Oh, this has been quite the month since my last post. I had just finished my recent book deadline, and the next 12 days were spent attempting to play catch-up on everything that I had laid aside in order to finish my book. On day 13, my parents flew in for 5 days, so again, anything not an emergency was set aside. Then, I had 11 days before I had to fly back east to Philadelphia for a writer's conference where I was on faculty and staff for 4 days.
During this time, I had some sort of weird sinus attack that robbed me of my voice for 2 days then decided to clog up my left ear so everything comes to me sounding like I'm in a cavern or echo chamber...perhaps even under water. This past Saturday, I was in so much pain, I was in tears. Praise God for my parents who lived nearby and could help, so I didn't have to fly back home with an earache. I've tried everything to clear it to no avail. Doctor said it doesn't look like anything other than sinuses (of which I've never had a problem to this point in my life), and it should clear itself in a few days as the air pressure equalizes. In the meantime, I'm left with half-clear hearing and feeling quite off-balance.
And the lack of balance leads me into how stagecoach passengers might feel during one of those necessary, yet unpleasant rides. :)
You can't read a western book without mention or reference of a stagecoach somewhere tucked within the pages of the story. In fact, in some areas, they were the only mode of transportation to get from one town to another if you didn't own a horse or wagon/buggy, or it was too far to walk.
A stagecoach is a type of four-wheeled closed coach for passengers and goods, strongly sprung and drawn by four horses, usually four-in-hand. Widely used before the introduction of railway transport, it made regular trips between stages or stations, which were places of rest provided for stagecoach travelers.
In one of the two series' I'm writing now, my heroine is a Philadelphia socialite who travels west to pursue her passion for art. She's able to take the train all the way to Rock Springs, Wyoming, but from there to Twin Creeks, the stage is the only option. She'd been traveling for almost a week, and the prospect of a bumpy, dusty and sometimes painful ride didn't hold much appeal. Her companions are a lanky gentleman who pulls his hat down over his eyes and sleeps, another portly fellow whose snoring resembles a hog, and a matronly dowager woman who has an incessant need to fill her ears with the latest gossip. Let's just say this wasn't the best of rides.
But I've been having a lot of fun doing research on the stagecoach so I can "see" it through the eyes of my heroine. While it might seem exciting to children and those who have never ridden a stagecoach, the reality isn't so grand.
The type of situation I described above from my book is quite common for those traveling by stage. You don't often choose your fellow passengers, and at times, so many are crammed into the small inside compartment, you end up spending the journey squished shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers. There were even "rush hour" situations, where passengers would ride on top with the luggage and hang off the back or sides, wherever they could find a spot.
It was often a gruesome experience, but until the railways were fully established, it remained the only option.
Coaches on the overland (or long-distance) stages traveled continuously for twenty two days, both day and night, through dust or blowing sand, in intense heat or cold, sometimes tormented by insects, with only brief stops at way stations to change teams. It's amazing they managed to stay upright on that bench and hold onto their teams of horses! Passengers often had poor food and no rest. If a passenger got off the stage to rest, he might be stuck in that place for a week or more, or even longer if the next stage coming through that stop had no available seats.
Passengers were sometimes even compelled to walk to relieve the fatigued teams or when the coach had to be lightened to make it over a stretch of sand. They were also called upon to help push coaches up hills or get them unstuck when bogged down in mud or sand.
And the penchant for passengers crowded into coaches actually prompted Wells Fargo to post these rules in each coach in an attempt to moderate passenger behavior:
- Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
- If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
- Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
- Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort in cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
- Don't snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger's shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.
- Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
- In the event of runaway horses remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians, and hungry coyotes.
- Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
- Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It's a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.
So, have you ever read a book or watched a movie where a stagecoach ride was depicted as a pleasant experience? What was it? And how about the ride being shown for what it truly was? A gruesome experience? Please share in the comments.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an award-winning author, speaker, and online assistant, who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have one girl and one boy, and an Aussie/retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold fourteen books so far and is represented by Sandra Bishop of MacGregor Literary Agency. Read more about her at her web site: http://www.amberstockton.com.