Hi! Kit Morgan here and today I want to talk a little about the stagecoach driver!
Idolized by small boys, envied by grown men and held in awe by women, the stagecoach driver was king of his realm — or so says Cheryl Ann Stamp, who wrote a wonderful book on the stage coaches of Northern California.
But did you know that passengers lucky enough to occupy the seat next to him were there only at his personal invitation? Or that American stage drivers refused to be called coachmen? This was a term that described a servile British lackey, and what self-respecting stagecoach driver wanted to be associated with that?
They never accepted tips but would accept the “whip,” as it was the symbol of their profession. In fact, drivers were often referred to as “whips.” They were also sometimes referred to as “Jehu” from the Old Testament, Kings 9:20 which says: “… and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously.” To their faces, however, one just referred to the driver by their actual name.
Drivers loved and understood horses and the best developed incredible skills. Careful not to over-tire their teams with un-called for speed, they also never allowed the lash of a whip to touch their animals. How’s that for skill? In fact, boys who showed interest in becoming drivers started learning the art of reinmanship as young as seven or eight. They’d use a pretend wooden rig and learned their art in progressive phases until the ages of seventeen to nineteen.
Due to the nature of their business, most drivers led roving, unsettled lives, moving from one stage line to another or going from place to place on the same line.
Another interesting note, most dressed well. They could afford to. Many had the handles of their whips inlaid with rings of silver. A driver’s favorite attire was often creased pants, cravats, waistcoats, and tailored jackets. And of course, we mustn’t forget high leather boots and long gauntlet gloves made from silk. Not exactly what we’ve seen in a lot of old westerns on television or in the movies is it? To keep this finery clean, they wore long linen overcoats — dusters — to protect their wardrobe.
I’ve not written a story with a stagecoach driver as a hero, but maybe I should. After researching this topic, I myself am definitely intrigued! I do have a stagecoach driver in my town of Clear Creek. Willie is a shy man missing his two front teeth. He lost them when his stage got robbed and he took a punch to the face. But he doesn’t wear any fancy clothes and as he has a short run between fictional towns, he’s my only driver. For a chance to win a copy of my upcoming release, The Sailor and the Suffragette, tell me what’s the first image you get when you think of a stagecoach driver! I’ll pick one random winner from the comments!