Delivering the mail to Idahos mountain mining camps in the 1860s was lonesome work, often dangerous, and sometimes deadly. In winter, when snow could be as much as 10 feet deep, men carried the mail on snowshoes. If caught in a blizzard they sometimes died.
The Idaho World printed this letter from Silver City on May 6, 1865: Myers Body Found J.T. Myers, the man who was lost in the snow in December last, while carrying the mail at Reynolds Creek, was found about three fourths of a mile from Boonville. He was in a sitting posture; doubtless he had become fatigued, sat down and froze to death. The mail bag, as yet, has not been found. A dog first discovered his body; persons from Boonville were in search at the time. (Boonville was on Jordan Creek a few miles below present Silver City. It was later developed into the town of Dewey by Col. William Dewey of Nampa.)
On the lighter side, the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman noted on May 15, 1866, that There is a letter in the Boise City Post Office directed to Mr. Wm. Johnson, Boyse River, Idaho Oregon, Colorado Territory. The letter has evidently had difficulty in finding all those places at once, for it has been since February traveling from Chandlerville, Illinois. Some indignant clerk has endorsed it: If you know where this letter belongs, for Gods sake send it! Postal clerks have their own amusement.
Mail contracts were eagerly sought by stagecoach and express companies, and in 1866 Greathouse & Co. was delivering the mail between Boise and Idaho City. On Dec. 15 the World reported that Greathouse had furnished gratuitously a daily mail communication between this and Boise City, as their contract provides only for a tri-weekly service. They have got tired of doing extra mail service without pay, and who can blame them? Our people are grateful to them for past favors. It now rests with the Postal Department to give us a daily mail between here and Boise City.
Also in December 1866, the World reported that a Wells Fargo & Co. messenger had arrived in Idaho City eight days late by reason of the impassable condition of the roads in the Grande Ronde and Powder River valleys. Good time cannot be made until better roads and better weather.
In November 1868, the Statesman severely criticized Wells Fargo & Co. We have always been slow to accuse the stage companies in this territory or on the overland routes of remissness or fault in carrying the mails but there is a case of complaint now on hand which has every appearance of being genuine. The editor noted that Wells Fargo had a virtual monopoly and that, The outrageous manner in which they are performing the service has become notorious. (On the evidence of a number of witnesses the company was overloading its coaches with mail sacks so severely that there was barely room for passengers. Sacks stowed under the coaches were worn through from rubbing against the wheels and their contents spilled onto the road).
As new discoveries of gold and silver were made and new towns were created, postal service to them was established. The sheer number of such post offices, nearly all later discontinued, is surprising. By Jan. 1, 1901, Idaho had 461 post offices. Here are just a few of them. How many of their names sound familiar? Ako, Alpha, Arbon, Avon, Bannister, Bates, Blackbird, Blanche, Bourne, Brynne, Canfield, Chapin, Chub Springs, Coltman, Crane, Darby, Dent, Dudley, Echo, Emida, Farnum, Forest, Freese, Goff, Grouse, Hart, Hump, Ilo, Kippen, Lodi, Lund. Im sure that is enough to make the point that wherever a few people started a town and asked for a post office, they usually got one.
Next week: more on the history of the postal service in Idaho.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.