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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

History? It's in the mail

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Mention the U.S. mail to almost anyone and you will hear a tale about a lost check or smashed package.

Seldom do you hear complimentary remarks about years of faithful, dependable service. How about some true mail tales from the past?

Two stories stand out in the California Gold Rush days. One young miner, exhausted from swinging a pickax and shoveling gravel, became so homesick for a letter from home he started the Jackass Express, a mail delivery service. His delivery equipment consisted of a mule, a saddle and a canvas bag.

For three dollars cash, he would add your name to his list. For the same price he would carry your letter over the mountains to San Francisco for posting. After delivering his mail he would spend days going through the general delivery letters searching for names on his list. When satisfied he returned to the gold fields for delivery. He probably made more money than if he had been digging for gold.

High in the mountains of Nevada at another gold strike, a group of investors decided to build a small bank. As fire was always a hazard they built the walls of stone but wanted brick for the front. Freight costs to haul bricks from the valley below were prohibitive. However, an ingenious plan was devised.

An accomplice down in the valley wrapped bricks in brown paper, tied it with twine and mailed the package to the bank in the mountains. The postage was much less than the freight. With two deliveries per week, the brick inventory grew until the bank could be finished. Pity the poor postman who carried the mail.

The ghost town of Eldridge, second settlement in Gray County and the site of the first cemetery in the county, sported a U.S. Post Office in a tent. History tells of the postmaster being paid a commission on the number of stamps sold each month.

At first, the mail was held in a wooden crate but the government insisted on post office boxes. There is still some argument whether the postmaster used hen nests for post office boxes or whether he used post office boxes for hen nests later.

According to Shattuck, Okla., history, in about 1894 T.N. Miller turned over a corner of his store for use as a post office. All mail received was dumped into a washtub. To find if you had mail meant sifting through the tub's contents. When postal authorities discovered the store loafers reading everyone's mail and looking at the papers and magazines, they insisted Miller provide more privacy so he began locking all mail received into a padlocked canvas bag.

To check your mail required a key. Since Miller was often out on deliveries or business he tied the padlock key to the collar of his pet raccoon who stayed around the store most of the time. Now, if the raccoon happened to be down on Rock Creek fishing, the postal patron had to go find the raccoon first to get the key.

This is a true story. It's in a book!

Delbert Trew

"It's All Trew" >
March 30, 2007 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

 
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