Stagecoach Station Fare

Drycreek Station By Sharon Sharpe

Did you ever wonder what was usually on the menu of those old stagecoach stations?

Handing one a menu at a frontier stage station wasn’t SOP. The passengers usually got what the cook prepared. The fare varied depending on whether one was near or on the fringes of civilization or on the far West frontier. True West Frontier Fare Editor, Sherry Monahan, tells me that meals served in settled areas included such tasty delights as chicken, ham, beef, bacon elk and antelope (pronghorn) steaks, turkey eggs, cream for the coffee and apple pie. Meals weren’t included in the ticket price, so meals cost fifty to seventy-five cents.

Out on the frontier, the cuisine wasn’t nearly as tasty. Stagecoach Stations on the old Butterfield Overland Mail that ran from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco between 1858 and 1861 left a lot to be desired. Passengers were appalled by the dirt and squalor that greeted them at the station. Built of adobe with floors “much like the ground outside” one wrote sarcastically, “except not so clean.” The interiors were black with flies, there was little to attract the discriminating passenger.

Meals were worse: tough beef or pork fried in a grime-blackened skillet, coarse bread, mesquite beans, a mysterious concoction known as “slumgullion,” lethally black coffee, and a “nasty compound of dried apples” that masqueraded under the name of apple pie.

This went on day after day. The story was told of the station master who set a plate of fat pork before a traveler who looked at it suspiciously and said, “Thank you, but I can’t eat it.”

“Very well,” was the reply from the “chef” with a facetious grin, “jest help yourself to the mustard.”

Many stagecoach relay stations had toothbrushes hanging on strings for the passengers. “All for one and one for all.”

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