This blog post piggy-backs on a blog post I wrote for Prairie Rose Publication’s imprint, Fire Star Press, titled “Before the Post Office was the Postal Service.” Especially if you are a writer, you may find some interesting facts about the differences between the Post Office and the Postal Service in it. You may read that post first by clicking HERE.
The old Post Office Department set up post offices in various cities and towns, large and small. Postmasters were selected through a system of political patronage. Congressmen chose postmasters by selecting from applicants. Many times they chose to reward a friend or loyal associate who had provided a benefit either to the congressman, himself, or to the community.
In some isolated areas, it may have been a case of anyone willing to take the job was gratefully awarded it. Still, whether in large cities or tiny towns, a postmaster position meant a regular salary and status. The position was often sought after and regarded as a political plum.
|Classic Wells Fargo stagecoach design in red & yellow.|
Once Rural Free Delivery began in 1896, rural carrier positions were also awarded through political patronage. Other employees were hired. But, in the past, as well as today, much of the mail was moved through contract carriers.
These carriers were not employed by the Post Office, but were either companies or individuals who won a bid for a contract to deliver mail over a set period of time at a given rate in a specific locality.
The following summary of mail service in the gold mining town of Lundy, California may have been typical of mail service in the old wild West:
In my upcoming book, Big Meadows Valentine, my fictional character, Beth Dodd, comes to Lundy on the Lundy and Bodie Stage Line.
|1881 Sonora-Bodie Stage-Courtesy McHenry Museum, Modesto, CA|
In good weather, mail came by coach. When there was snow on the ground, the stage line would switch to sleighs. In bad weather, mail was not reliable. The Homer Mining Index on December 11, 1880 reported: “Little Ed. Hector came through from Bodie with the mail on Tuesday, on horseback, arriving here somewhat in advance of the time. Considering the snow is deep all the way, and that Ed. is a mere child of 10 or 11 years, he may safely be called a plucky little hero.” [The Index got his age wrong. In the 1880 census, he was enumerated at 15 years of age.]
Charley Hector lost the mail contract for five months to a new contractor. He regained it again when that company folded and abandoned its contract. In 1882, Charley Hector was awarded a four-year contract by the Post Office Department to transport mail from Bodie to Lundy, but he also abandoned the contract at the end of 1884 when he ran into financial difficulties.
|Historic Bodie Stage has seen better days- June Lake, CA. Note eastern Sierra-Nevada Mountains|
The winter of 1883-84 Eddie Hector, Charley’s younger brother, was promoted to driving the stage. By January, 1884 when Beth in Big Meadows Valentine arrives in Lundy, Eddie would have been the driver. Heavy snows were typical of the winter in Lundy that year. As a result, the appearance of Eddie carrying the mail was an occasion to rejoice in this small community the winter in which my story takes place. The Homer Mining Index reported on March 8, 1884: “Eddie Hector came in last Tuesday afternoon, two days out from Bodie, with a sleigh - the first vehicle in since the 1st day of February.”
Until the closing of the Bennettville post office in November, 1884, there was one mail route out of Lundy. It was only nine miles long up Lake Canyon, but crossed a mountain ridge at nearly 12,000 feet in elevation. In 1881-82, the carrier was C.W. Curtis who then became Bennettville’s postmaster. In the winters of 1882-83 and 1883-84, the mail was carried by J.L. Redlingshafer on skies during all sorts of weather. Once the Bennettville post office was closed, all mail for that community was handled out of Lundy.
As for Lundy, Henry H. Moody secured the appointment for postmaster on March 26, 1880. He set up the post office in the Senate Saloon owned by Hiram Blackburn. He did not manage his duties well, with most of the complaints being that he wasn’t there half the time or he was drunk. Messrs. Blackburn and Osborne who worked in the saloon had to handle his duties much of the time. The Homer Mining Index pointed out in its July 10, 1880 edition that it was against the law for a post office to be in a place where liquor is served.
In August 1880, the post office was moved out of the saloon and into the store of Rosenwald, Coblentz & Co. Alexander Rosenwald was appointed postmaster and held that position until 1887, after the hey-day of Lundy was past. In March 1881, a new building adjacent to the retail store was completed--"a private outlay for public service"--and became the post office. Fifty post office boxes were installed and general delivery was handled there.
The town of Lundy as it existed in the 1880s is now gone. Due to the dam built on the east end of Lundy Lake, water covers most of the original town site. But, these newspaper reports from Lundy’s history give an interesting insight into how mail delivery was managed in the western towns of the 1800s.
Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press in October 2014 and her novelette, A Christmas Promise, was published by Prairie Rose Publications in November 2014. Her novella, Big Meadows Valentine, will be published shortly. Please visit the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.