Before the Northern Pacific completed its transcontinental link in 1883, the best way from the east coast to Yellowstone Park was to take the Union Pacific to Corinne, Utah, and then travel north 400 miles by stagecoach. The stagecoach ride itself could be a great adventure. Here’s General W.E. Strong’s description of his ride in 1875.
At 6 o’clock we were ready to start. The coach had pulled up at the village of Franklin, near Corinne, Utah, and stopped near a whiskey shop for the regular driver to take the reins. This dignitary, who soon appeared, was a slim-built man of five-and-thirty—and so very drunk that I could hardly believe we were to be conducted over our first run by a person in his condition. He had most remarkable control over his legs and hands, however, he managed to reach the coach and climb to his seat without aid from anyone.
“Are you ready,” says the driver. “All ready” was the response. Then gathering the reins carefully in his left hand and swinging his whip with the right, the lash cutting sharply across the flanks of the leaders, “Lee Goddard,” (that was his name) exclaimed “Git out of here, you pirates.” The next instant we were off, lead, swing, and wheel horses on the keen jump. Again and again the whip was applied and thus we departed from Franklin at the rate of sixteen miles an hour.
The intense pleasure to me of this first morning’s ride in the great, swaying Concord wagon is indescribable. We were fairly afloat on the great plains of Idaho.
At Bear River we jumped out and ‘stretched our legs’ while a fresh relay of six handsome bays were hitched to the coach, and in five minutes were bowling along again, at a killing pace. Goddard’s run is to Port Neuf Canyon, sixty miles, and he changes five times—an average of 12 miles for each relay.
From Bear River to Port Neuf Canyon the road was fearfully dusty, so we were enveloped in great clouds hour after hour, and it seemed sometimes as though we would surely suffocate. For miles and miles the lead horses were entirely hidden and very frequently all of the horses were lost of view.
The stage driver looked longingly at the demijohn of whiskey—about a gallon—that was under our feet, and finally mustered the courage to say that if he had one good, square drink he was sure he could get through to Port Neuf in time; but as the small flask we carried—strictly for medical purposes—would not probably have come up to his estimate of a good, square drink, I declined the proposition.
Later, and while we were making some sharp curves, where the narrow road was cut out from the mountain’s side, with frightful precipices below us, I turned, and, to my astonishment, saw the driver nodding, with the reins hanging loosely in his hands. The situation was by no means pleasant. The horses were going rapidly, with a drunken driver fast asleep, and only a foot between the outer wheels and the brink of the precipice two hundred feet high—where, if a horse slipped and went down, or a wheel came off, there was no hope for us.
In view of this, I grasped the reins, and at the same time shook the fellow gently until he awoke, when he very cooly asked, “Wha-ze matter?” and I told him he was sleeping, he laughed saying, “Don’t be skeert, ole fellar; them hosses, they knows the road, sure’s yer borned. Never upset a stage in my life.” At the same time he applied the whip to the swing horses sending us along faster than ever.
— From General W. E. Strong, A Trip to the Yellowstone National Park in July, August, and September, 1875. (Pages 15-18).
— Northern Pacific Railroad postcard.
— You might also enjoy General Strong’s account of catching his first fish in Yellowstone Park, or Sidford Hamp’s story of a stagecoach robbery.