This model represents a 1868 stagecoach commonly known as a mud wagon. The Abbott & Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire, constructed this style of stagecoach. Unlike the company’s elegant Concord stagecoach, the mud wagon was lighter, smaller, plain-styled, and could be purchased for about one-third of the price of a Concord stagecoach. The only protection provided from bad weather and dusty roads were the canvas side-curtains, which could be rolled up and fastened. Mud wagons were good vehicles for rough mountain roads due to their lower center of gravity. Unlike the Concord stagecoach, which could be mired in bad weather, mud wagons proved true to their name by being able to move through trails and roads during rain storms. A mud wagon can be easily identified by its square, boxy design.
Prior to 1858, no overland mail route existed in the US; mail that moved between the east and west coasts traveled by ship. In 1857, the Post Office Department contracted with John Butterfield to carry mail between Tipton, Missouri, and San Francisco, California. The contract was let for $600,000 per year, an unheard of sum at the time for postal contracts. The route traveled across the South, in order to avoid snow-covered mountain passes and provide year-round service. Stations were built at about 20 miles apart along the route to allow for fresh horses and mules. Butterfield’s Overland Mail stagecoaches began traveling across the 2,600 mile-long route on September 16, 1858.
Although no trans-continental route existed until the fall of 1858, stagecoaches carried mail and passengers along routes throughout the West. Most stagecoach companies relied on postal contracts. These funds ensured the companies with a steady, reliable income, instead of forcing them to rely on money from passenger or freight traffic. Routes varied by length, and most were organized to connect population centers across the West. In Texas alone, over 30 stage lines carried mail and passengers or freight.
Museum ID: 0.235436.3