Black Bart: Stagecoach Robber and Poet

Subsidized by government contracts, stage lines, such as Wells Fargo and Company began carrying passengers as well as mail into the Western United States in 1840. Stage coaching quickly became the most elegant form of transcontinental transportation.

While there were many bandits who sought easy money by robbing stagecoaches, none had as much dramatic flair as English born Charles Earl Bowles, better known as Black Bart. Bowles conducted a series of successful stagecoach hold-ups throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon during the 1870’s and 1880’s. Bowles, terrified of horses, conducted his robberies on foot, was always courteous and used no foul language. He wore a long linen duster coat and a bowler hat, covered his head using a flour sack with holes cut for the eyes, and brandished a shotgun. These distinguishing features became his trademarks.

On his final robbery, Bowles was wounded in the hand and left a number of personal items at the scene, including a linen handkerchief, with the laundry mark FXO7. The Wells Fargo detectives were able to identify the Chinese laundry that Bowles used thus able to track him to his modest boarding house, where he was arrested.  Bowles was also known to leave handwritten poems at the crime scene, the most  famous:

Here I lay me down to sleep To wait the coming morrow, Perhaps success, perhaps defeat, And everlasting sorrow. Let come what will, I'll try it on, My condition can't be worse; And if there's money in that box 'Tis munny in my purse. – Black Bart

One of the most exciting pieces in our collection is our Wells Fargo Stagecoach. The coach, made in the Concord style was crafted by Gronway Parry, whose restored wagons and farm equipment formed the bulk of our collection in 1973 when the museum opened. Parry built the stagecoach in the 1950’s and it has been used in parades, movies, and television. The Parry coach is the only replica in our collection. We invite our visitors to climb about and imagine themselves on their own stage journey across the West. Just be sure to watch out for Black Bart.

Gronway Parry's Saving's Bond Tour

One of the original wagon banner's The banner (pictured) was used on one of the 26 covered wagons provided to the Federal Government by Cedar City resident Gronway Parry, known as “The Covered Wagon King.” The Opportunity Bond Drive, as it was called, began on May 16, 1949 and continued until June 30th. The Government’s goal was to raise one billion dollars in bond sales. Utah’s quota was three million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The slogan “Be a Modern ‘49er proved reminiscent of the California Gold Rush of 1849, in which immigrants throughout the world traveled to the American West to seek their fortune.

Opportunity Bond Drive promotional poster.

Bond ad from the Rappahannock Record (Virginia)

The 26 wagons were flown from Cedar City to Independence Missouri for a large kick off parade. The wagons were then loaded back on to the planes and flown to various cities from coast to coast, including 30 of the 48 state capitals.  The wagons were equipped with a public address system and bonds were sold from them with special covered wagon themed souvenir jackets. The Utah wagon arrived in Salt Lake City on May 19 and traveled the state until June 29th, where its statewide tour concluded.

Loading the wagon's in Indiana.

A group of local officials at the start of the bond tour.

President Harry S. Truman's bond drive speech: Truman's Bond Speech

Gronway Parry: The Architect of Our Collection

Gronway Parry The horse – drawn vehicles and much of the farm equipment on exhibit at Frontier Homestead came from the collection of Gronway Parry.  Born in 1889, Gronway developed an early love of horses and horse – drawn vehicles.  He worked his way through college buying, reconditioning, and selling racehorses. After graduation, Gronway became the first county agent of Iron County, managed the Cedars Hotel and opened the first Buick dealership in Cedar City. He enlisted in the Army during WWI but was given a bad dose of smallpox vaccine, and received a medical discharge. Gronway suffered the effects of this inoculation the rest of his life.

Gronway and Chauncey Parry 1917

In 1917, with his brother Chauncey, Gronway began the Utah – Grand Canyon Transportation Company. Using a second hand 7 passenger Hudson and a Model T, the brothers took tourists to the scenic sights of Southern Utah. The initial route crossed the Virgin River 22 times. The Company was bought out by Union Pacific in 1925 and became the Utah Parks Company (UPC) – which existed until 1973. Gronway became the first Transportation Agent for the UPC, a position he held for 17 years.

Gronway married Afton Parrish in 1922 and they became heavily involved in the Cedar City community. During his years in Cedar, Gronway served one term as mayor, became instrumental in bringing Hollywood to Southern Utah, pioneered the road over Cedar Mountain, and worked as a sheep rancher, carrot and potato farmer, land developer, and college professor. Gronway was a fixture on Cedar Mountain in his snow tank and early snowmobile. In 1931 Gronway developed a love of polo and became quite skilled in the sport, until an accident during a match removed him from active competition.

Gronway and his polo horse.

Gronway driving his Mountain Wagon across the Virgin River.

Gronway Parry’s hobby of collecting and restoring horse – drawn vehicles began as early as 1911. During the 1930’s Gronway began to actively restore and display his wagons and coaches. He later stated that: “An era was dying and its relics should be preserved.” He bought or made his own tools and Afton sewed the upholstery. His collection quickly became nationally known and many of his pieces were used in motion pictures. Gronway felt strongly that his collection remain whole and in Cedar City. In 1968 he sold everything to the Iron Mission Park Commission for half its value. He considered the rest a gift to the people of Cedar City. Gronway Parry died in 1969.

Gronway Parry 1889-1969

Frontier Homestead State Park Museum now seeks to preserve, restore, and interpret the Gronway Parry collection for the benefit of its many visitors.

Hollywood Comes to Cedar City

Gronway (left) and Chauncey Parry 1917 It began when brothers Gronway, Chauncey, and Whit Parry relocated from their Salt Lake City home to the rural southwestern Utah town of Cedar City.  Gronway, the oldest, saw this community as an opportunity to succeed in a variety of business enterprises, including transportation and lodging. He quickly advised his brothers to come and share in his success. The Parry brothers soon capitalized on the national interest in Zion and Bryce Canyons and the natural amphitheater at Cedar Breaks.

Chauncey, having trained as a pilot during WWI, combined his loves of flying and photography and spent many hours creating amazing aerial footage that he would soon market to the film studios in Hollywood. In 1924, the Fox Film Corporation announced that the world’s most popular cowboy Tom Mix would film his next movie Deadwood Coach in the area.  Cedar City was now in the viewfinder of Hollywood movie studios and fervently opened their community to them.

Cast of "Forlorn River" leaving Cedar City, 1926

Upon leaving Cedar City, Tom Mix prophesied “We have pioneered the picture production business in your section much to our satisfaction and that of the director, and we feel that our reports on the possibilities of your country will induce many other companies to follow.” And follow they did. Movies such as: The Good Earth, Union Pacific, Drums Along the Mohawk, Brigham Young, Can’t Help Singing, My Friend Flicka, and Proud Rebel were all filmed in Cedar City and the surrounding areas.

The Gem Photoplay became the first theater in Cedar City. In 1919 Thomas A. Thorley built the Thorley Theater, replacing the Gem. Throughout the following decades, the Thorley would undergo a series of name changes including theAvalon and the Utah but by the 1950’s it would come to be known as the Cedar Theater.

Gem Photoplay - 3rd from left

Cedar Theatre, 1968

The Thorley Theater served as the location for the Utah premier of the Cecil B. DeMille film Union Pacific in 1939. Union Pacific was one of many motion pictures filmed in the area. Local resident York Jones remembers, “It was a thrill to watch the premier because you could recognize the people who were extras.” The Cedar Theater has become a local landmark and is directly tied to the history of the Cedar City and southern Utah area. It is the last of the traditional movie houses in the community as its sister theater the Parks, formally the Orpheum, was destroyed by the great main street fire of 1962.

Parks Theater, 1940's

Filming on Cedar Mountain, 1930's.

Cedar Breaks- Part I

The first anglo settlers of the Cedar Breaks region used the fertile meadows for grazing their sheep and cattle and the large stands of evergreens for lumbering. Many of these families came from the British Isles and the area soon became known as Little Ireland.  These families worked and lived together cooperatively establishing a thriving dairy operation.  Each housewife took one day to take the morning and evening milk and make one batch of cheese.  During the course of the summer, the women could produce 2000 pounds of cheese, which would be transported to San Francisco for sale. Taking a chance at the Breaks

As the knowledge of the spectacular scenery of southern Utah began to spread early in the 20th century, tourist camps were developed in the Zion and Bryce Canyon regions of the state. Although the beauty of Cedar Breaks was widely known, access proved to be very difficult. The terrain of Cedar Mountain was a challenge for the horses and wagons, but nearly impossible for the automobile. The first car reached the area via the wagon road up Parowan Canyon in 1919.

Cedar City residents Gronway Parry and Frank Seaman lobbied the Utah Department of Transportation to construct a road connecting Cedar City to the major north/south Highway 89 via Cedar Canyon. The state refused and in 1922 Parry and Seaman decided to take matters in their own hands.

Early Cedar Breaks Road

Taking their wives, and Gronway's car, Parry and Seaman began to blaze a trail through Cedar Canyon and over the mountain. Clearing away rocks, trees, and brush they slowly carved a road that would become State Highway 14. Once convinced that a road could actually be constructed, the State of Utah got involved and completed the project, and in 1923 cut a dirt road from the Midway point into Cedar Breaks.

Many families from Parowan summered in Little Ireland and in 1921 Charles Adams built a crudely constructed boarding house to provide workers with shelter and food. He placed his married daughter Minnie Adams Burton in charge and the structure became known as “Minnie's Mansion.” The “Mansion” had a large dance floor and a kitchen and dining room in the rear. “Minnie's Mansion” soon became the summer social center for the citizens of Parowan.  Some came by wagon or on horseback to enjoy a Saturday night dance with a local band providing the entertainment.  Rodeos and summer holidays were also popular in the cool mountain surroundings, sometimes with fireworks set off over the Breaks.

As the residents of Iron County began to promote their local tourist spots, the Federal government developed an interest in the area. Tensions between the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service had been growing throughout the 1920's and centered upon differing ideas of land use and management.

Early motor tours to Cedar Breaks.

The Forest Service adopted a multiple use approach that managed the land for its resources – wood, water, and grass as well as wildlife habitat and recreation. The Park Service viewed itself as the nation's foremost custodian of American heritage – mandated by Congress to preserve, protect, and provide visitor services.  Both of these agencies, with overlapping missions and constituencies competed for land and resources and Cedar Breaks was caught in the middle. The story continues next week.

Artifact Spotlight: The Parry Stagecoach

One of the most exciting pieces in our collection is our Wells Fargo Stagecoach. The coach, made in the Concord style was crafted by Gronway Parry, whose restored wagons and farm equipment formed the bulk of our collection in 1973 when the museum opened. Parry built the stagecoach in the 1950’s and it has been used in parades, movies, and television. The Parry Stagecoach

The original Concord coach was made by the Abbott Downing Co. of Concord NH.  The body was suspended on heavy leather through braces.  Front, rear and center seats drop down to carry 9 passengers inside.  On top it would carry the driver and 2 others.  On a short run, it could carry 12 people on top.  It weighed 2500 lbs. And cost $1200 to $1500 delivered.

The Front Boot was a storage compartment below the driver’s seat.  It usually held the mail and the treasure box.  The Rear Boot was storage for freight packages, express items and passengers’ baggage.  Overflow packages went in the passenger compartment on the floor.  The 1864 coach was just under 8 ft. long and 5 ft. wide.  Each passenger had about 15 inches of space.  It had leather curtains in lieu of glass.  Curtains were less hazardous, absorbed the dust better as well as the wind, rain and snow.

A loaded stage.

The average speed was 8 MPH.  About every 12-14 miles (about every 1.5 hours) they stopped at a relay or swing station to change the team.  A suitable run for horses and mules was 12-13 miles at a time.  About every 50 miles they would stop at a home station to change teams and drivers.  The stops at a home station would last a little longer.

Passengers slept while riding, sitting up.  If they slept at a home station, it would be on the floor.  Women might be able to share the home station agent’s wife’s bed, if she was willing to give it up.  Freight wagon trains would take 5 weeks from Atchison to Denver.  A stagecoach would make the same distance in 6 days.

The stations between SLC and CA were difficult to supply.  Water often had to be hauled great distances.  At some stations there was no wood, which had to be cut and hauled in. Crops could not be grown—the land was arid with little rainfall.  Meals at the home stations cost 50 cents.  The price of such meals was not included in the price of the passage, but had to be paid for with good, hard cash. The fare from SLC to San Francisco was $200 per person.  Passengers were allowed 25 lbs of baggage on their ticket cost.  Each pound over that was charged an extra dollar.

A lonesome stage stop.

There was a perpetual cloud of dust about the coach.  It penetrated the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair and clothes.  Mark Twain bathed once in his 1818 mile, 20 day trip from St. Joesph to Reno in 1861 and that was done in a stream.  Most travelers did not bathe.  An uneventful trip would leave passengers physically exhausted.  One traveler said, “The hardest 2 weeks’ work I ever did.”  And then he stumbled off to a solid 20 hours in bed.

Two museum travelers in their time machine.

The Parry coach is the only replica in our collection. We invite our visitors to climb about and imagine themselves on their own stage journey across the West.

The Snow Tank

Going for a ride. Brought to the area by Gronway Parry in the late 1940’s, the snow tank proved a popular and valuable resource for local farmers and outdoor enthusiasts. One of only two known to exist, and towing its companion sled, the snow tank hauled skiers, horses, and during the brutal blizzard of 1948-49 carried hay to starving cattle in the Cedar Valley. Additionally, Gronway and his snow tank carried Utah Parks Company workers up to the Cedar Breaks lodge to provide winter maintenance.

The snow tank at the Cedar Breaks Lodge.

Powered by a large diesel engine, the snow tank proved well suited for the Iron County winters and became a familiar sight on Cedar Mountain. The snow tank steered by a series of levers that tightened and loosened metal cables attached to the wood sledge. When the driver tightened the left cable it swung the sledge to the left and the tank to the right. The driver completed the opposite motion to turn the other way. This action serves exactly the same action as a rudder on a ship. Without the sledge, the tank could only move in a straight line.

Gronway Parry looks over his snow tank.

In 1969, the snow tank, along with many other artifacts became the core of our museum collection. Today, visitors to Frontier Homestead State Park can still see the snow tank and through scenes from the Parry Family home movies, watch it in action.

The snow tank at Frontier Homestead.