JACKSON — A popular tourist attraction in downtown Jackson got a little more Western than usual when a two-horse team pulling a stagecoach at a dead-run down Broadway finally came to a stop, crashing into a street light pole.
No one was hurt in the runaway, which happened at 7:52 p.m. Aug. 20. One of the horses could be seen down on its knees immediately after the accident. Its condition is not known.
“It could have been worse,” said Lt. Russ Ruschill of the Jackson Police Department.
Ruschill is an experienced horseman and heads the department’s mounted patrol. An investigation into the cause of the accident is underway.
According to preliminary reports, the stagecoach crew was knocking off for the night, in the process of unhitching the team to return them to pasture on nearby Cache Creek Drive when something spooked the horses. No one was aboard the coach when the team suddenly began barreling out of control down Broadway toward the town’s busiest intersection.
A webcam video that captured the crash shows the team fast approaching its usual “cab stand” waiting area on the town square when the horses, thankfully, straddle a light pole — one horse skidding to the right of the pole, the other taking the left. Footing was slippery with falling rain at the time of the incident.
“Hitting the light pole was oddly fortuitous," Ruschill said. "It stopped the coach in its tracks. From watching the video, it looks like the horses were trying to pull into their ‘parking space’ but overshot because of unusual speed and rain-soaked concrete.”
As seen in the video, the resulting crash stops the runaway team immediately, causing damage to the carriage’s coachbox. Bystanders rushed to the scene and tried to calm the horses.
The downtown attraction harkens to the “Last and the Best of the Old West,” a marketing motto in frequent use by area commerce promoters. The 12-minute ride circles the town square in downtown Jackson every day of the week from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend.
Accidents Are Rare
Castagno Outfitters has held the concessionaire contract with the town since 2005 and operated the attraction without incident for nearly two decades. A similar runaway incident happened in 2004 under the previous operator, Robert Humphreys.
Witnesses at the Farmers Market on that Saturday morning Sept. 4, 2005, recall an out-of-control stagecoach racing by nearly wiping out several vendor stands. Teamster veteran Joe Hayes, 59, did all he could to rein the team in, steering them until he was knocked from the coachman’s box and catapulted between the horses where he sustained four broken ribs as he was trampled by the horses’ hooves.
Humphreys told Planet Jackson Hole at the time that the horses were spooked by a child running toward them from between parked cars to pet them. He said it was the first time in 20 years an incident had happened with the stagecoach ride that had resulted in injury.
Back In Operation
According to Steve Castagno, the stagecoach ride was back and running the next day after the incident using a flatbed buckboard-style hay wagon ride while repairs are made to the stage.
The accident spurred an opportunity for animal activists and other detractors to call for an end of the stagecoach rides. Several bystanders reportedly made comments about the health and wellness of animals used in attractions like the stagecoach ride.
Powder.com also ran a sensational headline about the incident: “Bizarre Animal Accident Raises Bigger Ethical Questions In Jackson, WY.”
The Castagnos did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily calls for comment.