Incredible Photos of Travel by Stagecoach in Frontier Colorado

The stagecoach has become an iconic symbol of the American West. In remote parts of the western frontier, the stagecoach was the only form of public transportation for years or decades before being replaced with trains or later roads and automobiles.

Dolores Colorado stagecoach
Stagecoach loaded with miners headed from Dolores, Colorado to the San Juan Mountains ca 1890

Stagecoaches were more than just transportation, they were an important source of camaraderie in the sparsely populated frontier as travelers would spend hours or days on the adventurous ride to some remote corner of the world.

Dolores Colorado stagecoach
A second view of this iconic scene from Dolores shows two stagecoaches and a larger crowd

The stage stations became the hub of many communities, providing a central gathering place and a much needed source of excitement.

Travel by Stagecoach in Colorado was especially daring and exciting as the narrow roads were often carved into the sides of mountains with high passes, hastily built bridges over deep ravines, and precipitous drops always just a few feet away.

High bridge on the Ouray Stage Line between Ouray and Silverton ca 1890s
High bridge on the Ouray Stage Line between Ouray and Silverton ca 1890s

The road between the historic towns of Silverton and Ouray was the most dangerous in the state. Tolls were collected at the Bear Creek Falls station, seen in the following photo.

Stagecoach approaches the Bear Creek Toll Station on the Ouray-Silverton road (Otto Mear’s Toll Road)

Related: The Impossible Road: Incredible Photos of the Otto Mears Toll Road

After communities in Colorado had been established for some time, the well-off residents would often turn to the stagecoach for an adventurous day trip. Boulder Canyon between Boulder and Nederland was a popular route for a daytime excursion into the mountains.

Boulder Canyon Stagecoach
Boulder Canyon Stagecoach ca. 1880s

While most stage stations served travelers moving from one town to another or over long distances, some also catered to day-trippers and tourists. The image below of W.E. Galverts lunch house & stage station in Boulder Canyon shows how one enterprising businessman has capitalized on the popular stage route west of Boulder.

W.E. Galverts lunch house & stage station near Boulder Falls, Boulder Canyon

While casual adventurers were able to enjoy short excursions purely as recreation, the realities of traveling by stagecoach were often very different. Many stage routes operated 24 hours a day, and weary travelers often spent days enduring the harsh conditions of the primitive stage routes.

Concord Coach outside of Nederland Colorado 1914. John T. Carmack, driver.

In the book Ben Holladay the Stagecoach King, the discomfort of lengthy stagecoach  travel was described: “They were banged, beaten, and jolted, their heads were swollen and their faces bruised. Heads ached, nostrils were choked with sand, limbs were stiffened and bent with cramps.”

Stagecoach running between Rifle and Meeker, Colorado 1890s
Stagecoach running between Rifle and Meeker, Colorado 1890s

“Sometimes the disheartened travelers would leave the stage to rinse their mouths and dip their heads in some little creek, the water of which they did not dare to drink. Then, walking several miles ahead of the stage, they felt like new men again and forgot the discomforts of their ride in the brisk morning air while they looked on the beautiful prairie senery.”

Departure of stage in Cripple Creek ca 1895
Departure of stage in Cripple Creek, Colorado ca 1895

The great rush to Cripple Creek in the early 1890s brought thousands of prospectors, miners, and businessmen to the new district. The stagecoach was the primary mode of transportation for most travelers and arrivals and departures were often scenes of great excitement and activity.

Stagecoach in Cripple Creek, Colorado ca 1895
Stagecoach in Cripple Creek, Colorado ca 1895

While conditions on stagecoaches were already uncomfortable for most travelers, there was also the constant menace of being victims of a stage robbery. Some robbers would simply steal the valuable contents of the stage, like bags of money or the U.S. mail, while others would brazenly march all of the passengers out of the stage and proceed to pat them down and steal all of their valuable.

The following image shows two stagecoaches preparing to leave Florissant for the boom town of Cripple Creek. This would have been approximately an eighteen mile journey.

Cripple Creek Stagecoaches at Florissant
Stages for Cripple Creek at Florissant, Colorado

The following image shows the halfway horse on the “Hundley Stage Line” to Cripple Creek. The signs on the building read “Neef Bros Western Brewery Denver, Colo.”. The halfway house was probably a welcome stop to tired passengers, complete with beers, as the horses were changed.

tage Line to Cripple Creek
Hundley Stage Line to Cripple Creek

Zooming in on another view of the Hundley Stage Line reveals just how packed many of these stagecoaches were. During the early 1890s, the great boom at Cripple Creek resulted in tens of thousands of people flooding into the area, most of them by stagecoach.

Hundley Stage Line to Cripple Creek
Hundley Stage Line to Cripple Creek

Another photo illustrates the numerous stagecoaches and freight wagons that were transporting huge numbers of people and tons of freight to Cripple Creek.

Stagecoaches and freight wagons on the road to Cripple Creek 1890s

The following image shows a Cripple Creek stagecoach with “US Mail” stenciled below the driver. Note the tough looking traveler posing by the horses.

Cripple Creek Stage 1895

With the stagecoach being the vital link between many remote Colorado mining camps, one can imagine the variety of mountain scenes, interesting communities, and colorful characters that travelers would would have been witness to.

First time visitors to Creede, Colorado were probably awestruck with views like these.

Upper Creede, Colorado early 1890s

While the stagecoaches were often traversing what was a great wilderness at the time, arrival at one of Colorado’s mining boom towns was quite a contrast to the surrounding territory. The modern Beaumont Hotel in Ouray, Colorado offered travelers luxurious accommodations at the end of a long journey.

Stagecoach in front of the Beaumont Hotel Ouray, Colorado ca 1890
Stagecoach in front of the Beaumont Hotel Ouray, Colorado ca 1890

Red Mountain Town was the center of Colorado’s second richest silver mining area. The roads in the area were particularly precarious, and a trip to or from this important silver camp was certainly a harrowing experience.

This ca. 1890 photo depicts a stagecoach stopped at Red Mountain Town

The Talmage & Lilly stage at Eldora, Colorado was apparently doing a good business in 1899 when the following photo was taken. This year marked Eldora’s peak time of prosperity, but by the early 1900s the mines, and the town were in decline.

Talmage & Lilly stage – Eldora, Colorado 1899

These two stagecoaches appear to be pulling out of their storage barn at Central City, Colorado (1875). The left stage has “Omnibus Line” painted along the top. Note the two children in interesting period garb, and what appears to be a dog.

Stagecoaches at Central City, Colorado 1875
Stagecoaches at Central City, Colorado 1875

Although stagecoaches coexisted with railroads for decades, ultimately the combination of more rail lines and the proliferation of automobiles would signal the end of the stagecoach era.

Hundley Stage Line to Cripple Creek
Hundley Stage Line to Cripple Creek

Some stage lines operated until 1915 or eve later, as seen below in this photo of the “Old Circle Route Stage” that operated out of Ouray, Colorado.

 Old Circle Route Stage - Ouray, Colorado 1923
Old Circle Route Stage – Ouray, Colorado 1923

Despite the discomfort of the stagecoach compared to the luxury automobiles of the modern world, this iconic form of travel still captures the imagination of people from around the world who reminisce about slower, simpler times.

Related: Heavy Freight Wagons of the American West