Robbing the local stagecoach


Mark Twain’s book “Roughing It” paints an ugly picture of travel by stagecoach. The ride was bumpy, dusty and claustrophobic.

Passengers had no time to relax and enjoy the scenery. They were too busy holding on for dear life. Every bump in the road was a jolt to the kidneys.

Riding on the tailgate of a pickup across a plowed field comes to mind.

Stagecoach companies made little effort to accommodate passengers. Mail contracts paid the bills. If a few passengers went along, they were tolerated. They could even sit down if they could find room among the stacks of mail bags.

Not only was the ride a pain in the hindquarters, bandits lurked in the darkness, like hungry cats at a bird bath.

In March 1882, the architect Alfred Giles was traveling by stagecoach to Fredericksburg from San Antonio. Giles designed the Gillespie County Courthouse and was on his way to Fredericksburg to put the finishing touches on his latest project.

The stage left San Antonio early that morning. It traveled to Boerne, then swung north in the direction of Sisterdale. With a little luck, the stage would slide to a stop in front of the Nimitz Hotel by 11 that evening.

It was a beautiful moonlit night when the stage reached the Gillespie County line. Giles, the only passenger, rode on top with the driver.

At 9:15 that evening, 3½ miles southwest of Fredericksburg, two bandits leaped from the brush and ordered the stage to halt.

A quick look at Google Maps puts the location near the Pedernales crossing on the Old San Antonio Road.

One bandit stood 10 feet away, as still as a tombstone — his nickel-plated six-shooter, full cocked, gleaming in the moonlight. The bandit-in-charge checked the coach for passengers and when he found none, ordered Giles and the driver to climb down from the driver’s box.

Giles, the wealthy London architect, took the episode in stride. He had been in Texas long enough to know that a stage holdup, while somewhat unnerving and certainly annoying, was one of the hazards of frontier travel.

On this night, the bandit-in-charge was unusually charitable. He took $20 from Giles, but allowed the architect to keep his watch and diamond ring — gifts from his mother in London.


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