Ring's reflections: Stagecoaches fill need

Service throughout Southern Arizona expanded as mining towns boomed
2012-07-12T00:00:00Z 2012-07-12T10:54:25Z Ring's reflections: Stagecoaches fill needOpinion by Bob Ring Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A couple weeks ago I wrote about overland stagecoach operations through Tucson. This week I'll tell the story of how Tucson stagecoach pioneers provided service to Southern Arizona mining areas and local settlements.

The first non-native miners in Southern Arizona were Spaniards who began drifting north from long-established mining areas in Sonora, Mexico, in the 1730s. Mexicans continued prospecting in the borderland country following their independence from Spain in 1821.

Immediately after the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, Americans began exploring these same mining areas, rediscovering some of the old Spanish and Mexican diggings.

When the first Butterfield overland stagecoach reached Tucson in 1858, Americans had already established silver mines near Arivaca and in the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains.

Stagecoaches south

While American mining was developing, in 1870 experienced freighter Pedro Aguirre started the Arizona & Sonora Stage Line in Tucson to carry mail and passengers between Tucson and Altar, Sonora, Mexico, with connections southward to the Sonoran capitol of Hermosillo and the important Gulf of California port at Guaymas.

In 1873 gold was discovered south of Arivaca, near the border with Mexico, setting off an American mining boom and the development of the Oro Blanco mining camp. This strike, along with successful silver mining around Arivaca, led Aguirre in 1877 to start regular stagecoach service to Arivaca, south to Oro Blanco, with continuing service to Altar, Sonora.

Aguirre continued to provide stagecoach service to this intermittently successful borderland mining region until 1886 when he sold his company and retired to his Buenos Aires ranch west of Arivaca.

From 1892-1908 stagecoach service to Arivaca and Oro Blanco was provided by Mariano Samaniego, a Sonoran-born freighter, cattle rancher and merchant, and the acknowledged most successful Hispanic Tucson public official in the territorial period.

Stagecoaches heading south from Tucson stopped at James Brown's Sahuarita Ranch and the "halfway" station in Amado to change horses or mules and obtain food for passengers.

Stagecoaches southeast

Two of Arizona's biggest mining strikes occurred in southeastern Arizona in 1877. Discovery of huge deposits of silver and copper led to the development of Tombstone in 1879 and Bisbee in 1880.

Within a month of arriving in Tucson from Kansas in October 1878, J.D. Kinnear started Kinnear's Express stagecoach service (every four days) to the new silver area. By 1879 Kinnear had formed the Tucson & Tombstone Stage Line to provide daily service to Tombstone and soon thereafter on to Bisbee.

In the spirited competition to provide the best service, another new Tombstone arrival from Kansas, named Wyatt Earp, sold out his own stagecoach line interests to Kinnear.

Stages from Tucson to Tombstone and Bisbee started out using the old Butterfield overland stage relay stations at Cienega and San Pedro near Benson. When the southern transcontinental railroad tracks were laid right over the station at Cienega in 1880, a new station was built a mile and half to the east at Pantano. The San Pedro station was "reopened," advertising "excellent meals for the traveler" in the Tucson Daily Citizen.

At about the same time that service to Tombstone and Bisbee was developing, stagecoaches from Tucson via Pantano began routes to mines around Patagonia.

Stagecoaches north

Fifty miles northeast of Tucson, near Mammoth, gold was discovered in 1879. William "Curly" Neal, of African-American and Cherokee descent, came to Tucson in 1878, opened a livery and by 1879 was running a stage line to the mining towns around Mammoth, with a stage stop in Oracle. In 1895 Neal financed the building of the luxurious Mountain View Hotel on his ranch in Oracle.

Stagecoaches west

Also in 1879 silver was discovered in Quijotoa, 65 miles west of Tucson, but it wasn't until 1883 that rich croppings generated real excitement. Richard Starr (of Starr Pass fame) pioneered a stagecoach trail through the Tucson Mountains as a quick route to Quijotoa.

The stage stop out of Tucson was the ranch house of the Robles Ranch in Three Points. Unfortunately the mining boom in Quijotoa only lasted until 1885, with a consequent dropoff in stage business.

Stagecoach network

While stagecoach service to Southern Arizona mining regions was developing, Tucson remained a "hub" on an increasing stagecoach transportation network among other settlements in Territorial Arizona, including Nogales, Casa Grande, Florence, Phoenix, Prescott and Globe.

The stagecoach business was dynamic. Stage companies went out of business or changed names frequently. As improved roads replaced rough wagon trails, the coaches themselves changed. The huge, heavy Concord coaches used on overland routes were supplemented with smaller, lighter stages, wagons or buckboards. The vehicles were pulled by teams of two, four, or six horses or mules.

A survey by my brother Al of stage line records and advertisements in Tucson newspapers between 1880 and 1910 shows that stagecoach service to destinations within 75 miles of Tucson was provided several times a week, sometimes daily, and completed in one day.

Fares for passengers remained relatively constant at approximately 10 cents per mile, decreasing slightly over the longer routes. I could have traveled 65 miles from Tucson to Arivaca (as my grandparents did in 1905) for $6.

Transporting valuables

In 1877, in response to increased mining activity in Southern Arizona, Wells Fargo Express Co., which transported valuables, reestablished its Tucson office that had been briefly operational in 1860 for the Butterfield Overland Mail. Wells Fargo began leasing space on stagecoaches to carry "treasure boxes," a good source of income for stage lines but somewhat risky.

According to the "Encyclopedia of Stage Robbery in Arizona," there were 129 stagecoach robberies in Arizona between 1875 and 1903. Eleven of them occurred in Pima County - including two near present-day Marana, single robberies near Patagonia and present-day Green Valley and a robbery of the Tucson-Quijotoa stage.

The Marana robberies in 1878 were committed by highwayman Bill Brazelton, who supposedly turned his horse's shoes around to confuse trackers, but was later shot dead by a pursuing posse.

End of an era

With increased links to population centers and agriculture, livestock and mining enterprises, Tucson's population grew to about 14,000 by 1910. Stagecoach lines were prosperous right up to the time of Arizona statehood in 1912. But by that time local railroads; e.g., Tucson to Nogales, had proliferated and automobiles and trucks began to take the place of horse- or mule-driven stagecoaches.

A few Tucson mail contract stagecoach services continued into the 1920s. One of these was mail delivery from 1914 to 1921 between Tucson and Wrightstown Ranch at the corner of Harrison and Wrightstown Roads.

Today, 100 years after statehood, a Google search of "Tucson stagecoach" yields a long list of van shuttle services that you can use to get to the airport or to Phoenix. Sadly, the romantic age of the stagecoach is over, but it's nice to know that "stagecoaches" so important to Tucson's development are still operating today.

If you have any information about former stagecoach stations in Pima County, feel free to email me at ringbob1@aol.com

On StarNet: Read Bob Ring's June 28 column on stagecoach service through Tucson at http://tinyurl.com/Tucson-stagecoaches

Sources: Arizona Daily Star; "Arizona Place Names" (Byrd H. Granger, 1985); "Arizona Territory Post Offices & Postmasters" (John and Lillian Theobald, 1961); Encyclopedia of Stagecoach Robbery in Arizona (R. Michael Wilson, 2003); Tucson Daily Citizen; "Wells Fargo in Arizona Territory" (John and Lillian Theobald, 1978) E-mail Bob Ring at ringbob1@aol.com or view his website, ringbrothershistory.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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