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May 10: The Bismarck-Deadwood Stagecoach

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On this date in 1877, there was a great deal of anticipation in Bismarck as a new stagecoach line prepared to set off the following morning. The gold fields of the Black Hills beckoned, but travel to Deadwood was on foot or on horseback. At that time, the Northern Pacific Railroad line ended at Bismarck. The Northern Pacific organized the Northwest Express and Transportation Company and ran daily stagecoaches between Bismarck and Deadwood. It was a lucrative business. The company operated twenty-six stagecoaches transporting the mail and passengers. The company also hauled freight in wagons pulled by oxen or horses. The line operated from 1877 to 1880.

It was not cheap to make the journey. A one-way ticket cost twenty-three dollars. In today’s money that’s almost seven hundred dollars. But the lure of the gold fields was strong, and there was no shortage of passengers. In spite of the high cost, the journey was not a comfortable one. Four to six horses pulled each stagecoach 240 miles over a rough trail. There were no towns along the way, but stagecoach stations were established every twenty miles so the tired horses could be switched-out for fresh ones. That also allowed passengers to get off and stretch their legs. Some stations offered food for sale. The journey took several days.

The stagecoach was a boon to Bismarck businesses. During the summer of 1878, it was reported that every Bismarck hotel was full of people heading to the gold fields. Those travelers also kept restaurants busy.

A few other stagecoach lines sprang up. One ran between Medora and Deadwood. Another connected Bismarck with Miles City, Montana.

The stagecoach trade in North Dakota lasted only a few years. By 1880 most of them were put out of business by the railroads. The Medora-Deadwood line lasted the longest, finally going under in 1886. Today, a historical marker is located on Highway 21, at the site of an old stage station, a half-mile east of Flasher. The marker recognizes the contribution of the stagecoach to North Dakota’s history.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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