Anyone know how teams were made up for a trip? Were horses matched up accordiing to size, experience,age ?
Normally a stage was pulled by what was known as a 6-up hitch. The wheel team, those at the rear of the team, were the largest, strongest of the 6. A complimentary nickname for a large, powerful man was 'wheel horse.' The wheelers started the coach moving. The swing team, the middle team, were smaller than the wheelers, but likewise well trained. The lead team, also smaller than the wheelers, were the least well-trained of the hitch. They could look thru a collar & they reined fairly well, but otherwise they could be a mite flighty. The better-trained & larger wheelers & the better-trained swing horses held them in check. Some lines used mules, & here in Texas we had 'the jackass mail,' which was a stage line from San Antonio west that used mules exclusively. Most of 'em were trained to work 2-up, not 6-up, & there are horror stories about jackass mail coaches getting run away with by the hitches.
Pretty much as Charlie has written, except the country and load sometimes equired some changes. On the Cariboo "Road" teams varied from 6 to 8 up. I put qkluites around road since some of the early pictures of the early trail are pretty scary ... places where the road is laid on timbers driven into a cliff with supports coming up at an angle from further down the face. Even after several "modernizations" of the raod and the advent of freight trucks(about the size of today's 1 tons and then later 5 tons) one had to be out of one's mind to go up that road from Yale to Ashcroft. When the river boats were not running due to run-off or other weather concerns then the BX Stages carried some very heavy loads. Along with the steep grades there were places where it took 8 horses to handle it all.
Personally I've driven 4 well trained horses in decent country but there's no way I'd try to drive a stage trhough some of the country I've seen in old pictures.
Oh, and freight was hauled as far as Barkerville with 20 horse and 20 mule jerkline teams and very long hitches of oxen. Several of the pack outfits preferred mules and only filled out their string with horses when they couldn't get enough mules.
A mule, frankly, has better sense than a horse. A mule will never let itself get into a situation where it will get hurt. A horse will. Consequently, if you 'listen' to a mule, you won't get hurt riding a mule, because the mule's not gonna let itself get hurt, & if the mule doesn't get hurt, you probably won't get hurt, either. Horses, unless they're older and very well trained, don't have that kind of 'smarts,' but mules seem to be born with it.
The US Cavalry, unless it needed a lot of horses in a hurry, wouldn't take a horse less than 12 years old. The sole exception I know of was a strawberry roan mustang that actually 'volunteered' for the Cavalry in the 1890s. His story was told in a book called MICKEY, THE HORSE THAT VOLUNTEERED, which was published in 1945. I have a copy--it was a present for my 5th birthday--but I don't think it's ever been reprinted. I'm working to try to get it republished.
I have often heard this about mules. That is one of the main reasons they are used to pack people down the Grand Canyon. They do not panic and are more sure footed. Thanks for all the info.
Here's a picture of the Cheyenne - Deadwood stage in 1884. They had a four horse team at this time, but I thnk they also used a 6 up team when necessary.
Estilline Bennet writes of the thrill of seeing the coach come roaring into Deadwood in the late 1870's, the all white team stepping high, manes and tails flying in the wind.
Here is a later coach, called the "Treasure coach" with six horses. I suppose they added the other two because of the weight they carried.
I suppose the coach companies used as few horses as they could get by with.
Here are a few more, taken around 1889. some have 4 up, while others have 6,,, I see some still used the all white teams.
There were actually 3 types of coaches--the regular Abbott & Downihg Concord--tho there were other builders who built the same type--which was the heaviest. It sometimes actually had glass windows & usually had kerosene lamps on the outside. This was a very heavy coach & required at least a 6-up hitch.
The Celerity was much lighter-built & often had a canvas roof & wooden sides. It would have leather sidecurtains rather than glass windows. You could successfully operate a Celerity with a 4-up hitch, but they were built for speed. Most often they used 6-up hitches for that reason. There were a lot more Celerities around than there were Concords. Most of the 'stagecoaches' Republic & Monogram wrecked in the old B-Westerns were Celerities.
The 3rd type was the mud wagon. This was an extremely lightly-built coach with canvas sides & roof. There's an example of a mud wagon in the Witte Museum in San Antonio. I believe it once belonged to the King ranch. Mud wagons had extremely wide wheels & iron tires & were used primarily in very bad weather, when the mail absolutely had to go thru. A stage line with a US Mail contract was required to move the mail a mimimum of 15 miles a day regardless of weather or other problems. Repeated failure to move the mail 15 miles a day would result in a loss of the contract. That mail contract was the reason most stage lines existed. Passllengers were a secondary concern. Moving the mail was the be-all & end-all for the major stage lines--the reason they could continue to exst. Without a mail ontract, unless the line was a very small one serving only a few local towns, a stage line simply couldn't stay in business.