Photos from the Vault

The history of distracted driving, and a heroine’s good deed

Detail of advertisement, the Coast Line Stage Company offered connections from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Detail of advertisement, the Coast Line Stage Company offered connections from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco and Los Angeles. San Luis Obispo Tribune

Some things never change. Distracted driving courts disaster in any age. In the 1870s, checking a pocket watch while driving could lead to a broken leg.

Another constant: Schoolteachers can manage chaos. One big change: 18-year-olds today often have more training ahead of them before setting out on their own.

Hold your horses — we’ll get to the story. But first a few brief notes of orientation:

Pleito, now spelled Pleyto, was a stagecoach station located upstream from present-day Lake San Antonio about 12.5 miles southeast of Jolon. Bypassed by railroad and highway, only a cemetery remains today.

Grace Horsley Darling was the daughter of an English lighthouse keeper. She was in her early 20s in 1838 when she spotted a shipwreck and assisted her father in the rescue of the survivors, launching and crewing a boat under storm conditions.

The marriageable postscript to the article seems quaint and sexist today, but men outnumbered women in California for almost a century. In the 1850 California census, there were 12 men for every woman, and in some mining camps, there were no women.

If you don’t think this story is remarkable for 1871, answer the question: How many people today would walk back 3 miles in the dark, having survived a car wreck, to rescue their Uber driver who fell out?

Calling the CHP was not an option in 1871.

Sometime before the June 24, 1871, issue of The Tribune was photographed for microfilm, someone scrawled the last name Kendrick on the page after the stagecoach driver’s first name.

A Heroine

The stage from San Francisco was some 4 or 5 hours behind time on Friday, the 16th inst.

The occasion was as follows. At about 3 a.m. of that day, it was on its way from the Pleito station to the Nacimiento river when the driver whose name is Henry (Kendrick) took out his watch to observe the time, holding the lines meanwhile in one hand.

One of the leaders (horse), happening to be of the stumbling kind, fell down; and on rising, jerked the reins from the driver’s hand. The team then started to turn, and the driver jumped from his box, with the intention of heading the horses off.

On reaching the ground, his left leg was broken by the fall, producing a very severe compound fracture.

On reaching the ground, his left leg was broken by the fall, producing a very severe compound fracture.

San Luis Obispo Tribune, June 24, 1871

Being perfectly helpless, the stage passed over his hip, and the horses returned back toward the Pleito for a distance of three miles; finally upsetting the vehicle.

Luckily there was a young lady aboard, of the Grace Darling kind, a school teacher, who was on her way to take charge of a school at San Miguel.

Her name has been given to us as Miss Plunkett.

This lady climbed out of the stage, through the window, unhitched the horses, and tied them to the wheels of the conveyance.

Luckily there was a band of cattle camped near where the upset took place.

Procuring the assistance of one of the vaqueros to take charge of the horses, the heroic young lady walked back in the dark, a distance of three miles, in search of the driver.

On arriving where the poor fellow was, she bound up his leg, packed him water to assuage his burning thirst, and stayed with him two hours, until assistance came.

Dr. Hayes, who was called upon to attend the injured man, assures that us that if a drawknife and suitable material had been on hand she would have had the man’s leg set and properly bound up in splints before daylight.

The young lady is from Oakland, and is only about eighteen years of age.

We have seldom read or heard, and never in this neighborhood, of so heroic an act as this, done by a member of the female sex.

We are proud that it should have taken place so near us.

We have seldom read or heard, and never in this neighborhood, of so heroic an act as this, done by a member of the female sex.

San Luis Obispo Tribune, June 24, 1871

The heroine ought to receive a life pass from the Stage Company to ride free over the road; and we trust that our young gallants will not allow her much longer to pass single through the journey of life.

She deserves a good husband; and he must be a pretty smart fellow who shall prove worthy of her.

In the 1850 California census there were 12 men for every woman and in some mining camps there were no women.

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