Riding shotgun: Stagecoach stories from Monroe County

News-DemocratJanuary 20, 2014 

Nelson William Rex is a retired florist and an active history buff. He lives outside Waterloo in a house that also contains a museum of local history and artifacts.

He keeps busy writing local history books. His latest is "Stagecoach! The Monroe County Connection."

Rex says the inspiration for his latest book goes to EddKueker, a horse enthusiast who donated his collection of Western memorabilia, including a stagecoach, to establish a museum in Waterloo.

The book covers a lot of territory, writing about stagecoach lines all over the country but has a large section on stagecoach stops in the Monroe County area.

"Monroe County was a significant connection between Kaskaskia to the south and Cahokia, East St. Louis and St. Louis to the north," he writes.

But unlike all the excitement seen in movie and television westerns, stagecoach rides in Illinois were more endurance marathons than wild chases.

"Perhaps it was enough excitement to cope with difficult road conditions, nasty weather, and uncomfortable seats -- without the menace of stagecoach robbers," Rex writes.

He has stagecoach pictures from all over the country as well as pictures of what remains of some places in the area that served as stagecoach stops at one time.

There would be stops every few miles, he said. Passengers also could stay at inns along the way, which often were rooms at an almost primitive house where you could get a meal.

He said that in 1818, in the Kaskaskia Intelligencer, James Watson advertised a mail route that would run on the Lower Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail. It would carry four passengers and mail.

The stagecoach would leave Kaskaskia early Sunday morning and arrive in the St. Louis area at 2 p.m. on Monday. The return trip would leave St. Louis on Tuesday morning and arrive at Kaskaskia Wednesday evening. The cost was $4, a considerable sum for the times.

Rex said there was a lower Kaskaskia trail that ran along the river bottoms below the bluffs as well as an upper Kaskaskia trail that served areas atop the bluffs.

The trails served areas such as Prairie du Rocher, Glasgow City (Renault) New Design, Burksville, Peterstown and Prairie du Pont (Dupo).

The stagecoaches hung on in the face of competition from railroads but were finally completely wiped out by motor vehicles.

Rex also is promoting his book "Grand Legacy: A history of Monroe County, Illinois."

The ambitious volume has notes on all the towns in the county including a few, such as Benville and Portland, that were planned but never materialized.

The books are for sale at Elements off Main, the Monroe County Independent and Khoury Pharmacy in Columbia and at the Republic-Times in Waterloo as well as the Peterstown House in the spring when it reopens.

The stagecoach book is $25. The history book is $30.

You can also get copies from Rex at his home at 8219 Gall Road, Waterloo, IL 62298. For mail orders, add $5 shipping and handling for each volume.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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