Two famous stagecoaches

Michael Raffety


I read with interest Pat Lakey’s story about the Wells Fargo Stagecoach joining the Christmas Parade. Credit, of course, belongs to Trisha Campbell, manager of the Broadway Wells Fargo branch for getting the Wells Fargo stagecoach to come to Placerville. Credit also Richard Esposito of the Mountain Democrat for taking the reins of the Hangtown Christmas Parade. I also mention Mountain Democrat Features Mimi Escabar, who has judged the Christmas parade for decades in rain, sleet and sun. The Dec. 6 parade is a group effort but it needs a leader, which is now the Mountain Democrat. What a great hometown paper!

There are 17 different Wells Fargo stages, Lakey pointed out. My bet is on the stage and horse team based in Klamath Falls, Ore. I happened to run across the semi-tractor-trailer rig with the Wells Fargo logo all over it.

During my September visit with my cousins in Oregon, Washington and Alaska, we stopped at Blue Star Memorial Rest Stop on Highway 97 somewhere between Klamath Falls and Bend, Ore. The man with the Wells Fargo stage and team of four horses in his big semi was Michael Wakefield of Klamath Falls. He and his wife were on their way to a fair in a town in far northern Washington whose name was so obscure and barely pronounceable that I forgot it as soon as he told me, even though I used to live in Washington

Klamath Falls is about six hours away from Placerville. So, I bet Michael Wakefield is the man who will drive the Wells Fargo stage in the Hangtown Christmas parade Dec. 6.

Oregon also has another stagecoach of local fame at the High Desert Museum just south of Bend, Ore. It is called the DeMoss Stagecoach. It is not as fancy as the Wells Fargo stagecoach and shorter. But its size may have been an advantage, because it originally was used on the run between Nevada and California.

According to the High Desert Museum it was originally owned by James “Hank” Monk. Stage driver Hank Monk was made famous by Mark Twain in his book, ”Roughing It.”

The story is told in Chapter of Horace Greely “When he left Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement in Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at such an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace’s coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier – said he warn’t in as much of a hurry as he was a while ago. But Hank Monk said, ‘Keep your seat, Horace, and I’ll get you there on time’ – and you bet he did too, what was left of him.”

As Twain traveled across the country in a stage that story was repeated to him several times by different drivers.

“Stagecoaching on the Overland is no more, and stage drivers are a race defunct. I wonder if they have bequeathed that bald-headed anecdote to their successors, the railroad brakemen and conductors, and if the latter still persecute the hapless passenger with it until he concludes, as did many a tourist of other days, that the real grandeurs of the Pacific coast are not Yosemite and the Big Trees, but Hank Monk and his adventure with Horace Greeley.”

Besides newspaperman and former presidential candidate Greeley, Hank Monk also transported the Prince of Whales (later to become King Edward III), Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, the Prince of Russia who was going on a buffalo hunt with Bill Cody, and President Rutherford B. Hayes.

The DeMoss family bought Hank Monk’s stage in Nevada in 1897. They paid $150 for it. The DeMoss family has 1,200-acre ranch in Sherman County, whose biggest town is The Dalles, Ore. The rest of Sherman County is vast emptiness except for the two rivers that empty into the Columbia — the Deschutes and the John Day.

The DeMoss Family Lyric Bards played 41 different instruments and performed in small towns, mining camps and European cities for 60 years and even performed for Congress. They are credited with writing the Oregon State Song, “My Sweet Oregon.”

By 1933 the DeMoss Family Bards had their last musical performance together.

What a history that stagecoach has acquired!


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