On the day the first locomotive chugged over the Siskiyou Mountains into Ashland, Dan Cawley drove a matched team of horses pulling a stagecoach on a parallel path.

On the day the first locomotive chugged over the Siskiyou Mountains into Ashland, Dan Cawley drove a matched team of horses pulling a stagecoach on a parallel path.

But that Dec. 17, 1887, run would be the last one for the Oregon and California Stage Co. stagecoaches on the main road linking the two states.

The arrival of the railroad doomed the horse-drawn vehicles on that route, albeit horse power continued on spur lines for a period. "As the railroad was built, coming south from Portland and north from Sacramento, the need for that main stage line kept shrinking," says Jeff LaLande, a historian and archaeologist living in Ashland.

"By the time of the completion of the railroad in December of 1887, there was only a short distance left that the stagecoach covered on the main stage line," he adds. "That era was beginning to come to an end."

With the roughly 20-mile gap finally closed, the train could travel unimpeded from Sacramento to Portland, covering the 710-mile distance in less than two days.

While that may seem slow in today's world, consider this: Before the arrival of the iron horse, it took a stagecoach seven long days to travel from Portland to Sacramento during the summer. Come winter, the trip, the second longest stagecoach run in the nation, took a dozen days.

A well-known stagecoach driver was Thomas P. Burnett, a colorful character featured in "Knights of the Whip," perhaps the definitive book on the stagecoach era in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

"Tom Burnett was my grandfather's cousin — that connection is how I got interested in stagecoaches," says Michael F. Hanley IV, 71, of Jordan Valley, a rancher who has restored five historic stagecoaches.

"Burnett was also involved in that deal with the last stagecoaches over the Siskiyous," he adds. "When he retired after the railroad came through, they gave him a stagecoach, six white horses and a set of harnesses. I have that set of harnesses now, use it all the time."

One of the stagecoaches restored by Hanley, whose great-grandfather founded the historic Hanley Farm in Central Point now owned by the Southern Oregon Historical Society, was used in this region.

"I've ridden hundreds of miles on stagecoaches," he says. "When you are up on the box driving one, the rocking motion makes it easier for you. But the passengers inside the coach take the jolt.

"It was a pretty rough way to travel," he says. "That's why they always insisted a passenger pay in advance."

A historian who has written seven books on Western history and who led a wagon train in 1996 on the 150th anniversary of the blazing of the Applegate Trail, Hanley says that a 60-mile stretch was a good haul for a driver.

"The thing was, they traveled around the clock," he says. "They would go about 6 miles an hour. But there were always obstacles. You always had road conditions that would be a problem."

Oil lamps were hung on the coaches to warn others of their coming, while a red glass was placed on the back of the lamp much as taillights are used today, he says.

"A horse can see better in the dark than a human," he says. "But on a pitch-black night, I wouldn't want to be traveling in a stagecoach. And don't think anyone would want to do it, particularly over the Siskiyou Pass."

In his book "Roughing It," American humorist Mark Twain depicted stagecoach drivers as a special breed.

"The stage driver was a hero — a great and shining dignitary, the world's favorite son, the envy of the people, the observed of the nations," he wrote. "When they spoke to him they received his insolent silence meekly, and as being the natural and proper conduct of so great a man; when he opened his lips they all hung on his words with admiration."

The stagecoaches would stop at stations such as Cole Station, Mountain House in Ashland, Rock Point and Wolf Creek.

But the end of the line over the Siskiyous did not mean the end of stagecoach spur lines. Stagecoaches continued to take passengers from the Rogue Valley to Klamath Falls and from Grants Pass to Crescent City.

Consider this advertisement, which ran on March 28, 1889, in Jacksonville's Democratic Times newspaper:

"The undersigned has fitted up a stage, which will make regular trips between Jacksonville and Central Point, connecting with all trains, from and after April 1, 1889," read the ad, submitted by W.G. Kenney of Medford.

But that line would be short-lived. When the Rogue River Valley Railroad was completed between Jacksonville and Medford in 1891, the stagecoach run between Central Point and Jacksonville was soon abandoned.

On Dec. 19, 1902, the Mail Tribune reflected on the 15th anniversary of the last stagecoach driven over the Siskiyous.

"Fifteen years ago Dan Cawley drove the last coach of the overland stage line across the Siskiyous and as he rolled up his whip and tossed the reins to the hostler at the end of that drive a new era commenced and an old one passed away," the paper noted. " . . . here and there throughout Southern Oregon live white-haired old men, who in years gone by held with firm hands the reins over those six bounding steeds and guided the rocking coach around the perilous curves and along the frowning precipices which lined the route of the overland stage line."

But Dan Cawley was not among them. The old stagecoach driver, a New Hampshire native who had also driven the first stage over the Siskiyou Mountains for the California Stage Co. on Sept. 1, 1858, died on Oct. 15, 1901, in Yreka. He was 76.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.