Wells Fargo Home PageTalking ATM LocationsSkip Navigation to go to main content of this page
We make it easier to buy a home. Only 3% down. Click here to learn more.
Printer-friendly

Spit on the leeward side of the coach.

--from Hints for Plains Travelers.
Traveling by stagecoach was not for wimps. But to make the trip bearable, the Omaha Herald published, in 1877, the following "Hints for Plains Travelers."
  1. The best seat inside a stagecoach is the one next to the driver... you will get less than half the bumps and jars than on any other seat. When any old "sly Eph," who traveled thousands of miles on coaches, offers through sympathy to exchange his back or middle seat with you, don't do it.
  2. Never ride in cold weather with tight boots or shoes, nor close-fitting gloves. Bathe your feet before starting in cold water, and wear loose overshoes and gloves two or three sizes too large.
  3. When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do it without grumbling. He will not request it unless absolutely necessary. If a team runs away, sit still and take your chances; if you jump, nine times out of ten you will be hurt.
  4. In very cold weather, abstain entirely from liquor while on the road; a man will freeze twice as quick while under its influence.
  5. Don't growl at food stations; stage companies generally provide the best they can get. Don't keep the stage waiting; many a virtuous man has lost his character by so doing.
  6. Don't smoke a strong pipe inside especially early in the morning. Spit on the leeward side of the coach. If you have anything to take in a bottle, pass it around; a man who drinks by himself in such a case is lost to all human feeling. Provide stimulants before starting; ranch whisky is not always nectar.
  7. Don't swear, nor lop over on your neighbor when sleeping. Don't ask how far it is to the next station until you get there.
  8. Never attempt to fire a gun or pistol while on the road, it may frighten the team; and the careless handling and cocking of the weapon makes nervous people nervous. Don't discuss politics or religion, nor point out places on the road where horrible murders have been committed.
  9. Don't linger too long at the pewter wash basin at the station. Don't grease your hair before starting or dust will stick there in sufficient quantities to make a respectable 'tater' patch. Tie a silk handkerchief around your neck to keep out dust and prevent sunburns. A little glycerin is good in case of chapped hands.
  10. Don't imagine for a moment you are going on a pic-nic; expect annoyance, discomfort and some hardships. If you are disappointed, thank heaven.

In 1861, Mark Twain and his brother traveled west by overland stagecoach. In Roughing It, Twain described the coach as "a cradle on wheels," as it rocked on its thoroughbraces instead of bouncing on steel springs. They rode "a-top of the flying coach, dangled our legs over the side and leveled an outlook over the world-wide carpet about us for things new and strange to gaze at. It thrills me to think of the life and the wild sense of freedom on those fine overland mornings!"
Other travelers had a less adventurous opinion of the trip: "A through-ticket and fifteen inches of seat, with a fat man on one side, a poor widow on the other, a baby in your lap, a bandbox over your head, and three or more persons immediately in front, leaning against your knees, making the picture, as well as your sleeping place for the trip," was the statement of Demas Barnes, who made the overland trip in 1866.
Passengers could carry 25 pounds of baggage free. Coals in metal footwarmers helped in cold weather while leather shades blocked desert sun and dust in summer. Travelers grabbed hasty meals of boiled beans, salted meat and coffee at "home" stations reached, with luck, about every six to eight hours.
Text separator

If you enjoyed this story, visit the Adventures of Wells Fargo to see a list of other stories.