Sam and the Austin Stage

Details of Sam’s exploits during the Civil War years are few and far between, which is a real shame. The California Trail! An infant Denver! Driving a stage over the Sierras! And that’s just about all we know.  Imagine the epic story that’s just out of reach!

And then consider how much more Sam went on to experience. Puts every one of us to shame.

Anyway, we’ve always taken Sam’s stage driving stint with a pinch of salt. Sam’s obituary had him driving to Austin in 1860-61, which is possible, as far as we know — but Blonger obits have proven to be less than reliable.

Then came news, via Kenny Vail, that he’d come across two slight but revealing references to Sam, dated 1864 and 1865. To wit:

Reese River Reveille, November 24, 1864

Wadleigh & Wilson’s Stage. Arrivals from Virginia – D. Guion, Sam. Blonger, Mr. Shengler.

Reese River Reveille, February 28, 1865

By the Fast Freight – Left for the West. – H. A. Kelly, J. M. Irvine, H. B. Meredith, B. F. Gliddon, S. N. Blonger, Mr. Kamack.

So, Sam rode into Austin from Virginia City — recent home of reporter Sam Clemens and a young Calamity Jane — or perhaps from Sacramento, stayed three months, then went back across the desert and the mountains, and on to his mysterious dealings in Sacramento. Not much to go on, and yet…

Foremost, this is our first sighting of Sam in 1864, so that’s handy. It may now be safe to assume that he spent part of 1864 in Sacramento and/or Virginia City.

Second, this places him on a damn freight wagon heading into Austin, quite specifically, and as suggested by his obit — though in 1864, rather than ’60 or ’61. As Kenny Vail said:

I noticed on your website it says Austin boomed in ’62. This is not accurate. It really boomed in ’63, but was still drawing the sporting fraternity, San Francisco capitalists and Eastern investors well into ’64.

Thus, I found the likes of John Bull, Langford Peel, James Earp, Carberry, Spiker and a host of others gunmen not so well know – all there in ’64 before Blonger came on the stage. Even Frank Leslie and James Vogan made appearances in ’64.

And while we’re name dropping:

BTW, Austin was the Holy Hell coming out party for Jimmy Earp, who was about two years younger than Sam. Earp remained there for a total of 13 or 14 months, going to Idaho in fall 1865.

So what was Sam doing? His obit said he drove freight, but these notices aren’t explicit on that point. Kenny again:

In regards to the story of Sam driving a stage between Sacramento and Austin, allow me to set a backdrop for his Austin arrival that I found.

There was an alternative in transportation from the big-time Overland Stage & Mail Company, which blew half way across the continent, and then back on a daily basis. West-bound from Austin to Virginia City was a Fast Freight & Express Co. (also passengers) with proprietors Guion, Wadleigh and Wilson. Those were the three names usually advertised. Sometimes it was called “Guion, Wadleigh & Wilson’s Stage.”

They also ran the same business from Virginia to Sacramento. Daniel Guion was the oldest in the group (Born 1818 in England) and I believe he actually lived in Stockton where his wife and family were set up. I give you the following example because now I am wondering if Sam Blonger was connected with them:

“THE EXPRESS. – The Fast Freight express arrived yesterday evening, bringing a large lot of apples, peaches, new potatoes, cabbage, onions, also a lot of live domestic chickens and pigeons, which can be found for sale at the proprietors of the line, Guion & Wadleigh, on Main street. The express will leave at 8 o’clock this morning for Virginia, connecting with the Fast Freight Lines there.” [Reese River Reveille – Aug. 2, 1864]

Sam was traveling with one of the firm’s owners. Riding shotgun, maybe? A backup driver? We don’t know, but at least we now know where he was.

But more to the point, how much skepticism is required to doubt he gambled, drank, scouted, prospected, fought and rode, encountered Native Americans, and villains, real Western bad guys, and heroes and adventurers. He was himself a pioneer, traversing the Rockies by wagon, on foot or horseback, over and again, like he was going to the beach. I’d like to write that story.

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