COBWEB CORNERS: Stagecoaches were big before trains

By Mel McFarland

       When Cripple Creek gold-mining took off in 1891, trains were available to take people to Florissant, the main jumping off-point, as I talked about in a column last June. But long before the trains, back when Ute Pass was rebuilt from an old Indian path, stagecoaches were the main “commercial carrier.”
       One of the earliest enterprises was McClellan and Spotswood. The owners used a variety of rigs to take people as far west as Leadville, going through Fairplay. In the late 1870s, there was a race between the Denver and Rio Grande and the Denver, South Park and Pacific railroads to reach Leadville. The Rio Grande won that race, but people could get there almost as quickly on a stagecoach from Colorado City. The ride was not as comfortable, and their trips were not as often as the train.
       The McClellan and Spotswood stages left Colorado Springs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and reached their destination the next day. The stages carried the mail, too. A newer company called Bradbury, Woodgate and Hundley also offered trips to Leadville, but at the same time and schedule as the older company.
       A third stage company, operated by W.J. Foster, traveled the rugged route to Canon City twice a week. There he made connections with other lines along the Arkansas River, as well as with the railroad.
       The passenger business was only a tiny part of the freight business up and down Ute Pass. A heavily loaded stage coach might carry 500 pounds of freight. The larger shipments required larger wagons. All this kept blacksmiths, wagon-builders and repairmen in Colorado Springs and Colorado City busy. Stables, grocers and hotels also shared in the freighting trade. It required nearly 500 mules and over 100 men and wagons, each running twice a week to or from the mining camps.
       This all did not stop when the trains started running. For many of the camps that were built up Ute Pass, across South Park and into the mountains, it would take almost another 10 years before the railroads arrived, and some never saw them.