Up Close and Personal with Chief Joseph Days Stage Coach

Written by Katy Nesbitt.
Photography by Angelika Ursula Dietrich.

Updated May 1, 2023.

Chief Joseph Days Stage Coach (2018)
From left to right: Lynea and Stan Stanhope, Gary and Karen Prout, and Max Prout.

EDITOR’S NOTE: 2004 was the first Chief Joseph Days Parade I covered while being the productions manager and freelance photographer for the Wallowa County Chieftain.  I worked for Chief Joseph Days as the Rodeo Program Committee Chair, Social Media Marketing Manager, and Public Relations Photographer from 2010-2020. I traveled with the Proud Family and crew from 2018 to 2020, documenting the excitement and fun a stagecoach adds to parades and rodeos.

It is now 2023, and the event is as important to me as it was on day one. In addition, the Prout Trio, Karen, Gary, and Max are the 2023 Chief Joseph Days Grand Marshals, an honor well deserved! 
Hence, we would like to revisit the story of the Chief Joseph Days Stage Coach with the now-retired incredible volunteers, the Prout and Stanhope families. ~Angelika Ursula Dietrich

Gary Prout

Now in its 75th year the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo is an indelible northeast Oregon tradition. For most of those years a red 19th century stagecoach with bright, yellow wheels has been a big part of that tradition.

This year the horse team of Sadie and Skeeter and their handlers will appear at eleven parades throughout the Northwest promoting Wallowa County’s biggest summertime event.

Built in Concord, New Hampshire Wallowa County founding father Frank McCully bought the stagecoach in1886 and ran a stage line from Elgin to Joseph until 1908 when the Joseph Branch Railroad was completed between the two towns. McCully likely kept the coach in use on a stage line from Joseph to Imnaha for several years after the railroad was built.

In 1966, the year Karen Prout, a member of the stagecoach team, was crowned Chief Joseph Days Rodeo queen the coach was restored and became a permanent fixture at rodeo events and parades.

Gary Prout started helping handle the team and stagecoach with Dave Turner in the early 2000’s. Several years ago Turner handed the reins over to Prout.

“Dave and Darlene Turner owned the trailer, horses and stagecoach and Chief Joseph Days bought it from them,” Prout said.

Six years ago Chief Joseph Days bought a new team of horses that live on a farm with stagecoach team members Lynnea and Stan. Gary Prout said Lynea is the horse expert and cares for their nutrition and medical needs.

Sadie and Skeeter are draft horses and their jobs are to gently pull a stagecoach and to look pretty. Their coats and long tails were well brushed before the CJD program photo shoot on Stan and Lynea Stanhope’s farm, but as Sadie especially likes to roll in the dirt, Gary Prout carefully washed the white star on her face with a large sponge to get her photo ready.

As the stagecoach rolled out of its custom trailer Max Prout explained each member of the team had specific duties preparing the horses and coach for a ride.

“I don’t know all the names of the parts of the harnesses and bridles, so I numbered each step – that way when I go through my checklist I can remember what do,” Max Prout said.

Even putting on the harnesses requires team work as Max and Gary together lift them onto the backs of the horses.

After each buckle is checked and rechecked Max and Gary lead the horses to the coach to be attached to the tongue. When all of the steps have been completed on the checklist and the stagecoach is ready to roll, Max said Karen does a final look over the gear to make sure nothing was missed.

“You can get a much better look at everything from up there,” Max Prout said.

Karen Prout said each year the stagecoach is lovingly maintained from the wheels and tires to the tongue that attaches the coach to the horse team. This painstaking attention to detail has the 132-year old vehicle running smoothly and in mint condition.

What delight it brings when the stagecoach rolls into Wallowa Lake State Park during the week of the rodeo.

Gary Prout said, “How can someone come all the way to the south end of the lake and not know a rodeo is going on? So we take the stagecoach to the park and draw quite a crowd!”

Look for the Chief Joseph Days stagecoach at the Bucking Horse Stampede on Tuesday afternoon in downtown Joseph, the grand parade on Saturday and at the rodeo Friday and Saturday nights.

Gary Prout and Stan Stanhope with the "girls".

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ANGELIKA URSULA DIETRICH, owner and publisher of Wild Horses Thunder and Wild Horses Media Productions, is a professional Freelance Photographer, Videographer, Publisher, Writer, Social Media Consultant, and Website Developer.

Angelika's photography work has been displayed on the front cover of Idaho Magazine (2022), the Nimiipuu Tribal Tribune, Cowboy Lifestyle Network (2021), Cowboys & Indians (2016 & 2018), and in various Oregon and Washington entertainment and vacation publications, Chief Joseph Days Rodeo Program and website (2012-2020), at Art Gallery Festivals, private businesses, as well as for display advertisement for many clients in and out of Wallowa County including the Wallowa County Chieftain (2003-2007).

Between 2007 and 2009, Angelika worked in radio as the news and sports director for owners Lee and Carol Lee Perkins at KWVR Radio in Enterprise, Oregon. After the station was sold, she created Wallowa Valley Online, an independent online news magazine publishing and writing news and engaging in photojournalism.

After ten years of Wallowa Valley Online, Angelika decided to concentrate more on her photography & video productions, and cover and write human interest stories on Wild Horses Thunder - The studio & journal, and volunteer at the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland.

Senior Staff Writer, Journalist, Writer | katylnesbitt@gmail.com | + posts

Katy Nesbitt's accolades include the Capital Press, Oregon Cattlemen Association, La Grande Observer, East Oregonian, Wild Horses Thunder (formerly Wallowa Valley Online), and Chief Joseph Days Rodeo.

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