Often while going through our vast photo collection, I will run across a now familiar face. Rarely smiling and small in stature, his weathered and serious face tells a story of hard work and lots of it. I have seen him at the controls of everything from stagecoaches to early motor vehicles. I have seen him alongside other actors and extras in early films. I have seen his collection of horse drawn vehicles, and I have seen him behind the reins of these beautiful carriages in our past parades. And I knew his name, but not his story. So, who was Eddie Webb?
Edward “Eddie” Webb was born about 1879 on a ranch near Hornitos. His father was William “Eddy” Webb, born in Alabama around 1846 and a barber by trade. Eddy’s mother was Clara Bettes born 1859 in the Snelling area. The Webbs opened a hotel in the once thriving community of Merced Falls, and prospered.
In 1889, the family opened Webb’s Station, a stage stop along Merced Falls Road a few miles past the turnoff to Hornitos, and quickly became a popular stopping place for stages on their way to Coulterville. The location of this station can still be seen, although all that is left is a few foundations and two date trees marking the entry.
And here is where the hard work that would etch his face and build his character began. Eddie’s father would pass away leaving his wife and young children to carry on the family business. Eddie, who at just 14 years of age and the oldest, would assume much of the responsibility. He started by driving hogs and sheep to Coulterville market, some 22 miles away and was already driving his own freight wagon as well. By the time he hit the ripe old age of 16 he was hired as a hostler in Coulterville, and by the next year at age 17 he became a stage driver, his small but strong frame handling the team and eight passenger stagecoaches and skillfully taking them into Yosemite. Again, he was just 17 years old.
He would go on to also deliver the mail between Chinese Camp and Coulterville, and by 1900 he had his own business. Next would come motor cars, and he quickly became a skilled driver with those as well, just a new form of horsepower. He collected coaches, wagons and buggies and kept them at his ranch in the Shaws Flat area. In later years he worked in construction on the Hetch Hetchy project, and by 1940, he retired.
Until the end of his life in 1962, Eddie and his horse drawn vehicles were local celebrities. This small man had a big story, and how lucky we were to have known him.