Monday, July 25, 2016

Legendary Stagecoach Drivers—and a Giveaway

By Jennifer Uhlarik

It’s here, it’s here, it’s here! The Courageous Brides Collection, which includes my 3rd novella, Mountain Echoes, came out on July 1. So I’ll be celebrating this month with a giveaway of an autographed copy. 

My hero in Mountain Echoes is stagecoach driver Finn McCaffrey. In researching the men (and women) who held such a job, I found them to be a colorful bunch, so I thought I’d share a bit about them.

Stagecoach drivers were a daring sort. They had to handle a six-horse team with great skill while driving at top speed through sand, mud, inclement weather and harsh terrain. They had to be able to make hairpin curves on rocky mountain passes or cross flooded creeks without batting an eye. They needed the backbone to face robbers and Indians who might be laying in wait along their path, all with the mind to keep both passengers and any valuables they carried safe. They were affectionately known by various nicknames. Charley. Whip. Reinsman. Or my personal favorite…Jehu. This one was in reference to the Bible passage in 2 Kings 9, where the Israelite king, Jehu, was described as driving his chariot “furiously.”

The typical garb for a stagecoach driver was a flat-crowned, wide-brimmed hat. They wore a long linen duster coat to combat the elements, and long gloves to protect their hands from the leather reins. Tall leather boots completed the outfit. Most carried a whip which they’d crack above the team’s heads to encourage them along the route.

So…who were some of the real people who made names for themselves as stage drivers?

Hank Monk
Henry James Monk, better known as Hank, was born in New York on March 24, 1826. He had a great affinity and skill with horses and was said to have once driven eight horses side-by-side in a Boston celebration. By the age of twelve, he was driving wagons and stagecoaches in New York State. At the age of twenty-six, he crossed the Isthmus of Panama and made his way to California where he began driving stagecoaches for various different companies across his long and storied career. He drove many routes for several different companies, but all the routes fell somewhere between Sacramento, California, and Virginia City, Nevada. Probably the best-known stagecoach driver in the West, he was imortalized by Mark Twain in Roughing It, where Twain described a stagecoach ride that famed New York Daily Tribune journalist Horace Greeley once took. Greeley complained to Monk that he was going to be late for a lecture he was slated to give in Placerville, California, so Monk put on the speed, to the point that Greeley was so jostled inside the coach that his head went through the ceiling! He was said to have called out to Monk that he was no longer in such a hurry, and to please slow down, to which Monk replied, “Just hang on, Mr. Greeley. I’ll get you there on time.”


George Monroe
George Monroe was born in Georgia and traveled west at the tender age of 11. Early on, he showed great promise with training and driving horses. At the age of 22, he hired on with the A.H. Washburn Stage company, which drove to Yosemite. Monroe’s quick thinking and nerves of steel gained him the title of “best all-around Reinsman in the West,” and when various U.S. Presidents (Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, and Rutherford B. Hayes) each toured the west, he was the whip chosen to drive them. Grant, an avid horseman himself, chose to sit on the bench beside the driver on the most treacherous part of the path—an unbelievably narrow 26-mile passage full of hairpin curves, potholes, and falling rocks. Grant watched as Monroe navigated each difficulty with great skill and later said that it was as if the six-horse team were one animal under Monroe’s control.

Charley Parkhurst
This driver was an interesting person. Often called One-eyed Charley or Cockeyed Charley, this Jehu drove for many different stage companies throughout California for over thirty years. But rather than give you my brief description, I’ll let former HHH blogger Winnie Griggs’ post (found here) on old Charley speak for itself.

It’s your turn: Of the three drivers mentioned here, which would you have wanted to travel with? Leave your contact information with your comment to be included in the drawing for an autographed copy of The Courageous Brides Collection. Drawing will be held tomorrow, July 26, 2016.

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.


Ride into adventures alongside nine determined women of yesteryear whose acts of compassion and bravery attract male attention. Marcy helps displaced Indians. Emmy tends wounds at Fort Snelling. Ronnie stows away on a cattle drive. Daisy disguises herself as a Pony Express rider. Elinor becomes an abolitionist. Mae tames wild horses. Hannah gets help for accident victims. Lucy’s curiosity unnerves criminals. Kate nurses soldiers on the battlefield. Will real dangers douse the sparks of love?

Sunday, July 24, 2016



The hero in my current work in progress is in jail and needs to escape.  The question is how?  As usual, whenever I have a plotting problem I hit the books.  From my research I learned that escaping jail was no big deal in the Old West.
There was a good reason for this. Jails were often built in a hurry and were flimsy affairs.  Adding to the problem, towns didn’t have the money to hire jail guards.  One California jail was so poorly built that prisoners were put on their honor not to escape. 
The way prisoners escaped varied and, in some cases, was even laughable.
Arroyo Grande’s wooden jail house was the object of scorn, and breaking out was somewhat of a town joke. On several occasions prisoners skipped town taking along the iron chains that were meant to hold them captive.
Dynamite was used on occasion, but was seldom necessary.  Some prisoners simply walked out of unlocked cells. Others, like a man in a Yuma jail, wiggled the bars loose in a window.
Roy Bean (yes, that Roy Bean) supposedly escaped a San Diego hoosegow by using a jackknife to cut through soft mortar.  Bean went from escapee to the colorful judge known as The Law West of the Pecos.
Ten men escaped the Tombstone jail while the guards were having supper.  They simply dug a hole in the wall and jumped fifteen feet to the ground.
Billy the Kid escaped from the Silver City prison through a chimney.
San Francisco's first jail was a flimsy log structure built around 1846.  John Henry Brown, editor of the California Star, wrote in ACTUAL EXPERIENCE OF AN EYE-WITNESS, FROM 1845 TO 1850:
“One night a man, by name of Pete, from Oregon, was put in the Calaboose, for having cut the hair off the tails of five horses and shaved the stumps. As Leavensworth (the Alcalde) did not send him his breakfast, he called on Leavensworth at his office, with the door of the Calaboose on his back, and told him if his breakfast was not sent up in half an hour we would take French leave. Leavensworth sent his breakfast.”
Wickenburg, Arizona didn’t have a jailhouse.  Instead, prisoners were chained to a large Mesquite tree until they could be transported out of town.  No one ever escaped the tree.  However, so many prisoners were once chained to the boughs, there was no room for more. Out of necessity one criminal was tied to a nearby log.  He got sick of waiting, so he picked up the log and walked to the nearest saloon. 
Men weren’t the only ones who broke out of jail.  Women, however, were more likely to use feminine wiles than brawn.  After stagecoach robber Pearl
Hart escaped Sheriff Wakefield’s supposedly secure jail, she boasted “he fell in love with me.”
Jailbreaks were so prevalent that New Mexico governor Lionel Sheldon declared that “escapes are as easily made as from a paper bandbox.”
Not all escapes were successful and some escapees were either shot dead or caught a few days later. But many did manage to get away.  Out of those who were caught, some managed to escape again and again. 

Coming in November: Left at the Altar

Welcome to Two-Time Texas:
Where tempers burn hot
Love runs deep
And a single marriage can unite a feuding town
…or tear it apart for good