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Greeley exhibit opens

Jim Miller, education director at the Angels Camp Museum, talks about The Downing and Sons Concord Stagecoach, which is on loan to the museum from the Native Sons of the Golden West. Maggie Beck/Union Democrat, copyright 2012
 When journalist and future presidential candidate Horace Greeley famously implored “Go West, young man,” in an 1865 New York Tribune editorial, he did so having taken his own advice, reaching California in a stagecoach now on display at the Angels Camp Museum.

The Downing and Sons stagecoach, which dates to somewhere between 1848 and 1858, built in Concord, N.H., is on a five-year loan from the Native Sons of the Golden West, and will be featured in an evening lecture Thursday at the museum presented by its education director, Jim Miller.


Greeley became just one of many passengers famously skilled driver Hank Monk would take across the Sierra Nevada from Genoa, also known as Mormon Station, in the portion of the Utah Territory that became present-day Nevada. 

The Pioneer Stage Line stretched about 40 miles between Genoa and Placerville, where Greeley had a speech scheduled in a day’s time from his arrival in Genoa on an 1859 excursion, Miller said.

The journey became the stuff of legend, with humorists Mark Twain and Artemus Ward, among others, recounting the bumps along the way after hearing the story by word of mouth hundreds of times.

Monk assured Greeley he could get him there on time, Miller said, and they left at dawn the next day, with Greeley constantly fretting they would never make it.

As an interpretive panel installed at the museum recalls, Twain wrote 

in his 1872 book “Roughing It”: “The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace’s coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier — said he warn’t in as much of a hurry as he was a while ago.”

History records that Greeley, in fact, made it to his scheduled appointment on time, Miller said.

“Monk’s ability as a driver made him a folk hero,” Miller said.

It is unconfirmed whether or not Greeley actually bought the driver a new suit as a token of gratitude for his punctual arrival, he said.

Some of Monk’s contemporaries called him reckless and others simply wondered at his prowess but he remained accident-free throughout his career, the panel notes.

The Native Sons of the Golden West purchased the stagecoach in 1911.

Jim Miller said it has been in the care of the Native Sons’ Placerville Parlor No. 9 since that time. It did a 30-year stint on display at the El Dorado County Historical Museum and received a restoration in the 1980s by Ron Scofield of Fiddletown, occasionally appearing in parades in the Placerville area.

“The Native Sons have been at the forefront of preservation for a very long time,” Miller said. “This is just one example of the excellent work that they’ve done.”

“It is a privilege and an honor to display it,” he added, calling it a “missing piece” to the museum’s extensive Carriage House display, the “Mercedes” to the more common “Volkswagens” that did the everyday work of taking local pioneers from Point A to Point B.

“This got you there in style,” Miller said.

The lecture will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the museum, 753 S. Main St., Angels Camp. Admission is $10, free to museum members, 

For more information, call Lindy Miller at 588-6234.

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