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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

An Ordinary Pioneer

Does a life filled with adventure and diverse occupations beget a physically vigorous, mentally alert old age? That was certainly true of Edward B. Daingerfield, twenty-two when he arrived at Placerville in August 1850, twenty days before California was admitted to the Union.

Edward was just an ordinary guy, with perhaps extraordinary talents and ambitions, evidently coupled with a love of exciting, risky undertakings. His first job was as a clerk at the Placerville post office, which meant carrying the mail on horseback through wild back country, to and from Coloma. In those days it cost 40 cents to mail a letter, almost always paid in gold dust. But also in those days, it was no uncommon thing for a miner to offer Ed from 20 to 50 dollars to go to the post office to retrieve a letter for him in the middle of the night.

In 1854 Ed hired on as a stage driver for Barton and Ellison, on the run to Mokelumne Hill by way of Drytown and Jackson. The following year, he founded the Volcano Weekly Ledger newspaper (later known as the Amador Ledger) with partner T. A. Springer. His involvement in the newspaper business was brief; he sold his one-half interest in the newspaper to Springer in 1857 citing poor health, and the next year sold his interest in the offices at Jackson. This time his for-sale ad said he “had made arrangements to engage in other business that will require his entire time and attention”—which turned out to be as an agent for the South Fork Canal, a huge operation that took water from the South Fork of the American River at the canal’s head high in the mountains, thirteen miles from Daingerfield’s adopted home town of Placerville.

After that, he again hired on as a stage driver for one of the pioneer stage companies with routes over the High Sierra, as one of many drivers who were never singled out for celebrity. Stage driver Hank Monk was made famous by Mark Twain and other writers, for the wild ride Monk inflicted upon New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in 1859—who needed to get from Carson City to Placerville for a speaking engagement—but it was actually Edward Daingerfield who drove Greely to Placerville, after Monk’s stage route ended 12 miles up the hill at Sportsman’s Hall.

Ed drove stage over the Sierra-Nevada throughout the Comstock-silver heyday and the Civil War years. He traversed narrow mountain roads with precipitous drops and hairpin turns, until the ever-advancing transcontinental railroad’s first passenger train reached present-day Reno in 1868—the event that effectively ended trans-Sierra staging. Accepting the job opportunities the railroad offered, Edward moved to San Jose to work for the railroad on its run between there and San Francisco, a job that lasted for six years. He married in 1878, eventually fathering seven children.

Over the next several years, Daingerfield successively engaged in other interesting, sometimes unique occupations: he had charge of the water system at San Quentin Prison, served as the postmaster at Gilroy, and worked for a time in the State Treasurer’s office. Around 1890 he semi-retired to Pacific Grove, where he spent another four years as that community’s postmaster.

In May 1920, when the United Press Association held their state convention at Asilomar, they invited 93-year-old, still hale and hearty Edward Daingerfield. He walked the one-plus-mile distance to the convention from his home in Pacific Grove, carrying a bound volume of the old Volcano Weekly Ledger weighing thirty pounds.

Conference attendees agreed he was the oldest living newspaperman in the state. He was also, as the Amador Ledger had reported back in 1911, the only still-living driver out of the 400 men who had once driven stage on the California-Nevada route.

An interesting life, for just an ordinary guy.

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