Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Guest Blog With ERICA VETSCH
There’s something so romantic about the image of a beautiful, red Concord stagecoach rolling across the prairie, six well-matched horses in a swinging gallop, their manes and tails streaming like flames of fire in the breeze created by their speed, while the driver, lines threaded through his hands, shouts encouragement. A hawk-eyed messenger rides beside him, an eight-gauge shotgun at the ready, his only job to protect the contents of the messenger box beneath his booted feet.
I remember my first stagecoach ride. (No, I’m not that old!) It was at Old Abilene Town in Abilene, Kansas, not far from my hometown. When I was a child, I got to ride atop a stagecoach down what used to be the main street of the legendary cow town. Thus began a love-affair with the old west and stagecoaches.
Mark Twain memorialized cross-country stage travel in his memoir Roughing It. Covering everything from the spare accommodations to the meager—and at times—unrecognizable meals offered to travelers, to sleeping atop mailbags crammed in the passenger compartment, Twain, in his inimitable way, brought the journey to life. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.
My fascination with stagecoaches was further fueled in high school when I read Six-Horse Hitch by Janet Holt Giles. This novel, the story of stage-driver Starr Fowler and the youngster Bucky Buchanan who grows up and steals his heart, is still one of my favorite books of all time. Giles goes into great detail about the life of the stage-driver, the skill needed to pilot a Concord through dangerous and difficult territory, and the history of the Overland Stage Company. She brings in historical characters that give the story veracity and texture.
I’ve always wanted to write stories set in the Old West, and when I began plotting a series set in historical Idaho, I knew I wanted to include stagecoaching in the stories. In my latest release, Clara and the Cowboy, and the next two books in the series, Lily and the Lawman and Maggie and the Maverick, someone is robbing stages, and it is up to the McConnell brothers to find the culprit and bring him to justice. Along the way, each brother loses his heart to a woman that helps him rise above his past.
I had such fun researching staging. Wells Fargo, Butterfield, Central Overland & Pike’s Peak Express. Ben Holliday, Jack Slade, Wyatt Earp, and more. I delved into books with titles like Throw Down the Box! and Great Stagecoach Robberies of the Old West, and one of my favorites: A Bumpy Ride ~ A History of Stagecoaching in Colorado.
In my research I unearthed a list of passenger rules from the Wells Fargo stage line.
• 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.
Aren’t these fun? I especially love the forbidden topics of conversation. I hope you get a chance to read Clara and the Cowboy, and later this year Lily and the Lawman and Maggie and the Maverick. I had a great time writing them and indulging my love of all things stagecoach.
Question for you. Is there something in American History that always grabs your interest? Perhaps the Civil War, or cowboys, or The Oregon Trail?
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