One winter evening in 1857, as a snowstorm pummeled Iowa, a lone stagecoach crossed the Little Four Mile Creek in Altoona—the same sometimes-troublesome waterway that, 20 years later, would be the site of the deadliest train wreck in the region’s history. It was a long, exhausting journey from Iowa City to Des Moines. But, when the drivers saw Altoona, they breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! They had nearly arrived.
But not quite.
The snow wouldn’t let up. One night passed. Then another. And another. The stagecoach, which had been rented by the State Treasurer, was part of an effort to move the Iowa State Capital from Iowa City to Des Moines—a monumental undertaking in any age, but particularly challenging in an era before trucks, cell phones and AAA.
As part of the move, the State’s offices and archives were disassembled and loaded into stagecoaches. The most valuable possessions were locked in four safes, the heaviest and largest of which was reserved for the Treasurer. Now, with the State’s most valuable assets – not to mention some unfortunate government employees – stranded on the open plains, things were looking grim.
That is, until the oxen showed up. Four days after the stagecoach was stranded, rescuers finally arrived, loading the safe onto a massive bobsled and – with the help of ten yolks of oxen – hauling it to Iowa’s brand-new State Capital.
The next time you’re in Altoona, stop by the Stagecoach Route Marker, which marks the area where stagecoaches passed through our city in the 19th century. And if you happen to see any oxen around, be sure to thank them for saving the day.
Adventureland Drive & 9th Avenue NW