The best known and most successful of the stagecoach companies was the Overland Stage. Stagecoaches brought passengers and supplies, but their most important cargo was mail. Ben Holladay, who ran the company, had the US Mail contract, which brought him more than a million dollars a year for a time. He built a mansion in Washington, DC just so he could lobby Congress for contracts.
Running a stage line was profitable, but it was also expensive and complicated. Holladay had to set up stage stations every 10 to 15 miles along his routes. The one that ran through Idaho started in Kansas. The stations had vast stores of shelled corn for the horses and men to take care of the animals. The Overland Stage could boast the capability of moving along at 100 miles a day, by rolling day and night. There were frequent delays, like the ones that ended up in the movies.
Newspapers depended on the arrival of other newspapers from across the country to supplement their local editions. On August 2, 1864, the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman published a story under the standing head "By Overland Stage." It explained the delay in getting news from the company by listing some of the issues coaches had run into in recent days. About 100 miles out of Denver Indians had stolen all the Overland Stage Livestock. A stage near Fort Bridger, Wyoming had also been stopped by Indians. A third stage was attacked near Platte Bridge.
The coaches were comfortable when compared with walking. All the Overland Stages were built on a standard pattern called The Concord Coach. They had heavy leather springs and were pulled by four or six horses. Passengers piled in and piled on. The company was all about profit, so they didn’t necessarily go on a schedule. They would often wait until a stage was full of people and supplies. The picture shows a stagecoach (perhaps not an Overland) on a road along the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. It is one of the Idaho State Historical Society’s photos from the Bisbee collection.
As important as they were, stagecoaches roamed the West for a fairly short time. The Overland Stage Company, which made Holladay a fortune, lasted about ten years. Holladay transitioned to railroads, which is the way the mail went. He lost most of his fortune trying to run trains.