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Stagecoaches: across the American West 1850-1920


By: Sells, John A.
ISBN: 978-0-88839-605-1
Binding: Trade Paper
Size: 11" X 8.5"
Pages: 336
Photos: 63
Illustrations: 28
Publication Date: 2008



This historical guide presents a snapshot of how the stagecoach contributed to the settling of the West. This book offers readers an accurate and comprehensive look at this exciting era in American history.

 The remarkable development of the United States during the turbulent seventy years from 1850 to 1920 can be attributed to many factors-not the least of which was the stagecoach. In 1848 gold was discovered in California, and by 1850 the region had been granted statehood. Despite the harsh isolation that existed across the western half of the country, people knew that expansion must take place. With the growing need for faster travel over long distances, there was a requirement for a different kind of coach than the traditional counterpart in the East. It had to be both fast and sturdy-enough to safely cross a continent.

The new stagecoach was bright, yet modest, with a certain amount of craftsmanship. Driving the one-and-a-half-ton compartment through a land both beautiful and hostile was a teamster. Four to six spirited horses or mules pulled the stagecoach steadily across the vast western lands. The coach was filled with mail, cargo and passengers who placed their trust in the contraption as they traversed the country, stopping along the way at distant and lonely outposts managed by company employees.

This historical guide presents a snapshot of how the stagecoach contributed to the settling of the West. Focusing on the role of the stage lines and their operators in the westward expansion of the United States, Stagecoaches Across the American West offers readers an accurate and comprehensive look at this exciting era in American history. The first part of the book gives a general introduction to the political, social and geographical status of the country as it was poised to expand into the West and connect to the newly formed state of California. It also looks at the production of coaches, some of the key people and organizations involved in their production, the main routes across the country and the various obstacles awaiting the coaches as they made their westward journey. Some of the impediments facing the coaches, their drivers and the owners included inclement weather, harsh geography, a looming civil war and Native Indian unrest, not to mention clumsy and disreputable actions by more than a few settlers. The second part of the book focuses more specifically on the various western states that saw the development of stagecoach lines and the numerous regional operators who were most influential. There are chapters on California and the Pacific, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Wyoming, Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

By offering thorough and broad-ranging information, this book helps readers form a better understanding not only of the stagecoach culture, but also of the significant progress and advancements made during this part of history. The book will be enjoyed by history buffs, particularly those interested in accounts of the Wild West. Full of maps and pictures, the book also includes references and an appendix.

Author Biography

For author John Sells, the history of the Wild West has always held an appeal. As a youth he worked on ranches and farms in the West, and these days, together with his wife, he seeks out western history trips and historical organizations. He is an enthusiastic observer of cultural and environmental aspects of America at the turn of the nineteenth century.
A Colorado native, he is retired from a career in the financial services field.

Book Reviews

May I recommend most highly this handsome, thorough new look at American stagecoaching. John A. Sells, a fellow member of our Denver Posse of Westerners and a published author, has done a superb job of tracking down and bringing back to life the many lines contributing to the golden age of stagecoaching. For either a casual read, or as a fine reference work, this book will be a useful treasure on the shelves of Western Americana. Scholars and western history buffs will appreciate the numerous illustrations and maps, as well as the appendix listing all lines for Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. 

-- Review by Thomas J. Noel, Professor of History, the University of Colorado at Denver, Jan 18 08 

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