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 Texas : Features : Columns : Lone Star Diary

RIDING THE STAGE,
IN OLD TEXAS

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

Try, if you will, to imagine yourself traveling from Gonzales to Galveston, in the middle of July, on a stagecoach that would take at least three days to reach its destination. The choking dust filling your nostrils, the intense heat, and the ever-present fear that you might become the victim of a holdup would make for a very memorable trip, to say the least.

In 1853, the same year The Gonzales Inquirer newspaper was established, stagecoach lines were the main mode of travel to other parts of the country. These coaches only operated on certain days and they also carried the mail. People in Gonzales were lucky if they received their mail every other day.

According to old issues of The Gonzales Inquirer, stagecoaches operated regularly between Gonzales and various ports of entry on the coast. These included Port Lavaca, Indianola, and Galveston. The coaches would take passengers back and forth from these ports to other locations in the interior of the state.

In the late 1850s, old issues of the Inquirer contained advertisements from the Goss & Perry Stage Line. This firm proudly claimed that their stages could deliver passengers from Austin to Indianola in 48 hours. That was quite an accomplishment back then.

The Inquirer reported that, "... stagecoaches left Gonzales every Monday and Thursday mornings, returning every Thursday and Friday evening. Towns on the route included La Grange, Columbus, Chappel Hill, Brenham, Washington [Texas], and all connected with the New Orleans and Galveston steamers."

Stage stands (inns) were located at various points along the routes. Here, passengers were fed and fresh teams of horses were provided to pull the coaches. Inns, in the towns, were usually located in a boarding house or a hotel. They provided modest accommodations, but after hours in the rough riding coach they must have offered a welcomed respite.

Some of the stage inns were rowdy places - fights were known to happen; their level of violence probably depended on how many bottles of "who hit John" were consumed.

While the stage lines hauled the people; the freight lines carried the merchandise. Information obtained from the old newspapers provides us with somewhat vague accounts of how supplies were transported in the 1850s. This information does indicate however, that all freight coming and going out of Gonzales was transported by wagon train.

The freight routes leading from this city to the principal ports on the coast were well marked. Most of the supplies bound for Gonzales, came up from Indianola and Port Lavaca.

The old freighters traveled in companies or trains, to maximize their hauling capabilities and for safety's sake. It must have taken a tough ol' boy to be a freighter or stagecoach driver in those days! What with the Indians looking to lift your scalp and bandits more than willing to shoot you and steal your cargo.

Newspaper reports indicate that the coaches carrying the mail were the most likely targets for robbers. Many encounters were made with these desperadoes and the good guys didn't always win.

When the railroad finally came to Gonzales, the stagecoaches and freight carrying wagon trains passed into history. They had served their purpose well - keeping this community on the frontier supplied with flour, sugar, coffee, building materials, guns, and the like - as well as, fancy hats and dresses for the ladies.

I'll bet folks didn't take anything for granted back then. They probably really appreciated receiving a letter; or finally seeing that new shipment of coffee arrive. I can only imagine how excited they must have been to greet a loved one, arriving on the evening stage. Finally here, safe and sound, after days of hard riding and somehow avoiding the dangers of the trail.

Some might say that this all sounds like some sort of fictional nonsense from a low-budget Hollywood western.

Maybe so, but in this town and many others like it in the 1850s, it wasn't a scene from any movie - it was a fact of life.

Lone Star Diary
December, 2000
Published with author's permission.

 
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