When many of us think of stage coaches we think of them in relation to the “wild west”. But stages coaches were a very important means of travel in Cooper County for many years. A stage coach was a vehicle much like an enclosed wagon with a high roof, wooden sides and doors with windows on both sides. It had an elevated seat in the front where the driver, or “whip,” was seated. Inside were seats for the passengers. The passengers sat with their baggage on their lap and mail bags under their feet. If they wanted to sleep, they had to sleep sitting up. The stage coaches were designed for travel, not comfort! They were safer than traveling alone and were often the only way to travel any distance. Roads at this time were only dirt, often rocky, and muddy after rain or snow. There was no such thing as “road maintenance.” If something on the stage coach broke during the trip it would be up to the driver to fix it, hopefully he was carrying the needed spare parts such as axels, wheels or springs.
Coaches were pulled by draft horses, many of them Clydesdales, because of their good temperament. Stages were pulled either by two horses or a team of four. The coaches were called “stage” coaches because the travel route was done in “stages.” Stations, or stage stops were usually 10 to 15 miles apart. The horses traveled about 5 miles per hour, and pulled the coach for two to three hours. At the end of the trip between one stop and the next, the horses were replaced by another team and the tired horses rested until the return trip. Some stages traveled 60 -70 miles a day.
At some stops a meal or beverages might be available (at an extra cost), and some had provisions for sleeping. The cost of the journey was usually 10 to 15 cents per mile, which would be quite expensive based on today’s dollars.
In the 1830s, a stage coach depot was located along the road between Boonville and Jefferson City. Known as "Midway" the stop was about 1 ½ miles east of the present site of Prairie Home, at Tompkins' Inn. In the mid-century, stagecoaches made regular trips to various towns in Missouri. The Tipton to Boonville Stage Coaches operated in the Cooper County area from 1850 to 1860.
Tipton-Boonville Stage Changed Horses at Biler Home Near Speed
An interesting account of the "Tipton-Boonville Stage" written by Mrs. L.H. Childs appeared
in The Boonville Advertiser - Rural Life Edition, in 1940.
One and one-half miles east of Speed, in central Cooper County, stands a dilapidated but vivid reminder of the past. On the southwest corner of the crossroads at that point is an old-fashioned log house, and to the rear, only partly standing is an old barn.
Up until 1868 this place buzzed with activity. It was the home of Mr. Abram Biler, his wife and two daughters, and the Boonville-Tipton stage coach made a regular stop there to change horses. The horses were cared for until the return trip, when they were changed again. The ladies served meals to the travelers.
Mr. William Eller told that when he was a small boy, he would hear old Mike, the driver, come down the road blowing a bugle to let the people know the stage was coming. It is said Mike could crack his whip so loud the sound would travel almost a mile in the clear air as he drove his fine horses. Sometimes the road was hard and dry, and at other times the mud was ankle deep or the snow was drifted high, but the stage went through.
The road, which now is of all-weather construction, was little more than a trail at that time. Jr. Irving Harness’ father sold the stage line a number of fine horses, as only the best animals were used to pull the coaches. It was quite a thrill for a number of small boys of the neighborhood when Mike would let them ride the stage to the bottom of the hill to the south. They never seemed to mind the tiresome walk back.
In the 1830s, a stage coach depot was located along the road between Boonville and Jefferson City, known as "Midway." The stop was about 1½ miles east of the present site of Prairie Home, at Tompkins' Inn. In the mid-century, stagecoaches made regular trips to various towns in Missouri. The Tipton to Boonville Stage Coaches operated in the Cooper County area from 1850 to 1860. Stage coaches were also very instrumental in bringing immigrants, especially from Germany and Ireland, to the County.
Stage coach days carried their humor and tragedy, as all generations do. When Mike would linger to talk to Miss Puss Biler, some of the passengers would grow quite impatient, but that would have no effect on Mike as he would have his little visit out before he would go.
John King: first German-born immigrant of Lone Elm and Stagecoach driver.
John King was born February 15, 1828, in Holstein, Germany. After fighting in the war between Germany and Denmark, he immigrated to the US for more freedoms. Entering the country at New Orleans, he went first to Iowa where he heard about free and cheap land available in the Kansas territory. He went to St. Louis, boarded a river steamer, and headed west for Atchison.
At a stop in Boonville, King met some fellow countrymen and decided to stay in Cooper County. He got a job as a hostler in a stable on the stage route between Boonville and Jimtown. He made $12 a month, but made more when he became a stagecoach driver. His next job was on a farm near Pisgah making $15 a month. Four years later, Colonel Pope made him a partner. In three years, King had saved enough money to buy 180 acres of undeveloped prairie land in Lone Elm for $15 an acre. King kept buying land until he had 560 acres. John King was the first German-born immigrant of Lone Elm. In 1859 John married Miss Sophia Friedmeyer, who was also born in Germany.
During the American Civil War, King served in the Missouri State Guard under Captain Tom George.
Mr. King influenced many Germans to immigrate to America. For several years, John would meet newly arrived immigrants from Germany in New York, and help them on their journey to Cooper County, bringing them to Cooper County by Stagecoach.
John King died on November 10, 1916. Sophia followed him in death seven years later on April 24, 1924. They are buried side by side in the Zion Lutheran Cemetery in Lone Elm.
Sources: Carol Normal, Great granddaughter of John King, Elisabeth Davis of Historically yours.
Another early settler from Germany was Stephen Young, who settled in Clear Creek in 1848.
Stage Coaches and the Civil War
During the last years of the Civil War period, an order was issued calling in all guns in an effort to stop guerrilla warfare. One evening, however, the report of a gun was heard and when neighbors investigated, they found M. Biler slain in his cucumber patch. Mr. Biler is buried with many other pioneers in the old Concord cemetery.
When the branch railroad was completed between Boonville and Tipton, there was no further need for the stage line and it faded into history.
Probably the last visible stage stop in Cooper County is located on the North side of Highway 5 between Boonville and Billingsville. The limestone block building was built by O.H.P. Shoemaker in 1860 and the stone was cut from a nearby quarry. He used smoother stone for the front of the building and rough-cut stone for the sides. The road in front of the house was the stage coach road/mail route to Warsaw. On the lintel above the door of the house is engraved “O.H.P. Shoemaker 1860”.
The Shoemakers were Unionist, coming originally from Kentucky and Illinois. A son (or nephew) Horace, became a Captain during the Union occupation of Boonville and organized a voluntary cavalry unit to escort the mail, guard the telegraph wires and escort captured Confederates to Jefferson City. Capt. Shoemaker became a marked man when he took a local man named Spencer from imprisonment at the Boonville courthouse to Harley Park and hanged him without a trial.
When General Price and the Confederates took control of Boonville in October 1864, Shoemaker surrendered and was confined with his family to his house in Boonville. In the dark of night, according to Van Ravensway, Spenser’s sons came for Shoemaker pretending to have orders from General Price. They took him away and Horace Shoemaker was never seen again. General Shelby was quoted later that the incident “will remain the most regrettable occurrence during the war”. East of the stone house three serious skirmishes took place that October. General Fagan stood off attacks by Union Generals Eppstein and Sanborn with heavy loss of life at Anderson’s Branch.
Mrs. Shoemaker and her family, fearing further retribution fled to Oregon. The property was parceled and sold in 1866 $2,000 to Christian Osten and John Dumolt. In 1868 The Osage Valley and Southern Kansas Railroad was completed between Boonville and Tipton and the stone house was convenient to the depot at Billingsville. New immigrants arriving from Germany by steamboat took the train to Billingsville where they found welcome in their native language with the Dumolts who were originally from Alsace Lorraine. Once the railroad came through Cooper County, there was no longer a need for the stage coaches. Interestingly, once trucks and cars became popular, there was little use for trains for transportation and most of them eventually disappeared.
The Dumolts and Fredericks lived in the stone house for many years, adding a kitchen and an extension to the living space at the back of the stone building. There were extensive log and frame stables on the property until the present owners, the Burnetts, cleared away the worn wooden structures, but saved the stone cottage and a large chiseled stone horse trough to preserve this part of Cooper County history.
The Boonville Advertiser, 1940
Dumolt Stage Stop on Route 5 near Billingsville
Photo by Krista Jeppsen