Stage Driving Legend Hank Monk

Hank Monk

Henry “Hank” Monk started his staging career at a tender age in New York, driving a regular run 20 miles from Waddington to Massena. He was in his twenties when he arrived in California in 1852. Monk drove treacherous Sierra Nevada passes for nearly twenty-five years, with only two relatively minor accidents. He is celebrated, though, for the wild ride he gave Horace Greeley in 1859. Greeley, a somewhat pompous man who was the influential editor of the New York Tribune, was touring the West. Anxious to arrive on time for a scheduled meeting in Placerville, he boarded Monk’s stage at Genoa, Nevada. As the coach mounted the summit he first complained they were going too slow—then as the team plunged downward and the terror-stricken editor was bounced around like a loose ball, he yelled at Monk to slow down. “Keep your seat, Horace,” said Monk. “I’ll get you there on time.” Monk was an irrepressible yarn-spinner who doubtless embellished a few truths at Greeley’s expense; certainly Greeley hotly denied that any part of the story was true. Nonetheless the tale took on a life of its own even before the works of Mark Twain, humorist Artemus Ward and California poet-playwright Joaquin Miller spread it—and Hank’s name—far and wide. The whole business angered and humiliated Horace Greeley, who died in 1872 during his campaign for the presidency of the United States. Life-long bachelor Hank Monk was said to be kind to all and never thought ill of anyone. Not yet sixty, he died of pneumonia in Carson City on February 28, 1883.

 

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