Cheryl Anne Stapp
The Pretty Girl Stage Driver
The stage arrived in Oroville right on time that morning in October 1893; yet at the first sight of it, the townsfolk were astounded. Where was bluff, hearty Henry Morrison, the regular stage driver, and who in the dickens was that up there on the box calmly holding the reins of four snorting horses? Why—it was a girl!
Soon enough the mystery was solved, and the townspeople set to chuckling, both in wonder and approval. The “girl” was actually a twenty-year-old young woman, and she was Henry Morrison’s daughter, Annie. The reason that she was up on the box—instead of her dad—passed from mouth to mouth, all the way to the back of the crowd gathered round. Henry “Hen” Morrison had broken his leg, so Annie had taken it upon herself to be his temporary replacement—because the gold from the mines at Cherokee Flat must be delivered, no matter what.
Nonetheless, expressions of amazement lingered on knowing faces: what a dangerous trip through steep mountainous regions for a mere slip of a woman! As everyone knew, it had been Hen’s special mission for years and years to bring down the gold from Cherokee’s famous hydraulic gold mines, where the Spring Valley Hydraulic Gold Company’s operations had washed down tons of gold, with eighteen hoses shooting 400-foot streams of water against the great bluffs, since 1876. The town itself—called Cherokee Flat (by old-timers) or just plain Cherokee—was home to more than a thousand residents, boasting its own race track and also a brewery, besides the usual institutions of small city life: grocers and dry goods merchants, schools, churches, fraternal lodges, saloons and hotels. For sure 1880 had been its glory year, when President Rutherford B. Hayes, General William T. Sherman of Civil War fame, and other notables of the day had visited to see the largest hydraulic gold mine in the world.
The distance between Cherokee Flat and Oroville wasn’t great—a little more than ten miles as the crow flies—but creatures without wings had to negotiate a treacherous route of twisting mountain roads and narrow gorges. Few men could safely drive a coach over that road, but to Hen Morrison the Morris Ravine, the Tin Cup Ravine, the Sherman Ravine and dozens of other steep gulches, were as familiar as Lotta Crabtree’s landmark fountain was to the citizens of San Francisco.
Annie Morrison, known to be a well educated and refined young lady, had made the trip with her father many times, and had sometimes driven the horses. Throughout the month of his convalescence, she drove the stage daily and, they said, did it as well as Old Hen ever had, inspiring respect for a pretty young girl’s bravery.