Colorado Stage-Coach Companies

This article outlines the history of numerous stagecoach companies operating in Colorado primarily in the mid to late 1800s. A.J. Oliver & Company started in 1862 and extended to several cities, including Salt Lake City and Montana, but lost a mail contract to Ben Holladay. Other notable companies include Banning Stage Line, which operated between key California cities, and the Butterfield and Company, which established the Overland Mail service from St. Louis to San Francisco. The Leavenworth & Pikes Peak Express and Gilmer & Salisbury were significant routes in the Central Overland and Western Stage companies. Wells, Fargo & Company became a dominant player by the 1860s. Various other companies served regional routes, extending across the West and Midwest as the demand for mineral transport and mail delivery grew.

A. J. Oliver & Company – 1862, began stage wagons between Bannack and Virginia City, MT; line extended to Salt Lake City, UT; awarded mail contract 1864 between Virginia City and Helena and added passenger service. About 1865 A.J. Oliver was unable to compete with Ben Holladay’s lines and gave up mail contract.

Ackley and Morrison – Formerly Maurison & Co; began stage line between San Francisco and San Jose about April 12, 1850

Banning Stage Line – 1852, Phineas Banning and D.W. Alexander, partners; established a stage line between Los Angeles and San Diego; 1853 established a stage and freighting line to San Buenaventura (now Ventura), Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. Stages to San Bernardino, freight wagons to Salt Lake City and contract for hauling Army supplies to Ft. Yuma.

Barlow & Sanderson Company – 1870’s. “Colonel” J.L. Sanderson-principal owner. Operated stageline between Santa Fe and Kansas City. Stage route was shortened after the Civil War to run from the Kansas Pacific railhead at Kit Carson, Colorado. Branch lines were added to include Canon City and Colorado Springs. A line also ran between Old Fort Lyon (aka Fort Wise) on the Bent-Prowers County line, through Kiowa County to Fort Wallace, Kansas. After gold and silver were discovered in the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains, stagelines were extended throughout south-central Colorado and north-central New Mexico. Purchased the Denver & Santa Fe Stage & Express in 1870. Stagecoaches ran from La Junta, the railhead on the Santa Fe Branch of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, to Pueblo in the 1870’s. A stageline was extended from Canon City to Leadville (present day Hwy. 24) and with the discovery of gold and silver in 1880 in the the Gunnison River area, they extended lines westward to Salida. Operations eventually were established in the western mountains and deserts into Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington due to the various discoveries of minerals. They continued to carry passengers and mail until a railroad came through. The Colorado & Wyoming Stage, Mail and Express Company succeeded Barlow and Sanderson.

Baxter & Monroe – 1851 began line from Sacramento to Shasta City, line then extended to Colusa.

Berford and Co. – See also Hall & Crandall.

Boulder & Balarat – Proprietor, C. V. Clark; operated in Colorado

Butterfield and Company – 1857; Company of seven from New York with John Butterfield at the head. Overland Mail Company; awarded California mail contract on September 16, 1857, to begin a year later. The Butterfield Overland Mail, also known as the Southern Overland Mail, route began in St. Louis, cut across the northwestern corner of Arkansas, the southeastern corner of Oklahoma, across central Texas to El Paso, across the very southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona. From Yuma, Arizona followed a northwesterly trek through California, through Los Angeles finally reaching San Francisco. After Butterfield’s line through Texas had been destroyed and the monies spent to rebuild, restock etc., the company found themselves accepting advances from Wells, Fargo & Co after the Post Office failed to pay Butterfield as per contract. In 1861 the contract was amended to discontinue service by the Southern Overland Mail route and move it to the Central Overland Mail route; the contract was to expire on July 1, 1864. Butterfield entered into contracts with Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express and the Western Stage Company. For the Western Stage Company, Butterfield paid for the balance of their mail contract and passenger service, which cleared the route from Fort Kearney to Denver. The contract between the C.O.C.&P.P. Express is too involved to go into any details here.

Butterfield Overland Despatch – 1864, Colonel David Butterfield was operating a fast freight line between Atchison, KS and the west. Routes included such areas as Cherry Valley Station, Box Elder Station, Beaver Creek, Bijou Basin and South Trail(Ridgway). In 1865 a joint stock company was formed and David Butterfield was appointed superintendant and general manager operating a passenger stagecoach over the Smoky Hill route. The company and all of its assets were later purchased by Ben Holladay in March 1866. See Overland Mail & Express Company

Caldwell – 1862, began a competing stage line between Bannack and Virginia City, MT using the same trail as A.J. Oliver & Company

California Stage Company – 1853, a consolidation of the majority of California operators; Jim Birch, president; Frank Stevens, vice president. In 1855 the company had extended lines almost the entire length of California. Lines were then established to Redding and Yreka. By 1856, became the largest stagecoaching firm in the United States. Birch was awarded a four-year mail contract for San Antonio to San Diego in 1857. Before the route actually started, Birch was lost at sea. The contract was then awarded to George H. Giddings of Giddings & Doyle.

Canon City & Denver Pony Express – 1860 Proprietors, Messrs. McGregor and Evans; operated in Colorado between Canon City and Denver.

Caribou Stage Company – Operated in Colorado between Caribou, Nederland, and Central City

Central Overland, California & Pikes Peak Express Company – 1859, Proprietors, Russell, Major and Waddell; awarded mail contract from Denver to Salt Lake City, route followed Cherokee Trail (closely paralleled to today’s US Hwy. 287 and Interstate 80). In 1861 the route covered Golden, Central City, Black Hawk and Clear Creek; and then was extended to cover Breckenridge, Fairplay, Tarryall, Buckskin Joe, and mining towns along the Arkansas River and Blue River. Bela Hughes was elected president and Russell had to step down. Mr. Hughes gave a bond and mortgage on the C.O.C. & Pikes Peak Express to Ben Holladay to advance money for three years. Holladay, after a few weeks declared a forfeiture because of failure of performance. Possession was taken December 6, 1861. It was put up for auction and was purchased by Ben Holladay in March 1862. See also Butterfield and Company and Overland Stage Company.

Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage, Mail & Express Line – F. D. Yates & Co. including Captain W.H. Brown and Frank Yates; subcontracted for mail service to Spotted Tail(SD?). Gilmer & Salisbury bought out Yates & Company a few days after the arrival of the first stage.

Childs & Scott – Awarded the New Mexico contract

Chorpenning, George – accepted a contract between Salt Lake City, UT and Placerville, California. This was the western end of the Central Overland Mail route.

Colorado Stage Company – Aug. 20, 1870; Operated in Colorado in such towns as Black Hawk, Central City, Denver, Georgetown, Golden City, and Idaho (Springs?)

Colorado Stage & Express Company – Feb. 14, 1877; operated in such towns as Central City, Georgetown, Idaho in Colorado carrying passengers, mail, and freight; ceased operation about Aug. 13, 1877;

Colorado & Wyoming Stage, Mail and Express Company – succeeded Barlow and Sanderson.

Cottrill, Vickroy, Barlow, Vaile, & Barnum – July 1862; contract between Pueblo, Fairplay, Hamilton and others. They also had a coach that ran between Bent’s Old Fort, Pueblo, Russellville and Denver; stages also ran from Denver to Santa Fe. In 1869 a route began from Denver to Russellville, Spring Valley and Colorado City. Became M. Cottrill & Company

M. Cottrill & Company – 1859-1864; route between Denver and Kansas City. Parent company of the Kansas, Santa Fe & Canon City Express, aka Kansas City, Santa Fe & Denver Mail & Express Line, Santa Fe Stage & Express, Santa Fe Stage Company

Deadwood Line – See Gilmer & Salisbury

Denver & Colorado City Stage Line – 1860; Proprietor, Harmon G. Weibling; mail contract between Denver Russellville and Colorado City.

Denver & Santa Fe Stage & Express Company – 1867; Proprietor, Abraham Jacobs and partner, William Jones; route between Denver and Trinidad; mail contract between Denver and Pueblo; bought by Barlow, Sanderson & Company in 1870

Denver Chariot Omnibus Company – July 28, 1880; carried passengers through the streets of Denver using carriages and omnibuses; first taxi?

Denver City & Colorado Express – Feb. 1860; Proprietors, Harrison and Soley; route between Denver and Canon City

Denver Freight & Emigrant Transportation Company – Nov 7, 1868; passengers and freight in and out of Denver City

Denver to Jefferson and Swandyke by stagecoach –

Denver, Mount Vernon & Mountain City Stage & Express Company –

Denver & Steamboat Springs Stage Company – Route ran between Denver, Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs, Kremmling, Steamboat Springs, and Craig

El Paso Stage Company –

Far West Stageline –

George F. Thomas and Company – 1864 operated stage line between Wallas Walla, WA and Boise, ID along the Overland Trail

Giddings & Doyle – Had mail route between San Antonio and Santa Fe. The section between El Paso and Santa Fe was awarded to another bidder and the San Antonio-San Diego route was awarded to Giddings & Doyle. The route was also known as the Jackass Line because the California mountains were crossed on muleback.

Gilmer & Salisbury – 1870’s, Proprietors Jack Gilmer and Monroe Salisbury; purchased surplus of UT assets, and the Idaho and Montana branches of the Wells, Fargo & Co. line. Bought out Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage, Mail and Express Line in 1876. Operated the Deadwood Line between Cheyenne, Wyoming and the Black Hills(present day Hwy. 87 and 85). Soon after this line began operating Western Stage began a competing line. By 1880 became one of the most powerful corporations in the West; far exceeded those of Ben Holladay and passed the goal set by Wells, Fargo & Company. At the end, lines ran from the Canadian border to southern UT, from the Great Plains to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains.

Golden City & Denver Express –

Green, R.F. – 1858; awarded a mail contract from Neosho, Missouri to Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hailey & Ish – stage line operation between Umatilla Landing on the Columbia River and Boise, ID

Hall and Crandall – 1850; Warren Hall, William Hall, and J.B. Crandall; had line running between Vera Cruz and the City of Mexico; purchased Whistman Stageing; mail contract between Monterrey and San Jose. A line was next established between San Jose and San Francisco. Changed name to Berford & Co. Later extended its line to Monterrey, Marysville and Yreka.

Hall & Porter – became Missouri Stage Company

Harrison & Soley’s Denver City & Colorado Express – See Denver City & Colorado Express

Hinkley & Company Express – Established around 1859 or 1860 by C. S. Hinckley and John Sowers. The company provided transportation services from the mining areas west of Denver, Colorado (then part of Kansas Territory), to Denver. Additionally, it operated routes eastward from Denver to St. Joseph, Missouri, and later extended its service to Omaha, Nebraska, following the Platte Valley route. On May 11, 1861, the Central Overland, California & Pike’s Peak Express Company acquired Hinckley’s Express.

Hockaday & Company – See also Hockaday & Hall and Waldo, Hall & Company; Awarded a two and a half year mail contract between Salt Lake City, UT and Independence, Missouri in 1858. This was the eastern part of the Central Overland Mail route.

Hockaday & Hall – Proprietors John Hockaday and Jacob Hall; Formerly Waldo, Hall & Company changed to Hockaday and Hall and awarded another four-year contract. Mail and passenger stages ran from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Name changed to Hockaday & Company

Hockaday & Liggett – See John M. Hockaday & Company.

Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company – Incorporated February 5, 1866, see also Overland Stage Company. On November 1, 1866 Wells, Fargo & Company purchased Ben Holladay’s holdings.

Irving & Co – Awarded the Army contract for Utah and Oregon

Jackass Line – See Giddings & Doyle

John M. Hockaday & Company – Also known as Hockaday & Liggett May 1, 1858; later purchased by Leavenworth & Pikes Peak Express Company.

Jack Hughes – 1869; purchased the Colorado stagelines of Wells, Fargo & Company

Kansas City Gold Hunter’s Express Transportation Company – March 1859; Irwin, Porter & Company; carried passengers and freight to Colorado mining camps

Kansas, Santa Fe & Canon City Express – Also known by several other names such as Santa Fe Stage Company; successor of M. Cottrill & Company;

Kehler & Montgomery Stage Company – Same as Pike’s Peak Express?

Leavenworth & Pikes Peak Express Company – April 18, 1859; Joint-Stock Company; William Russell, president; John Russell, secretary; and John S. Jones, general manager. Two of the known stock subscribers were Luther R. Smoot and Benjamin F. Ficklin. Route was from Leavenworth to Ft. Riley, Junction City (Republican and Smoky Hill Junction) to Denver City over Fremont Trail to the Republican River (Benkelman, NE); followed Republican River to its source then crossed a divide to reach Big Sandy Creek (near Hugo, CO). Here they picked up the Smoky Hill Trail and followed it to Denver. On May 11, 1859, they bought out the balance of Hockaday & Liggett’s St. Joseph-Salt Lake City mail contract, as well as the equipment, stock relay posts, feed, and supplies. The Post Office insisted that the mail be carried over the route specified in the contract. The Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Express had to change routes and use the Overland Trail along the North Platte River. A branch was then started between Denver and northeastern Colorado. Russell committed funds provided by the line of credit established by Russell, Majors and Waddell, of which he was a partner, without consulting Majors and Waddell. Russell went into partnership with Ben Holladay to deliver flour to troops in Utah. With the discovery of gold in Central City, Russell added a line between Denver and Golden. The L.&P.P. Express went bankrupt and was taken over by the firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell.

Louisiana Tehuantepec Company – 1858 awarded mail contract between New Orleans, Louisiana and San Francisco, California via Mexico.

Maurison & Co’s Express and Mail Line – About 1849; California line that ran from Stockton to the Stanislaus Mines. Name changed to Ackley and Morrison.

McClelland & Spotswood – Purchased the majority of Wells Fargo’s Colorado branch lines. Operations were confined mainly to the mining towns with the main line running from Denver to Morrison to through Turkey Creek Canyon (over present day US Hwy 285) to Fairplay. From Fairplay branch lines ran to the different mining camps and towns along the Continental Divide. In 1873, a passenger and express line was established between Colorado Springs and Canon City. Later the route went westward to Salida (U.S. Hwy 50) and then north to Granite and Oro (U.S. Hwy 24). Another line was established over Hwy 24 to go between Colorado Springs and South Park. After the discovery of silver, a line was established between Fairplay to Leadville, taken the route over the Weston Pass. About 1877, they were awarded a four-year mail contract between Denver and Leadville. The Leadville line was then sold to Wall and Witter. After the completion of the Rio Grande Railroad and numerous branches of the Denver & South Park Division of the Union Pacific through the Colorado Rockies mining camps, the stage lines were discontinued.

McGregor and Evens – briefly had route between Canon City and Denver

Middle Park Mail & Transportation Company – Apr. 24, 1903; operated mail, stage & express between Georgetown, Hot Sulphur Springs, and Grand Lake

Missouri Stage Company – 1861; successor to Hall & Porter; carried mail along Arkansas River to Fairplay

Overland Mail Company – John Butterfield; awarded six-year mail contract to run from the Mississippi River to California. See also Butterfield and Company.

Overland Mail & Express Company – 1866; Proprietor, Ben Holladay, formerly the Butterfield Overland Despatch Company

Overland Stage Company – 1862; Proprietor, Ben Holladay; formerly the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company. When Holladay took over he extended service to Buckskin Joe, Montgomery, Hamilton, and others in the southern mining area. About 1861/62, he also acquired part of Western Stage Company’s lines west of the Missouri River. In about 1864, Holladay was awarded two mail contracts. The first was from Salt Lake City, UT to Virginia City, MT; the second from Salt Lake City, UT to Walla Walla, WA. The Walla Walla route was extended a short time late to The Dalles, OR. Holladay’s stages also carried much of the newly discovered gold from the Montana mines. On February 5, 1866, Holladay applied for and received from the Territorial Legislature of Colorado his charter papers, incorporating the name Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company.

Pacific Union Express Company – Established in 1868, the Pacific Union Express Company contracted with established stagecoach lines, like Wells Fargo, to transport valuable goods, packages, and mail quickly and efficiently across long distances. Eventually, the Pacific Union Express Company merged with Wells Fargo & Company in 1872, solidifying Wells Fargo’s dominance in the express and banking business in the West.

Park Stagecoach Line – Operated in Yellowstone Park

Peabody – Operated stage line over same trail as A.J. Oliver & Company between Bannack and Virginia City, MT

Pike’s Peak Express – Founded by John Kehler, sheriff (Denver County?) about 1862.

Pioneer Stage Line – About 1851; Frank Stevens, owner; established line between Sacramento and Hangtown (now Placerville) in California. This stageline, with other stage operating companies, was consolidated to form the California Stage Company in 1853. Jared Crandall, in about 1857, took over the stageline from the California Stage Company. One route ran between Folsom and Placerville, California and then extended to Carson Valley, Nevada. In 1860 the line was sold to Louis McLane although there is speculation that Wells, Fargo & Company was the actual purchaser.

Prowers, John – Reported to have operated a stage business near Las Animas and Boggsville.

Russell, Majors & Waddell – See also Leavenworth & Pikes Peak Express. Operated under various partnerships including Brown, Russell & Company, Waddell & Russell. Many times they were contracted to haul military freight and wagon trains. Russell became partners with Alexander Majors in January, 1855. Depending on the county you were in the firm was called Waddell & Russell or Majors & Russell. See also Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express (C.O.C.P.P.)

S.W. Nott Stage Company – Route on the “High Line” over Loveland Pass

Sacramento and Coloma Stage Line – Jim Birch, owner; stage line ran from Sacramento to Sutter’s Mill; line was extended to Nicolaus and Marysville in 1851 and eventually into Nevada. See California Stage Company

Sacramento and Nevada City Express Line – About October, 1850; William A. Beeks, Proprietor

Santa Fe Stage Company – Successor of M. Cottrill & Company

Jim Saunders Express – Nov. 1858; operated mail route between Ft. Laramie, WY and Denver, CO

Smith’s Pikes Peak Express – delivered mail from Kansas City by mule-drawn covered wagons.

Sowers & Company Mountain Express & Stage Company – well know “Mail Man of the gold miners”

Todd, Alexander – About 1846 established an express line between the California mining camps.

The United States Express Company – 1861; Smoky Hill stage route to Denver; was still active in 1870

Waldo, Hall & Company – 1850, contract to carry mail between Independence and Santa Fe. In 1854, a new four-year mail contract was awarded. In 1858, firm was renamed Hockaday & Hall.

Wall and Witter – 1866; mail contract. Operated a competing stage line between Pine Grove and Leadville and eventually purchased McClelland & Spotswood’s Leadville line.

Harmon G. Weibling Stage Company of Leavenworth – Mail contract between Denver, Huntsville, Colorado City and Canon City through Russellville

Wells, Fargo & Company – 1852; Henry Wells and William Fargo; began operating express line in California, did not operate stage lines during the California gold rush. 1855, Louis McLane appointed general manager. Wells, Fargo & Company probably entered into the staging business about the time it began making advances to the Overland Mail Company about 1859/60. In 1860, the Pioneer Stage Line was purchased in Louis McLane’s name, but in 1864 it was announced that Wells, Fargo & Company had purchased the line from Louis McLane. Nov. 1, 1866 the company took over Ben Holladay’s Smoky Hill route; see Overland Mail & Express Company; sold the Colorado portion of the Wells, Fargo stagelines to Jack Hughes in October, 1869

Western Stage Company – September 20, 1860; awarded mail contract between Omaha and Fort Kearney, NE and Denver, CO; later passenger service added to mining camps. See also Butterfield and Company.

Whistman Stageing – John Whistman started stage line in the fall of 1849, running between San Francisco and San Jose. See Hall and Crandall

Daniel Witter – 1866; awarded mail contract between Denver and Pueblo

Woodson, Colonel Samuel H. – Awarded mail contract from Independence, Missouri to Salt Lake City.

Woodward, Absalom and Chorpenning, George – Awarded mail contract from Salt Lake City, UT to Sacramento, CA.

Yates & Company – See also Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage, Mail & Express Line

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