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Historic Murals: The Stagecoach Mural

This first mural in the Historic Murals of San Angelo transportation series is focused on the wagon trains and the overland stagecoaches that brought mail and settlers to the Concho Valley. Stagecoach travel was filled with excitement as stage owners regularly reported that their way stations were being attacked and that drivers, guards and passengers were being killed by Indian raiding parties.

A few hunters, trail scouts and explorers had ventured into West Texas in the early 1820s, and by the late 1840s, some had made their way and settled near the Concho River. There is a lone gravestone 12 miles north of San Angelo that marks the trail and a spot on top of the hill where a man named Dave Macey died in 1847. Pioneer families continued to arrive by wagon trains as pictured off in the distance in this mural. By the late 1850s, although Fort Concho and San Angelo had not yet been established, the Butterfield stage line established a stop at the Bismark Farm south of the town. The original farmhouse still stands as the oldest house recorded in Tom Green County.

Stagecoach operations in Texas were closely tied to government mail contracts. The stagecoach in this mural represents the Butterfield Overland Mail line that used Concord brand coaches in its mail and passenger stage service. The coaches were easily identified by their bright red color with yellow trim and the U.S. Mail Eagle emblem on the passenger door. Starting from St. Louis, Mo., and Memphis, Tenn., the local Butterfield line went west through Carlsbad, across the headwaters of the Middle Concho River, to a stop at Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River, through El Paso and on to San Francisco, California.

Many of the six-horse stagecoach drivers dressed in long linen dusters for protection from dust, rain and wind; gauntlet-style gloves; wide-brimmed hats; and knee-high leather boots. Many also carried a whip. Henry Skillman is remembered as the driver of the first west-bound Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach after the company won a government contract to haul the mail and passengers all the way to California. On that first trip, Skillman took over the reins of the stage at the Horsehead Crossing Station on the Sunday morning prior and drove for 96 hours without rest, arriving in El Paso before dawn on Thursday, Sept. 30, 1858.

Skillman probably knew, or at least knew of, other famous stagecoach drivers, like Charley Parkhurst. Also known as “One-Eyed Charley” or “Six-Horse Charley,” Parkhurst worked for the California Stage Company and had a reputation as one of the finest stagecoach drivers, or “whips,” on the West Coast. Also known as a driver who could drink, swear and chew with the best of men, it wasn’t until Parkhurst died in 1879 that folks found out that “he” was actually a woman, born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst in 1812. She is buried in The Old Pioneer Odd Fellows Cemetery in Watsonville, California.

Mural artist Crystal Goodman also added “critters” found in West Texas–horned toads, road runners, armadillos, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, scorpions and tarantulas. The landscape is covered with prickly pear cactus and colorful bluebonnet flowers that are prominent throughout most of Texas in mid-April.

There is a Texas legend about a severe summer drought and how a Comanche Indian chief asked that someone in the tribe give up a most valued possession as an offering to the Great Spirit so they might have rain. In the night, the chief's small daughter went to the top of a hill and left her corncob doll with its bonnet of bright blue feathers. The next morning, rain fell and a beautiful field of blue flowers covered the hillside–the Texas bluebonnet.

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