CARRYING THE MAILS
Many Methods Employed by the Post Office Department
The Limited Fast Mail Train Is, After All, But A Feeder for Star Routes, Snowshoe Letter Carriers And Slow Vessels
(Special Washington Letter)
(Excerpt from The Courtland Enterprise, Courtland, Alabama, February 15, 1894)
“The people of this country have no idea by what difficulties and oftentimes dangers the postal service is carried on. Residents of cities are always more or less impatient when letters are a little over due,” says the superintendent of the railway mail service.
NOT SERVED BY STEAM
The people do not generally know it, but it is a fact that the very great majority of our post offices are served not by steam cars but by stage coaches, horse cars and even by foot men who penetrate the mountains and valleys, the hills and dales where it is impossible to urge a horse with safety; while in some cases the letter carriers travel on snowshoes or deliver mail on dog sleighs like the Esquimaux. In this age of limited express trains and prompt free delivery service in the cities, people are always impatient, even when their mail is delayed a single hour.
It is a matter of fact not generally known that the railway companies and steamboats which carry mail are under contract to deliver their postal burdens at a certain time in each place, and if they are delayed on account of the weather, if there are cyclones, washouts or snow blockades, the post office department deducts just so much money for failure to keep the contract accurately in every instance. The same is true concerning
DELIVER WHEREVER THEY LIVE
It is the policy of the post office department to deliver mail to the citizens of this country, no matter where they live or how difficult it may be to carry the mail to them. If the cliff-dwellers, whose deserted homes are found high on the sides of mountains, a thousand feet or more in the air, were living there to-day as citizens of the United States it would be the duty of the government to deliver mail to them as freely as it is delivered to the merchants and manufacturers of our large cities; and according to the policy of the post office department the mail would be delivered, no matter what the cost might be.
No question ever arises in the post office department as to the cost of the establishment of a new post office at any point, however remote, and thousands of dollars are spent for the delivery of mail to small towns where the annual revenue to the government does not amount to twenty dollars per year. Whenever a new community is established upon the public domain, and a post office is needed, all the people have to do is to sign a petition to the postmaster general for the establishment of a new post; and upon the certification of the postmaster at the nearest point that a new post office is required a post office is established. There is still in the post office department a practice of granting to certain new post offices the privilege of having a postmaster while the people are obliged to pay for carrying their own mail from the nearest post office already established. This practice, however, is unjust and will soon be obsolete.
INDIANS DELIVERED MAIL
Capt. George Fowler, of California, formerly a post office inspector, narrates some very interesting experiences of his travels in the remote regions of the country inspecting post offices. He says that in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota when the winter has closed in and the roads become drifted with snow, sturdy Indians are taken into the service and go skimming across the coutry on snowshoes delivering the mail. The deep snows are crusted with a thin ice coating which would not bear the weight of a man without the use of immense snowshoes, but with these adjuncts, the Indians scamper merrily over the deeper drifts and travel fifty or sixty miles a day with comparatively little effort. Through the pine and turpentine regions of the South Atlantic states many post offices are scattered which it is very difficult to reach, but which are necessary means of communication between the shippers of the south and the lumber yards and warehouses of the northern cities. Although it is expensive to maintain these little post offices and star routes, the people who dwell there are not the only beneficiaries. These offices are more useful and valuable to the manufacturers of the north and east than they are to the people resident there.
Along the eastern coast of North Carolina a great many post offices are supplied by small sail boats, and the letter carriers are very often lost, together with their boats and their precious freight, in the squalls and storms which come so frequently and unexpectedly in that region.
Carrying mail in the eastern mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia is very arduous work, and very dangerous, too, particularly in the springtime, when the roads are nearly impassable.a
When the rich Lamartine mines in Colorado were opened Capt. Fowler was ordered to that part in midwinter. He sent there without a guide, spent three days and three nights wandering about the mountain, lost his horse in a ravine and narrowly escaped with his own life. He finally reached Idaho Springs where he met a mail carrier struggling along on foot, endeavoring to keep his contract in that manner, after having lost his two mules which had fallen from the narrow mountain path and been dashed to death on the rocks below. The mail carrier said that he knew that the men in the mines were clamoring for their letters from home and that if he did not deliver the mail he would be reprimanded from Washington and probably lose his contract, so there he was delivering the mail at the risk of his life.
POSTAL CARRIERS WERE HEROIC
“But think of the bravery and heroism of the railway postal clerks,” said Capt. Fowler, “who risk their lives day and night in the service of the post office department. The fast mail trains at the rate of fifty or sixty miles an hour and sometimes even faster. In cases of imminent danger the engineer and fireman on the locomotive have at least an opportunity to save their lives. But the postal clerks are in closed cars next to the locomotive, and while they are diligently and intelligently handling the mail, they cannot tell what moment will be their last. For years I have advocated the idea of granting pensions to the widows and orphans of the railway mail clerks who are killed; or adequate living pensions to those who are disabled while in the line of duty. True, there is a strong sentiment and correct sentiment in this country against the establishment of a civil pension list, but these clerks in the employ of the railway mail service are risking their lives every time they start upon a journey just as surely as the soldiers or sailors risk their lives when they enter a battle.”
The faithful daily services of the letter carriers in our cities are not fully appreciated by the people whom they directly serve. It may rain, it may snow, it may sleet, it may hail, the winds may blow and cyclones may come, but the faithful letter carrier must travel his beat day after day and be promptly on hand at a given hour or he is taken to task for seeming remissness.
Businessmen look for him, mechanics, laborers, faithful housewives, chambermaids, cooks, lovers and sweethearts all watch through their windows at a stated period for the coming of the letter carrier. They do not think of the mailing, stamping, the railway mail or steamboat service, nor, any of the details concerning the many hands through which each letter must pass before it reaches its destination; they think only of the letter carrier, and when their precious missives are delivered they do not even take the trouble once in a thousand times to say thank you.
For many years, in fact until within the past twelve years, the post office department has been a burdern upon our taxpayers. It was impossible even when we were obliged to use three-cent postage stamps upon our letters for the postal service to be self-sustaining. But the growth of our country, not only in population, but in business enterprise, has been such that we now only use two-cent postage stamps, and yet the service is self-sustaining. And, like everything else in this progressive age, the post office department is ambitious to do better. It is simply a question of a very little time when the postal telegraph will be a popular necessity. Then, instead of waiting the slow processes of the present, we will send our messages by chained lightning. It is safe to predict, however, that the mails will be forever required by our young people; for there are many reams of paper annually used in conveying messages so tender that postal telegraph operators would never be allowed to handle them.
SMITH D. FRY
REVIEW OF TAPESTRY OF LOVE
The exhilarating action & subplots keep the reader in constant anticipation. It is almost impossible to put the book down until completion, Dr. Don P. Brandon, Retired Professor, Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana
This is the first book I have read that puts a personal touch to some seemingly real people in factual events.