Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 22: A Frightful Final Ride

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Teacher Angie Mitchell had completed her term at the Tonto Basin school, and she was eagerly on her way home to Prescott. Her attempt to spend Christmas 1881 with her family and finance, Charles Brown, encountered one hazard after another on the trip. Now it was Christmas Day, and as the stagecoach from Wickenburg headed for the last mountainous road, doom almost caught up with her.

At one stage stop outside of Phoenix, her dog Onyx had been stolen by a stable hand, but she was able to retrieve him. Angie wrote, “We finally started again. All went well till we got to Stanton some time after dark and changed horses again. The teams were hay broken broncos & the new driver more than half drunk. We inside were rolled up in big cloaks and had blankets tucked around us till we were packed in like sardines. I gathered from the conversation between the two elder men that they were coming to look at some mines… and were experts. One had evidently been in the West before while it was quite new to the other… The 3rd man, the young fellow, said nothing & appeared to know neither of the others. Mrs. R [a fellow passenger], whom I knew some years ago, and I talked some but she was nervous and fidgety over the roads and I was tired from my trip and the dance. So we were rather still and I went to sleep. While the stage was going up Antelope Mountain, and pretty near the summit, there was a lurch and then a quickened motion. It woke me and it soon dawned on me that something was seriously wrong. Our team was running away!”

Angie continues to relate the harrowing ride.

“A moment later the summit was passed and our broncos, without brake or any apparent restraint, were plunging down one of the most dangerous mountain grades in the Territory with a precipice close to the road over which the coach seemed to swing clear from the road. Peering out I saw the lines dragging and then I knew — the drunken driver had fallen or been thrown off at the time the train started. The situation had dawned on my fellow passengers about the same time and such a scene as ensued!

The fellow, the expert who had ‘been West’ had evidently accumulated a varied vocabulary of oaths for he strung them out at a rate of speed I never heard equaled. He entirely forgot his precise drawl, while his friend, the Eastern expert prayed with the same wonderful flow of language. Those two kept up their swearing and praying till the end of the race. It was the most amusing concert I ever heard. Mrs. R. went off into hysterics and wept and screamed and shrieked all the way. The young fellow and myself said not a word, until becoming so amused at this chorus of howls, oaths & prayers that I could not help it. I laughed. Then he said, with a laugh also, ‘Poor things, they’re just crazy but aren't you scared?’ & I said, ‘Oh yes, awfully, but I can’t help laughing for I never heard anything so funny and crying and howling only makes the matter worse.’ Then I gazed out of the window on my side and thought sure every second we’d go over that precipice and be dashed to pieces.

“After the horses had by some Providential means escaped dashing us all on the rocks and had nearly reached the foot of the hill, the young fellow got up, opened the door and holding tightly to the swaying stage, stood a moment on the step.”

Our reporter states that the three in hysterics did not even notice the fellow’s noble attempt to stop the stage. “In a moment the young man swung himself up by some means to the top. There I could only see what followed by glimpses, but he crawled to the driver’s seat, then down and then to the tongue and finally got the reins one at a time. The horses were still galloping swiftly but the ground was more broken and we were quite down the hill itself. (The horses) were getting winded with their long race, and presently he brought them to a full stop. It took the trio inside fully a minute to realize that the peril was past and no one was hurt. Then they subsided into silence but kept looking at each other as if each one wondered just what he had done or said and I doubt if they will ever quite realize it!

“About this time the driver, hatless & coatless (he’d thrown off both coats to run faster) appeared sobered, white faced & nearly breathless & gasped, ‘My God! Are they all dead inside?’ We assured him we were very much alive and perfectly safe. The young man gave him his own overcoat and wrapped himself up in his blanket. Soon we started and reached Genung’s, changed horses, and then on again.”

At last the stage pulled into Prescott at 7:30 a.m. Christmas morning. Angie writes that she was “profoundly thankful to get here sound in mind and limb, tho’ sore and stiff from our shaking up. George met me there and we walked out home.”[i]

Angie’s mother had decided the family would celebrate Christmas on the Sunday, Dec. 26 since she was unsure when their daughter would get home. The diary reports “a fine dinner.” Then, “I went down to Josie’s about 2 and staid an hour. Tonight George and I and Josie and Joe went to church together to hear Bovard. Mrs. Kelly is ill. I had quite a number of nice presents. Onyx stood the trip nicely, but I fancy he has a cold or something.” On Monday, Dec. 27 Angie’s trunk and the boxes she had left back in Phoenix arrived by stage. “I went to settle for the excess baggage and found everyone of them marked paid. I could not understand it, till the agent gave me a letter. On opening it I found a note from the agent at Phoenix enclosing receipt for $20.80 for amount due on baggage and the words, ‘Please accept as a token of my gratitude for the favor you did me on Christmas Eve by enabling me to keep my word to the Troupe. It was worth much more to me than this is to you, and if I can do you a favor at any future time don't hesitate to say so and I'll do it with pleasure.’ I wrote a note of thanks and went home.”

NEXT: Epilogue, The Wedding

[i] The Mitchell family lived west of Granite Creek and south of Gurley, probably less than half a mile from the center of town.

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