A stagecoach is a four-wheeled public coach used to carry paying passengers and light packages on journeys long enough to need a change of horses. It is strongly sprung and generally drawn by four horses. Widely used before steam-powered rail transport was available a stagecoach made long scheduled trips using stage stations or posts where the stagecoach’s horses would be replaced by fresh horses. Coachmen carried letters, packages, and money, often transacting business or delivering messages for their customers. Coaches with iron or steel springs were uncomfortable and had short useful lives. Two men in Concord, New Hampshire, developed what became a popular solution. They built their first Concord stagecoach in 1827 employing long leather straps under their stagecoaches which gave a swinging motion.
What was is like to ride one? In his 1861 book Roughing It, Mark Twain described the Concord stage’s ride as like “a cradle on wheels”. Around twenty years later in 1880 John Pleasant Gray recorded after travelling from Tucson to Tombstone on J.D. Kinnear’s mail and express line:
That day’s stage ride will always live in my memory – but not for its beauty spots. Jammed like sardines on the hard seats of an old time leather spring coach – a Concord – leaving Pantano, creeping much of the way, letting the horses walk, through miles of alkali dust that the wheels rolled up in thick clouds of which we received the full benefit … It is always a mystery to the passenger how many can be wedged into and on top of a stagecoach. If it had not been for the long stretches when the horses had to walk, enabling most of us to get out and “foot it” as a relaxation, it seems as if we could never have survived the trip.
The horses were changed three times on the 80-mile trip, normally completed in 17 hours.
Here are the pics I have gathered of stagecoaches used along the Mendocino Coast:
This vid is from the movie, “Calamity Jane,” starring Doris Day. The first scene shows you how many folks yo could cram inside.