Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Stagecoach

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 28, 2011

I came across this Alexander Gardner image recently while looking for something else. (That seems to happen a lot.) It’s a remarkable image in a number of ways. I don’t recall ever seeing a photograph of a gen-yew-wine Western stagecoach going back to the 1860s, for a start. In movies and teevee, sure, but not many photos from a time when the vehicle was a common form of transportation. It’s from the Library of Congress, and carries the original caption, “United States Express overland stage, starting for Denver from Hays City, Kansas, 580 miles west of St. Louis, Mo.” The listed date is c. 1867. This is the right-hand image of what was sold at the time as a stereo pair, but is actually a single image.

This website has an almost identical image, obviously taken at the same time, identified as being at Fort Harker.

The stereoview is part of a series, “Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division.” Neither Fort Harker nor Fort Hays/Hays City were on the main line of the UP, which ran much farther to the north, westward from Omaha. The Eastern Division of the UP, originally known as the Kansas Pacific Railroad, reached Fort Harker in July 1867, and connected to Fort Hays in October of that year. The Butterfield Overland Despatch (not to be confused with the earlier, larger, and more famous Butterfield Overland Mail) operated both a stage line and wagon trains stopping at both forts, maintaining connections between the Missouri River and Denver.


This detail from an 1868 Union Pacific Railroad map, from Kansas State University, shows the main line of the Union Pacific running west from Omaha along the Platte River (top, highlighted in blue), and the Eastern Division of the UP running a parallel course through Kansas (in red). The road route beyond Fort Wallace, to Denver, is shown in green. At the time of the map’s creation, the main line of the UP had just crossed the western boundary of Nebraska into the Dakota Territory — present-day Wyoming.

So much for the context. A closer look at elements in the image:

There are three men standing outside the coach — likely local worthies posing for Gardner — as well as four, possibly five, men inside. The bright white trousers and patterned vest of the man standing at right don’t suggest much of the frontier; perhaps he’s the stagecoach station agent, or a local merchant.

The Buffalo Soldiers serving as guards — five privates and a corporal, it looks like — appear to be dressed in frock coats with shoulder scales, and the “shotgun” looks to be wearing gloves besides — accoutrements better suited to a posed photo than a long, dusty ride across the prairie. Both Forts Harker and Hays had contingents of the Ben Grierson’s U.S. 10th Cavalry stationed there during this period, but Harker also a detachment from the 38th U.S. Infantry (later combined with the 41st Infantry to become the 24th Infantry). Wiki notes that “troops stationed at Fort Harker in 1867 performed more escorts of wagon trains in one year than troops stationed at any other frontier fort in the post-Civil War era,” and this image may reflect similar efforts on behalf of the stagecoach operating from there.

Then finally, there’s this modern painting, whose composition seems to be inspired by the old stereoview. There’s something different about the soldiers, although I can’t quite put my finger on it. . . .  😉

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4 Responses

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  1. focusoninfinity said, on November 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Ancestors Robert and Sarah Sage, Sr., near Holly Ridge, N.C., ran Sage’s Inn; a horse-changing station at which President Washington spend the night on his 1790’s Southern Tour.

    The Sages also operated the Wilmington to New Bern, N.C., stage line. Circa the 1830’s, an English merchant’s son recorded in his diary, his travels, and travails; on Sage’s Stage Line. The lad recorded, the Sage’s permitted up to 14-pounds of free baggage; but above that, he had to pay by the pound.

    I told Dad, the English were always so odd; why not an even 15-pounds as the free vs. purchase, poundage break-point? My Old Man said; because 14-pounds equals one English Stone; that’s why. Wow!, is Dad old?

    OK: then why did we ALWAYS load human remains feet-forward on our Eastern Air Lines flights? Dad: because that’s the way the railroads loaded human remains.

    So why then, did the railroads do it that way? THAT, Dad did not know. Who does?

  2. Jim Schmidt said, on November 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Andy – Thanks for posting. This is of great interest to me. Ellis County Kansas, home to Fort Hays, is also my ancestral home…it is where my German-Russian ancestors settled in the mid-1870s…one of my favorite places in the world is Victoria, KS, a few miles east of Ft. Hays on I-70…there you will find a small burial plot from summer 1867:

    “This Stone Marks the Burial place of Six track laborers who were in the employ of the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division and, while on duty, about one mile west of here were massacred by a band of Cheyenne Indians”

    (a seventh was carried to Ft Hays, died, and was buried there)

    There was a subsequent raid by the Buffalo soldiers from Fort Hays on the Cheyenne.

    I have photos of the UP cemetery from my visit to Victoria last summer…I’ll try and post them on my blog soon.

    Keep up the great work.

    Jim Schmidt

    • Andy Hall said, on November 30, 2011 at 7:54 am

      Thanks, Jim. I interviewed once for a job in Salina and spent a couple of days there. It seemed like a really nice community.

      That monument, and the event it remembers, is a good example of how truly complex the story of the American West is, and how difficult it is to steer clear of competing interpretations of historical events, all of which bind up race, ethnicity, modern politics, and so on. Makes dealing with the Lost Cause seem like child’s play. 😉

  3. Foxessa said, on December 2, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Fascinating! This same process of re-making an older image to suit contempory sensibilities can be seen in southern depictions of work on southern bank bills, drafts and other financial instruments and forms from the colonial era to the Civil War. Figures doing work that once were white, were darkened. Same engraving or illustration in every detail except that.

    Also, I at least can’t help but notice, how the appearance of the horses in the photograph differ from the matched, glossy coach teams of televison and movies!

    Often the prettier the horse the less stamina, and the more rest, food and water they need.

    Love, C.


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