Stagecoaches on the Cariboo Wagon Road is the story of Francis Jones Barnard, a native of Quebec who founded the service by carrying letters on foot some 400 miles to the goldfields. From this early beginning he built a company a company that was famous for reliability. It operated the longest stagecoach run in North America, serving the frontier region for over half a century. It became known far and wide as simply the “B.X.”
The stage service started in 1863 when Barnard put two-horse wagons on the route from Lillooet to Soda Creek, which was the end of the line. The wagons carried three passengers and freight and made the trip every ten days. When the Wagon Road was extended Barnard increased his services and by 1865 stages operated from Yale in the Lower Fraser Canyon to Richfield, Barkerville, and Camerontown.
The first four-horse stage from Yale to Soda Creek was in the spring of 1864, driven by Mr. Charles G. Major. Among the nine passengers were James Orr, Mrs. Florence Wilson, Robert Stevenson, and H.M. Steele. Stevenson and Steele went on to become two of the most successful miners of the gold rush. On the return trip Stephen Tingley was the driver and continued driving for over 30 years, eventually buying the firm.
Even though the stagecoaches carried great quantities of gold, there were only a couple of holdups and the miners had complete trust in the Company. One stage brought $600,000 in gold on a single trip, while another brought out a gold ingot that was cast in the shape of an artillery shell. It weighed 650 pounds and was worth $178,000. By the end of the first year of operation in 1865, the stages had carried $4.6 million worth of gold (worth about $630 million today), 1,500 passengers, and travelled over 100,000 miles.
Women who travelled on the stages were given priority. This code was rigidly upheld whether the woman was rich or poor, a pillar of society or an outcast of the creeks. Women passengers were always offered the choice seat on the stage, the most comfortable room at a stopping place, and would always sit to the right of the driver at meals.
When the service started in 1864, fare from Yale to Soda Creek was $130 and the journey back took 52 hours. In 1872, the fare was reduced to $65. When the headquarters for the Cariboo was changed from Yale to Ashcroft in 1886 the stage left at 4 a.m. and under favorable conditions arrived at the overnight stopping place at 84 mile at 6 p.m. It left again at 4 a.m. the next morning and repeated the sequence. However, it wet weather when stages ran late, passengers would get very little sleep. Under the terms of the mail contract stages were required to maintain a set schedule. If the stage arrived five hours late it left almost immediately and passengers had to sleep as best they could in the swaying coach.