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MailTribune.com
  • Eclipse of the Stage

    The sun sets on the stagecoach as train travel becomes typical
  • 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.
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  • 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.
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