Stage Coach Days

By 1870 a regular stage coach schedule was established.  There was a stage line called the Campo-San Diego Stage which  followed the old stage coach route on  Highway 94.  The stage left San Diego in the morning, changed horses in Dulzura, and then drive on up to Campo the same day.  The next day the stage would return, sometimes making an overnight stop in Dulzura.  This stage was for passengers and freight.  It traveled this route twice a week.  This was a great improvement over the 3 to 4 day trip by horseback and wagon.

From the following interviews conducted by Edgar Hastings (9) and information I found at the San Diego Historical Society, I want to quote comments from people who actually used this stage line.

Nancy (Webb) McCain  “When we came here, my father and I, from Stockton, went out on the stage from San Diego to Campo.  The stage picked us up at the Commerical Hotel in San Diego.   We left  San Diego at 6:00AM.  We stopped at Steel Canyon and ate our lunch around 10:30 and old man Steele was there then.  Changed horses at Steele Canyon and again at Shecklers in Dulzura which was a short distance.  The horses were foaming, just foaming.  It was a hard drive and awful through the mountains.  Then we started up the Potrero Grade, and we didn’t change horses anymore from Shecklers on to Campo.  It was about six O’clock when we drove into Campo.  The stage was just a great big old covered spring wagon.  There were just the two seats across.  They would take four or five passengers.  They didn’t have a boot, or anything across the back, to carry baggage.  They just threw it in and you put your feet on it.” (about 1888)

Frank Hartley “When I was living up at Potrero I used to come to San Diego occasionally by the stage.  It was the stage from San Diego to Campo – a two-horse stage and a spring wagon with two or three seats.  The stage would leave San Diego in the morning, change horses at Dulzura, and then drive on up to Campo that same day.  Then the next day when the stage came down I would get on at Potrero.  There was an old fellow by the name of Young who took care of the horses and made the change.  There weren’t any other buildings there then.”

Melvin D. Johnson “I put in a bid for the mail route from San Diego to Campo and got the contract.  So had a stage built, drove three horses and hauled groceries and passengers to Campo.  My brother had a store up there, and I hauled groceries for him.  I carried on that way for about a year and a half.  When I was driving three horses on the stage, they had the stage fixed up with a pair of shafts; I put one horse between the shafts and a horse on either side with whiffletrees, and so forth, so that they could all pull even on it and I could put on a good big load with the three horses, and take out a lot of groceries and anything that my brother wanted me to haul out for him.  I had two or three different routes from San Diego.  I sometimes went out by way of Chula Vista and up Telegraph Canyon.  Sometimes I went through Paradise Valley, east of National City, past where the Sweetwater dam is now, and sometimes I went up Chollas Valley and got out there by a different route.  I went up Steel Canyon, through Jamul, and changed horses at Jamul, and then changed again at Cottonwood River.  I changed horses twice on the way out and on the way in.  With the three-horse team on narrow roads, sometimes it bothered a little in passing, but not much.  I used to haul big loads up there.  Then I brought back honey, from the apiaries out there around Campo and Potrero, and wood, and anything I could get to haul back into town.  The wagon was for both passengers and freight.  There were three seats that went crossways; there was a top on the stage.  It had steel springs and was a pretty comfortable stage.  There was a pretty big body and I would load the body with freight.”   He sold this business in 1902.

Mr. Sheckler said there was only one stage operating between San Diego and Campo at any given time, however the stage line ownership changed hands several times.  These stage schedules were based on good weather.  When it rained the roads would wash out and boulders would slide down.  Road erosion and mud slides.  I was told when this happened it could take from 1 week  to 6 months to clear and repair the roads.  People either just stayed home or went by horseback.

The four to six horse stage coaches started between San Diego and Ft Yuma about 1869 on a weekly line operated by John Capron.  This was the route that went through Dulzura, Campo and parts east.  Reportedly they were running full and another  stage was added on Fridays.  These stages carried the mail as well as passengers and occasionally they had a mail robbery.  The fare was $40.00 and reduced to $30.00 in 1872 after they put on a third run each week.  In 1874, Capron sold his San Diego to Yuma stage to Kerens and Mitchell.  It was necessary to have extra horses to haul the  heavy loads up the Mountain Springs road.

This stage line operated until about 1912 under various ownership until open touring cars became the chief mode of transportation.  Even then, settlers would come by wagon to settle in California.  This was all before Highway 80 existed. Our Highway 94 was the main route from San Diego to Yuma and points east.  The other alternative was a two day trip to Los Angeles and east from there.  The road was constantly being worked on and upgraded as it is now.

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