The Old Stage Drivers
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Mohammed was a camel driver, but he was not
like other camel drivers. The stage drivers in the old
were not like other stage drivers. Marysville,
was headquarters for the
Stage Company, and it was there that staging was seen at its fullness.
As soon as it was light on those delicious
mornings, the criers began one can hear them still,- "Empire Ranch, Rough
and Ready, Grass Valley and
the first cry. Then came "Oregon Ranch, Camptonville, Downieville." Then
"Oroville, Forbestown and Moore's Flat." Then "Tehama, Red Bluff, Shasta
and Yreka," and at steady intervals in a glorified baritone rang out "Sacramento,
Then, from the stables would come the stages.
The horses had been driven across the plains, turned out on their arrival
and by the next spring they had grown a hand in height, and when taken up,
fed grain and groomed, they were most beautiful.
The great Troy
coaches for twenty-seven passengers and drawn by eight horses, had the
right-of-way. At first they were driven on alternate clays by 'Big
John" and: 'Big Jake." Their real names were John Littlefield and
Jacob Putnam. Later Oscar Ross was put upon that line, but one morning
he ran his coach into an opposition coach and knocked it to pieces,
and a passenger on the opposition coach, as soon as he could extricate
himself from the wreck, fired a full charge of bird shot, at close
range, into Oscar's side and he died three days later.:"Big John"
became dissipated and the company took him from the
route and gave him one of the Camptonville coaches, which were
four-horse coaches. After a few days he made a night with the boys in
Camptonville. He was a little: 'How-came-you-so" when he mounted the
box next morning, and, going down the Goodyear hill grade, rolled his
coach over, broke the rail from the top of it, bruised badly a Chinese
passenger, but managed to get to Marysville. He had the coach repaired
at his own expense and next morning drove up in front of the stage
office. While waiting for the time to start, a clerk came out of the
office and, walking up to the coach, said: "Mr. Littlefield, President
Hayworth has instructed me to inform you that your salary has
Littlefield began to
wind the reins around the brake bar, and in a soft voice which grew
harsher as he went on, said: "My compliments to President Hayworth,
and kindly say to him that while I hate to disappoint him, if what you
have just said is true, I'll be d----d if I drive !"
Robert Robins and his
twin brother Dan drove the Shasta stages, leaving Marysville on
alternate days. They were known as "Curly Bob" and "Curly Dan,"
because of their curly hair. As the railroad stretched its way up
toward Tehama and Red Bluff, and staging declined, they came to this
side of the Sierras and drove on the Overland and branch lines.
They were fine looking men and great
drivers, and had none of the wild strata in them which is so common in
men of their calling. Rob died some years ago in Idaho, and Dan in
Salt Lake City a few months ago.
Baldy Green was another famous whip. He
was an old- time
driver and then for years handled the ribbons on the Overland between
Virginia City and Austin.
The last I heard of him
he was a justice of the peace in Humboldt county. His knowledge of law was
limited, but he surely had a great deal of horse sense. He must have been
of the Sancho Panza order of magistrates.
Of course half of the world has heard of Hank
Monk. Before there was any grade over the Sierras and before the finding
of the Comstock, Monk drove a stage between Genoa and Placerville. It was
there that Horace Greeley encountered him and the famous story has been
told with more variations than are used when "Home, Sweet Home" is played
on the piano by an amateur.
There was not much to it
except that Greeley grew impatient going up the mountains from the Genoa
side and sharply told Monk that he was put down for a lecture in
Placerville that night. Monk with his drawl told him to keep his seat,
that he would have him there on time. Reaching the summit, Monk shook out
his team and Mr. Greeley's head collided with the top of the coach at
short intervals, which caused him to cry out to go slower, but Monk's only
reply was: "Keep your seat, Mr. Greeley; I will have you there on time."
Mr. Greeley did not know it, but the man on the box was about the most
superb reinsman in the world. His secret was his exact calculation. With
every ribbon apparently loose, he would turn a running team on a narrow
street, and bring them to a full stop at exactly the right point.
A friend of mine came
down one evening with Monk from Glenbrook on Lake Tahoe, to Carson City,
fourteen miles, in forty-live minutes. The friend asked him if he ever
rolled a stage over on that route, for the horses were at full gallop half
the time. "Oh, no," was the reply, "when you strike a level grade ride
your brake and let the stock go; but when you turn a curve, take off your
brake and give the wheels full play, because to ride a brake around a
curve when going lively might make you trouble."
Monk had a superior
education and was famous for droll expressions. I was riding beside him
once when, nearing a wayside hotel, a man with overcoat on arm came
running- out of the hotel to the coach. Monk pulled up his team, when the
man said: "Monk, have you seen Bill lately?"
'Yes, saw him yesterday;
he's coming down with me tomorrow," was the reply.
The man said he was glad,
turned and walked back to the hotel, and Monk, easing up on the reins, the
team trotted on. When we had gone a few rods. Monk said: 'I wonder what
Bill that yahoo meant?"
"What Bill did you mean?"
"I meant the way-bill,"
Mrs. _____ of Virginia
City went up to Tahoe in a carriage one day for a few weeks' rest in the
hot weather. She left her trunk a skyscraper to be sent next day by coach.
When Monk reached the hotel at the lake, the lady, a fidgety little woman,
was on the upper piazza looking for her trunk. It was not there, and,
knowing Monk well, she called to him and asked where it was.
'They were sawing it in
two when I left," he replied, will bring half of it tomorrow and the other
half next day."
The lady rushed to her
room and cried out to her husband: 'They are sawing my trunk in two in
Carson and all my good clothes are in that trunk: all my party dresses."
"Oh, well," said the
husband, "that will be all right; you are not more than half dressed
anyway when you go to a party."
At last, after many
years, Monk tipped a stage over. He never recovered from the humiliation
of it, and died a few months later.
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