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Postcard from the Past - Stagecoach Fire Inspires Song

Written by Dick Perue

A headline in the Aug. 10, 1906, "Grand Encampment Herald" reads “Stage Fire,” and an article notes:

“One of the most peculiar accidents ever experienced by the Scribner stage line was a stage fire which occurred on the outgoing Tuesday morning trip. A passenger on the seat with the driver lighted a cigar and dropped the match in the front boot, which was loaded with the mail sacks, grips and packages of laundry. It set fire to some of the inflammable material and must have smoldered for a long time before breaking out into flames.

“When the blaze started, it seemed as if everything in the boot was on fire at the same time. The stage was just driving into Saratoga when it occurred and water was quickly secured to put out the fire. The empty paper mail sacks were entirely burned up, and the leather letter pouches were burned open but none of the contents were badly injured. Three or four grips and some laundry packages were destroyed. ‘Uncle Billie’ Meyers was driving.”

A week later the newspaper reports:

“Old ‘Uncle Billie’ Meyers, a stage driver for over 60 years, remained at his post in the recent stage fire when all the passengers had abandoned him and after a desperate struggle to control a frightened team and to fight fire at the same time, he succeeded in preventing a runaway and saved the mail from total destruction. His heroism inspired the poetic soul of the bard of Winchell Avenue to burst forth in the following commemorative song, which is dedicated to ‘Uncle Billie.’

 

Old Bill sat on the burning deck,

Whence all but him had fled;

The flames that licked the mail sacks up

Shone round his hoary head.

Yet bold and brave still there he sat,

As born to guide the steeds;

The wild blew through his lilacs

And the sweat rolled off in beads.

The stage rolled on; he had to go

To get where there was water;

Couldn’t stop at Cluff’s to get a beer,

Because he didn’t think he ‘oughter.

He called aloud, ‘Go on you plugs

Until your task is done!’

He knew that McAnally sat

Unconscious of his run.

‘Oh Mama,’ once again he cried;

‘When this stage trip is done,

It’s me to the ranch you bet your pants!’

And still the flame rolled on

Upon his brow he felt their breath

And in his waving hair

And looked from that lone seat of death

In still, yet brave despair.

He shouted out once more aloud,

‘Oh, Mama! Must I stay?’

While o’er him fast through boot and sacks

The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the stage in splendor wild,

They scorched his pants up high,

And streamed above old gallant Bill

Like banners in the sky.

Then came a burst of wild applause,

The stage stopped with a jerk.

A bucket of water judiciously distributed under

The immediate supervision of the Saratoga Fire Dept.,

Quelled the excitement and quickly did the work.

The danger o’er, a shout goes up

For the hero: where is he?

Ask of the drink joints scattered ‘round

As far as eye can see.

He’s gone to quench the burning thirst

Acquired while fighting fire,

The noblest heart in that blooming town – 

Honest Uncle Billie Meyer.”