Written by William Daugherty, for the Reno Evening Gazette in 1891
[Editor’s note: In 1891, William Daugherty wrote a series of articles about the Overland Stage in the Reno Evening Gazette]
Overland Memories – Article in the Reno Evening Gazette, February 25, 1891
The closing days of the great Overland Stage line, inaugurated by Ben Holladay, were in many respects, the most prosperous and interesting in its history. The line was purchased from him by Wells, Fargo & Co. in 1867 under the impression that it was, on account of the mail subsidy, a paying concern. But, the new purchasers soon found a different state of affairs existing, and instead of dividends, the assessments that loomed up soon effected their stock, and within a year, it was quoted in the New York stock boards at 37 cents on a par value of 100. The subsidy paid by the government of $3,000,000 a year was more than absorbed by the heavy expenses of operating the line, and added to this, was the fact that the Pacific railroads were being pushed to completion, and soon, the rolling stock of the stage company would be valueless.
The history of its final windup will not be repeated here, but the fact was well known to the pioneers, that had it not been for some shrewd manipulation whereby Wells, Fargo & Co.. secured a twenty years lease over the lines of the Central Pacific Railroad the company would have passed out of existence. As was stated at the opening of this sketch the last days of the overland were its greatest.
Travel increased from various causes, and Harry Mountfort, the Sacramento agent, had the pleasure of seeing many way bills with a full passenger list booked in San Francisco and started from Sacramento by him for the long trip to Omaha. The McLane management of the line was liberal in the extreme; high salaries were the rule, and the most accomplished agents and skillful drivers were employed, and $300 a month as a salary secured crack whips whose names are as familiar to the pioneers as are the statesmen of the present day. It is not the intention to here make personal mention of the many popular names associated with the memories of those prosperous days of the great Overland Stage times, as this introduction is only preliminary to the fact of the great popularity of the line, which also enjoyed the confidence of the public to an extent that gave it the well deserved reputation of old reliability. In illustration of this the writer recalls an incident that occurred during the fall of 1868, when the rush to White Pine began, and caused rival lines to enter the field from Austin eastward. For some time Wells, Fargo & Co. made no effort to secure the trade and continued running on the old overland road that ran north of the district where the travel was headed for. But as it increased the company diverted from the old route and ran direct to the mecca.
That was attracting the surplus population of the Pacific coast. This was an irresistible result, for the stampede to White Pine was considered the greatest silver excitement known in modern times while it lasted, and the trade was well worth enjoying.
The road from Austin led by the present town of Eureka and across the Diamond Mountains, and along this part of it, the grade was not then completed. The stages were always loaded heavily on top with express freight, and it was usual for passengers to walk a great part of the way up Diamond Mountain, for the loads were too heavy for the teams. As this was the custom with the rival lines on the same road, no one ever objected, for people were eager to make speed. On one occasion however, Wells, Fargo & Co.’s coach contained a grouty old passenger who refused to get out and walk on the ride up the mountain. The driver, told him all right, but if he would ride he must take the chances, and proceeded slowly up the hill. The other passengers were all ahead climbing the hill and creating an appetite for the coming breakfast, when a crash was heard.
Then, the stage was seen to slowly roll over on its side, caused by the shelving grade and top heavy load. The passengers hastened back to help the driver, and were busied at once in extricating the passenger who was imprisoned in the wreck and moaning in great distress. He was finally released and offers of friendly assistance were numerous. An examination disclosed the fact that no bones were broken, but he seemed in great mental distress, and to relieve him, the passengers assured him he was all right. He was told to brace up, and the bottle was pressed upon him as he composed himself for a final shaking together, he disclosed the cause of his mental perturbation, by explaining, that the agent assured him when he bought his ticket “that this line never upset.”
An Amateur Detective – Article in the Reno Evening Gazette, April 23 , 1891
A group of old-timers were talking over the late robbery, when one of them related how he had been a detective, before the Pinkertons had established a reputation on this coast, and how he had lead a case to a successful conclusion without any knowledge of what he was doing or what it was leading to until years afterward. The story, as told in his own words and duly authenticated, was as follows: In the town of Hamilton, in 1869, Wells, Fargo & Co. moved their office from the old building adjoining Red Frank Wheeler’s to the new brick built by J.R. Withington at a cost of $60,000. In moving their safes, the agent, George Crandall, concluded to have the combinations changed, and employed an expert to do the work. It was done in the old office at night and the safe was moved the following day. When opened, a sack containing $3,500, belonging to John Gray, the former agent of the company, was found to be missing.
So was the expert who had changed the combination. All in the office were thunderstruck, as they had stood by and witnessed the entire operation, and how the sack could have been taken was a mystery. But, suspicion pointed too strongly to that one person and his absence was corroborative proof. Three stage and fast freight lines were running from there to Elko, and at once, the wires were set to clicking with instructions to arrest the party if found. He was caught there on the arrival of the stage the next morning, but he didn’t have the money and simply denied it and declared his innocence. However, he was taken back, examined and committed to jail to await the action of the grand jury. He proved to be a celebrated cracksman, but the most puzzling part of the matter was that he had no baggage, no confederates, exhibited no uneasiness, and as the old saying goes, he simply “sawed wood and said nothing.” The money could not be found.