Sacramento author mines the history of Gold-Rush stagecoaches in new book

Author Cheryl Anne Stapp can’t get gold off her mind.

The Sacramento native has written three books about Northern California’s golden years in the mid-1800s. Her new title, “The Stagecoach in Northern California: Rough Rides, Gold Camps & Daring Drivers” (History Press, $19.99, 139 pages), tells the true stories of the visionaries who brought the stagecoach to California, the fearless stagemen who drove the wagons, and the determined bandits who endeavored to rob them.

“I think the stagecoaches were part of a very exciting era,” Stapp said. “It was the first public line of transportation of California.”

During the Gold Rush, stagecoaches transported tons of gold, newspapers and mail through the lines established by entrepreneurs such as James Birch, who operated the successful California Stage Co.

Stagecoaches essentially ran from 1849 to the 1920s, decades after the railroad was built.

A member of the Sacramento and Elk Grove historical societies, Stapp developed a passion for Northern California history when she was a child growing up in Sacramento, visiting sites such as Old Sacramento, Sutter’s Fort and the Capitol, she said. She also dabbled in Egyptian and Elizabethan-period history as a child.

“I’ve always been a voracious reader,” Stapp said. “One of the highlights of my childhood is finding an article when I was around 6 years old on the pyramids in Egypt.”

Stapp’s admiration for California history reignited years ago in a Los Angeles bookstore when she came across “Anybody’s Gold,” a book about the Gold Rush era by Joseph Henry Jackson, longtime literary editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I was just fascinated,” Stapp said. “That revived my interest.”

Stapp studied business at California State University, Northridge, and served as a contributing editor at Working World magazine, she said. The author returned to Sacramento in 2000, where her love for Northern California history continued to grow.

Stapp will present a lecture about her latest book at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 at Time Tested Books, 1114 21st St., Sacramento.

Visit her at to learn more about Northern California history. You can also catch her volunteering at Sutter’s Fort.

The Bee chatted with Stapp over coffee at Mimi’s Cafe in Elk Grove.

What sparked your interest in Northern California stagecoach history?

Well actually, this particular book was kind of my husband’s idea. I mean the subject, I should say. The first book I wrote was about women pioneers who started in Sacramento (“Disaster and Triumph: Sacramento Women, Gold Rush Through the Civil War”). And then I wrote another book about Sacramento, as kind of an overview (“Sacramento Chronicles: A Golden Past”). I was finishing this and looking around for other ideas and he said, “What about the stagecoach?”

How did you research your book?

Going to the library is wonderful, but parking downtown is really expensive. So I went online to Amazon and found secondary sources and bought them. It’s cheaper than paying $20 a day for parking. I have about 50 books on the West, Sacramento, the Gold Rush, immigration – that whole thing, in my library. There’s the (digital archive) California Digital Newspaper Collection online, so I was able to use that. The librarians actually told me about that. I also went to the library for original documents and traveled to historical sites like Yankee Jim Road, which runs between the town of Forest Hill and Colfax.

Stagecoaches took travelers all over Northern California and beyond. What was the most dangerous part for the drivers?

I imagine the mountain roads were. They were just one-lane roads and they weren’t paved. They were built with picks, shovels and dynamite. Then they were leveled as much as they could – I mean they weren’t anything that someone driving a car would consider an adequate road, but, of course, the coach has these huge wheels and horses don’t need pavement.

How did you become an author?

I sat down, and I researched and I wrote. You can’t get around it.

There’s a lot of people who’d like to be writer, but you have to sit down and do it. You have to devote yourself to it – I think that’s the key.

What’s next for you?

I don’t have a plan yet for another book, but I continue to enjoy researching pioneer women. I don’t know if that will develop into another book, yet.