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Award Winning Cowboy Imagery

Award Winning Cowboy Advertising Photography

This advertising image was one of a series shot for a client needing some stagecoach imagery. It was shot just outside of Scottsdale, AZ in an area called Rio Verde, about 3-4 miles off of Dynamite road. I learned a lot on this project. The location was somewhat restricted in it's size. What most people do not realize is a full sized Concord stagecoach with a 6 up team, as you see it here, from the noses of the lead horses to the end of the rear wheels is 50 feet long (15.25 meters). I had photographed stagecoaches in Southeast Wyoming, but there I had wide open spaces on rolling green grass hills. On this location I had huge rocks that were 35-40 feet (7-8 meters) high for 100 feet (30 meters) or more. I had smaller rocks that if hit running wide open would either destroy a wheel, turn over the stage, or both.

I had to adjust to this size and limited space quickly. I asked Red, the driver & owner of the stage, if he could run the horses straight down between 2 large rocks, then turn to the left & then back to the right. On both sides there were rocks and if he did not turn correctly the team would run into a rock wall or flip. Red looked and said, "Yes". I said, "Great" and commenced to climb a rock. I wanted to be sure I was in the perfect spot to photograph the wreck. After I was in place, checked to be sure I had a fresh rolls of 36 exposure film loaded in all 6 of my camera bodies, I hollered to Red, "ACTION!"

Red picked up the reins, hollered at his team of matched grays while simultaneously slapping the reins in a command to run. All the horses picked up their ears and heads to attention and started to pull in earnest. Within 7 or 8 powerful strides they had accelerated the 1000 pound (450Kg) stagecoach to a run and Red was gingerly guiding the team into proper position to make the first turn. I started to snap a few frames but did not get too excited until I noticed Red pick up his right foot & lay it on the brake, you can see this in the photo above. He first pulled the reins with his left hand and the horses obliged the command and, still at a dead run, started to guide the stage through the first turn. Just about the time I had decided that I was glad I had a cell phone, because I could call for medical attention, Red braked so hard the rear wheels locked up and he skidded the rear of the stage around the big rock. He then got off the brake, relaxed the tension on the left reins & then pulled the reins with his right hand, foot still on the brake, again locked the rear wheels and made the turn without incident.

After the morning shoot, I was talking to Red and he said back in the day the stage lines had a stop every 10-12 miles (16-19Km) and the driver would change horses in 10 minutes and be back on the road. Sometimes the stage would show up and there would not be any horses, either they were stolen or shot. The driver would then open the corral gates, drive the stage into the corral and roll the coach so it faced straight towards the gate. He would then unhitch his team, tying 5 of them to a rail, or if there was grass nearby, hobbling them, he would saddle the 6th horse and grab a lariat rope and go hunting for wild horses. He would rope one horse at a time and drag them back the corral, put a bridle on them and tie them to a rail or a snubbing post. He would repeat this until he had 6 horses.

Along with the man at the stage stop, he would then blindfold the horses and put the biggest and oldest horses closest to the stage and put on the harness. He would pick the next smallest horses and repeat this process and then grab the smallest & youngest as the lead pair. He'd then load all of the passengers into the stage, climb up to his seat on the stagecoach, that already had the brake tied to full lock, pick up the reins, have the stop manager open the gates.

This is where the fun begins, he would automatically thread the reins through his fingers on both hands, check to be sure they were all of equal tension & length, release the brake and slap the reins had hope that at least one of the horses would move forward pulling the rest with them. Keep in mind that these are wild horses, not domestic trained animals.

I can just picture the rodeo especially with the young horses in the lead. Try and picture all 6 horses bucking and pulling in every direction except forwards. If by some miracle the horses managed to make it to the next station, they were then harness broke.

And people of today complain if their plane is one hour late.


These are (No lie) rules the set down by Wells & Fargo in 1855 for their passengers:

Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink, share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.

If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.

Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.

Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort in cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.

Don't snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger's shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.

Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.

In the event of runaway horses remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry coyotes.

Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.

Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It's a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.


Gear: Canon professional film camera, 400mm Canon lens 1/50 sec., f2.8, 100 ISO and then the film processed by hand. I processed all of my film by hand to get superior results vs. even the best commercial labs just could not even come close.

If you would like to use this image, or any of my images for mock or comp use, please just ask. There is never a charge for this service. Educational use is permitted without charge, unless published, but please ask first. All commercial use is available only with a limited copyright release prior to use from the copyright holder, Steve Thornton. Thanks for looking!

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