Road Ranches, Lodging & Coaches in Bozeman, Helena, Virginia City
When people started venturing out west, a knock on a farmhouse door would usually guarantee a place to stay and food for the night. It was considered an insult to charge for lodge and board. Some travelers got in the habit of leaving a dollar for their hosts to pay for their meal and night’s lodging. But around the 1850s, as more people ventured west, attitudes began to change and more and more hosts began charging for their hospitality.
The first hotels and road houses sprang up along the stage routes. In the 1800s, stage coaches were the major mode of transportation. The Concorde Coach, the only form of public transportation out of Virginia City, Montana, had room for 17 on board, including luggage. The stage, with its four to six horses, could travel 70 miles a day. A coach from Virginia City to Bozeman, Montana, took one day, and from Virginia City to Helena, two days.
The first hotels,were run by settlers along the route who saw the advantage of profiting from the flow of travelers. These first “road ranches” were primitive. A bed could be bought for “two bits”, or a quarter. Often accommodations were terrible, the food worse. The mattress usually held straw and sometimes included unwanted fleas, ticks and bedbugs.
In the earlier days, a private bed was a luxury. Guests were piled up on a first come, first serve basis, and travelers often slept three or more to a bed even having to share with strangers of the opposite sex. Beds were often also shared by cats and chickens.
A Square Meal
Beans, potatoes, biscuits and meat all on the same plate was the usual fare. A filling meal, but not particularly appetizing. The meal was served with coffee and water. Liquor cost extra. From these first bed and breakfasts, commercial hotels soon began to appear along stage and rail routes to accommodate the influx of travelers and their demands for more in the way of privacy and comfort.
For the average traveler in the mid to late 1800s a room cost around $2.00 a night. The accommodations still weren’t fancy. A bedstead of iron, a dresser with bowl and pitcher, and a chamber pot were the usual furnishings. And of course, the outhouse was around the back.
To read more about travel in the Old West read No More than Five in a Bed: Colorado Hotels in the Old Days by Sandra Dallas.