Mails of the Westward Expansion,
Table of Contents
1803 Louisiana Purchase
The Fur Trade Opens Trails into the Louisiana Purchase
The Fur Trade Moves Westward to the Rockies
Further Westward Expansion, 1845 to 1848
Settling the Western Territories
Early Letter Communications with the West
Evolution of Postal Communications
The Santa Fe Trail
The Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841
Kearny's Army of the West, 1846 to 1847
The Army of the West Captures Santa Fe, 1846
Kearny Divides the Army of the West, 1846
The Occupation of Santa Fe
The Disputed Oregon Territory
History of American Interests in the Pacific Northwest
History of British Interests in the Pacific Northwest
The Hudson's Bay Company Communication System
Overview of Oregon Mail Routes before 1849
Mail via Cape Horn, Direct
Mail via Cape Horn and California
Mail via Cape Horn and Hawaii
Mail via the Mexico Route
The HBC Overland Brigade Route
Overland Mails between Missouri and Oregon
Postal Service of the Provisional Government of Oregon
The Start of the U.S. Postal Service in Oregon
Early American Settlement of California
Early Overland Trips to California
Emigration Begins to Build, 1843 to 1848
California Becomes Part of the United States, 1846 to 1848
Kearny's California Regional Mail Service
Overview of Transcontinental Mail Routes before 1849
Mail via Cape Horn, 1821 to 1835
Mail via Mexico, 1824 to 1846
Mail via Panama, 1846 to 1849
Overland Transcontinental Mails
Military Courier Overland Mail
Gold Shipments from California
Private Newspaper Overland Mails to Missouri, 1848
Other Private Mails, 1848
The Mormon Church Migrates West
Mail between Salt Lake City and the Missouri River
The Babbitt Special Contract Mails
Trail Mail on the Platte River Road
Mail between Salt Lake City and California
United States Mail Steamship Company Contract
Pacific Mail Steamship Company Contract
Transit across the Isthmus of Panama
Early Contract Period, 1848 to 1851
Contract Letters Carried via Panama, 1848 to 1851
Mail Agents on Steamships, 1849 to 1852
Communications between Europe and the West Coast, 1849 to 1851
Contract Mails to and from Oregon, 1849 to 1851
Post Office Mails carried by Opposition Steamships, 1849 to 1850
Middle Contract Period, 1851 to 1855
Contract Letters Carried via Panama, 1851 to 1855
San Francisco Letter bag Operators, 1853 to 1858
Late Contract Period, 1855 to 1861
Contract Letters Carried via Panama, 1855 to 1859
End of the 1847 Ocean Mail Contracts in 1859
Non-Contract Mail via Panama
Contract Route between Salt Lake City and Missouri
Woodson Contract, 1850 to 1854
Magraw Contract, 1854 to 1856
Kimball Contract, 1857
Miles Contract, 1857 to 1858
Hockaday/COC&PPE Contract, 1858 to 1861
Contract Route between Salt Lake City and California
First Chorpenning Contract, 1851 to 1854
Second Chorpenning Contract, 1854 to 1858
Third Chorpenning Contract, 1858 to 1860
COC&PPE Company Contract, 1860 to 1861
Contract Route between Salt Lake City and Oregon
Brown & Torrence Contract, 1851 to 1854
The Vanderbilt Independent Line and the Accessory Transit Company
The Walker Filibuster in Nicaragua, 1855 to 1857
Mail Carried via the Nicaragua Route, 1851 to 1857
Early Communication with Fort Yuma
"Jackass Mail" Contract Route, 1857 to 1860
Butterfield Contract Mail Route, 1858 to 1861
Butterfield Mail Prior to the December 17 Overland Default Order
Post Office Directive Handstamps Prior to the December 17 Default Order
Butterfield Mail After the December 17 Overland Default Order
Post Office Directive Handstamps After the December 17 Default Order
The End of the Southern Butterfield Mail Route
The First Mail Contract between Santa Fe and Independence, 1850 to 1854
The Second Mail Contract between Santa Fe and Independence, 1854 to 1858
The Third Mail Contract between Santa Fe and Independence, 1858 to 1862
Contract Mail between Neosho and Albuquerque, 1858 to 1859
Contract Mail between Kansas City and Stockton, 1858 to 1859
The Route via Tehuantepec
Early Interest in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
The Louisiana Tehuantepec Company Sailing Schedule
Mail Carried via the Tehuantepec Route, 1858 to 1859
End of the Louisiana Tehuantepec Company Mail Contract
Opening the Pikes Peak Region
The Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Company
The Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Company Expands
The "Phantom" U.S. Mail Contract
Further Changes with the Leavenworth & Pikes Peak Company
Further Efforts for a U.S. Contract Mail
The Only Game in Town
COC&PPE Takes Over
Competition Enters the Market
The First Rate Period - April to August 1860
The Second Rate Period - August 1860 to April 1861
The Third Rate Period - April to June 1861
The Fourth Rate Period - July to October 1861
This book was inspired by the research and collection of Floyd E. Risvold, whose extraordinary "American Expansion & the Journey West postal history collection was sold by Spink Shreve Galleries in January 2010. Floyd epitomized the postal history collector. His collection was formed by the pieces of paper carried by long ago mail systems, but his real passion was the history behind those pieces of paper. In this way, for example, he could bring to life the travails of a pony express rider in 1860. In addition, his generous sharing of his discoveries with other collectors was legendary.
Postal history is the study of postal routes, rates, frankings and markings. The best postal history reference sources are official postal documents and contemporary newspaper reports. However, the official record is invariably incomplete, so the examination of surviving pieces of mail, or covers, from the period can fill in the gaps by showing patterns of postal use. The combination of surviving postal artifacts with postal documentation, historical events and geography can be used to accurately re-create the details of a mail delivery system. This is the approach employed in this book.
The transcontinental mail systems described in this book crossed or touched the Rocky Mountains, either over them or by route around them. As further described in this book, these systems evolved because the restless spirit of the 19th Century American created a series of westward emigrations that populated the West and raised the need for communications with those who remained back East.
The United States Post Office Department was slow to extend its services westward, so the first U.S. contract postal routes did not start until 1850. Prior to that, a combination of private and semi-official mail services inadequately addressed the need for communication. Accordingly, this book is organized by western destination prior to the commencement of post office service, and by transcontinental route after 1849.
The authors would like to thank the following individuals or firms who have assisted with this book. Many generously supplied illustrations of covers in their collections and provided valuable insights.
The September 3, 1783 Treaty of Paris with Great Britain set the western border of the newly-independent United States of America at the Mississippi River. Figure 1-1 shows the original territory and the changes to the borders that occurred prior to 1861. These border changes are overlaid on a map of current state boundaries. The map shows the significant westward territorial expansion beyond the Mississippi River that is described in this chapter.
Figure 1-1. Map of the United States showing acquired territories.
1803 Louisiana Purchase
In an effort to assure access along the entire length of the Mississippi River, President Thomas Jefferson initiated discussions with the French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 for the purchase of New Orleans. Faced with expensive hostilities in Europe, Napoleon offered to sell the entire Louisiana Territory, which included New Orleans, for $15 million. The American delegates quickly agreed to the purchase on April 30, 1803. Over considerable domestic opposition, the acquisition was ratified by the U.S. Congress on October 31, 1803. The acquired territory labeled as "Louisiana Purchase" in Figure 1-1 was organized into the Territory of Orleans (today's Louisiana) and the vast District of Louisiana.
Jefferson wasted little time in sending an exploration into the newly-acquired territory. On May 14, 1804, Lewis and Clark left St Louis, Missouri on their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean. The route they chose was by boat up the Missouri River, which took them on a far northerly track through the Dakotas, Montana and Idaho. Following the northerly route again, the expedition returned to St Louis on September 23, 1806. Figure 1-2 shows the route that they followed to Oregon and back.
Figure 1-2. Map of Lewis and Clark's Expedition to the Pacific Coast.
The boundaries of the United States in 1804 had Spanish Texas, New Mexico and California to the south and west. In the northwest, the Oregon Country was jointly contested by the United States and Great Britain, as was the small Red River Settlement region in the north. In addition, Spain held a small claim in the southeast with its Florida Territory. In 1819, the borders with the Spanish territories were ratified by treaty, and Florida was ceded to the United States. As a part of that agreement, the United States agreed to relinquish all claims to Spanish Texas.
The Fur Trade Opens Trails into the Louisiana Purchase
Lewis and Clark returned from their pioneering transcontinental journey to St Louis, and the accounts of their experiences, particularly of the wildlife, inspired a wave of fur trappers into the west. The early fur trade consisted of building forts in the wilderness to trade goods for pelts with Native Indians. St Louis-based Manuel Lisa was among the first Americans to penetrate the upper Missouri River and its tributaries for fur trading. His St Louis Missouri Fur Company (SLMFC) established Fort Raymond at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Big Horn Rivers (in today's Montana) in July 1807, and enjoyed considerable financial success.
That success attracted competition, and John Jacob Astor's mighty American Fur Company (AFC) decided to enter the western fur trade through a subsidiary called the Pacific Fur Company (PFC). In September 1810, Astor sent the ship Tonquin from New York to Oregon via Cape Horn, with a crew of thirty-four. Upon her arrival at the Columbia River in March 1811, the crew set about building Fort Astoria on the site of present-day Astoria, Oregon. Also in March 1811, the PFC sent an overland expedition up the Missouri River under the command of Wilson Price Hunt. Once up the river, Hunt's party moved overland in a westerly direction, crossing the Continental Divide at Teton Pass (in today's
western Wyoming), and continued on to Oregon via the Snake and Columbia Rivers. In February 1812, they reached Fort Astoria. The overland party, under the command of Robert Stuart, then left the fort in June 1812 and returned to St Louis in May 1813. Along the way, they discovered a crossing of the Continental Divide at South Pass (in today's southwestern Wyoming), which would become the main gateway for overland trips in later years. As a result of the War of 1812, the British acquired Fort Astoria in 1813, and it later became an important post of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Table 1-1 lists the earliest known fur trade trips, and shows their focus on the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. These fur trade brigades traveled by keelboat up the Missouri River to its confluence with the Yellowstone River at the border between North Dakota and Montana. They then traveled southwest on the Yellowstone to the Big Horn River. Unfortunately, the Indian tribes of the Upper Missouri aligned with the British during the War of 1812, and hostilities curtailed all organized American fur trading activities from 1812 until 1821.
The Fur Trade Moves Westward to the Rockies
Another St Louis-based competitor, General William Ashley, entered the fur business in 1822, intending to capture a significant portion of the Missouri River business from Manuel Lisa's successor, the Missouri Fur Company. Ashley's plans were thwarted by a June 1823 battle with the Mandan Indians at the Arikara Villages (on the Missouri River in today's northern South Dakota), which stopped his progress up the river. Not to be deterred, Ashley sent an overland trapping expedition west into the Rockies under the command of Jedediah Smith and William Sublette, thus forming the foundation for what would become
Table 1-2 below details the earliest fur trade rendezvous trips.
Table 1-2 shows that, initially, the Ashley supply caravans left St Louis in the fall of each year and wintered in the mountains. They then trapped until the following summer rendezvous and returned with the furs in the fall. Starting in 1826, the fur trade caravans left in the spring of each year and returned in the fall of that same year. They used the Platte River road from a jumping off point along the lower Missouri River (typically Independence, Missouri) to the Rocky Mountains. This route followed the banks of the Platte River and the North Fork of the Platte River to South Pass and then into the trapping areas, and became the foundation for both the later Oregon and California emigration trails. Figure 1-3 shows this trail, along with the locations of the 1825-1840 Fur Trade rendezvous meetings.
Figure 1-3. Map of the Platte River Road and Fur Trade Rendezvous.
Ashley's financial success was noted by other fur trade companies, who hurried to adopt the new business model of sending trappers into the wilderness, and using the annual rendezvous to re-supply and gather furs. By 1834, five competing fur trade companies were vying for business at the rendezvous: the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, the American Fur Company, the Hudson's Bay Company, Nathaniel Wyeth's Columbia River Fishing & Trading Company, and the Bonneville Fur Company.
Typically, only one to three caravans were sent each year (by competing fur trade companies), all departing from St Louis in the March to May period. This was because the caravans travelled in large groups for safety from Indian attacks, and set out only after there was enough prairie grass to feed their horses. The two to three month trip from St Louis also meant that most of the rendezvous meetings were held in June-August.
Early settlers and missionaries, particularly those going overland to Oregon, accompanied fur trade caravans to the annual rendezvous, and then continued with a returning Hudson's Bay Company fur trade caravan to Oregon from the rendezvous.
The fur trade experienced intense competition in 1834-36, followed in 1836-37 by a consolidation that left two major contestants: Astor's American Fur Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. However, a precipitous decline in demand for beaver pelts meant the effective end of the business by 1840. No further rendezvous were held after the June 1840 meeting at the Green River.
Further Westward Expansion, 1845 to 1848
Spain lost its Mexican colonies to independence in 1821, so the United States found itself with a new neighbor. In the 1820s, Mexico encouraged American immigration to Texas in an effort to populate its northern region. The Americans quickly became the majority, and seceded from Mexico in 1836. The new Republic of Texas favored annexation to the United States, but faced initial opposition from the U.S. Congress.
In 1844, James Polk was elected President with a popular mandate to acquire both Texas and Oregon. Polk was also highly intrigued by Mexico's Alta California province, and was concerned that the Pacific coast might fall under the dominion of Great Britain. After failed negotiations to purchase Texas, New Mexico and California from Mexico in November 1845, Polk set a plan into action to forcefully acquire those territories.
Texas was admitted as a state on December 29, 1845, and this precipitated conflict with Mexico, which still claimed Texas as part of its sovereign territory. The United States sent troops to the Rio Grande River to protect its new state, and fighting soon broke out. Consequently, war was declared with Mexico on May 13, 1846. Polk had anticipated this in 1845 by sending naval forces to the coast of California and a small force under Colonel John Frémont overland to California.
The war was disastrous for Mexico. General Stephen Kearny's Army of the West captured Santa Fe, New Mexico on August 18, 1846 before proceeding to California, and the Mexican forces in California surrendered to Frémont on January 13, 1847. The final blow was the loss of Mexico City to General Winfield Scott on May 1, 1847. With few options left, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, which ended hostilities but ceded Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Alta California to the United States.
As shown in Figure 1-1, the United States and Great Britain also had a number of territorial disputes, some of which were resolved by the Treaty of 1818. That agreement established the joint occupation and settlement of the Oregon Territory, and traded British territory around the Red River Settlement for American claims above the 49th parallel in Canada's Alberta province.
The two countries then engaged in a race to control Oregon, with the United States sending numerous missionaries and settlers to the region in 1834-43, and Great Britain's Hudson's Bay Company establishing commercial dominance in the area. This rivalry culminated in the June 15, 1846 agreement to divide the disputed territory along the 49th parallel, with the United States gaining full control of the southern portion encompassing today's states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
In the span of just 45 years, the United States had more than tripled its territory. The major issue remaining was how to settle and incorporate the new territory. Postal communication would play a crucial enabling role in that consolidation.
Settling the Western Territories
After the fur trade blazed the trails across the western wilderness from 1825 to 1833, four major waves of emigration from the United States populated the West from 1843 to 1860. Sporadic missionaries and settlers went west in the intervening decade of 1833 to 1843, but specific events spurred the greater movement westward in 1843 and afterwards.
The first major emigration was to Oregon, spurred by reports from returning missionaries and advocates for settlement such as Jason Lee, Hall Kelley and Marcus Whitman. In addition, Oregon passed the Organic Laws in July 1843, which allowed each settler a claim of up to 160 acres. Consequently, a growing number of emigrants in 1843 increased markedly in 1844 and beyond.
While large numbers of emigrants went to Oregon in 1843-45, a small number split off for California. In 1846, this number increased dramatically (and actually exceeded the number going to Oregon that year), but included the ill-fated Donner Party, whose fate was well publicized back east. Consequently, the
number of emigrants to California decreased markedly in 1847-48. However, news of the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in January 1848 reached New York in August 1848, and precipitated a massive emigration to California in 1849 and beyond.
Persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as the Mormon Church) drove its members from their homes in the East to Nauvoo, Illinois in 1838. Continued troubles and the after-effects of the murder of Joseph Smith in June 1844 led to the expulsion of the Mormons from Illinois in February 1846. Their new leader, Brigham Young, then led them to safety in Winter Quarters on the west bank of the Missouri River in today's Nebraska. Young decided that they should settle on land not wanted by anyone else, and identified the Great Salt Lake valley (owned by Mexico at that time) as the best location for permanent settlement. Accordingly, the first Mormon emigrant train left Winter Quarters on April 5, 1847 and followed the north bank of the Platte River to South Pass. It then proceeded via Fort Bridger to Salt Lake, where its advance elements arrived on July 21, 1847.
Table 1-3 shows the numbers of emigrants to California, Oregon and Utah from 1840 to 1860, as estimated by Unruh in The Plains Across. During the same period of time, the U.S. population grew from 17 million in 1840 to 31 million in 1860.
The fourth wave of emigrants was to Colorado from 1858 to 1860, prompted by the discovery of gold in the Pike's Peak region. By the time of the 1860 census, there were nearly 35,000 settlers, mostly concentrated around the burgeoning town of Denver.
Early Letter Communications with the West
Communication with the new western territories was difficult before 1850. Regular routes were only just being established and opportunities to send mail were infrequent and unreliable. Correspondents had a
choice of sending their letters by sea around Cape Horn, or overland. Of necessity, their communications relied on private parties travelling to or from the West. Chapters Two through Five describe the various options in detail.
From 1825 to 1840, the only possibility for mail to or from the mountains was by fur trade supply caravan. Figure 1-4 shows an extraordinary example carried back from the 1832 fur trade rendezvous.
The writer was Nathaniel Wyeth, a Boston ice merchant who was trying to get into the fur trade and salmon fishing businesses. His party, which was travelling to Oregon, had been escorted to the rendezvous
Before leaving, he wrote this short July 14 note to his brother, complaining about desertions among his men, but expressing optimism that he could make money in the fur trade, "after learning the business." He endorsed it "fav(or) of Mr. Wm L. Sublette" and entrusted it to Sublette for the return journey to St Louis. Following a skirmish with Black Feet Indians, known as the Battle of Pierre's Hole, Sublette left the rendezvous with this letter on July 30 and arrived back in St Louis on October 3. He mailed it unpaid on October 5 in St Louis. It was rated 25 cents due for the greater than 400 miles from St. Louis to Baltimore. This is the earliest known trans-Rocky Mountains letter.
Figure 1-4. Letter dated July 14, 1832 from Pierre's Hole rendezvous, and carried to St Louis by fur trader William Sublette.
Figure 1-5. John Clymer's painting of Sublette's supply train returning from the July 1832 Pierre's Hole rendezvous. Sublette's arm is in a sling from a wound incurred at the Battle of Pierre's Hole.
Wyeth spent the winter of 1832-33 as a guest of John McLoughlin, chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, Oregon. While there, he wrote the January 1833 letter illustrated as Figure 3-17 in Chapter Three. He returned east with an HBC fur trade brigade, which left on February 3 and arrived at the 1833 Green River rendezvous (in today's western Wyoming) on July 16. While there, he contracted with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to supply them at the 1834 rendezvous, and returned to St Louis on October 29, 1833 by boat trip along the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. The following year, Wyeth's supply train left Independence, Missouri on April 28, 1834, but arrived on June 17 - four days after the competition, so he was not able to profitably sell his goods or buy beaver pelts at the rendezvous. Figure 1-6 shows a letter that he wrote at the 1834 rendezvous.
Figure 1-6. Letter datelined June 21, 1834 from the Ham's Fork rendezvous, and carried to St Louis by fur trader Michael Cerré.
This letter was datelined "Ham's Fork of the Colorado of the West Latt. 41°, 45' Long. 112°, 35' W. June 21st 1834" (near today's Granger, Wyoming). In this short letter to his wife, Wyeth expresses uncertainty that his fur business will succeed. He left the rendezvous on July 1 with his supplies, and established Fort Hall in Idaho to sell the goods and trade with the natives. Before leaving, he entrusted this letter to Michael Cerré of the Bonneville Fur Company, who left the rendezvous on July 10 and arrived in St Louis in late August. Cerré gave the letter to St Louis merchants and forwarders Von Phul and McGill, who posted the letter unpaid on September 1. It was rated 25 cents due for the greater than 400 miles to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it arrived on September 16. It was then forwarded twice within Massachusetts for 12 cents in additional postal charges.
Figure 3-21 in Chapter Three also illustrates an 1839 letter carried by missionaries to Oregon, who were escorted there by fur trade brigades.
Evolution of Postal Communications
The growing numbers of settlers in the West demanded adequate letter communications with the United States. Initially, this need was met by private expresses and forwarders that charged a premium fee for the letters that they carried.
The U.S. post office was slow to move into the new western territories. In some cases, such as Astoria and Salt Lake City, official post offices were established, but routes connecting them to the rest of the United States were not put in place until much later. This led to an interesting situation, where postmasters entered into special mail contracts, typically with expressmen already carrying private mails, to carry post office mails on a trip by trip basis for the amount of U.S. postage carried. These "special contract mails" ended when the post office signed route contracts to carry the mails on a regular basis to one of these orphan post offices. The first western postal route contracts were signed in 1850 for the Salt Lake City and Santa Fe routes, as described more fully herein. Special contract mails are known as late as 1860 in Colorado.
Accordingly, this book is organized by pre-contract and post-contract periods for the major postal routes between the United States and the West. The pre-contract period is organized by major destination: southwest to Santa Fe, by sea or overland to Oregon, by sea or overland to California, and overland to Salt Lake City along the Central Route.
The contract period is organized by post office route contract: by sea via Panama, overland on the Central Route, overland on the Southern Route, overland to Santa Fe, and by sea via Tehuantepec, Mexico. Some topics are considered separately, such as Colorado mails and the Pony Express, which had intertwined private and contract mails.
This chapter describes the mails that travelled on the Santa Fe Trail between New Mexico and Missouri from 1821 to 1850. The period began with Mexico's August 24, 1821 independence from Spain, and ended with the July 1, 1850 start of the first U.S. contract mail service between Santa Fe and Independence, Missouri. Unfortunately, prior to Stephen W. Kearny's military expedition to Santa Fe at the start of the Mexican War in 1846, there is a dearth of letter mail known in private or institutional collections.
The Santa Fe Trail
Captain William Becknell, a War of 1812 veteran from Arrow Rock, Missouri (just east of Independence) is considered to be the Father of the Santa Fe Trail. Following the announcement of Mexican independence, he departed from Missouri on a trading expedition, and arrived in Santa Fe in November 1821, after following the route which became known as the Santa Fe Trail. This route, originally touching at Bent's Fort (in today's Colorado) remained the primary mail, commercial and military route to the Southwest for decades. A shortcut over less mountainous terrain known as the Cimarron Cutoff (shown in green in Figure 2-1), was also used. At Santa Fe, the trail connected with a southbound trail to Chihuahua, Mexico known as the El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro (Royal Road to the Interior Lands). This trail provided a conduit for trade with Chihuahua and central Mexico.
Figure 2-1. Santa Fe Trail (in red), Cimarron Cutoff (in green) and the alternate Taos route via Palo Flechado Pass (in blue).
Early mail from American residents in New Mexico was carried privately to Missouri by returning merchants or trappers, usually in the company of a trade caravan. One of the earliest reported examples of mail carried over the Santa Fe Trail is part of Turley Family Papers owned by the Missouri Historical Society, and is illustrated in Figure 2-2.
This letter from Simeon Turley was dated at Taos on August 3, 1841 and addressed to his brother Jesse in Arrow Rock, Missouri. The letter mentions that he is sending it by Nick Gentry (a wagon-master who had first gone to Santa Fe with Charles Bent in 1829) and includes a reference to trade goods being sold, including buffalo robes and beaver pelts. The letter was carried over the Palo Flechado Pass and on the main Santa Fe Trail via Bent's Fort to Independence, Missouri. It was postmarked there on September 13, 1841 and rated for 12½ cents postage due.
Simeon Turley came west from Boone's Lick, Kentucky to Taos in 1830. Like many Americans who wished to settle in the area, he became a Mexican citizen. He was soon engaged in the retail trade in Taos and Santa Fe, dealing in goods imported from the United States by his brother Jesse and others including the Bent brothers. Simeon's primary residence was a few miles north of Taos and his compound included a flour mill and a distillery where large quantities of whiskey ("Taos Lightening") were made. The Turley correspondence includes additional letters that were similarly carried and entered the mails at Independence or delivered directly to the addressee. One of these letters, also dated 1841, accompanied a shipment that included approximately fifty ounces of gold that he had taken from the stream that supplied water to run his flour mill. Simeon was later killed during the Taos Revolt in January 1847.
The Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841
In 1840, Texas President Mirabeau Lamar1 attempted to gain control over the Santa Fe Trail trade and to exert territorial control over much of New Mexico by peaceful persuasion. Failing in that, he resorted to a military expedition in 1841. Lamar raised an invasion force of slightly over 300 men, including merchants carrying trade goods. This group, designated the "Santa Fe Pioneers," departed on June 19, 1841 from a point twenty miles north of Austin, Texas.
By early September the Texans, now split into two groups and worn out from difficult travel, began entering New Mexico near present-day Tucumcari. News of the incursion had previously reached New Mexico's Governor Manuel Armijo, and the Mexican militia was prepared. First, Colonel Cook's party of ninety men surrendered and then the larger body of 200 men under Colonel McCloud also surrendered on October 5 without any shots fired. The prisoners had their property, arms and shoes taken from them, and were marched some 2,000 miles to Mexico City. They were not released until April 1842.
News of the failed Texan Santa Fe expedition was carried to the United States by Manuel Alvarez, the U.S. Consul at Santa Fe. His departure from Santa Fe was delayed for twenty-four days by Governor Armijo, in what Alvarez considered to be an attempt to cause further risk from weather and the Comanches on the trail to Missouri. Alvarez finally left Santa Fe with his party of sixteen men on October 26, 1841. After five of
the party split off to return to Texas, the remaining group continued east on the Santa Fe Trail. During a severe snow storm near Council Bluffs, two men froze to death and 48 of their 67 animals perished. The remaining members of the party arrived at Independence on December 13, 1841.
Kearny's Army of The West, 1846 to 1847
Shortly after the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, General Stephen W. Kearny was assigned the task of capturing New Mexico with his newly-formed "Army of the West." His initial force consisted of approximately 1,800 men, including 600 men from Kearny's U.S. 1st Dragoons, and 800 men from the 1st Regiment of Missouri Mounted Volunteers under Colonel Alexander Doniphan. They began departing from Fort Leavenworth on June 26, 1846 and followed the Santa Fe Trail into Mexico.
The main portion of Kearny's forces arrived at Bent's Fort between July 18 and July 31, 1846. This post on the Arkansas River was considered to be the furthest point of the trail still in the United States. Newspapers reported that a military mail from forward positions passed through Bent's Fort on July 18, 1846 and arrived at Fort Leavenworth on August 18.
The earliest (Figure 2-4) was written by Ebenezer N. Pomeroy, a trader employed by Robert Aull who was traveling with the Army of the West.
The Army of the West Captures Santa Fe, 1846
On August 1, Kearny departed from Bent's Fort into Mexico and arrived with little opposition in Santa Fe on August 18, 1846. Surviving letters suggest that the military began a regular mail service between Fort Leavenworth and Santa Fe shortly after occupying Santa Fe. Table 2-1 shows the known eastbound trips undertaken in 1846.
The regular military mail service was apparently discontinued after General Kearny left Santa Fe in September 1846. Irregular mails continued to be carried after that by returning traders or military couriers.
Two letters from the trader Ebenezer Pomeroy are the earliest known from occupied Santa Fe to Independence. The earlier letter, dated August 30, 1846 from Santa Fe, reported that letters dated in July had been received by the hand of Captain Charles Bent in less than thirty days from the East. The second letter, datelined September 4 is shown in Figure 2-7. This letter was postmarked on October 5 in Independence and rated for five cents postage due. It was part of a mail carried by a group of traders who departed from Santa Fe on September 9, 1846. The October 9, 1846 St Louis Republican reported that the leader of the party of traders had arrived in Independence on October 3 and that the wagon with the mails was to arrive on the following day.
Figure 2-8. September 17, 1846 letter from Santa Fe to Washington, D.C. that entered the mails at Fort Leavenworth on October 17.
Kearny Divides the Army of the West, 1846
After installing Charles Bent as acting civil governor of New Mexico and appointing Colonel Sterling Price as military governor, Kearny divided his Army of the West into three separate forces. The main force under Price was to occupy New Mexico from Santa Fe. Price was on his way from Fort Leavenworth with the 2nd Regiment of Missouri Mounted Volunteers, so Doniphan's 1st Regiment was to wait at Santa Fe until their arrival. Price would then take over occupation duties and Doniphan would mount an expedition southward toward Chihuahua, Mexico.
Price arrived in October, and was soon faced with the Taos Revolt of January 1847. It was quickly suppressed by Price's forces, but not before the murder of several Americans, including Governor Bent at Taos.
Doniphan and his 1,200-man force were ordered to capture El Paso del Norte. After that, he was to join forces with General John Wool at Chihuahua, for further campaigning in northern Mexico. Doniphan
captured El Paso on December 25, 1846, but learned that Wool was not going to be at Chihuahua. Nonetheless, he set off in that direction in the midst of greatly superior enemy forces. He confronted an army four times his size at the Battle of the Sacramento River on February 28, 1847 and swept the field, capturing nearby Chihuahua in the process.
Figure 2-9 shows a letter written on captured stationery, datelined March 6, 1847 at Chihuahua. Lieutenant Hinton wrote that:
This letter left with the March 7 military mail to Santa Fe, and it was carried from there to Independence on May 25. Doniphan's army left Chihuahua on April 23 for Saltillo and Buena Vista, where they finally joined up with General Wool's army.
Meanwhile, the third force, under the command of Kearny, was ordered to travel overland to California to assist in the capture of that strategic territory. Kearny and the 300 men of the 1st Dragoons departed from Santa Fe on September 25, 1846. The newly-raised Mormon Battalion was to follow him to California upon their arrival at Santa Fe.
that mail from a soldier in the 1st Dragoons was datelined October 2, 1846 "En Route to California, 120 miles from Santa Fe."
The Occupation of Santa Fe
After crushing the January 1847 Taos Rebellion, Price settled down to occupation duties in Santa Fe. Contracts for carrying mail were let by the Quartermaster General's office at Fort Leavenworth, and were very irregular. The military in Santa Fe also maintained a sporadic courier service. The letter in Figure 2-11 was carried in one of the military mails.
This letter was datelined "Santafee Sunday Nov. 19th 1848" by military surgeon E.B. Bateman. He gave it to the military quartermaster, who endorsed it "Santa Fee Nov. 20" in military red ink. It was carried by a military courier who left that day but had to return because of adverse weather. He left again on December 20 and reached Fort Leavenworth on February 1,2 where the letter was postmarked and rated for 10 cents due to Illinois.
With the start of contract mail service by the Post Office Department on July 1, 1850, there was no further need for this military mail service.
This chapter will trace the mail communications with the Oregon Country and the Pacific Northwest up to the implementation of contract mail routes and service by the United States post office. The history of British and American interests in the area is interwoven but the two principal threads are treated separately in dealing with the historical background of the area. However, mail communication systems were largely shared and will be examined together based on the mail routes utilized.
The Disputed Oregon Country
Although Spanish and Russian explorers visited the Pacific Northwest prior to 1778, the primary sovereign claimants to the area were Great Britain and the United States. The British explorer James Cook explored the coast of Oregon in 1778 and the American sea captain Robert Gray arrived in the area in 1791 aboard his ship Columbia Rediviva. After spending the winter on what is now Vancouver Island, Gray met the British naval Captain George Vancouver in command of the HMS Discovery on April 29, 1792. Following the meeting, Gray returned to the previously scouted Columbia River and sailed past the sand bars into the estuary and up to the point where Grays River joins the Columbia River. The river was navigated to a similar length by George Vancouver later that same year.
The territory south of the 49th parallel (excepting Vancouver Island) was ceded to the United States, and that north of the parallel to Great Britain.
History of American Interests in the Pacific Northwest
The first permanent establishment in the area was Fort Astoria, located near the mouth of the Columbia River. The trading fort was raised in April-September 1811 as part of John Jacob Astor's scheme to purchase furs in Oregon Country and export them directly to China. His Pacific Fur Company (PFC) had dispatched two parties of men to the area. The first to arrive was on the ship Tonquin, whose officers and crew founded the fort. The second group of men (the Astorians) traveled by an overland route departing from St Louis in March 1811. Instead of following the trail of Lewis and Clark, the expedition took a more southerly route through present day Wyoming to Jackson Hole, across the Teton Mountain Range at Teton Pass and then down the Snake River. Finally they followed the Columbia River to Fort Astoria where they arrived in February 1812.
After the loss of the ship Tonquin during a trading trip to Puget Sound, a group of PFC men led by Robert Stuart departed from Fort Astoria in June 1812 for a return overland journey. The route taken was further south than that taken on the outbound trip and they thereby discovered the South Pass over the Continental Divide. The party then followed the Sweetwater, North Platte, and Platte Rivers to the Missouri River. They arrived in St. Louis in May 1813. A large portion of this route, well documented by Stuart at the time, was later to become the Oregon Trail, as illustrated in Figure 3-2.
Figure 3-2. Map of the Platte River Road and the Oregon Trail.
Due to the risk of loss during the War of 1812, Astor sold Fort Astoria and his Oregon Country operations to the Montreal-based North West Company in October 1813. Following the Anglo-American Treaty of 1818 some Americans began to advocate the settlement of Oregon as a means to gain full control of the territory. Notable among these was Boston's Hall J. Kelley, who took this cause to the U.S. Congress repeatedly until 1832. Kelley lacked the finances to mount his own expedition to the Northwest, so one of his disciples, Nathaniel Wyeth, finally led an expedition in 1832 (described in Chapter One) to survey the commercial potential of the area. His trip to Oregon proved the feasibility of getting there, and his congenial reception there made the journey less forbidding.
Since the United States had no presence in the Oregon Country from 1813 to 1832, the North West Company (merged into the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821) was able to establish full commercial control of the area during that time. A few American fur trappers (notably Jedediah Smith in 1827-29) penetrated into the Northwest, but were driven away by competition from the Hudson's Bay Company.
Then, in June 1831, a delegation from two Northwest Native American tribes traveled with an American Fur Company supply caravan to St Louis. They arrived in October, and asked for help in learning the religion of the "black robes." When news of this reached the eastern United States, the Protestant missionary societies were galvanized into action. They precipitated a wave of missionaries to the Northwest that became the foundation for the re-settlement of Americans in that region. The Methodist Missionary Society and American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) were the first to respond, followed soon by the Catholic Church.
The earliest missionaries traveled overland to Oregon. They accompanied fur trade caravans from Missouri to the various summer rendezvous meetings (see Chapter One). Once there, they needed fur trapper guides to lead them from the rendezvous to Oregon. After 1834, the returning HBC fur brigades escorted travelers to the Northwest. The route taken was to Fort Hall (near today's Pocatello, Idaho) and then along the banks of the Snake River to Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia River. Once on the Columbia River, boats could be used to reach different points in Oregon.
The first missionary to Oregon was the Methodist minister Jason Lee, and he traveled overland with the second Wyeth expedition to the Ham's Fork fur trade rendezvous in June 1834. Wyeth then led him to Oregon, and he arrived at Fort Vancouver on September 16. Lee was followed in 1835 by ABCFM ministers Samuel Parker and Marcus Whitman, who traveled with the American Fur Company supply caravan led by Lucien Fontenelle. They left Missouri on June 22 and arrived at the Green River rendezvous on August 12.
In 1833, Hall J. Kelley finally set out for the West via New Orleans and Mexico, arriving penniless in southern California in early 1834. While there, he convinced Ewing Young and
sixteen men to drive a herd of horses to Oregon. They arrived at Fort Vancouver on October 15, 1834, but HBC officials, thinking that they were horse thieves, gave them a chilly reception. Much offended, Kelley left in March 1835 and returned to the United States bringing stories of abuse by the British in the Northwest. This further inflamed the general desire to re-claim Oregon for the United States, so Lt. William Slacum was sent on the Loriot to investigate Kelley's claims and to survey the northwest coast, arriving in Oregon on December 22, 1836. This was the first in a series of U.S. military explorations into the region, and underscored the growing interest in Oregon by the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, the Methodist Missionary Society decided to reinforce Jason Lee in Oregon with additional missionaries. In 1836 and early 1837, they sent 25 people on two ships from Boston around Cape Horn and via Hawaii to Oregon, where they arrived in May and September 1837. From this point on, the Methodists sent reinforcements on ships around Cape Horn and via Hawaii, while the ABCFM continued to send their missionary reinforcements overland.
In March 1838, Jason Lee returned overland to petition the U. S. government to place Oregon under territorial protection, passing through Westport, Missouri on September 1. Continuing his trip to the East, he preached the virtues of Oregon settlement along the way, which generated much interest. After his lecture in Peoria, Illinois, a group of nineteen men formed the "Peoria Party" under the leadership of T.J. Farnham and Robert Shortess, with the intention to settle permanently in Oregon, and thus counter the influence of the English in that region. They left Independence, Missouri on May 30, 1839 and reached Fort Walla Walla on September 23. This was the first non-missionary party of Oregon settlers to arrive from the East.
In October 1839, Jason Lee returned to Oregon with the Methodist "Great Reinforcement" on a ship via Cape Horn and Hawaii. The Lausanne left New York City on October 9 with 52 people, and arrived in Hawaii on April 10, 1840. It subsequently reached Fort Vancouver, Oregon on June 1, 1840. Table 3-1 summarizes the early trips by missionaries and settlers to Oregon.
A Hudson's Bay Company census in late 1839 counted only 51 non-native adult males in the Oregon Country. By the following year, there were 200 non-native settlers and missionaries, of whom 137 were Americans.1 This clearly showed that the U.S. settlement of Oregon was proceeding at a fast pace, and the HBC became alarmed that they might lose control of the region. In response, they formed a subsidiary called the Puget Sound Agricultural Company and transported 121 Canadians by canoe brigade from the Red River Settlement to a spot near today's Tacoma, Washington in October 1841.
In 1841, half of the Bidwell - Bartelson Party to California (described in Chapter Four) separated from the group at Soda Springs (in present day southeast Idaho) and proceeded to Oregon under the guidance of Thomas Fitzgerald. The next major non-missionary emigrant train of about 120 people was led by Dr. Elijah White and Lansford Hastings in 1842. They left the Independence, Missouri area on May 16 and arrived in Oregon's Willamette River valley on October 5.
More American emigrants to Oregon traveled on the overland trail in 1843 than in all previous years combined. This was the beginning of a flood of American immigrants to Oregon which continued well into the 1850's.
History of British Interests in the Pacific Northwest
Great Britain's Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was the major force in the early development of Canada as well as the Pacific Northwest. The HBC received its royal charter in 1670 as "The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay," and its operations were initially focused on central Canada. When the HBC attempted to expand westward they ran into competition from the North West Company (NWC) which had a strong foothold in the Pacific Northwest. To resolve the bitter feud that developed, the NWC was merged into the much larger HBC in 1821.
After the merger, the HBC held a virtual monopoly over the lucrative fur trade business in British North America. Their territory now extended west to the Pacific Ocean and north to the Arctic Ocean. Managed by Sir George Simpson from 1826 to 1860, the HBC employed 25 chief factors, a further 28 chief traders who shared in profits, as well as some 1,500 additional employees. The primary HBC headquarters in Canada were at Lachine (now part of western Montreal)
After the 1821 merger, the HBC established the Caledonia and Columbia fur districts, which became part of their larger Columbia Department (shown on map in Figure 3-1 as the area shaded pink west of the Continental Divide). In 1825, the newly appointed Chief Factor, John McLoughlin, opened Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River (across the river from present day Portland, Oregon) to serve as the headquarters for the Columbia Department. The 1845 view of the fort shown in Figure 3-3 portrays McLoughlin's headquarters, designated by the flag, from which point he directed 34 outposts and 600 employees engaged in the fur trade throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition, he inaugurated salmon and timber trade with California and Hawaii and introduced farming. The food-stuff production was enough to supply both local needs and provide a surplus for export to Alaska.
Figure 3-3. Lithograph of Fort Vancouver in 1845 from a watercolor by James Warre.
The dominance of the HBC in the Oregon County began to diminish when the market demand for fur dropped significantly in the early 1840s. At the same time, the great number of American immigrants to the southern portion of the department shifted even more power away from Great Britain and the HBC. Following the 1846 Treaty, HBC abandoned all operations in Oregon, including Fort Vancouver.
The Hudson's Bay Company Communication System
From the HBC base of operations for the Columbia Department at Fort Vancouver, Chief Factor John McLoughlin utilized two primary schemes in his system to communicate with other HBC factories and offices in Canada as well as with the HBC home office in London, England.
The two major routes used by the HBC to communicate between the Columbia River and London are shown in Figure 3-4.
Figure 3-4. Map showing primary HBC routes to England. The York Factory Express route in blue and the Cape Horn route in red.
The overland route, shown in blue, ran from the Columbia River over the Rocky Mountains to Norway House and then onward to York Factory. From York Factory, ships traveled across Hudson's Bay into the North Atlantic and eastward to England. The major water route, shown in red, operated via the Pacific Ocean, around Cape Horn, and across the Atlantic to London.
These two primary communication routes, as well as their subsidiary and variant routes, were coordinated in relation to arrival and departure dates. This resulted in a very efficient system that got supplies to the factories, and peltry goods to market, in a timely and economical manner. These routes also formed the basis for communication between the Pacific Northwest and intermediate points east.
The HBC supply ships sent westward from England departed London each May or June and arrived at York Factory in late August or early September (see Appendix B). Eastbound overland expresses departed from the Columbia River each spring and arrived at York Factory to coincide with the ship departures each September. These ships departed before ice became a problem on Hudson's Bay and arrived back in London in October or November. Westbound mail from the United States left each April on the overland route from Lachine via Norway House, and arrived in the Columbia Department in October.
The "via Cape Horn" supply ships sent westward from England departed London mostly in the late fall and arrived at the Columbia River the following spring (Appendix B). The return trips usually departed the Columbia River between October and December and arrived home in London in May or June of the following year. These supply ships often stopped in Honolulu in both directions.
No charge was made by HBC for mail carriage on their routes and the company actually paid postal charges on mail that required prepayment for onward transmission. Although free mail service was provided to persons not employed by HBC, there was a stipulation that such letters could not communicate matters pertaining to their own business or to HBC business. The vast majority of the surviving mail carried by the various HBC expresses originated in, or was addressed to, the interior of Canada and is therefore outside the scope of this book.
Overview of Oregon Mail Routes before 1849
While the HBC employees stationed in Oregon used their own communication systems to correspond with Great Britain, the American residents of Oregon Country had limited channels available for mail communication with the eastern United States. The transcontinental routes outlined below were in use concurrently, and correspondents often chose the route based on the next available departure. All of these routes were slow, with mail usually taking five to six months or more. The brief summaries are ordered by the routes that entailed ocean conveyance followed by the land routes.
Via Cape Horn: This route, comprised of three variations, includes all mails that traveled by ship around the Horn to the United States and England.
Direct: The HBC annual supply ships carried mail in addition to trade goods between England and the Columbia River.
Via California: A few ships, mostly American, carried mail to and from Oregon with intermediate stops along the California coast.
Via Hawaii: In addition to their annual supply ships which occasionally stopped in Hawaii, the HBC ran trading ships between Oregon and Hawaii. The less numerous American trading vessels also traveled on this route. Mail from the eastern United States could be transferred at Honolulu to connect with one of these trading vessels bound to Oregon or in the opposite direction to a ship departing for an American port on the east coast.
Via Mexico and Hawaii: This route, eastbound from Oregon, was by ship to a forwarder in Hawaii, by ship to a forwarder in Mazatlan, Mexico, overland to a forwarder in Vera Cruz, and then by ship to the destination. Westbound mail could be carried on the route in reverse order. The route did not develop until a reliable network of forwarders was established in 1835 and was interrupted by the May 1846 start of the Mexican-American War.
Hudson's Bay Company Overland Brigade: The HBC ran annual "canoe brigades" between their eastern factories and the Oregon Country. American correspondents could utilize this system for their mail with minor restrictions.
Overland between Missouri and Oregon: Travelers on the Oregon Trail also provided opportunities to send mail in both directions.
Mail via Cape Horn, Direct
The first HBC vessel to reach the Columbia River was the William and Ann which departed London on July 27, 1824 and arrived, after a stop at the Galapagos Islands, on April 8, 1825. It departed from the Columbia River on October 25, 1825 and arrived back in London on April 13, 1826. Over the next twenty years prior to the Oregon Treaty, the authors record 28 additional trips that departed from London and landed at the Columbia River. A chart of sailing dates and information derived from HBC archives and period newspaper notices is included in Appendix B. Although the 1846 London departures are included in the table, those HBC ships landed at Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island rather than at the Columbia River due to the abandonment of Fort Vancouver after the partition of Oregon. In the summer interval between arrival at the Columbia River and departure back to England, many of these vessels made coastal trading voyages to California, Hawaii or Alaska.
The earliest reported letter carried by one of the HBC annual supply ships is shown in Figure 3-5. It was written by an HBC sailor who had recently arrived on the HBC ship Dryad. Addressed to London,
Figure 3-5. October 9, 1830 letter from Fort Vancouver to England carried around Cape Horn by the HBC annual supply ship Eagle.
the letter was datelined October 9, 1830 at Fort Vancouver and describes the sailor's trip from the Falkland Islands, via Magellan Strait, Easter Island and Hawaii to Fort Vancouver. The letter was carried on the return voyage of the HBC ship Eagle that departed the Columbia River on October 29, 1830 and arrived in London on April 17, 1831. It entered the mails at Deal, England where it received a "Deal Ship Letter" handstamp and manuscript "1N4" (1 shilling 4 pence) postal rate due. It was postmarked upon arrival at London with their April 18, 1831 backstamp.
A letter carried by an annual HBC supply ship on an outbound voyage to the Columbia River is shown in Figure 3-6. It was datelined at London on December 9, 1834 and addressed to W. Fraser Tolmie at Fort Vancouver, Columbia River. Fresh out of Glasgow University, Tolmie had arrived in Vancouver the previous spring as surgeon and clerk for the post. After delivery of the letter to the HBC office in London, it was endorsed "Col" for "Columbia District" at top left to signify the location of the employee. Other HBC abbreviations are reported for mail directed to York Factory (YF) and Red River Settlement (RRS) but these are outside the scope of this work. Additional 1836 and 1837 examples from the Tolmie correspondence do not show the HBC endorsement. This letter was transmitted on the HBC ship Ganymede which departed London on December 10, 1834 and arrived at the Columbia River on July 27, 1835.
Figure 3-6. December 9, 1834 letter from England to Fort Vancouver, Oregon carried by the HBC annual supply ship Ganymede.
A final example of mail carried by an annual HBC supply ship is the letter shown in Figure 3-7, which originated in Western Australia and traveled around the Horn twice before being delivered to Fort Vancouver.
This exceptional letter was sent from Swan River, Western Australia on November 10, 1845 and was addressed to Henry Sewell, an early immigrant to Oregon from Great Britain. It was endorsed "to the care of the Gentlemen of the Hudsons Bay Company." It was also prepaid 6 pence in cash for the outgoing ship letter charge and bears Guildford and Perth Ship Letter transits. It was then carried on the coastal ship Union to Sydney, New South Wales and onward around Cape Horn to London on a private ship. A further 8 pence postage due was paid upon arrival in London by the HBC, and the letter was then placed on a supply ship bound for the Columbia Department. It cannot be determined which of the two supply ships that departed in the fall of 1846 carried this letter. The HBC ship Cowlitz departed London on October 8, 1846 and arrived at Victoria, Vancouver Island on March 21, 1847 while the HBC ship Mary Dove departed November 3 and arrived at Victoria on April 14, 1847. Both of these vessels landed at Fort Victoria, Vancouver Island rather than at Fort Vancouver, Oregon as the Oregon Treaty had been signed prior to their departures, and the HBC had evacuated Fort Vancouver.
Figure 3-7. November 10, 1845 letter from Western Australia to Fort Vancouver. After arriving in England via Cape Horn it was carried by HBC annual supply ship via Cape Horn to Fort Victoria.
Mail via Cape Horn and California
This route was rarely used, and then only towards the end of the 1840s. An example of a letter that traveled south along the coast to San Francisco and then around the Horn to the eastern United States is shown in Figure 3-8.
Figure 3-8. July 11, 1847 letter written in Salem, Oregon and sent to Connecticut via San Francisco and Cape Horn.
This letter was written at Salem, Oregon on July 11, 1847 and hand-carried to Astoria, where it was entrusted to the newly-installed U.S. postmaster at that place, John Shively. Shively added his manuscript "Astoria Oregon" postmark but had no contract carriers to actually forward the mail. Accordingly, he arranged to have it transported on the bark Whiton, leaving Oregon around November 2. The Whiton arrived at San Francisco on November 10 and, after a stay of about a month, proceeded to Baja California. While there, it participated in two raids on Mexican ports on behalf of the U.S. Navy in its prosecution of the Mexican-American War. The Whiton finally left Mazatlan, Mexico on March 27, 1848 and arrived in New York City on August 4, after a four-month trip around Cape Horn. The letter was postmarked as a ship letter in New York on August 6 with seven cents postage due for the two cents ship fee plus five cents postage.
This letter, consisting of personal news, was written by missionary Orpha Lankton Carter to her parents back east. She had arrived in Oregon aboard the Lausanne in June 1840.
Mail via Cape Horn and Hawaii
Trading voyages by HBC ships and American ships between the Columbia River and Hawaii carried the bulk of the mail between the eastern United States and Oregon prior to the inauguration of contract mail service by steamers. A chart of sailing dates that includes a majority of these trips appears in Appendix B. Forwarders in Honolulu, often the British or U.S. consul, would arrange to trans-ship eastbound mail to a ship returning to the United States, or westbound mail to one of these trading vessels plying between Hawaii and the Columbia River.
The Figure 3-9 map illustrates the routes around Cape Horn between Oregon and the United States. Prevailing trade winds made it faster to send ships via Hawaii than directly up the coast of California to Oregon. Eastbound ships almost invariably stopped at Valparaiso before heading around the Cape, or through the Strait of Magellan, and westbound ships similarly stopped at Rio de Janeiro.
Figure 3-9. Map of the three routes between Oregon and the East which converged at Valparaiso. The direct route is shown in green, the via Honolulu route in blue and the via California route in red.
Figure 3-10. September 26, 1838 letter from Carlisle, Pennsylvania to Oregon sent via Cape Horn and Hawaii.
An exceptional 1838 westbound letter sent via Cape Horn and Hawaii to Oregon is shown in Figure 3-10. This letter is addressed to Mary Walker who, along with her husband Elkanah and Reverends Gray and Eells, came overland to Oregon in 1838 (see Table 3-1). It was posted in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on September 26, 1838 and prepaid 18¾ cents for the postal rate to Boston. It was initially addressed to the Missionary Rooms (of the ABCFM) in Boston, and was also directed to the care of Peter A. Brinsmade, U.S. consul in Honolulu. The Missionary Society in Boston crossed out the Boston portion of the address, and placed the letter on the Fama which left on October 19, carrying Brinsmade back to Hawaii. It arrived in Honolulu on April 6, 1839, where Brinsmade transferred the letter to the brig Thomas Perkins which departed on June 23, 1839 and arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River on August 19. The letter was then carried by canoe to the Tshimakain Mission near today's Spokane, Washington. It probably arrived at the mission on September 16, along with the overland letter illustrated in Figure 3-21.
Another westbound letter to Mary Walker is shown in Figure 3-11. This example was datelined on August 27, 1839 in Portland, Maine and endorsed to the care of Reverend Jason Lee for the recipient at the Oregon Mission.
It was apparently sent under cover to Mr. G. Brown at the Boston missionary rooms, who transmitted the letter to Lee at New York. As previously mentioned, Lee led the Methodist "Great Reinforcement" to Oregon aboard the Lausanne, and he hand-carried this letter to Mary Walker in Oregon. The Lausanne left New York on October 9, 1839 and, after a stop at Honolulu from April 11 to April 28, arrived at Fort Vancouver, Oregon on June 1, 1840.
An eastbound letter written by Reverend Henry Spalding from the Lapwai Mission (in present day Idaho) on August 17, 1842 is shown in Figure 3-12. Spalding had come to Oregon in 1836 with Marcus Whitman as previously described. His eleven-page letter was carried by canoe on the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia Rivers to Fort Vancouver, where it caught the American ship Nerius, which arrived in Hawaii on
Figure 3-11. August 27, 1839 letter from Portland, Maine hand-carried to Oregon via Cape Horn and Hawaii.
October 28. The letter was transferred to the whaling ship George that departed Oahu on December 8 and arrived in New Bedford on May 2, 1843. The letter entered the mails with the New Bedford postmark of May 4, 1843 and was rated for 52 cents due, consisting of the two cents ship fee plus quadruple 12½ cents postage to Connecticut.
Figure 3-12. Letter written August 17, 1842 in the Northwest and sent to Connecticut via Hawaii and Cape Horn.
Another eastbound letter is shown in Figure 3-13. This letter to New York reported on the distribution of bibles in Oregon Territory and was written at Oregon City on July 8, 1848.
It left Astoria on August 1 aboard the brig Eveline, which arrived in Hawaii on August 14. A forwarder in Honolulu transferred it to the whaling ship California, which left Hawaii on September 4 and arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts on January 13, 1849. The letter was postmarked at New Bedford on January 15 with seven cents postage due, consisting of two cents ship fee plus 5 cents postage.
Figure 3-13. A July 8, 1848 letter from Oregon City, Oregon sent via Hawaii and Cape Horn to New York.
Mail via the Mexico Route
This route is described more fully in Chapter Four as it relates to California mail. Unlike correspondents in California, however, Oregon correspondents did not use this route very much, perhaps because the transit through both Hawaii and Mexico was overly cumbersome and slow. Figure 3-14 illustrates an unusual eastbound example from 1841.
Figure 3-14. Letter datelined June 9, 1841 in Fort Vancouver, Oregon and sent via Honolulu, Mazatlan and Vera Cruz to Massachusetts.
This letter, from American trader and ship captain Samuel Varney, was written at Fort Vancouver on June 9, 1841. He placed it on the HBC chartered ship Wave, which arrived in Honolulu on July 20, 1841. A Honolulu forwarder arranged for payment of Mexican postage and sent it on August 5 by the Joseph Peabody to Mazatlan, Mexico. A Mazatlan forwarder arranged to transport it to Vera Cruz, where it received a "Franqueado Vera Cruz" paid backstamp on October 30, reflecting the payment of two reales Mexican postage. It was then carried by the bark Eugenia to New York, where it received a January 13, 1842 "New York Ship" postmark, six months after it was written. It was rated for 20¾ cents postage due for two cents ship fee plus 18¾ cents postage to Massachusetts.
A second example, but carried westbound, is shown in Figure 3-15. This letter is addressed to Mary Walker (see Figures 3-10 and 3-11 for earlier examples of mail to her) and was datelined at Carlisle, Pennsylvania on December 16, 1844. It was sent under cover to 200 Mulberry Street in New York City, where the American Board of Missionary Societies had offices. The missionary society then took this letter in a bundle to the New York post office to prepay postage to Vera Cruz. It was postmarked there on December 21, the date of departure for the ship Genius to Jamaica. The Royal Mail Steamship Co. ship Tay then left Kingston, Jamaica with this letter on January 3 and arrived in Vera Cruz on January 16. At Vera Cruz a forwarder arranged to have it sent under cover to Mazatlan, where it was placed on a ship for Oregon. This letter, along with others, was probably delivered to Tshimakain Mission on October 4, 1845 by Reverend Eels, who had collected them at the Waiilatpu Mission.2
Figure 3-15. Letter datelined December 16, 1844 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and sent via New York and Mexico to Tshimakain Mission in Oregon.
The HBC Overland Brigade Route
The HBC named their various overland expresses in British America by the primary destination served. Thus, the eastbound express from Oregon to York Factory was termed the "York Factory Express" while the express that traveled in opposite direction on the same route from York Factory to the Columbia River was termed the "Columbia Express." The use of canoes on several legs of these trips has given rise to the description of the expresses as "HBC canoe brigades." These expresses connected with ships on Hudson's Bay, so London was the ultimate terminus of these annual HBC overland expresses. However, most
Oregon Country mail sent via these expresses was not carried on the full extent of the route to or from London. Instead, the Oregon mails were usually handled through Lachine.
Commencing in 1825, the eastbound York Factory overland express was scheduled to depart each spring from Fort Vancouver to York Factory with intermediate stops. At Norway House a connecting express continued to Lachine. The express carried fur and peltry goods as well as mail, and arrived in the late summer. The yearly westbound Columbia Express was scheduled to depart from Lachine and York Factory in the spring and arrive in Oregon six months later. The routes connecting York Factory, Moose Factory and Lachine with Fort Vancouver are shown in Figure 3-16.
Figure 3-16. Map showing the HBC route from Fort Vancouver, via York Factory, to England in red and principal routes connecting Norway House with Lachine and Moose Factory in blue.
An article3 entitled "Autobiography of Roderick Finlayson" gives an account of the spring 1839 westbound Columbia Express by an HBC apprentice clerk:
Having received our equipment for the western journey at this place, we parted with our friends at the [York] Factory, and left under the command of Dr. John McLoughlin, then the chief factor in charge of the Columbia district, with many hearty cheers from our friends at the Factory, and proceeded up the Nelson River to Norway House again. Here we exchanged our birch bark canoes for batteaux, for navigating Lake Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan River. From Norway House we coasted along the northwest end of the lake to the mouth of the Saskatchewan River, up which we proceeded, calling at the stations of Fort Carleton, Fort Pitt and Edmonton, on the river. At the last place, the chief station of the Saskatchewan district, we left our bateaux and took horses across the plains to the Athabasca river, to Fort Assiniboine, where we again took birch bark canoes and paddled up the Athabasca River to Jasper's House, in the Rocky Mountains, from this place again took horses and crossed the Rocky Mountains to the head waters of the Columbia river, where we found bateaux again waiting for us, and paddled down the Columbia river, calling at Fort Colville, Okanogan, Walla Walla, stations belonging to the company, and reached Fort Vancouver on the Columbia, the head station of the Columbia district, which we reached almost the middle of November, being six months since I left Fort William on the Ottawa.
The batteaux mentioned were pine or cedar vessels, "made from quarter-inch pine board, and are thirty-two feet long, and six and a half feet wide in midships, with both ends sharp, and without a keel - worked, according to the circumstances of the navigation, with paddles, or with oars."
Typically one of these brigades consisted of 50 to 75 men and was supplemented by Native Americans recruited enroute. From Fort Vancouver, the brigade traveled up the Columbia River via Forts Walla Walla and Colville to the Boat Encampment. From that point, the brigade traveled by land across Athabasca Pass to the Assiniboine River and Fort Assiniboine. The rest of the trip was overland to Fort Edmonton, via the Saskatchewan River to Cumberland House, then via Lake Winnipeg, Norway House, and Nelson River to York Factory.
Once the eastbound York Factory Express reached Norway House, mail matter directed to eastern Canada and the United States was diverted southward, via Fort Alexander and Michipicoten to Lachine (Montreal). Mail directed beyond Montreal was placed in the Canadian mail system for distribution to Canada or the United States.
The earliest reported example in private hands of a letter carried by the York Factory Express from the Oregon Country is shown in Figure 3-17. It is one of three surviving letters written at Fort Vancouver, Oregon on January 16, 1833 by Nathaniel Wyeth (see Chapter One) that were carried by the same express. All were addressed to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The example illustrated was sent to his wife, a second was sent to his brother Jacob, and the third to James Brown.
Figure 3-17. January 16, 1833 letter from Nathaniel Wyeth at Fort Vancouver carried by York Factory Express to Montreal and mailed to the United States.
The letter was endorsed by "Fav. of the Hon. Hudsons Bay Co." and departed with the York Factory overland express shortly after being written. As the letter was addressed to the United States, it would have been included in the bag for the HBC headquarters at Lachine on Montreal Island rather than to York Factory. Upon arrival at Norway House, it was diverted south and carried onward to Lachine. The letter was then placed in the mails at Montreal on August 13 and the Canadian postage of six pence was prepaid
by HBC, since mail from Canada to the United States required prepayment of postage to the border. The letter then entered the U.S. mails from a steamboat that crossed from St. Johns, Canada to Whitehall, New York via Lake Champlain. The distinctive red manuscript "B" applied at Whitehall signifies that it was received from a steamboat. The 18¾ cents U.S. postage due was applied at Whitehall for postage to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The June 1846 Oregon Partition Treaty meant the end of the HBC overland mail service to and from Fort Vancouver. An 1846 letter carried on the last eastbound HBC overland trip is shown in Figure 3-18.
Figure 3-18. February 9, 1846 letter from Fort Colville, Oregon to Massachusetts carried eastward on the last HBC York Factory Express before the Oregon Treaty.
The letter was datelined "Tshimakain, Near Fort Colville, Oregon Mission 9th Feby 1846" (northwest of present day Spokane, Washington) and was addressed to Blandford, Massachusetts. It was given to the HBC York Factory Express at Fort Colville, and entered the mails at Lachine, Canada on October 27, 1846. It was apparently not prepaid with the required postage, since it was endorsed "Postage to the lines not paid" and struck with Montreal's "Returned for Postage" handstamp. After payment of the required 4½ pence postage to the U.S. border by the HBC (as a favor to the sender), the letter was transmitted onward from Montreal on November 18, 1846. This letter entered the U. S. mails at Rouses Point, Vermont at the north end of Lake Champlain rather than at Whitehall as with the 1833 letter in Figure 3-17. Rouse's Point marked it 10 cents postage due for the rate to Blandford. Interestingly, the HBC express leg of this journey took well over a month longer than the 1833 journey, no doubt attributable to the better weather conditions of that earlier year.
This letter was written by Reverend Cushing Eells to one of his benefactors back east. Eells had come to Oregon with his wife and the Elkanah Walkers in 1838. They had been escorted from Westport, Missouri on April 23 by an American Fur Company supply train to the Wind River fur trade rendezvous of that year. They then accompanied an HBC fur trade brigade from the rendezvous to Oregon on August 29. Soon after, the Eells and Walkers established a mission among the Spokane Indians at Tshimakain.
An 1839 letter atypically carried from Oregon by the York Factory Express to England is shown in Figure 3-19.
Figure 3-19. February 1, 1839 letter from Fort Colville to London carried by York Factory Express and then via HBC supply ship from the Hudson's Bay to England.
This letter, written by an HBC employee at their Fort Colville post, was dated February 1, 1839 and was addressed to John Stuart at the Hudson's Bay House in London. It was later re-directed, probably at an HBC sorting office, to Forres, Scotland. The letter was given to the York Factory Express enroute at Fort Colville, and was carried over the "canoe brigade" route as previously described. Unlike the 1833 Wyeth letter in Figure 3-17, it was not diverted to Lachine at Norway House but instead carried to York Factory. It was then placed on the HBC ship Prince Rupert which departed on September 11, 1839 from Hudson's Bay. Her first port in England was Brighton, where the mails were off-loaded. This letter entered the English mails for Scotland with a "Ship Letter Brighton" stepped handstamp and manuscript two shilling eight pence due postal rating. The letter was postmarked in transit at London on October 15. Interestingly, the mails arrived in London in advance of the HBC ship which did not arrive at London until the following day (Appendix B).
An extraordinary example of an 1844 westbound letter carried by the Columbia Express is shown in Figure 3-20. It is addressed to the well-known Methodist missionary, Henry Bridgman Brewer, who had immigrated to Oregon on the ship Lausanne in June 1840. The letter bears a detailed address and handling directive, "care of James Keith, Lachine L.C., H. Bay Company Express to Columbia River, Columbia River, Dallas Station." It was prepaid 25 cents at Wilbraham, Massachusetts on April 6 for the United States postage to the Canadian border. It bears an April 13 Lachine, Lower Canada arrival backstamp, as well as the correct "4½" pence due notation for postage from the border point of Rouse's Point, Vermont to Lachine.
Figure 3-20. April 6, 1844 letter carried westbound on the HBC Columbia Express to Dalles Station, Columbia River.
The HBC paid the 4½ pence Canadian postage, included the letter in the mail bag carried on their 1844 Columbia Express overland trip and dropped it off at The Dalles, just up the river from Fort Vancouver. Reverend Brewer docketed the letter on reverse with his notation of senders' names as well as "(received) By Express Boat, Oct 29, 1844."
Overland Mails between Missouri and Oregon
There were few opportunities to send mail overland along the Oregon Trail from 1835 to 1840. A single annual westbound overland party could only leave in the spring of each year. There were even fewer opportunities to send eastbound mail, since very few travelers returned east overland until the mid-1840's. After 1843, there were numerous travelers going in each direction, and overland mail volumes picked up significantly. An exceptional 1839 westbound letter carried overland to Oregon is shown in Figure 3-21. This letter was mailed in East Baldwin, Maine on March 20, 1839 and was prepaid 25 cents for the rate to Missouri.
Figure 3-21. Letter posted March 20, 1839 in East Baldwin, Maine, and sent to Oregon via Westport, Missouri.
It is addressed to Reverend Elkanah Walker (see Figure 3-10 for an example of a letter to his wife Mary) to the care of Jason Lee at Westport, Missouri. Lee had passed through Westport on September 1, 1838 during his overland journey from Oregon to the East, and the writer of this letter expected him to return that way. As described previously, though, Lee returned by ship to Oregon, so this letter was held at Westport. Since there were no post roads to Oregon, the postmaster was authorized to forward the mail by any means available. In this case, he entrusted the letter to the Griffin - Munger missionary party leaving Westport on May 4, 1839 with an American Fur Company supply caravan led by Moses Harris. They arrived at the Green River rendezvous on July 5. On July 10, the Griffin - Munger party was escorted from the rendezvous to Oregon by an HBC fur trade brigade led by Francis Ermatinger. This letter from Mary's family was finally delivered to the Walkers at the Tshimakain Mission in Oregon on September 16.
An 1842 missionary letter carried overland in the opposite direction to Connecticut via Missouri is shown in Figure 3-22.
Figure 3-22. Letter dated February 23, 1842 from Waskopam Mission in Oregon, and sent to Connecticut via Westport, Missouri on December 7.
This letter was datelined "Oregon Territory Waskopam Mission Jan. 21 1842" by Henry Bridgman Brewer (see Figure 3-20 for a letter addressed to Brewer). It was initially endorsed to be carried by the Hudson Bay express per the manuscript "Per H.B. Co. Express" at the lower left. This endorsement was crossed out, and Brewer's journal explains that the letter was carried overland by William Fowler, who was returning east to get his family. He mailed Brewer's letter at Westport, Missouri on December 7, 1842, where it was postmarked and rated 25 cents due for the postage to Connecticut.
Fowler had originally come to Oregon with part of the Bidwell - Bartleson party in 1841. Under the leadership of former fur trader Thomas Fitzpatrick, the so-called Western Emigration Society from Illinois set out from Independence, Missouri on May 12, 1841. Fowler was part of the group that continued on to The Dalles, Oregon with Fitzpatrick, while the rest of the party went to California with Bidwell and Bartleson.
Brewer's letter to his father-in-law consisted mainly of a family update, and a description of the various Methodist Missions in Oregon. He closed with an appeal for return letters:
Please write every year by the way of Canada. Send letters to Lachine U.C. by the first of March (post paid) to the care of the agent of the H.(udson's) B.(ay) Co. and in October following we shall receive them. The express passes hereabout the 20th of Oct. You can send letters or packages to the S.(andwich) Islands almost every month in the year I think. Vessels come from the Islands here very frequently...This will leave in March by the express boats.
A postscript dated February 23, 1842 explained that, "I have an unexpected opportunity of sending this direct to the States" indicating Brewer's intention to send the letter overland with William Fowler, rather than by the HBC overland express via Canada.
As the immigrant population of Oregon grew, the number of people returning overland to the eastern United States grew as well. These were men returning to collect their families, as Fowler did when he returned east in 1842, people returning to buy essential supplies, or people who had simply become disillusioned with their prospects in the Pacific Northwest. As a consequence, there were more opportunities to send mail back east, since these travelers were willing to carry mail to a post office in Missouri. Depending on the route taken by the traveler, the mail could enter a number of different Missouri post offices.
A letter written by Henry Bridgman Brewer to his mother in Massachusetts on May 1, 1845 is shown in Figure 3-23. This letter was endorsed "Pr Mr Shively" at the lower left. John M. Shively had immigrated to Oregon in 1843 with the Burnett-Gantt Oregon Emigration Company. This large party left Independence, Missouri on May 3, 1843 and arrived at Fort Vancouver, Oregon on October 24. Shively stayed in Oregon until May 1845, when he left to lobby in Washington, D.C. for a U.S. mail service to Oregon. During his return, he passed through Independence where he mailed this letter unpaid. It was postmarked August 16 and rated for 10 cents postage due.
Figure 3-23. Letter dated May 1, 1845 from Waskopam, Oregon and sent to Massachusetts via Independence, Missouri on August 16. (Courtesy of Washington State Historical Society).
The letter was datelined "Wascopam O.T. April 24, 1845," and was a reply to the letter illustrated in Figure 3-20. Brewer wrote:
One year ago you was writing the letter that now lies before me. I rec'd it by the express boats last Oct. I should have answered it before but I am waiting to send it by land as letters by land I think usually reach you sooner than by ship.
An 1848 overland letter with important content is shown in Figure 3-24. This letter was datelined "Tualatin Plains Oregon Ter. April 8 48" by Reverend Harvey Clark. The letter was carried privately to
Figure 3-24. Letter dated April 8, 1848 from Tualatin Plains, Oregon, and sent to New York via Savannah, Missouri on July 27.
Missouri, even though U.S. post offices had been established at Astoria, Oregon and Oregon City a year earlier. The U.S. mail facilities would handle the vast majority of Oregon's mail from 1849 onwards.
Clark had come to Oregon in 1840 with the last supply caravan to a fur trade rendezvous. He had departed from Westport, Missouri on April 30, 1840 under the guidance of Andrew Drips, and was then was guided by Joe Meek from the 1840 Green River rendezvous to Oregon, where he arrived on December 15. He taught at various missions in the succeeding eighteen years.
In his letter Clark referred to the 1847 Whitman Massacre:
For a few weeks past our otherwise bright prospects have been darkened by savage cruelty and superstition. On the 29th Nov. Dr. Whitman and his wife and 12 white men americans including two lads nearly grown were murdered at the Whitman station. It is utterly impossible to ascertain the whole truth on this melancholy subject...The Indians were sick and many dying perhaps 30 in a few weeks including young and old. The Doctor was all attention night and day. The Indians were told (as all accounts prove) that the Doctor was giving poison or bad medicine consequently they decided to kill Dr and Mrs Whitman.
He then described the growing competition between the Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries in Oregon. The letter was carried overland and posted unpaid in Savannah, Missouri on July 27, 1848, where it was rated 10 cents due for the postage to New York.
Postal Service of the Provisional Government of Oregon
From May 2, 1843 until the March 3, 1849 establishment of the Oregon Territory, the Provisional Government of Oregon served the Oregon Country as an independent government with elected representatives. Among other actions, they addressed mail services, underscoring the importance of reliable communication to the Oregon settlers.
A June 28, 1845 letter from the provisional government's Executive Committee to the Legislative Committee recommended: "That a public mail be established, to arrive and depart monthly from Oregon City and Independence [Missouri], and such other local mail routes be established as are essential to the Willamette country and other settlements."
Then, in December 1845, the provisional government enacted a law establishing a general post office at the capital city of Oregon City with William G. T'Vault as postmaster-general. The law also set postal rates for a single sheet conveyed for a distance not exceeding 30 miles at 15 cents; over and not exceeding 80 miles, 25 cents; over and not exceeding 200 miles, 30 cents; over 200 miles 50 cents. Newspapers were to be charged four cents each.
The earliest record of a mail was reported by postmaster and editor T'Vault in the Oregon Spectator's first issue of February 5, 1846 which included the following notice:
The Postmaster General has contracted with Mr. H(ugh) Burns to carry the mail from Oregon City to Weston, in Missouri [present day Kansas City], for one trip only. Letters mailed at any of the offices, post paid, will be forwarded to any part of the United States. As the mail sent East by Mr. Burns will reach Weston early in the season, it would be advisable for those wishing to correspond with their friends in the East, to avail themselves of the opportunity. Postage only fifty cents on single sheets.
It appears from newspaper accounts that Hugh Burns did not physically carry this mail for the 25 percent commission that he was allowed. Rather, it was almost certainly carried east by J. Bond, W. Parkinson, W. Delany and two others. A report of their arrival in Independence, Missouri was published in the July 4, 1846 Independence Expositor. It mentioned that the party left Oregon City direct for the States on March 1 and arrived in Independence on June 30, 1846. The article also explained that their trip had been delayed by snow storms in the Rockies and that they were at Fort Laramie on June 10. Although no specific mention was made of mail having been carried, reports in the St. Louis Reveille of slightly later date mentioned receipt of the first issue of the Oregon Spectator in St. Louis. Interestingly, copies of the first three issues of the Oregon Spectator also arrived in Montreal via the HBC "canoe brigade" express and were reported in August 1846 newspaper accounts.
Unfortunately there are no provisional post office letters that can be positively identified as having been carried by this express, although there is one letter that has been described that way. There are, however, surviving letters that were carried privately by members of the larger party of men that joined the five "Burns" men at Whitman's station before crossing the mountains. This larger "Spring Party" of 18 men departed on March 18, 1846 and traveled together beyond Fort Laramie which they reached on June 8. The party split up in mid June near the forks of the Platte River (in present-day western Nebraska) and traveled by divergent paths to Missouri. One such letter is shown in Figure 3-25.
Figure 3-25. Letter dated January 1, 1846 from Oregon City, Oregon and sent to Connecticut via St Joseph, Missouri on July 8.
This letter was datelined from Oregon City (Figure 3-26) on January 1, 1846 and was written by Benjamin Stark to his father. It was also endorsed at the lower left, "Ford By Yo(ur) Mo(st) Ob(edient) S(ervant) I.B. Wall." In the letter, Stark explained that:
I send this letter by the party crossing the mountains in the Spring. It may or may not anticipate letters which I shall forward immediately on my arrival at the Sandwich Islands. As I have a communication to make to you, of considerable importance should it be the last you have, I have availed myself of this way and by Hudson's Bay Co's express to Montreal, to ensure its safe delivery.
Another Spring Party overland letter is shown in Figure 3-27. This letter was datelined "Yam Hill, Oregon Territory 7th February 1846," addressed to East Chester, New York, and endorsed "Via Platte City Mo." The writer of the letter, William Dawson, had traveled overland to Oregon in May 1845 with Joel Palmer in a party led by Joe Meek.
Figure 3-27. Letter dated February 7, 1846 from Yam Hill, Oregon and sent to Connecticut via Hills Point, Missouri on July 11.
While there is no specific reference to the letter carrier, it can be deduced that Joel Palmer carried it on his return trip to the East to collect his family. Palmer left Oregon City four days after the Burns
According to his published journal, Palmer arrived in St Joseph, Missouri on July 7. He continued south on the Platte River and mailed the letter at Hills Point, Missouri (southeast of St. Joseph on the Platte River) where it was postmarked on July 11 with 10 cents postage collect.
In December 1846, the Oregon Provisional Government Postmaster General William T'Vault reported:
The law establishing the post office department needs altering materially. It was found after being in operation but a short time, that the rates of postage were altogether too high, amounting indeed to a prohibition; the revenue arose almost entirely from postage on newspapers, but fell so far short of the expenses, that the Postmaster General, at the close of the third quarter [September 30, 1846] stopped sending the mail. I would recommend that the rates of postage be reduced to five cents on each letter; double letters and packages in proportion, and one cent on
each newspaper. A mail route should be kept up between the principal sections of our territory, and I have no doubt, if the postage is reduced, the revenue arising from receipts of the office, would very nearly or quite pay expenses.
Although the post office of the Oregon Provisional Government remained technically lawful, postal operations in Oregon effectively ceased until the United States established postal facilities in 1847.
The Start of the U.S. Postal Service in Oregon
After the Oregon boundary dispute with Great Britain was resolved on June 15, 1846 the U.S. Congress authorized postal facilities, routes and special postal rates for the newly-acquired region on March 3, 1847. A post office was established at Astoria, and rates between Oregon and the United States were set at 40 cents per half ounce.
The Postmaster General acted quickly on this legislation, and appointed John M. Shively postmaster of Astoria on March 9, 1847. Shively had to travel from Washington, D.C. to assume his new post, so the Postmaster General also contracted with him to carry the first post office mail from Independence, Missouri to Astoria, Oregon. Shively's compensation for this was the postage on the letters carried by him to Oregon.
Shively was already very familiar with Oregon. For his first trip to Oregon, he had joined the 700-person Burnett - Gantt overland party (also called the Oregon Emigration Company), which left Independence on May 3, 1843 and traveled via South Pass and Fort Hall to Fort Vancouver, Oregon on October 24, 1843. Shively made a land claim at Astoria in 1844, but the HBC disputed the claim and he was forced to
With his postmaster appointment and contract mail in hand, Shively left Independence once again on April 28, 1847 and traveled overland to Astoria, Oregon on September 7. One letter carried by him in this first contract mail across the Rocky Mountains is known, and is illustrated in Figure 3-28.
This letter was posted in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania on August 17, 1846, prepaid 10 cents postage to Independence, Missouri. The letter was endorsed at lower left, "To the care of the Post Master at Independence Jackson County Mo to be forwarded the first opportunity." It arrived at Independence too late for the annual emigrant wagon trains, so it was held there. In the meantime, the Independence postmaster received the following March 25, 1847 instructions from the 1st Assistant Postmaster General:
Figure 3-28. Letter posted August 17, 1846 in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania and sent via Missouri and Oregon to Sonoma, California.
You are hereby instructed...to deliver all mail matter which may reach your Office on or before the 15th of April 1847 to J.M. Shively, who will present this communication. You will be pleased to report to this Office the amount of postages upon all prepaid letters delivered to Mr. Shively under the foregoing instructions.
In April, the Independence postmaster complied with these instructions and delivered the letter to Shively, who carried it overland to Astoria on September 7, 1847. Once in Astoria, Shively assumed his postmaster duties, and postmarked the letter with a manuscript "Astoria Ore" postmark. This is one of two known manuscript Astoria postmarks, and the other is illustrated in Figure 3-8. Unsure of the correct rates, Shively rated this letter as 50 cents due, possibly thinking of 40 cents for the overland trip to Oregon plus 10 cents from Oregon to Sonoma, California. Just as with Figure 3-8, Shively contracted with the ship Whiton to carry this letter. It left Astoria around November 2, 1847 and arrived in San Francisco on November 10. It was probably hand-carried to nearby Sonoma from San Francisco.
The addressee, Ralph Lee Kilburn, had been a member of the Peoria Party which had been so influenced by Jason Lee's lecture about Oregon in 1838. He set out from Missouri in May 1839 and reached Fort Walla Walla, Oregon in May 1840. He was not satisfied with the conditions in Oregon, so he helped construct the Oregon Star, which was the first ship built in Oregon. Along with a group of men, he set sail on August 29, 1842 and reached San Francisco on September 17. He later settled in Napa Valley, and planted orchards and grapes.
This chapter describes the mail systems that connected California with the East prior to the March 1849 establishment of the U.S. Post Office contract mail routes and service between New York and San Francisco via Panama.
Early American Settlement of California
While Mexico was under the control of the Spanish Crown, all settlement and trading by foreigners was prohibited in the province of Alta California. As a result, when Mexico gained its independence with the signing of the Treaty of Cordoba on August 24, 1821, there were only about twenty foreigners living in the portion of the province that is now California.
Upon the establishment of a republican government in Mexico in 1823, Alta California was not granted status as a constituent state because of its small population, and instead was designated as a territory, with Monterey as the capital.
Mexico soon recognized the revenue-generating potential of a regulated and taxed trade, and relaxed the previous prohibitions against foreign trade and settlement. This effectively opened the California coast and ports to foreign ships and the lucrative hide and tallow trade. Stories about the natural wealth of California also drew some adventuresome settlers to the region, most arriving by ship, and the foreign population of California grew to an estimated 120 persons by 1830. This number grew slowly to about 240 by 1835, 380 in 1840 and 680 in 1845.1 This growth was fueled in part by November 1828 Mexican regulations which allowed settlement in California by foreigners. However, substantive settlement had to wait for the August 1834 decree by Alta California Governor Figueroa that secularized the Franciscan Missions, and opened up large portions of the desirable coastline property to settlement. This availability of prime land drew ranchers and farmers to the region, and the increase in trade along the coast greatly improved their prospects of economic success. In 1836, Alta California was recognized as a department of Mexico and was granted additional autonomy.
While there is no known mail sent from Mexican post offices in Alta California to the United States, the regional postal routes established in the Spanish period continued to operate. Figure 4-1 shows an 1834 example of mail sent within Alta California during the Mexican period.
This letter was written in Monterey on June 17, 1834 by California Governor Jose Figueroa to Ferdinand Deppe in San Diego. Figueroa was governor of Alta California from January 1833 until his death in September 1835. In his additional capacity as commander of the California military forces, he handstamped the letter with his administrative "Comandancia General de la alta California" cachet and entrusted it to the Mexican post. It was postmarked "FRANCO ALTA CALIFORNIA" and sent to San Diego. This is the earliest handstamped postmark known applied in present day California. Other reported uses handled by the Mexican post office in California bear only handstamped or manuscript rate markings.
Figure 4-1. June 17, 1834 letter from Monterey to San Diego.
Ferdinand Deppe, the addressee, was a German naturalist working as a supercargo (owner's agent) for a fleet of ships engaged in trading between Mexico and the California coast. In his spare time, he collected horticultural specimens and sketched the California countryside. Figure 4-2 shows an oil painting that he did in 1832 of the San Gabriel Mission (near Los Angeles).
Figure 4-2. San Gabriel Mission painting by Ferdinand Deppe in 1832. (Santa Barbara Mission Archive Library)
Early Overland Trips to California
The first recorded overland trips from the United States to California were by Jedediah Smith and his company of fur traders, who took two trips to California in 1826-1827. Smith's westbound route was via
On May 12, 1841, the 64-person Bidwell - Bartleson party (also known as the Western Emigration Society) left Independence, Missouri with the stated aim of reaching California under the guidance of former fur trapper Thomas Fitzpatrick. This was the first overland emigration party to designate California as its destination. The party reached Soda Springs (in present day southeast Idaho, near Fort Hall) on September 24, where half of the party headed toward
Figure 4-3. Map showing the California Trail (green) and the Old Spanish Trail (red).
Oregon under the leadership of Fitzpatrick, and half continued on to California under the leadership of Bidwell and Bartleson. The California group followed the Humboldt River to the San Joaquin Valley via Sonora Pass. They first viewed San Francisco Bay on November 5, 1841. Another 24-person group, led by
Rowland and Workman, left Santa Fe on September 6, 1841 and took the Old Spanish Trail via the Colorado River to Los Angeles, where they arrived on November 5.
Emigration Begins to Build, 1843 to 1848
Even after the success of the two 1841 overland parties, very few settlers came to California. Then, in 1843, Frémont's much publicized second expedition passed through California on its return to the East from Oregon, and Joseph Chiles (who had been with the 1841 Bidwell - Bartleson party) led the third emigrant train to California. Chiles was followed by a growing number of emigrant parties in the next few years, including the ill-fated Donner party in the peak year of 1846.
Even though the overland trip took up to five months, most emigration from the United States was overland, since the alternative routes via Cape Horn, Mexico or Panama were even less attractive. The tedious trip by sailing ship around Cape Horn took up to six months, while the shorter transcontinental routes crossing Mexico or Panama held dangers from disease and attack by bandits. The table below presents the number of yearly overland emigrants to California from 1840 to 18482 and the reported population of foreigners in California in 1840 and 1845.3 In addition to those Americans classified as overland emigrants, there were many who were employed on vessels operating along the California coast. Much of the surviving mail from this period is from Americans on vessels trading along the California coast.
The number of overland travelers to California dropped precipitously after 1846, in part attributable to the negative reports surrounding the fate of the Donner party.
The numbers in the table above do not include the U.S. military units sent to capture California: Frémont's 1845 Expedition arrived at Sutter's Fort on December 9, 1845 with 60 men; the Pacific Naval squadron brought 2,210 men, including 400 marines, to the coast in 1845 and 1846; Kearney and a portion of the Army of the West arrived in San Diego on December 15, 1846 with 80 men; the USS Lexington arrived at Monterey on January 27, 1847 with 118 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Artillery; the 500 man Mormon Battalion arrived at San Diego from Santa Fe on January 29, 1847 and 770 soldiers of the 1st NY Volunteers arrived
by ship at San Francisco in March and April 1847. Many of these additional 3,758 sailors and soldiers settled in California after the end of the war in 1848.
California Becomes Part of the United States, 1846 to 1848
Prior to the outbreak of the Mexican War, the United States sent John C. Frémont on ovrland expeditions in 1843 and 1845 to gather intelligence about the region. The Navy's Pacific Squadron, under Commodore John D. Sloat, was instructed in 1845 to land in Alta California and to claim it for the United States in the event of war.
Following the United States' declaration of war with Mexico on May 13, 1846, Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft sent copies of his formal instructions to take California to Commodore Sloat by at least five separate conveyances. An envelope that likely carried one of these missives is shown in Figure 4-4 and illustrates the long delay and unreliability of communication. It was carried by Henry Lindsey on his trip from Boston around the Horn to the Pacific Ocean. Lindsey departed on June 22, 1846 carrying official dispatches but did not reach Panama until July 23, 1846. By this time Sloat had already claimed Alta California for the United States by raising the American flag at Monterey on July 7 and had turned over command of US Naval forces to Commodore Robert F. Stockton on July 23. While on station off Mazatlan, Sloat had previously received news of fighting on the Texas border and was able to beat the British Navy, also anxious to gain control of California, to Monterey.
Figure 4-4. June 1846 Navy Department handstamped cover addressed to Commodore Sloat and carried by Henry Lindsey.
John C. Frémont's 1845 expedition, which included Lieutenant C.H. (Kit) Carson in its ranks, was also on the West Coast at the outbreak of hostilities and played a crucial role in wresting control of California from Mexican rule. On June 14, 1846 settlers at Sonoma, with the tacit support of Frémont, had revolted against Mexican authority, raised the Bear Flag, and proclaimed the Bear Flag Republic by declaring California to
be free and independent. One month later, Frémont and the rebels were mustered into United States service as the California Battalion.
Kearny's California Regional Mail Service
The United States also sent a military force under General Stephen W. Kearny overland from Santa Fe to California, where Kearny arrived in December 1846. After some initial disagreements between Stockton, Frémont and Kearny, Kearny became military governor. Governor Kearny soon established a regional military mail service that carried the first official U.S. mail on the West Coast. Kearny's twice-monthly mail system within California was designed to facilitate communication between the various military forces distributed throughout the region. Although operated by the military, letters from civilians were authorized to be carried and all mail was carried free of charge.4 The Saturday, April 17, 1847 California Star announced that:
REGULAR MAIL. Our readers will be pleased to learn that Gov. Kearny has established a semi-monthly mail, to run regularly between San Francisco and San Diego. This mail is to be carried on horseback, by a party consisting of two soldiers; and is to commence on the 19th inst. Starting every other Monday from San Diego, and San Francisco, the parties to meet at Captain Dana's Ranch, the next Saturday to exchange Mails; and start back on their respective routes the next morning, and arrive at San Diego and San Francisco, on the Sunday following, and so continuing.
Figure 4-5. Map of the 1847 mail route between San Francisco and San Diego, California.
The route, shown in Figure 4-5, followed a portion of the old Spanish Royal Road ("Camino Real") which had been used since the colonial period to connect the California Missions with Mexico City.
An example of a letter carried on this route is shown in Figure 4-6.
Figure 4-6. December 27, 1847 letter from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
This folded letter was datelined December 26, 1847 at San Francisco, and addressed to William Howard at Los Angeles. It was endorsed "San Francisco Dec 27" at top in red ink, typical of military endorsements of the time. This endorsement was probably written by Captain Joseph L. Folsom who was acting military postmaster at the time. December 27 was a Monday that corresponds with a scheduled departure. The writer of this letter, Henry Mellus, came to California in 1835 as a sailor before the mast in the ship Pilgrim along with the well-known author, Richard Henry Dana. Mellus served as agent for Appleton & Co. in the hide and tallow trade before partnering with William Howard in purchasing the Hudson Bay Co. property in San Francisco in 1846.
Lieutenant William T. Sherman curtailed this service on August 11, 18485 by restricting it to the route between San Francisco and Monterey. Shortly thereafter, the establishment of the U.S. postal service in California during the first half of 1849 eliminated any further need for this military courier service.
Overview of Transcontinental Mail Routes before 1849
Visiting American traders and the few foreign residents of Alta California had few channels available for mail communication with their primarily eastern correspondents. This portion of the chapter will examine those available channels. As new routes and systems became available that provided more rapid transmission of news and mail, they quickly became the primary channel. Although there is some overlap with continuing use of a route after faster routes became operational, the primary mail routes followed a linear progression over time. Overland routes which served as alternatives to the ocean routes were rarely used.
This succession of primary routes follows the following outline, which includes a brief summary, and corresponds to the order in which the routes will be presented.
Via Cape Horn (to 1835): By ship around Cape Horn, a voyage of five to six months. Although this route took the longest time, there were frequent opportunities to send letters by whalers or trading ships leaving for California or returning home.
Via Mexico (1824-1846): By ship to the coast of Mexico, overland between Mazatlan and Vera Cruz, and then by ship to the destination. This system utilized forwarders to direct mail across Mexico and mail transmission usually took only two to four months. This route was slow to develop, and became the primary route in 1835 after a reliable network of forwarders was established. It was interrupted by the May 1846 start of the Mexican War and rarely used after.
Via Panama (1846-1849): By ship to the coast of Panama, overland between Panama City and Chagres, and then by ship to the destination. This route, at two to three months, was a faster alternative and was chosen in 1849 for the first contract mail service to and from California.
Overland (alternate route after 1846): After California was claimed by the United States in 1846, a few transcontinental overland mails were sent by the military or private couriers between Missouri or New Mexico and California. These alternate overland routes took from three to five months.
Mail via Cape Horn, 1821 to 1835
The earliest mails between Alta California and the East were carried by ship around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America on long voyages that frequently included numerous intermediate stops for trading and supplies. Figure 4-7 illustrates the route around Cape Horn. It also suggests the appeal of the shorter routes via Mexico or Central America.
Figure 4-7. Map of the via Cape Horn Route, dotted line represents alternate route.
The route around Cape Horn had been in use by the New England whaling fleets since the late 18th century. However, the Pacific Ocean center for the whaling fleet was Honolulu. As trade in foodstuffs, peltry and tallow developed along the California coast after Mexican independence, new trade centers were established. The principal trading ports were at Astoria, Oregon and the California port cities of Monterey, San Francisco and San Diego.
The trading system employed by the New England merchants was usually to send a fleet of ships to the Pacific coast and have them stay there, often for a period of years. The vessels would collect goods along the coast and then transfer them to a single ship heading home. A fleet-owner representative for business matters (the supercargo) would be in charge of receiving goods, making payments, and directing all commercial affairs while at sea. These fleets operated up and down the coast of California and Oregon, often with additional trips to Hawaii. The return ships carried mail from the fleet back to New England and outbound ships carried mail to the Pacific fleet.
The earliest reported letter carried eastward from Alta California via the Cape Horn route is shown in Figure 4-8. It is an 1826 letter from Catalina Island to Ipswich, Massachusetts, and was written only five years after newly independent Mexico had opened its ports to foreign trade. It is from a crew member on the trading brig Barrian, John Richards, who wrote to his sister:
Island of Catalina Coast of California Dec. 28 1826
...as I have an excellent opportunity (to send a letter) I shall not omit it. We arrived at this Island about the 25th of last month...we shall go in a day or two and that is to a place called St Diego to get the supercargo of the ship (Thomas Shaw) and he will order us where he chooses for Hides...I expect to cruise up and down the coast of California collecting Hides and fetch them to this Island and cure them and when we have got enough to fill the Brig then start for home...
Figure 4-8. December 28, 1826 letter from the Island of Catalina and carried via Cape Horn to Boston.
There is also a recipient's docket which reads, "Mr. Manning of Brigg Harbinger brought this, A.S." This note was added by Captain Aaron Sweet, to whose care the letter is addressed. The Harbinger brought the letter around Cape Horn to Boston where it was placed in the mail and postmarked on July 5, 1827, a little
over five months after the letter was written. Six cents postage from Ipswich to Boston was charged to the recipient.
The brig Barrian and her sister-ship Franklin later got into a problem over duties with the Mexican officials in Alta California, a not uncommon occurrence. In May 1828, the two ships were banned from further trading until their entire cargoes were landed at San Diego. Declining to do this, they proceeded to Catalina Island to land and cure hides. The next day the vessels escaped under fire from the Mexican fort and were forced to abandon their goods placed in surety in Alta California.
A pair of letters, original and duplicate, are illustrated in Figures 4-9 and 4-14. They show the concurrent use of two different mail routes in 1830, in an effort to ensure that at least one copy of the letter reached the addressee. This practice was not uncommon in the sending of important business correspondence. Both are from the Frederick Huth correspondence addressed to London. The letter shown in Figure 4-9 was written by Scottish trader Stephen Anderson, the supercargo of brig Funchal, and is dated "off the coast of California 27 Jany 1830" and endorsed "Duplicate." It was carried around Cape Horn by the Funchal.
Figure 4-9. January 27, 1830 letter dated off the coast of California and carried around Cape Horn to London on August 5.
Anderson, who remained in California from 1828 to 1832, was writing about a shipment of 16,400 hides that he was sending to London on the Funchal, and asked Huth & Co. to obtain insurance for the shipment. The ship's captain, John Hart, added a note upon his June 4 arrival at Rio de Janeiro:
I have to inform you of the Funchal putting into this port after a fine passage of 121 days from California. The hides are in excellent condition as far as can be seen under the deck where they have settled. We shall leave this in 8 days for London and hope to have a quick passage.
Hart then sent the letter on a different ship to England, so that it would arrive ahead of the Funchal. It was carried by the Falmouth packet Calypso from Rio de Janeiro that departed June 18, 1830 and was postmarked at London's Foreign Post Office on August 5 (six months after it was written in California). It
was marked three shillings, six pence total postage due, which includes the single rate packet letter postage of two shillings seven pence plus 11 pence inland postage from Falmouth to London.
A letter carried from San Diego to Boston around Cape Horn in 1842 is shown in Figure 4-10.
Figure 4-10. October 1, 1842 letter from San Diego and carried via Cape Horn to Boston.
This largely personal letter was written by James Hastings, captain of the bark Tasso at San Diego, on October 1, 1842. He endorsed it to the ship Alert, which was returning to the United States around Cape Horn. The Alert left in December 1842, and arrived five months later in Boston on May 5, 1843. In Boston, the letter was rated for 12 cents due, consisting of a two cents ship fee plus 10 cents for postage to Sandwich. Interestingly, the Alert continued her long career until she was captured and burned by the CSS Alabama on September 9, 1862.
Hastings letter includes directions on how to send a return letter to California utilizing the via Mexico route:
Write to me direct Capt SJH Barque Tasso, Coast of Alta California
Care of Don Frederico Becker (at) Mazatlan. Send it to Cozzens in New York (and) get him to pay 25cts postage and put it on board the Vera Cruz packet.
A letter from California carried first to Hawaii and then around the Horn is shown in Figure 4-11. It is an Appleton & Company correspondence letter to Boston from Capt. James Hatch of the Appleton-owned ship Barnstable at "St. Francisco" (San Francisco) and is dated July 30, 1844. The letter mentions that the Barnstable had collected 25,000 hides, the probability of war with Mexico and, as a portent of things to come, "We have also ... some Pueblo Gold."
Figure 4-11. July 30, 1844 letter dated at "St. Francisco" sent via Hawaii and around Cape Horn to Boston.
The letter was endorsed "Favored by Capt Flere Barque Brothers" at top and to "the care of Hiram Grimes Esq., Honolulu, Sandwich Islands" at bottom. The letter was carried by the British bark Brothers that departed from San Francisco on August 1 and arrived at Honolulu on August 18, 1844. After receipt, Hiram Grimes placed the letter on the American whaling ship Corvo that departed Honolulu on September 7, 1844 and arrived at Stonington, Connecticut on February 26, 1845. The letter was postmarked at Stonington the following day as a ship letter with 14½ cents postage due which includes the two cents ship fee.
A westbound example from the period during which the United States was gaining control of California in 1846 is shown in Figure 4-12. The August 11, 1846 letter from East Boston was addressed to a sailor on the Appleton-owned trading bark Tasso on the coast of California. The addressee, Henry F. Teschemacher, later became Mayor of San Francisco in 1859. The letter, from the sailor's mother mentions:
I had almost despaired of a chance occurring this summer of sending you out letters (that is with any reasonable likelihood of your obtaining them) but your Father has just apprized me that he proposes writing by the 'Independence' a vessel of war about to proceed immediately to your coast.
The letter was endorsed at the top to be carried by the USS Independence. It bears an oval handstamp of the "NAVAL LIBRARY & INSTITUTE, U.S. NAVY YARD, BOSTON" on the reverse to indicate the Naval Library's handling as mail forwarder to a navy ship, an unusual occurrence for mail not addressed to navy personnel. The USS Independence departed from Boston on August 29, 1846 and stopped at Rio de Janeiro on its way around Cape Horn. She entered Monterey Bay on January 22, 1847, slightly more than five months after the letter was written.
Figure 4-12. August 11, 1846 letter from East Boston carried by USS Independence around the Horn to the coast of California.
Mail via Mexico, 1824 to 1846
In his 1842 letter (Figure 4-10), James Hastings instructed his eastern correspondent to send letters via Vera Cruz and overland to Mazatlan on the west coast of Mexico. The map in Figure 4-13 shows that the route between these two points passed through Mexico City.
On the Atlantic side, this route relied on the British mail packets operating to Vera Cruz and on American ships operating directly between New Orleans and Vera Cruz. In 1825, Great Britain established full diplomatic relations with Mexico and British postal agencies were established at Vera Cruz and Mexico City. The British already had an extensive system of packet service to their colonies in the West Indies and a monthly service between Vera Cruz and Kingston, Jamaica with onward service to Falmouth, England was inaugurated in 1825. After January 1, 1842 these monthly packets were replaced by a twice-monthly contract service provided by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (RMSP), and the new scheme included provisions for a more direct service from Havana, Cuba to Vera Cruz. This improved service, coupled with the many American trading vessels stopping at Havana, propelled this route into supremacy for mails to and from the Pacific Ocean. This primacy lasted until mid-1846 when the route was abandoned due to the outbreak of the Mexican-American War.
Figure 4-13. Map of the via Mexico route.
American forwarding agents at Havana and New York played an important role in expediting mail transfer to the RMSP steamers. At Vera Cruz, the U.S. Consul acted as forwarder, and other private forwarders also handled mails.
Mail was carried across Mexico between Vera Cruz and Mazatlan by private means, by diplomatic pouch, or by the Mexican post office. Packages which included multiple letters were frequently transmitted by the Mexican mails to save postage.
On the Pacific Ocean side, there were many American ships operating between Mazatlan and the California ports. At Mazatlan, the American Consul and private forwarding agents were available to perform mail handling services. Westbound mail could be given to one of the ship captains heading up the coast of California and mail was often directed to Thomas A. Larkin at Monterey. Larkin was appointed to be U.S. Consul in Monterey in 1843 and although President Tyler signed the appointment in January 1844, Larkin did not receive his official papers until April 2, 1844.6
A letter from the U.S. Consul John Parrott at Mazatlan to Larkin7 advised him that the rate to be charged for letters, forwarded through his office, to eastern points was "fifty cents a single sheet and more according to weight."
The earliest reported letter to have taken the route via Mexico is shown in Figure 4-14. It was datelined "California Sa. Barbara 24 Jany 1830" and endorsed "p. Via Mexico" in the dateline. This is the original to the duplicate letter illustrated in Figure 4-9, written by Scottish trader Stephen Anderson three days earlier. He wrote:
I have no doubt ere now your Lima house has advised you of my intention of shipping by the London Brig "Funchal" John Hart master a cargo of Hides for your market and to your consignment. I have now to inform you she has just finished loading in this port and will sail in afew days with sixteen thousand four hundred fine dry salted hides consisting of Ox, Cow and a few Bulls, all in superior order of which I beg to enclose you the Bill of Lading.
He then requested that Huth & Co. obtain insurance on the cargo, valued at 12 shillings per hide. The letter was carried by ship from Santa Barbara to Mazatlan, Mexico, and then overland to Vera Cruz, where it caught the British ship Princess Elisabeth on June 14. It then travelled via Kingston, Jamaica to Falmouth, England. It was postmarked at the London Foreign Post Office on August 2 (a little over six months after the letter was written) and charged six shillings, representing double two shillings one pence packet postage from Vera Cruz plus double 11 pence inland postage from Falmouth to London.
Figure 4-14. January 24, 1830 letter from Santa Barbara, California carried via Mexico to London.
Another eastbound example, but addressed to the United States, is shown in Figure 4-15.
Figure 4-15. December 3, 1843 letter from Monterey sent via Mazatlan and New York on March 18.
This letter was written by Captain Peterson of the ship Admittance at Monterey, on December 3, 1843. He wrote to the owners of the Admittance that, "By Mr. Larkin a resident of Monterey and going to the city of Mexico I forward this." Larkin, the U.S. consul in Monterey, carried it to Mazatlan, and placed it in the Mexican mails, prepaid 4 reales. Accordingly, it was marked "FRANCO PUERTO DE MAZATLAN" (prepaid at the port of Mazatlan) with a black "4" on the reverse, representing four reales postage paid. At Vera Cruz, it was placed on the bark Eugenia that departed February 27, 1844 for New York. It arrived on March 18, just three and a half months after it was written. New York rated it for 27 cents due, consisting of double postage to Boston, plus a two cents ship fee.
The Admittance was a sister ship to the Tasso and Barnstable (all owned by Appleton & Co. of Boston), and engaged in the hide and tallow trade on the California coast from October 1843 to May 1845.
While the letter in Figure 4-15 entered the Mexican mails at Mazatlan the eastbound letter shown in Figure 4-16 entered the Mexican mails at Vera Cruz.
Figure 4-16. March 2, 1845 letter from San Diego sent via Mazatlan, Vera Cruz and New Orleans.
This letter was begun at sea on February 2, 1845 by John C. Bull, first officer on the ship Tasso, and completed at San Diego on March 2. He indicated in his letter that he expected the Tasso's sister ship Barnstable to carry it on its return trip to the U.S., but as that ship had left San Diego over two months earlier, Bull routed the letter to Mazatlan instead. He commented about the Mexico "overland" route that,
...the postage overland being so very Extravagant about $1 25cts per letter probably the next letter you receive will be in about 18 months from Date as the ship Admittance will not leave the coast til that time...
The letter was endorsed to Mazatlan forwarder Scarborough & Co., but the successor firm of Mott Talbot & Co. (per their forwarder handstamp) arranged to get it to Vera Cruz, where it was postmarked "Franqueado Veracruz" on April 14. It was then carried by the schooner Creole that departed on April 22 and arrived at New Orleans on May 6 (only two months after being written). It was postmarked and rated for 52 cents double rate due, which included a 2 cents ship fee.
The Tasso (see Figure 4-25 for another letter from Bull) first arrived in San Diego on February 12, 1845 after a six-month voyage from Boston around Cape Horn. It was active in trading for Appleton & Co. along the California coast until it was sold at San Francisco on August 27, 1848.
Figure 4-17 shows an 1844 eastbound letter forwarded by the U.S. consul at Vera Cruz.
Figure 4-17. June 24, 1844 letter from Monterey sent via Mazatlan, Vera Cruz and New Orleans.
This letter was written on June 24, 1844 by Thomas Larkin, U.S. consul at Monterey, and directed that return mail was to be sent to the "care of John Parrot, Esq. Mazatlan via Vera Cruz y Mexico & post pd. in Boston will reach."
Larkin's letter was sent under cover via Mazatlan and then by private courier to Vera Cruz, where the U.S. consul, Francis M. Dimond, noted on the reverse, "Re'd Vera Cruz Aug 3d 1844 and forwarded by your Ob St." He placed the letter on the Mexican schooner Rosetta that departed on August 4 for New Orleans, and which arrived late on August 20, only two months after the letter left California. It was postmarked as a ship letter on August 21 and rated 27 cents postage due, consisting of the two cents ship fee plus the 25 cents rate to Boston.
The letter shown in Figure 4-18 is another letter written by Henry Mellus (see also Figure 4-6) in 1845. At that time, he was supercargo of the Appleton-owned ship Admittance at Monterey.
Figure 4-18. January 20, 1845 letter from Monterey sent via Mexico and New Orleans.
This letter was a commercial report datelined at Monterey on January 20, 1845 and sent to Appleton & Co. in Boston. Mellus entrusted it to the American consul in Monterey, Thomas Larkin, who put his forwarding mark on the reverse and arranged to have it forwarded under cover to Mazatlan. It was likely carried by the American bark Quixote from Monterey to Mazatlan. In Mazatlan, it was forwarded without
directly entering the Mexican mails, via the British Consuls at Mexico City and Vera Cruz. At Vera Cruz, it was placed onboard the HMS Eurydice, a most unusual circumstance of carriage by a British Navy vessel which was the result of British diplomats shuttling between Vera Cruz and New Orleans during the unrest over Texas. The Eurydice arrived at Balize, off New Orleans, on May 31, 1845 and newspapers report that private letters as well as official dispatches were off-loaded. This letter was postmarked at New Orleans on June 1 as a ship letter and was rated for 27 cents postage due being the two cent ship fee plus the 25 cent rate to Boston.
In his letter Mellus gave some insight into the instability of the via Mexico route when he wrote, "We cannot expect letters from Mazatlan, as the only vessel to have come from there was a schooner now probably seized by the revolutionaries in that quarter."
While previous examples of mail carried via Mexico have all been eastbound, a westbound use is shown in Figure 4-19.
Figure 4-19. August 29, 1843 letter from Boston to Monterey via Mexico.
The letter, dated August 29, 1843 at Boston was written by Benjamin Reed, owner of the trading ship California, which was collecting otter pelts on the California coast. It is addressed to William D.M. Howard at Monterey, California who at the time was supercargo for Reed's ship (see Figure 4-6 for another example of a letter addressed to Howard). The letter is endorsed to the care of John Parrott, U.S. Consul at
Mazatlan. Before entering the Mexican mails, the letter was possibly handled by a New York forwarder who sent it under cover to Havana, where it caught the RMSP monthly mail packet Thames that departed from Havana on October 18 and arrived at Vera Cruz on October 23, 1843. It entered the mails at Vera Cruz on October 28 with their postmark and four reales due handstamp. Consul John Parrott in Mazatlan then forwarded the letter to Thomas O. Larkin on the brig Juanita bound for the Columbia River after a stop in Monterey. Larkin stamped his forwarding agent handstamp on the reverse and added a note to Howard, "Rec'd from a passenger of the Juanita day after you sailed. T.O.L. - Postage chgd to me by Mr. P." Howard apparently did not return to Monterey on the California and likely received this letter while at the port of Yerba Buena (San Francisco) in December 1843.
Figure 4-20 shows a letter that, although dated from Honolulu, was carried via California and Mexico immediately following the U.S. - Mexican War and is a very late use of the route.
Figure 4-20. February 2, 1848 letter from Hawaii sent via California and Mexico after the end of the war.
The letter from the U.S. Consul Joel Turrill at Hawaii is addressed to Oswego, New York and dated Honolulu February 2, 1848, the same day that the treaty ending the war was signed at the Basilica of Guadalupe at Villa Hidalgo, Mexico. The letter begins "Mr. Jarves leaves in the morning for San Francisco & Mazatlan, & thence across the country for home." Mr. James Jarves, the retiring editor of the newspaper Polynesian, departed Honolulu on the schooner Starling on February 4, 1848.
After reaching Mazatlan, this letter was carried overland to Vera Cruz where it entered the Mexican mails on May 15. It was then placed into the U.S. military post office at Vera Cruz where it received the "VERA CRUZ MEXICO MAY 17" boxed datestamp and was rated ten cents postage due as a domestic letter. Itwas then carried by the propeller steamship McKim that departed Vera Cruz on May 17 and arrived at New Orleans on May 24, 1848. The McKim was not a contract mail steamer but rather a vessel that served as a mail, supply and troop transport steamer.
Mail via Panama, 1846 to 1849
The map in Figure 4-21 illustrates the transcontinental route via Panama. On the Pacific side, private trading ships carried mail between California and Panama City. A short overland route across the Isthmus
of Panama connected Panama City and Chagres. On the Atlantic side, British steamers operated on a regular schedule from Chagres to Kingston, Jamaica and then to Havana, Cuba. At Havana, mails could be transferred to ships going to New York or New Orleans. In addition, occasional American ships operated directly between Chagres and New Orleans.
Figure 4-13. Map of the via Mexico route.
This route, which was faster than those previously discussed, was slow to develop because the Isthmian port cities were not major commercial centers or destinations for American vessels. In 1846, several factors contributed to the rise in importance of the mail route across the Isthmus of Panama. First, the outbreak of the Mexican War in mid-1846 shut down the via Mexico route. A second reason was the improved regular service provided by British steamers on the Atlantic side. Although service between Chagres and Jamaica had been initiated in 1842 by Royal Mail steamers, service was increased after May 1845 to twice-monthly. A third factor was the rise in importance of Panama City as a commercial center. British mail steamers of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company began a regular service on the Pacific slope of South America utilizing the via Panama mail route instead of sending English mails around the Horn. Accordingly, the infrastructure that could support increased mail traffic across Panama, including mail forwarders at Chagres and Panama City, was in place by 1846.
Once the United States commenced mail service by steamship on the Atlantic and Pacific sides in 1849, and facilitated the trans-Isthmus transport of mail, this became the default transcontinental mail route for more than a decade (see Chapter Six).
Still, letter mail sent via Panama before 1849 is uncommon. Figure 4-22 shows an example carried from California, via Panama, in January 1847.
This letter was docketed "Harbor of Monterey California January 27 1847," and was written by Captain Christopher Tompkins of the 3rd Artillery. He wrote to General Roger Jones, Adjutant General of the U.S. Army in Washington, D.C., that he had arrived in Monterey and intended to report to General Kearny at
Los Angeles. He also complained about the length of his voyage from New York on the USS Lexington - he left on July 14, 1846 and arrived in Monterey six months later. Other passengers on the Lexington included Lieutenants Henry Halleck, Edward Ord and William Tecumseh Sherman, all of whom were destined to achieve fame in the Civil War.
Figure 4-22. January 27, 1847 letter from Monterey sent via Panama and New York.
The letter left Monterey on January 28 aboard the sloop-of-war USS Dale, which was taking its captain, Commander McKean, to Panama so that he could return to the United States because of ill health. It arrived at Panama City on March 15, where McKean joined forces with Lt. Gray and Major Emory, who were carrying dispatches to the United States from Commodore Stockton and General Kearny, respectively. The three crossed the Isthmus to Chagres on the east coast, carrying this letter. The HMS Clyde then carried them from Chagres (departed March 28) to Jamaica on April 1, where they transferred to the HMS Dee (departed Jamaica on April 3 and arrived in Havana on April 10). The ship Globe then took the letter to New York, where it arrived on April 21, 1847 and was rated for seven cents postage due including a two cents ship fee. Upon arrival at Washington it was recognized that the recipient was entitled to receive mail free of postage and the seven cents postage due was crossed out.
Overland Transcontinental Mails
After northern California came under U.S. control in July 1846, military and private overland mail routes connecting California and Missouri soon formed an important communication link. Mail was carried over two primary overland routes. A central route along the California Trail (Figure 4-3) connected San Francisco, via the Humboldt and Platte Rivers, with Missouri. A southern route along the Old Spanish Trail connected southern California with Missouri, via Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Each of the primary routes had hazards and limitations. Westbound departures on the California Trail from Missouri were only feasible in the April-June timeframe. That window ensured that there was enough grass on the prairies for their horses, and got them over the Sierra Nevada range before the October snows. The route via the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to southern California took two to three
months, but there was another month's travel between Santa Fe and Missouri. This southern route was open throughout the year, but involved a hazardous crossing of the Mojave Desert.
Military Courier Overland Mail
Lieutenant Kit Carson, in his capacity as military courier, made five overland crossings with dispatches between 1846 and 1848, as shown in the table below. Carson also carried some private mail, which can be identified by an endorsement to Carson, or by correlation withthe dates in the table.
Figure 4-23 illustrates a letter carried on Carson's first eastbound trip.
Figure 4-23. August 29, 1846 envelope for letter from Los Angeles carried by Kit Carson and Fitzpatrick to Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Smithsonian National Postal Museum)
The letter (the actual letter is no longer with the envelope, but a transcription is recorded)8 was datelined "City of the Angels Upper Cala Aug 29th 1846," and was sent by Sergeant Major Theodore Talbot of Frémont's California Battalion. He wrote:
An Express is on the eve of starting to the United States under Carson and Maxwell. It has been kept perfectly secret and it is said they will be allowed to take no letters. They leave this evg. I have had barely time to scribble these hasty lines. I hope to slip them along.
Carson carried this letter, along with military dispatches, on his first eastbound trip. Along the way, he encountered General Kearny at Valverde, New Mexico on October 6. Kearny was traveling west with a portion of the Army of the West, and ordered Carson to turn around and guide him to California. From Valverde, Carson's dispatches were carried on to Washington, D.C. by Lieutenant William Murphy who passed through Santa Fe on October 9 and reached St. Louis on November 8 (see Figure 2-9).
Theodore Talbot had joined Frémont's 1843 and 1845 expeditions to California, and was mustered into Frémont's California Battalion on July 12, 1846.9 The Battalion captured Los Angeles on August 13, and Talbot wrote his letter shortly thereafter. Carson left Los Angeles to inform military officials in the East of California's subjugation, although later actions by the Mexicans would re-take Los Angeles from September 1846 to January 1847. Hostilities ceased in California with the January 13, 1847 Treaty of Cahuenga.
On March 11, 1848 The California Star announced that a military courier (Carson) would carry personal letters at no charge from Los Angeles to St Louis. One of the private letters carried east by Carson in 1848 is illustrated in Figure 4-24.
Figure 4-24. May 1, 1848 letter from Los Angeles carried by Kit Carson to St Louis. (Courtesy Eric Nelson)
This letter was datelined "Pueblo de Los Angeles May 1 1848" and gave a news account of a duel to the New York Herald. The writer added a postscript, "This was written in haste as the mail bags close this day for the States." This was Carson's last transcontinental trip with dispatches, and he left on May 4. Following the Old Spanish Trail across the Mojave Desert, he arrived in Taos, New Mexico on June 14. He then travelled up the eastern foothills of the Rockies to the Platte River, and then followed that to St Louis,
where he arrived on July 25. He posted the letter unpaid in St Louis on July 26. Postage due of 10 cents for the greater than 300 miles to New York was collected from the addressee.
General Kearny ended his term as military governor of California on May 31, 1847. He was replaced by Colonel Richard B. Mason, and returned overland to Missouri with a small military contingent, which carried private mail along with military dispatches.
Figure 4-25 shows a private letter carried by Kearny's force. It was datelined "Bark Tasso San Francisco April 30th/47" and was written by John Bull, first officer of the Tasso (see Figure 4-16 for an earlier letter
Figure 4-25. April 30, 1847 letter from San Francisco carried by Kearny's force to St Louis.
from Bull). Bull noted in this letter to his sister that, "the U.S. Mail which will convey this to its destination leaves here the 3rd of May." Kearny's California regional mail service was scheduled to leave San Francisco every other Monday, and the second trip left on May 3. This letter was carried by the military courier to Monterey and placed in General Kearny's mailbag for transport to the East. On May 31, Kearny left Monterey for Sutter's Fort, where he awaited the arrival of Colonel Frémont's force, which he had ordered back east with him. The combined force left California on June 15, and arrived in Fort Leavenworth, Missouri on August 22. Kearny left on August 23 aboard the Missouri River steamer Amelia, which arrived in St. Louis on August 25. The mail was entrusted to the purser of the steamboat who brought it to the St. Louis post office. It was postmarked on August 26 and stamped "STEAM 10" for 10 cents due for postage from St. Louis to Boston.
Five Kearny letters with these "STEAM 10" markings are known to have survived. In addition, one letter that was carried overland in the military dispatch bag is known. It entered the mails on August 31, 1847 at Fort Leavenworth, Missouri, and is illustrated in Figure 4-26.
Figure 4-26. May 2, 1847 letter from San Francisco carried by Kearny's force to Fort Leavenworth.
This letter was datelined "San Francisco California May 2d 1847" and was written by James H. Maneis, who was a sergeant in Company E of Stevenson's New York 1st Volunteers. Stevenson's force was raised to reinforce the U.S. forces in California, and left New York on September 27, 1846 aboard sailing transports. After a six-month trip around Cape Horn, they arrived in San Francisco in March 1847.
The letter was carried by the same regional military courier to Monterey as the cover in Figure 4-25. Unlike that letter, however, it was placed with the military dispatches and carried to St. Louis in a different bag. That bag was delivered to military authorities at Fort Leavenworth, and this letter was placed in the mails at the fort sometime after the August 23 sailing of the Amelia to St. Louis. The August 31 Fort Leavenworth postmark indicates when it was transmitted onward by the regular mails and it was rated for 10 cents postage due to Connecticut.
The U.S. Navy also made provisions for overland communication. The Californian reported on September 8, 1847 that letter bags had been sent by the overland route from Philadelphia on the previous February 11. That mail probably arrived in California in July or August 1847. The Californian, in its October 13, 1847 issue, also refers to the receipt of an overland naval mail on October 11, which most likely left the East in June or July. No surviving letters carried by these naval couriers are known.
However, when Commodore Stockton stepped down as commander of the California naval forces in January 1847, he did carry a mail overland to the United States on his return trip. A letter carried on this trip is shown in Figure 4-27. It was written on March 24, 1847 by a sailor aboard the U.S.S. Congress, which was serving as Stockton's flagship, while in the harbor of San Diego. Per the letter, the sailor intended to send the letter via the U.S.S. Savannah, "which leaves this port to Day." However, as the U.S.S. Savannah was delayed, and did not leave for New York until September 8, this letter was instead carried with Commodore Stockton on his overland trip to the East.
Stockton, in a party of 49 men, left Monterey on June 20 and, after a four-month journey via Fort Hall and Fort Laramie, reached St. Joseph on October 26, 1847. Four days later this letter was postmarked at the St. Joseph post office and rated 10 cents due for the postage to Philadelphia.
Figure 4-27. March 24 1847 letter from a sailor at San Diego carried by Commodore Stockton's party overland to St Joseph.
Gold Shipments from California
This letter was written on May 18, 1848 by Mrs. Persis Goodale Taylor, who had just arrived at Monterey, California after a trip around Cape Horn. She was on her way to join her missionary family in Hawaii, and was writing to her sister to describe her journey. She endorsed the letter "overland" and gave it to Colonel Mason to be carried back East by Chouteau. Shortly after May 19, Chouteau left Monterey for Los Angeles, a trip of about three weeks. He left southern California on July 4 with the letter and arrived at
Santa Fe on August 15, where he apparently stopped for while before continuing up the Santa Fe Trail to Missouri. Chouteau reached St Louis in early October, and posted the letter unpaid on October 11. It was rated for postage due of 10 cents for the greater than 300 miles to Massachusetts.
Figure 4-28. May 18, 1848 letter from Monterey carried by Chouteau overland to St Louis.
By the end of 1848 gold fever was epidemic in the East as well as in California (Figure 4-29). Following the initial reports and samples of gold that had been carried overland, gold was beginning to flow east from California in quantity. Routes by sea around the Horn, and by sea and via Mexico were used for gold
Figure 4-29. View of San Francisco in 1848 after Bayard Taylor.
shipments in 1848. By mid-1849 most California gold, in common with the letter-mail, was carried by sea and across Panama.
A December 11, 1848 report10 from R.M. Patterson, Director of the United States Mint at Philadelphia, to the Secretary of Treasury reported the first deposit of California gold at the mint. It was deposited by David Carter, who had arrived via Panama, and was assayed at $36,492, "besides a few ounces preserved in the native state for the Secretary of War, at his request."
The bark Laura Ann departed San Francisco with $10,000 in gold bound for the U.S. on December 10, 1848. The Alexandria, Virginia Gazette of December 15, 1849 reported the arrival at New York of Robert Atherton, a miner who was onboard the Laura Ann when she departed San Francisco. From Mazatlan he then traveled overland via Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Vera Cruz. Although Atherton's published reports may have been exaggerated, he claimed to have bills of lading in the amount of $200,000 for gold shipped on "English account" which he wished to insure.
The USS Lexington also departed San Francisco in December 1848. At her stop in Valparaiso, she off-loaded $100,000 of gold which was carried north to Panama, overland to Chagres, and eventually arrived in New York aboard the Crescent City on June 23, 1849. The Crescent City also carried a further $390,000 in California gold that had been received at Chagres during the first three months of 1849. After the Lexington's stop in Valparaiso, she proceeded around the Horn carrying her additional cargo of $270,000 in California gold bullion and arrived at New York on June 11, 1849.
To put this quantity of gold in perspective, the total gold cargo of $370,000 carried by the Lexington was 1,676 troy pounds (26,816 troy ounces). Gold was valued at approximately $13.80 per troy ounce in 1849. The value of the shipment equates at $1,250 per troy ounce to $33,520,000.
Private Newspaper Overland Mails to Missouri, 1848
Samuel Brannan and Orrin Smith, leaders of a group of 238 Mormons from Illinois, arrived in San Francisco (called Yerba Buena until January 1847) aboard the ship Brooklyn on July 31, 1846. They brought with them a portable Franklin printing press, which they soon put to use publishing San Francisco's first
In January 1848, San Francisco merchants met to determine what they could do to revitalize their stagnant economy. They concluded that a promotional piece about the virtues of San Francisco might entice more emigrants from the United States. Accordingly, Brannan agreed to publish two special editions of his paper for this purpose, on April 1 and June 1, and to deliver them overland to the East. He also decided to carry private letters on those two trips.
In its January 15, 1848 edition, the California Star announced that it was sponsoring an express to Independence, Missouri, which would leave San Francisco on April 1, 1848. It was then scheduled to depart from Brannan's store at New Helvetia (today's Sacramento) on April 15 and to arrive in Missouri 60 days later. Private letters were to be carried to Missouri for a fee of 50 cents each. Brannan hired ten men to carry the special newspaper edition and the mail to Missouri. Six of the ten were discharged soldiers from the Mormon Battalion, as was the leader of the party, Nathan Hawk.11 After leaving Sacramento on April 15, they crossed the Sierra Nevada and reached Salt Lake City on July 9. The earliest newspaper reports of their arrival in Independence, Missouri were from St. Louis on August 8, 1848. Accordingly, letters carried by this express would have California datelines of January to March 1848, and Missouri postmarks of July 1848, although none are known to have survived.
The Californian newspaper moved from Monterey to San Francisco on May 22, 1847 to compete with the California Star. On April 19, 1848, it also announced an overland express mail:
Our overland Mail for the United States will positively close on Thursday the 27th day of April, (present month.) Our next paper will be the last that can be sent by this mail - It will contain much valuable information concerning California. Postage on letters 50 cents - on papers 12½.
This was clearly a competitive response to the April 1 California Star letter express. Then, on May 3, the Californian reported that, "Our overland mail for the U.S. was closed at this Office on Thursday last, and delivered to the courier, who immediately left for Sacramento on his way across the mountains." Notwithstanding that report, no letters carried by the Californian's express are known.
This office advertised an Express for the United States, to take its departure on the 15th day of April last. Precisely, to a day, it took the great road leading over that immense obstacle, that insurmountable barrier, the Snowy Mountains, performed the unparalleled feat of crossing through "melting snows," and was safely speeding onward, at last accounts. We say this much, not only that apprehensions on the part of the interested may be allayed, but that gratuitous prophesiers of ill may be comforted, if comfort there can be derived from their own discomfiture.
The Express of the 25th inst. will positively leave on that day.
Brannan's second special edition was never published because his entire publication staff left for the gold mines after the June 10, 1848 issue. It is also unlikely that the second overland express was sent.
Other Private Mails, 1848
Elbert P. Jones, who served as the first editor of the California Star, also announced an express mail to the United States on April 25, 1848, and placed an advertisement for it in the May 6 edition of the California Star.
THE MAIL! THE EASTERN MAIL! THE Undersigned, having made arrangements to transmit a private Express Mail across the mountains, gives notice that separate mail bags will be made up for Fort Hall, Salt Lake settlement, Fort Bridger, Fort Laramie, Santa Fe, and all parts of the United States.
The mail will be closed on the 10th of May. Postage will be the same as on similar expresses.
There are no known covers which prove that Jones's express successfully carried mail to the East. An example of attempted westbound private mail carriage in 1848 is shown in Figure 4-31. The letter, addressed to Capt. Joseph Aram, was posted unpaid in Granville, Ohio on August 28, 1848 and directed to the post office at Independence, Missouri with instructions to "forward this by the first opportunity" to Monterey, California. Postage due of 10 cents was assessed at Granville for the greater than 300 miles to Independence.
Figure 4-31. Letter posted August 28, 1848 in Ohio, and sent to Independence, Missouri for forwarding to California. It was sent via Panama in 1849.
The letter arrived in Independence after the 1848 emigration was over, so it was held there until June 21, 1849 when the post office directed that it should be routed via New York and Panama to California on the
recently established contract mail route. The Independence post office assessed 40 cents additional postage due for forwarding to California, which meant that a total of 50 cents was due from the recipient. The letter was too late to connect with the June 28 USMSC sailing from New York, so it was carried by USMSC steamship Falcon, which left on August 27 (see Appendix C) and arrived Chagres on September 18, 1849. After a trip across the isthmus, it left Panama City on October 1 aboard the PMSS Unicorn, which arrived in San Francisco on October 31, 1849, fully 14 months after the letter was written.
Captain Joseph Aram, the addressee, had emigrated to California in 1846 with the Russell - Boggs party. They left Independence on May 5, 1846 along with the Donner party, but parted ways in what is now Wyoming. The Donner party took the Hastings cut-off trail, and the Russell - Boggs party took the traditional Humboldt/Truckee River route to Sutter's Fort. They arrived there on October 10, and the Donner party was stranded in the Sierra Nevadas with tragic results.
The letter mostly gives personal news, but also refers to the receipt of an eastbound letter, "I received yours dated March 19, 1848 Monterey. Suppose it came by Lieutenant Carson favor to St Louis." That letter was apparently carried in the same Carson mail as the letter in Figure 4-24.
In 1847, Mormons began the third great stage of the westward migration, as thousands travelled from starting points on the Missouri River to Salt Lake City. This followed the earlier westward migrations to Oregon and California, which were described in Chapters Three and Four. The resulting large settlement at Salt Lake City (in today's Utah) created a need for communication with both the United States and California, and the Central Route evolved to service this need. The eastern segment of the route was the Platte River Road, which ran between the Missouri River and Salt Lake City. Figure 5-1 shows this segment, which passed through Fort Kearny, Fort Laramie and South Pass to Salt Lake City.
Figure 5-1. Map of the Platte River Road between Iowa/Missouri and Salt Lake City. The emigrant trails which evolved into mail routes are shown in green.
Westbound travelers typically began their journey from one of the principal Missouri River jumping off points at Independence, Westport, St Joseph, Kanesville or the nearby Winter Quarters. All trails converged on the Platte River near Fort Kearney. West of Fort Kearney, the Platte River splits into north and south branches, and westbound travelers followed the North Platte to Fort Laramie and South Pass. The Platte River turns south just before South Pass, so travelers to Salt Lake City continued on via the Sweetwater River to the Green River and Fort Bridger. This trail became the mail route for correspondence between the Missouri River and Salt Lake City.
The Mormon Church Migrates West
In April 1830, disciples of Joseph Smith were organized as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in western New York State. Their different Christian beliefs, however, made them subject to continual harassment and violence, and many members moved westward to Ohio in search of a safe haven. From
Ohio, they moved to Missouri in 1836, but were expelled by the Missouri state militia in 1838. They were able to re-settle in Nauvoo, Illinois from 1839 to 1845, and built their following there to 12,000 people. Concern over this concentration led to yet another expulsion in 1846, this time to Winter Quarters located just north of present-day Omaha on west bank of the Missouri River opposite Kanesville, Iowa (also called Kane, it was re-named Council Bluffs in 1852). By then, it had become clear to the Mormons that they were not welcome in the United States, so they began to look westward for a permanent settlement site.
As described in Chapter Four, Samuel Brannan was assigned the task of determining whether California might be an acceptable settlement site. He left New York City by sea on February 4, 1846 with 238 people,
On April 5, 1847, Brigham Young led the pioneer party of 143 people1 westward from the Winter Quarters. They followed the north bank of the Platte River to avoid contact with travelers on the Oregon Trail, who typically used the south bank. The company reached Fort Laramie on June 1. During the last week of June, Brannan came east to meet Young near the Green River (in today's Wyoming) and tried unsuccessfully to convince Young that California was a better location for settlement.
On July 21, 1847, advance scouts reached the Salt Lake valley, and Young declared it to be their home three days later. By December of that year, 2,200 Mormons had made the trek to settle in the Salt Lake valley,2 followed by 2,400 additional settlers in 1848. By the end of 1849, a total of 6,100 people had travelled to Salt Lake City.
Mail between Salt Lake City and the Missouri River
Within a month of their arrival, the Mormon settlers designated a small building in Salt Lake City as their post office and named it "The Great Basin Post Office." The Mormons had historically relied heavily on communication to connect their widely dispersed members, so the creation of a post office was one of their earliest priorities. Seventeen months later, in response to a petition from the Salt Lake settlers, the United States established the first official post office at Salt Lake City on January 18, 1849.
In the period before the establishment of a U.S. post office, there were only a few overland trips that could carry mail, as listed in Table 5-1.
An August 8, 1848 letter from Salt Lake City3 describes the arrival of the first westbound mail two days earlier. This corresponds to the arrival of the Second Migration.
The Babbitt Special Contract Mails
The following announcement appeared in several newspapers across the country including the New Orleans Times Picayune of April 5, 1849:
MAILS TO THE PACIFIC - A post office has been established at the Salt Lake Valley, in California, and Joseph L. Heywood, formerly of Quincy, Illinois, appointed postmaster. Mr. Almon W. Babbitt, the contractor, will deliver the mail six times a year, and forward all mail matter, sent through by way of Kanesville, Iowa to Oregon and California. The first mail will go through the first of April.
This announced service was only partially implemented. There was no through mail to California
Brigham Young's journal4 entry of February 28, 1849 (the date the news reached Kanesville) reported that:
This winter the Federal Government established a post office at Great Salt Lake City and appointed Joseph L. Heywood, postmaster, and also instituted a bi-monthly mail between Kanesville and Great Salt Lake City. Almon W. Babbitt engaged to carry the mail at his own expense and charges the net proceeds.
The church journal entry mentions bi-monthly mail, while the newspaper announcement states six times a year. The known trips correspond to six times a year as shown in Table 5-2. The six mails in 1849 all took place between the spring and the fall, and no winter trips were undertaken.
On April 12, 1849, Thomas Bullock, the auditor of Church tithing accounts and probable acting Postmaster, recorded an accounting6 for the April 14 eastbound mail trip from Salt Lake City. He identified the men in Captain Allen Compton's party and listed an account of mails sent (in waybill form) as:
Bullock's entry also listed the number of letters carried by four of the men in the mail party: Compton (425), Johnson (54), Casto (11), and Huntington (12). The 425 letters carried by Compton matches the total listed in the waybill, so the others apparently carried letters on their own account.
The waybill shows that the amount collected per prepaid letter was 50 cents. At that time, the postal rate for over 300 miles was 10 cents.7 Thus, it appears that Babbitt charged a 40 cents fee for each prepaid letter
in addition to the postal receipts associated with each trip. It is not clear if he collected a fee for each unpaid letter, and may have only received the amount of postage on such letters.
The earliest recorded letter posted from the Salt Lake City post office is shown in Figure 5-3, and was carried by Almon Babbitt under the terms of his special contract. The letter was datelined July 5, 1849 by Ursulia Hascall, who acknowledged receipt of letters dated January and February 1849 by "the mail which came in July 1" (the May 21 Babbitt trip from Kanesville). She also observed that, "the last letter we had (before that) was October 18478 the mail will now be more regular, but it is impossible to pass through the Rocky Mountains in winter without people and animals both perishing." Ursulia was a Mormon convert from Massachusetts who left Nauvoo, Illinois on May 30, 1846 for Winter Quarters, Nebraska. She then took part in the First Migration, which left Winter Quarters on July 14, 1847 and arrived in Salt Lake City on September 19 of that year.
Both letters received manuscript "Salt Lake Cal. July 16" postmarks in the hand of Thomas Bullock. They indicate that the Salt Lake City post office was part of California for postal purposes. Neither of the July 16, 1849 letters show indication of any express fees and both were rated for 10 cents postage due in Salt Lake City, reflecting the over 300 miles rate for domestic mail. As shown in Table 5-2, Babbitt left Salt Lake City with this mail on July 27 and arrived in Kanesville on September 3.
A way letter collected enroute by the Babbitt party on the same trip is shown in Figure 5-4. This letter was datelined on July 27, 1849 by Chauncey Swan, who wrote that, "Here I am in Mr Switzers tent writing, three miles west of the great south pass of the rocky mountains...I am in Orrigan and within 25 miles of California. I expect to be at Salt Lake by the 15th of August...My hopes are strong of being at Suters fort in California by the first day of October." He closed by saying, "it is getting late and I expect Mr. Babbitt along with the Mormon mails." Babbitt collected this letter during his July 27 mail-carrying trip which arrived in Kanesville on September 3. The letter was postmarked "Kane Iowa" three days later and assessed 10 cents postage due, for the postage from South Pass to Iowa City. The sender endorsement of "paid" was also lined through by the postmaster, which suggests that Babbitt collected an additional express fee (probably 50 cents) before the letter was posted. The other sender endorsement,
"Comp(limen)ts of Dr. McCormick" refers to a fellow member of Swan's party who had contemplating a return to the States but instead continued onward to California.
Figure 5-4. Datelined July 27, 1849 in Pacific Springs and carried with Babbitt special contract party via Kanesville, Iowa on September 6.
Figure 5-5 illustrates an October 1849 prepaid letter carried by Babbitt's special contract mail service. This letter was written on September 22, 1849 in Salt Lake City by a gold miner passing through
Notices in the Deseret News in 1850 confirm the charges for the Babbitt special contract mail. The July 27, 1850 Deseret News reported that, "A mail is expected to leave for the States, about the 27th of July. Single letters to any part of the States, 50 cents." The July 27, 1850 mail trip actually left Salt Lake City on August
2, and carried the letter shown in Figure 5-6. This letter was written at Fort Hall (northwest of Salt Lake City in today's Idaho) on July 20, 1849. The writer was enroute to California and reported that, "We have just arrived here and as an opportunity is now offered to send letters to the States by the Government Express I hasten to inform you of my whereabouts." This express was probably carried by military officers returning to the East, and they left this letter at Salt Lake City, where it languished for nearly a year.
This letter was written by Ursulia Hascall at Salt Lake City on July 27, 1850. It received a Kane, Iowa postmark of September 12 and was rated for ten cents postage due to Massachusetts.
As described in Chapter Seven, the post office route contract with Samuel Woodson superseded the Babbitt service.
The first eastbound Woodson mail departed from Salt Lake City on September 11, 1850, but the Babbitt mail to Kanesville may have made one additional trip in September 1850. An August 31, 1850 Deseret News notice reported that, "All who wish, can send letters at the usual rates, 40 cents, single letter, to Kanesville; 50 cents to any Post Office in the States, to be prepaid invariably. Those prepaying 40 cents will make their own change. Letters to England 65 cents or 40 cents to Kanesville; and the 25 cents may be paid in England."
A private letter mail express between Westport, Missouri and Pacific Springs (three miles west of South Pass) was organized by Colonel James M. Estill of Westport. He formed J.M. Estill & Co. to travel rapidly westward along the Platte River Road to Pacific Springs, collecting eastbound letters from the westbound travelers and delivering them back to Missouri for 50 cents each. His service was advertised in both Salt Lake City and Missouri. The May 7, 1850 St Louis Daily Missouri Republican reported that:
The mail will leave the frontiers on the 15th, relays of horses have been stationed at various points along the route, and it is intended to push this Express forward, so as to pass all of the emigrants and other trains on the route for California. This will enable persons who wish to communicate with their friends, to do so, and will probably be the last opportunity they will have, before their arrival in California. When the Express reaches the Pacific Springs, which will be in advance of any of the emigrant trains, another Express will be sent back to the State, bringing with it all the letters which emigrants on the route may send home. All letters sent to persons in California will be forwarded by one of the partners of the concern, and delivered according to direction...Every letter sent by this line must be delivered, postage paid, and accompanied by fifty cents - compensation to the express - double letters in proportion.
Estill & Co. apparently made only one trip to Pacific Springs,
Estill collected this letter on the trail and endorsed it "Estill & Co. Express" on the front. It was apparently double-weight, since a $1 charge is indicated on the front. It was
carried to Weston, Missouri where it was posted on August 16 with ten cents postage due to New Jersey. This envelope also confirms the date of Estill's departure from Weston. It carries a note on the reverse that, "I have learned by the Gentlemen in Estalls Express mule train which left Weston on the 21st May that there is considerable sickness among the emigration behind."
Trail Mail on the Platte River Road
Travelers along the Platte River Road also found other ways to send letters. Travelers in the opposite direction were often willing to carry letters, but eastbound travelers were scarce before 1850. In May 1848, Fort Kearny was established next to the Platte River (see Figure 5-1) to protect the travelers along the Platte River Road. Before the U.S. post office was introduced there on July 7, 1849, some mail could be carried by military couriers between Fort Kearny and Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River. Figure 5-9 illustrates such a use.
Figure 5-9. Letter datelined May 21, 1848 and carried by military express from Fort Kearny to Fort Leavenworth on June 14.
This letter was datelined "on the plains May 21st 1848" from an immigrant to California who explained that, "I have an opportunity to use the influence of one captain (who was an officer at this post last year) to get a letter conveyed. I gladly embrace this opportunity but were it not for this chance I could not write as there are so many persons wishing to send letters that it would be impossible for the Quartermaster to get them all in the mail." The fort's quartermaster marked this letter "Fort Kearny Oregon Route" and placed it with the military dispatches for Fort Leavenworth. At Leavenworth, it was placed in the mails on June 14 and rated ten cents due for the postage to Illinois. This is the earliest possible postmark from Fort Kearney.
Figure 5-10 shows the back of an interesting June 1849 letter to New York City that was collected along the Platte River Road and brought back to Missouri, probably by army personnel from Fort Laramie.
This envelope was delivered to the steamship Algoma on the Missouri River. It was marked "STEAM 10" due in red by the ship purser and carried to St Louis. Unfortunately, the Algoma was burned and sank at the wharf in St Louis on July 29. Some of the mail was recovered and forwarded with the post office label illustrated in Figure 5-10. This accident was widely reported, and the August 16, 1849 Arkansas Weekly Gazette, quoting from the St Louis Republican, gave one account:
The two bags of letters brought down in the Algoma, and which were supposed to have been lost in the fire, were found yesterday in a damaged condition. There are several thousand letters...Capt. A.J. Eaton, the mail agent has taken possession of them, and is endeavoring to dry them...One of our letters was delivered to us yesterday - a good deal burned, and scarcely in an intelligible shape. We gather from it that it was written 60 miles beyond Fort Kearney, on the 4th of July.
Other Algoma accounts include reports of letters dated June 19 at Fort Laramie.
Westbound travelers along the Platte typically stopped at Fort Laramie, which was located on the south bank of the river. This meant that they had to cross the North Platte at some point before South Pass. Brigham Young saw an opportunity while crossing the North Platte in 1847, and established the Mormon Ferry near today's Casper, Wyoming. For a fee, the Mormon Ferry carried travelers across the river during the May to September active emigration period, from 1847 to 1852.
Figure 5-11 is headed "Platte River Ferry 125 miles from Fort Laramie" and was written around May 9, 1850. The 1850 date is confirmed by the ten cents due rate on the cover and a reference in the letter to D.S. Norton, who travelled from Mount Vernon, Ohio to California in 1850. The writer of the letter explains that, "I have just been informed by the Captain of this Ferry that he would carry letters back to the States (note: at this point the phrase "at no charge" has been crossed out) as soon as Emigration was past." He also explains that he left Fort Laramie "on the 5th" (of May) and hopes to be in California by mid-July. The emigration ended sometime in September, and the captain of the ferry (Thomas Crover) arranged to have the letter carried back to St Joseph, where it was posted on November 8.
Figure 5-11. May 9, 1850 letter written at the Platte River Ferry and given to the captain of the ferry for transmission back East.
Mail between Salt Lake City and California
Figure 5-12 shows the western segment of the Central Route, consisting of the two principal trails from Salt Lake City to Sacramento and Los Angeles.
Figure 5-12. Map of the principal trails between California and Salt Lake City.
Prior to May 1851, post office special trip contracts were required to move the mail between California and Salt Lake City. The need for these was accentuated by the public notice of the Babbitt transcontinental mail service that had appeared in many eastern newspapers. An example was the April 6, 1849 Liberty Missouri Weekly Tribune which reported that, "The contractor, Almon W. Babbitt, will deliver the mail matter sent through, by way of Kanesville, Iowa, to Oregon and California." While Babbitt readily engaged in carrying the mail between Kanesville and Salt Lake City, onward delivery from Salt Lake City to California required a separate trip contract negotiated by the Salt Lake City postmaster. Table 5-3 lists the possible mail-carrying trips between Salt Lake City and California from August 1847 to April 1851.
Figure 5-13 illustrates an eastbound letter sent from Sacramento to Salt Lake City. This letter was mailed at the Sacramento, California post office and postmarked on August 12, 1850 with 12½ cents intra-California postage due. As there was no regular contract mail service available, the Sacramento postmaster entered into a trip contract with a member of the Amasa Lyman party (see Table 5-3) to carry a mail to Salt Lake City for compensation amounting to the value of the postage on the letters carried. The Lyman party left Sacramento on August 16, and arrived in Salt Lake City on September 29, 1850.
The last line of the address shows "Deseret" as part of the location. In March 1849, the Mormon government in Salt Lake City proposed that the territory between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains be added to the United States as the State of Deseret. This provisional state existed for about two years and was never recognized by the U.S. government. The United States initially considered combining the states of California and Deseret, but instead created Utah Territory on September 9, 1850. The news of this, however, was not received in either Utah or California until months later, so postmarks with the Deseret designation are known until June 1851.
Figure 5-13. Letter posted on August 12, 1850 in Sacramento, California and carried by Mormon express to Salt Lake City.
The commencement of the U.S. postal contract routes between Salt Lake and Missouri (August 1850) and between Salt Lake and California (May 1851) brought this period to an end.
As described in Chapter Three, the dispute over the Oregon territory with Great Britain was resolved by the partition treaty of June 15, 1846. By August 6 of that year, President Polk was calling for a mail service to newly-acquired Oregon, and Congress responded with two bills on March 3, 1847. The first of those bills established new postal rates for the Pacific coast and intermediate points. The second of those bills authorized the Navy Department to contract for the transport of mail between Oregon and New York via Panama so long as the steamships used on the routes were readily convertible into warships.
For postal purposes, the route was divided into three segments, as illustrated in Figure 6-1. The Atlantic coast segment was serviced by steamships between New York/New Orleans and Chagres, New Granada via Havana, Cuba. The Pacific coast segment, also serviced by steamships, ran between Panama City, New Granada and Astoria, Oregon via San Francisco. The third segment, overland between Chagres and Panama City, linked the two steamship segments
Figure 6-1. Map of the via Panama mail service.
Separate mail contracts were negotiated for the three segments, so this chapter will briefly examine each of the three contracts, but will consider the service via Panama as a single route, since the three contracts were interdependent. The mail route via Panama was relegated to a secondary status after the July 1, 1861 start of the daily overland contract mail service between Missouri and San Francisco.
United States Mail Steamship Company Contract, 1848 to 1859
On April 20, 1847, The Navy Department awarded a ten-year contract to Albert G. Sloo to provide a twice-monthly service between New York and Chagres in five newly-constructed steamships. Sloo transferred this contract to a group led by George Law on September 3, with the stipulation that at least two steamships would be ready for service on October 1, 1848.
Law organized the United States Mail Steamship Company (USMSC) on March 23, 1848 and began the construction of the new steamships. The construction was inordinately delayed, so Law proposed to use a small purchased steamship, the Falcon, to inaugurate the service on the Atlantic coast. Upon approval from the Navy, the Falcon left New York with the first monthly mail on December 1, 1848 and arrived in Chagres on December 27. Another small purchased replacement steamship, the Isthmus, carried the second mail from New York on December 26. It was not until September 1849 that the first of Law's new steamships was ready for service, which allowed the USMSC to begin the contracted twice-monthly service in January 1850. At that time, scheduled departures from New York were on the 13th of each month to Chagres and on the 28th of each month to New Orleans connecting at Havana for Chagres.
Pacific Mail Steamship Company Contract, 1848 to 1859
On November 16, 1847, the Navy Department awarded a ten-year contract to Arnold Harris to provide monthly steamship service between Panama City and Astoria, Oregon. Three days later, Harris transferred his contract to a group led by William Aspinwall with the approval of both the Navy and Post Office Departments. Aspinwall committed to provide three steamships for this service, which was to commence on October 1, 1848 and to run ten years from that date.
Aspinwall formed the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (PMSS) on April 12, 1848 and was timelier than Law in the construction of his steamships. The California left New York on October 6, 1848 for San Francisco around Cape Horn. After a stop in Panama City on January 17, 1849 to pick up the passengers and mail from the first two USMSC sailings to Chagres, the California arrived in San Francisco on February 28. With the June 1848 concurrence of the Navy Department, the PMSS used San Francisco as the main terminus of the line, and employed sailing ships or small steamships to carry mail between San Francisco and Astoria, Oregon.
Transit across the Isthmus of Panama
The March 6, 1844 New Granada-U.S. Postal Treaty set transit charges per pound of U.S. mail carried by New Granada across the Isthmus in closed mail bags. Nonetheless, the Postmaster General ordered an extension of the PMSS mail contract to include isthmian transit on October 25, 1848. Since this conflicted with the New Granada postal convention, the PMSS was unable to get a service started. Accordingly, the Postmaster General revoked the PMSS contract extension a year later, and relied on the New Granada postal system to carry the transit mail starting January 1, 1849. The New Granadian transit mail service, however, relied on local contractors and was very unreliable. While passenger trips across the Isthmus took anywhere from two to four days, transit times for freight and mail (which was viewed as low value freight) took from four to ten days, depending on the availability of pack mules. Starting in November 1849, postal agents carried on the steamships were supposed to ensure transit across the Isthmus by accompanying the local contractors, but sometimes stayed at Chagres, or were preoccupied with transporting higher priority private goods.
The longer term solution to the Panama transit was a railroad, so the Panama Railroad Company (PRC) received an exclusive contract from New Granada to build an isthmian transit railroad on May 29, 1850. They began work promptly, and the first daily trains across a portion of the transit began on March 15, 1852, reducing passenger transit times to two days. In anticipation of this, the U.S. Post Office awarded the isthmian mail transit contract to the PRC, effective January 1, 1852. Their service was excellent, as transit times decreased to four hours upon the January 28, 1855 opening of the completed railroad.
Early Contract Period, 1848 to 1851
This start-up period was marked by extremely long trips caused by irregular transit times across the Isthmus and irregular steamship schedules, particularly on the Atlantic coast. This meant that the sailings of the USMSC and PMSS were not synchronized, and mail could wait for as long as a month on the Isthmus to make a connection. Appendix C includes a detailed sailing table that illustrates these delays. Of note in the sailing table is the limited number of ships available to service the USMSC contract in 1848-49. As described above, the USMSC began with two small purchased steamships, and then took one of them off service in June 1849. That left only the Falcon to service the New York-Havana-New Orleans-Chagres circuit from July 1849 to January 1850. As a result, the U.S. Despatch Agent at Panama City had to employ non-contract steamships to carry some contract mails in 1849. Regular twice-monthly sailings along the entire route began in early 1850.
Westbound mail to California left from either New York or New Orleans. Eastbound mail was also distributed from both cities depending on the ultimate destination. The trips departing New York prior to October 1851 stopped at Havana while afterwards the trips were direct. Similarly, mails between New Orleans and Chagres were carried direct from September 28, 1851.
The March 3, 1847 Postal Bill set postage on letters to or from Chagres at 20 cents per half ounce; to or from Panama City at 30 cents; and to or from the Pacific coast at 40 cents.
Contract Letters Carried via Panama, 1848 to 1851
Examples of mail carried during the first year of operation are rare. Figure 6-2 shows a letter carried on the second USMSC sailing, which connected with the inaugural westbound sailing of the PMSS California at Panama City.
This commercial letter was datelined at New York on December 23, 1848 and is the earliest known letter carried on the Panama contract mail route. It was rated for 40 cents transcontinental postage due and postmarked for the December 25 expected sailing1 of the USMSC Isthmus2 which arrived in Chagres on January 16. The letter was then carried across the Isthmus to Panama City, where it caught the first PMSS sailing from Panama by the California on January 31. This first contract mail to San Francisco arrived on February 28.
The PMSS's California also carried the first Special Post Office Agent for California and Oregon, William Van Voorhies, on that maiden voyage. He tried to establish a transcontinental postal service from San Francisco, but was stymied by the desertion to the gold fields of the California's crew and a shortage of coal. Not to be deterred, he chartered a Peruvian sailing ship, the Callao, to carry the first contract mail from San Francisco.
Figure 6-2. Letter postmarked at New York on December 25, 1848 and carried by the USMSC steamer Isthmus to Chagres and the PMSS steamer California to San Francisco.
Figure 6-3 shows the only known letter carried on that trip. This letter from a successful gold miner was datelined December 11, 1848 at San Francisco and waited three months to be forwarded. It was rated for 40 cents transcontinental postage due and postmarked for the expected March 15, 1849 sailing date of the Callao for Panama City. This is the earliest U.S. postmark from San Francisco, which relied on manuscript postmarks until June 1849.3 The Callao actually left on March 19, and arrived in Panama City on May 5.4 After crossing the Isthmus, it waited at Chagres for several weeks before the mail agent decided to use the non-contract Empire City Line steamship Crescent City to transport part of the mail to New Orleans. The Crescent City left Chagres on June 4 and arrived in New Orleans on June 10. Since this letter was addressed to Indiana, it was distributed directly from New Orleans, rather than continuing on to New York.
Figure 6-3. Letter postmarked at San Francisco on March 15, 1849 and carried by the PMSS chartered ship Callao to Panama and the non-contract steamship Crescent City to New Orleans.
The second PMSS steamship, the Oregon, left New York on December 8, 1848 and travelled around Cape Horn to San Francisco on April 1, 1849. During her stop at Panama City, the Oregon picked up San Francisco's first postmaster, John Geary, who quickly prepared her for the return trip to Panama City. She left San Francisco with the first steamship contract mail on April 12. Figure 6-4 shows a letter carried on that trip.
This letter was datelined at San Francisco on January 1, 1850 and hand-carried on the PMSS Oregon to Panama on January 23. The letter travelled across the Isthmus to Chagres, where it was most likely put into the USMSC mail bag. It then left Chagres aboard the USMSC Falcon on January 26 and, after a stop in
The 40 cents transcontinental postage could also be prepaid by 1847 issue postage stamps. All but one of the known examples originated in the East, since 1847 issue stamps were never placed on sale in California. Figure 6-8 shows an early westbound example.
Mail Agents on the Steamships, 1849 to 1852
The Navy Act of March 3, 1847 specified that, "steamers shall also receive on board and accommodate, without charge to the government, one agent, to be appointed by the Postmaster General, who shall have charge of the mails to be transported in said steamers." Starting in November 1849, mail agents were carried on contract steamships via Panama. These agents saw the mails to the port of Chagres and accompanied New Granadian contractors with the mail across the Isthmus to Panama City.8 The U.S. Consul at Panama City, as U.S. Despatch Agent, received the mail for sorting and proper routing and paid the New Granadian government for the transit services according to the 1844 U.S.-New Granada convention. If the agent did not accompany the westbound mail all the way to San Francisco, he waited at Panama City for the next PMSS eastbound mail and accompanied it back to New York.
The mail agents were also responsible for sorting and postmarking mail received on board the steamer. Special route agent postmarks were prepared for this, and Figure 6-9 illustrates the only known westbound route agent datestamp.
Figure 6-9. Letter posted July 23, 1850 on board the USMSC Georgia and then carried by the PMSS California to California.
The original letter (no longer present) was datelined July 13, 18509 at New York by John Bidwell. Bidwell was visiting back East, and had arrived in New York on July 8 aboard the USMSC Georgia. He gave this letter to the Georgia's mail agent, Bannister Midgett, who was scheduled to leave New York on July 13. Midgett apparently did not process his New York way mail until well into the voyage. He rated the letter for 40 cents transcontinental postage due and postmarked it with his "N. York & Chagres S.S." device on July 23, one day before the Georgia arrived at Chagres. Midgett then accompanied the mail, along with this letter, across the Isthmus to Panama City, where Amos Corwine, U.S. Consul and Despatch Agent, sorted the mail and gave 79 California mail bags back to Midgett for transportation to San Francisco. The PMSS California departed with Midgett and this mail on August 3 and arrived in San Francisco on August 23. Midgett departed for the East on September 1, accompanying the PMSS Oregon's mails to New York. The addressee, John Townsend, was the first licensed physician in California. He came to California in 1844 as part of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy overland party,10 and was appointed Alcalde (mayor) of San Francisco from April to September 1848. His term of office ended with his departure for the gold mines. He later treated victims of an October 1850 cholera outbreak in San Jose and died from the disease.
A few covers are known with manuscript "Panama & San Francisco (date)" route agent markings on mail collected on board a PMSS steamship. Others are known with one of two types11 of circular route agent datestamps which read, "Pan. & San. Fran. S.S." and are seen in both black and red ink. Research12 has shown that the type I datestamp was used exclusively by route agent Gouverneur Ferris and the type II by route agent Bannister Midgett. Figure 6-10 shows a December 1850 example of the type II route agent postmark.
Figure 6-10. Letter postmarked December 23, 1850 on board the PMSS California and then carried by the USMSC Falcon to New York.
This letter was datelined July 24, 1850 at Sacramento and waited some time before being sent. It was probably given to route agent Midgett on board the PMSS California while at San Francisco. That ship left on December 15 and Midgett waited some time before processing his way mail. While off Acapulco on December 23, he postmarked the letter with his type II "Pan. & San. Fran. S.S." device. The California arrived at Panama City on January 3, and Midgett accompanied the mail via Chagres to the USMSC Falcon, which arrived in New York on January 24. The New York post office marked the letter with its distinctive circled 40 cents due marking.
Midgett was active as a route agent on the entire route between July 1850 and June 1852, while Ferris was active between November 1850 and October 1852. Accordingly, the period of use of the route agent datestamps runs from July 1850 to October 1852.
Early Communications between Europe and the West Coast, 1849 to 1851
The exclusive Panama mail contracts meant that all post office mail from the West Coast to Europe was carried by PMSS and USMSC steamships via Panama for transfer to transatlantic steamships at New York.
Figure 6-11 shows the earliest known letter from the San Francisco post office to England. This double-weight commercial letter was postmarked in San Francisco for the expected August 1, 1849 departure of the PMSS steamship California and marked in red for the unpaid 80 cents transcontinental postage.13 This is the earliest use of San Francisco's circular datestamp, which replaced the straight-line postmark in August. After a trip across the Isthmus, this letter was faced with the prospect of a long delay at Chagres, since the USMSC Falcon had left on July 25 and was not due back for several months. The U.S. mail agent accordingly arranged to have the Empire City Line carry this mail at no charge on the Empire City to New York September on 13. The New York post office crossed out the red "80" and added a 90 cents debit to England for the 80 cents plus twice the five cents British convention rate for U.S. postage, in a curious double charge for domestic postage. The letter then left on September 19 aboard the British Cunard steamer Niagara for Liverpool, where it arrived on October 2. London calculated five shillings four pence due, which was equal to three shillings nine pence due for the 90 cents U.S. debit plus one shilling seven pence due for double packet and British inland postage.14
Figure 6-11. Letter postmarked at San Francisco on August 1, 1849 and carried by the PMSS California to Panama, the Empire City to New York, and the Cunarder Niagara to Europe.
Letters from Europe to the Pacific coast were handled differently. The British Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (RMSP) had been running steamships between England and Chagres via the West Indies since 1842,15 and this became the default mail route for British mails to the Pacific coast. Mails from other European countries to the west coasts of North and South America were carried in the British mails, and were accordingly routed via the West Indies.16 The French post office introduced a fully-paid rate of two francs ten centimes (21 décimes) per 7.5 grams to Panama City by RMSP steamship effective August 1, 1849.17 Postage beyond Panama City had to be collected from the recipient. Figure 6-12 shows a rare example of this rate.
This letter was prepaid two francs ten centimes at Bordeaux, France on February 12, 1850 per a manuscript "21" (décimes) on the reverse, and routed via Southampton, England for the February 18 sailing of the RMSP steamship Great Western to Jamaica on March 18. It was transferred at Jamaica to the RMSP branch line steamer Tay for Chagres, where it arrived on March 25. British consular agents then arranged for the transit across the Isthmus, and the letter connected with the April 1 PMSS Panama sailing
Figure 6-12. Letter sent from Bordeaux, France to California on February 12, 1850. It was carried by RMSP steamships to Chagres and the PMSS Panama to San Francisco.
to San Francisco on April 20. Since the postage had only been paid to Panama City, the San Francisco post office charged 30 cents postage due for the March 1847 rate from Panama City.
A fully-paid 28 décimes closed mail rate to California via the West Indies became effective in France on January 1, 1851.18 Two months later, the French post office announced that the West Indies route was the default for all mails to California.19 Figure 6-13 shows a July 1851 example.
Figure 6-13. Letter sent from Angouleme, France to California on July 10, 1851. It was carried by RMSP steamships to Chagres and the PMSS Panama to San Francisco.
This letter was prepaid 28 décimes per a manuscript "28" on the back, in Angouleme, France on July 10, 1851. It was routed via Southampton to the July 17 sailing of the RMSP steamship Avon, which arrived at Chagres on August 12. British consular agents then arranged for the transit across the Isthmus to Panama City, where it met the September 1 sailing of the PMSS steamship Oregon to San Francisco on September 18. Although the 28 décimes was published as a fully-paid rate, San Francisco nonetheless charged 20 cents postage due, per the red "20." It is surmised that the British consul in Panama City transferred the
mail to the American consul, who opened the closed mail bags to extract any locally-addressed mail in his capacity as U.S. Despatch Mail Agent. Since the mail bags were no longer closed when they reached San Francisco, their letters were assessed 20 cents postage from Panama City. Per markings on the reverse, this letter was picked up at the San Francisco post office by Reynolds & Company, which delivered it to the southern gold mines for a $1 express fee.
Contract Mails to and from Oregon, 1849 to 1851
The 1847 contract between the PMSS and the Navy Department called for service between Panama City and Astoria. After the February 2, 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded Upper California to the United States, the PMSS's interest shifted to San Francisco as the principal terminus. On June 19, 1848 the Secretary of the Navy approved that terminus for the PMSS steamships,20 provided that the PMSS continue to provide monthly service between San Francisco and Oregon in chartered sailing vessels. In January 1850, the Navy Department ordered the PMSS to put steamships on the Oregon extension by June 10. Accordingly, the PMSS started steamship service to Oregon with the Carolina in June 1850. Finally, on March 13, 1851, the Navy Department, Post Office Department and PMSS reached an agreement to carry twice-monthly mails between Panama and Astoria in
This letter was datelined at Oregon City on February 24, 1850 and prepaid 40 cents transcontinental postage. It was postmarked for the March 1 boat departure down the Columbia River to Astoria, where it met the March 2 sailing of the PMSS-chartered brig Seguin to San Francisco on March 8. Too late for the monthly PMSS steamship that departed on March 1, it waited for the April 1 PMSS California sailing to Panama on April 23. After a quick trip across the Isthmus, it was carried by the USMSC Georgia to New York on May 7.
Post Office Mails Carried by Opposition Steamships, 1849 to 1850
As early as December 1848, non-contract steamship lines (called "opposition steamships") began running between New York and Chagres, mainly competing for the passenger traffic. Initial competition for the USMSC came from the Empire City Line (which used J. Howard & Sons as its New York agents) with the steamships Crescent City and Empire City on the Atlantic coast. These two were joined by three steamships on the Pacific coast in 1850, which prompted the PMSS to gain control of all but one of the Empire City Line steamships in October 1850. This left the PMSS in competition with the USMSC on the New York/New Orleans-Chagres route with the old Empire City Line steamships.
Perhaps anticipating this, George Law (principal owner of the USMSC) sent the Isthmus, Columbus and two other steamships of Law's Line to the Pacific in May-June 1850 to compete with the PMSS. This quickly ended with a January 1851 agreement between the USMSC and PMSS to sell their competing steamships to each other and to confine their activities to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, respectively.
In the interim, the post office attempted to take advantage of the more frequent sailings. In an October 15, 1849 letter to the Boston postmaster, the First Assistant Postmaster General wrote,
...On the 27th of September, authority was given to the Postmaster of New York to make up and send mails by the Crescent City and the Empire City - the proprietors having consented to take them at the compensation authorized by the act of Congress of 1825...instructions were given under date of the 10th instant, that, in restricting the Postmaster of New York to the exclusive employment of the government packet line, whenever its ship and that of Howard & Son sailed on the same day he would nevertheless mail by Howard & Son's ship all letters marked to be conveyed by it.
Just before this, a mail was carried by the Empire City that was rated as a contract mail on the Pacific Coast. Figure 6-15 shows a letter carried in this mail.
In March 1852, the Post Office approved payment for 42,969 letters carried by the Empire City Line in 1849-50. Compensation for this service was at the fairly meager rate of 2 cents per letter.22
With respect to the opposition steamers on the Pacific coast, the May 14, 1850 Alta California reported:
We understand that O. Charlick, Esquire, agent of Law's Line of Steamers, has offered to take a mail, and that the Postmaster will dispatch one by the Isthmus on the 15th, which will reach Panama in time to connect with the regular mail steamer leaving Chagres on the 13th of June. Persons sending by this steamer must endorse their letters "Per Isthmus."
This was the first sailing by Law's Line from San Francisco, and the postmaster sent four more special contract mails on the Isthmus and the Columbus in June, July, September and October 1850.23 He did this to take advantage of the mid-month departures of Law's Line, which supplemented the PMSS monthly departures on the first of each month. He also took the precaution of requiring all letters carried by Law's Line to be specifically endorsed to that line, and it appears that he produced special endorsement handstamps for that purpose.
Figure 6-16 shows a letter carried in the June 1850 Law's Line special contract mail. This letter was written in San Francisco on June 8, 1850 and postmarked on June 11, with 40 cents transcontinental postage due. To justify sending it by the non-contract Law's Line steamship Columbus, the San Francisco postmaster prepared the "PER STR COLUMBUS" marking, which is marked in the same red ink as the regular postmarks. Accordingly, this letter was part
This and a similar marking for the Isthmus are known in red and black ink. Manuscript endorsements to Law's Line steamships were also accepted for these five special contract mails. An October 10, 1850 Post Office Department order put an end to this practice upon its receipt in San Francisco in early December. On July 15, 1850 the PMSS had extended its sailings to twice-monthly on the 1st and 15th of each month, so there was no further need to use Law[s Line. Accordingly, the First Assistant Postmaster General wrote:
Sir: The Postmaster General has ordered that the arrangement for a semi-monthly mail, between Panama and San Francisco, (W.H. Aspinwall, Contractor,) be made complete: that a second monthly conveyance be made by said contract; that the mails depart from each of those places or the other on the 15th of each month as well as on the first; and that the regular Mail Agents accompany the mail on the 15th, as well as those dispatched on the 1st of each month in the ships of said contractor. The Postmaster General directs that hereafter no mails whatever be made up and sent over the New York, Havana, Chagres, Panama, San Francisco and Astoria routes otherwise than in the government mail packet lines...and that all mails over said routes should be sent exclusively in the charge of government agents.
Middle Contract Period, 1851 to 1855
With the partial opening of the Panama Railroad on March 15, 1852 the reliability and regularity of the twice-monthly Panama route increased significantly. In addition, the Atlantic steamship terminus was moved from Chagres to Aspinwall when the Panama Railroad started operations. This ensured much smoother transfers, as newly constructed wharves permitted the direct transfer of the mails and passengers from the steamships to the train. Accordingly, transit times between New York and San Francisco were reduced to around 30 days and mail volumes increased dramatically.
The March 3, 1851 Postal Act changed the transcontinental rates, effective July 1. The 1847 west coast rate of 40 cents per half ounce was dramatically reduced to six cents on prepaid mail. Unpaid mail was charged 10 cents, and the definition of transcontinental was refined to "exceeding 3,000 miles." In addition, letters conveyed over 2,500 miles wholly or in part by sea between the United States and foreign countries were charged 20 cents. This replaced the 30 cents rate between Panama City and the United States, although the old 20 cents Chagres rate remained the same. These 1851 rates were superseded on April 1, 1855.
Contract Letters Carried via Panama, 1851 to 1855
A letter carried on the first westbound trip after the 1851 rate change is shown in Figure 6-17. This letter was datelined July 10, 1851 in New York City and prepaid six cents in cash for the new transcontinental rate to California. It was postmarked "New-York Paid 6" for the July 11 sailing of the USMSC Georgia to Chagres, where it arrived on July 24. After crossing the Isthmus, it was carried by the PMSS Panama to San Francisco on August 19. Its receipt was docketed on August 20 as "pr Panama by mail."
By October 1853, letters originating in California with bisects were charged postage due upon arrival in most eastern post offices. The notice of their non-validity reached San Francisco around October 17, and bisects were no longer used after that date. Accepted bisects, therefore, were carried on the seven contract sailings that left San Francisco between May 16 and August 16, 1853.
Figure 6-18 illustrates an accepted 12 cents bisect from California. This letter was datelined August 15, 1853 from San Francisco and prepaid 6 cents by a bisected 1851 issue 12 cents stamp. San Francisco postmarked it for the August 16 sailing of the PMSS Winfield Scott to Panama, where it arrived on August 30. That mail connected across the Isthmus with the USMSC Illinois, which arrived in New York on September 10. Since this was just prior to the September 12 Post Office Department communication, New York accepted the letter as fully paid and sent it on to Boston.
Figure 6-18. Letter postmarked at San Francisco on August 16, 1853 and carried by the PMSS Winfield Scott to Panama and the USMSC Illinois to New York.
A month later, bisects were being rejected by eastern post offices, so bisect letters with 10 cents due were carried on the three contract sailings that left San Francisco between September 16 and October 16, 1853. Figure 6-19 shows a rejected example. This letter was prepaid in San Francisco by a bisected 1851 issue 12 cents stamp and postmarked for the September 16, 1853 sailing of the PMSS John L. Stephens to Panama
Rates on fully-paid French mail to California dropped to 25 décimes on September 1, 1851.26 San Francisco continued to collect 20 cents on each of these letters. Figure 6-20 shows an example.
This letter was prepaid 2 francs 50 centimes in stamps of the French 1852 and 1853 issues.27 It was posted in Paris on October 31, 1853 and routed via Southampton for the November 2 sailing of the RMSP steamship La Plata to Chagres on November 16. British consular agents arranged for the transit across the Isthmus to Panama City, where it connected with the December 3 sailing of the PMSS steamship John L.Stephens to San Francisco on December 16.
Figure 6-20. Letter sent from Paris, France to California on October 31, 1853. It was carried by RMSP steamships to Chagres and the PMSS J.L. Stephens to San Francisco.
San Francisco Letter Bag Operators, 1853 to 1858
In the long tradition of coffee houses and news rooms in the East, San Francisco letter bag operators maintained bags for the deposit of outbound mail. The need for this service arose because many of the steamers available for carrying mail were without government contracts and their departures, which could be well before the departure of the next contract mail steamer, were not served by the San Francisco post office. Depending on the nearest departure, the letter bag operators delivered their bags of mail to the San Francisco post office, a steamship agent, or directly to a non-contract steamship. Typically, the letters were marked by the letter bag operator to publicize the service.
The most widely known of the San Francisco letter bag operators was Charles Kimball, San Francisco's "Noisy Carrier." Kimball started his newspaper "crier" career in April 1850. By the end of that year, Kimball was printing a city directory from his publishing hall at 77 Long Wharf. In 1853, Kimball expanded his business to include a letter bag service. His Noisy Carriers handstamps and labels exist on eastbound mail in a wide variety of styles, and are known on mail delivered to contract steamships, as well as on letters carried by non-contract steamers via Panama or Nicaragua.
Figure 6-21 shows an early example of a Noisy Carriers letter handled through the post office. This letter was deposited with the Noisy Carriers letter bag operator, who added their publicity label at the lower left and took it to the San Francisco post office. It was franked by a 12 cents bisect for the transcontinental postage and postmarked for the May 16, 1853 sailing of the PMSS John L. Stephens from San Francisco to Panama City on May 23. After 11 days on the Isthmus, this letter was carried by the USMSC Illinois to New York on June 12. The New York post office accepted the letter as fully paid and sent it onward to Wilmington, Delaware.
Figure 6-21. Letter collected by Noisy Carriers and postmarked at San Francisco on May 16, 1853. It was carried by PMSS and USMSC steamships to New York.
Late Contract Period, 1855 to 1861
The major events affecting the Panama contract mails in this period were:
Contract Letters Carried via Panama, 1855 to 1859
The completion of the Panama railroad meant that transit times between San Francisco and New York were reduced to around 25 days.
Figure 6-22 shows how efficient the Panama route had become. This June 20, 1857 edition of the San Francisco News Letter was prepaid 10 cents30 and
Letter bag operators continued to direct letters via Panama. Figure 6-23 shows an example.
This letter was deposited with the Noisy Carriers letter bag operator, who added the "By Mail Steamer from Noisy Carrier's" publicity scroll and took it to the San Francisco post office. It was prepaid 10 cents31 and postmarked for the December 5, 1857 sailing of the PMSS Golden Age to Panama City on December 18. After a one-day trip across the Isthmus, this letter was taken on board the USMSC Illinois, which arrived in New York on December 27.
Many of the foreign mail conventions at this time added a 5 cents transcontinental surcharge to the U.S. domestic portion of the rates. Figure 6-24 illustrates a February 1856 example from Canada.
Figure 6-24. Letter postmarked at Three Rivers, Lower Canada on February 5, 1856 and carried by USMSC and PMSS steamships via Panama to San Francisco.
This letter was posted on February 5, 1856 in Three Rivers, Lower Canada and prepaid nine pence (equivalent to 15 cents) by three 3d "Beaver" stamps.32 The July 1, 1851 Convention rate33 between the United States and Canada was 10 cents per half ounce, but mail to California was charged an additional five cents transcontinental surcharge. The letter was carried by the USMSC George Law from New York to Aspinwall on March 1. It then connected with the PMSS Golden Age to San Francisco on March 14. This is the only known use of the Canadian pence issues to the West Coast.
The exclusivity of the RMSP route via the West Indies for mail from Europe to the Pacific coast was dropped in 1853. In the case of France, an April 14, 1853 Postal Circular permitted the routing of westbound mail by any available route, but it was not until well into 1855 that letters were routed from France to California via New York. Figure 6-25 shows an August 1856 example.
Figure 6-25. Letter postmarked at Levier, France on August 12, 1856 and carried by the Cunard line to New York, the USMSC to Aspinwall and the PMSS to San Francisco.
This letter was prepaid the one franc 30 centimes rate34 via England to the United States at Levier, France on August 12. The French post office rated it "P.F." (Paid only to the U.S. frontier), and routed the letter via Liverpool for the August 16 sailing of the Cunard steamship Niagara to Boston on August 27. Boston sent the letter via New York to catch the September 5 USMSC steamship Illinois for Aspinwall. The New York post office charged the letter 10 cents, consisting of the British Convention rate of 5 cents for U.S. domestic postage plus the 5 cents transcontinental surcharge. After crossing the Isthmus in one day, the letter was carried by the PMSS steamship Golden Age to San Francisco on September 28.
The End of the 1847 Ocean Mail Contracts in 1859
In March 1859, Vanderbilt's Atlantic & Pacific Steamship Company started running steamships via Panama, perhaps in anticipation of the September 30, 1859 expiration35 of the USMSC and PMSS mail contracts. The Post Office Department had resolved to significantly reduce the subsidies in those mail contracts and proposed that compensation should be limited to the amount of postage on the mail carried. Since most of the high value first class mail was being carried overland, the USMSC and PMSS declined to carry the mail under those terms, and the USMSC decided to withdraw from the steamship business altogether. Accordingly, the Post Office turned to Vanderbilt, who agreed on October 5, 1859 to carry the mail on both coasts for a greatly reduced subsidy.
The PMSS acquired three steamships to compete with Vanderbilt for the lucrative passenger traffic on the Atlantic coast in July 1859. Peace was declared on February 17, 1860 when they agreed to restrict the PMSS's operations to the Pacific and those of the Atlantic & Pacific to the Atlantic. The Atlantic & Pacific also sub-contracted the western part of the mail contract to the PMSS at that time.
The Butterfield overland mails had terminated in March-April 1861 due to Civil War-related disturbances along the route, and the daily overland mail did not start until July 1, so the route via Panama carried virtually all transcontinental mails in the April-June 1861 period. Figure 6-26 shows a letter carried on the last regular mail steamer via Panama before the start of the daily overland mail on July 1, 1861.
times U.S. inland postage of three cents. The Persia arrived in Queenstown on July 26, and this letter was charged triple-weight 24 décimes postage due upon its July 29 arrival in Bordeaux, France.
Non-Contract Mail via Panama
Vanderbilt's first competitive effort on the Panama route was his Independent Opposition Line, from October 1853 to September 1854. His steamships began running from San Francisco on October 16, 1853 and from New York four days later. He did not have a mail contract, but the competition for passenger traffic prompted the USMSC, PMSS and the Accessory Transit Co.36 to buy him out on September 1, 1854. The small amount of eastbound non-contract mail carried by the Independent Opposition Line entered the U.S. mails upon the steamship's arrival at New York.
Figures 6-27 and 6-28 show two letters carried on the last of eight trips by the line. Figure 6-27, with six cents transcontinental postage prepaid, was given to Noisy Carriers in late August 1854. The next PMSS
Figure 6-27. Letter carried by the Independent Opposition Line's Uncle Sam to Panama and the Prometheus to New York on September 27, 1854.
sailing was scheduled for September 1, so the letter was directed to the Independent Line sailing of the Uncle Sam on August 31. The advertising handstamp boldly proclaims, "Forwarded via Independent Line Ahead of Everything." The Uncle Sam arrived at Panama City on September 15, and her mails were carried across the Isthmus to Aspinwall. Upon arrival there, it was learned that the Independent Line had ceased operations on September 1. Vanderbilt's agent transferred the mail to San Juan del Norte, Nicaragua to connect with Vanderbilt's Nicaragua Line steamer Prometheus, which departed on September 18 and arrived in New York on September 25. The letter was deposited in the New York post office, which postmarked it on September 27 and sent it on to Maine.
The letter in Figure 6-28 was taken directly to the Independent Opposition Line steamer Uncle Sam at San Francisco with six cents transcontinental postage to Maine prepaid. It was marked for the expected routing via the Uncle Sam and the North Star but, as seen with Figure 6-27, the North Star was no longer in service when this letter arrived in Aspinwall. Accordingly, this letter followed the same route via Nicaragua, and arrived in New York on September 25, 1854.
Figure 6-28. Letter carried by the Independent Opposition Line's Uncle Sam to Panama and the Prometheus to New York on September 27, 1854.
Transcontinental express companies also carried non-contract mail (usually in contract steamships) as an adjunct to their service of transporting gold dust or other valuables. Their agents accompanied the shipments on the steamships, so it was relatively easy for them to carry mail as well. This type of mail often did not enter the U.S. mails. Companies that provided this service included:
USMSC steamship Falcon, which left Chagres on November 27 and arrived at Havana on January 3. He immediately boarded the USMSC Ohio, which left Havana that day and arrived in New York on January 8. The following day, the letter was delivered to the recipient, per the "Rec'd 3 oclock 9th Jany "50" docket. No U.S. postage was paid on this letter.
Figure 6-30 shows an 1851 westbound example carried by Gregory's Atlantic and Pacific Express.
Figure 6-30. Letter carried by a Gregory's Express agent on the USMSC Cherokee to Chagres and the PMSS Columbus to San Francisco on December 12, 1851.
This letter was datelined October 29, 1851 from Franklin, Ohio and sent under cover to Gregory's Atlantic & Pacific Express in New York. It left New York aboard the USMSC steamship Cherokee on November 6 and arrived at Chagres on November 17. After a trip across the Isthmus, it connected at Panama City with the PMSS steamship Columbus, which left on November 26 and arrived in San Francisco on December 12. Gregory's Express Company then arranged to deliver it to their agent at Marysville, California completely outside of the U.S. mails. The addressee, Frank Rumrill, was a noted expressman in his own right. He began as agent for Gregory's Express at Marysville from March 1851 to October 1852, before becoming the Marysville agent for Wells Fargo & Company until August 1853. He then set out on his own, while maintaining close ties with Wells Fargo, and started F. Rumrill & Co.'s Northern Express, servicing the northern gold mines around Downieville. He sold his express company to Wells Fargo in April 1855.
This ability to avoid U.S. postage was soon prohibited. On January 13, 1854, the U. S. Special Postal Agent in California gave notice to the express companies that they must have U.S. postage prepaid on letter mail in an amount equivalent to the postage if carried in the government mails.
Chapter Five described the opening of private and semi-private mail services over the Central Route. Starting in 1850, the U.S. Post Office Department began to extend its overland contract mail route system westward. Figure 7-1 shows the three segments which ultimately received mail contracts along the Central Route, and the alternate California route between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
Figure 7-1. Map of the Central Route segments, consisting of Salt Lake City-Independence; Salt Lake City-Sacramento/Los Angeles; and Salt Lake City-Oregon.
Salt Lake City (in today's Utah) was the central element in this route system, and no single contract linked the east and west coasts over this route until the start of the daily overland contract mail service in July 1861. This chapter will examine the various mail contracts along the Central Route in chronological order: between Salt Lake City and Missouri, between Salt Lake City and California, and between Salt Lake City and Oregon.
Contract Route between Salt Lake City and Missouri
Table 7-1 summarizes the mail contracts between Salt Lake City and Missouri that are described in this chapter. Detailed schedules and many actual trip times for these contracts can be found in Appendix D.
Woodson Contract, 1850 to 1854
On May 20, 1850, the U.S. post office solicited proposals for a mail route between Oregon City and Independence, Missouri via Salt Lake City. The accepted proposal from James Brown and Samuel Woodson was only between Salt Lake City and Independence, and included monthly trips in about 30 days each way. All trips were to leave on the first of each month and arrive by the last of each month, with operations beginning on August 1, 1850 from Independence. In December 1850, Brown died, so the contract was subsequently transferred in its entirety to Woodson.
Until way stations were established along the route, Woodson had difficulty adhering to the 30-day schedule. He encountered particular difficulty on the Fort Laramie-Salt Lake City section of the route, so he sub-contracted that portion of the route to Feramorz Little, starting on August 1, 1851.
After severe interruptions in service from Salt Lake City during the winters of 1850-51 and1851-52, the Salt Lake City postmaster sent the December-March eastbound mails in 1852-53 and 1853-54 via San Pedro (the port of Los Angeles), California. This mail was carried down the Old Spanish Trail under the Chorpenning contract (see below for more information about this contract), and then carried east by steamships via Panama to New York. Fewer than 40 percent of the trips for which sufficient information is available were completed within the contractual 30 days. This non-performance apparently convinced the post office not to renew the contract for Route 4965 after June 30, 1854.
This is the earliest known letter from this period, and was scheduled to be carried on the third eastbound Woodson contract trip. However, the severity of the 1850-51 winter snows caused the November-April mails to be held until the May 1, 1851 departure from Salt Lake City. Accordingly, this letter arrived in Independence around May 31, fully six months after it was posted in Salt Lake City. It was written by an emigrant to California who had reached Salt Lake too late to cross the snowbound mountain passes to California. It was rated 10 cents due for the postage to Sabula, Iowa.
Figure 7-3 illustrates a July 1, 1851 letter from Salt Lake City to New Jersey. This letter received the new Salt Lake City U.T. (Utah Territory) italic straightline postmark which replaced the series of manuscript postmarks used previously. The Salt Lake City post office was apparently confused by the new July 1, 1851 postal rates. This letter was initially rated for six cents due, reflecting the new over 3,000 mile transcontinental rate, but later re-rated for five cents due, reflecting the correct unpaid rate for less than 3,000 miles to New Jersey.
Figure 7-3. Letter postmarked Salt Lake City U.T. on July 1, 1851 and carried under the Woodson contract to Independence.
Mail was collected and delivered along the route at Fort Laramie and Fort Kearny. Eastbound trips were expected to leave Laramie around the 15th of each month, and to take another fifteen days to reach Independence.
Figure 7-5 shows an 1852 cover that made a lengthy round trip to and from Fort Laramie. This letter was postmarked in San Francisco on August 15, 1852 and rated "Paid 6" for the transcontinental postage to
Laramie and Fort Kearny, however, prevented the mail from leaving Fort Laramie until January 12. It finally arrived back in Independence on February 4, and reached North Carolina in mid-February.
Figure 7-5 also shows that the preferred route from the West Coast to Independence and Fort Laramie was by steamships via Panama. By 1852, it was clear that weather problems along the Central Route were causing significant delays in the overland mails, and that the Panama route was much more reliable. The endorsement "Fort Laramie via Independence Missouri" was also in conformance with a Post Office directive. The March 17, 1853 Hannibal Missouri Courier observed that:
Generally, however, the mistake is made in directing letters, "Fort Laramie Oregon Route." In the haste with which these letters are distributed at the various offices in the United States, the eye catching the word "Oregon," it is at once supposed that it is to be sent by the California steamers, and off it goes in that direction. To ensure its getting to Fort Laramie, nothing more is necessary than to direct it, "Fort Laramie, via Independence Mo."
Figure 7-6 shows a June 1852 letter from Fort Kearny (in today's Nebraska) to New Jersey. This letter was datelined "Fort Kearny June 15th/52" and posted at the fort. It was prepaid three cents postage to New Jersey and postmarked with the fancy "Ft Kearny O.R." (Oregon Route) spread eagle postmark. A manuscript "June 22/52" was added to the postmark, reflecting the expected departure date of the mail for Independence. This letter was carried in the same mail as Figure 7-4, which was late in leaving Salt Lake City and which reached Fort Kearny around July 1.
Magraw Contract, 1854 to 1856
The replacement contract route for the Salt Lake City-Independence mail service was designated Route 8911, but was in all material aspects unchanged from Route 4965. On May 10, 1854, the Post Office Department selected the proposal from William Magraw and John Reeside, effective July 1. Trips were monthly, leaving Salt Lake City and Independence on the first of each month, and arriving on the last day of each month.
The contractors made the necessary investments in livestock and twelve way stations, and began operations optimistically. Unfortunately for them, Fort Laramie's Lieutenant Richard Grattan of the 6th U.S. Infantry led 29 soldiers from Company G into a conflict with Indian tribes that wiped out his command on August 19, 1854. The "Grattan Massacre" ignited full conflict with the Plains Indians along the Independence-Salt Lake Citymail route from Fort Kearny to South Pass. Way stations were attacked and destroyed, and at least one mail party was attacked. Unable to fully protect trading posts and the mail way stations, General William Harney ordered their abandonment on September 18, 1855. The loss of the way stations and the increased need for security with the mail parties created a large financial burden on Magraw and Reeside, so they petitioned the U.S. Government for relief. Accordingly, additional compensation was granted to the contractors and their contract was annulled on August 18, 1856, effective November 30.
Much of the mail carried under this contract was routed via Los Angeles, as was the case with Route 4965. The contractor for the Salt Lake-California route, George Chorpenning, presented claims to Congress for having carried much of the Salt Lake City-Independence mail. He asserted that he carried all or a portion of the westbound Magraw mails in July 1855, February-May 1856, and July-August 1856. He also claimed to carry eastbound Magraw mails of January 1855, July 1855 and February 1856.
Magraw's performance was no better than Woodson's during 1850-54. Fewer than a third of the trips for which there is sufficient information were performed within the 30-day contractual period. Figure 7-7 shows a September 1855 letter from Salt Lake City to Scotland.
Figure 7-7. Letter postmarked at Salt Lake City on September 1, 1855 and carried under the Magraw contract to Independence.
This letter was prepaid the 24 cents rate to Great Britain in cash and postmarked with the new style of circular "Salt Lake City Utah T." (Utah Territory) postmark on September 1, 1855. The September mail left Salt Lake City that day and arrived in Independence around September 30. This letter was then carried by steamboat to St Louis and by train to New York, where it caught the American Collins Line steamer Pacific, departing on October 17 and arriving in Liverpool on October 28. In confirmation of this, the letter was marked "Paid in America Liverpool 28 OC 55," and sent onward to Scotland. The red "3" is the U.S. credit to England for their internal postage.
Figure 7-8 shows a January 1855 letter from Salt Lake City that was routed via Los Angeles. This letter was endorsed "via California" and postmarked at the Salt Lake City post office on January 5, 1855.
Figure 7-9 shows an extraordinary cover carried in part by Magraw to a soldier in Company G of the 6th U.S. Infantry at Fort Laramie.
Figure 7-9. Letter posted on March 26, 1854 in Morpeth, England and mis-directed to Oregon. It was carried to Fort Laramie via Salt Lake City.
This letter was initially prepaid one shilling (the correct rate via Liverpool to New York) at Morpeth, England on March 26, 1854, but was stopped at Liverpool where a clerk made the mistaken judgement that it was addressed to Oregon. All Oregon mail was to be sent by Royal Mail Steam Packets (RMSP) from Southampton to Panama, but the cost on that route was two shillings four pence. Accordingly, the letter was returned to Morpeth for the additional one shilling four pence and then routed to the RMSP steamer Magdalena, which left on April 3 and arrived in St Thomas on April 18. The RMSP branch steamer Clyde then took the letter to Chagres, New Granada on April 24. After crossing the Isthmus of Panama, it was carried by the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. steamer John L. Stephens to San Francisco on May 16. It was then transferred in a closed mailbag to Oregon, where the mistaken routing was noticed and the letter was returned to San Francisco, receiving the rare boxed "Missent" marking.
The San Francisco postmark was dated for the June 1 departure of the Chorpenning mail to Salt Lake City. The latter apparently missed the July 8 Magraw trip from Salt Lake City to Independence, but did connect with the next Magraw trip, which left on August 1 and arrived at Fort Laramie around August 13. At that time, Company G was away from the fort with Lieutenant Grattan on its fateful mission with the Plains Indians and, as noted above, was wiped out on August 19. The addressee of this letter must have been with that group, since the letter bears a final English marking, "Sent Back to England Without a Reason for Non-Delivery."
Kimball Contract, 1857 to 1857
The annulment of the Magraw contract caused the Post Office Department to once again solicit proposals for Route 8911, this time for December 1, 1856 to November 30, 1860. On October 16, it accepted the bid from Hiram Kimball of Salt Lake City for monthly service between Salt Lake City and Independence. Trips were to leave from Independence on the first of each month and from Salt Lake City on the second of each month. All trips were to arrive at their destination by the last day of each month, in about 30 days.
Kimball was required to accept the contract by December 1, but the Post Office Department chose to send his contract by the overland mails. At that time, the mails to Salt Lake City were severely disrupted. The November 1856 mail from Independence (which included the Kimball contract) was held at the Platte River Bridge over the winter, and did not arrive in Salt Lake City until March 24, 1857. Ironically, Kimball learned that he had been awarded the contract on January 6, 1857 by letter via Los Angeles. Accordingly, he commenced his service in February, even though he still had not received the actual contract. Nonetheless, he had not conformed to the requirements of the bid (through no fault of his own), and a rising tide of ant-Mormonism prompted the Post Office Department to annul his award on June 24, 1857. Notice of this was received in Salt Lake City sometime in July.
Prior to Kimball's commencement of service, the Salt Lake City postmaster was forced into stopgap measures. He hired Feramorz Little and Ephraim Hanks to carry the November-December 1856 mails for single trip compensation of $1,500. They left on December 10 and, after a difficult 79-day trip through the mountain snows, arrived at Independence on February 27, 1857. The Salt Lake postmaster then contracted with John Kerr for the January mails, but he was forced to return to Salt Lake City, so much of the eastbound mail was forwarded via California. The Independence postmaster faced an even larger problem with the westbound mails since there were no Kimball mail carriers in Independence. He sent the May mail to Fort Laramie with John Murdock, who delivered it to O.P. Rockwell for onward transmission to Salt Lake City. Little and Hanks then took the June mail on their return trip to Salt Lake City. Kimball was ultimately granted compensation for five half trips from Salt Lake City to Independence from February to June 1857, but was not recognized for two successful westbound trips.
Very little mail is known from this period. Figure 7-10 illustrates a November 1856 Salt Lake City letter carried by Feramorz Little and Ephraim Hanks.This letter was prepaid the 24 cents rate to England
It took about two weeks1 to reach New York from Independence, so this letter missed the March 14 sailing of the American Collins Line steamer Ericsson. The next American packet sailing was on April 4, so the letter was postmarked in New York on that day, and was directed to the American Havre Line steamer Arago, which arrived in Southampton, England on April 17. New York marked the letter for a 3 cents credit to England for their inland postage, and England marked the letter "U.S. Pkt" to indicate that it was paid only to England. It was then forwarded unpaid via Belgium and Prussia to St Petersburg, Russia. England collected 4 pence transit postage through a debit to Prussia (not marked), and the Aachen exchange office marked it for a double-weight 14 silbergroschen (8sgr due to England plus 6sgr Prussian transit) debit to Russia. 14sgr was equivalent to 46
Figure 7-11 shows a January 1857 letter from Salt Lake City to England.
This letter was endorsed "via California" and prepaid the 29 cents West Coast rate to England on January 2, 1857 in Salt Lake City. Had it been sent via Independence, the rate would have been 24
cents, as in Figure 7-10. It was taken by the Chorpenning mail carrier on the Old Spanish Trail to Los Angeles, where it arrived around February 1. It was then taken by coastal steamer to San Francisco, where it caught the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. steamer John L. Stephens, departing on February 20 and arriving at Panama City on March 5. After crossing the Isthmus of Panama to Aspinwall, the letter caught the U.S. Mail Steamship Co. steamer George Law to New York on March 16. The New York foreign mail office directed the letter to the British Cunard steamer Persia so it credited England with 19 cents, representing 16 cents packet postage and three cents British inland postage. The Persia left New York on March 18 and arrived in Liverpool on March 28, where the letter was struck with the red "America Paid Liverpool" postmark of that date.
Meanwhile, the Utah Expedition of 1857-58 was brewing. Federal troops began to gather at Fort Leavenworth in May 1857 to suppress a perceived Mormon rebellion. The first troops left Fort Leavenworth for Utah Territory on July 18, 1857 and their movement was known in Salt Lake City within a week. The Mormons organized for the defense of their territory, burning Fort Bridger in early October 1857 and evacuating Salt Lake City from May 10 to June 30, 1858. Prevented by heavy snows from reaching Salt Lake City, the Federals wintered from December 1857 to March 1858 at Camp Scott, which was built near the site of the destroyed Fort Bridger. The war was ended by negotiation in June 1858, and the Federal troops moved through Salt Lake City to Camp Floyd, about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. This expedition interrupted direct mail communications between Missouri and Salt Lake City from July 1857 to June 1858.
Miles Contract, 1857 to 1858
The Post Office Department turned to underbidders to fulfill the unfinished portion of the Kimball contract, selecting Stephen B. Miles under similar terms as in the Kimball contract. He was to begin service on October 1, 1857 and the contract was scheduled to terminate on June 30, 1858.
The Utah Expedition played havoc with Miles' mail contract. All mail to Salt Lake City after June 1857 was diverted to Camp Scott and delivered to Salt Lake City in June 1858. Also, no mail from Salt Lake City was carried on the Independence route during this period. In the meantime, Miles fulfilled his contract by carrying mails to and from Camp Scott, but was unable to maintain a regular eastbound schedule. The Federal army in Utah had a need for increased communication, so the Post Office Department discontinued Miles' monthly contract on March 30, 1858 to
The newly appointed postmaster for Salt Lake City, Hiram Morrell, accompanied the Federal troops to Utah in 1857, but was prevented from assuming his post in Salt Lake City until June 1858. In the meantime, he established a temporary post office at Camp Scott, and used Fort Bridger postmarks.4 Figure 7-12 shows a December 1857 example.
This letter received the provisional manuscript Fort Bridger postmark on December 1, 1857 and was prepaid the double-weight rate to New Hampshire by a pair of 1851 issue three cents stamps. It was sent by Captain Jesse Augustus Gove of the 10th U.S. Infantry at Camp Scott, and was docketed as received in New Hampshire on January 16, 1858. Gove later became Colonel of the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment during the Civil War, and was killed in action at Gaine's Mill on June 27, 1862.
The Fort Bridger manuscript postmark was replaced by a provisional straight-line postmark in early 1858. Figure 7-13 shows an example to New York City. This letter, from Captain (and Adjutant to Colonel
Figure 7-13. Letter postmarked at Fort Bridger U.T. on March 1, 1858 and carried under the Miles contract to Independence.
Albert Sidney Johnson) Fitz John Porter was prepaid with an 1857 issue three cents stamp and postmarked on March 1, 1858. It was carried in Miles' last mail to Independence. Porter later commanded the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the battles of Second Manassas and Antietam during the Civil War.
Hockaday/COC&PP Contract, 1858 to 1861
Departing from the normal procedure of advertising for route proposals, the Post Office Department opened direct negotiations with John Hockaday for a weekly mail service between St Joseph, Missouri and Salt Lake City. On April 8, 1858, Hockaday signed a two and a half year contract for a service leaving each Saturday morning from St Joseph and Salt Lake City, effective May 1. Trips were to take 22 days each way. St Joseph was chosen as the new eastern terminus for Route 8911 because of the impending completion of the Hannibal-St Joseph railroad. Construction was underway from each endpoint and stagecoaches ran between the railheads until the February 13, 1859 completion of the railroad. This reduced the transit time between St Joseph and the East by as much as five days.
James Bromley carried the first mail from St Joseph on Saturday, May 1, 1858 and arrived at Camp Scott, Utah (the temporary western terminus of the mail line) on May 27. He left with the first eastbound mail on May 29. Regular weekly service began on May 22, and Salt Lake City replaced the Camp Scott terminus in late June 1858.
In 1859, the Post Office Department began considering less frequent service on this route to reduce expenses, and ordered a reduction to semi-monthly service, effective July 1. Departures were adjusted to every other Tuesday from St Joseph and every other Friday from Salt Lake City. Contractual transit time remained at 22 days. In response, Hockaday sold his interest in the mail contract on May 15, 1859 to the Leavenworth & Pikes Peak Express Company (LPPE). Following the failure of the LPPE, the contract was transferred in February 1860 to the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Co. (COC&PP), which had absorbed the assets of the LPPE. In all significant respects, the operation of the mail route remained unchanged during these transitions. In fact, it continued to operate under the Hockaday & Smoot name to avoid conflict with the LPPE express business. The Post Office Department did not acknowledge the transfer to the COC&PP until November 6, 1860. When the COC&PP contract for Route 8911 expired on November 30, 1860, the Post Office Department extended it indefinitely, leaving any final decisions to the new Postmaster General in the Lincoln administration. This interim solution persisted until July 1, 1861 when the daily overland contract mail service began running on the Central Route. At that point, Route 8911 ceased to exist.
Not much Hockaday contract mail has survived, due to the short duration of the contract and the diversion of virtually all through transcontinental overland mail to the Butterfield southern route. Figure 7-14 shows a December 1858 example from Fort Laramie to Washington, D.C.
Figure 7-14. Letter postmarked at Fort Laramie N.T. (Nebraska Territory) on December 26, 1858 and carried under the Hockaday contract to St Joseph.
This letter is datelined "Fort Laramie Neb. Terr. 26 Dec 58" 5 and was written by First Lieutenant George Hazzard of the U.S. 4th Artillery. Endorsed "Official Business" it was sent free of postage to Washington, D.C. per the Fort Laramie "FREE" marking. The Hockaday mail carrier departed from Salt Lake City on Saturday, December 25 and travelled via Fort Laramie to St Joseph around January 15. Hazzard later became Colonel of the 37th Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War, and died of wounds received during the June 1862 Battle of White Oak Swamp.
Figure 7-15 illustrates a July 1860 letter from Salt Lake City to England. This letter was postmarked in Salt Lake City for the Friday July 6, 1860 COC&PP departure to St Joseph.
Westbound mail is particularly scarce. Figure 7-16 shows a December 1859 letter to California. This letter was posted on the upper peninsula of Michigan at Lincoln on December 22, 1859. It was endorsed
Figure 7-16. Letter posted in Lincoln, Michigan on December 22, 1859 and carried under the LPPE contract to Salt Lake City and then by Chorpenning to California.
"Overland" and prepaid with an 1857 issue three cents stamp for a distance of less than 3,000 miles. The distance by the Butterfield southern overland route was greater than 3,000 miles, so this letter was routed via St Louis to St Joseph for the LPPE mail which left on Tuesday, January 3 and arrived in Salt Lake City around January 25. In Salt Lake City, it connected with the bi-weekly Chorpenning coach which left on Wednesday, February 1 and arrived in Placerville around February 10.
Contract Route between Salt Lake City and California
Given the two months needed to communicate with the West Coast and receive a response, the Post Office Department employed special agents to manage its business locally in California and Oregon. In October 1848, the post office sent Special Post Office Agent William Van Voorhies from New York to California. Upon his February 1849 arrival in San Francisco, he began establishing a network of post offices and contract routes to connect them. However, he and his successor, Special Agent Allen, faced a major problem in implementing contract mail routes. The cost of living in California was vastly higher than in the East, so they were not able to secure contractors to carry the mail for the meager pay allowed. Congress, a distant 3,500 miles away, had to approve contracts for all mail routes that produced insufficient revenue to cover their costs. As a result, route contracts in California were held up until Congress approved their advertisement, and news of the successful bidder was relayed back to California. Allen's successor in 1851, Special Agent James Goggin, apparently arrived with greater authority than his predecessors. As reported in the March 20, 1851 Sacramento Daily Union, he solicited proposals for 26 contract mail routes serving California, including the first Salt Lake City contract.6
Table 7-2 summarizes the mail contracts between Salt Lake City and California that are described in this chapter. Detailed schedules and many actual trip times for these contracts can be found in Appendix D.
First Chorpenning Contract, 1851 to 1854
Goggin awarded the contract for Route 5066 between Sacramento, California and Salt Lake City to Absalom Woodward and George Chorpenning, Jr. for three years. The contract was for monthly service, leaving on the first of each month from each terminus, and arriving at the opposite terminus on the 30th of each month. Although trips were scheduled to begin on May 10, 1851 from Sacramento, Chorpenning left with the first mail on May 3.
From the beginning, the contractors encountered great difficulties in adhering to the schedule. Hostility from Indian tribes along the Humboldt River delayed many trips, and cost the lives of several mail carriers, including Woodward in November 1851. Following Woodward's death, Chorpenning continued to fulfill the contract alone. In addition, the winter snows in the Sierra Nevada and Goose Creek mountain ranges were often impassible, causing schedule delays and a change in the route. Figure 7-17 shows Chorpenning's mail route between Sacramento and Salt Lake City, as well as the alternate route via Los Angeles that was used to avoid snow-bound mountains in the winter months.
Figure 7-17. Map of the Chorpenning Route. The main route is in green and the alternate route via Los Angeles is in red.
After several failures to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the December 1851-January 1852 period, Chorpenning carried those mails and the February 1852 mail via Los Angeles and the Old Spanish Trail to Salt Lake City. In all, due to Indian attacks and the severe winter, only one mail was received in Sacramento during the eight months between October 1851 and June 1852, and no mail was received in Salt Lake during the four months between early November 1851 and March 7, 1852. Consequently, Chorpenning's performance against his contract from May 1851 to March 1853 was unacceptable. Fewer than 40% of the trips in with known arrival dates made the journey within the contractual 30-day time. In addition, two mails were lost to Indian attacks and ten had to be re-routed via Los Angeles to reach their destination. Reacting to reports of erratic mail deliveries in Salt Lake City, Postmaster General Hubbard cancelled Chorpenning's contract for non-performance on November 18, 1852. He re-let the contract to William Blanchard on the same day, effective March 15, 1853 to June 30, 1856. Chorpenning learned of this cancellation in January 1853, and immediately left for the East by steamship. Fortunately for him, Special Agent Goggin was also returning at that time, and was able to intercede on Chorpenning's behalf in Washington. Accordingly, Postmaster General James Campbell revoked Blanchard's contract and reinstated Chorpenning, effective July 1, 1853.
Blanchard's contract was very similar to Chorpenning's annulled contract, except that departures were to take place on the 15th of each month. Blanchard's performance against his contract was excellent, but he did not experience the winter months or Indian troubles. His service was recognized by the Post Office Department from March 15 to July 15, 1853.
Chorpenning resumed service under the same terms and conditions as his annulled contract on July 1, 1853. He made even greater use of the alternate Los Angeles route during this period. Although 500 miles longer, the reliability of this route led the Salt Lake City postmaster to compel Chorpenning to carry some of the Independence-Salt Lake mails under a "take and deliver" clause in his contract. According to Chorpenning's later claim for additional compensation, he carried some or all of eight eastbound Independence mails from January 1853 to March 1854.7 It is likely that Chorpenning's regular California mails that were carried via Los Angeles were shipped by sea to San Francisco from San Pedro (the port of Los Angeles), and that Chorpenning paid for this sea transit out of his contract. The eastbound Salt Lake City-Independence mails carried by Chorpenning were most likely taken to San Diego to connect with eastbound Pacific Mail Steamship Company steamers. However, the Los Angeles route was not always reliable. The normal transit time on that route was about 32 to 35 days but, if a connection was missed in San Pedro, the delay could amount to as much as 20 days.
Not much mail was carried by Chorpenning during this period. In responding to his claim for additional compensation, the Post Office Department determined that the regular mail between Sacramento and Salt Lake City never exceeded 150 pounds and was sometimes as little as 75 pounds.
Figure 7-18 shows a letter carried on Chorpenning's first westbound trip. This letter was endorsed for a postal free frank by Willard Richards, postmaster of Salt Lake City, and received a manuscript "Salt Lake
Figure 7-18. Letter postmarked "Salt Lake City Utah T" on July 1, 1851 and carried on Chorpenning's first westbound contract mail trip to California.
City Utah T" postmark on July 1, 1851.8 It was carried on Chorpenning's first westbound contract mail trip, and Indians harassed this mail trip to the extent that the mail party had to seek protection at the fort in Carson Valley until a unit of California militia could escort it to Sacramento. It arrived there around August 3. The postmaster at Sacramento, knowing that the Secretary of State was in Vallejo, directed the letter there, where it was docketed as received on August 4.
This letter is part of a correspondence from the missionary E.K. Whittlesey in Hawaii.9 A Honolulu forwarder placed this letter on the Cheerful, which left Honolulu on May 1, 1851 and arrived in San Francisco on June 1. The twice-monthly PMSS sailing via Panama had left the day before, so the San Francisco postmaster was faced with the choice of holding the letter for two weeks until the next steamship departure or sending it immediately on
the new Chorpenning/Woodson composite overland route via Salt Lake City. He opted for the latter, and endorsed the letter "overland" after rating it for a double-weight 80 cents due. It was postmarked in San Francisco on June 1, and the Woodward mail party left from Sacramento on the next day. They arrived in Salt Lake City on July 2. The Woodson contract mail trip from Salt Lake City to Independence left just after July 2 and arrived in Independence on July 24, so this letter reached New Jersey in early August. Had this letter been held for the next PMSS sailing on June 14, it would have arrived in New Jersey on July 21, or about two weeks earlier than it actually did. This is the earliest known through transcontinental letter sent over the Central Route.
Figure 7-20 shows a May 1852 letter from Tahiti to Salt Lake City via Sacramento. This letter was datelined in the Society Islands on May 5, 1852 and carried by the schooner Emily Frances, which left Tahiti on May 26 and arrived in San Francisco on July 15. It entered the U.S. mails at Sacramento, where it was postmarked on August 1 and rated for five cents postage due. Chorpenning's eastbound mail party left the next day and arrived in Salt Lake City on August 28.
Figure 7-20. May 5, 1852 letter from Tahiti sent via Sacramento on August 1, 1852 and carried by a Chorpenning mail party to Salt Lake City.
Second Chorpenning Contract, 1854 to 1858
Given the relative success of Chorpenning's alternate route via southern California, the Post Office Department invited proposals for a year-round contract between Salt Lake City and San Diego, California upon the expiration of Chorpenning's 1851 contract. San Diego was chosen as the terminus so that PMSS steamers, on their twice-monthly trips between San Francisco and Panama, could carry the mail between San Francisco and San Diego. Chorpenning was again the low bidder for this newly-numbered Route 12801, which called for departures from Salt Lake City and San Diego on the 20th of each month, effective July 1, 1854. Contract trip times were 28 days and, since the contract termini were Salt Lake City and San Diego, Chorpenning was no longer responsible for transporting the mail between San Diego and San Francisco.
Since the PMSS steamships had been bypassing San Diego since 1853, the service between San Francisco and San Diego was sub-contracted to the Southern Accommodation Line, which made round trip voyages leaving San Francisco every other Saturday to San Pedro and San Diego. It made little sense to continue using San Diego as an endpoint on the Chorpenning route, so the Post Office Department ordered a
change from San Diego to San Pedro, and moved departures to the first of each month, effective November 1, 1854. The Post Office Department then contracted with the Independent Line to provide weekly mail service between San Francisco and San Pedro. In November, advertisements for the Line began appearing, describing the U.S. mail service leaving San Francisco every Saturday and San Pedro every Friday. However, by March 18, 1856 the Star was reporting that:
Under the present mail arrangements with Utah Territory, from two to three hundred pounds of mail matter frequently lies in the Post Office here from two to four weeks, as the mail contractor, instead of waiting for the arrival of the steamer from San Francisco, are obliged to leave here on the first of each month. This is a serious inconvenience to the people of that Territory, and one we think could be easily remedied by altering the time for the departure of the mail from this office.
Apparently in response to complaints like this, the route schedule was altered again. The July 2, 1856 Deseret News reported a new schedule departing on the fifth of each month, effective July 5, 1856. Chorpenning ran on that schedule until his contract expired on June 30, 1858. Chorpenning's stagecoaches ran between Salt Lake City and San Bernardino, California (east of Los Angeles). Chorpenning apparently made other arrangements to get the mail between San Bernardino, Los Angeles and San Pedro. Trip times were roughly 23 days between Salt Lake City and San Bernardino, five days between San Bernadino and Los Angeles, and three days between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Overall trip times could obviously be affected by poor connections or obstacles encountered on the trail. In general, his performance against the contract was reported to be excellent. Figure 7-21 shows a November 1855 letter from Hawaii to Utah that was carried by Chorpenning via Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Figure 7-21. November 3, 1855 letter from Hawaii which was carried on the Chorpenning mail route via Los Angeles.
This letter was postmarked in Honolulu on November 3, 1855 and franked with 5 cents Hawaiian postage by an 1853 Boston Engraved issue stamp. It was carried by the American bark Yankee, which left Honolulu on November 3 and arrived in San Francisco on December 1. San Francisco rated it "SHIP 5" due, representing the two cents ship fee plus three cents postage to Utah. It was postmarked for the scheduled Saturday, December 1 departure of the California Steam Navigation Company steamer Senator with the mails for Los Angeles. The Senator left on December 3 and arrived in San Pedro around December 5. The
December Chorpenning mail from Los Angeles (scheduled to depart on December 1) was held until the arrival of this mail, and the mail carrier, David Savage, arrived in Salt Lake City on December 30.
Figure 7-22 shows a February 1856 letter from Salt Lake City to
When the Post Office Department shifted Chorpenning's contract to the Salt Lake City-Los Angeles route, Carson Valley (on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains) was left without contract mail service. Consequently, the
Figure 7-23 shows a March 1858 example of Carson Valley mail. This letter was posted in Carson Valley U.T. (Utah Territory) on March 29, 1858 with transcontinental postage prepaid by an 1855 10 cents type II stamp. It was carried by "Snowshoe" Thompson over the Sierras to Placerville on April 3, and connected with the PMSS
steamer John L. Stephens, which left San Francisco on April 5 and arrived in Panama around April 15. After a trip across the Isthmus, it was carried by the USMSC steamer Moses Taylor which left Aspinwall on April 19 and arrived in New York on April 27. It was docketed as received in Middletown, Rhode Island on the next day.
Third Chorpenning Contract, 1858 to 1860
As Chorpenning's second contract neared expiration, the Post Office Department began to consider a more frequent schedule for Route 12801 and a change back to the more direct Salt Lake City-Placerville route. Chorpenning was the low bidder for a semi-monthly service between Salt Lake City and San Pedro, but this was modified on June 19, 1858 to a weekly service between Salt Lake City and Placerville. Trips were to be made in 16 days or less, with departures from Salt Lake City every Monday and Placerville every Saturday. The first trip left Salt Lake City on Sunday, July 4 and arrived in Placerville on July 19. The first eastbound trip left Placerville on Monday, July 5 and arrived in Salt Lake City on July 21.
The press began to describe the combination of the 16-day Placerville-Salt Lake City segment and the 18-day segment between Salt Lake City and St Joseph as a 34-day transcontinental overland schedule on the Central Route. The two contractors, however, made little effort to synchronize schedules, and coaches often left a day before the arrival of a coach on the other route. Even so, by late 1858 some transcontinental letters began to appear with the directives "overland via Salt Lake" or "overland via Placerville."
Starting in March 1859, the Salt Lake City departures for Placerville were moved to every Tuesday in the interest of better connections between the two routes. The schedule was changed again on May 1, 1859 to weekly departures from Placerville and Salt Lake City on each Wednesday. Around this time, the Post Office Department began to consider a reduction in service on the Salt Lake City-Placerville route. Ultimately, the service was reduced to twice-monthly, effective July 1, 1859. Chorpenning continued to run his coaches weekly, but the finances of his enterprise were significantly impaired by this reduction. Even so, trip times became dramatically less. The Salt Lake newspaper reported regular arrivals from Placerville in nine days, on every other Thursday from July 7 to the end of September 1859. Chorpenning left California in January 1859 to protest the schedule change in Washington, D.C. and never returned, leaving his enterprise and employees to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, operations on his line began to collapse in October 1859 as unpaid employees left, and assets were seized by creditors. On October 12, Chorpenning's agent failed to call for the mail at Placerville, and the Post Office Department used that reason to annul his contract on May 10, 1860.
Figure 7-24 shows a July 1858 eastbound cover from Sacramento to Kansas Territory Governor James W. Denver at Fort Leavenworth. This letter was posted in Sacramento, California in late July 1858 (the date in the postmark is indistinct) and endorsed "via overland mail." Transcontinental postage was prepaid by an 1857 10 cents type III stamp, and the letter was carried by a Chorpenning stagecoach to Salt Lake City, probably leaving Placerville on Saturday, July 31 and arriving in Salt Lake City around August 10. It connected in Salt Lake City with a Hockaday stagecoach, departing on Saturday, August 14 and arriving at Fort Leavenworth around August 22. It was held at the fort until Governor Denver's whereabouts were determined, and then forwarded on September 12 to Lecompton, Kansas with three cents forwarding postage due.
Figure 7-24. July 1858 letter from Sacramento carried by Chorpenning from Placerville to Salt Lake City and by Hockaday to Fort Leavenworth.
Figure 7-25 shows a January 1859 westbound cover from Fort Laramie to California. This letter was posted at Fort Laramie N.T. (Nebraska Territory) on January 12, 1859 and franked 10 cents with three 1857 issue 3 cents type I stamps and an 1857 issue 1 cents type V stamp. Fort Laramie was on the Hockaday route between St Joseph and Salt Lake City, so this letter was picked up in transit by the weekly coach which left St Joseph on Saturday, January 1. It arrived in Salt Lake City around January 20 and connected there with the weekly Chorpenning coach, which left on Monday, January 24 and arrived in Placerville around February 5. It was missent to Benecia, California, and finally forwarded from there on February 7 to San Francisco. The addressee of this letter was Lieutenant James B. McPherson, who later rose to the rank of major-general of the Union Army of the Tennessee, and was the only Union army commander killed in combat during the Civil War.
Figure 7-25. January 12, 1859 letter from Fort Laramie N.T. to San Francisco which was carried by Chorpenning from Salt Lake City to Placerville.
Figure 7-26 shows an April 1859 westbound letter from Camp Floyd, Utah Territory to Panama. This
Figure 7-27 shows a June 1859 transcontinental cover with an "Overland, via Placerville" route directive and an illustrated plea for the transcontinental railroad.
This letter was posted in Folsom City, California on June 14, 1859 and prepaid 10 cents postage to Michigan. It left on the weekly Placerville stagecoach on Saturday, June 18 and arrived in Salt Lake City around June 30. On Saturday July 2, it left Salt Lake City on a Leavenworth & Pikes Peak Express Co. (LPPE) twice-monthly stagecoach to St Joseph, arriving there around July 24.
A different illustrated railroad propaganda envelope used in October 1859 is shown in Figure 7-28. This
Figure 7-29 shows a December 1859 illustrated stagecoach envelope with route directive "Overland via Placerville & Salt Lake." This letter was posted on December 21, 1859 in Oroville, California and prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage to Maine. At this time, the Placerville postmaster was using trip contracts with the Pioneer Stage Company to carry the eastbound mails halfway to Salt Lake
Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Co. Contract, 1860 to 1861
The Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company (COC&PP) had gained great fame for running the transcontinental pony express (see Chapter Thirteen) since April 1860, and had previously purchased the Hockaday mail contract between St Joseph and Salt Lake City. It was not surprising, therefore, that Chorpenning's cancelled contract between Salt Lake City and Placerville was re-let without bid to the COC&PP, effective June 1, 1860. This meant that, for the first time, the transcontinental mail contracts along the entire length of the Central Route were in the hands of one party. The two contracts under the control of the COC&PP continued as under the previous contractors:
Figure 7-30 shows an October 1860 eastbound example. This letter was posted on October 8, 1860 in
Figure 7-30. October 8, 1860 letter from Georgetown, California to Denver carried by the COC&PP to Julesburg, Colorado.
Georgetown, California and was prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage to Denver. It was carried on the COC&PP stagecoach that left Placerville on Wednesday, October 10 and arrived in Salt Lake City around October 20. It just missed the October 19 bi-weekly departure from Salt Lake City, and waited for the COC&PP stagecoach that departed on Friday, November 2. It reached Julesburg (in today's Colorado) around November 15, and was transferred to a stagecoach on contract route 15151 from Julesburg to
Denver (see Chapter Twelve for details on this contract). Hinckley & Company's express then collected this letter in Denver on November 26 and delivered it to the gold mines.
Figure 7-31 shows an August 1860 letter carried between intermediate points on the COC&PP routes. This military communication is datelined "Camp Floyd U.T. August 17th 1860" and postmarked on the same day. The letter was prepaid with an 1857 issue three cents stamp for the postage to Fort Laramie, and addressed to 1st Lieutenant Francis Shunk of the ordinance department. The COC&PP collected the letter on its eastbound trip that left Placerville on Wednesday, August 29 and arrived in Salt Lake City around September 6. It was then transferred to the eastbound stage to St Joseph that left on Friday, September 7 and was delivered in transit at Fort Laramie around September 18.
Contract Route between Salt Lake City and Oregon
When the Post Office Department first advertised for overland service west of the Missouri River in 1850, they anticipated a route between Independence, Missouri and Oregon City, Oregon via Salt Lake City. They did not, however, receive any proposals for the leg to Oregon City, and settled for a contract between Independence and Salt Lake City (see Woodson contract above). This did not satisfy their desire for a contract route to Oregon, however, so they advertised for Route 5043 between Salt Lake City and The Dalles, Oregon on March 20, 1851.
Brown & Torrence Contract, 1851 to 1854
The low bid from J.L. Brown and L.G. Torrence was accepted on May 24, 1851, effective July 1. The contract called for a bi-monthly service, leaving Oregon on the first of July and then each alternating month after that, and arriving in Salt Lake City on the 30th of the departure month. Because they had no mail carrier in Salt Lake City, westbound service was scheduled to start on August 1, with the same alternating month schedule. Except in the winter months, their performance against their contract was acceptable, as shown in Appendix D.
The June 18, 1853 Salt Lake City Deseret News reported that, "The Oregon Mail arrived June 1, most of the papers as wet as water could make them, consequently, most of the matter for the States had to lie over and dry til next mail." This shows that transcontinental letters via Salt Lake City were carried. Even so, very little mail was carried on this route. The December 3, 1853 Oregon Spectator complained that, "The mail
Figure 7-32 shows a September 1851 way letter from Fort Boise to Missouri, via Salt Lake City. This letter was datelined "Fort Boise Sept 13th 1851" by a traveler who writes, "I have just time to drop you a line as the Mail Carrier from the Dalles to Salt Lake waits for me to do so." The letter was picked up in transit by the September 1851 mail carrier from The Dalles, and arrived in Salt Lake City sometime before October 1. The Salt Lake City post office postmarked it with an italic straight-line postmark on October 1 and rated it for five cents due to Kirksville, Missouri. It was then given to the Woodson mail carrier who left on October 1 and arrived in Independence, Missouri on October 30.
As described in Chapter Four, the California gold rush was triggered by the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill on January 24, 1848. In his December 5, 1848 address to Congress, President Polk confirmed the discovery and set off the massive westward migration of Argonauts seeking their fortunes. Just before this, as detailed in Chapter Six, the Navy Department had contracted for the transport of mail and passengers between the west coast and New York by steamships via Panama in 1847. With the onset of the California gold rush, those contracts were transformed from speculative endeavors supported by mail subsidies to highly lucrative contracts supported by both high passenger volume and the mail subsidies.
Profitable businesses attract competition, and the California passenger business was no exception. Several steamship lines tried to compete on the Panama route, but were stymied by the companies holding the Panama mail contracts, since they could use those subsidies to stifle competition. However, one particularly enterprising competitor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, concluded that the real competitive opportunity was to gain control over a route that passed via the Isthmus of Nicaragua, rather than the Isthmus of Panama.
Figure 8-1 shows the relative positions of these two routes. It is clear from the map that the Nicaragua route had the advantage of being shorter than the Panama route. What is not as obvious is that the
Figure 8-1. Map of the Nicaragua (red) and Panama (blue) transits.
Nicaragua isthmian transit was healthier for travelers than the malaria-ridden Panama transit. What it lacked, however, was an established infrastructure for the transit of passengers, freight and mail.
Others were interested in Nicaragua as well. In January 1848, British marines occupied the town of San Juan del Norte on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua and re-named it Greytown. They did this ostensibly to protect the hereditary rights of the local Mosquito Coast King, but also gained control of the Nicaragua transit route. This was alarming to both the Nicaraguans and the United States, so both took action. The United States' negotiations with Great Britain culminated in the April 19, 1850 Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, which re-affirmed the neutrality of the Nicaragua transit and withdrew the Mosquito King's control over San Juan del Norte. Meanwhile, on August 26, 1849, the Nicaraguan government awarded Vanderbilt's American Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company the exclusive concession to construct a canal across the Isthmus of Nicaragua. This contract included the exclusive right to operate transit services until the canal was completed, which effectively gave Vanderbilt commercial control over the Nicaragua route.
Figure 8-2 shows a map of the Nicaragua transit. The route ran along Nicaragua's southern border with Costa Rica. Starting in the east at San Juan del Norte, a river steamer would carry passengers up the San
Figure 8-2. Map of the route across the Isthmus of Nicaragua.
Juan River to Lake Nicaragua, where another steamer would take them to the western side of the lake at Rivas. Carriages then carried them over a 12-mile road to San Juan del Sur, where they could meet the Vanderbilt steamship to San Francisco. Initially, the route was not at all developed, and native canoes were used for the river and lake transit. After steamers were introduced on the route in 1851, and the 12-mile road was macadamized, the transit could be accomplished in one to two days.
The Vanderbilt Independent Line and the Accessory Transit Company
and California.2 It was an immediate success. The westbound trip took 47 days to reach San Francisco, but the eastbound trip reached New York in a remarkable 29 days. Just as important, the initial isthmian transit was accomplished in three days, with indications that it could be reduced to 36 hours.
In early 1852, the Accessory Transit Company began accepting passengers only from Vanderbilt steamships. This completed Vanderbilt's exclusive control over the Nicaragua route. By the end of the year, he had set his sights on the Panama route by advertising "through ahead of any other line."
In February 1853, Vanderbilt sold his steamships to the Accessory Transit Company, and stepped down as President of that enterprise to take a five-month vacation in Europe. During his absence, two subordinates, Charles Morgan and Cornelius Garrison, gained control of the Accessory Transit Company, operating it as the Nicaragua Steamship Company in California and the New York & California Steamship Line in the East. Garrison greatly improved the efficiency of the line and, by 1855, transit times between New York and San Francisco had been reduced to twenty-one days. This improved the popularity of the line with passengers, and 1853-55 were the peak years for the Nicaragua route. Table 8-1 shows the number of passengers carried in both directions, compared to the volume via Panama.3
Table 8-1 shows that Vanderbilt's vision had created a very viable competitor to the Panama route, and had generated significant profits for his companies. It also shows a precipitous drop in passenger volume after 1855. This was due to the arrival in Nicaragua of another American adventurer, William Walker.
The Walker Filibuster in Nicaragua, 1855 to 1857
William Walker desired to create English-speaking colonies under his control in Latin America, an activity known as filibustering. After a failed effort in Mexico, he set sail for Nicaragua from San
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt was maneuvering to re-gain control of the Accessory Transit Company from
Morgan and Garrison, so Garrison reached an agreement with Walker to annul the Accessory Transit Company's transit charter and give it to the Nicaragua Transit Company, a new enterprise formed by Garrison and Morgan. In exchange, they agreed to transport reinforcements to Walker at significantly reduced prices. Vanderbilt re-gained control on January 30, 1856, but received news of the annulment of his charter and the seizure of his transit property on March 13. He wasted no time in responding. A notice in the March 17, 1856 New York Herald announced that,4
The Nicaragua Line is withdrawn for the present, in consequence of the difficulties in that country growing out of the extraordinary conduct of General Walker, in seizing or taking by force the property of American citizens.
I deem it a duty I owe the public, to the country and to the Transit Company, to remain quiet, by letting the ships of the company lay at their wharves, until our government has sufficient time to examine and look into the outrage committed upon their property. In the mean time, as I do not consider passengers or the property of American citizens safe on the transit of the Isthmus, I cannot be instrumental in inducing either to take the passage.
The last through Accessory Transit Company trips left from San Francisco on March 5 and from New York on March 8. Meanwhile, the Nicaragua Transit Company steamships began servicing the route in April 1856. Walker also sold the seized transit property to the Nicaragua Transit Company, so it was able to carry on the through service as before, albeit on a monthly schedule.
In June 1856, an internal dispute resulted in the surprising election of William Walker as president of Nicaragua. This did not sit well with Nicaragua's neighbors and, with prodding by Vanderbilt and the British, four armies invaded Nicaragua from the north and the south. Vanderbilt's support of the Costa Ricans was particularly damaging, as Costa Rican forces captured the transit steamers at San Juan del Norte on December 23, 1856, effectively closing the transit. Morgan and Garrison continued to run steamships on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, but discontinued their service in March 1857. Walker was apprehended on May 1, 1857, and the Nicaragua route did not re-open for another five years.
Mail Carried via the Nicaragua Route, 1851 to 1857
Although Vanderbilt offered to carry the U.S. mails for half the amount being paid the Panama contractors, the Post Office Department remained committed to the Panama route. This meant that all mail remitted to the post office was carried via Panama on contract steamships. However, letters could be carried on the Nicaragua route if they were given directly to the steamship line, or entrusted to a letter bag operator. Such letters do not bear postmarks from the origin point, and generally entered the U.S. mails at the steamship's arrival port, typically New York.
An illustrative advertisement was placed in the July 1, 1853 Alta California.5
NICARAGUA STEAMSHIP COMPANY
FOR NEW YORK AND NEW ORLEANS
VIA SAN JUAN
The Shortest, Quickest and Healthiest Route
THROUGH AHEAD OF THE MAILS
The mail bag will close 15 minutes before sailing of the steamer. Letters not over ½ ounce FREE
provided they are covered by postage stamps in accordance with the U.S. Postal regulation.
Eastbound letters were carried free of any additional charge, so long as U.S. postage was prepaid by an amount equivalent to the postage if carried in the government mails.6 A January 8, 1856 advertisement in the New York Herald described the westbound letter service, but at a charge of 6¼ cents in addition to the obligatory U.S. postage.7
Transcontinental express companies were quick to embrace the new route. Figure 8-3 shows an October 1851 Gregory's Express letter.
Figure 8-3. Letter datelined at New York on October 21, 1851 and given to Gregory"s Express for forwarding to San Francisco via Nicaragua.
This letter was datelined in New York on October 21, 1851 and given to Gregory's Express, which added its "Gregory's Atlantic and Pacific Express, Forwarded by Thompson & Hitchcock 149 Pearl St., N.Y." handstamp on the reverse. Gregory arranged to put it on the Vanderbilt Independent Line steamship Daniel Webster, which departed on October 22 and arrived in San Juan del Norte on November 4. The next day, it left San Juan del Sur on the Vanderbilt Independent Line steamship Independence, and arrived in San Francisco on November 16. This was the fifth through trip for the line, and was accomplished in the remarkable time of 26 days. It is also worth noting that this letter was carried entirely outside of the U.S. mails, and that no U.S. postage was paid.
Letter bag operators also used the Nicaragua route extensively. Figure 8-4 shows an August 1853 example. This letter was entrusted to San Francisco letter bag operator George H. Leland8 for forwarding to
Another letter bag operator, J.W. Sullivan, employed the Nicaragua route as well. Figure 8-5 shows a striking October 1854 example to England. This letter was datelined October 24, 1854 in San Francisco,
credit marking,10 and transferred the letter to the Cunard steamer Arabia.11 It was postmarked in London on November 27, barely a month after leaving San Francisco.
Transcontinental express companies continued to utilize the Nicaragua route throughout its existence.
San Francisco's Penny Post Company also sent mail via Nicaragua. Figure 8-9 shows a striking example. This August 1855 letter was enclosed in a "Via Nicaragua" envelope and entrusted to the Penny Post Co.
Wells Fargo also patronized this route. Figure 8-10 shows a late example. This December 1855 letter was enclosed in a 10 cents Nesbitt stamped envelope and entrusted to Wells, Fargo & Company for forwarding
Figure 8-10. December 1855 San Francisco letter given to Wells, Fargo & Co. for forwarding to Philadelphia via Nicaragua and New York.
to Philadelphia. The stamped envelope paid the required 10 cents transcontinental postage. Wells Fargo applied its blue oval "Wells, Fargo & Co. Express San Francisco" marking and took the letter to the Accessory Transit steamship Sierra Nevada, which left on December 5, 1855 and arrived in San Juan del Sur on December 18. The letter connected across the Isthmus with the Star of the West, which left San Juan del Norte on December 20 and arrived in New York on December 29. It entered the U.S. mails on the next day, per the December 30 "New-York" postmark. Considering the conflict along the transit route, the transit time of 25 days is remarkable.
The latest known covers via Nicaragua during this period date from February 1856.
By the late-1850s, the system of transcontinental mail routes was in a state of flux. The vast majority of trans-continental mail was carried by steamers via the Isthmus of Panama, but this expensive ocean mail contract was nearing its September 30, 1859 expiration. Meanwhile, California was clamoring for a frequent and reliable overland mail service. As seen in Chapter Seven, however, earlier experiments along the Central overland route had largely failed, but had shown some promise along the southerly trail between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. In response to this, a March 3, 1855 Congressional Act authorized a monthly mail route between Independence, Missouri and Stockton, California via Santa Fe, although the Post Office Department would wait over three years before acting on it (see Chapter Ten). In August 1856, the 34th Congress considered a subsidized semi-weekly overland mail contract, but was unable to reach consensus. They did approve, however, a semi-monthly mail contract between San Diego, California and San Antonio, Texas via an extreme southern route in that year's postal route bill. At the same time, Congress appropriated funds for the construction of a military road between El Paso, Texas and Fort Yuma, California, which enhanced the feasibility of the San Diego-San Antonio mail route.
Congress finally approved a semi-weekly overland mail contract between St Louis and San Francisco in its March 3, 1857 Post Office Appropriation bill. Meanwhile, the Post Office Department was proceeding with the San Diego-San Antonio mail route. On June 22, 1857 it signed a four-year contract with James Birch to operate a semi-monthly mail, effective July 1. This was the first single-contract transcontinental overland mail route, designated as route 8076. Not content with that, the Postmaster General also signed a six-year contract on September 16, 1857 with a consortium led by John Butterfield to fulfill the March 1857 Congressional authorization for the St. Louis-San Francisco mail route. Route 12578 was to run along a southern route between St Louis/Memphis and San Francisco, effective September 15, 1858. Figure 9-1 illustrates these routes, including the two contracts along the Central route described in Chapter Seven and the route via Panama as described in Chapter Six.
Figure 9-1. Overland mail routes, consisting of San Francisco-St Louis/Memphis (green), San Diego-San Antonio (red) and the composite Central route ( blue). Water route via Panama (black).
Early Communications with Fort Yuma
An important objective in the 1856-57 Congressional actions was to ensure rapid and reliable communications with military installations along the U.S. southern border. Fort Yuma, California was an important link in that chain, and had been built in March 1851 during the 1850-53 Yuma Indian Wars. Its main purpose was to protect settlers in the Colorado River region and to keep the southern emigration route safe.
Maintaining a connection between Fort Yuma and the California coast for supplies and mail was crucial, but the harsh Colorado Desert separated the two. Early efforts concentrated on a water connection around Baja California and up the Sea of Cortez. The letter in Figure 9-2 travelled by that route.
Figure 9-2. Letter postmarked at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on August 2, 1854 and carried by steamers via Panama to San Francisco and forwarded to Fort Yuma by military steamers.
This letter was posted at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on August 2, 1854, prepaid six cents transcontinental postage by a pair of 1851 issue three cents stamps. This letter left New York on August 5 aboard the USMSC steamship George Law to Aspinwall on August 15. After crossing the Isthmus on the mostly-completed railroad, it was carried by the PMSC steamship Sonora to San Francisco on August 31.
The letter is addressed to Lieutenant Beekman DuBarry, care of Major Osborne Cross, Military Quartermaster at San Francisco. DuBarry's unit, the 3rd Regiment of U.S. Artillery, had begun arriving in California in May 1854. DuBarry had been assigned in June 1854 to Fort Yuma, so Cross lined out the address in red military ink and re-directed the letter. This letter was then carried by military steamship from San Francisco via San Diego and around Baja California to the mouth of the Colorado River, and then by the supply steamer General Jessup of the Colorado Steam Navigation Company up the Colorado River to Fort Yuma.1
Sometime in 1854, the U.S. Army gave a contract to Samuel Warnock and Joseph Swycaffer to carry mail and government dispatches overland between San Diego and Fort Yuma.2 This service was maintained until the July 1857 start of the "Jackass Mail" contract (see below), and was known as the "Desert Dispatch." Six surviving covers endorsed "via San Diego" and addressed to Lieutenant DuBarry were
carried under this contract. Dating these covers is aided by the fact that DuBarry was re-posted away from Fort Yuma on July 31, 1856. One of the DuBarry covers is shown in Figure 9-3.
"Jackass Mail" Contract Route, 1857 to 1860
Widely known to collectors as the "Jackass Mail" route, the first single-contract overland mail contract to California called for two trips per month between San Antonio, Texas and San Diego, California as authorized by Congress in August 1856. The 1,476 mile trip along route 8076, shown in Figure 9-4, was to be accomplished in thirty days.
Figure 9-4. Map showing the entire San Diego and San Antonio (Jackass Mail) route.
The San Diego and San Antonio termini had relatively frequent connections with points beyond. From the eastern terminus at San Antonio, there was a daily stagecoach mail to Indianola which connected with five-times a week steamers to New Orleans. From the western terminus at San Diego, the California Steam Navigation Company steamers operated to San Francisco, albeit only twice-monthly. A pre-existing postal route that connected San Antonio and El Paso was incorporated into the new through route and needed only minor upgrades. The El Paso-San Diego segment of the route required more substantial upgrades, and the military road authorized in 1856 only pertained to the portion between Fort Yuma and El Paso. Mail transportation across the Colorado Desert between Fort Yuma and San Diego was the biggest challenge facing the new contractor. Drawing from the experience of the 1854-57 "Desert Dispatch" service, mules were used to carry the mail and passengers, resulting in the "Jackass Mail" moniker.
For operational purposes, route was divided into two sections. The first, between El Paso and San Antonio, was operated as a round-trip unit. The second section, between El Paso and San Diego, utilized mail carriers from each end who met in the middle at Maricopa Wells to exchange the mail. The mail schedule called for simultaneous departures from San Diego and San Antonio on the 9th and 24th of each month. The first westbound mail departed from San Antonio on July 9, 1857 with James Mason in charge. A second westbound mail departed on July 24 under Captain Skillman's direction. Mason was delayed in Texas by Indian attacks and was able to proceed only after being joined by Skillman near El Paso. As a result, the first and second westbound mails arrived at San Diego together on August 31, 1857. The first eastbound trip departed from San Diego on August 9, 1857.
A significant reduction of the mail route occurred on October 27, 1858 when the Post Office Department ordered the contractor to discontinue the section between El Paso and Fort Yuma. This alteration arose from the September 16 commencement of service along Butterfield's route 12578 between St. Louis/Memphis and San Francisco, which overlapped with route 8076 in that section. The utility of the Jackass route to the postal service diminished significantly after the heart of the route was lost to Butterfield. Then, on February 1, 1860 the route was further reduced when service between San Diego and Fort Yuma was discontinued, effective April 1, since it could be replaced by the Los Angeles-Fort Yuma segment of the Butterfield route. This left the line operating only the intra-Texas route between El Paso and San Antonio, and eliminated the service by mule. The Jackass route ended at this point.
Approximately forty trips were made over the entire route prior to the 1858 reduction, but no surviving covers are known from that period. The Postmaster General reported postal receipts on the route of $601 from July 1858 to June 1859, so not much mail was carried. Covers on this route were to be endorsed "via San Diego and San Antonio" or similar. Other covers carried on segments of the route within Texas or between Texas and the East are known but are not considered to be "Jackass Mail."
A "Jackass Mail" cover sent after the October 1858 route reduction bears the full endorsement "Via San Diego & San Antonio." Shown in Figure 9-5, this November 1859 cover is on the imprint stationery of the Alta California Newspaper Office and is franked by a 10 cents type V stamp of the 1857 issue.3 The letter was postmarked at San Francisco for the November 21 steamship departure for San Diego. It then left San Diego on November 24 and was carried on the Jackass route to Fort Yuma. Because of the route reduction, it was transferred at Fort Yuma to the Butterfield route for the trip to El Paso, and then transferred back to route 8076 for the segment between El Paso and San Antonio. The cover is docketed as having been received on December 15 in New Orleans - a remarkable 24 days from San Francisco.
Figure 9-5. Imprint cover, endorsed via San Diego and San Antonio, sent November 21, 1859 from San Francisco to New Orleans.
The envelope contains an interesting letter datelined November 18, 1859 at San Francisco:
We wish you would upon receipt of this ascertain the time of departure of mail from your city via San Antonio and send us a short weekly letter, with the latest telegraphic news etc. by that route. The agents of the Company think they will be able to make time at least 3 days ahead of the St. Louis line. We will notify you of the success of the experiment.Respt, Yours, F. Mac Crellish & Co.
Butterfield Contract Mail Route, 1858 to 1861
Figure 9-6. Map of the Butterfield overland mail route, showing the dual eastern termini at St. Louis and Memphis, with a bifurcation at Fort Smith.
Postmaster General Brown stipulated the 2,800-mile route to be followed when he awarded the twice-weekly overland contract to John Butterfield and his associates on September 16, 1857. Figure 9-6 shows the selected route, known as the Butterfield or Southern Overland route.
The map shows that two eastern termini were required, at St Louis and Memphis, Tennessee. To reach both termini, the route was bifurcated at Fort Smith, Arkansas. On the western side, the route ran through
The value of the contract for route 12578 was $600 thousand per year to the contractors for a twice-weekly mail in 25 days each way, but they had to man and stock the route at their own expense. Butterfield formed the Overland Mail Company for this purpose in October 1857 and began making preparations for a service commencement in September 1858.
Per the twice-weekly westbound schedule with departures on Mondays and Thursdays, the first trip left St Louis on Thursday, September 16, 1858 and arrived in San Francisco on October 10, in just under 24 days. The first eastbound trip left San Francisco very early on September 15 and arrived in St Louis on October 9, in just under 25 days. Scheduled eastbound departures from San Francisco soon settled on Mondays and Fridays of each week. The service that ensued was very reliable, and trip times fell to 23 days or less (see Appendix F for a listing of Butterfield trips). Table 9-1 shows the initial published Butterfield schedule.
Following the September 30, 1859 expiration of the ocean mail via Panama contracts, the Postmaster General ordered on December 17, 1859 that the default route for transcontinental letter mail was overland (on the Butterfield line) rather than by steamship via Panama. This overland default order was announced in California newspapers on January 20, but not implemented in California until January 23. It dramatically increased the mail receipts carried by Butterfield to $120 thousand in the year ending June 1860, although the line was still operating at a large loss to the Post Office Department. Prior to the December 17
announcement, only mail specifically endorsed to the Butterfield line (i.e. "Overland via Los Angeles," or "Overland via St Louis") was carried by Butterfield. Following the announcement, all letter mail was carried by Butterfield unless specifically endorsed otherwise.
Butterfield Mail Prior to the December 17 Overland Default Order
Mail from before the December 17, 1859 order can be identified by endorsements on the letters. Figure 9-7 shows an early eastbound example from this period. This cover with a manuscript "p(er) South(ern)
Westbound mail is somewhat scarcer than eastbound mail. Figure 9-8 shows an August 1859 example. This letter was endorsed "Overland via St. Louis" and posted in Boston on August 29, 1859. It was prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage to San Francisco. The Butterfield stagecoach left St Louis on Monday, September 5, but was forced to return to St Louis because of high waters. It left again on September 8, and arrived in San Francisco on October 1.
Starting in the spring of 1859, printed envelopes with overland directives began to appear, almost exclusively on eastbound mail. Figure 9-9 shows an early example. This envelope with a simple printed endorsement was postmarked in San Francisco on April 29, 1859 and prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage to Connecticut. It departed on the Friday, April 29 Butterfield stagecoach and arrived in St Louis on May 25.
This envelope with printed stagecoach design endorsement was postmarked in San Francisco on August 5, 1859 and prepaid 16 cents (overpay of the 15 cents French convention rate) in 1857 issue stamps to Givet, France. It departed on the Friday, August 5 Butterfield stagecoach which arrived in St Louis on August 27, and was carried by rail to New York City. At the New York foreign exchange office, it received an August 31 "Paid" postmark with 12 cents credit (eight cents British packet and transit plus four cents French inland postage) to France. It was then routed to the Cunard steamer Asia, which left on that day and arrived in Liverpool on September 11. England sent the letter across the English Channel to Calais, where it entered the French mail system at a travelling railroad office with a September 12 "Et. Unis Serv. Br. A. C." (From the United States by British service) entry marking.
Figure 9-10. Printed stagecoach envelope "from San Francisco via Los Angeles" sent on August 5, 1859 from San Francisco to France.
Californians were also agitating for the transcontinental railroad, so some printed endorsements expressed their desire for that. Figure 9-11 shows an example.
Post Office Directive Handstamps Prior to the December 17 Default Order
The San Francisco and Sacramento post offices introduced special straight-line "OVERLAND" handstamps prior to the December 17 overland default order. Examples of these auxiliary directive markings applied prior to January 23, 1860 can be interpreted as meaning: "This letter was received too late to catch the mail steamer departure from San Francisco and is being sent by the Butterfield overland mail instead."
A recent census3 records 53 covers with all of the known types of auxiliary overland handstamps. The largest group of these is the 33 covers that bear the San Francisco type 1 handstamp, used almost exclusively in the seven month period between October 1859 and April 1860. The marking, which shows a dropped "R" in the word "OVERLAND," is illustrated on the cover in Figure 9-12.
This letter originated in Hana, Maui on September 7, 1859 and was prepaid five cents Hawaiian postage plus 12 cents U.S. postage (10 cents transcontinental postage plus two cents ship fee) in cash. It received an October 3 "Honolulu U.S. Postage Paid" postmark, indicating that the 12 cents U.S. postage was credited from the Hawaiian post office to the U.S. post office. It left on October 3 aboard the ship Yankee which arrived in San Francisco on October 21, a day after the departure of the semi-monthly mail steamer. It was determined that the quickest service to the East was via Butterfield stagecoach, so the cover received the type 1 "OVERLAND" handstamp to indicate that the choice of this route was by the postmaster. It was also postmarked "Paid 12" for the Monday, October 24 departure of the Butterfield mail, which arrived in St. Louis on November 18. In comparison, the mail that departed San Francisco on the October 20 steamship via Panama arrived in New York from Aspinwall on November 21.
A different "OVERLAND" auxiliary marking was used in Sacramento. There are six reported covers, used in the August 1859 to January 1860 period. Figure 9-13 illustrates this marking. This cover was prepaid 10
Figure 9-13. Cover sent on October 10, 1859 from Sacramento via San Francisco to Pennsylvania with a Sacramento "OVERLAND" handstamp.
cents transcontinental postage and postmarked at Sacramento on Monday, October 10, 1859. It also bears an "OVERLAND" handstamp in matching ink. The letter was posted too late to make the October 10 Butterfield overland departure from San Francisco, so the Sacramento postmaster used the "OVERLAND" handstamp to direct that the cover should go overland on the following trip that departed on October 14, rather than by the steamer that was departing on October 20. The October 14 stagecoach arrived in St. Louis around November 15.
Different "OVERLAND" directive handstamps were also used at Nevada City and San Francisco after the December 17 overland default notice. They are described below.
Butterfield Mail After the December 17 Overland Default Order
After the Postmaster General's December 17 overland order set the Butterfield route as the default for transcontinental letter mails, it was no longer necessary to endorse letters for the Butterfield service.
Unendorsed letters would be forwarded by the Butterfield route, rather than by the Panama steamship route, as was the case previous to the order. The effective date of the order for west coast offices was January 23, 1860. Even though it was no longer necessary to endorse letters to the Butterfield route, letters continued to be so endorsed. A remarkable example is shown in Figure 9-14.
This letter was posted in Auburn, California (north of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains) on March 11, 1860, prepaid 10 cents for the postage to Vermont. Although unnecessary, it carries a detailed manuscript endorsement to the Butterfield route, "Overland via Visalia, Fort Tejon, Los Angeles, Fort Yuma, El Paso & Fort Smith." The endorsement was probably intended to direct the letter from Auburn directly to Visalia to meet the stagecoach there. Accordingly, it caught the Monday, March 12 stagecoach from San Francisco, which passed through Visalia on March 14, and arrived in St. Louis around April 3.
The U.S. postal rates in force between April 1855 and February 1861 were 10 cents per half ounce for distances over 3,000 miles and three cents for distances less than that. The entire length of the
Figure 9-15 shows an example of the three cents rate on a printed stagecoach envelope.
This envelope with printed stagecoach endorsement was postmarked in San Francisco on October
19, 1860 and prepaid three cents postage to Fort Craig, New Mexico. It departed on the Friday, October 19 Butterfield coach which passed through Mesilla, New Mexico around October 30. It was then carried from Mesilla to Fort Craig, where it was discovered that the addressee had returned to Virginia. Accordingly, the letter was postmarked at Fort Craig on November 8 and rated for three cents postage due to Stow Wall Mill, Virginia. It probably caught the October 29 stagecoach from San Francisco, which passed through Mesilla around November 9, and arrived in St. Louis on November 19. Total postage collected on this letter was six cents, but would have been 10 cents if it had originally been addressed to Virginia.
Endorsements from foreign countries are rare. Figure 9-16 shows a manuscript endorsement on a westbound March 1860 letter from France.
Figure 9-16. Letter endorsed "Malle overland - Via Los Angeles" and sent from Bordeaux, France to San Francisco on March 31, 1860.
This triple-weight letter was prepaid 2 francs 40 centimes and posted on the Bordeaux-to-Paris train on March 31, 1860. Addressed to San Francisco, the letter has a manuscript endorsement to the Butterfield route, "Malle overland - Via Los Angeles." The French credited 27 cents (three times U.S. packet postage of six cents plus three times U.S. inland postage of three cents) to the United States and sent the letter via England to catch the New York & Havre Line steamer Arago, which departed from Southampton on April 4 and arrived in New York on April 18. The letter was postmarked "Paid 45" (restatement of the triple 15 cents French mail rate) in New York on April 19 and travelled by rail to St Louis, where it caught the Monday, April 23 Butterfield coach. The letter finally arrived in San Francisco around May 22.
Mail not specifically endorsed to Butterfield was still carried overland. On eastbound mail, the San Francisco postmark should correlate to a Butterfield departure. Figure 9-17 shows an example.
Post Office Directive Handstamps after the December 17 Default Order
San Francisco postmaster Weller changed the default from steamer service via Panama to the Butterfield overland route on January 23, 1860. Accordingly, it is not clear why special "OVERLAND" post office
The type 2 San Francisco "OVERLAND" marking was introduced in late 1860, distinguished by a dropped "LAN" in the lettering. Ten examples are reported with uses dated between September 6 and October 26, 1860. One of the three reported examples that originated in San Francisco is shown in Figure 9-18.
This letter was prepaid the 35 cents Prussian closed mail rate to Locarno, Switzerland and endorsed in manuscript to be sent overland. It was postmarked in San Francisco for the Friday, September 24, 1860 Butterfield stagecoach departure. It arrived in St Louis on October 15, and was carried by rail to New York, where it was postmarked for the October 20 departure of the Inman steamer City of Baltimore. New York credited 12 cents (seven cents to Prussia plus five cents for the additional postage to Switzerland) to Prussia per the manuscript magenta "12" and placed the letter in the closed mail to Prussia. It arrived in Queenstown on November 2 and, after transiting Great Britain and Belgium, was postmarked on the Verviers-to-Cologne train as fully paid per the boxed November 3 "Aachen Franco" marking. The mail clerk also marked "f2" in the lower left to indicate that postage had been paid to the second Swiss rayon. The letter was then sent via Baden per a November 4 "E.B. Curs. V" railroad marking. After passing through Lucerne, the letter arrived at Locarno on November 7, where a clerk indicated that postage had been paid by writing a red "6" (kr.) over the f2 in the lower left.
The Nevada City post office also employed a distinctive "OVERLAND" marking, known used between June and November 1860. Only two examples of this marking are known, and one of them is shown in Figure 9-19.
Figure 9-19. Cover sent on June 15, 1860 from Nevada City, California via San Francisco to Pennsylvania with a Nevada City "OVERLAND" handstamp.
This letter was prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage to Pennsylvania and posted in Nevada City, California on June 15, 1860. It was forwarded by the Monday, June 18 Butterfield stagecoach from San Francisco, which arrived in St. Louis around July 11.
The End of the Southern Butterfield Mail Route
The election of President Lincoln in November 1860 set in motion the secession of the southern states and the Civil War. The Texas convention passed an ordinance of secession on February 1, 1861 and General David Twiggs surrendered the U.S. army forts and personnel in Texas on February 18. This gave Confederate sympathizers opportunities to confiscate equipment and stock from the Butterfield stations in Texas, and also opened the threat of Indian depredations on the stations. After reports of this were received in Washington, D.C., Congress passed the March 2, 1861 Post Office Appropriation bill which
discontinued the Butterfield overland service (route 12578) and moved the daily overland mail contract to the Central route, effective July 1, 1861. The Overland Mail Company struggled to maintain service in the March-April 1861 period. The last westbound Butterfield mail left St. Louis on March 21 and arrived in San Francisco on April 13. The final eastbound mail left San Francisco on April 1 and arrived in St. Louis on May 1. The April 5, 1861 San Francisco Bulletin reported that:
The Overland Mail by the Butterfield route did not leave this city today for St. Louis, as usual and will be discontinued hereafter. The following communication from Postmaster Weller fully explains the cause of the cessation of this mail,
POST OFFICE, San Francisco, April 5, 1861
EDITOR BULLETIN: You will see by the following letter received this morning from Washington, that there will be no through Overland mails dispatched from this office from this day until the 1st of June next, that being the time fixed for the commencement of the new service via the Central route.
Figure 9-20 shows a late westbound cover. This letter was prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage and posted in Westfield, Massachusetts on March 6, 1861. It left St. Louis on the Monday, March 11 stagecoach and was docketed as received in San Francisco on April 3, a trip in the regular time of 23 days. Only three westbound trips left after this.
Figure 9-20. Letter endorsed "Overland" and sent on March 6, 1861 from Westfield, Massachusetts to San Francisco.
The United States had a long-standing interest in the American southwest, culminating with the August 18, 1846 occupation of Santa Fe, New Mexico by American forces under General Stephen Kearny during the Mexican-American War. The presence of troops in Santa Fe created the need for private mail services between Santa Fe and Missouri (described in Chapter Two), which laid the foundation for the later post office contract mails along the Santa Fe trail. This chapter describes those contract mail services.
The February 2, 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, ceded New Mexico to the United States. Anticipating this, a March 3, 1847 Congressional Act authorized a contract mail route between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe via Bent's Fort, although the Post Office Department waited three years before advertising for contractors. In the interim, the Post Office established a post office at Santa Fe on October 1, 1849 even though there were no contract routes to service it.
Figure 10-1 illustrates the Santa Fe contract mail route. As described in Chapter Two, this route originally touched at Bent's Fort and served as a commercial and military route for decades. The Cimarron Cutoff
Figure 10-1. Map of the Santa Fe mail route, showing the intermediate stop at Bent's Fort and the Cimarron Cutoff, which shortened the route.
The First Mail Contract between Santa Fe and Independence, 1850 to 1854
Although authorized to implement a contract mail route by the March 3, 1847 Act, the post office waited until the spring of 1850 to advertise for proposals. Waldo, Hall & Company of Independence was the winning bidder for contract route 4888 between Santa Fe and Independence, and signed a four-year contract on May 11, 1850. Trips were monthly in 29 days each way, with service to begin on July 1, 1850.
Departures were scheduled for the first of each month at 8am from each terminus of the line. The first trip left Independence as scheduled on July 1, 1850 and arrived in Santa Fe about 28 days later. It turned around quickly, and left Santa Fe on August 1, for a 28 day trip to Independence. Next, a heavy mail left Independence on September 1 and reached Santa Fe on September 24. Starting October 1, simultaneous departures were made from each terminus. Service was very reliable, in spite of continual harassment by Indian war parties. The July 1850 Missouri Commonwealth of Independence explained why:
The stages are got up in elegant style, and are each arranged to convey eight passengers. The bodies are beautifully painted and made water-tight, with a view of using them as boats in ferrying streams. The team consists of six mules to each coach. The mail is guarded by eight men, armed as follows: Each man has at his side, fastened in the stage, one of Colt's revolving rifles, in a holster below one of Colt's long revolvers, and in his belt a small Colt's revolver, besides a hunting knife; so that these eight men are ready, in case of attack, to discharge 136 shots without having to reload. This is equal to a small army armed as in the ancient times, and from the looks of this escort, ready as they are either for offensive or defensive warfare with the savages, we have no fears for the safety of the mails. The accommodating contractors have established a sort of base of refitting at Council Grove, a distance of 150 miles from this city, and have sent out a blacksmith, and a number of men to cut and cure hay, with a quantity of animals, grain, and provisions; and we understand they intend to make a sort of traveling station there, and to commence a farm. They also, we believe, intend to make a similar settlement at Walnut Creek next season. Two of their stages will start from here the first of every month.
The citizens of Santa Fe soon agitated for a more frequent service. They sent a petition to the Postmaster General on February 5, 1851 expressing satisfaction with the existing service but requesting a semi-monthly mail between Santa Fe and Independence:
The undersigned, Petitioners, Citizens of New Mexico, would respectfully represent to your Honor, that, on the first day of July last, a monthly mail was established between Independence, in the State of Missouri, and Santa Fe, in the Territory of New Mexico; that the enterprise, energy, and untiring perseverance of the Contractors, up to this time, have delivered this mail, both at Independence and this place, with a punctuality not excelled, if equaled, by that of other Contractors in the United States...all demand the establishment of, at least, a SEMI-MONTHLY MAIL between Independence and Santa Fe.
The Post Office Department would wait six years before acting on this request.
An early letter carried on route 4888 is illustrated in Figure 10-2. This unpaid letter was postmarked at Santa Fe1 on March 1, 1851 to correspond with the departure of the seventh contract stagecoach trip to Independence. It was rated 10 cents due for the over 300 miles rate to Waterford, NY.
Figure 10-2. Letter postmarked in Santa Fe on March 1, 1851 and carried on route 4888 to Independence, Missouri.
It is from Major Oliver Lathrop Shepherd, who was stationed at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe. Fort Marcy was a defensive structure constructed by Kearny's Army of the West in August 1846 to consolidate its occupation of Santa Fe. Shepherd was later appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the U.S. 18th Infantry in the Army of the Ohio during the Civil War. He was brevetted to Major General in 1865 for his gallant services at the battle of Stone's River.
Santa Fe used a manuscript postmark in the same period as the datestamp illustrated in Figure 10-2. Figure 10-3 shows the latest known use of the manuscript postmark.
Figure 10-3. Letter postmarked in Santa Fe on November 1, 1851 and carried on route 4888 to Independence.
This letter was datelined "Santa Fe 31 Oct 1851" by Abraham Woolley, an Indian Agent in the New Mexico Territory. It was rated for five cents due and postmarked in manuscript for the November 1 departure of the 15th contract stagecoach from Santa Fe. The stage arrived in Independence around October 30, and the letter was delivered to nearby Liberty.
Eastbound letters carried on route 4888 are uncommon, but letters sent to Santa Fe during this period are particularly elusive. Figure 10-4 shows an example addressed to Dr. Samuel Woodhouse, surgeon and
Figure 10-4. Letter postmarked in Jerseyville, Illinois on March 20, 1851 and carried on route 4888 to Santa Fe.
naturalist attached to Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves' 1851 scientific and military expedition to explore the Zuni and Colorado Rivers. The expedition set out from Santa Fe on August 15, 1851 and proceeded west via the Zuni Pueblo to Fort Yuma, California. Along the way, they were attacked by hostile Mohave Indians, and Dr. Woodhouse was wounded in the leg.
This unpaid letter was posted in Jerseyville, Illinois on March 20, 1851 and rated 10 cents due for the over 300 miles rate to Santa Fe. The largely personal letter was directed to the, "Capt. Sitgreaves exploring party" at Santa Fe, Texas. The incorrect Texas directive was crossed out, and it was carried on the April 1 stagecoach from Missouri to Santa Fe.
Much of the mail from Santa Fe in this period was from military personnel stationed there. Figure 10-5 shows a May 1852 letter endorsed "Official Business."
Figure 10-5. Letter postmarked in Santa Fe on May 1, 1852 and carried on route 4888 to Independence.
This unpaid letter was postmarked at Santa Fe2 on May 1, 1852 to correspond with the departure date for the 20th contract stagecoach trip to Independence. It was rated for five cents due, 3 but this was later crossed out in recognition of the free frank for official correspondence. It is from Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Horace Brooks to Major General Towson, Paymaster General at Washington. Brooks graduated from West Point in 1835, and served with distinction with the 2nd Artillery Regiment during the Second Seminole War, and in the Mexican-American War. He later served as Colonel of the 4th U.S. Artillery Regiment in the Civil War.
The Second Mail Contract between Santa Fe and Independence, 1854-18581
The Waldo, Hall & Company contract for route 4888 expired on June 30, 1854. The post office reduced the contractual trip time to 25 days, re-numbered the route to 8912, and granted a four-year monthly mail contract to Jacob Hall and John Hockaday, effective July 1, 1854. Departures were still on the first of each month, but the post office retained an option to increase the trips to twice-monthly at twice the compensation.
Despite the regularity of the line, not much mail is known from this period. Figure 10-6 shows a letter postmarked at Santa Fe4 on September 1, 1856 for the departure of the stagecoach for Independence. It
Figure 10-6. Letter postmarked in Santa Fe on September 1, 1856 and carried on route 8912 to Independence, Missouri.
was prepaid 21 cents5 for the American packet rate via England to France. Postmarked "New York Am Pkt" on October 4 for the departure of the American Ocean Line steamer Washington, it arrived in Southampton, England on October 18. By the time it reached Calais, France, it had been accidentally combined with the October 8 British packet mail from Boston and received an "Etats-Unis Paq. Br. Calais" (British packet from the United States) French entry marking on October 19. Consequently, 13 décimes6 British packet postage due was assessed.
The option to increase the frequency of trips was exercised on July 1, 1857 so departures were twice-monthly after that date, leaving on the 1st and the 15th of each month. The Hall-Hockaday contract expired a year later, on June 30, 1858.
The Third Mail Contract between Santa Fe and Independence, 1858 to 1862
The post office decided to increase the frequency on the Santa Fe - Independence route to weekly and re-numbered it as Route 10532. Trips were to be made in 20 days, leaving every Monday at 8am from each terminus. On April 24, 1858 a contract was signed with Hall & Porter, effective July 1. Figure 10-7 shows a letter carried under this contract.
This cover was postmarked at Santa Fe7 for the Monday, August 9, 1858 for the weekly stagecoach departure to Independence, where it arrived around August 29. The letter was prepaid the double-weight French mail rate by a strip of three 10 cents stamps.8 It was postmarked on September 4 in New York to coincide with the sailing of the Vanderbilt Line's Ariel, which arrived in Le Havre on September 19.
Starting Monday, August 29, 1859 Hall & Porter implemented a 15-day schedule in response to a Post Office Department order. They then sold their stagecoaches and livestock to the Missouri Stage Company on December 23, 1860. After that date, the Missouri Stage Co. fulfilled the mail contract for route 10532 under subcontract to Hall & Porter.
Figure 10-7. Letter postmarked in Santa Fe on August 9, 1858 and carried on route 10532 to Independence.
Figure 10-8 shows a letter carried by the Missouri Stage Company. This letter was written by U.S. army surgeon Charles H. Alden, who stopped at Santa Fe on his way from Fort Garland (in today's Colorado) to Mesilla, New Mexico where he was captured along with much of the U.S. 7th Infantry by Confederate forces on July 27, 1861. The letter was prepaid three cents and postmarked in Santa Fe9 on Monday, May 27, 1861 for the departure of the weekly stagecoach to Independence.
Figure 10-8. Letter postmarked in Santa Fe on May 27, 1861 and carried on route 10532 to Independence.
Contract Mail between Neosho and Albuquerque, 1858-59
On August 3, 1854 Congress approved a mail route between Neosho, Missouri and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Post Office Department, however, wisely waited for four years to act on this authorization. On May 27, 1858 they signed a four-year contract for mail route 10615 with Thomas Bowler (of Santa Fe)
and Frank Green for a monthly mail using Beale's wagon route along the Canadian River. Trips in 25 days were to leave on the 15th
Service began normally with the first westbound departure from Neosho on October 16, 1858. This mail accompanied Lieutenant Beale's military detachment for safety, and arrived in Santa Fe on January 2 before continuing on to Albuquerque. Washington's Daily Globe of January 25, 1859 ominously reported signs of impending Indian hostilities:
The Neosho mail arrived at Santa Fe on the 2d, having been detained by the slow movements of Lieutenant Beale's party. They met no hostile Indians, but signs of an approaching outbreak were daily visible. They were evidently only deterred by the strength of the mail company's force.
Figure 10-9. Map of contract mail route 10615 between Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory and Neosho, Missouri.
The first eastbound mail from Albuquerque departed on October 17, 1858. It made relatively good time, arriving in Neosho on November 17, although it was attacked, as reported in the December 3 New York Herald:
St. Louis, Dec. 2, 1858
The first daily mail from Albuquerque, New Mexico, arrived at Neosho, Missouri, on the 17th ult., thirty-one days out. The mail was intercepted by a war party of Kiowa Indians, but a shot from the mail party, wounding the principal chief, put them to flight.
The second Albuquerque mail left on November 15 and met with disaster. A correspondent for the Kansas Journal of Commerce reported from Santa Fe on November 21, 1858 that:
Major Wells, connected with the stage line, arrived here this morning from on the Neosho mail route, having deemed it unsafe to proceed with the mail, after hearing of that deplorable disaster which, he informs me, occurred to the last outgoing mail party. It seems that the party which left Albuquerque on the 15th instant, for Neosho, had some of their animals stolen by the Indians, the Comanches, of the Plains, which the party, however, pursued and recovered. The Indians thereupon largely reinforced themselves and attacked the mail party, which after several repulses, they eventually succeeded in overpowering. The entire party was massacred, and all the outfit, including the mail, was destroyed.
However, not all of the party were killed, as was later reported on March 13, 1859 from St. Louis.10
The loss of the Neosho and Albuquerque mail of last November, is confirmed by the arrival here of John Hall, the conductor, who makes affidavit to the effect that when about two days' march behind Lieut. Beale's party, he was attacked by forty Comanches, badly wounded and taken prisoner. The mail was destroyed. Hall escaped from the Indians in February, and, after enduring great hardships, succeeded in reaching the settlements in safety.
The Wells report suggests that the November 15 mail from Neosho was turned back for safety. There are no further reports of mails on route 10615, and the Postmaster General reported only $320 in postal receipts for 1858-59. Accordingly, he notified Bowler on May 17, 1859 that the contract for route 10615 was terminated, effective July 1. No letters carried on this route are known to have survived.
Contract Mail between Kansas City and Stockton, 1858-59
On March 3, 1855 Congress authorized a mail route between Independence, Missouri and Stockton, California via Albuquerque. Three years later, the Post Office Department signed a four-year contract for mail route 15050 with Jacob Hall on May 28, 1858. The contract called for a monthly mail between Kansas City, Missouri and Stockton via Santa Fe and Albuquerque in 60 days. Service was to start on October 1. Figure 10-10 shows the map of route 15050.
Figure 10-10. Map of contract mail route 15050 between Stockton, California and Kansas City, Missouri via Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Hall transferred this contract to Barrow, Porter & Crenshaw on August 14, 1858. Hall and Porter were no strangers, since they were partners on the third Independence-Santa Fe mail contract, as described above. This allowed them to be aggressive in pursuing the contract for route 15050, since they already had a stagecoach service operating on the segment between Missouri and Santa Fe.
The September 5, 1858 Kansas City Journal11 grandly reported the departure of the stocking trip for Barrow, Porter & Crenshaw's "Great Central Mail Line" as follows:
OVERLAND ROUTE TO STOCKTON. - The first train of the Great Central Mail Line, Barrow, Porter & Co., proprietors, from Kansas City to California, left yesterday. It consisted of twelve wagons, one hundred mules and twenty-five men. The coaches, with one hundred more mules, and an additional force of twenty-five men, will follow in a few days.
These advance parties are sent out to fix the stations and provide accommodations for the regular mail train, which leaves this city on the first of October. The whole station equipment, when organized, will be the most extensive on the American continent...Thus has this great central route, at once taken the precedence of all others as the overland route to California, not only for the mails, but for all the purposes of trade, traffic and commerce.
Westbound service began as scheduled on October 1, 1858 from Kansas City. After a rapid 54-day trip, the mail arrived in Stockton, California on November 24.12 The first eastbound mail party did not fare as well. Departing from Stockton with 50-60 letters on November 1, they encountered hostile Indians north of Los Angeles, and took shelter in nearby Fort Tejon. They met the first westbound party there and returned to Stockton on November 24. The first successful eastbound mail arrived in Kansas City on March 1, 1859.13 This must have been the mail party that departed from Stockton on January 1.
The second and last successful westbound mail left Kansas City on April 1, 1859 and arrived at Stockton on May 29. Along the way, they encountered the eastbound mail party, which reached Santa Fe on May 2.14 This must have been the mail that left Stockton on April 1. The final eastbound mail left Stockton on June 1 and arrived at Kansas City on July 23,15 in a rapid 53 days.
In announcing the May 11, 1859 termination of the "Kansas and Stockton Mail" in his 1859 report, the Postmaster General stated that:
During the period of nine months that it was in operation, there were but four arrivals of through mails at Kansas, and but two at Stockton. The whole mail matter received at Kansas from Stockton consisted of two letters and twenty-six newspapers while it appears, from the returns, that but a single letter reached Stockton from Kansas.
He also reported that total receipts of $1,255 arose mainly from letters carried over partial sections of the route. The termination was effective on July 1, 1859.
The Postmaster General's report identified a total of six successful trips by the line. The two westbound trips were confirmed by newspaper reports, but only three16 of the four successful eastbound trips were reported. The fourth successful eastbound trip must have left Stockton on February 1, 1859. This is confirmed by the letter in Figure 10-11, which is the only surviving letter carried on the Stockton-Kansas City contract mail route.
Figure 10-11. Letter postmarked in Dutch Flat, California on January 21, 1859 and carried on route 15050 to Kansas City, Missouri.
This letter was postmarked in Dutch Flat, California (northeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains) on January17 21, 1859. It was endorsed "Overland via Stocton" and prepaid 10 cents postage to Wisconsin. It reached Stockton in time for the February 1 mail to Kansas City. With a normal transit time, it would have reached Kansas City around March 29.
The nearly simultaneous terminations of the Neosho-Albuquerque and Kansas City-Stockton contract mail routes were reported widely. The Ohio State Journal included the notice in its May 17, 1859 issue:
WASHINGTON, MAY 12 - The Territorial Overland mail routes between Neosho, Missouri, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and between Kansas, Missouri and Stockton, California, which were let to contractors last year, have been discontinued, to take effect from the 1st of July next.
The failure of Congress to make the usual appropriations for the Postoffice Department, the interruptions of the mails mostly from the presence of hostile Indians along the lines, and the consequent obstruction of mail matter, to a comparatively insignificant amount, are the reasons alleged for the discontinuance of this overland service.
As the September 30, 1859 expiration of the ten-year transcontinental mail contracts via Panama approached, the Post Office Department feverishly experimented with less expensive alternatives. In 1857-58, seven different transcontinental routes were given mail contracts or had their contract terms improved:
The Route via Tehuantepec
In the search for an easy and inexpensive route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec had long attracted much attention. The Isthmus forms a narrow neck between two ranges of the Sierra Madre Mountains and abuts the Gulf of Mexico at its northern extremity, with easy access to New Orleans. This route, roughly four thousand miles in length, is about two thousand miles shorter than the Panama route (described in Chapter Six). Figure 11-1 shows the route.
Figure 11-1. Map of the route via Tehuantepec, Mexico.
Early Interest in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
Mexico's grand vision for the Isthmus contemplated a railroad linking the two coasts. In 1842, Mexican President Santa Ana awarded a grant to José de Garay to construct a canal or railroad across the Isthmus. Lacking funding, De Garay sold his concession, and it ultimately ended up in the hands of Peter A. Hargous of New Orleans on February 5, 1849. At this time, the California gold rush was just gathering steam, so Hargous saw an opportunity to provide an alternate route for the emigrant traffic to San Francisco. He organized the New Orleans Company, which undertook a survey of the Isthmus route and placed the steamship Alabama on the route across the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Minatitlan. The Alabama's first trip left New Orleans on December 10, 1850 and reached Vera Cruz on December 16. It then continued for 235 miles along the coast and up the river to Suchil via Minatitlan. Passengers then took mules for the remaining 110 miles to Ventosa, where they had to arrange for a ship to San Francisco. The Alabama made five more round trips until May 22, 1851, when Mexico revoked the Garay concession for fear that American interests would colonize the transit.
A chronic shortage of funds caused the Mexican government to re-instate the Tehuantepec concession in February 1853. Albert G. Sloo1 was the successful bidder, and proposed to carry the U.S. mails via Tehuantepec in conformity with the March 3, 1853 Post Office Appropriations Bill, which called for a mail route across the Isthmus. This was rejected by the Post Office Department as too expensive, so Sloo was unable to proceed with his concession. The U.S. Government finally took steps to assure the right of transit in the December
Congress then took more definitive action, authorizing a contract route between New Orleans and San Francisco via the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the March 3, 1855 Postal Act. The Post Office Department advertised for bids in the spring of 1856, but received no responses. After the route was
re-advertised in December 1857, the Post Office Department was able to negotiate a satisfactory one-year contract with the Louisiana Tehuantepec Company (LTC) on June 8, 1858. In his 1858 report to Congress, the Postmaster General described the contract for Route 8162:
To convey mails from New Orleans, by Minatitlan, Suchil, Ventosa, and Acapulco, to San Francisco, twice a month, and back, in safe and substantial steamers between New Orleans and Minatitlan; in safe and substantial river steamers between Minatitlan and Suchil, and in post coaches or good covered spring wagons between Suchil and the Pacific; the residue of the route to San Francisco in steamers, the pay to be at the rate of $286,000 per annum, with the understanding that the mails may be exchanged with the line between Panama and San Francisco, at or near Acapulco, without change of pay; and with the further understanding that the mails may be exchanged with the aforesaid line at Ventosa, or other port within a short distance of that place, at the annual compensation of $250,000. Service to commence at any time between the first day of October and the first day of November, 1858, and to terminate on the thirtieth day of September, 1859. Each trip to be performed in fifteen days.
The one year contract term was designed to stimulate competition for the October 1, 1859 renewal of the Ocean mail contracts via Panama. The 1859 Postmaster General report to Congress indicated that the actual mail subsidy for the route was at the rate of $250 thousand per annum, so the LTC opted to connect with the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. (PMSS) steamships at Ventosa, rather than at Acapulco.
The Louisiana Tehuantepec Company Sailing Schedule
The October 27, 1858 New Orleans Times-Picayune described the itinerary for westbound mail:
The Quaker City forms the first link of the Pacific connection with New Orleans, departing from our wharves regularly on the 12th and 27th of each month. At Minatitlan, the iron steamer Suchil takes its mails and passengers up the Coatzacoalcos to Suchil, eighty-seven miles. From Suchil the trip is made by stages overland, a distance of one hundred and twelve miles, to Ventosa, on the Pacific...The steamer Oregon, on the Pacific side of the Isthmus, leaves Ventosa on the 30th inst., with the passengers and mails of the Quaker City, for Acapulco, distant thirty-six hours, where steamers of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company coal. Here a connection is formed with the vessels of that line, which perform the service of the Tehuantepec Company from Acapulco to San Francisco.
The steamship leg across the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Minatitlan took three days, while the trip across the Isthmus between Minatitlan and Ventosa took three to four days. The sea trip between Ventosa and Acapulco in the PMSS steamer Oregon3 took slightly more than a day, and the stretch between Acapulco and San Francisco in PMSS steamships took a consistent seven to eight days. With smooth connections, the contract time of fifteen days could be easily accomplished. However, the contract time was never met in the westbound direction, since passengers and mail generally had to wait several days for the connection with the PMSS steamship at Acapulco.
The first westbound trip left New Orleans on October 27, 1858 and arrived in San Francisco after a trip of eighteen days. Its detailed itinerary was partially described in the November 20, 1858 Marysville Weekly California Express.
The steamer Quaker City left New Orleans at 8 o'clock A.M. the 27th October, with mail and passengers, and arrived at Minatitlan at 10 o'clock A.M. on the 30th October. Steamer Suchil left Minatitlan at 1 o'clock P.M. same day, and arrived at Suchil at 10 o'clock A.M. on the 31st of October. Left Suchil overland, at 12 o'clock same day; arrived at the pass Nisi Conejo at 12 o'clock A.M. 1st of November. At 3 o'clock left pass Nisi Conejo, and arrived at San Jeronimo at 2 o'clock A.M., 2nd November; started from there at 7 o'clock A.M., same day, and arrived at Tehuantepec at half-past 12 o'clock P.M. Same day left for Ventosa at 4 o'clock, and arrived at the latter place at 7 P.M., making time as follows:
The average duration of the twenty-three westbound trips was nineteen days. Table 11-1 shows the complete westbound sailing schedule.
Eastbound trip times were generally faster than westbound times, with an average of seventeen days for the twenty-one complete trips undertaken. Even so, the contract trip time of fifteen days was achieved only three times (trips ET13, ET17 and ET20).
The first eastbound trip left San Francisco on November 5, 1858 and arrived in New Orleans in the respectable time of sixteen days. With respect to the final eastbound trip, the LTC steamship Habana was taken off the service on October 2, so the final leg from Minatitlan to New Orleans was performed by a non-contract steamer.8 Table 11-2 shows the complete eastbound sailing schedule.
Mail Carried via the Tehuantepec Route, 1858 to 1859
Seven different transcontinental routes were available in 1858, so the "default route" concept was utilized by the Post Office Department to reduce confusion. During the period of the Tehuantepec contract, the contract mail route via Panama was the stated default for post office mail,10 so if someone wanted to send a letter by an alternate route, that alternate route had to be endorsed on the cover or letter, usually by denoting a terminus or prominent point on the route. This system was clearly explained by the San Francisco postmaster in the November 15, 1858 San Francisco Daily Alta California when he announced the start of the new service via Tehuantepec:
Editor Alta: As a matter of public information and general interest, will you please announce in your paper that hereafter I shall dispatch from this office on the 5th and 20th of each month a mail VIA TEHUANTEPEC TO NEW ORLEANS. I am directed by the Postmaster General to request writers of letters destined to places in the Atlantic States, to indorse thereon the route by which they wish them sent, to wit:
"VIA LOS ANGELES OVERLAND"
"VIA SALT LAKE OVERLAND"
Letters with no such endorsement upon them and all newspapers will be sent "Via Panama". Three cents will pay the postage on a single letter "Via Overland" as far as Chicago, Ills. and Cincinnati, Ohio. Beyond those points the postage will be 10 cents. Newspapers throughout the state will do the public a favor by inserting this in their columns.
C.L. WELLER, P.M.
This clearly sets out the distinguishing characteristics of letters sent via Tehuantepec. Most importantly, they must bear a "via Tehuantepec" inscription, but they should also carry 10 cents per half
Figure 11-3 illustrates a letter carried on the first eastbound trip. This 10 cents Nesbitt stamped envelope was endorsed "via Tehuantepec" and placed in the Tehuantepec contract mail at San Francisco on November 5, 1858. Curiously, it was not postmarked at San Francisco, but was still routed to the PMSS steamship Sonora which departed on November 5 and arrived in Acapulco around November 12. It was taken by
the PMSS Oregon to Ventosa and then carried overland and by river steamer across the Isthmus to meet the LTC steamer Quaker City at Minatitlan. The Quaker City departed on November 17 and arrived in New Orleans on November 21. This letter was postmarked at New Orleans on the following day, fully paid to its destination.
Just under half of the recorded eastbound covers originated in San Francisco. Most of the remaining covers were posted in northern California towns. Figure 11-4 shows one such cover carried on the 13th eastbound trip. This letter was posted in the gold mining town of Yankee Jims, California on May 4, 1859, endorsed "via Tehuantepec" and prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage.12 It was carried by the PMSS steamship Golden Gate from San Francisco on May 5, and arrived at Acapulco on May 12.13 After a five-day trip across the Isthmus by stagecoach and river steamer, it met the LTC steamer Coatzacoalcos, which left Minatitlan on May 18 and arrived in New Orleans on May 20. This trip was one of three accomplished in the contract time of fifteen days.
This letter, endorsed "via Tehuantepec," and was postmarked in San Francisco for the May 20, 1859 departure of the PMSS steamship John L. Stephens, and prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage.14 It arrived at Acapulco on May 28, where it was transferred to the PMSS Oregon for the one day trip to Ventosa. After crossing the Isthmus to Minatitlan, this letter was delayed for over a week. The LTC steamship Coatzacoalcos had been seized by the New Orleans sheriff, so the Louisiana Tehuantepec Company had to
News of the new transcontinental route spread far beyond San Francisco, and letters could be endorsed to the route from distant western post offices. Figure 11-6 shows a remarkable example carried on the 18th eastbound trip.
This letter was posted in Vancouver, Washington Territory on July 7, 1859, endorsed "via Tehuantepec" and prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage.16 It was
An unpublished census by Michael Perlman of surviving Tehuantepec route covers contains twenty-four eastbound examples and five westbound covers.17 This illustrates the great disparity in between eastbound and westbound mail volume on the Tehuantepec route. The reason for this is not completely understood, but it appears that most westbound mail originated around New Orleans, and that the service was not broadly advertised outside of that region.
Figure 11-7 shows a March 1859 cover carried on the tenth westbound trip. This quadruple-weight letter was posted on March 11, 1859 in New Orleans. It was endorsed "via Tehuantepec" and prepaid18 four times the 10 cents transcontinental rate. It left the following day on the LTC steamship Quaker City, which arrived in Minatitlan on March 15. After a trip across the Isthmus by river steamer and stagecoach, it was carried by the PMSS steamer Oregon from Ventosa to Acapulco. It left there on March 22 aboard the PMSS steamship Golden Age, and arrived in San Francisco on March 29.
Figure 11-8 shows an April 1859 letter that took eighteen days to reach San Francisco on the 13th westbound trip. This letter, endorsed "Mail via Tehuantepec," was postmarked in New Orleans for the April 27, 1859 departure of the LTC steamship Coatzacoalcos, and prepaid 10 cents transcontinental postage.19 It arrived at Minatitlan on April 30, where it was transferred to the river steamer for the trip to Suchil, and from there by stagecoach to Ventosa. It met the PMSS Golden Age at Acapulco on May 9 and arrived in San Francisco on May 15.
End of the Louisiana Tehuantepec Company Mail Contract
In his 1859 report to Congress, the Postmaster General explained why the Tehuantepec contract was not renewed after the first year:
The value of this route is very clearly expressed in its receipts of $5,276.68, and its annual expenditures of $250,000. In its present condition, it is comparatively useless, alike for purposes of travel and postal communication.
In total, fewer than 1,000 passengers and only 34,598 letters were carried via Tehuantepec20 during the contract's eleven months' duration.
The discovery of gold in the Pike's Peak region of Colorado led to yet another large westward migration. In July 1858, a prospecting party discovered gold along Cherry Creek near today's Denver. By the spring of 1859, gold seekers by the thousands were making their way from the United States to the Pike's Peak region. Sensing a business opportunity, William Russell and John Jones formed a private express company to carry passengers, gold and express mail between the gold fields and the Missouri River towns that formed the western border of the United States. Figure 12-1 shows a map of the region.
Figure 12-1. Map showing the routes used to access the Colorado Pike's Peak gold region near Denver from the Missouri River frontier towns.
The history of the private express mails and the U.S. contract mails are intertwined in this period, so this chapter considers them jointly in chronological order. The period begins with the informal arrangements for the transport of mail in 1858 and ends with the July 1, 1861 start of the daily overland contract mail.
Opening the Pikes Peak Region
Figure 12-2 shows how the settlements appeared in 1859. This is a view toward the west of the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, with the Rocky Mountains in the background. The tents to the left are the early settlement at Auraria and the area to the lower right is the settlement of St. Charles.
Initially, mail from the new settlements was carried back to the United States by returning gold miners, but the settlers soon determined to have a more regular service. They contracted with mountain man Jim Saunders to carry mail between the Cherry Creek settlements and Fort Laramie for 50 cents a letter. His one documented trip left Denver on November 23, 1858 and arrived at Fort Laramie on January 9, 1859.1 No letters are known to have survived from any of his mail-carrying trips, but they would show entry into the U.S. mails at Fort Laramie during the January-April 1859 period. Saunders reportedly made several other trips, but no information is known about them.
Figure 12-3 shows an example of one of the very few surviving 1858 letters. This example from October 1858 is the earliest known cover from the Denver gold mining region.
Figure 12-3. Cover datelined October 28, 1858 near Cherry Creek. Carried by a returning traveler to Pacific City, Iowa and mailed on December 4.
This letter was written by E.P. "Pinkie" Stout, who arrived in Denver on October 24, 1858 with the Dudley party. He datelined it "South Platte Near the Rocky Mountains Oct 28th 1858" and explained that, "an officer of the army at Ft. Kearny who came out with us returns tomorrow and will take our letters there & mail them from which place the mail runs once a week to the states. "The letter was taken to Pacific City, Iowa (just south of Omaha, Nebraska) and postmarked there on December 4, prepaid three cents postage to Ohio. Stout settled in Denver City, and served as President of the Denver City Town Company from its inception on November 22, 1858 to September 24, 1859. For return mail, he instructed his wife to direct letters to Fort Kearney or Fort Laramie.
A November 1858 cover carried via Fort Kearney is shown in Figure 12-4. This letter from George Salsy, a member of the Lawrence party, is datelined "Montana K.T. Dec 2nd 1858" and describes the growing gold rush to Pike's Peak. He endorsed the envelope "Montana K(ansas) T(erritory) Cherry Creek Gold Mines" and gave it to a member of his party who was leaving the next day to return home. The letter was prepaid three cents U.S. postage to Michigan and postmarked on December 30 at Fort Kearney, Nebraska. For return mail, he gave the address of "Montana near Cherry Creek via Fort Laramie."
Figure 12-4. Cover datelined December 2, 1858 from Montana K. T. and carried by a returning prospector to Fort Kearney on December 30.
The May 7, 1859 Rocky Mountain News reported the arrival at Cherry Creek of what was likely the last mail via Fort Laramie (Saunders route shown in red on Figure 12-1 map) before the express mails began. It reported that:
Three days ago the Laramie mail came in, bringing we learn 1500 letters and a great number of papers which are delivered to their proper owners upon payment of fifty cents for each letter and ten cents for each paper. This is a heavy tax, yet we are glad to get them at any price and only mention it to show the necessity for some kind of regular postal favors - We learn there is a movement on foot to petition the P.O. at this place and presume before our next issue movement will be made, when we shall take occasion to allude to these matters again.
In response to multiple petitions, great changes in communication were already underway. On January 18, 1859 the U.S. Post Office Department had established post offices at Auraria and Montana,2 and on March 18, a post office was also established at Coraville,3 in Denver City. However, no contract routes were authorized to serve these new post offices until July 1860, so their function was very limited. To fill that void, the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company began running express mails in April 1859, and their first mail arrived in Denver on May 7, 1859.
The Formation of the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company
The partnership of Jones & Russell formed the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company (L&PP) in February 1859. Its purpose was to serve the growing tide of emigrants to the Pike's Peak region, so they purchased 52 new stagecoaches using 90-day loans. Russell announced the new service in the March 12, 1859 Leavenworth Herald, claiming a daily line of coaches between Leavenworth and Denver, with trip times under twelve days, starting April 10. Unfortunately, the coaches did not arrive until Sunday, April 17 so service began on April 18. In the meantime, the L&PP mapped out a new route to Denver along the Solomon and Republican Rivers (the blue route in Figure 12-1), establishing re-stocking way stations along the route.
Table 12-1 shows a reconstructed L&PP trip table for the April to June 1859 period.
The trip tables show that, after a slow start, trips left from Leavenworth on a fairly regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. Once the stagecoaches arrived at Denver, they were turned around in a day
or two for the return trip to Leavenworth. Westbound trips initially took about 18 to 19 days, but were reduced to around twelve days by mid-May. At ten to twelve days, initial eastbound trips were faster than the westbound trips. These trips times were also reduced as the route became more developed, to as low as six days in late May. On May 28, 1859, L&PP announced regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday departures from Denver. The same announcement set charges for letters at 25 cents for the express fee plus three cents for a U.S. stamped envelope.
The spring of 1859 brought great discouragement to the Pike's Peak gold mining region, as no significant new gold discoveries were made. Many miners began to return home, believing that the gold mines had played out. In June 1859, eastern journalists Horace Greeley and Albert Richardson visited the mines and wrote a favorable report of their very promising potential. That report reached Leavenworth on June 19, and the frantic gold rush resumed. The L&PP kept a low profile following the early reports of no gold, but kicked into full operation with the Greeley Report. On June 21, they began running ads in the Leavenworth Times stating that:
Jones, Russell & Co.'s express to the gold mines will leave every day when coaches are full of passengers. No coach will leave, except on Tuesdays, unless there are six passengers. One, two or three coaches will start every day, if there are passengers enough to justify. Fare $125, including 20 lbs. baggage. Extra baggage will be charged express rates. John S. Jones, Supt.
Mail Carried by the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company
The "Leav'h City & Pike's Peak Express Co." express marking without year-date was prepared for the Leavenworth express office, and a variety with 1859 year-date was used at Denver.
The Republican River route mapping party returned to Leavenworth, and probably collected the eastbound cover in Figure 12-5 at one of the newly-established way stations on April 26. It bears the earliest known use of the Leavenworth "Leav'h City & Pike's Peak Express Co." express marking. It was prepaid three cents postage to Virginia, and was postmarked at Leavenworth City, Kansas Territory on April 27, 1859.
Figure 12-5. Eastbound cover marked "Leav'h City & Pike's Peak Express Co." on April 26, 1859 and posted in Leavenworth City, K. T. on April 27.
Figure 12-6 shows the earliest westbound use of the Leavenworth express marking. This letter was prepaid three cents postage and posted in Stouts, Ohio on April 15, 1859. Unaware that the L&PP had commenced operations, the sender endorsed the cover "By way of Fort Larimia" expecting that it would be carried by private messenger from Fort Laramie to Denver. The Post Office Department, however, had instructions to deliver the Denver mails to the L&PP in Leavenworth City, from whence the L&PP would transport them to
An unpublished census of L&PP covers by Richard Frajola and Ken Stach includes eight westbound and eight eastbound covers. Figure 12-7 shows the Denver "Leav'h City & Pike's Peak Express Co." express marking on an eastbound cover.
This Nesbitt stamped three cents envelope originated in Denver, where it was given to the L&PP for transmittal east. L&PP collected its 25 cents express fee and marked it with their express marking on June 1, 1859. It was carried on the seventh eastbound trip, which arrived in Leavenworth on June 10. It entered the U.S. mails to Ohio on June 12 at Leavenworth City.
The Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company Expands
Not content to carry only passengers, mail and gold between Denver and Leavenworth City, the L&PP purchased the weekly U.S. mail contract between St Joseph, Missouri and Salt Lake City from John Hockaday on May 11, 1859 (described in Chapter Seven). This acquisition, financed with debt, further stressed the already fragile L&PP finances. It also necessitated a change in route from the Republican River route (shown in blue in Figure 12-1) to the Platte River route (shown in green in Figure 12-1). The June 11, 1859 Denver Rocky Mountain News reported that:
On Monday morning last (note: June 6) Mr. Williams of the Express arrived here with one of the company's coaches, in six days and twenty-three hours4 from Leavenworth City. This we consider making pretty good time, bringing us mail from the eastern cities in twelve days, and telegraphic dispatches in Leavenworth papers in seven days.
Mr. Williams informs us that he has made an entire change in the location of the mail route. The company having purchased the stock and route of the Salt Lake and California mail, will now move their whole force to the Platte route by way of Fort Kearney to the South Platte crossing, from whence one line will continue up the North Platte to Laramie and the South Pass, the other diverging, following the South Platte to this place - Mr. W. gave the necessary orders for the removal of all stations to the Platte as he came up...This is only another proof of the superiority of the Great Platte route over others bending across the plains.
In a letter to the June 18, 1859 Denver Rocky Mountain News, Williams further explained that:
Denver City, June 11th, 1859.
Dear Sirs, - In your last paper you give the reason, as you suppose, why Jones & Russell moved their stock from the new road recently laid out by myself and others from this place to Leavenworth City, to the Platte River Route. You are mistaken in your supposition.
We purchased, after the trains started from Leavenworth, the Salt Lake Mail contract, and designed carrying it over the new road, but could not get the sanction of the Department, and to run the Mail on the Platte and the Express over the new road would be too expensive, we determined to move to the Platte route for the present, but in due time the new road will be the main road to this place...We will leave here with our coaches once each week, carrying the U.S. Mail, also all passengers. Hoping this will find a place in your columns, I remain yours very respectfully, B.D. Williams, Agent, Jones & Russell's P.P. Exp. Co.
His comment about the U.S. mail reflects an unfortunate misconception by Williams, who thought that
The "Phantom" U.S. Mail Contract
Upon his June 6 arrival in Denver, Williams undoubtedly passed the erroneous information about the U.S. mail contract to John Fox, agent for the L&PP in Denver who, in turn, informed the postmaster
Figure 12-8 shows the earliest known Coraville postmark. This cover with a prepaid 25 cents L&PP frank (the dateless handstamp) on a three cents Nesbitt stamped envelope was postmarked in manuscript at Coraville on June 8, 1859. It was not treated as U.S. contract mail at Coraville since the express fee had been paid so it entered the U.S. mails at Leavenworth City on July 2, per the postmark cancelling the indicia.
By June 17, Coraville was using a straight-line postmark, and the mails were being
was no need for Leavenworth to postmark the cover, and it was sent onward to its destination in New York.
The Auraria post office (across Cherry Creek from Denver and Coraville) also began active operations at this time. The earliest known cover from Auraria is shown in Figure 12-10. This three cents stamped Nesbitt envelope was postmarked at Auraria on June 15, 1859 and carried, free of express charges, to Leavenworth on the June 17 L&PP coach from Denver.
Figure 12-10. Cover postmarked at Auraria, Kansas Territory on June 15, 1859. Carried to Leavenworth City by the L&PP without express charges.
The L&PP made three "phantom" eastbound contract mail trips before Williams' error was corrected by personnel in Leavenworth in late June. These three mails were sent on June 11 (arrived in Leavenworth on June 20), June 17 (arrived June 30) and June 22 (arrived July 2). After June 22, the L&PP began charging 25 cents express fees on all of the mail carried by it. John Fox explained why in the July 9, 1859 Denver Rocky Mountain News:
Dear Sirs: - I am aware that some prejudice is entertained by the citizens of the cities of Auraria and Denver and also the Mountains, against the Express Company of which I am agent at this place...When the Company first commenced running their stages the Postmaster at Leavenworth City was notified to deliver all mail matter for Pike's Peak, Cherry Creek, and the gold mines of Kansas and Nebraska, to Jones and Russell's Express Company, as long as they would carry it free of expense to the Government. The Postmaster at Leavenworth City obeyed the order of his superior. The Express Co. receiving no pay from the Government for carrying letters and papers as express matter, who will say that twenty five cents for a letter is unreasonable. It was afterwards in contemplation to transport the mail as a regular U.S. Mail and one of the Company's agents acting under the impression and belief that arrangements to that effect had been made, announced to the citizens here, and in the mountains, that all mails which would thereafter arrive, would come as U.S. Mail. Under the same impression myself three mails were sent East by me, the letters bearing the three cent stamp only.
The arrangement to carry the mail was not perfected, and the Company, in justice to themselves, were compelled to charge the twenty five cents per letter still...I will close this communication by saying that no U.S. Mail has ever arrived at this office.
Shortly after the discontinuance of the "phantom" contract mails, the Coraville post office was discontinued on June 25.
Further Changes with the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company
With the greater business scope represented by the St. Joseph-Salt Lake City mail contract, the L&PP name became less descriptive. The latest known L&PP express marking is dated July 2, 1859 and new dated express markings reading "Jones & Russell's Pike's Peak Express Co." were prepared for Denver City and Leavenworth City. Only one example of the "Leavn'th City" variety is known, used on July 25, 1859. The "Denver City" handstamp arrived in Denver on July 20, and was quickly put into use on eastbound mail starting around July 22. Figure 12-11 shows an early example.
This letter was datelined from "Near Gregory diggings on a branch of Clear Creek, Nebraska Territory July 17th 59" and was carried by the Jones & Russell's Pike's Peak Express Company (Jones & Russell) on the stagecoach that left Denver on July 29. It ran over the new Platte River route to Leavenworth City, where it entered the U.S. mails on August 8. In this letter, W.H. Mann describes his westbound trip across the plains via "the express route which follows up between the Republican and Smokey Hill Forks after leaving Junction City (at the head of the Kansas River)" to Denver, where he arrived on July 4, 1859. His was the last westbound trip over the old Republican River route.
The new Platte River route became fully operational with the westbound stagecoach that left Denver on July 2, 1859. A letter to the July 22, 1859 Leavenworth Daily Times described this first trip:
Denver City, July 9, 1859.
Editor of the Times: Through your columns we wish to make favorable mention of the Express Company of Messrs. Jones & Russell. We left Leavenworth on Saturday morning (note: July 2) at 10, A.M., 2d inst., and were landed here this morning at 7, A.M., making the entire trip in six days and twenty-one hours. The appointments of the route far exceeded our expectations, and when every arrangement that they have now under way is completed, there will be thrown open to the public one of the best, if not the best, stage routes in the world. The stations will be from twenty to thirty miles apart...The coach on which we came was the first one on the Platte Route, and consequently was subject to more than ordinary delay. By a computation of our own, we are able to say that twenty-eight hours were lost at the different stations in getting up the mules and arranging for the travel which is ready to go on to the line.
The movement to the Platte River route was not without glitches. The coaches from Denver were intended to connect with the Salt Lake City mail coaches at Julesburg for the trip between there and St. Joseph. However, the Leavenworth Times of June 24 and July 4, 1859 reported that the Salt Lake City stagecoaches refused to receive either passengers or letters. This was soon rectified, and the new route ran smoothly.
Further Efforts for a U.S. Contract Mail
Frustrated by the lack of contract mail routes, the postmaster at Auraria, Henry Allen, decided to contract directly for a weekly U.S. mail. In the July 9, 1859 Denver Rocky Mountain News, he announced that:
Mail Notice - Please inform your readers that I have made arrangements with Mr. Willis, one of the employees of the United States Express Company, to carry the mail from Auraria to the Missouri River, the contract to commence on Monday next (note: July 11), and continue to depart every Monday morning until further notice. Therefore 3 cent postage will convey the letters to the States, and the same back as soon as the agent gets through.
Willis received the total postage of each mail carried as compensation, and followed the Platte River route to Fort Kearney, where letters continued on in the U.S. mails.
Willis' service was evidently unsatisfactory, since the following notice appeared in the August 27, 1859 Denver Rocky Mountain News:
The Mails - We learn from Mr. Allen, the postmaster, that Mr. Willis has failed to carry out the contract taken by him to carry the U.S. mail from this office to Fort Kearney...Mr. Allen has now entered into a contract with the Express Company by which mails will be transported three times a week each way between Auraria and Fort Kearney in U.S. mail bags, which will be opened only by the postmasters at either end of the line. The charge will be twenty five cents for each letter and ten cents for each paper in addition to the U.S. postage - that being the compensation allowed the Express Co.
We can now rely upon having mails carried with promptness and dispatch, and the compensation is as little as any responsible company or individual will undertake to transport it for.
Since government has failed to extend to us privileges and advantages of postal facilities, we are certainly fortunate in being able to secure tri-weekly service even at the cost of twenty-five cents per letter, in the hands of so prompt a company as Jones Russell & Co. The mail will leave hereafter, until further notice, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of each week at 6 ½ o'clock a.m.
The Express Company also carry letters and papers to and from their office in Denver, at the same rates as formerly, they paying the U.S. postage.
Figure 13-13 shows a cover carried on Willis' last contract run to Fort Kearney. This cover was prepaid three cents U.S. postage and postmarked at the Auraria Kansas Territory post office on August 23, 1859. Auraria by then was using a straight-line postmark, which is known used in the period from July 26 to August 26, 1859. Willis left Denver on August 26 and carried the letter to Fort Kearney, where it continued on in the U.S. mails to Illinois.
Figure 12-13. Cover postmarked at Auraria, Kansas Territory on August 23, 1859. Carried to Fort Kearney by Willis, under contract to the Auraria postmaster.
The Only Game in Town
With the failure of Allen's efforts to establish a U.S. contract mail, Jones & Russell was the only option for getting a letter between the United States and Denver. Although Allen's August 27 announcement offered to process mail "in U.S. mail bags" there was no reason for a letter-writer to give his mail to the post office, since the fees were the same whether processed through the post office or directly by Jones & Russell. Accordingly, no letters postmarked at Auraria are known from August 27, 1859 to its discontinuance on February 11, 1860. On that date, the Auraria post office was moved across Cherry Creek and became the Denver City post office. Even so, no letters are known postmarked from Denver City until August 16, 1860.
At the same time that Allen optimistically described their tri-weekly service, Jones & Russell announced a reduced schedule, effective August 22, 1859:
From and after Monday, August 22nd, Jones Russell & Co.'s Express Stage Coaches will leave
Denver City for Leavenworth City, on Thursdays...6 ½ o'clock A M
Arrive at Leavenworth Thursdays...6 ½ o'clock A M
Returning, leave Leavenworth Tuesdays...6 ½ o'clock A M
Each stage coach is capable of carrying eight passengers with comfort and ease. Passage through to
Leavenworth $100, board included.
All articles expressed through to the States are forwarded immediately to their place of destination
Despite their virtual monopoly in the passenger and express business, the L&PP was never able to turn a profit. In July 1859, the loans that Jones and Russell had used to finance the start-up of the L&PP were overdue, and the company did not have sufficient funds to pay them down. Accordingly, the powerful freighting partnership of Russell, Majors & Waddell (RMW) stepped in with financing to keep the stagecoach line and their partner, William Russell, solvent. The L&PP finances did not improve, so RMW had to absorb the L&PP on October 28, 1859. The line continued to operate as Jones & Russell's Pike's Peak Express Company,5 so no change in the markings or handling of the express mail took place after the takeover by RMW. On February 13, 1860 RMW received a charter for a subsidiary, The Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company (COC&PP), which would handle all of its mail-related activities, and this new entity absorbed the L&PP on February 20. This change initiated a gradual change in express mail markings from Jones & Russell to COC&PP on May 24, 1860, although Jones & Russell express markings continued to be used at Denver until June 7, 1860.6
Of more significance, the COC&PP began the renowned transcontinental pony express in April 1860 (described in Chapter Thirteen), and this moved the eastern terminus for all of their mail handling activities to St Joseph, Missouri from Leavenworth City at the end of April 1860. For the month and a half between May 3 and June 14, Jones & Russell eastbound express mail from Denver entered the U.S. mails at St Joseph.
Figure 12-14 shows an example. This letter from "Pinkie" Stout was datelined "Denver April 30th 1860" and prepaid three cents U.S. postage. It was datestamped "Jones & Russell's Pike's Peak Express Co. Denver City" on May 3 to reflect the departure date of the Jones & Russell stagecoach, and to indicate that the 25 cents express fee had been paid. It entered the U.S. mails at St Joseph on May 10.
Figure 12-14. Eastbound cover marked "Jones & Russell's Pike's Peak Express Co. Denver City" on May 3, 1860. Entered the U.S. mails St Joseph.
COC&PPE Takes Over
Following the February 20, 1860 COC&PP acquisition, both the L&PP and Jones & Russell ceased to exist. The trip that left Denver on February 23 marked the end of L&PP or Jones & Russell operations, although mail handling continued as before. The first COC&PP express marking was a crude undated straight-line woodcut that read "Denver Central Over'd Cal & Pike's Peak Express" which is known used from March to May 1860.
Figure 12-15 shows an example used in conjunction with a Jones & Russell express marking. This envelope originated in Denver, where it was given to the COC&PP for transmittal to New York City. The COC&PP collected its 25 cents express fee and marked it with a Jones & Russell express marking on April 26, 1860. The April 26 marking was obliterated by the placement of a three cents stamp over it, and a May 3 Jones & Russell express marking along with a woodblock COC&PP marking were applied in Denver. It entered the U.S. mails at St Joseph on May 10.
Figure 12-15. Cover marked "Jones & Russell's Pike's Peak Express Co. Denver City" on April 26 (stamp applied over datestamp) and May 3, 1860. It received the Denver COC&PP woodblock marking, and was forwarded via St Joseph on May 10.
Oval COC&PP express markings were prepared for Denver, Leavenworth City and St Joseph. Magenta and yellow labels were also prepared as advertising for the service. The Denver marking was used mainly on eastbound mail, and its earliest confirmed use is May 24, 1860. The St. Joseph marking was used principally as a transit marking on westbound mail from August 1860 until November 1861. The St Joseph marking was also used in conjunction with the Denver COC&PP marking on eastbound mail in the September 1860 to March 1861 period. Finally, the rarest of the COC&PP markings, from Leavenworth City, is known on both eastbound and westbound mail.
The eastbound cover in Figure 12-16 shows the Denver COC&PP marking, a St Joseph transit COC&PP marking, and a magenta COC&PP advertising label. This cover originated in Denver, where it was given to the COC&PP for transmittal to New York City. The COC&PP collected its 25 cents express fee and marked it with an oval November 24, 1860 Denver City COC&PP express marking. Six days later, it arrived in St Joseph, where a November 30 St Joseph COC&PP transit marking was applied. It entered the U.S. mails at St Joseph on December 1, and the three cents stamp paid the postage to New York. The
Figure 12-16. Cover marked "Central Overland and California Pike's Peak Express Company Denver City K.T." on November 24, 1860. At St Joseph, it was marked with a November 30 COC&PP transit marking.
magenta COC&PP advertising label reading "The Only Through Express, Direct Your Letters Care C.O.C. & P.P. Express St Joseph, MO., or Leavenworth, K.T." is tied by the manuscript routing endorsement, indicating that it was applied in Denver City.
Figure 12-17 shows a westbound cover with a St Joseph COC&PP marking. This cover was mailed on December 17, 1860 at Fredonia, Maryland with three cents U.S. postage prepaid, and endorsed "via the C.O.C. & Pike's Peak Express from St. Joseph Missouri." It was sent in the U.S. mails to St. Joseph, where it was transferred to the COC&PP for transmittal to Denver City. The COC&PP added their green December 25 St Joseph marking and sent it by coach that day to Denver.
Figure 12-17. Westbound cover postmarked in Fredonia, Maryland on December 17, 1860. Forwarded at St Joseph, Missouri on December 25.
Not all of the mail was handled through St. Joseph. A few eastbound trips terminated at Leavenworth City, and at least one westbound cover originated in Leavenworth.
Figure 12-18 shows an eastbound example with a magenta advertising label. This cover originated in Denver, where it was given to the COC&PP for transmittal to Pennsylvania. The COC&PP collected its 25 cents express fee and marked it with an oval October 30, 1860 Denver City COC&PP express marking. It entered the U.S. mails at Leavenworth City on November 6, and the three cents Nesbitt stamped envelope paid the postage to Lockport. The magenta COC&PP advertising label is tied by the Denver City COC&PP marking.
Figure 12-18. Cover marked "Central Overland and California Pike's Peak Express Company Denver City K.T." on October 30, 1860. A magenta advertising label was added at Denver, and it entered the U.S. mails at Leavenworth City on November 6.
Figure 12-19 shows the backstamp found on a westbound cover that entered the U.S. mails at Leavenworth City on June 25, 1860. This cover was prepaid three cents U.S. postage and postmarked in Leavenworth City, Kansas Territory on June 25, 1860. The Leavenworth postmaster gave it to the COC&PP for transmittal to Denver, and the COC&PP marked it with its rare Leavenworth City oval marking. The front of the envelope is marked "Collect 10cts" and "Paid G" in manuscript, indicating that the express fee was collected on delivery. Only three examples of the COC&PP Leavenworth City marking are known, used in the June-October 1860 period.
Figure 12-19. Leavenworth COC&PP datestamp on reverse of westbound cover postmarked in Leavenworth, Kansas Territory on June 25, 1860 and marked with the Leavenworth COC&PP marking of the same date. It was addressed to Hamilton, Colorado Territory.
Competition Enters the Market
The May 23, 1860 Denver Rocky Mountain News reported that, "C.S.S. Hinckley, Superintendent of the Hinckley & Co.'s Rocky Mountain Express Co., arrived on Saturday morning last (note; May 19) to set in motion their express arrangements throughout the mountain mines." Hinckley & Co. quickly set up an express service between Denver City and the Pike's Peak gold mines, and connected with the COC&PP for extended express service between Denver City and the Missouri River. This led to a cooperative period for the two express companies from May 31 to mid-August 1860. Letters carried conjunctively by the two express companies show the express markings of both. Figure 12-20 shows an eastbound example.
Figure 12-20. Cover carried from the mountains and marked "Hinckley & Co.'s Express Denver City" on June 2, 1860 and transferred that day to the COC&PP in Denver for forwarding via St Joseph.
This letter originated somewhere in the Pike's Peak gold mining region and was carried by Hinckley to Denver, where they marked it "Hinckley & Co.'s Express Denver City" on June 2, 1860. Hinckley transferred the letter to the COC&PP, who also marked it with their June 2 Denver City marking. It was then carried by COC&PP stagecoach to St. Joseph, where it entered the U.S. mails on June 8. Hinckley charged 10 cents for their express service and the COC&PP charged 20¢ for their service. A three cents stamp applied by the sender paid the U.S. postage from Denver to Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Post Office Department finally moved to establish contract mail routes to the Pike's Peak region. Congress passed the March 27, 1860 "Act to Establish Mail Routes in the Territory of Kansas" and the Post Office Department awarded the weekly Denver City-Julesburg contract for route 15151 to E.F. Bruce on June 16. About the same time, the Post Office Department established a new post office at Julesburg on May 23, which was intended to serve as a transfer point for mail to and from the Pike's Peak region. Accordingly, on July 4, 1860, the Post Office Department ordered the COC&PP to increase its service between Julesburg and St Joseph to weekly and had to compensate the COC&PP for carrying the Denver City mail between Julesburg and St Joseph or Salt Lake City.
It is somewhat surprising that the COC&PP did not bid for contract route 15151, since they already had the infrastructure in place for a weekly mail. A July 3, 1860 dispatch of Albert Richardson to the July 26 Lawrence Republican may explain why:
The express brings in and takes out about five thousand letters per week, for which the writers and recipients are compelled to pay twenty-five cents each, in addition to the Government postage. The recent "letting" of the mail contract to this place is believed to be merely a nominal affair, it is expected that the Pike's Peak Express Company will control it, and compel us to submit to this heavy tax through the season.
If Richardson's account is accurate, then the COC&PP was collecting about $65,000 per year from its express mail service, and the contract for route 15151 paid only a fraction of that. Thus, the COC&PP stood to lose significant money from a functioning U.S. mail service to the region, and apparently chose to compete against it.
Bruce defaulted on his contract by late July. Upon his failure, the post office changed the eastern terminus from Julesburg to Fort Kearney, to avoid the COC&PP compensation for the Julesburg-St Joseph/Salt Lake City segments, since two other existing contract routes linked Fort Kearney with Omaha and St. Joseph. The modified route was re-named 15151a. On August 29, the post office accepted the winning bid for the modified contract from E.S. Alvord, superintendent of the Western Stage Company (Western).
Western, which had an established stagecoach business between Omaha and Fort Kearney, was not equipped to run stagecoaches over route 15151a, and needed some time to stock the route. To fill the gap, the post office offered compensation to the COC&PP for carrying the contract mails until Western could become operational. The August 15, 1860 Denver Rocky Mountain News reported the first arrival of U.S. mail on the evening of August 10:
First United States Mail. The Express coach which arrived here on Friday evening last, brought in two mail bags sealed with government locks, which were promptly passed over to Postmaster McClure at his new office on Larimer street. Whether the bags came through accidentally, or in accordance with an agreement made with the Express Company, we are unable to learn; the agents here having received no explanation from the east on the subject...How the numerous miners and business men in the mountains are to get their mail matter now, we are not advised. Messrs. Hinckley & Co., who have a list of some twenty thousand names to whom they are authorized to forward letters in the Mountain region, were unable to get such letters from the Postmaster.
The August 22, 1860 Denver City Rocky Mountain News confirmed that, "Mr. Williams informs us that arrangements have been made with the C.O.C. & P. P. Express Company for the temporary carrying the mail for this region once a week from Julesburg to this city." That same issue also reported the arrival of second U.S. mail on August 20, explaining that:
The Monday evening coach brought sixteen bags of U.S. Mail, which was duly deposited at the Post Office...We hope there is now a prospect of a regular weekly mail and that it will soon be increased to a more frequent service. The contractors for all the branch lines from this city, are on the ground and have commenced service in accordance with the letting.
The Denver office becomes the distributing office for all this region, and ere long will be the scene of immense business.
This report explains why the post office would not deliver mountain region letters to Hinckley, and foretells the end of Hinckley's mountain express business. A third mail of seven mailbags arrived in Denver on August 29, and marked the start of a reasonably consistent weekly mail. The first U.S. mail from Denver left on Tuesday, August 14 with a reported four thousand letters.7 The COC&PP was later recognized by the Post Office Department for carrying the U.S. mail from July 1 to September 13, 1860.
With a contract mail route finally in operation, the Denver City post office also became fully operational. Figure 12-21 shows an August 23, 1860 cover from Denver.
This cover originated in Nevada City on August 16, 1860 and was carried from there to Denver by Hinckley's Express, which datestamped the letter upon its August 23 arrival. Hinckley transferred the letter to the Denver City post office, which applied its earliest known "tombstone" postmark,8 also of August 23. It was carried by COC&PP coach to St Joseph under a temporary U.S. mail contract.
Figure 12-22 shows a letter carried on the third westbound contract mail trip to Denver. This letter was prepaid three cents U.S. postage and posted in Stillwater, Minnesota on August 9, 1860. It was carried in the third contract mail to Denver, which was carried by the COC&PP and arrived on August 29. The Denver post office postmarked it on that day with its "tombstone" postmark.
Figure 12-22. August 9, 1860 letter from Stillwater, Minnesota carried by the COC&PP to Denver under a temporary U.S. mail contract.
Throughout September 1860, the Western Stage Company was preparing the route for its mail contract. The September 15 New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that:
Mails to the Rocky Mountains - A dispatch from Omaha, Nebraska Territory, of the 10th says: The Western Stage Company having contracted for the U.S. mail to and from Denver, via Omaha, Mr. Hooker, the general agent, started this morning to stock the road and make the necessary arrangements for three mails per week, which will probably be perfected by the 1st of November, until which time they will continue running a weekly mail.
The Post Office Department accommodated Western's start-up by allowing them to carry weekly mails between Denver and Julesburg until November 1, and thereafter weekly between Denver and Fort Kearney in five days. The September 26, 1860 Denver City Rocky Mountain News reported that:
We had the pleasure of a call this morning from Mr. Hooker, of the Western Stage Company, who arrived a day or two ago. He has just passed over the route from Omaha to this city; making preparations to stock the road for a weekly line of coaches. He informs us that his company has secured the mail contract from Ft. Kearney to this city, and not from Julesburg alone, as has been reported. The stock for the route is being placed on the road as rapidly as possible; the coaches are ready, and the first mail up is on the way and should arrive this evening or tomorrow morning...The first mail down will leave this city tomorrow morning. The time through to Omaha this winter, will be about five and a half days, to be reduced to five or less, the coming summer.
The first Western stagecoach departure from Denver was on September 27, but the Denver postmaster reported that Western started its U.S. mail service on September 13. In addition, the September 18 New York Herald Tribune reported that the first through U.S. mail was received at Omaha on September 15 with Denver dates to September 7. Undoubtedly, Western contracted with the COC&PP to carry the mail on the September 7 trip as well as trips on September 13 and September 20. Figure 12-23 shows a letter carried on the September 20 Western contract mail trip.
This letter was endorsed "Via U.S. Mail" in Denver City, where it was prepaid three cents postage in cash and received a September 20, 1860 "tombstone" postmark. The Western Stage Company had commenced operations under their weekly U.S. mail contract, but had no stagecoaches available to carry the mail. Accordingly, they contracted with the COC&PP to carry this mail to St. Joseph.
The postmaster at Fort Kearney reported that Western began its mail service on September 12, while the Julesburg postmaster reported commencement on September 17. This represented Western's slow westbound stocking trip which left Omaha on September 10 and arrived in Denver around September 28. Apparently, they carried
the first westbound U.S. mail on that trip. By October, Western's weekly stages were running smoothly, and continued on a weekly schedule until the contract for route 15151a was annulled by the Post Office Department effective July 1, 1861.
Figure 12-24 shows a February 1861 eastbound letter carried by Western. This letter was prepaid three cents U.S. postage and postmarked on February 11, 1861 in Denver City, which used the second type9 of "tombstone" cancel. It was carried by Western on its weekly U.S. mail run to Fort Kearney, and was sent during the brief period from the January 31, 1861 Kansas Statehood to the formation of the Colorado Territory on February 28, 1861.
Western's weekly stages over the Denver-Fort Kearney route also represented the first real competition for the COC&PP. On September 7, 1860 Hinckley & Co. opened a competing express business to the East, using Western's facilities to carry letters, packages and gold dust. The COC&PP reacted quickly, and reduced its express letter fees to seven cents on September 17, 1860.
The race was on, but both Hinckley and COC&PP would suffer for it. Hinckley printed at least seven different types of franked U.S. three cents stamped envelopes that it sold for 10 cents. Figure 12-25 shows an early example. This Hinckley franked envelope was datestamped in Denver on November 13, 1860. It was carried by a Hinckley messenger on a Western stagecoach to Fort Kearney and then on to St Joseph, where it entered the U.S. mails on November 22.
Most of the known eastbound Hinckley express letters entered the mail at St Joseph, but some stayed on Western stagecoaches all of the way to Omaha. Figure 12-26 shows an example on a different type of Hinckley franked envelope.
Ultimately, competition from a competent U.S. mail service drove both Hinckley and COC&PP out of the letter express business. Hinckley was purchased by the COC&PP on May 11, 1861 and the latest known COC&PP express cover is from November 1861.
The Post Office Department notified Western Stage Company on May 21, 1861 that its Denver-Fort Kearney mail contract would be annulled, effective July 1. This was part of the great consolidation of the Central Route overland mail contracts into the daily overland mail managed by the Overland Mail Company. Perhaps sensing the end, E.S. Alvord sold the Western Stage Company to the Overland Mail Co. on May 1, 1861. Tri-weekly U.S. mail service to Denver by the COC&PP under subcontract to the Overland Mail Co. began on July 1, 1861.
The transcontinental Pony Express captured the popular imagination while it operated between April 3, 1860 and October 26, 1861, and has continued to do so ever since. From a postal history perspective, the Pony Express was the combination of a private mail system and a government-subsidized mail system that is unique in American history.
In summary,1 the Central Overland and California Pike's Peak Express Company (COC&PP) was formed in February 1860 to manage Russell, Majors & Waddell's2 passenger, express and contract mail services to the booming regions of Colorado, Salt Lake City and California via the Central Route. In December 1859, the Post Office Department's default route for transcontinental mails had been changed from the via Panama route to the Overland Mail Company's (OMC) Southern Route. From May 1859 to May 1860, the COC&PP and its predecessor companies gained control of the contracts along the Central Route, and began a political campaign to move the lucrative default mail contract from the OMC's Southern Route to their Central Route.
Figure 13-1. Map showing the Central Route (in blue and red) and Southern Route (in green).
The COC&PP needed to prove the superiority of the Central Route over the Southern Route to wrest the contract away from the OMC. Accordingly, on April 3, 1860 they started a much-publicized transcontinental Pony Express along the Central Route, using relays of horse-mounted riders to deliver mail between Missouri and California in the then extraordinary time of ten days. This was the first phase of the Pony Express, under the complete operational and financial control of the COC&PP. No post office subsidies or endorsements were given to them for their service.
The COC&PP accomplished its goal of establishing the feasibility of the Central Route, and the outbreak of the Civil War convinced Congress that the daily overland mail contract should be moved to the Central Route at the impressive subsidy of $1 million per year. However, the Post Office Department granted that contract to the OMC on March 12, 1861 (effective July 1) and the COC&PP was
The new daily overland mail contract also stipulated the continuation of the twice-weekly Pony Express until the completion of the overland telegraph. This created the post office-subsidized third operational period of the Pony Express. Starting on July 1, the OMC had full operational control and used WF as its agent for the mail handling services. The post office service terminated at Placerville, California so WF also offered a private express service to link Placerville and San Francisco. The telegraph was completed on October 24, 1861 and the Pony Express ceased to operate two days later.
Thus, although the Pony Express has typically been viewed as a single unvaried enterprise, it was actually operated under distinctly different management schemes. These three operational phases encompassed four different rate periods. A brief overview is shown in Table 13-1.
The First Rate Period, April to August 1860
The first rate period began with the inaugural eastbound and westbound trips on April 3, 1860. As shown in Table 13-1, the basic express fee was $5 per half ounce, although there was also a short distance rate between San Francisco and Salt Lake City of $3 per half ounce. Per the regulations for private express companies, U.S. postage from origin to destination had to be paid on all letters. The regulation stipulated the use of U.S. stamped envelopes, but many examples with stamps are known.
Figure 13-2 shows the only known cover carried on the first westbound trip. It originated somewhere in the East and was marked "Paid 5.00" (for the $5 per half ounce express fee) at the upper left. The letter was enclosed in a 10 cents Nesbitt stamped envelope, in accordance with private express regulations. It was forwarded under cover to the St Joseph COC&PP express agent, who marked it with the Company's April 3 handstamp, and put it on the express leaving St Joseph at 6:30pm on Tuesday April 3, 1860. After a short ride across the Missouri River on the ferry boat Denver, the pony rider began his journey to the next relay station. This first westbound mail is reported to have passed through Salt Lake City on April 9 at 6:30pm, and arrived in Sacramento, California at 5:25pm on April 13. The steamer Antelope then carried it to San Francisco, where it arrived at 12:38am on April 14. The April 16, 1860 San Francisco Bulletin reported that 25 letters were delivered to San Francisco.
Figure 13-2. Cover carried on the first westbound trip that departed from St. Joseph, Missouri on April 3, 1860 and arrived in San Francisco on April 14. (Census #W1)3
Figure 13-3 shows one of two known letters carried on the first eastbound Pony Express trip. This letter was placed in a 10 cents Nesbitt stamped envelope with a red Wells Fargo frank (which served no purpose in this case) and given to the COC&PP express agent in San Francisco. He marked it with his April 3, 1860 black Running Pony handstamp to show that the $5 express fee had been paid, and placed it on the steamer New World to Sacramento. This mail is reported to have passed through Salt Lake City on April 7 at 11:45pm, and arrived in St. Joseph on April 13, where the agent marked it with the April 13 COC&PP handstamp. It was immediately placed in the U.S. mails at St Joseph, and carried by train to New York City, where it was docketed as received on April 17. The August 4, 1860 Alta California reported that this first mail consisted of 70 letters and 15 telegraphic dispatches or newspapers.
Figure 13-3. Cover carried on the first eastbound trip that departed from San Francisco on April 3, 1860 and arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri on April 13. (Census #E1)
Figure 13-4 shows the use of the San Francisco COC&PP handstamp to indicate that express fees had been paid.
Figure 13-4. Cover carried on the eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on May 18, 1860 and arrived in St. Joseph on June 1. (Census #E5)
This 10 cents Nesbitt stamped envelope was given to the San Francisco COC&PP express agent, who marked it with his handstamp on May 18, 1860. It arrived 14 days later in St Joseph. It was marked with the June 1 St Joseph Running Pony handstamp and put into the U.S. mails the following day.
The St Joseph Running Pony handstamp was also used on westbound mail. Figure 13-5 shows an example. This 10 cents Nesbitt stamped envelope originated in New York, per the red "California Pony Express Paid" marking. There is also a faint pencil "5.00" marking, which confirmed that the $5 express fee had
been paid. The letter was forwarded under cover to the St Joseph COC&PP express agent, who marked it with the June 10 (1860) Running Pony handstamp. The express left St Joseph that day and arrived in San Francisco on June 25.
Figure 13-5. Cover carried on the westbound Pony Express trip that departed from St. Joseph on June 10, 1860 and arrived in San Francisco on June 25. (Census #W8)
Figure 13-6 illustrates the only known example of the short distance $3 rate. This letter left San Francisco on April 20, 1860 with the third eastbound Pony Express trip. It was addressed to Carson City, Nevada, thus qualifying for the special short distance $3 per half ounce rate. The San Francisco COCPP agent added the black Running Pony handstamp and noted "3.00" at the upper right to indicate the express fee paid, although the "Central Overland Pony Express Company" frank also served to indicate that express fees had been paid.
Figure 13-6. Cover carried on the eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on April 20, 1860 and arrived in St. Joseph on April 30. (Census #E53A)
From late May to July 1860, the Pony Express was severely disrupted by Paiute Indian disturbances in Nevada.4 Most of the May-June mail was stopped or significantly delayed through the troubled area, and the risk to pony riders continued into July. Figure 13-7 shows the celebrated letter that was captured by Indians in July 1860.
Figure 13-7. Cover carried on the eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on July 21, 1860 and was intercepted by Indians. (Census #E10)
This letter was given to the San Francisco COC&PP agent, who added his July 21 handstamp to indicate that the $5 express fee had been paid. The rider was intercepted by Indians at the Mormon Ferry,3 and the mailbag was lost. There is a manuscript note across the front that reads, "recovered from a mail stolen by the Indians in 1860" and the letter has a May 3, 1862 New York receiving mark on the reverse.
The Second Rate Period, August 1860 to April 1861
On July 31, 1860, William Russell sent a notice from Leavenworth, Kansas to COC&PP agents reducing the express rate to $2.50 per quarter ounce from the previous $5.00 per half ounce. Although it only reduced the weight progression, it was obviously an effort to increase the volume of mail carried by the Pony Express by reducing the cost of a single letter. The notice was dispatched on the August 1 Pony Express trip from St Joseph that arrived in San Francisco on August 12. News of this rate change was published in San Francisco newspapers on August 15.
Figure 13-8 shows an eastbound letter addressed to New York City during this period. This cover was prepaid the required U.S. postage by an 1859 Type V 10 cents stamp in San Francisco. The COC&PP agent there marked it with his September 29 (1860) blue Running Pony handstamp, indicating that the $2.50 express fee had been paid. It arrived in St Joseph on October 10, where the COC&PP agent marked it with his COC&PP handstamp. It was placed in the U.S. mails on the following day.
Figure 13-8. Cover carried on the eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on September 29, 1860 and arrived in St. Joseph on October 10. (Census #E22)
Figure 13-9 shows the $2.50 express rate on a westbound cover during the second period. This 10 cents star die stamped envelope originated in the East, and was forwarded under cover to the St Joseph COC&PP express agent, who marked it with the March 10, 1861 green "double oval" Pony Express handstamp. He also marked it with a manuscript "2.50" near the indicia, indicating that the express fee had been paid. The express arrived in San Francisco on March 23, and the letter was mailed at the post office, where it was postmarked for the March 25 departure of the mail for Portland, Oregon. The presence of a San Francisco postmark on a westbound Pony Express letter is very unusual.
Figure 13-9. Cover carried on the westbound Pony Express trip that departed from St. Joseph on March 10, 1861 and arrived in San Francisco on March 23. (Census #W34)
Figure 13-10 illustrates a "way" cover collected along the route of the Pony Express, rather than at San Francisco or St Joseph.
Figure 13-10. Way cover carried on the eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on October 20, 1860 and arrived in St. Joseph on November 1. (Census #E28)
This three cents Nesbitt stamped envelope originated in Virginia City, Nevada on October 21, 1860. The envelope also bears a "Paid Central Overland Pony Express Company" frank to indicate that the $2.50 express fee had been paid, although the Virginia City agent also added a manuscript "2.50" to confirm that. This type of franked envelope was often used for telegraph messages. It connected with the Pony Express trip that left San Francisco on October 20 and arrived in St Joseph on November 1, where it received a COC&PP handstamp and was placed in the U.S. mails on the following day. U.S. postage of three cents was sufficient in this case because the distance travelled was less than 3,000 miles.
Beginning in early January 1861, Pony Express mail originating in Sacramento was no longer treated as
This cover was prepaid 10 cents U.S. postage in Sacramento, and the COC&PP agent there marked it with his April 4 (1861) blue handstamp, indicating that the $2.50 express fee had been paid. It arrived in St Joseph on April 16, and was placed in the U.S. mails on the following day.
Figure 13-12 shows a westbound cover sent free of U.S. postal charges.
This letter bears the Congressional free frank of William Gwin, senator from California, so it was sent free of any U.S. postage from Washington, D.C. It was sent under cover to St Joseph, where the COC&PP
The addressee, Frederick Billings, was the first land claims lawyer in San Francisco and a trustee of the College of California. He suggested the name change of that college to the University of California at Berkeley. He later became President of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and the city of Billings, Montana is named after him.
Figure 13-13 shows a Pony Express letter sent to Scotland. This illustrated stagecoach envelope was prepaid 10 cents U.S. postage in San Francisco, and the COC&PP agent there marked it with his
Figure 13-13. Cover carried on the eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on November 7, 1860 and arrived in St. Joseph on November 19. (Census #E38)
November 7 (1860) blue Running Pony handstamp, indicating that the $2.50 express fee had been paid. It arrived in St Joseph on November 19, where the agent marked it with a COC&PP handstamp. It was placed in the U.S. mails on the following day, and was postmarked in transit at New York on November 24. Since only 10 cents of the 24 cents rate to Scotland was paid, it was rated as unpaid with a debit to Great Britain of 21 cents (16 cents packet fee plus five cents U.S. inland postage). It was carried to England by the Inman steamer Kangaroo, which left on November 24 and arrived in Liverpool on December 7. The recipient in Scotland was charged one shilling postage due.
Figure 13-14 shows the only other known Pony Express letter to Great Britain, but in this case with a red San Francisco Running Pony handstamp. That handstamp, initially applied in black, is seen primarily in blue. For a very short period in March-April 1861, it appeared in red.
Figure 13-14. Cover carried on the eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on April 13, 1861 and arrived in St. Joseph on April 25. (Census #E64)
This letter was given to the San Francisco COC&PP agent with no U.S. postage prepaid, since mail to England could be sent unpaid. The agent applied a dateless red Running Pony handstamp to indicate that the $2.50 express fee had been paid. He also applied a red April 13 (1861) COC&PP handstamp to indicate the date of departure from San Francisco. That trip arrived in St Joseph on April 25, and its mail was placed in the U.S. post on the following day. This letter was postmarked in New York on April 30, and rated for a five cents debit to Great Britain for U.S. inland postage.6 It then left Boston on May 1 aboard the Cunard steamer Niagara, which arrived in Queenstown on May 12. The following day, it was rated for one shilling due in Liverpool.
The Third Rate Period, April to June 1861
The end of the COC&PP's sole operational control of the Pony Express occurred in April 1861 when the Post Office contracted with the Overland Mail Company, rather than the COC&PP, to operate the daily overland mail along the Central Route between St. Joseph and Placerville, California. The negotiations preceding the letting of this contract included provisions for the COC&PP's continued involvement as a subcontractor for the handling of mails, both by Pony Express and by stagecoach, but left the OMC fully in charge.
The third rate period lasted from April 1, 1861 (from April 15 in San Francisco, due to the delay in communications from the East) until a postal contract for a daily overland mail took effect on July 1, 1861.
During this phase, Wells, Fargo & Company (WF) was appointed as agents for the handling of the mail, and began issuing special Pony Express $2 and $4 adhesive stamps and franked envelopes. WF established new lower rates of $2 per half ounce to increase the volume of mails carried. The first WF Pony Express $2 adhesive stamps were used on the April 27, 1861 trip from San Francisco.
Figure 13-15 shows a patriotic envelope carried in June 1861. This 10 cents star die patriotic envelope was given to the WF agent in San Francisco, who franked it with a $2 Pony Express stamp and marked it with his blue Running Pony handstamp. It left San Francisco on June 1, 1861 and arrived in St Joseph on June 13, where it was immediately placed in the U.S. mails for New York City. This is one of three known Pony Express letters on patriotic envelopes.
Figure 13-15. Cover carried on the eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on June 1, 1861 and arrived in St. Joseph on June 13. (Census #E89)
Westbound letters were sent under cover in packets addressed to the St. Joseph post office for delivery to the Pony Express agent, and WF created a special westbound franked envelope for the $2 express rate. Only two examples, used in May-June 1861, are known. These Type I WF franked envelopes, not denominated for the $2 express fee, can be distinguished from the later Type II WF franked envelopes by the use of 10 cents Nesbitt stamped envelopes, a comma after the word "Placerville," and the absence of the printed directive to the Agent of the Pony Express in the address panel. Figure 13-17 illustrates the Type I WF franked envelope.
Figure 13-17. Cover carried on the westbound Pony Express trip that departed from St. Joseph on May 12, 1861 and arrived in San Francisco on May 23. (Census #W41)
This WF Type I franked envelope was purchased for $2.10 ($2 express fee plus 10 cents U.S. postage) from the New York WF agent, who applied the blue May 7 (1861) "California Pony Express New-York" handstamp. It was sent in a packet to St Joseph, where the COC&PP agent applied a May 11 COC&PP "double oval" handstamp, later corrected to the actual departure date of May 12. It arrived in San Francisco on May 23.
The WF black transcontinental frank on this 10 cents Nesbitt envelope was used to indicate payment of the delivery express fee. The agent in New York applied a blue April 6 (1861) "California Pony Express New-York" handstamp, and sent it under cover to St Joseph. The
COC&PP agent there applied an April 14 green "double oval" handstamp to indicate the date of departure, and it arrived in San Francisco on April 25.
The Fourth Rate Period, July to October 1861
The fourth and final rate period of the Pony Express began on July 1, 1861 when the Pony Express became a partially subsidized, government-mandated, postal service. The postal contract included a clause that stipulated that the Overland Mail Company:
be required also during the continuance of their Contract, or until the completion of the Overland Telegraph, to run a Pony Express Semi-weekly at a Schedule of times of ten days eight months of the year and twelve days four months of the year, and to convey for the Government free of charge five pounds of Mail Matter; with liberty of charging the public for transportation of letters by said Express not exceeding One dollar per half ounce.
In the prior three rate periods, the Pony Express fee covered the service between San Francisco and Placerville. In this period, it became an additional service by WF and was subject to an additional charge of 10 cents. This service fee, plus the cost of the 10 cents U.S. postage, meant that a user based in San Francisco had to pay 20 cents (25 cents if not in a WF franked entire), in addition to the $1 pony express fee.
Eastbound mails were collected at WF offices and transmitted to Placerville or the nearest Pony Express station for the additional charge of 10 cents. Westbound mail continued to be sent under cover to the St. Joseph post office in July and early August 1861. By the middle of August, a new westbound mail handling procedure was adopted. Pony Express franked envelopes, pre-addressed to the Pony Express Agent in St. Joseph, began to be sold in eastern WF offices. These franked envelopes were deposited directly into the U.S. postal system at the point of origin and transmitted individually to the Pony Express agent in St. Joseph.
A cover carried on the first trip of the fourth period is shown in Figure 13-19. As required, this letter was enclosed in a WF 10 cents star die franked envelope that cost 20 cents for the U.S.
postage and the 10 cents WF fee. The express agent added a $1 WF stamp for the Pony Express service and dispatched it on July 3, 1861.
One of the two known covers showing usage of the $2 WF green adhesive is shown in Figure 13-20. This double-weight letter, enclosed in a regulation WF 10 cents "Watermelon" envelope, was franked with additional 10 cents U.S. postage and a $2 WF stamp. It was carried on the last eastbound Pony Express trip, which left San Francisco on October 23, 1861 and arrived in Atchison, Kansas on November 7.
Figure 13-20. Double-weight cover carried on the last eastbound Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on October 23, 1861 and arrived in Atchison on November 7. (Census #E180)
One of two covers known with the triple-weight $4 WF black adhesive is shown in Figure 13-21. This large cover originated at the U.S. Consulate in Honolulu, Hawaii and was sent under cover to the forwarder McRuer & Merrill in San Francisco. That forwarder entrusted it to WF on August 10, and paid the triple-weight fee represented by the $4 WF stamp. Because it is addressed to the U.S. Treasury, this letter was sent free of any U.S. postal charges. It left San Francisco on August 10, and arrived in St Joseph on August 22, where it was immediately put into the U.S. mails for Washington, D.C.
Commencing with the trip leaving San Francisco on September 11, 1861, the eastern terminus for the pony riders was changed from St. Joseph to Atchison, Kansas to connect with the St. Joseph & Atchison Railway. On eastbound Pony Express mails, this change of terminus resulted in letters being delivered into the Atchison post office rather than the St. Joseph office
until the end of the period. An extraordinary cover that entered the U.S. mails at Atchison is shown in Figure 13-22.
Figure 13-22. Patriotic cover carried on the Pony Express trip that departed from San Francisco on September 14, 1861 and arrived in Atchison on September 27. (Census #E160)
This patriotic envelope was given to a San Francisco WF agent, who franked it with a $1 WF stamp and 30 cents U.S. postage for the Prussian Closed Mail rate to Hamburg, Germany. He also marked it with his September 14 (1861) handstamp, to indicate the date that it left San Francisco. That trip arrived in Atchison on September 27, where it was put into the U.S. mails for New York. The New York foreign mail office marked it with an October 5 "7 Paid" postmark for the departure of the HAPAG steamer Saxonia to Southampton, England. The letter arrived there on October 17, and was processed in transit through Aachen on October 19.
As described above, WF collected eastbound letters at its many express offices and transferred them to the Pony Express, typically at Sacramento. Figure 13-23 shows an example.
Until mid-August 1861, westbound letters were sent in packets addressed to the St. Joseph post office for delivery to the Pony Express agent. These packets were opened at the St Joseph post office, and some of the letters in them were postmarked there.
Figure 13-24 shows an example of this. This letter was datelined on July 3, 1861 in London and sent under cover to a forwarder in New York. It was carried from England on the Cunard steamer Asia, which left Liverpool on July 6 and arrived in New York on July 18. The New York WF agent added the blue July 20 "California Pony Express New-York" marking to reflect payment of the $1 express fee, and franked it with 10 cents U.S. postage. It was then sent under cover to St Joseph, where the postmaster opened the package and postmarked this letter on July 28 before giving it to the Pony Express agent. The agent then date stamped it on July 28 for the trip that departed on that day. After carriage by pony express to Placerville, the letter was given to WF for delivery in San Francisco for an additional 15 cents fee (not marked).
Figure 13-24. Cover carried on the westbound Pony Express trip that left St. Joseph on July 28, 1861 and arrived in San Francisco on August 8. (Census #W46)
WF created a new Type II franked envelope for the $1 express rate to reflect the new westbound mail handling procedures that were introduced in mid-August 1861. These envelopes, still not denominated for the $1 express fee, can be distinguished by the use of 10 cents "Watermelon" stamped envelopes and the printed directive to the Agent of the Pony Express in the address panel. It is this last feature that caused the creation of new franked envelopes, since Pony Express mail was now to be dispatched in the U.S. mails from the various origin points to St Joseph. The frank reads "Paid from St Joseph to Placerville per Pony Express," so the additional 15 cents WF fee for carriage from Placerville to San Francisco still had to be collected on delivery.
Figure 13-25 shows an example of the Type II WF franked envelope. This envelope was acquired by the sender for $1.10 at the WF office in New York City ($1 Pony Express charge plus 10 cents for the government entire), and was placed in the regular mails in New York on October 5, 1861. Upon receipt by the postmaster in St. Joseph, it was recorded and delivered to the Pony Express agent, who date stamped it with his October 10 "double oval" marking. After carriage by pony express to Placerville, the letter was delivered by WF to Sacramento for an additional 15 cents fee.
Two days after the October 24, 1861 completion of the overland telegraph, Wells Fargo announced that the Pony Express service was terminated. The last westbound trip made by the Pony Express departed St. Joseph on October 23, 1861 (date stamped as October 24). However, by the time that the news of the
The San Francisco newspapers report these two late "Pony Express" arrivals in about 22 days from St Joseph, which is more consistent with the timing of the daily overland stagecoach. The San Francisco Bulletin of November 18, 1861 announced the arrival of "The Last Pony Express" carrying 78 letters. Then, the November 21 Alta California reported the arrival on the previous night of a Pony Express mail with 53 letters. Figure 13-26 shows a cover from the October 27, 1861 mail.
Figure 13-26. Cover intended for the westbound Pony Express trip scheduled to depart from St. Joseph on October 27, 1861 but carried to San Francisco by stagecoach on November 18. (Census #W68)
This double-weight Type II WF franked envelope with $1 "garter" stamp was purchased by the sender for $2.20 (including the 20 cents U.S. postage) at the Boston WF office and was placed in the U.S. mails on October 19, 1861. Upon receipt by the postmaster in St. Joseph, it was recorded and delivered to the Pony Express agent, who date stamped it with his October 27 "double oval" marking. The Pony Express had
ceased operation the day before, so it was placed on the daily overland coach which arrived in San Francisco on November 18.
The Pony Express is possibly the most representative icon of the West. The postal artifacts that survive from this brief enterprise will undoubtedly continue to hold the fascination of postal historians for years to come.
Rocky Mountain Trip List, 1804 to 1843
Capt. William Drummond Stewart (on horseback) at 1833 Fur Trade Rendezvous (by A. J. Miller)
Oregon Ship Sailings, 1824 to 1848
This list of Hudson's Bay Company sailings to York Factory (YF) and Moose Factory (MF) is included here because mail to England was often carried overland to Hudson's Bay and then to England.
Via Panama Sailings, 1849 to 1861
This appendix includes sailing information for ships carrying post office mails sent via Panama between San Francisco and New York City as well as a sample of early trips to New Orleans (pages 252 and 253). Each trip is numbered with year, direction and trip number within that year. So, trip "1851 E-5" would be the fifth mail carrying trip from San Francisco in 1851. Westbound trips are not included as arrangements for mail varied considerably depending on the port of mail departure. The general schedule for mail departures from New York, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans and Panama from January 1850 is described in the Postmaster General notice shown on following page.
Information on the first line of each eastbound trip includes the departure date, name of ship, and date of arrival in Panama City. After carriage across the Isthmus of Panama, the mail was transferred to a ship operating in the Atlantic Ocean. The second line includes the date of departure from either Chagres or Aspinwall as specificed, the name of the ship, and the ship arrival date in New York City. When two ships are listed on a single line, it indicates that mail was transferred from the first ship listed to the second. The specifics are mentioned in the notes column.
An "x" in parenthesis after a ship name in the "notes" column means that the trip was an extra. The departure date is given. In general these extra vessels did not carry post office letter mail but, unless specifically mentioned, they may have carried some letter mail and/or newspapers. It should be remembered that these extra vessels often carried letters and other mail matter for the various express companies. If such letters entered the US mails before delivery, they bear postmarks other than San Francisco postmarks..
In 1849 Postmaster General Collamer published several notices to the public that detailed the new arrangements for the Pacific mails. His November 17, 1849 notice shown above oulines the schedule for both eastbound and westbound mails effective January 1850.
Below and continued on the following page is a incomplete listing of the eastbound trips from Chagres to New Orleans that delivered mail to be distributed to New Orleans and the South. The listings only include the Atlantic Ocean leg of the trip. The trip numbers correspond to the numbers used on the San Francisco to New York trips with these trips replacing the leg from Chagres to New York..