I Call Shotgun! – Tannahill Stagecoach Station

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I have fond memories of competing with my two older brothers to get the coveted passenger side front seat when mom was driving us around back in the day. The rules were pretty simple. You had to be able to see the car and the first to shout, “I call shotgun!” would win the seat. At least this was how the game was supposed to be played. Most times however, the brother seniority system would override this when clearly I was the first to call “shotgun”. I remember that we would still play this game when I hung out with my teenage friends before taking a cruise around town and even our daughters would play it while scrambling to get the most desirable seat in our minivan. But, where did this, “I call shotgun” game start?

As most of you probably know, the phrase “riding shotgun” originated from the days when the stagecoach was a primary form of transportation. Often, a stagecoach would carry mail, valuables and of course passengers into remote areas which made it an easy target for bandits. This led to a person riding up by the driver, often carrying a shotgun to use to protect the stage, which led to the phrase, “riding shotgun.”

As mentioned in a previous blog, the nearest stage coach station to us was the Tannahill Station located at the still standing Tannahill Homestead on the corner of Silver Creek Road and Verna Trail. From around 1878- 1889 the stage would arrive from Fort Worth at the north-side of the building to switch out the horses from the 10 mile ride and to deliver mail (it’s primary reason for existence) twice a week. The passengers would wait under the shade of the Live Oak trees for the stage to leave to continue the journey on towards Azle and Jacksboro. The return trip would happen twice per week too.

Northside of the 146 year-old Tannahill Homestead. Stages would deliver mail to the post office and switch out horses. Photo by Tracy Houpt
300 year old Live Oak Tree on the northside of the Tannahill Homestead. Passengers would wait under the shade of the oak tree as the horses were switched out and the mail delivered. Photo by Tracy Houpt
Note: This tree is highlighted in the book, “Famous Trees of Texas, pg. 140.
From “Down Historic Trails of Fort Worth and Tarrant County”

As mentioned, the stage originated in Fort Worth at the largest stage coach terminus in the Southwest at that time. The route would leave north of Fort Worth and turn west on what is now White Settlement Road. It would continue on that route (crossing over the present day runway at the Naval Air Station – Joint Reserve Base – FW) until reaching White Settlement. From there, the stage would turn north on what is now Saddle Road and then west on present day Silver Creek Road. The 10 mile, 200 foot climb would take about 2-1/2 to 3 hours to complete given the rough dirt road conditions that existed.

From Sam Street’s Map – Dec 1895
From Concord Coach no. 251 in Wells Fargo livery. Front and back boots have leather covers. (Seeley Stable Museum, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, California) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concord_coach#/media/File:Concord_Coach_no._251.jpg

So what did the stagecoach that stopped at the Tannahill Station look like? The image that comes to my mind is probably the same as yours; the elegant looking Concord Coach made famous by the use of the Wells Fargo Company. This coach was pulled by teams of 4-6 horses. It could carry from 6-9 passengers and their freight. A leather suspension system that helped keep passengers more comfortable on rough roads also led to the coach constantly swaying. You may find a replica of one at the Fort Worth Stockyard Stables. But, was this the type of stage coach that traveled the Fort Worth – Azle – Jackboro route?

To figure this out, I had to do a little digging through past records and newspaper articles. I couldn’t find anything specific to the Fort Worth – Azle – Jacksboro route, but did find a reference to the Fort Worth – Weatherford – Jacksboro route (which existed decades before the other). This route was also 2 times per week – Monday and Thursdays. The type of stage coach it used was a two horse drawn hack. [1] So, from this information, I concluded that a stagecoach called a hack, driven by two horses, was what stopped at the Tannahill Station. So what is a hack?

A hack was the smallest of stagecoach sizes. It was used on shorter, non-frequent routes. It could squeeze in (a very tight squeeze) four passengers, some freight and the mail. [Note: “The word ‘hackney’ went from describing a type of horse to describing the vehicle the horse pulled; from there, ‘hack’ became a term for a person who works for hire.”] [2] A hack was equipped with the same three-inch thick leather straps (called thoroughbraces) suspension system that the mighty Concord Coach had. [3]

Even with the nice suspension system to absorb the bumps from the dirt roads, riding in a stagecoach was not always a pleasant experience. In the summer, there was no air conditioning. The person sitting next to you was sweating as much as you. If it was dry, there would be dust coming in from the open hack windows. If it was raining, the mud roads would slow your travel time and often you would have to disembark and walk across swollen streams, like Silver Creek, so the coach could pass across without being weighted down. And then there was the constant chance of being robbed at gunpoint, hence the need for someone to ride shotgun.

The Daily Fort Worth Democrat. (Fort Worth, Tex.),
Vol. 2, No. 167, Ed. 1 Saturday, January 12, 1878 Page: 4 of 4

A friend of mine who has lived in the area for his entire life told me about a story he had heard from an elder when he was a young lad. The story was about a robbery on a stagecoach that occurred near Silver Creek. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a reference to this in past newspaper articles (but, I will keep trying!) I did find one pertaining to a robbery that happened between Live Oak Creek and Silver Creek of a lone man on horseback in 1878. This robbery happened in broad daylight, but on a portion of the road that was not well traveled. In the account, BA Mathers mentioned that after being blindfolded, he initially handed over $100 from his pants pocket, but then the robbers found an additional $906 that he had stuffed in one of his boots. He was also roughed up a little by the bandits. He lost a total of $1,006 which is equivalent today to $26,000! My guess is that the bandit saw Mr. Mathers withdraw the money from a bank in Fort Worth and then robbed him when it was first convenient to do so. To read the entire account, check out: https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth1048081/m1/4/zoom/?q=fort%20worth%20democrat%20silver%20creek&resolution=2&lat=3634.4552873666335&lon=2816.618410282316

Now, I did find another article of an attack on a stagecoach that happened just over a month after this one. This one also occurred about 10 miles west of Fort Worth, but on the Fort Worth – Weatherford Road. This would have been down around Chapel Creek Road and I-30/Camp Bowie Road area. The hack was returning a prisoner from Parker County to Tarrant county en route to Louisiana. A number of relatives of the prisoner attacked the stage and well armed entourage. Many shots were fired with no one on either side hit. Somehow the prisoner fell out of the running stage, was picked up by the bandits and the attack ended. You may read more about this at: https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth1047757/m1/4/zoom/?q=stage%20coach&resolution=2&lat=8547.613596286667&lon=2660.2927673741474

Riding Shotgun.
This image is a screenshot from a public domain trailer for the 1938 film, Stagecoach

So in the end, riding shotgun was sometimes a pretty dangerous endeavor. Still some passengers were more than eager to yell, “I call shotgun!” when walking towards the stage and offer to ride with the driver to escape a crowded, hot, dusty, and smelly seat inside the hack. This would have been me and I would have won, but only if my older brothers were not traveling with me.

Other references:

[1] https://www.ttarchive.com/Library/Lists/Stagecoach_Routes-1861.html

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/hack-taxi-cab-driver-or-lousy-writer

[3] https://aaqeastend.com/contents/portfolio/long-island-museum-carriage-collection-finest-collection-of-horse-drawn-vehicles/

Special thanks to Emily Leonard for graciously hosting my wife and I on a recent visit of the Tannahill Homestead!

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