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Our new conductor (just shipped) had been without sleep
for twenty hours. Such a thing was very frequent.
From St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, by stage-coach,
was nearly nineteen hundred miles, and the trip was
often made in fifteen days (the cars do it in four and a half,
now), but the time specified in the mail contracts, and required
by the schedule, was eighteen or nineteen days, if I remember
rightly. This was to make fair allowance for winter storms
and snows, and other unavoidable causes of detention. The
stage company had everything under strict discipline and good
system. Over each two hundred and fifty miles of road they
placed an agent or superintendent, and invested him with
great authority. His beat or jurisdiction of two hundred and
fifty miles was called a “division.” He purchased horses,
mules harness, and food for men and beasts, and distributed
these things among his stage stations, from time to time, according
to his judgment of what each station needed. He
erected station buildings and dug wells. He attended to the
paying of the station-keepers, hostlers, drivers and blacksmiths,
and discharged them whenever he chose. He was a very,
very great man in his “division”—a kind of Grand Mogul, a
Sultan of the Indies, in whose presence common men were
modest of speech and manner, and in the glare of whose greatness
even the dazzling stage-driver dwindled to a penny dip.
There were about eight of these kings, all told, on the overland

Next in rank and importance to the division-agent came the


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“conductor.” His beat was the same length as the agent's—
two hundred and fifty miles. He sat with the driver, and
(when necessary) rode that fearful distance, night and day,
without other rest or sleep than what he could get perched
thus on top of the flying vehicle. Think of it! He had absolute
charge of the mails, express matter, passengers and stage,
coach, until he delivered them to the next conductor, and got
his receipt for them. Consequently
he had to be a
man of intelligence, decision
and considerable executive
ability. He was
usually a quiet, pleasant
man, who attended closely
to his duties, and was a good
deal of a gentleman. It was
not absolutely necessary that
the division-agent should be
a gentleman, and occasionally
he wasn't. But he was
always a general in administrative
ability, and a bull-dog
in courage and determination
— otherwise the
chieftainship over the lawless
underlings of the overland
service would never in any instance have been to him
anything but an equivalent for a month of insolence and distress
and a bullet and a coffin at the end of it. There were
about sixteen or eighteen conductors on the overland, for there
was a daily stage each way, and a conductor on every stage.

Next in real and official rank and importance, after the
conductor, came my delight, the driver—next in real but not
in apparent importance—for we have seen that in the eyes of
the common herd the driver was to the conductor as an admiral
is to the captain of the flag-ship. The driver's beat was
pretty long, and his sleeping-time at the stations pretty short,


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sometimes; and so, but for the grandeur of his position his
would have been a sorry life, as well as a hard and a wearing
one. We took a new driver every day or every night (for
they drove backward and forward over the same piece of road
all the time), and therefore we never got as well acquainted
with them as we did with the conductors; and besides, they
would have been above being familiar with such rubbish as
passengers, anyhow, as a general thing. Still, we were always
eager to get a sight of each and every new driver as soon as the
watch changed, for each and every day we were either anxious to
get rid of an unpleasant one, or loath to part with a driver we
had learned to like and had come to be sociable and friendly
with. And so the first question we asked the conductor whenever
we got to where we were to exchange drivers, was always,
“Which is him?” The grammar was faulty, maybe, but we
could not know, then, that it would go into a book some day.
As long as everything went smoothly, the overland driver was
well enough situated, but if a fellow driver got sick suddenly
it made trouble, for the coach must go on, and so the potentate
who was about to climb down and take a luxurious rest
after his long night's siege in the midst of wind and rain and
darkness, had to stay where he was and do the sick man's
work. Once, in the Rocky Mountains, when I found a driver
sound asleep on the box, and the mules going at the usual
break-neck pace, the conductor said never mind him, there was
no danger, and he was doing double duty—had driven seventy-five
miles on one coach, and was now going back over it on
this without rest or sleep. A hundred and fifty miles of holding
back of six vindictive mules and keeping them from
climbing the trees! It sounds incredible, but I remember
the statement well enough.

The station-keepers, hostlers, etc., were low, rough characters,
as already described; and from western Nebraska to
Nevada a considerable sprinkling of them might be fairly set
down as outlaws—fugitives from justice, criminals whose best
security was a section of country which was without law and
without even the pretence of it. When the “division-agent”


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issued an order to one of these parties he did it with the full
understanding that he might have to enforce it with a navy
six-shooter, and so he always went “fixed” to make things go
along smoothly. Now and then a division-agent was really
obliged to shoot a hostler through the head to teach him some
simple matter that he could have taught him with a club if his
circumstances and surroundings had been different. But they
were snappy, able men, those division-agents, and when they
tried to teach a subordinate anything, that subordinate generally
“got it through his head.”

A great portion of this vast machinery—these hundreds of
men and coaches, and thousands of mules and horses—was in
the hands of Mr. Ben Holliday. All the western half of the
business was in his hands. This reminds me of an incident of
Palestine travel which is pertinent here, and so I will transfer
it just in the language in which I find it set down in my
Holy Land note-book:

No doubt everybody has heard of Ben Holliday—a man of prodigious
energy, who used to send mails and passengers flying across the continent


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in his overland stage-coaches like a very whirlwind—two thousand long
miles in fifteen days and a half, by the watch! But this fragment of history
is not about Ben Holliday, but about a young New York boy by the
name of Jack, who traveled with our small party of pilgrims in the Holy
Land (and who had traveled to California in Mr. Holliday's overland coaches
three years before, and had by no means forgotten it or lost his gushing admiration
of Mr. H.) Aged nineteen. Jack was a good boy—a good-hearted
and always well-meaning boy, who had been reared in the city of New
York, and although he was bright and knew a great many useful things,
his Scriptural education had been a good deal neglected—to such a degree,
indeed, that all Holy Land history was fresh and new to him, and all Bible
names mysteries that had never disturbed his virgin ear. Also in our party
was an elderly pilgrim who was the reverse of Jack, in that he was learned
in the Scriptures and an enthusiast concerning them. He was our encyclopedia,
and we were never tired of listening to his speeches, nor he of making
them. He never passed a celebrated locality, from Bashan to Bethlehem,
without illuminating it with an oration. One day, when camped near the
ruins of Jericho, he burst forth with something like this:

“Jack, do you see that range of mountains over yonder that bounds the
Jordan valley? The mountains of Moab, Jack! Think of it, my boy—the


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actual mountains of Moab—renowned in Scripture history! We are
actually standing face to face with those illustrious crags and peaks—and
for all we know” [dropping his voice impressively], “our eyes may be
resting at this very moment upon the spot
where lies the mysterious
grave of Moses
! Think of it, Jack!”

“Moses who?” (falling inflection).

“Moses who! Jack, you ought to be ashamed of yourself—you ought to
be ashamed of such criminal ignorance. Why, Moses, the great guide, soldier,
poet, lawgiver of ancient Israel! Jack, from this spot where we stand,
to Egypt, stretches a fearful desert three hundred miles in extent—and
across that desert that wonderful man brought the children of Israel!—
guiding them with unfailing sagacity for forty years over the sandy desolation
and among the obstructing rocks and hills, and landed them at last, safe
and sound, with insight of this very spot; and where we now stand they
entered the Promised Land with anthems of rejoicing! It was a wonderful,
wonderful thing to do, Jack! Think of it!”

Forty years? Only three hundred miles? Humph! Ben Holliday
would have fetched them through in thirty-six hours!”

The boy meant no harm. He did not know that he had said anything
that was wrong or irreverent. And so no one scolded him or felt offended
with him—and nobody could but some ungenerous spirit incapable of
excusing the heedless blunders of a boy.

At noon on the fifth day out, we arrived at the “Crossing
of the South Platte,” alias “Julesburg,” alias “Overland
City,” four hundred and seventy miles from St. Joseph—the
strangest, quaintest, funniest frontier town that our untraveled
eyes had ever stared at and been astonished with.