The Overland Trail Stage Stations were established roughly every 10 to 15 miles apart from Julesburg, Colorado to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. See map of the route through Colorado and Wyoming or closer view of trail of stations from LaPorte to Virginia Dale. Two types of stage stations were operated along the route. The larger, more substantial stations, called "Home Stations", were usually about 50 miles apart. This is where the driver ended his route and weary travelers could obtain a meal and meager overnight lodging. The horses were changed here, and there was most often a blacksmith and repair shop. In addition, a telegraph station was usually available. Virginia Dale, established by Ben Holladay, and managed by Jack Slade, was a Home Station.
The more numerous "swing" stations were smaller and usually just provided a fresh team of horses for the stage coaches. They consisted of no more than a small log or sod dwelling and a large barn or corral, able to accommodate from thirty to fifty horses. The stables at the stations were reportedly about 50 feet by 25 feet, and had a large granary attached which was roofed and could be secured. Grain was shipped from Ft. Kearney, Nebraska. When there was a failure of crops, the grain to feed the horses had to be shipped from as far away at St. Louis, Missouri.
There was a remarkable similarity in many of the home stations when the line was put into operation. Most of the buildings were erected by the stage company with unbelievable swiftness, and were usually nearly square, one-story hewn, cedar-log or Colorado pine structures, of one to four rooms. Some of the buildings were thrown up very quickly of sod construction and only provided the bare necessities, just big enough for two men. When constructed with only one room, often partitions of muslin were used to separate the kitchen from the dining-area and sleeping space. Muslin was also used as a wall-covering to keep dirt from the sod walls from sifting into the room. The home stations were most often two to three times larger than the swing stations, had sheds and other outbuildings.
Provisions used at each of the stations were purchased in large quantities by Holladay, usually at St. Louis, and transported to each of the division points. From there they were sent on to the "home stations" as needed. Ox and mule teams were used to transport all supplies. On the return trip, the supply wagons were loaded down with logs and cut wood from the Rockies to be used at stations in the plains.
Meals served at the home stations varied with regards to variety and substance. Most often meals consisted of bacon, eggs, biscuits, coffee and tea. At other times bison, beef and canned fruit or vegetables was available. At some stations, the meals served were greasy and unpalatable. The standard fare for a meal was around $1.00. The stations along the route never did have a reputation for comfort. Most often they were dirty, one room hovels, infested with lice.
The entire Overland Trail route as established by Holladay was divided into three major divisions: the first from Atchison, Kansas to Denver, Colorado; the second from Denver to Salt Lake City; and the third from Salt Lake to Placerville, California. In addition, each of these divisions was generally divided into three minor divisions. The "division agent" or "boss" was in charge of all company property and employees within his territory.
In addition to the repair shops located in each division of the trail, there was a traveling blacksmith shop. This consisted of a specially fitted wagon with bellows and tools. It was constantly on the move from one end of the division to the other. There were also harness-makers and menders who were able to mend broken harnesses along the trail.
Between Julesburg, Colorado and Ham's Fork, Wyoming where the Overland Trail rejoined the Oregon Trail, there were 41 stage stations established. Very little evidence of the stations is left, with the exception of Virginia Dale, Colorado, where the stage station is remarkably intact.
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