Before Mark Twain became famous, he took a trip out West. It may just be the reason he didn’t return east right away was that he had to ride another stagecoach to get there.
Back before Samuel Clements became Mark Twain, he came out West to work with his brother as a newspaper reporter.
As was the norm of travel, on Aug. 14, 1861 he took the Ben Holladay and Wells Fargo stages from St. Joseph, Missouri to Carson City, Nevada. He recorded his impressions of the trip in his 1872 book “Roughing It.”
Mark Twain described the stagecoach as “an imposing cradle on wheels.” Fortunately, Mark had had experience on the water because the constant sway made some people seasick. Then there was the “forty memorable miles of bottomless sand, into which the coach wheels sunk from six inches to a foot. We worked our passage most of the way across. That is to say, we got out and walked.”
Although stagecoach travel was the best means of travel back in the early 1860s, it was by no means a comfort.
Many stagecoaches were built for transporting mail and freight, with passengers an afterthought. Even those designed for passengers were packed with some passengers having to ride on top of the stage.
In addition to cramped space, there were accidents and an occasional robbery or attack by Indians. And then there was the food, when it was available. According to Mark Twain, a meal consisted of “last week’s bread…condemned army bacon…a beverage which pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler.” And to rub salt in the wound, meals were not included in the $200 a traveler paid for passage.
Mark Twain, known for his exaggerations, may have done so on this occasion. But according to the diaries of others travelers, it wasn’t by much.
Learn about the Old West at www.ChronicleoftheOldWest.com.