong Custer. It was Custer who led an expedition into the Black Hills which was at the time a very sacred area of the country to the Sioux Indians. The Sioux in fact had ownership of the Black Hills per a treaty with the federal government. When Custer filed a report of his expedition to the Black Hills, whose purpose was to ascertain if gold was truly there,  he emphasized that gold was there in abundance. Somehow, at about the same time Custer filed his report, the startling information also found it’s way to the eastern newspapers.

concord stagecoachThe national economy was in a slump at the time and this only added fuel to the fire and what appeared to be another California Gold Rush, this time in the Black Hills, was in the making. Beginning in April of 1877 the first stagecoaches started rolling between Bismark South Dakota and Deadwood. The Northern Pacific Railroad had a terminal in Bismark and this offered the fastest way to Deadwood from the east. Three time a week service began in May and it didn’t take long for the stages to make the trip daily. Deadwood South Dakota was booming and people were trying to get there fast. The coach of choice was none other than the Concord coaches which were built well for the rough western trails.The first Concord stagecoach was built in 1827 by the Abbot Downing Company. The innovation that made these coaches so popular lay in the construction of their suspension. Traditional stagecoaches employed metal springs which gave the coach a very bouncy ride when the trail got rough. Concord coaches instead used leather braces which gave the coach a gentle swinging motion, prompting Mark Twain to refer to the Concord as the “cradle on wheels.” Freight and passenger revenue was doing very well and in addition to that the stage company received the coveted U.S. Mail contract. During the stage lines heyday it was reported that they employed about 175 men. This was quite a large operation in 1877.

sam bassAnytime there was a flourishing stagecoach route, and the route to the Black Hills was one of them, there were stagecoach robbers. In that era they were often referred to as “highwaymen”. People handy with firearms such as Wyatt Earp were hired to sit beside the driver with a shotgun to protect passengers and gold from the highwaymen. There was a lot of criminal activity in the area. The infamous Sam Bass, pictured above, and his gang reportedly robbed the stage four times in two months. In fact, the Sam bass gang was credited with the largest Union Pacific train robbery that took place in Nebraska. The amount and value of gold dust being shipped via stagecoach was such that precautions were taken that included a special coach to protect the gold. The treasure box was bolted securely to the floor, the coach was even lined in lead, and there were two portholes guards could use to fire back at the robbers.

The transportation boom ended suddenly when the railroad reached Pierre, South Dakota. In 1880 the company moved the majority of its coaches and livestock to Pierre and opened an alternate line. After that the service on the Bismarck line was cut to tri-weekly trips and was soon after abandoned.

To illustrate how popular Buffalo Bill’s Deadwood Stagecoach was in his Wild West performances, while performing in England the highlight of one of the shows came when several monarchs, including the Prince of Wales and the kings of Denmark, Greece, Belgium, and Saxony, climbed aboard the Deadwood Stage with Buffalo Bill in the driver’s seat and rode around the arena while the Indians engaged in a mock attack. It doesn’t get much more real than that for the visiting monarchs. Obviously this was a show business first and gained wide publicity for the Wild West.

Today, you can see the original Deadwood Stagecoach which played a big part in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West performances. The stagecoach is on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming. The Cody Historical Center began as a log cabin tribute to William  F. Cody, founder and namesake of Cody Wyoming, and has materialized into  a seven-acre building which houses five museums and a research center. The museum is located at 720 Sheridan Ave. and features everything about Buffalo Bill Cody, his Wild West and the old west in general. They have done an excellent job with this museum and I would recommend anyone traveling on a Wyoming vacation to make a visit there. It is the largest repository of William Cody artifacts in the west.