The Overland Stage

From Drivers to Stock Tenders

The Overland Trail Stage Line became a very thoroughly organized and efficient operation under Ben Holladay's direction. The main line was divided into three divisions--Atchison to Denver, Denver to Salt Lake City, and Salt Lake City to Placerville, California. A superintendent was placed in charge of each division, which was generally divided again into three minor divisions, of about two hundred miles of route. The one in charge of the minor division, the "division agent" or "boss" had considerable authority, being in charge of all company property within his territory.

The division boss hired and fired the drivers, stock tenders, blacksmiths, and harness-makers; he distributed the supplies along the stage line; he supervised the entire operation of sunning the stage in his territory and maintained the stations. Mark Twain, in Roughing It said of the division boss: "...he was always a general in administrative ability and a bull-dog in courage and determination..."

Ben Holladay hired many employees to run the Overland Stage Line. General Bela Hughes served as the general counsel for the Stage Line; David Street was the Paymaster; Mr Robert Pease was the "trustee"; and Andrew S Hughes was the Traffic Manager. Read more about these and other important people who had an influence on the operation of the Overland Stage.

Next in importance on the stage line was the messenger. He sat with the driver and had entire charge of the mail until it was delivered to the next messenger.

The driver was probably the most interesting character on the stage line. One diarist wrote: "Most of them were sober, especially while on duty, but nearly all were fond of an occasional 'eyeopener' ...they were also fond of tabacco and rolled out ponderous oaths, when things did not go to suit them ...' All the drivers considered his whip worth its weight in gold. Some were so expert that they could sit in their seats and pick a fly off the lead horse, while galloping down the trail.

At the bottom of the Overland Stage pyramid were the stock tenders. These men were often the dregs of society, even fugitives from justice. These low, rough characters were definitely the underlings at all of the stations on the line. The stock tenders were always in attendance at the "swing stations," usually a one room structure of hewn logs, a sod roof and dirt floor.

Working for the Stage line had a lot of draw backs, but pay was not one of them. Drivers for the stage companies received from $40.00 to $75.00 a month and board; stock tenders $40 to $50; carpenters $75; harness makers and blacksmiths $100 to $125 a month and division agents $100 to $125 ($200 during Indian troubles). As a comparison "Uncle Sam" was only paying $13 a month to join the Union.

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