Tales of the Overland Stage


Curly Dan – A Crack Whip On the Overland Stage – Among the old pioneer stage drivers over the Sierras was Curly Dan, a handsome and popular fellow, who was noted for his business-like methods and pleasant manner. He was a Chesterfield in politeness and as gallant towards the ladies as a knight of old. He was a favorite with them, but it was remarked that Dan never became well enough acquainted to get married. He always remained on good terms with all of them, but it was noticed, that after a brief acquaintance, they invariably treated him as if they had agreed to simply “be a sister to him.” The secret of this finally leaked out — Dan snored. At every home station Dan had to be provided for, with a bed in a remote part of the house, and if that wasn’t far enough away, then they put him in the barn. Even there, the horses always had a tired and dejected look in the morning for no animal, whether man or beast could sleep within the sound of Dan’s calliope. It was simply an unearthly combination of moans, snorts, groans and treble whistles, mingled with choking flutters of his throttle valve, that not only annoyed, but also filled one with distressing fear. But Dan was   a crack whip and soon rose to a division agent.  Then he was sent to the front and soon took a prominent position on the Montana line, running from Salt Lake to Helena. In 1868 the stage was robbed near Naiad station of a large sum in money and gold bullion, and when it arrived at Malad, Dan was found there, and hastily organized a party which he led in pursuit of the robbers. They succeeded in overtaking and surrounding them in a canyon densely covered with underbrush. In crawling through this on his hands and knees, Dan heard a suspicious noise, and raising his head and body up to see through an opening in the brush he was confronted at a few yards distance by one of the robbers who deliberately fired point blank at him with a Henry rifle. The ball struck Dan near the center of the breast and went directly through him.

Dan fell and knew no more until rescued by his companions and removed from the brush. He was thought to be dead, and one of the rescuers said pathetically, “Dan ’11 never snore anymore.” But to the surprise of all, Dan revived, was carefully nursed and cared for by Wells, Fargo & Co., in whose employ he was at the time, and finally recovered. It was supposed by all that he would also be cured of his snoring, because of the character of the wound, but to the surprise of his old friends, he snored worse than ever. It seemed impossible, but such was the case, and Dan was regarded by his comrades as a holy terror, and he always had a room to himself. His duties, some years afterwards, brought him into Pioche late one night, when, from some cause, he could not get a bed. The keepers of the lodging houses all knew him it seemed, and in a moment of absent mind, this writer tendered him a share of his bed, then in the second story of the express and stage office. It was midnight when the office duties ended and Dan sat by the stove until the work was all finished. We went up stairs and retired, and Dan went to sleep.

Within a minute, and softly began to snore, but this was only preliminary. He soon settled down to regular work, and, to be brief, he fairly raised the roof. Efforts to awaken him were utterly futile. He had rode without stopping from Salt Lake City, 225 miles, and tired out; he was as dead as if dosed with morphine. I shook him and talked to him, but it was useless.  One might as well have talked to the Sphinx. Sleep was utterly out of the question with me, although so weary that my eyes ached. I then got mad and began to kick him, but as that had no effect I tried to roll him out of bed, but he was on the back part of it and I couldn’t turn him over.   By this time I was thoroughly exasperated, and at my wits ends for I could think of no relief and while he was sleeping as sound as a log– or a whole raft of them for that matter–I was doomed to lay awake all night and listen to that frightful menagerie of unearthly sounds. For three hours this continued and my nerves were racked so that I was trembling.  At that moment, to my great relief the fire bell rang, and jumping to my feet I viciously yelled Fire! Fire!!   At the top of my voice and grabbing my clothes ran down stairs, dressed and started on a run for the scene of the fire, up at the Pioche–Phoenix Mine, three-fourths of a mile away. I stayed until daylight, working to keep awake. When I returned Dan was still snoring. The early stages were dispatched at 6 o’clock, and, continuing until 8 o’clock, a constant racket was kept up in the office, but above it all, Dan’s snores were as regular as the beating of the surf.   At 9 o’clock the banking department of Wells, Fargo & Co. opened in the same office. The general agent appeared on the scene, and the cashier, teller and book-keeper were busy getting the vault open and moving out books and trays of coin. The noise from up stairs then attracted their attention. I was mum and unconscious of any unusual sound.

I was gloating for revenge. Dan was doing his level best; he was evidently on the home stretch and the choking groans were horrifying. The agent listened. He knew Dan and recognized the snore, and dashing down his pen, he sang out to the porter, “Go put that man out or kill him.”

Disposing of the Overland Stage – Article in the Reno Evening Gazette, May 27, 1891)

A train through the woods

A train through the woods

The following account of how Wells, Fargo & Co. disposed of their Montana stage line that ran from Salt Lake City to Helena, at the time of, and before the completion of the transcontinental railroad, is told to illustrate the character of men that wreck railroads. The story is old, but in view of the fact that it is historical and marks a transition period in overland locomotion, it is retold in these columns. In the early 60’s Wells, Fargo & Co. purchased the Overland Stage line from Ben Holliday, and the company continued to run it until it was displaced by the railroad in 1869. In the summer of 1868 Wells, Fargo & Co. sent out from New York City a trusted agent to examine into the condition of their immense stage property and to recommend the most feasible plans of disposing of it as fast as its usefulness was destroyed by the advance of the railroad.

The line then extended From Wadsworth to Salt Lake City and beyond to the Platte River, with an important side line into Montana.

This last one was in no danger of being disturbed by any railroad for some years after the completion of the overland, and while it was doing an immense business then, it had also in prospect a long continuation of prosperity ahead of it. The agent from New York (a Mr. C.) was a man of great reserve and aristocratic bearing, who wielded his power in a very autocratic manner and who drove some hard bargains in disposing of the stage property west of Salt Lake City. He sold it, at some sacrifice, to different companies, who utilized it in running side lines to connect the mining towns with the railroad, and generally took in payment the amounts to come due on unexpired mail contracts.

The sales were all duly ratified by Wells, Fargo & Co.’s Board of Directors then residing in the east, and the agent’s course proved so satisfactory that he was given plenary powers to contract sales of all their different lines. He was not slow in discerning the value of the Montana line, and early in his administration laid a scheme which he intended should inure to his own benefit. He commenced by exchanging the best stock and finest coaches from other parts of their lines for the old and worn, upon this one, until it was the best equipped of any part of their large system. He did this because he had determined to possess himself of this fine piece of property, when all the other was disposed of. To do this, he found he must have a dummy to make the deal with, and as all the previous sales had been, to a great extent, made to old employees of the company, he concluded to select a well known division agent on the Montana line to co-operate with, and make the sale to, and after it was ratified by the directors, buy him out, and if required, be ready to make some plausible explanation.

But, until he got the property in this roundabout way, the utmost secrecy was required. Having evolved the plan, he took into his confidence the man he had selected, and who readily assented, for a prospective interest, to join in the scheme. The property was worth $200,000, but the agent represented to the directors that in view of the uncertainties and precarious nature, of business in the mining territories, and the fact that all the other lines were disposed of, it would be a good riddance for the company to part with this, even at a little sacrifice, and as he had found a purchaser willing to give $40,000 in cash for it, he recommended its immediate sale.

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