Hank Monk: He always got you there on time
Lunatics had not yet reached such depth of imbecility as to ride of their own free will in California (or Nevada) stages. – Bret Harte in “The Luck of Roaring Camp”
By Trent Dolan
For the Appeal
Part of our family tradition every Memorial Day weekend is to put flowers on the graves of relatives and friends at Lone Mountain Cemetery. The first marker on the ritual is always legendary stage driver Hank Monk. Located on the west end of our yearly route, it is the oldest headstone.
“Gotta visit Hank’s tombstone,” dad would say. We weren’t related to Hank, but he was our hero. Dad always held his name in reverence as one who always got you there on time. Newspapermen live by deadlines. Dad had 47 years of them.
In Mark Twain’s book “Roughing It,” Twain suggests that Monk is right up there with the real icons of the West. “The real grandeurs of the Pacific Coast are not Yo Semite (sic) and the Big Trees, but Hank Monk and his adventure with Horace Greeley.”
According to Guy Rocha, in an Internet article that speaks of the ride that Hank gave presidential candidate Horace Greeley, that day had an impact on General U.S. Grant being elected president.
“While Greeley tried to disassociate himself from Monk and the unflattering story; it continued to dog him right up to the 1872 presidential election. Some writers have suggested that the story may have actually cost him the election. In truth, historians have noted that Greeley was a long-standing controversial figure and savagely satirized by cartoonist Thomas Nast, independent of the exaggerated stories surrounding his stagecoach ride in 1859.”
So, what was the story of Greeley’s ride? And was it important because of the ride or that it was repeated over and over to the East Coast and then to the floor of Congress, where it was used against Greeley in his run for the presidency. The story is duplicated in the Congressional Record for all to see.
So now here it is as it is told in Mark Twain’s “Roughing It.”
“I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placer ville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace’s coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier – said he warn’t in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, ‘Keep your seat, Horace, and I’ll get you there on time!’ – and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!”
Cartoonist Thomas Nast used the story repeatedly in his views to discount Greeley, so Nevada, in its own little way had something to do in early political mudslinging in national elections.
Joe Goodman, who had an interest in the Territorial Enterprise, was on a trip to the East. After talking with Monk he had a message to give to Greeley and did so when he reached the East.
Monk’s story was so hurtful to Greeley, Goodman reported, that he remarked: “Greeley bristled and glared at me. ‘That rascal?’ he said. ‘He has done me more injury than any other man in America.'”
So how many times has the story been retold? Millions, at least.
Monk went on to work for “Doc” Benton at his livery stable driving for another 20 years. On his passing, Doc inherited a gold watch given to Monk by some San Franciscans. Monk had the words “Keep your Seat, Horace, I’ll get you there on time” inscribed on the watch.
In “Does it Pay to Visit Yo Semite?” (1870) by Olive Logan, she states the watch was given to Monk by Greeley, or so the legend goes.
Hank’s ride with Greeley was so popular that J.P. Meder, who was a resident of Carson City, wrote a Schottische, or piano “waltz or polka” to go with Hank’s image. I’ve heard it on the Internet and it’s a catchy little number. Meder moved to Carson where he built the first planing mill in the state and was elected to the state Senate twice.
• Trent Dolan is the son of Bill Dolan, who wrote a column for the Nevada Appeal from 1947 until his death in 2006.