The Overland Trail

Ben Holladay, Stagecoach King

Overland Stage Line way-bill dated 1865
Partial text: "For carrying the GREAT Through Mails,
From the ATLANTIC to the Pacific States.
Ben Holladay, Proprietor."

It is said by some that if it weren't for Ben Holladay, Northern Colorado, and certainly Virginia Dale wouldn't exist as it does today. Ben, born in 1824 in a log cabin in the Kentucky Hills, was exposed to the ways of managing wagon trains at an early age, accompanying his father leading wagon trains through the Cumberland Gap.

By 1849, when the great rush across the plains had begun, Holladay was already an astute businessman, owning wagon trains, an interest in a gold mine in the California Sierras, a fleet of steam boats on the Sacramento River, among other things.

In 1862 he bought the almost defunct Overland Mail Express. As the new owner of the Overland, Holladay had his work cut out for him. Most of the hundreds of horses were worn out, and the wagons and coaches showed signs of wear. He began to buy the finest horses and new Concord coaches. He replaced many of the old stations, installing competent managers and cooks, at a reported cost of over $2,000,000.

Because of Indian troubles along the Oregon Trail, and the need to deliver mail to the growing community of Denver, located near Cherry Creek, Ben established the new "Overland Trail." Unfortunately, Ben didn't immediately carry out his promises for mail delivery to Denver. The mail destined for Denver was still being brought around Cape Horn, and transported overland from California for several months after Ben obtained the mail contract from the government. But with approval from the US Government, Holladay's coaches were rolling over the new route by mid-summer 1862, and mail was soon being delivered to Denver, but only about three times a week, which caused the people of Denver to be less than satisfied with the Overland Mail.

By the spring of 1864 Holladay had acquired almost a complete monopoly of the stage, mail, and freighting buisiness between the Misssouri River and Salt Lake City. Being the boss of 2670 miles of stagelines, he was the biggest individual employer in the United States.

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