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Trail Blazers, Cowboys & Stagecoach Kings

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Abbot Downing Company, Concord, New HampshireAbbot Downing Company (1827-1847, 1865-1919) - Lewis Downing, a wheelwright, had been in the wagon building business in Concord, New Hampshire since 1813, but in 1826, he saw the need for a new type of road coach. Requiring the skills of an expert coach body builder, Downing soon partnered with a man named J. Stephens Abbot, forming a  new company called Abbott and Downing in 1827. Though the organization actually manufactured over 40 different types of  carriages and wagons, they became world renowned for their Concord Stagecoach. Their stagecoaches were built solid, quickly gained a reputation for not breaking down, and rode more smoothly due to a design feature called the thoroughbrace.


This leather strap of many layers supported the body of the stagecoach, enabling it to swing back and forth and absorb the shocks of the road. Over the years, thousands coaches were produced and sent all over the world, its basic design changing very little.

After twenty years in business together, Abbot and Downing went their separate ways in an amicable split. However, the separate companies both continued to build Concord Coaches. When Lewis Downing retired in 1865, his sons took over and soon merged once again with the Abbot Company, manufacturing coaches, carriages and wagons under the name of Abbott-Downing until 1919.


John M. BozemanJohn M. Bozeman (1835–1867) - Originally from Pickens County, Georgia, Bozeman headed west in 1858, abandoning his wife and children. By 1861 he was working in the gold fields of Colorado. When his mining claims failed there, he headed to Deer Lodge, Montana in 1862. In 1863, he and a companion named John Jacobs returned to Colorado taking a route from Bannack, Montana east of the Bighorn Mountains through lands reserved by treaty to the Native Americans. The only other approaches into Montana from the east were from the Missouri River or a trail leading north from the Oregon Trail to Idaho. Bozeman was excited about his short cut and began to lead people along the path from central Wyoming to Virginia City, Montana, providing a more direct and better watered trail. The short-cut became known as the Bozeman Trail and John settled in the Gallatin Valley, laying out the town of Bozeman, Montana in 1864. In 1865–66 the federal government built Forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C.F. Smith to guard the trail. However, after the Fetterman Massacre in December, 1866, the trail south and east of Fort C.F. Smith was abandoned. In April, 1867, Bozeman was murdered while traveling along the Yellowstone River . His partner, Tom Cover, reported they had been attacked by a band of Blackfoot Indians. Inconsistencies in his story; however, later caused historians to suspect that Cover may have murdered Bozeman himself.  Also see: Adventures on the Bozeman Trail


John Braden Monument in AlbuquerqueJohn Braden (18??-1896) - Braden hailed from Pennsylvania or Ohio, but made his way westward when he was still quite young. By the 1850s, he was employed by the Northeastern Stage Company, driving in Minnesota and Iowa. Later he began to drive for the Overland Stage traveling on the Platte River in Nebraska before driving for the Kansas Stage Company out of Leavenworth, Kansas. By the 1860s he was blazing the Smoky Hill Traill through Kansas to Colorado for Wells-FargoNext, he was back driving again for the Overland Stage Line between Fort Bridger, Wyoming and Salt Lake City, Utah.


When Ben Holladay sold the stage route to Wells-Fargo, Braden continued to work for the line for a couple of years before drifting south to Albuquerque, New Mexico. There he was employed for about 15 years in a livery stable until he met his end on October 17, 1896.


At the age of 74, Braden was hired to drive a wagon load of fireworks the Territorial Fair Parade. Suddenly, when a firecracker landed in the wagon, the load of fireworks began to explode, sending rockets directly at the spirted horses, which bolted and ran into the back of a hack containing four little girls. Though Braden was badly burned, he remained at the reigns, trying to control the team. Finally, he fell to the ground dying. His last words were: "Did I save the little girls and the queen of the carnival and her attendants?" His funeral was one of the largest that ever took place in Albuquerque up until that time. His last act, did in fact, save the little girls from burning to death. Shortly after his death, a monument was placed in Robinson Park in his honor, which continues to stand today.




John Warren Butterfield (1801-1869) - Getting his start as a stagecoach driver at the age of 19, Butterfield parlayed his shrewd business sense to own and operate American Express and the Overland Mail Company. See Full Article HERE.


Nate Champion (1857-1892) - Born on September 29, 1857 near Round Rock, Texas, Nate grew up to be a top cowboy. Somewhere along the line he moved to Wyoming where he ran a small ranch in Johnson County. Though known for his honesty and forthrightness, Nate made the "list" of those whom the cattle barons wanted to get rid of, most likely because of his "alleged" support of a rival stock association called the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stock Growers Association. The cattle barons, on the other hand, ran the more powerful Wyoming Stock Growers Association, which was implementing a number of rules to make it difficult for the small ranchers. According to Dale Champion, Nate's Great Great Great Nephew, in his research he found that Nate was not actively promoting the competing association.  In fact, Champion tells us that the Association had appointed Nate as their leader during a meeting he didin't even attend. When Nate found out, he declined the nomination, but, by then word had gotten out about the meeting. Dale Champion says "By them choosing Nate, they signed his death warrant."


The wealthy ranchers soon labeled him a cattle rustler and when they brought in 50 henchmen and gunfighters, Nate's KC Ranch was the first to be targeted in what became known as the Johnson County War. The men arrived on April 9, 1892 when there were four men at the ranch cabin, including Champion. Two of the men, trappers who had just been passing by, were captured by the cattle baron group and a cowboy named Rueben "Nick" Ray was shot and killed. Nate was besieged in his cabin as a hail of bullets came his direction. He was able to hold out for several hours, killing at least four of the gunmen and wounding several others. However, when they set his cabin on fire, he was forced to emerge and was shot down. Dale Champion says, "At the time of Nate's death he had eight pack horses, all just paid for, and nearly 200 head of cattle of his own.  He was getting ready to take a ranch and homestead it. He had a good reputation as an honest business man."


One of the men who participated in the siege was famous gunman Frank M. Canton, who reportedly regretted the incident so much so, that he left the cattlemens' association shortly thereafter and moved to Oklahoma where he became a U.S. Deputy Marshal.


Clark FossClark "Old Chieftain” Foss, aka: Old Foss (1819-1885) - A boisterous and colorful stage driver, Foss original hailed from Maine, borne about 1819. In 1844, he moved to Troy, New York and several years later, moved his family again, to California. By 1859, they were living in Healdsburg where Foss tried his hand at raising hogs before establishing a livery business. In about 1863, Foss began to run a stage from his livery stable through the Napa Valley to the geysers in the Calistoga and the Geyserville area. The large, cheerful Foss, wearing a large gray Stetson, superbly handled the horses around some 35 turns, some with drop offs of nearly 2,000 feet. He soon gained a reputation for being the "King of Drivers,” as he carried numerous people along the Geysers Stage Route, including a number of writers who were quick to tell of his skills.  As his reputation spread, he picked up two nicknames, "Old Chieftain” and "Old Foss.” 


In about 1865, Foss developed his own stage station and rest stop, which consisted of a post office, a large barn, and a hotel, where a number of notable guests stayed, including Ulysses S. Grant and William Randolph Hearst. He called his little domain "Fossville.”

Though many were impressed by Foss’ ability to travel the route quickly, give his passengers  the thrill of their lives on the steep and narrow roads, and his sterling record of no accidents, there were others that were not so impressed, calling him an extremely reckless driver.  Unfortunately, Foss’ critics would end up being correct. In the late 1870s as Foss was once again whipping through the road at a fast pace, the stage tumbled off the road into a ravine between Pine Flat and Fossville.  Seven passengers, including Foss, were badly injured, one of whom was maimed for life.  Yet, another young woman was killed.


Though Foss healed and went back to work, his demeanor as a stage driver was never the same. In 1881, he quit altogether. He died in August, 1885. In the meantime, his son Charlie had taken over his business, which continued until 1906.


Jesse Chisholm (1805?- 1868) - Though Jesse Chisholm blazed the famous Chisholm Trail, he never herded cattle. Rather, he used the path to transport goods to and from his trading posts. See Full Article HERE.



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