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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Kansas to California, 35 Days!

In June 1907, when faster, cheaper railroad networks had long since replaced cross-continental stagecoach transportation, a gentleman traveler brought an old, yellowed handbill of bygone days to a railroad ticket office, just for fun.

“Atchison, Kansas to San Francisco, California in thirty-five days; fare, only $200 in gold” read the heading. The multi-page handbill was an advertisement issued in 1857 by the Atchison and California Stagecoach Line, touting the line’s recent road improvements, fine horses and new, attractively painted coaches.

Their service, the ad boasted, was unique: 1,913 miles from point to point, the longest distance ever attempted by a stagecoach line…in only thirty-five days! Twelve telegraph stations dotted the route, and the proprietors had thoughtfully established way stations where good meals could be had for $3.00. Every passenger was allowed twenty-five pounds of luggage consisting of clothing and personal items included in the $200 fare; baggage in excess of that weight was subject to a small charge of 50 cents per additional pound.

As an added inducement, paid-up "through" passengers had unlimited stopover privileges at any place along the road. They could leave the vehicle at any place on the route, remain there for an unlimited time, and resume their journey westward whenever another coach with an empty seat came along. The only apparent downside to this unique transportation opportunity was the warning that the risk on the return trip from California to Kansas was very great, because of the amount of gold dust and nuggets being brought back from California’s gold mines. This being the case, the stage company refused to be held responsible for any loss by robbers, Indians, or other means.

The Atchison and California Stagecoach advertisement described an ambitious enterprise. However, there is no concrete evidence that a stageline by that name actually made it to California. Perhaps they folded due to unanticipated high operational costs over such a vast distance. Or, maybe a more profitable opportunity shortly presented itself. In smaller print, the 1857 handbill also advertised the outfit’s fast freight line between Atchison and Denver; round trip in the short space of twenty days. In July 1858, the Pike’s Peak gold excitement, also known as the Colorado Gold Rush, produced thousands of prospectors eager to get from Kansas Territory to the southern Rocky Mountains. The Atchison and California Stagecoach Line probably took them there.

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