Early Yosemite Stage Driver
Contributed by: Carol Lackey
Thomas (Tom) Gordon was born on Sherlock Creek, May 12, 1856. He
was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Pete Gordon who came to California
during the first of the gold rush in 1849.
Tom first started driving stage in 1874 for A. H. Washburn. This
was a 4-house stage which operated between Mariposa and Merced.
The trip then was via Princeton, Mt. Ophir, Bear Valley,
Washington mine, Hornitos, Merced Falls and Snelling to Merced
and was a hard all day trip. The stage carried the passengers,
mail and express.
Some of the other drivers about this time were "Dad" Doust, Al
Sleeper, Billy Burns, Bill Grant (Missouri Bill), Alex Early and
Jim Conwell (Buffalo Jim).
In 1877 Tom drove through Coulterville via Hazel Green to
Yosemite. The stages stopped all night at Coulterville.
For many years he drove for Washburn Brothers at Wawona who
operated stages from Raymond to Yosemite from Madera, Merced and
Mariposa. Some of the men who drove with him were Tom Farnsworth,
Bright Gillispi, Johnnie White, Frank Spiken, Earn Stevens, John
Stevens, Henry Skelton, Al Skelton, Sam Owen, Tom Martin, Jerome
Martin and Johnnie Brant.
Tom says the worst experience he had was in a run-away of his
four horses with a stage load of nine passengers, down the
mountain below Inspiration Point on the Wawona approach to the
Valley. The horses ran 150 yards down the winding road at
break-neck speed. He held them in the road and finally banked the
stage. No one was seriously injured.
The run-away, Tom says, was caused by a yellow-jacket stinging
one of the horses.
Tom is hale and hearty at 81 and can still handle the ribbons.