no place for sissies in the Wild West

“There is certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place”

Washington Irving (American author of Rip Van Winkle). 1783-1859

On April 6, our little group of hikers walked under a scorching sun in the rugged Santa Susana State Historic Park – in the northwest San Fernando Valley –  and narrowly escaped rattlesnakes, and poison oak.

Full disclosure: yours truly forgot her camera. My thanks to Edith de Guzman, Jolly de Guzman, Chris Imhoff and Mr F who shared their photos with me.

Photo credit Jolly de Guzman

Photo credit Jolly de Guzman


– Three Californian Indian tribes lived here before the Europeans arrived:

  • Chumash (sea- shell or bead people)to the west
  • Tongva (people of the earth) to the east
  • Tataviam (people facing the sun) to the north

– Though the wildflowers are sparse this spring, the drought tolerant Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus),

an evergreen shrub with deep-green, sticky leaves and orange/yellow/red flowers which flowers from March to June

was blooming on the dry hillsides.

Native Americans used the crushed leaves as a soothing poultice for minor burns and skin irritations, and the roots to treat fever, and diarrhea.

Even if you’ve never been to LA County most of you would recognize the scenic beauty and unique rock outcrops of the Santa Susana Mountains because you’ve seen them in thousands of Wild West movies and TV shows.

photo credit Chris Imhoff

photo credit Chris Imhoff

photo credit Edith de Guzman

photo credit Edith de Guzman

In the mid 1800’s the lack of an accessible route over the Simi Hills – in the western San Fernando Valley – was one of the major obstacles to traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

photo credit Mr F

photo credit Mr F

In 1859, the California Legislature approved $15,000 to improve an old wagon road through the Santa Susana Pass.

The Old Santa Susana Stage Road was carved out of the rock face of the hills. The steepest stretch, “a peril to man and beast,” was known as Devil’s Slide

photo credit Mr F

Devil’s Slide – photo credit Mr F


Only highly skilled drivers could keep control of the stagecoach and their horses on this hair-raising segment of the route:

  • Passengers had to walk down, carrying rocks to help block the wheels
  • The horses were blindfolded before they’d go down the pass

We could see deep ruts made by the wagon wheels in the rocks on the sides

the old Stagecoach Route

Devil’s Slide  (photo credit Chris Imhoff)

The Old Santa Susana Stage Road was part of the Overland Stage Route between Los Angeles and San Francisco via Santa Barbara, from April 6, 1861 until the opening of the railway line in 1876.

Coincidentally we’d walked on the 152nd anniversary of the first Mail Stage run.

viz Wikipedia

A stagecoach is a strongly sprung covered wagon for passengers and goods, drawn by four horses. Widely used before the introduction of railway transport, it made regular trips between stages or stations, which were places of rest provided for stagecoach travelers.


  • The stagecoach driver managed the teams of horses, and an armed guard sat next to him to protect the valuables in the strong box.
  • By 1866 Wells Fargo held the monopoly of long-distance overland stagecoach and mail service with an intricate web of stations, horses, men and stage coaches.

Although movies make stagecoach travel seem like a comfortable, fun way to travel, Mark Twain’s 1861 memoir Riding The Overland Stage” describes otherwise:

passengers crammed together with mailbags, jostled by every bump, breathing dust, and at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Traveling by stagecoach you’d encounter harsh weather, hostile Indians, as well as outlaws.

Between 1870 and 1884 Wells Fargo recorded 313 stagecoach robberies and 34 attempted holdups (with a loss of $405,000) in the gold regions of California and South Dakota.

Many travelers suffered from motion sickness because the coaches swayed from side to side, and when the coach traveled over a section of rough road the passengers would bounce on the hard seats, and very often hit their heads on the roof.

You couldn’t be a “sissy”.

The Stagecoach at the Autrey Museum

I photographed this beautifully restored Stagecoach at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles

Somehow nine passengers would be crammed inside the coach on three bench seats:

  • each of the benches held three people
  • back and middle rows faced forward, and the first row faced backwards.
  • Those in the first and middle rows had to ride with their knees dovetailed.
  • The center seat only had a leather strap to support the back
  • The top held the luggage – each passenger was restricted to 25 lbs  – or as many as twelve passengers
  • Travelers rode with baggage on their laps and often had mail pouches beneath their feet.

Passengers had to get out and walk (in boiling sun, or snow storm) if the coach needed to be lightened, or when the driver needed help pushing it up a hill.

The stagecoaches traveled at breakneck speed twenty-four hours a day – covering about sixty or seventy miles a day – stopping just to change horses, which gave travelers their only opportunity to use the facilities and to gulp down a quick meal …

Mark Twain described the beverage he was offered by one station keeper:

“It purported to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler. He had no sugar and no milk–nor even a spoon to stir the ingredients with.”

If a traveler got off the stage to rest, she could easily be stuck there for a week or even longer if the next stage had no available seats.

each passenger was allowed 25 lbs but those leather suitcases were so heavy

each passenger had a  25 lb weight restriction

Although this post is much too long, I have to share this list of rules Wells Fargo posted in their stagecoaches:

  • Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
  • If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forgo smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
  • Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
  • Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort in cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
  • Don’t snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger’s shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.
  • Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
  • In the event of runaway horses remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry coyotes.
  • Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
  • Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It’s a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient

The Old Stagecoach Trail and the Old Santa Susana Stage Road are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This post is part of FrizzText’s A-Z photo challenge “tagged S” this week


About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
This entry was posted in America, Photography, The Natural World, Tutto va bene and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to no place for sissies in the Wild West

  1. Tina Schell says:

    LOVE th forbidden topics :-). Terrific post!

    • dearrosie says:

      If Wells Fargo published that list we can only imagine what it must’ve been like spending hours and hours in those coaches. The “forbidden” topics is also my favorite. How to bring about instant panic in the stagecoach? Simply mention either
      a stagecoach robbery or an Indian uprising.

  2. What a great hike you and your team traveled. You shared some wonderful aspects of the local history. I am overdue a repeat trip to the Autry. Isn’t it a treasure of California western history? I love all of your photos and I think this is one of my favorite posts, Rosie! 🙂

    • dearrosie says:

      Delighted to hear you enjoyed hiking with our little group – although L.A. is a relatively young city there is so much rich history in “them thar hills”… I found enough fascinating information about the Santa Susana area to write several posts on it, but I just wanted to keep it to one and hoped the large word count wouldn’t keep readers away. I think the State of California own about 800 acres in the area, including the railway line and tunnel.

      When I stood in front of the stagecoach at the Autry I was shocked that it was so small. I cannot imagine how nine passengers managed to spend so many hours squashed onto those benches, not able to take bathroom breaks?

      • Don’t forget–the Big Mac hadn’t been invented yet! People were much smaller. LOL! There are a couple of ranchos out in that general direction I’d like to visit, also. Doesn’t working cut into our exploration and education time? Oh well, I think we do fairly well, my friend. 🙂

      • dearrosie says:

        I’d love to explore the ranchos with you. Our next outing?

        People were smaller but women wore those voluminous long dresses which take up a lot of room on a seat …
        It must’ve been awfully hot and sweaty sitting squashed on the benches. Imagine the “odor”! 😀

  3. wow, amiga.. you put a LOT of work into this post, and with the help of your friends and their photos!

    blindfolding a horse! that would be tricky!

    • dearrosie says:

      My friends all took such wonderful photos!
      The Santa Susana area is rich with history and though I did enough research to write several posts on it, I don’t know whether the “Devil’s Slide” was the worst part of the journey.
      When I read that the horses had to be blind folded it reminded me of the 2000 Iranian docu-drama “A Time for Drunken Horses”. The Kurdish family had to join the smugglers going over the mountains and the only way to get their mules to go over those treacherous mountain passes was to make them drunk.

  4. frizztext says:

    The Old Santa Susana Stage Road was carved out of the rock face of the hills.
    The steepest stretch, “a peril to man and beast,” was known as Devil’s Slide.
    * Passengers had to walk down, carrying rocks to help block the wheels
    * The horses were blindfolded before they’d go down the pass
    you’ve composed a great tribute to that
    Santa Susana Stage Road!
    greetings: Dietmar

    • dearrosie says:

      Thank you dear Dietmar,
      I hope the pictures managed to convey how steep the Devil’s Slide was…I cannot imagine how stagecoaches managed to drive it without toppling over…

      I apologize that it was so long but I unearthed so much fascinating information that I had to share 😀 Los Angeles is a relatively young city but has such a rich history and I love being able to show people like yourself who live so far away that LA is so much more than just “Hollywood” (although the history of the movie industry is very important to the growth of the city).

  5. wonderful photos and very interesting post!

  6. dadirri7 says:

    super post rosie, no not the length, but the story and the great photos, and all that delicious information about the discomforts of stage coach travel … makes crowded planes so much more appealing!

    • dearrosie says:

      I’m so pleased to know you enjoyed the post Christine. I wondered whether the length would keep people away – but there was too much “delicious information” to share to make the post any shorter.

      My hiking buddies are all excellent photographers. I’m really grateful that they allowed me to share their photos here.

      Who can complain about being squashed in the back of the plane after reading about the miseries of stagecoach travel. I love traveling but if it meant I’d have to sit squashed and sweating on a hard bench in a stagecoach for long long days on end, I think I’d begin to discover very enjoyable parts of my back yard! There wasn’t even a decent cup of coffee at the rest stops and though no one mentioned it, I’m darn sure the bathrooms must’ve been simply disgusting. Yuk.

  7. This was quite a piece of work for you and very absorbing for the reader. Wonderful information, quotes and photos. Love that you included the rules… No, this was not at all long. Remind me to tell you about riding in my aunt’s “camioneta.”

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Georgette,
      I did spend a lot of time doing the research but the more I researched the more fascinating it all seemed and the more I wanted to know. There’s so much more stuff I didn’t share. If you took the stagecoach across the country it took 3 weeks. I can’t imagine how they did it. Imagine sitting for 3 weeks on a wooden seat and eating rubbish food and not being allowed to go to the bathroom…

      I look forward to hearing about your trip in your aunt’s “camioneta.” (which I think is a small pick up truck?)

  8. Rosie, I love the wildflowers you encountered on your hike, plus all the great information about them. I love all the stagecoach rules, especially the admonition to spit the chewing tobacco with the wind, not against it. And how not sharing your liquor bottle appears unneighborly. So funny. It looks like it was a lovely day for a hike. 🙂

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Cathy,
      I’m pleased to know there is at least one blogger who appreciates getting information about the wildflowers. Have you ever seen Sticky Monkey flowers?

      I’m so glad to hear that you also enjoyed reading the list of rules – I took out so much in my final re-write of the post, but that list was too funny to leave out. Can you imagine the fights from spit going against the wind? Oh my…!

      • I know the dilemma of writing posts that are too long. But sometimes you just have to do it to say everything you want to say. Those rules were funny, so I’m glad you left them in. Also, it’s great to get information about flowers in general since I know so little about them. I have never seen Sticky Monkey flowers! I can’t even imagine! 🙂

  9. nrhatch says:

    Fantastic post.
    No place for sissies is right.
    Love that quote by Mark Twain! :mrgreen:

    Gorgeous shots too, Rosie.
    Love the Devil’s slide.

    I’d love to ride in a stagecoach . . .
    For about 3 miles . . .
    Then stop for an adult beverage . . . that did NOT taste like dishwater.

    • dearrosie says:

      Really happy to know you enjoyed reading the post Nancy. My hiking buddies are all excellent photographers.

      Mark Twain’s memoir is one book I’d really like to read – I wonder whether its still in print?

      We ride in air-conditioned comfort in cars, buses or trains with padded seats, and stop at service stations where we can get a Starbucks cappuccino or an espresso and visit a clean restroom, and we’re always complaining. My god those people who rode on the stage coaches 150 years ago couldn’t even go to the restroom until the driver said he was changing his horses, and I’m sure it wasn’t clean!

  10. “Don’t snore loudly” – oh dear! My poor husband would be thrown off the stagecoach before it got too far along! Although it’s hard to imagine falling asleep while being tossed around the interior with no cushioning to speak of. Phew! I had never stopped to think about what a stagecoach ride might be like and I thank you for this fascinating description, Rosie. No wonder my ancestors stayed put in New England. 🙂 The pictures your friends and husband took are amazing!

    • dearrosie says:

      I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed reading the post Barbara. Isn’t it strange that we didn’t know how awful stagecoach travel really was. I cannot imagine how they survived all those hours sitting on the hard benches. It sounds like torture to me.

      The pictures are impressive. I walk with talented photographers. 😀

  11. The list of warnings and prohibitions is very, very memorable, Rosie. But so is your hike, and the Devil’s Slide.

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi finelighttree, or can I call you P?
      The hike was quite challenging because it was so hot, and the Devil’s Slide section is so steep and we had quite an adventure when we discovered the rattlesnake lying by the side of the path because it was in a section of the path where we couldn’t get past – a sheer rock face was on one side and poison oak on the other!
      btw I like your gravatar. 😀

      • When I read about your adventures, I feel happy to know you. Only person, who walks can run. Only the one, who runs can catch the bus (wherever it’s going).
        Call me finelighttree or P or Priya. It matters not, as long as you talk to me!
        This picture was taken when I was still young, not sleep-deprived, and less in love with life. 🙂

  12. Our Adventure in Croatia says:

    wow imagine travelling in one of those coaches!! really looks like the wild wild west!

    • dearrosie says:

      When I saw the stagecoach at the Autry Museum I was so shocked to see how small it was, and too I had no idea that it rocked from side to side so travelers would suffer from motion sickness. I don’t know why I thought it was a comfortable spacious way to travel.

  13. jane tims says:

    Hi Rosie. Great post. I think the advice on shifting position in the stagecoach could be applied to many things!!!! Also, remaining calm in the event of runaways is good advice for modern life!!! Jane

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi Jane,
      So happy to learn that you enjoyed the post. Shifting one’s position is a good piece of advice for life too!
      Quite honestly I cannot imagine how a person was supposed to remain calm squashed in the back of a stagecoach while the driver dealt with a bolting horse.

  14. lexiesnana says:

    Hello Rosie I want to tell you I think this was my favorite post yet. The photos were wonderful but the story was even better. I would have loved to put my fingers in those wagon wheel tracks. Thank you for such an informative and enjoyable post.

    • dearrosie says:

      My sincere thanks for your very kind comment lexiesnana. When a blogger receives feedback like yours, its so encouraging and means so much to me.

      The more I read about stagecoach history the more excited I became, so I’m thrilled to know you enjoyed reading my post. I thought no one would bother reading a post which was over a thousand words! Los Angeles has a very rich history, and although much of it is linked to Hollywood, its very much part of the Wild West.

  15. munchow says:

    A fantastic story – based on what seems to have been a great hike in Santa Susana State Historic Park. The rules for the passengers of the stagecoaches are priceless, such as spit with the wind, not against it. Love it – and your post. But how could you forget the camera… 🙂

    • dearrosie says:

      Its hard to imagine that there are bloggers in this world who rush out the door without their cameras… I think it was the first time I’ve forgotten my camera, but I didn’t forget the picnic lunch 😀
      Oh my gosh can you imagine how many people did NOT spit with the wind…

  16. Miles To Go says:

    There is something so nostalgic about this post — literature and history make a great combo! Thanks for taking the time to put this all together.

  17. kz says:

    fantastic post! 🙂 my goodness, i wonder how i would fare in one of those coaches. i’d be black and blue all over! but i do love the list of rules ^^ also, i enjoyed that quote by Washington Irving 🙂

    • dearrosie says:

      Hi kz,
      I’m delighted to know you enjoyed reading my post. After being bounced on those hard wooded benches during the many days of their journey I’m sure their bottoms must have been badly bruised. Mr F and I went to a talk last week and after sitting on padded chairs for one hour our bottoms were aching.

  18. Dee Ready says:

    Dear Rosie, this posting truly was fascinating. Both the text and the photographs jus enthralled me. Thanks so much for showing us the list of rules for passengers. Oh, if only today we practiced the courtesy Wells Fargo demanded maybe we wouldn’t appear “selfish and unneighborly” as the rules note! When I read posts like this and like Debra’s I wonder why I’m doing an on-line memoir when there are so many other fascinating things to write about!!!!! Peace.

    • dearrosie says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment Dee. To read an encouraging comment like yours means so much to me. I didn’t expect that so many people would enjoy learning about the wild west.

      It would be interesting to go on a train or bus trip where all the passengers were neighborly and unselfish!

      I’m totally captivated and fascinated with your memoir. You’re a great story-teller and I’m amazed how you remember so many details

  19. Debra Kolkka says:

    What a great post! I have absolutely no wish tp go back in time to those days. The early pioneers were indeed tough.

    • dearrosie says:

      Delighted to know you enjoyed my post Debra. Thank you.
      I’d imagine that at a certain time of the month a female traveler would be unable to travel by stagecoach, and would have had to get off and rest, and so be stranded in some godforsaken place for days and days.

  20. theonlycin says:

    Such a sunny post to read as I sit here with a blanket over my knees. Very interesting and informative, thanks Rosie xxx

  21. You inspire me with you adventures and vibrant spirit. It is an amazing journey when we share it with people who share a similar passion plus it helps when we accidentally bump into something. Beautiful images….a nature heaven and a lot more. Happy Mother’s Day!

    • dearrosie says:

      Thank you for the Mother’s Day greeting IT. You’re so thoughtful to remember.
      What a lovely comment. My hiking buddies all take wonderful pictures. I’m truly delighted to know that I inspire you with my “adventurous vibrant spirit.”

  22. Rosie, what a grand tour. I have never been anywhere near this area, and what a wealth of history and a grand view. Gorgeous photgraphs from your donators, and a wonderful choice of info. I just loved this. Thanks.

    • dearrosie says:

      What a lovely comment. Thank you Kate. You always share such interesting historical stories from your part of the world, I’m so happy to know you enjoyed my wild west history.

      My hiking buddies are all really great photographers and managed to capture so much of the beauty of the Santa Susana area.

  23. I love this post. The pictures are fabulous and your walk takes us from the past to the present. Your notes on what the natives may have used the leaves for and the blindfolding of the horses adds so much texture. I can just imagine bouncing over that rocky road – sharing my bottle of wine no less – and hoping we made it through. Well done.

    • dearrosie says:

      I’m really honored and encouraged by your lovely comment Renee. Thank you for taking the time to pinpoint several parts of the post you really enjoyed. Though the sticky monkey flowers don’t bloom for long their leaves are what is more important.

  24. Chris says:

    This was so much fun to read… about as much fun as it was to hike those hills with you! Loved that you shared the more in depth history – it is a fun one – and as you shared, the area is historically rich and worth diving into. Cheers!

    • dearrosie says:

      Hello and welcome to my blog Chris,
      Many thanks for sharing your photos with me – as you no doubt noticed every comment added a complement to the photographers.

      The Santa Susana area is so rich in history and it’s just waiting for me to discover it. I can’t wait.

      I appreciate that you took the time to leave me a comment 😀

  25. shoreacres says:

    Well, phooey! I just spent an hour looking for a photo I know is around here somewhere – me as a young girl, next to a stagecoach! Our family was on vacation at the time, but I can’t even tell you where we were until I find the photo. I know this – we traveled in a great deal more comfort than the people you tell about here!

    This is a wonderful post. If today’s Americans had to travel and live as Americans traveled and lived even three generations ago, we’d cut our population by a third, I swear. It was rough country, and the physical challenges of the topography were the least of it. On the other hand, traveling by “money bus” in Liberia was quite similar – except there weren’t any rules of behavior, and the chickens got the best seats.

    Speaking of those wonderful rules (“liquor is forbidden, but if you have some, be neighborly and share”!) I especially liked the caution to spit with the wind, not against it. That’s a bit of wisdom that’s endured! Remember this?

    • dearrosie says:

      Thanks for your great comment Linda. I hope you find that photo – I know you’ll have an interesting story to go with it.

      I hadn’t seen a stagecoach before my encounter with the one above at the Autry Museum – I was so surprised to see how small it was and still can’t believe that nine people traveled such long distances in that tiny space.
      It was thanks to the tenacity of American pioneers like Butterworth, Wells and Fargo who managed to overcome the physical challenges of transporting people and mail across this huge country and over the Sierra Madre mountains to California

      What is the “money bus” in Liberia? I can’t imagine riding a bus where
      “…there weren’t any rules of behavior, and the chickens got the best seats…”
      Have you written a post about it?

      I don’t know Jim Croce’s music but I enjoyed listening to “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and reading about him…
      “We just ate what the people ate, lived in the woods, and played our songs. Of course they didn’t speak English over there… but if you mean what you’re singing, people understand.”

  26. souldipper says:

    Your opening quote fit the post perfectly. It played well the fact that you’ve taken a different route – hotter and rougher. 😀

    Happy Mother’s Day, my friend. May you fell well loved and appreciated.

    (P.S. – I haven’t smelled my mother’s talc powder yet today. She must be busy whispering reminders into the ears of her grand and great-grand children! )

    • dearrosie says:

      Thank you for your great comment Amy. I have taken a hotter and rougher route…
      Nice of you to wish me for Mother’s Day.

      I hope your mother left her talc for you to smell this year. I didn’t know she left you such a lovely gift.

  27. adinparadise says:

    Fascinating post and your pics are lovely, Rosie. I really enjoyed that set of rules. 🙂

    • dearrosie says:

      Glad to know you enjoyed reading the post Sylvia. When a blogger comes by it’s important they enjoy their visit 😀
      Can you imagine what it must’ve been like sitting in those stagecoaches if they had to post those rules?

  28. Robin says:

    Fascinating post, Rosie, with great images The set of rules is fabulous. From the looks of it, I think I’d have trouble walking down Devil’s Slide, much less riding down it in a stage coach (although from what you wrote, I probably would have been walking down it and hauling rocks to help block the wheels).

    • dearrosie says:

      My hiking buddies took great photos and I’m happy to know you enjoyed looking at them and reading the post Robin. The Devil’s Slide is so steep it was difficult to walk down it. I cannot imagine how the stages didn’t topple over going down .

  29. Madhu says:

    Marvelous post Rosie! And very evocative writing. Reminded me of the old Western movies I used to love watching with my dad! Still chuckling at the Wells Fargo rules 😀

    • dearrosie says:

      I’m flattered that my post reminded you of old wild west movies. Thank you Madhu.
      Can you imagine what it was like for a woman to travel before Wells Fargo posted those rules?

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