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Historically Speaking: Stagecoaches, our early transportation

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives This photo has the following information: "Butterfield Stage Coach in the October 8, 1937 Fair parade. Pictured are Jim Decker, driver; Charlie Holcomb, guard, Phil Helmig. Riding inside are Mrs. C.D. Bonney, Mrs. J.A. Manning, Mrs. J.P. Church, Mrs. George L. Wyllys, Mrs. Ella Davidson and Mrs. Ella Lea Dow." Date unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily


Have you ever wondered about stagecoaches in our state? Have you ever wondered about stagecoaches in our city? For many of us — at least for me — when watching old Westerns as children, wasn’t it fun to dream about what it would be like to ride in a stagecoach across country? I wished they would bring back the old Westerns.

But, back to the stagecoaches, it’s not so much my dream to ride in one anymore. No heating, no cooling, bumps in the road, what about bathroom and lunch breaks? If we worry about who we sit next to on a plane, what would it be like to sit next to someone undesirable on a stagecoach — for a whole day, or perhaps across country, five or more days? How padded were the seats?

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Following is an article by Georgia Redfield, from the Aug. 30, 1953 edition of The El Paso Times:

“Stage Coach Arrival Was Big Roswell Event In 1890’s  

“Roswell, N.M. — The old stage coach coming into Roswell in January 1893 carried one enthusiastic passenger, the writer, who, as a young school girl that January evening sixty years ago saw as if through rose colored glasses only beauty in the unattractive North Main street scene, shown in the accompanying photograph.

“The mud holes and wagon-rutted street, the Jaffa Prager mercantile establishment on the east side of the street, the old Pauly Hotel on the west, were outlined in a golden glow of a winter’s sunset, with the enchanting background of sparkling snow capped mountains in the west.

While some of the buildings seen in the photograph are still in use, (66 years ago) there have been many changes in the progress of development of early, Main Street, where nearly the entire village population of a handful of residents gathered each day to see the stage coach come in with new settlers. Or for arrivals on freight days of the 16 mule wagon train, loaded with goods for the pioneer stores, as seen in the photograph in front of the Jaffa Prager building open for business in Roswell in 1886.

“First come, first served, until the small supply of ice packed around beer was doled out to each customer who paid for small pieces to be used in case of sickness or as a rare luxury for home use, or for parties that were planned for wagon train freight arrival days.

“Houses Soon Appeared

“The early settlers came in as many as a half dozen or more covered wagon caravans, as well as by stage coach, by buckboard, and by horseback, trailing in cattle for the vast cattle ranches developed in the Pecos, the Penasco, and Hondo River valleys, rows and blocks of houses soon appeared in the little village of Roswell. There are disadvantages, however, as well as advantages in building up and development of the wide open spaces. We awakened to that fact that one day it was discovered that there was no more thrilling view from some places on North Main Street because of new stores and houses. We couldn’t see the snowcapped Old Baldy in the White Mountains, anymore, or El Capitan, that had served as a guiding landmark for the covered wagon travelers to the Pecos Valley in New Mexico.

“There Were Hardships

“There was no bewailing the fact that the pioneers during the 80s and early 90s suffered many hardships and had few comforts. They expected none in the new unsettled country, but they had the beautiful mountain scenes in the distance to delight in.

“They had the wide prairies, covered with all kinds of desert flowers, the strange beauty of which many of them had never seen before; the health restoring sunshine and fresh air. The health seekers kept coming and were benefited and nearly all, healed entirely, remained to build their homes. These homes cut off many of those beautiful scenes, in the distance, but they were still there, and are yet for everyone to enjoy, by riding out a block or two from Main Street.

“Lacked Ice

“Of course, those first early years of settlement were hard, especially on the women, the housewives. There was no fuel for cooking or heating in winter, save mesquite roots, and no ice for refrigeration in summer; there were no electric iceboxes, either, that are considered a necessity today. Many children of the pioneers never saw one until after completion of the railroad.

“We have been asked by several newcomers how we kept our butter from melting, our milk from souring and how meats were kept fresh in Roswell and on the (cattle) round-ups, where beef was served almost every day. That was an easy job. They simply wrapped halves and quarters of a beef in net or thin cloths, as protection from flies, and then hung them in trees or on high poles stuck in the ground. The meat was cured by the wind drying process, remaining tender and sweet within the hard, shell like coating of outside layers.

“Nearly all of the homes had small dug out, mud topped, dairies where cold spring water (if one was lucky enough to have a spring) ran around great crocks of milk and cloth wrapped butter. If there was no spring, running artesian well water was used for the cooling system.

“‘When there was a large accumulation of butter,’ said a neighbor old timer, ‘we packed it down in brine.’

“In talking to several early Roswell settlers they all remarked that they learned to do without, or make whatever they had to, whenever they ran out of the exact article they needed, as can be proved by beautifully bound copies of Pecos Valley Register newspapers printed in red ink when black ink gave out and the mule freighting outfit failed to get in on the scheduled time.”

An article by Elvis Fleming in the Daily Record edition of Dec. 15, 1994, is about our stagecoach history.

“Roswell Record gives some stagecoach history

“Many small local news items in the papers in the years leading up to the arrival of the railroad in Roswell mention the stage. For example, the April 14, 1893, edition, notes that W. L. Poe was in Roswell from Ohio looking for investments; the May 5 issue states that Professor Blish, superintendent of public schools, arrived on the “stage” last Saturday.

“The May 19 edition carries one of many complaints about the poor mail service between Roswell and Eddy; ‘R. F. Barnett secured the signatures of nearly all our citizens for the increase of the mail service, between this place and Eddy, to a daily. The mail is supposed to come six times a week, but for some reason, it has been coming in about three times a week. We understand that the stage line is not, in any way, at fault.’

“An advertisement in the May 19 issue proclaims ‘Barnett, Devine & Company, livery, feed and sale stable … Proprietors of the Roswell and Eddy Stage Line.’ Cecil Bonney, in his 1971 book, ‘Looking Over My Shoulder,’ states that Barnett’s livery and feed stable was on the east side of Main Street between Second and Third streets.

“The next issue of the Record, May 26, notes that ‘Barnett and Devine … have a new stage of the latest and most approved pattern which they will put on the road between here and Eddy (Carlsbad.) This stage will leave Eddy at 6 o’clock each alternate morning bringing passengers and baggage, and will be run independent of the mail stage which leaves at nine. This is made necessary by the increase in the travel between the two towns.’

“A change is noted in the August 25 edition: ‘R.F.Barnett, manager of the stage line, informs us that the post office department has issued an order increasing the mail service between Eddy and Roswell to seven mails each way per week.’

“The problem with poor mail service was not soon solved, according to an item in the December 22 issue. The paper noted that the mail had been very irregular for the past three weeks. ‘We don’t know who’s at fault, but someone is. The stage leaves Eddy on time, but we do not get mail more than three times a week. This matter should be looked into and the fault corrected.’

“An interesting item on July 7 stated, ‘Wednesday last, honorable G. A. Richardson, of Roswell, brought in on the stage, a basket of large, delicious apricots that grew in the Chisum orchard. They have been added to the exhibit in the bank building.’ This item was copied from the ‘Eddy Argus.’

“One wonders at the occupation of a certain Mrs. S. M. Stephens, who ‘went away on Tuesday’s stage for some point where her services will be more appreciated and her opportunities less limited,’ as reported in the Record of December 8, 1893. The same issue notes that the stage fair between Roswell and Eddy was $8 one-way and $12 for the round-trip. Whether these amounts represent a change or just presented as a public service is not stated.

“The December 22 edition also carries an item about local folks traveling on the stage. ‘R. M. Parsons and family and Miss Ava Broadnax, sister to Mrs. Parsons, came in on the stage Friday night from Monroe, Louisiana. Miss Brodnax will spend the winter in Roswell.’”

Fleming’s article continues, “the 1906 New Mexico business directory lists to stage lines in Roswell; whether they use tax or automobiles is not known at this time. The Capitan, Lincoln & Roswell Stage Line was headquartered in Capitan. The Lincoln & Roswell Stage Line was headquartered in Capitan. The Lincoln & Roswell Stage Line had offices in both towns.”

In closing, I found a few other articles that were interesting to me, I would like to share:

“Nov. 13, 1890, Santa Fe Daily New Mexican

“Territorial Tips

“‘Speaking of pistols reminds me of an episode in New Mexico along in 80’. A stage coach was held up near Socorro. The passengers were stood in line by the two ‘knights of the road’ and searched for valuables. One of the travelers, a little Hebrew drummer, seemed almost wild with fright. His hands wobbled as they were held above his head, and the robbers paid little attention to him. The weak hands flopped around aimlessly for a while; then, when the robbers were not looking, suddenly they descended to the level of the neck, two shots rang out quick and sharp, and the stage robbers dropped, each with a ball in his body. Large coat collars were worn in those days, and the inoffensive little drummer carried a self cocking revolver at the back of his neck.

“Arizona Republican”

“July 13, 1898, Santa Fe New Mexican

“Cumulative Misfortune

“‘Day before yesterday, groaned the young woman who was just starting from the Pacific coast for a five days trip eastward. I traveled 50 miles in a stage coach, all day yesterday I rode on the back of the mule, but this is the worst of all.’

“‘What is?’

“‘I’ve got the upper berth.’ — Chicago Tribune —“

“Farmington Enterprise, Farmington, N.M., April 29, 1910

“He Was Immune

“An elderly gentleman, traveling in a stage coach, was amused by the consistent fire of words kept up between two ladies. One of them at last kindly inquired if their conversation did not make his head ache, when he answered, with a great deal of naïveté, ‘No, ma’am: I have been married 28 years.’”

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.


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