Cheyenne -Deadwood Stage
As the kids race to the car for the trip to Cheyenne, they simultaneously holler, "I get to ride shotgun!" This common term was coined for the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage. Men like Wyatt Earp were hired to ride beside the driver with a shotgun to protect passengers and gold from highwaymen.
The discovery of gold in the Black Hills was the impetus for the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage. After all, miners had to get to the gold fields, and the lucky ones had to be able to ship their gold back to Cheyenne. After the defeat of Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the Indians went on a bit of a rampage that delayed the beginning of the new stage line, but it started up in due course in 1876.
Indians weren’t much of a problem for the stage after this, but highwaymen were a common occurrence. Sam Bass and his gang robbed the stage four times in two months. In the fifth attempt the driver, Johnny Slaughter, was killed. His body was returned to Cheyenne where the hearse was pulled by six dappled-grays, matching the team he had driven on the Cheyenne-Deadwood trail.
In 1878 there was a robbery by Red Butte where a passenger and one of the outlaws were killed. Twenty thousand dollars worth of gold was stolen and buried nearby. Years later, a local farmer dug up the gold along with the potatoes he was harvesting. Oddly enough, he left town without saying a word to anyone.
The stage company built a special coach to protect the gold. The treasure box was bolted to the floor, the coach was lined in lead, and there were two portholes guards could use to shoot at the robbers. An association was also formed to take care of the robbers. Their thought was to make robbing the stage an unpopular activity. Their approach worked, and robberies became less popular after most of the robbers were killed by the association guards.
The Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage also transferred people back and forth between the two cities. The stage fare was $5 if you sat with the driver (being careful not to jostle the shotgun guard), $10 for a middle seat inside, and $15 for an inside seat by a window. It took fifty hours to make the 300-mile trip with stops every ten miles to change horses and stretch.
The Stage ran for more than eleven years until the Black Hills and Fort Pierre Railroad built a line to the mining district. One of the last cargos to make the trip on the stage road was a shipment of cats. In 1887, Phatty Thompson, an enterpreneur of the highest order, decided that his road to riches lay in selling pets to the dancehall girls in Deadwood. He paid Cheyenne boys twenty-five cents a cat to collect strays for him. He loaded the boxed cats onto his wagon and took off for Deadwood. Unfortunately, he tipped the wagon and all the cats escaped. It took him a spell, but eventually he managed to capture and reload most of the cats. Once he got to Deadwood, he sold the cats to the dancehall girls for $10 to $25 each.
When the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage went out of business, Charlie Irwin bought one of the stages to use in Irwin’s Wild West Show. The stage can still be seen at the Old West Museum in Cheyenne.
Dobler, Lavinia, I Didn’t Know That About Wyoming, (Misty Mountain Press: Selah, WA) 1984.
Garst, Doris Shannon, The Story of Wyoming, (Douglas Enterprise: Douglas, WY) 1938.
Centennial Historical Committee, Cheyenne, The Magic City of the Plains (Cheyenne Centennial Committee: Cheyenne, Wyoming) 1967.
Pitcher, Don, Wyoming Handbook, (Moon Publications: Chico, CA) 1991.
Adams, Judith, Cheyenne, City of Blue Sky, (Windsor Publications, Inc.: Northridge, CA) 1988.
Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Trail, Wyoming Tales and Trails, an internet site.