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Stagecoach Lines in the American West

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Mountain Stagecoach

Mountain Stagecoach by Rey Britton andCo., lithographer.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.


A. J. Oliver & Co's Bannack & Salt Lake Express (1862-1866) - Organized by A.J. Oliver, E.A. Conover and Ed House, the company initially ran stage wagons between Bannack and Virginia City, Montana, operating under the name of A.J. Oliver & Company. They extended their line, running mail and passengers between Salt Lake City, Utah and Bannack, Montana. In 1864, they were awarded a mail contract between Virginia City and Helena, Montana. The line was sold to Holladay Overland Mail & Express Company in 1866.

Ackley and Morrison (1849-1850) - In 1849, the line was known as Maurison & Co's Express and ran from Stockton, California to the Stanislaus Mines. In 1850, it became known as Ackley and Morrison and began to run between San Francisco and San Jose, California.




American Express (1850-present) - Started as an express mail business in Albany, New York, in 1850, the company was formed from John Butterfield's, Butterfield, Wasson & Company, merging with his two rivals, Wells & Company and Livingston, Fargo & Company. Two years later, the same founders would also start Wells, Fargo & Co. in 1852 when Butterfield and other directors objected to the proposal that American Express extend its operations to distant California. The company  first established its headquarters in at the intersection of Jay and Hudson Streets in what is now the TriBeCa section of Manhattan, New York.


For several years, the company enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the movement of express shipments, including goods, securities and currency in New York State. They expanded in 1958 when the company won the government contract for the first transcontinental stage line, carrying the mail from Missouri to California and receiving $600,000 per year.


American Express, 1858

American Express and employees in 1858, by Otto Botticher. This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.


When finalized, the new mail contract was the largest that had ever been awarded. A subsidiary called the Butterfield Overland Stage Company was formed to handle the mail. However, the success of the mail route was short-lived, as it was forced to discontinue service when the Civil War broke out. American Express survived the discontinuance of stage lines when the railroad pushed through by expanding into financial services, which it continues to this day. 


Alexander & Banning Stage Line (1851-1860's) - In 1851, Phineas Banning began the first stage line in southern California, running between Los Angeles and San Diego. He soon partnered with D.W. Alexander, and expanded the line into San Buenaventura (now Ventura), Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo and Wilmington. Alexander sold his interest in 1855, but Banning continued on, becoming a famous whip By the 1860s, Banning wagons were traveling to Salt Lake City, the Kern River gold fields, the new military installation at Yuma, Arizona, the Mormon settlement at San Bernardino, and in an arc around the Southern California region.


Barlow & Sanderson Company (1862?-1881?) - Established by Vermont men, Jared L. Sanderson and Bradley Barlow during the Civil War, the Barlow-Sanderson Overland Mail Company first carried the mail and operated a stage line between Sedalia and Warrensburg, Missouri and by 1863, was also operating a line from Kansas City, Missouri to Fort Scott, Kansas. In 1866, they began to expand westward and transferred their headquarters from Kansas City to Junction City, Colorado. By 1867, the two entrepreneurs had established a route from Missouri to California over the Santa Fe Trail and changed the name to the Barlow and Sanderson Company. They also had a number of shorter routes such as Fort Larned, Kansas to Fort Lyon, Colorado and Bent's Fort to Pueblo, Colorado. By 1869, they were concentrating their efforts on expanding their routes in Colorado due to the booming mining industry. In July, 1870, the Company bought out the Denver and Santa Fe Stage Line and renamed it the Southern Overland Mail and Express. Later that year, in December, they moved their headquarters to Denver. The company continued to grow in Colorado, becoming the largest stage line in the area and in 1874, the headquarters moved again to Granada, Colorado.


Barlow & Sanderson Stage Station, Cimarron, New Mexico

An old Barlow & Sanderson Stage Station still stands in Cimarron, New Mexico,

Kathy Weiser-Alexander, September, 2008.


Two years later, despite rumors of bribery and corruption within the company, the stage line continued to expand. However, by 1878, Bradley Barlow withdrew and the name of the company was changed to J.L. Sanderson and Company Overland Stage and Express Line. In 1879, the railroad was pushing through Colorado, dramatically cutting into the stage line business but the company hung on for several more years, once again relocating its headquarters to Buena Vista. Though business was down, the stage lines continued to operate into the 1880's, though often plagued by bandits.


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