Tales of the Overland Stage

Freighter on the Plains

Freighter on the Plains

Persistent efforts were made to get him to confess, but he simply denied all knowledge. Nearly a month elapsed, when one of the other stage lines discovered a satchel in their Elko office that when examined was found to be empty. It was unclaimed baggage, but the proprietor suspected Tom —-, a former employee, of a little crookedness. At this juncture of affairs I was in Elko on a visit, when one of the proprietors said to me, without any further explanation, “Dick, I must go to Sacramento tonight, keep an eye on Tom. If he starts away on any train you go along with him and tell him to return. He will do so if you catch him going, but if you watch him and keep close to him he will not go. When the express comes in from Virginia tomorrow morning if he gets a letter and finds you watching him he will go to my office and leave a check for a large sum of money. Follow my instructions and it will be all right.” He left and I did as he told me, keeping close around Tom all the time and saying nothing yet wondering a great deal what it all meant. I was present when the express arrived on the next morning, with an eye on Tom. He received a letter, put it in his pocket, and with a furtive glance walked out the door. I followed with an indifferent look. The train was just moving out past us.

Tom looked uneasily at it, and then at me. The train was out of reach in a few seconds. Then, Tom turned with decision and asked me to accompany him to the stage office. I did so and he laid down a check and asked the agent to give him a receipt. It was soon written, though the agent knew not what it meant any more than I did. Tom took the receipt and walked off without a word of explanation and without an inquiry from us. A few days later, the cracksman was discharged from the Hamilton jail, and the case remained a mystery to me for many years. A year ago, I met John Gray in the Palace Hotel in Reno and he told me that he recovered his money by giving an indemnifying bond to the stage proprietors, but he never knew where his money came from. I knew. The cracksman had taken passage on one stage line and sent his satchel by the other to Elko in another name. Tom got the sack after it had lain some time uncalled for, and sent the money to Virginia City. When he was casually asked if he could remember when it came to Elko he got scared, confessed, returned it and was forgiven, but was promptly discharged. The cracksman would never admit anything, but he skipped very quickly when he was turned loose.

Celebrated Whips – Article in the Reno Evening Gazette, June 3, 1891

Stagecoach Driver

Stagecoach Driver

The old pioneer stage drivers were nearly all possessed of some marked characteristic that distinguished each from the other, so that they could almost be recognized in the dark. Some would rarely ever speak; others would talk a little to be social,  or for the same reason, listen attentively to a stale joke that was dinned in their ears everyday by smart alecks traveling at other people’s expense; while some were full of Joe Miller jokes, which they would repeat daily “just to see some sucker bite.” All had pride in their calling, petted their “stock” and would beat the opposition, even though they had to “pound ’em on the back” to make time.

Among the crack whips, Billy Blackmore was noted for his devotion to duty; his foot was always on the brake, with stock always in hand and whip ready to touch a leader. Billy was so attentive while on duty that his nightmares were a repetition of his run, and when asleep his dreams were always of the dangerous places on the down grades. At such times, he would pull himself up by the blankets and press the foot board off the bed, muttering “Whoa, there! whoa!” believing all the time he was bearing down on the brake. He was a terror to the landlords, who finally adopted the plan of building bedsteads that he couldn’t kick down.

Baldy Green was noted for his ill luck in being selected by the road agents, or highwaymen, for robbery. In Six-mile Canyon he was stopped so often that the stage company concluded he was either in with the gang, or else a hoodoo, and they transferred him to the Austin drive. That broke his heart and he left the road and went to hauling freight in Pioche.

Tom Reilley Was a wag and always “joshing.” He had a ready joke for every one, even when wakened out of his sleep. On one occasion, when his drive ended on the new road from Eureka to Palisade, at midnight, at a station consisting only of a corral, when the stock was cared for, Reilley laid down and was soon sleeping. Waking at the hostler’s movements, Reilley yawned and said “Tim, for God’s sake put up the bars’ or we’ll both take cold.” His favorite expression of approval or condemnation was “He’s a lizard,” and his meaning of its application was the manner in which he said it and squinted his eyes. His eyes were weak and always half closed. Coming out of the hotel at Palisade one noon time from dinner, he stopped to look at two Italians lying asleep on the front stoop. One of them, made restless by the flies, raised his foot and gave a little kick, at which Reilley said to his comrade, “It’s alive Billy, I saw it move.”

Vic Koensin was noted for his earnest expressions uttered in a deep guttural of broken German. He possessed great powers of endurance, and during the muddy roads of the spring break-up in the Reese River valley, he was frequently out on the box twenty hours in his drive from East Gate to Austin. It was a daily drive, and Baldy Green said he walked around the rest of the day for exercise.

Dave Red was noted for his thin, cadaverous look, and ghastly smile when the bottle was passed, at which he would say “Here’s a go,” and after taking a swig, pull up on the lines and start the team on a spin to the next raise. We rode with him once to Idaho , and in crossing the Owyhee River went over the ferry ahead of him, leaving a bottle concealed in our baggage. An hour afterwards, the stage got across and Dave — well he had found the bottle. We dropped it under the wheel to save his neck, and when we reached the end of his drive at Jordan Creek, he was sober as a deacon, and merely said “Take care of yourself Billy till I see you again.” Poor Dave, he was found dead and boiled to pieces, a year or so afterward in a hot spring at Keosin’s Station, midway between Austin and Battle Mountain.

Jim Miller was known by his striking dress. In stature over six feet tall, his clothing gave him a look as grotesque as a clown. But, his clothes always fit him and were made to order under his special directions. In winter, he wore a long blanket overcoat and pants, with the wide stripes arranged for cuffs and collars and high water marks. The buttons were big silver dollars, and across his bright red vest was a silver watch chain with links like a trace chain, which went clear around his neck and weighed four pounds. It was further weighted down with silver horses. The watch was a monster one and had cases so thick that he could run his coach over them without endangering the works. Of course, he wore a white beaver hat of the finest make — all the drivers did that in those days — and as a further mark of oddity, he wore very high-heeled boots with soles an inch and a half thick. When he would arrive at Austin with his fast freight wagon from Virginia City , he attracted as much attention as the camel train that was then used in freighting. And, he enjoyed the notoriety better than Barnum ever did “The biggest show on earth.”

Uncle John Gibbons was the hero of the Sazerac Lying Club, and to him is attributed the proposition to graft grapevines onto the sagebrush, and thus turn Nevada into a vast vineyard.

Reese Hawley was noted for his daring bravery as a Pony Express rider. After it was succeeded by the Overland Stage , he pulled the reins over a team in and out of Austin, until he secured a moderate nest egg, and then resigned and retired to an Iowa farm, and was noted as one among the few of the old boys that saved a competence for his old age.

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