Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Virginia Dale Stage Station

Heyes and Kid didn’t have much luck traveling by stagecoach (Stagecoach Seven, The Root of it All, Shootout at Diablo Station). And they probably didn’t pass through the Virginia Dale Stage Station in northern Colorado (see photo at right) but if they had, they might have enjoyed a good meal and at least been able to sleep indoors instead of out on the trail. Or, they might have been attacked by Cheyenne Indians. Whatever the circumstances, it is quite likely Heyes and Kid would have known who Jack Slade was, since he was almost as notorious as they were. But Mark Twain, who met Slade, described him favorably so I wonder what Twain would have said about Kid and Heyes.

The Virginia Dale Stage Station was a way station for travelers on the Overland Trail. It was built in 1862 by Jack Slade, who was in charge of several stagecoach stations for the Overland Stage Company (see photo below; click on the image to enlarge and read the text). As a full-service station, passengers on the stagecoaches were able to disembark at Virginia Dale and stretch their legs while fresh horses were hitched to the vehicle. There used to be a barn on the grounds, with stalls for six animals, but that no longer exists; the horses probably ate hay, which could be cut from the plentiful grassland surrounding the station. Passengers could also buy a meal—probably made of whatever could be shot nearby—and spend the night if necessary. The building was constructed of yellow pine logs and still stands in its original location, just a few miles from the Wyoming border.

The furnishings inside the Virginia Dale station (see photo below) are not from the nineteenth century but, with imagination, it is possible to envision the joy that tired, hungry, and dirty passengers would have felt upon entering the building. With a low ceiling, the long, one-room structure would have been warm in the winter and with the windows and doors open in the summer, a cool breeze would circulate, as it did when I visited in late July. Standing in the doorway, gazing out at the hills in the distance, listening to the wind in the silence of the landscape and the sky a deep blue with only a wisp of cloud in it, I could almost picture a stagecoach driving up the road to the only building for miles around, carrying weary passengers who were more than ready to enjoy the comforts of the Virginia Dale Stage Station.

Owned by the Virginia Dale Community Club since 1964, it is possible to arrange a tour through this volunteer organization of the premises, which includes the Emil Hurzeler house next door. A small gift shop is located inside the stage stop; purchasing one of the books about Jack Slade or stagecoach travel in Colorado, or a T-shirt or other souvenir, is a very nice way to support this historical treasure.

Comprehensive meta website with lots of links about the Virginia Dale Stage Station and the Overland Trail:

Website about Jack Slade:

Website for the Virginia Dale Community Club: