as president of the Republic of Texas, a member of the U.S. Senate, or governor
of the Lone Star state, Sam Houston
doubtless traveled thousands of miles on stagecoaches -- including one coach named
in his honor.
The General Sam Houston, a sturdy New England-built Concord
stage capable of accommodating nine, began carrying passengers between the relatively
new capital city of Austin and Brenham
in 1841. Regular service likely started some time that fall, when the coach’s
owner probably had the name painted on in commemoration of Houston’s
Sept. 6 election to his second (but non-consecutive) term as president of the
Six horses pulled the 2,500-pound coach in dry weather, with
the team expanded by two for muddy conditions. Despite having that much horsepower,
the General Sam only covered 12 to 15 miles a day. Even so, sitting in a finely
crafted, curved-sided wooden coach supported on strong bullhide straps designed
to absorb the shock of rough roads, passengers enjoyed the most comfortable ride
of the day.
As president-elect, Houston rode horseback from his home at
Cedar Point in Chambers County to Austin,
but the hero of the Battle
of San Jacinto spent so much time on stagecoaches and staying overnight in
stagecoach inns that he owned what was called a stagecoach set. That item – now
held by the Sam
Houston Museum in Huntsville
-- included a folding knife, fork and spoon, kept in a small leather case protected
by a cigarette package-sized glass holder.
Ironically enough, following
one of his stagecoach trips from Texas to Washington, Houston rose in the Senate
to speak in favor of a transcontinental railroad route across the state.
The General Sam and other stagecoaches in Texas remained
the standard form of public transportation until the early 1870s, when railroads
began spreading across the state. Austin
had had a rail connection for two years when the General Sam made its last run
in 1873, returning passengers to the capital city after completing its final round-trip
to San Antonio.
was abandoned and had to get out of the way,” an article in the Austin Statesman
later reported, “for the railroad took its place.”
more than three decades, the General Sam sat in the alley west of George Patterson’s
Stable and Livery (Patterson also hauled freight and did undertaking) at 108-116
E. 7th St. in downtown Austin. Exposed
to the weather and the general ravages of time, with each passing year the old
stage fell into worse repair.
Finally, in the summer of 1909, city officials
enforced an ordinance requiring that alleyways be cleared of rubbish. The General
Sam would have to go.
“But being in such a dilapidated condition it could
not be moved,” the newspaper continued, essentially only one option remained.
“The coach was torn to pieces and another relic of the early Texas days…passed
into lore.” The General Sam’s timbers, the story went on, were “cast in a waste
Despite the seemingly indifferent destruction of the old stagecoach,
the anonymous journalist who wrote the story for the Austin
newspaper clearly realized its historical significance: “If the old stagecoach
could talk it could tell of some hair-raising events that would probably make
the ‘blood and thunder’ stories look like 20 cents….”
In the stage’s early
days, the article said, an armed guard always accompanied it on its route in the
event of an Indian attack or hijacking “by bad men who wanted to rob the mail.”
Most male passengers also traveled with a pistol handy, particularly in the coach’s
While not citing any specifics, the newspaper writer
said the General Sam had been “the scene of many a fight and holdup.” In fact,
the stage “was marked in numerous places by bullet holes, which were all that
remained…of many of the fights in which the coach was the center of battle.”
- March 28, 2013 column
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