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Harrison County Iowa Genealogy

Stage Coach Stories

Contributed by Janette Lager

Woodbine Man, Now 91, Hauled Grant Across Iowa




Says Stage Drivers Beat Pony Express in Spreading News of Lincoln’s Assassination

Guarded Gold Dust Across Iowa.


    Woodbine, Ia., Dec. 22 -  Stories of gun running for John Brown, fighting for a few state in Kansas and casting his vote against slavery there before 21, of hauling General Grant in his stage across southwestern Iowa, of driving a thieving partner from camp at pistol point while yet in his teens and of riding the first railroad into Council Bluffs, are told by Granville P. Kemp of this place.  Mr. Kemp, who is now 91 years of age, lives here with Mrs. Kemp. They have been married sixty-five years.  Before coming to Woodbine they resided at Council Bluffs, at various residences in the west side, including 2411 Avenue B.

Mr. Kemp chooses to tell his story chronologically.  It follows:

     I was born ninety-one years ago at Beverley, Randolph county W. Va., and they named me Granville P.  I was barely 16 when they gave me the right to drive a stage and carry mail sacks for the government.  We removed to Cincinnati, Oh., just in time to get into the cholera epidemic there in 1849, during which time hundreds of people died.  Then we moved back to West Virginia, settling at Parkersburg.  We left Parkersburg in 1854 and came by steamer down the Ohio River into the Mississippi, and reached St. Louis for a change of steamers, then on to Keokuk, Ia., I was at the first state fair ever held by the state of Iowa, at Fairfield, in 1854.  From this place I resumed the business of stage driving which I continued for some months, then had a chance to buy a bankrupt stock of goods to peddle in Kansas over…?.. Topeka, Lawrence and Ossawattomie.

     Got hold of a bankrupt stock of goods and went over into Kansas to sell them.  At one town they arrested me and fined me $50 because, as they said, I had no right to peddle goods from a wagon without a license.  The sheriff refused to receive his share of the costs, and the judge and all the officers of the court let me off as lightly as they could.  There was a man I had hired to go with me who turned out to be a cut-throat and tried to kill me.  I had got off my wagonload of goods, and was watering the horses and my partner’s gun went off and the bullet struck in the gravel.  I felt something hit my hat, but I supposed it to be gravel thrown up by the bullet.  Next morning I found a bullet hole in my hat and realized that the fellow had shot directly at me.  I drew my revolver, went into the bedroom, covered the man with my gun and told him that for just a little I would shoot him as he lay.  He turned white as a sheet.  I let him get up to dress, then marched him into the yard, still keeping him covered, and started him through the water of the creek nearby, telling him not to look back or I would drill a hole through him.  He kept on going and was soon out of sight.  I heard the rattle of a saber, and heard and army officer behind me who asked me, after learning my story, why I had not killed the fellow saying “He richly deserved it, and you would have been perfectly justified in shooting him.”  This officer was in command of a body of calvary camped nearby.  I never saw my partner again.


Shoots At Thief’s Legs

     On another occasion I caught a man in early morning trying to steal my horses.  He was untying their halters and I got down on one knee and took a shot at his shins, and he ran away leaving my horses.

     They had big land sales in Kansas, and I attended several of them.  At one of these Gen. Jim Lane delivered an anti-slavery address.  There were twenty-five or thirty Missourians, all partly intoxicated, who swore they would take Lane out of the wagon and end the speech.  One fat man seemed to be the leader of the bunch.  Just behind Lane stood a fellow about six feet seven in height, and as I was behind him, I could see that he had a big revolver which he was holding ready, partly covering it with his hat.  The Missouri crowd wanted to capture Lane, but that big red-haired fellow behind the speaker, with his gun ready, was too much for their courage.  They let the general alone and he finished his speech.

     Captain Cooke came to one of these land sales and a couple of bushwhackers waylaid him and his companion and shot at both of them with rifles.  Cooke’s companion was killed and the captain fired his repeating rifle once or twice at the murderers then drew both of his revolvers and with each one in each hand shot them both before they could fire again or get away. Cooke went to the nearest town and told the people to go and care for the bodies of the two bushwhackers, “for,” said he, “they need care.”  This happened near Lawrence in 1858.  Mrs. John Brown kept a little store in that town and I got acquainted with her.  Brown himself was away at the time I was in Lawrence.  I missed getting acquainted with him.


Not 21, but Votes

     I lacked a few months of being 21 years old, but they didn’t mind that.  I voted to make Kansas a free state.  Lane’s speech to which I have just referred, was made at this election. Coming away from the town where I voted, a man came out of the house and said, “What have you in that wagon?”

     “Sharp’s rifles and revolvers for John Brown,” I replied.

     He jumped over the fence and said, “I’ll just take a look at those guns,” and started to grab my horse’s bridle and stop the team.  I picked up my own rifle and said, “Here’s one of them now.  You come any nearer to the horses and I will make a hole through you that you could look through to see moonrise.”  He drew back and I drove off.


Stage Company Organized at Council Bluffs

     After my stay in Kansas I came to Council Bluffs and drove the stage over the two southern tiers of counties.  I drove over one of the routes from Council Bluffs to St. Joseph and from Woodbine to the town of Lewis.  Senators and representatives and generals of the army often rode with me.  Members of the different state legislators were frequently on my stage.  Once General Curtis came from the plains to  Omaha and they drove the stage across the Missouri on the ice.  I had to walk ahead and pilot the driver over.  He called to me, “Come quick, I believe the general is dying.”  We got the general out, stretched him on the river bank, and he breathed his last.  They sent his body east for burial.  General Sherman was one of my passengers and his fare was $2.  He gave me two greenbacks, the first I had ever seen.  On another occasion General Grant was on board, during his candidacy for president in 1867.  One of his army captains sat on top of the stage with me, the general inside.  I had a team of very mettlesome horses, and as this was in the night, and I did not want to talk.  I cut the captain off with short answers.  You see, I had been up all of the night before, driving and was tired.  He asked if I had much experience, and just to get the joke on him I told him I was a perfectly green driver without experience.  He was scared stiff, for the horses were mettlesome and the road was slippery.  When we got through, the captain climbed down and went on at a great rate about greenhorn drives and a big fellow called “Canada Bill,” hearing him told the captain, “Kemp drove the stage before you were born.”  Just then the general spoke up and said, “Captain, that was one time you got let down.”

     I read the Nonpareil all through the Civil War.  We watched for it and read it with good relish all the while, just as I have done ever since.


Is Made Road Agent

     I quit staging in 1867.  Before doing so, however, thy put me in charge of the different stage routes, such as the Bluffs to St. Joe, the Bluffs to Des Moines and the Bluffs to Sioux City.  I had to superintend the building of all sheds and depots on the lines.  We hauled lumber from Des Moines for the purpose.  Once they gave me a sawed-off shotgun and I was special guard on a stage trip from the bluffs to Des Moines.  The reason they gave me that job was that there were 400 pounds of gold dust on board, and several of the stages had been held up and robbed.  I never staged on the west side of the river.  When Lincoln was assassinated, the stage company arranged to have the vehicle driven at high speed to carry the news.  A stage from Des Moines came to the Bluffs, with special relays of horses, in eighteen hours and fifty minutes.  The usual time was thirty-six hours, so they cut it down one half.  The news was relayed by stage boys out of Omaha.  The pony express started out too; but the stage boys beat the pony express boys to Denver and the news that the president had been shot was printed and papers being sold on the street when the express rider got in.  That was one of the things that helped put the pony express out of business.

     Mr. Kemp’s wife, now 83, sat by her husband during the telling of the story.  She has been by his side for sixty-five years.

     Mr. Kemp, in closing the afternoon’s conversation, said, “But I’m not entirely a stager.  I rode the first train hauled by steam between Council Bluffs and Bartlett in 1867.  It had a wood-burning engine.”


Transcribed from a Council Bluffs Nonpareil newspaper clipping not dated.


     From the date of the selecting of the first claim in the County, viz.: in the early spring of 1847, up to and until the month of June, 1855 there was not a post office in the entire county.   There were here at that time not less than one thousand of a population, and the nearest post office was Kanesville, or as now known,
Council Bluffs.  From 1847 to 1855 the only means of obtaining letters from the far off home was to wait until the spirit moved some adventurous person in the neighborhood to journey to Council Bluffs, and while there if per chance he thought of it, call at the office and having obtained the letters or newspaper, carry them to the person addressed, in the crown of his hat.  The only mail sack used for eight years after the first settlement was the hat-crown route, very often failed to be on time.

     During the month of June 1855, the Western Stage Company put on a daily line of hacks between Council Bluffs and Sioux City, which event was hailed with more delight than was the puffing of the locomotive as the railroad train swept grandly down the Boyer valley in 1866, connecting Chicago via Clinton and Cedar Rapids with Council Bluffs and Omaha, and the government, at the time of the establishment of said hack line, contracted with the stage company to supply the different places along the route with a daily mail.  Upon the happening of the above there were only three post offices in the entire county, viz.: Magnolia, Calhoun and Fontainbleau, the latter being the name fo the office at the place where Col. Cochran has a farm, a little distance up the Little Sioux River, on the same side on which the village of Little Sioux is now located.

     The town of Fontainbleau, or La Ponteur’s town having been laid out contrary to the wishes and expectations of the original settlers of the vicinity of the place, precipitated the building of a bridge across the Little Sioux River near the site where the present bridge is located at the town of Little Sioux.  They also used their influence on the Postal Department in Washington and had the Post Office changed from Fontainbleau to Little Sioux.  The travel then turned from the bluffs to Little Sioux and then from there on north to Ashton, then the county seat of Monona County.  This circumstance happened in 1857 and the post office has remained at the latter place ever since.  Fontainbleau lapsed back into her virgin condition and now constitutes a part of one of the best farms in the county.

     The town of St. Johns, on the left bank of the Boyer River, south of the present site of Missouri Valley, being laid out in the summer of 1857, soon had sufficient settlement by the spring of 1858 to be entitled to postal facilities.  They demanded the establishment of a post office from the postal authorities and it was promptly granted and the Western Stage Company was ordered to supply this place with mail facilities, which was accordingly done, until Missouri Valley swallowed up the surrounding country and made such changes that a post office at the old town was no longer needed.

     In the month of May, 1858, two additional routes let and put in operation.  One from Magnolia to Adel in Dallas County, passing through by way of Butler’s Mills, Olmstead, then to Galland’s Grove at Shelbyville, the then seat of justice of Shelby County, and on east through Audubon and Guthrie Counties to the terminus last named.  At this time post offices were established at Butler’s Mills and Olmstead and supplied semi-weekly.  Mr. L.D. Butler at this time was the owner of and resided with his family at the Butler Mills, and in the spring of 1858, when the question was asked “What shall the name of our post office,” Mrs. Butler, who was born in merry old England, and had never forgotten the clusters Woodbine that ran up and clambered around the doors and windows of the old far off home, promptly requested that she should be permitted to name the new post office, and when assent was given, she promptly gave the place the name of Woodbine.  This line changed in 1863 so as to leave Woodbine and Manteno off the route and ran from Magnolia to Whitesboro, then a post office; thence to Jeddo, Jason Z Hunt Postmaster; thence direct to Harlan and on to Adel.

     Henry Olmstead, who settled in the spring of 1857, at the place where this post office was established, had the place or office named after himself, but upon the completion of the Chicago and Northwestern railroad down the Boyer, this office was discontinued, and the mail sent to this office wsa ordered to be sent to Dunlap.

     The other line, established in 1858, as before stated, had its initial point at Magnolia, and ran semi-weekly towards the west, to DeSoto, in Washington County, Nebraska, a distance of quite thirty-five miles by the route then traveled, and many of the settlers of that time will yet remember the “carry-all” of Mr. Jerome Seely, who had to wade, swim, or boat the country through from the edge of the bluffs on the Iowa side so as to land the United States mails safely on the Nebraska side at the place of destination at any bluff where there was sufficient dry land to afford opportunity for distribution.  These routes were continued until the running of mails on the cars on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and on the S.C. & Pacific railroad, a circumstance which took place in 1866-7.

     In 1864, the postal department established a post route from Council Bluffs via Crescent City, Harris Grove, Reeder’s Mills, Woodbine, Manteno, and from thence to Olmstead and then on to Fr. Dodge.  The semi-weekly service continued until 1866. 

     In 1863 there was also established a weekly route from Magnolia to Smithland (on the south line of Woodbury County), furnishing Mt. Pisgah, Preparation, Belvidere and Castana with postal facilities, which continued up to and until 1867, at the time the Sioux City road began carrying of the mails.

     In the fall of 1866, at the time at which the C& NW railroad began its regular trips down the Boyer Valley and had reached Council Bluffs, the Western Stage from the last named place to Sioux City was dispensed with so far as the Magnolia mail was concerned, and Magnolia was supplied with mails from Woodbine by a daily service run and operated by George R and Orvill Brainard, which service was continued up to and until the post office was established at Logan, which was in the fall of 1867.

     From 1867 up to the present Magnolia has been supplied with a daily mail from Logan.

     In 1888 the mails for one fourth of the county are sacked at Logan and forwarded to the respective places of destination, Reeder’s Mills, Valley View, Persia, Needmore, Beebeetown, and Magnolia.  The Calhoun, Whitesboro, Jeddo, Raglan and Harris Grove post offices are discontinued and in place of the older order of things, Dunlap, Woodbine and Missouri Valley are furnished with four mails per day, viz.: two east and two west, alternating morning and evening.  California Junction, Modale, Mondamin, River and Little Sioux are equally accommodated.

Reference History of Harrison County, Iowa by Joe H Smith 1888

Compiled by Pauline E. Seabury



    When the first stage coach rumbled across the hills and vales of Harrison County, IA is difficult to tell.  We do know the government contracted in 1855 with the Western Stage Co. to deliver mail daily to Magnolia, Calhoun and Fontainbleau from Council Bluffs.

     One of the main stage lines in Harrison County began in Kanesville/Council Bluffs and ran northeastly to Crescent City.  It passed the Pigeon Creek Tabernacle.  Then it followed what was known as the High Road to Harris Grove, a beautiful district of rolling hills, much timber and rich farmland.  From the windows of the stage you could see beaver and other wildlife along Harris Grove Creek.

     From Harris Grove, the stage line ran about two miles northeast to Crisp, where a creamery later was established.  Then the alternately dusty or muddy trail took a west and north jog to Reeder’s Mill, also known as Hard Scratch.  On Harris Grove Creek at Hard Scratch was a mill, a store and blacksmith shop.

     The stage then rattled and rolled over the E C Tuttle and Ida Miller farms, up some steep hills and north and east across the north edge of Harry Waters’ farm, near Liberty School.  This 1855 stage line then went almost due east across J.T Henderson farm to Needmore, just a little store in Cass township, near Uriah Hawkins early farm.

     It crossed the Ed Houghton farm, established in 1856, and still standing.  That land later belonged to Leigh Shreeves.  There was an old stage stop in Cass Township near the Ellison Cemetery and the Mathew Alex Ellison home.  Then the line doubled back west across the Johnny Cowan farm at Six Mile Grove, and passed Dow Mill on Six Mile Creek.  It rolled through Jefferson Township to Thorpe Mill, also on Six Mile Creek, and Jeddo.  Then the stage line proceeded to Elk Grove and Whitesboro, originally platted in 1856 as Buena Vista, in Jefferson Township.  Then the road turned south to Logan and back six or more miles east and south to Harris Grove and finally back down Pigeon Creek Valley to Kanesville/Council Bluffs.

     That made roughly a 70 or 80 mile circle, past the once densely timbered Harris Grove, Six Mile Grove and Elk Grove.  Farmland has chewed away the borders of those early groves to leave little remnants of what they used to be.  Whitesboro and Jeddo once boasted hotels, stores, blacksmith shops and post offices.  The Whitesboro Stage Stop and White Hotel were built about 1853 by George White, before the town itself was platted.

     As timber bridges were sometime affairs in Harrison County, the stage line stayed away from deep streams.  It used bridges built by the pioneers for their own purposes.

     A stage line connected Harrison County with two wheelers running north to Sioux City.  Another line from Council Bluffs ran to Harlan, in Shelby County, and on to Abel, near Des Moines, and then back through Neola and along Mosquito Creek to Council Bluffs.

     In 1978 there was still visible on my Grandfather Harry Waters’ farm a deep track from six to eight feet wide where the stage coaches had run.  After a good rain it was possible to find arrowheads, suggesting Indians may have chased the stages or that the stage simply followed Indian hunting trails.  Contour farming has since destroyed the Harry Waters stage line trace.

      Legend has it that town buildings were purchased by Lemuel R Bolter and moved about a mile west of Jeddo.  There, the story says, the buildings were adapted to various uses on his farms.  Tradition is that the long building west of the house on his home farm, later known as the Carrol Bolter farm, was a stage coach barn.

     These buildings and the Whitesboro Stage Stop and Hotel are still in evidence.  The Whitesboro house is old and faded, but still stands near the intersection of Highways 30 and 44.  The Harris Grove Cemetery in LaGrange Township and the Uriah Hawkins grave in Cass Township, and the Shreeves home are still here to remind us that all history does not die.


    Explorations In Iowa History, Price Laboratory School, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa


From Harrison County Happenings Fall 1992 Issue

    The Harrison County Historical Commission received a grant to trace the stage coach route through Harrison County.  Cindy Peterson from Iowa City, IA, an archeologist has spent 10 days mapping, colelcting artifacts and visiting with our seniors in locating the old townsites and trials.  I have been able to be with Cindy for 9 of the 10 days.  We were able to walk a � mile stage coach trail on section 35, Magnolia Twp.  It is possible to see the wagon wheel trail through the field and along the timbers edge.  Leah Rogers will return to Harrison County later this month for more research.


    From Dayle Purcell stage line notes.. Road Book 1 page 230 shows the road from Calhoun, Oaks Station to Raglan Post Office in 1864.  This was located about the center of Sec 27 in Raglan Township.  A remount station was also located at this place.  Preston Niles, painter and historian, painted a picture of this around 1960.  Calhoun Post Office established 1854.  Remount stations were supposed to be about every ten to fifteen miles.


25 Important Events in Iowa’s Stagecoach History

Oct 1, 1837

US Post Office Department authorized mail stage between Burlington and St. Francisville, MO

Jan 1, 1838

Three mail stage routes established between Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Davenport, and Macomb, Illinois.

Feb 19, 1838

Iowa Territorial Legislature authorized a twice weekly mail stage between Dubuque and Davenport, HC Donaldson, Davenport, provided the service, but neither Congress or Legislature paid him for the mail delivery.

July 31, 1841

William Wilson, Fort Madison, lost his stage stables in a fire disaster with a loss estimated at $1500.

Nov 1, 1841

Semi-weekly stage service started between Burlington and Iowa City.

July 1, 1849

First stagecoach arrived in Fort Des Moines

Feb 1, 1850

Stage line between Dubuque and Delhi started

June 4, 1850

Frink & Walker and Co., carried mail to Ottumwa in four-horse coach.

May 1, 1851

Frink & Co., sent tri-weekly coaches from Ft Des Moines to Council Bluffs and return.

Nov 25, 1851

Frink & Co. set stage line from Keokuk to Dubuque and Galena.

March 1, 1852

Frink & Co. began twice weekly service between Ft Des Moines and Iowa City

April 29, 1854

John Frink & Co. announced close of operations in Wisconsin, Missouri and Iowa.

May 26, 1854

Western Stage Co. agreed to buy stage properties of Frink & Co.

July 24, 1854

Martin O Walker’s Stage Line reached Dubuque from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Jan 1, 1855

Western Stage Co. opened line between Burlington and Mount Pleasant

March 9, 1855

Western Stage Co. begins service between Council Bluffs and Sioux City

Nov 6, 1857

Western Stage Co. moved state officials from Iowa City to new State Capital at Des Moines.

Dec 15, 1857

Western Stage Co. completed moving State Government and officials to Des Moines.

Sept 21, 1860

Western Stage Co. began once a week route from Council Bluffs to Denver, Colorado

July 1, 1862

Western Stage Co. renewed tri-weekly service between Cedar Falls and Ft. Dodge

March 9, 1868

Western Stage Co. abandoned service between Council Bluffs and Sioux City

June 30, 1870

Western Stage Co. ceased operations in Iowa after 16 years.


July 1, 1870

Caleb B Lothrop operated stage line between non-railroad towns: Pelly, Indianola, Winterset, Afton, Clarinda.



      Tips to Stagecoach Travelers summarizes stagecoach services in frontier Iowa.  This simulated travel guide contains stage schedules and fares.  It advises passengers about the kinds of clothing to take on trips.  It informs travelers about inns, hotels, and meals available at station stops.  It warns passengers of some of the hazards in traveling through Iowa.

     This guide describes the jobs of the stage crews as well as the coaches used by Iowa lines.  It also outlines the importance of mail contracts to a stage company.  Stage line and hotel advertisements from frontier newspapers and directories are included in the guide.  From these the reader can infer competition among stage companies and hotels for the passengers’ trade.


     The stage schedules are printed in the leading newspapers.  Study the schedules closely.  Some stages run daily, with the exception of Sunday.  Others leave only three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Some leave once or twice a week to isolated parts of Iowa.

     Check the exact departure time when you buy your ticket.  Many stage drivers like to leave early in the morning.  Your coach may depart at 4 a.m. and certainly by 7 a.m.  Drivers want to have as much daylight travel as possible.  Night travel is unsafe.  The night traveler is fortunate with a full moon on a clear night.  However, most drivers avoid night trips.


     Stagecoach fares change from season to season.  They vary from region to region.  One stage line operating in a single area results in high fares.  If two companies run coaches over the same road, then fares are reduced.  The lowest fares average five cents a mile.  The highest fares average ten cents a mile.  Typical stage fares are given below:







Iowa City

Des Moines


Des Moines

Council Bluffs



Des Moines



Iowa City



     Stations are located every 10 to 15 miles along the stage routes.  At each station the horses are changed.  When the stage arrives, the tired horses are unhitched.  Fresh ones, already harnessed, are hitched in their places.  The change is made in one or two minutes.

    Meals are served at the stations.  Many also have sleeping accommodations.  Even a brief stop permits passengers to relax.  You can get out of the stage and stretch.  You will be able to drink fresh water.  Each station stop has toilet facilities for both men and women.

    The station agent and his family enjoy meeting the passengers.  In isolated spots, the stage is their only contact with the outside world.


     The new oval-shaped Concord coaches are now in Western service.  They weigh 2500 pounds and cost $1200 - $1500. They are brightly painted.  Olive green and vermilion red are the favorite colors.  The panels are adorned with paintings of landscapes or noted historical characters.  Nine passengers can be seated in them – 3 passengers to a seat. They are made of hardwood, iron, brass, and oxhide leather.  They are suspended on heavy straps of leather.  Some firms use the Troy coach and the Celerity wagon.  The Troy coach is solidly built and carries nine passengers.  The Celerity wagon is lighter in weight. While not as good as daytime travel as the Concord, the upholstered seats of the Celerity are well-suited to nightime travel.  None of the coach styles, however, are suited to winter travel.  There is no way to heat the stage.  Heavy snow blocks their use for the months of January and February, if not December.


     Stage travelers are advised to wear old clothing.  Wear something you do not mind getting dusty, muddy, or wrinkled.  Ladies will want calico or gingham dresses.  Jackets or coats will be needed early in the morning, even in the summer.  Winter travel calls for warmer clothing.  Men should wear clothes suited for work.  They may have to help put on a wheel or pull the coach out of a mudhole.

     Ladies may wear a veil to keep out the dust.  Men may want to use a bandanna over the nose.

     In cold weather use a hot soapstone to keep your feet warm.  Wrap yourself in a robe or buffalo hide.  Put your hands in a warm muff.  Wrap yourself in a robe or buffalo hide.  Put your hands in a warm muff.  For an extra fee, the stage line will supply the soapstone and the buffalo robe.

     Check with your stage line as to the amount of luggage you may take on board.  It may vary from 25 to 60 pounds.  If the stage has a heavy mail shipment, passengers may not take as much luggage.


     Many stagecoach passengers are robbed while in unfamiliar towns.  Thieves are found near stage depots, hotels, and taverns.  Many even ride the stage waiting their chance to rob prosperous looking passengers.  Often the boys who take your baggage to a hotel will steal from you if you give them a chance.  If you carry large sums of money, buy a money belt.  You might secure your valuables in your luggage.


     The stage traveler will find many kinds of meals in crossing Iowa.  Some of the cafes in Iowa’s larger cities serve fine meals with exquisite cuisine.  The patron will be served several courses including meat and game entrees, seasonal vegetables, salads, and delicious desserts.  Usually fine wines are available.  On the other hand, some of the stage stops serve coarser foods.  The cooks never really know the exact time of stage arrival.  They will precook the food.  The traveler can count on beans, mutton, potatoes, soup and bread.  Sometimes the cook will fast fry ham and eggs.

     Most meals cost 25 cents.  The better restaurants will charge from 35 to 50 cents.

     The stagecoach passenger will find ample spirits.  Restaurants, taverns and inns sell beer, wine and liquor.  Of late some tavern owners have refused to serve liquor to children, even though they still will serve beer and wine.  Boys have to wait until they are 15 years old to buy liquor at Iowa taverns.

     Each of the inns and taverns will have fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as pastries and candies to seel to coach passengers.


      Iowa’s great cities and towns boast fine hotels, inns, and taverns.  The stage driver will recommend a good place in the cities.  Hotel rates include room and meals (supper and breakfast).  Most hotels charge 50 cents a night.  Des Moines, Burlington, Davenport, Dubuque, and Iowa City have fine hotels which charge $1.00 per night.

      Smaller cities and towns may have only one inn or tavern.  A night’s lodging and two meals will cost 50 cents.  Be prepared for unpleasant as well as pleasant places.  Not all beds are clean and free from vermin.  You may choose to sleep on the floor. You are not likely to find a private room.  In rural areas you may have to sleep in one large room with other passengers, the innkeeper and his family.


     The large stage companies, like Western Stage Company, or J.J. Frink Company employ many workers.  The stage drivers get the most attention.  They have the most exciting jobs. They are highly skilled men.  The safety of the passengers depends on their driving ability.  The handling of six, even four, spirited animals calls for great control.  The driver holds the reins in his left hand.  With his right he controls the slack and wields the whip.  While turning, the lead team has to be coordinated with the swing (middle) team and the wheelers hitched to the tongue.  The driver manages two or three teams at top stage speed of 8-9 miles per hour.

     The driver of your stage will try to make your trip enjoyable.  Sometimes he asks a passenger to ride on the box with him.  You will find most drivers to be very intelligent.  They are great conversationalists.  They are glad to recall their many exciting experiences.  Most are young men, under 30 years of age.  Young boys look on them as heroes.  Townspeople will treat them to drinks at local taverns.  They are well paid for their work – some earn $100 a month.


     Most stage routes in Iowa follow east-west roads.  Few routes go north and south.  Iowa roads follow the ridges and bypass wet and swampy land.  Early pioneers cut out the roads with their heavy wagons.  In rainy seasons the roads are soupy.  It is very easy for a stage to get stuck in the mud.  Most stages carry a fence rail.  It is used to pry the wheels out of mudholes.  If the stage is stuck, passengers will have to walk.  Sometimes their luggage is dumped overboard.  Then you will have to carry it to dry land.  There you can re-board the stage to continue your trip.


     The US Post Office Department lets contracts with stage companies to carry the mail.  Stage lines compete with each other for the mail routes.  The mail contracts often set the schedules.  Mail often means the difference between a profitable stage line and one that loses money.  However, a heavy load of mail reduces the amount of luggage permitted to passengers.


     Stagecoaches offer a fast service to the modern traveler.  Most stages average five miles an hour.  The main stage lines average eight, with some reaching nine miles an hour.  Compare this with the 20 miles a day travel for a wagon.  The road conditions affect the speed of the coach.

     The Western Stage Company schedules a run between Iowa City and Des Moines (120 miles) in two days.  The Frink Line makes a run between Keokuk and Des Moines (180 miles) in three days.  However, in western Iowa, it takes three days to go between Crawford County and Council Bluffs, a distance of 70 miles.


     Stagecoach transportation provides jobs to many workers across Iowa.  As a traveler you will first meet the station agent.  He will sell you your ticket.  He will tell you how much luggage you can take on the coach.  You may obtain the stage schedule from him.  The agent will advise you as to good hotels, taverns, and restaurants in Iowa’s larger cities.

     Stage lines hire horse tenders. These men hitch and unhitch the horses.  They feed and water the horses.  They take care of the animals.  They are helped by livery boys who are responsible for cleaning the barns.  The major companies employ their own blacksmiths and carpenters.  The blacksmiths shoe the horses.  They repair iron parts of the coach.  Carpenters are used to fix wooden parts of the coach.


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    An additional aspect of stagecoaching in Iowa and Harrison County, was the establishment of stage stops or stations at regular intervals along the stage routes.  The purpose of such stations was to provide fresh horses and to provide a resting place for travelers.  In the earliest days of stagecoaching in Iowa, “good and rest accommodations were scarce, (and) travelers were likely to go hungry on the long ride." Nights, too, posed a problem, and many a coach toiled on in darkness because there was no place to stop.  Finally stage officials realized the importance of good eating and sleeping places along the way.  Some were primitive..(but) later the hostelries developed a high degree of comfort.

     The cost of a bed and a meal was usually 25 cents per person, although stage passengers were sometimes charged double the amount.  The Western Stage Company commonly designated stations every ten to fifteen miles, the usual distance that a team of horses could travel before requiring fresh replacements.  It is speculated that the distance between stations in Harrison County may have been somewhat shorter because of the steep hills and often tortuous routes through the Loess hills.

    In Harrison County, stage stops generally consisted of residences along the route that provided overnight accommodations as well as hotels that were built specifically for the purpose of serving the stage traffic.  Known stations and hotels in the county included:  Charles Larpenteur’s station at Fountainbleau; the Bates Hotel, Barnett “boarding house hotel,” and Bentley Hotel in Magnolia; a possible station in Logan, David Gamet’s station and hotel in Little Sioux; a hotel in St. Johns’s; a station three miles north of Beebeetown at Harris Grove, a station at Melrose; a hotel at Jeddo; two hotels at Buena Vista (Whitesboro); a station at the Patrick Morrow house in Raglan Township; and a possible station at what is know as the Shreeve’s House east of Jeddo.

    Oral history and other accounts indicate several other potential stagecoach stops or stations in Harrison County.  These were situated on what were otherwise farmsteads, and it is virtually impossible at this date to confirm or refute these claims from available data.  Some, such as the Cutler brick house south of Magnolia, were rumored to have been stage stops but were either built too late or were too close to known stops to have functioned as such.  In the case of the Cutler house, it was built in 1870 at the end of the stagecoach era and was within 1.5 miles of the town of Magnolia and its hotels and boarding houses.  Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Cutler house was ever associated with the stagecoach traffic.

     Blacksmith shops, wagon shops, livery barns, and bridges were also of importance to the stagecoach and other early transportation in Harrison County.  Virtually every town and hamlet as well as some of the stage stations along the routes had a least one blacksmith.  Livery barns were a common fixture in association with a station or hotel to house the horse teams that would be required as replacements and to provide smithy services as needed.  The Bates Hotel in Magnolia had a large barn just west of the hotel, while another hotel in this community eventually operated two livery barns.


     According to the 1856 state census, Harrison County then had at least 11 blacksmiths, 2 wagonmakers, and 1 hotel keeper.  The latter was James H Bates in the town of Magnolia.  Of the 11 blacksmiths, two were lcoated in Magnolia (Benjamin LaPORTE and J. E. RANNEY), one was in LaGrange township, one was in Boyer Township, two were in Raglan Township, two were in Sioux Township (including William SHERMAN of Fountainbleau), and three were in Calhoun (Henry McCURLEY, John THOMPSON, and Nelson MESSENGER).  There were 2 stage drivers listed; John HAMMET age 24 born in NJ and John HAYES age 23 born in NY and both living with Daniel Brown.  Unfortunately, the 1856 census for Harrison County is illegible in places, so the above totals cannot be taken as complete.


    According to the 1860 census, there then were 10 blacksmiths, 6 teamsters, 4 hotel keepers, 4 wagonmakers, 1 harnessmaker, and 2 stage drivers listed in Harrison County.  The stage drivers were listed in Calhoun and included Jon LEGGETT, Platt STURGIS, both of whom were living in Eleazer DAVIS household.  LEGGETT was 25 years of age and STURGIS was 20.  The hotels were operated in St. Johns by Jacob PRESTON and in Magnolia by James W BATES, Peter BARNETT, and John BENTLEY.  Two of the blacksmiths and three of the teamsters were listed in St. Johns, while one blacksmith was listed in Jackson Township, two in Calhoun, three in Magnolia, one in Jefferson Township, and one in Boyer Township.  The wagon makers were listed in Boyer (1), Magnolia (1), Calhoun (1), and Sioux (1) townships.  The harnessmaker was listed in Magnolia.  According to the 1856 and 1860 census data, Magnolia, Calhoun, and St. Johns had the greatest number of transportation related businesses in the county, Magnolia, in particular, with its three hotels in 1860 was obviously doing a booming business with the traveling community.


The biographical sketches in the History of Harrison County books have tales to tell of traveling to Council Bluffs by train and then on to Harrison County by stage from Council Bluffs.  Captain George W CHASE came to Harrison County in 1866, traveling from New Hampshire to St. Joseph, MO by train, from St. Joseph to Council Bluffs by boat and then from Council Bluffs to Magnolia by stage.  The stage ride cost him $9.  Some other biographical sketches that provide references to either working for the stage lines or traveling by stage are:  G. GATES; D.E. BRAINARD, George MOTZ, William COULTHARD, Michael MURRAY, Isaac WHITNEY, Frederick SCHWERTLEY.

Return to the Harrison County History Index page.