During the Indian wars of the 1860’s, the stage lines were favorite targets of the Indians because they were small and few defenders. They would attack the stage stations and drive the mules off and burn it down. For this reason very few stage stops exist today. There were two types of stations, there was the relay station and the home station. The relay station was where the mules would be changed on the coach and on down the pike the stage would roll. The home station was manned by a husband and wife and here the passengers on the coach could get a meal during the journey. The home station would also house the relief drivers.
With numerous Indian attacks, these stage stops developed some elaborate defensive strategies. Home stations were built over cellars with trap doors where people could hide from the Indians. Tunnels were also built from the house out to a little fort made of mud blocks and gun slots. It would have a water barrel and with a repeating rifle the station master could defend against the Indians. The mule pens were made of adobe blocks and wood, when possible a dug out in a hillside, called mule cellars. If there were rocks available the station built the corrals of stone work and the hut. With all these measures, the Indians would still launch attacks against the stage stations.
The Pond Creek Stage Stop has been preserved at the Ft Wallace, Kansas museum. Pond Creek was a home station. Here the stages stopped for meals and a brief respite of the journey. The trap door to the cellar is still there as are the upstairs living quarters. The kitchen and eating area are on the main floor. The mule pens were left behind when the building was moved a short distance from its original site.
1865 the Butterfield Overland Dispatch began operating a stage line to the Rocky Mountain gold fields. Near present day Wallace Kansas, they set up their home station. A short distance away, the Army had established Fort Wallace. This combination set up numerous conflicts between the Indians and the new comers. Yet through all the battles the Pond Creek station survived. The railroad showed up a year later and the BOD ceased operations but another operator kept the stages rolling and the station stayed busy transporting travelers from the rails on westward.
A writer from Harper’s Weekly took a stage ride across the prairie to the gold fields. Not all of the troubles on the ride were from Indians. Axels break on the coaches, or the harness breaks and the coach crashes into the ditch giving the riders a good tumble as the coach rolls over. The dust rolled into the coach, turning everything a dusty brown. The scorching heat of summer made for a miserable ride in the dust cloud. Then there was the food, most of it was dried or salted for preservation. Fresh meat was almost nonexistent and the sanitary conditions of some of the stops were questionable. To get sick during the ride, well that was close to hopeless. There are small unmarked graves along the roads of people that perished.
Mark Twain wrote an interesting story of Samuel Clemens stage ride to California on the overland route. How they would try to arrange the mail pouches on the floor to sleep during the bouncy trip at night.