History of the Granger Stage Station: Mark Twain to State Park Status

History of the Granger Stage Station: Mark Twain to State Park Status

Photo courtesy of Fort Bridger State Park

GRANGER—Mark Twain in Wyoming? Did such an event actually happen? Although Missouri, Nevada and California are more closely associated with the famous 19th century humorist, Mark Twain, better known as Samuel Langhorne Clemens in the early 1860s, did pass through Wyoming on a stagecoach, and he came through Sweetwater County, to boot.

En route from St. Joseph, Missouri to a newspaper job in Virginia City, Nevada in July 1861, Mark Twain rode the stagecoach, which included a stop at the Granger Stagecoach Station, also known as the Ham’s Fork Stage Station. The Granger Stage Station was built as a stage station along the Overland Trail in the 1850s.

Sources include an article about the Granger Stage Station published on November 8, 2014 in WyoHistory.org, and references in Nevada, A Roadside History, by Richard Moreno (Mountain Press, 2000). Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ older brother, Orion Clemens, was appointed Secretary of Nevada Territory in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln, and the younger Clemens hoped to be of assistance to his brother in his new position.

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Mark Twain’s 1872 novel Roughing It was based in part upon his journey westward in 1861 and his years in Nevada prospecting with mixed success for gold and silver. In that novel, published by Harper and Row, he describes his stagecoach journey, which in part would have crossed Sweetwater County, in relatively pleasant terms.

Twain described his conveyance as “a great swinging and swaying stage drawn by six handsome horses.” An excess of mail bags made for rather cramped quarters inside the stage, though.

Other Famous Visitors

There were other famous individuals who of necessity when traveling by stagecoach passed through the Granger Stage Station. The well-known mid-19th century editor of the New-York Tribune, Horace Greeley (“Go West, Young Man”) passed through the Granger Stage Station in 1859, en route to San Francisco on a business trip. Despite his avowed sentiments, Greeley cannot have been too impressed with what he saw of the West, as he returned to New York.

The WyoHistory.org article mentions that Greeley, an abolitionist, found the Black’s Fork Stage Station to have plenty of mountain men living nearby with Indian wives and mixed-blood families and a lot of cattle.”

Greeley as a result had a checkered opinion of what he saw in and around Granger.

“White men with two or three squaws are quite common throughout this region, and young and relatively comely Indian girls are bought from their fathers by white men as regularly and openly as Circassions at Constantinople,” Greeley is reported to have said.

The Pony Express also made use of the Granger Stage Station, which served as a stop during that outfit’s brief history in 1860-1861.

Later, in 1868, the Union Pacific Railroad built through the area, establishing a rail camp near the stage station, with a sidetrack, station buildings and a water tank for the steam locomotives passing by. The stage station thus became a rail station as well. The U.P. construction crews were responsible for giving the settlement the name of Granger.

The Granger Stagecoach Station in the 1860s, circa 1866. Photo courtesy of Fort Bridger State Park

Not-So-Famous Visitors

In addition to the well-known and historically famous, the Granger Stage Station also played host to countless others whose names have been lost to history, but who were more important in the long run in the settling of the West.

The location was first visited by fur trappers and traders in 1824 and played host to a rendezvous in 1834. By 1850 stagecoaches were passing through the Granger area and a dugout stage station was constructed, according to the Wyoming State Parks Division.

In 1856, a stone stage building was constructed, and the name of the facility was changed to South Bend Station. Built to last, the new station was constructed with two-foot-thick walls made of cut native stone and lime-sand mortar.  

Unpleasantries of Stagecoach Travel

Stagecoach travel was no picnic. For one thing, it was expensive. Mark Twain paid $150 in 1861 for his stage trip from St. Joe, Missouri to Carson City, Nevada. That figure would be the equivalent of $2,536.07 in 2019 dollars, according to Inflation Calculator, or, in other words, more than it would cost to fly from Rock Springs to Europe.

In addition to traveling in a shaky vehicle with no restrooms between stops, and no air conditioning, on bumpy roads, passengers had to face the potential danger of bandit attacks and the discomfort of listening to snoring passengers, according to an August 3, 2015 article by Lauren Feldman entitled Lost Skills of Old West Stagecoach Travel.

Stage robberies are a staple of Western novels, movies and television shows. That aspect of stage travel is based upon historical facts, however.

Feldman’s article goes on to say, “Drivers and shotgun messengers were especially watchful in areas where a stagecoach naturally slowed: soft sand, narrow bridges, sharp curves, and long grades. It was in these areas that highwaymen were most likely to commit robberies. Shotgun messengers were employed to protect valuable freight…and their job was to discourage anyone interested in stealing the contents of the stagecoach’s strongbox—a task usually accomplished with a persuasion from a shotgun.”

This photo gives some information about the construction of the Concord Coaches.

There were also rules of the road that stage passengers were expected to adhere to. Each Wells Fargo & Co. stagecoach, Feldman says, had a list of rules posted, such as:

  • Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
  • Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
  • 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.
  • Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It’s a long walk back.
  • In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, and at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians, and hungry coyotes.

No Respite for the Weary

Even arriving at a stage station was no guaranteed respite. Granger certainly wasn’t. Wyoming Tales & Trails quotes Richard Burton, 19th century traveler, describing the early Ham’s Fork Stage Station, with something less than a ringing endorsement:

“The station was kept by an Irishman and Scotsman ‘David Lewis.’ It was a disgrace. The squalor and filth were worse almost than the two [other stage stations]–Cold Springs and Rock Creek—which had called out horrors, and which had always seemed to be the ne plusultra of Western discomfort. The shanty was made of dry stone piled up against a dwarf cliff to save backwall and ignored doors and windows. The flies—unequivocal sign of unclean living!—darkened the table and covered everything put upon it; the furniture, which mainly consisted of different parts of wagons, was broken, and all in disorder; the walls were impure, the floor filthy…I could hardly look upon the scene without disgust.”

From That to State Park Status

Stagecoach travel petered out by the early 1900s as railroads and then cars enabled people to get from one place to another more conveniently. The Granger Stagecoach Station/Ham’s Fork Station/South Bend Station was not forgotten, however. In 1930 the facility, if it could still be called that, was designated as a Wyoming State Historic Site. In 1970, the facility, what was left of it, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In the National Register nomination description for the Granger Stage Station, prepared in 1969 by Wyoming Recreation Commission Historian Bill Barnhart, the Granger Stage Station as it then existed was described:  “Only one original building remains at the site of Granger Station. This building is rectangular, 56 feet long and 22 feet wide. The two foot thick walls are constructed of cut native stone and put up with lime-sand mortar.

“The interior is divided into two rooms which have chimneys, 6” wooden floorings and 3” beaded ceilings. Three doorways face south and one faces north. Two windows face west and one faces east. None of the original doors or windows are intact in the station, the roof has been shingled in recent times. Over the years the building has deteriorated and is presently badly in need of restoration.”

Photo courtesy of Fort Bridger State Park

The description adds that in 1862 the stage route changed from using South Pass to a new route that utilized Bridger’s Pass and the Bitter Creek road. Ham’s Fork was where the new Overland Trail rejoined the old route to the West Coast.

Presently, the Granger Stage Station is administered by Fort Bridger State Historic Park.

Photo by Paul Murray.

Getting There  

The Granger Stagecoach Station is located, as its name strongly implies, in Granger. The easiest way to get there is to take Exit 66 north off of Interstate 80 to U.S. Highway 30 heading toward Granger, according to WyoHistory.org.

Turn left on the paved road just after the sign pointing in the direction of Granger (right after the bridge over Black’s Fork River). Keep going on the paved road until arriving at the first dirt street in Granger. Turn left and follow the signs leading to the Historic Marker around a couple of blocks. There is a sign where the paved road meets the dirt road, but it is hidden behind tree branches.

The Granger Stage Station is handicap accessible. There is an admission charge when the location is open and visiting hours are designated. Further information is available by contacting the Fort Bridger Office at (307) 782-3842 or by visiting www.wyoparks.state.wy.us/Permits/Index.aspx.

Thank you to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum staff for their help in locating materials for this article.