Tales of the Overland Stage

On the day above named, the express box was observed to be heavier than usual, and although the agent and driver tried to conceal its weight when stowing it away in the front boot, passengers quietly remarked that the boys would make a good haul if they went for it. The stage rolled along through Eberhardt Canyon and on over the dusty road during the afternoon and reached the supper station without any interruption. It continued on during the evening and until after midnight, with the usual halts at stations for a change of horses and the usual exchange of small talk between driver and hostlers. One of the passengers was Jot Travis, who was one of the owners of the line, which, at that time, was earning money rapidly. Another passenger was a new agent for the express and stage departments at Pioche. About midnight a station was reached and the usual change of horses made, after which it rolled on its way, and soon the passengers were all asleep. Half an hour afterward they were awakened by the stopping and sudden starting up of thestage. Travis, more alert than the others, awoke first, and reaching to unbutton a curtain, said to the express agent, “What was that,” and got a sleepy reply “O! nothing; guess we just left a station.”

“No, said Travis, “we passed that two miles back. I heard something said about the box. I believe we’ve been robbed,” and he was making haste to throw open the curtain when the express agent held him back, saying: “Go slow. If we have been robbed you had better not poke your head out just now.”

“That’s so,” said Travis, “but I think we ought to stop and find out.”

He was again cautioned to wait a minute, for the stage was now bowling along as fast as six panting horses could haul it and it was very evident something unusual had occurred. Travis was impetuous and intrepid and called out to the driver, “Pat! what’s the matter?” and the reply came back in husky, muffled tones, “The boys took the box.”

“What’s that?” said Travis; “What did they say?” and the driver answered in the same subdued and hoarse whisper, “They took the box and told me to drive on, and said their guns carried 250 yards, and I’m not out of range yet;” and with a sharp flourish of silk, he urged on the panting horses.

Travis was furious. He insisted on getting out right there and pursuing the road agents at once; but when admonished that it would be hazardous with only revolvers and on foot to make an attack on the well mounted robbers, armed with Winchesters, he subsided, but with some profanity over the fate that compelled him to. That night, the stage rolled in to Pioche minus the treasure box and $1,700 in coin and jewelry. The Sheriff, John Kane, took the trail, stimulated by a big reward, but the robbers were never caught, although they were believed to have been in Pioche three days afterwards gambling on their ill-gotten gains.

A Weary Walk – Article in the Reno Evening Gazette, May 19, 1891

Among the pioneers in the stage business in this State, and in fact on this coast, was Frank Cluggage who was well known to the early traveling public and noted for his quiet, unobtrusive ways, and his thorough financial stability. In fact, reports were that Frank became rich in early life and was never known to make a losing, hence his financial standing gave him a prestige that secured for him a choice of good, reliable employees and thus contributed to his continued success. He was, however, equally well known for his parsimonious habits, and this lead him into the practice of economical ways that, at times, caused him some personal inconvenience.

 

On one occasion, desiring to save time in passing over his mail route from Columbus in Esmeralda County to San Antonio in Nye County, which was only tri-weekly, he concluded to go on the hurricane deck of a mule on one of the off days. He set out from Columbus in the early morning with no other companion than his long-eared transport and made excellent time during the first part of the journey. It was then a lonesome route, as it is yet, and he met no travelers on the way. Hence, he smoked his cigar and talked to the mule for company and thought he had established kindly relations with the brute of cunning light heels. In fact, the mule seemed to enjoy Frank’s talk and jogged along in a docile and becoming manner without exhibiting “any tricks that are vain,” and Frank permitted his confidence to get the better of his mature judgment.

The road passes over stretches of dreary alkali deserts, with watering places far apart and no habitation within sight or reach. When Frank had accomplished most of the distance, but was yet about 25 miles from San Antonio, he reached the last watering place. It was a shallow well in the midst of the desert and without a well rope. This had caused travelers to cut a sloping path down to the water, and the stage company kept a bucket there for watering the stock. When Frank reached it at noon he was thirsty and so was the mule. He dismounted and, as there was nothing to hitch the mule to, he left it standing at the head of the incline and descending, he first quenched his own thirst and then brought up a bucketful.

For the mule, who was very dry and eagerly drank it all in very short order. Frank got a second bucket, which disappeared as quickly as the first, and then went for a third one. When he reached the surface he stumbled; this scared the mule — Tom was his name — and with a snort off he started on the road to San Antonio.

Frank dropped the bucket and started after him and began calling in gentle tone, “who-a Tom, who-a.” But Tom wasn’t to be flattered, and with an eye on Frank he jogged along just out of reach — regulating his gait to suit Frank’s movements, whether fast or slow, but always just out of reach. The afternoon was hot and Frank was soon perspiring as if in a Turkish bath, while the mule, relieved of his burden, was provokingly cool. Frank tried strategy, but it didn’t succeed — the mule seemed endowed with human intelligence and brute cunning. Frank talked kindly, “who-a Tom who-a now, who-a,” but Tom kept out of reach. At last, Frank’s patience was exhausted, and with a good deal of feeling he said, “d–n your pelt, if I ever get hold of you I’ll break your neck.”  But Tom didn’t hearken, he simply kept out of reach, and for the entire twenty-five miles, he kept ahead of Frank for just a few yards, and just after nightfall pricked up his ears and started off on a brisk trot for the station that he scented in the distance, and soon left Frank out of sight, alone on the desert and feeling his way in the dark. The station keeper caught the mule and came back on a search for the rider. He soon found Frank, but he was so mad that he wouldn’t tell how far he had walked, and this saved the mule. And Frank never told of his desert tramp with a mule in the lead until many years after.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, update August, 2015.

About the Author: Written by William Daugherty, for the Reno Evening Gazette in 1891. The Reno Evening Gazette was first published on October 12, 1876 and continued for the next 107 years. In 1977, it was merged with the Nevada State Journal, and continues to exist today as the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Also See:

Pioneers on the Nevada Frontier (Reno Evening Gazette)

Nevada Mining Tales (Reno Evening Gazette)

Pioche Land Jumpers and the Death of Jack Harris (Reno Evening Gazette)

Violence on the Nevada Frontier (Reno Evening Gazette)

Historical Accounts of American History

Nevada Legends

 

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