Submitted By: Ken Stach, with input from Mike Ellingson
If the Missouri River was the first true highway in the exploration and settlement of Dakota Territory, then the steamboat was its first automobile. The steamboat played an integral role in developing the early fur trade of the region, in bringing much-needed supplies to the early trappers, settlers, explorers, farmers, miners, and soldiers attempting to tame the wild frontier, and, likewise, in transporting their goods to market. The steamboat was also a primary means of early mail pick up and delivery. The intent of this article is to illustrate the link between the steamboat and the early mail systems of Dakota Territory, as told by the surviving related covers.
Mitchell was born of the railroad’s westward expansion. In 1879, two railroads were headed into Davison County: one from Yankton, Dakota Territory, and one from Sanborn, Iowa. Railroad officials preferred directing the construction toward existing settlements; however, Firesteel (at the time, the county seat of Davison County) was deemed flood-prone. Several enterprizing businessmen quickly siezed the opportunity, platting a town some two miles west of Firesteel. Mitchell was established as the new railroad junction town, named in honor of then-president of the Milwaukee railroad, Alexander Mitchell.
Yankton was one of the earliest settlements in Dakota Territory,with immigrants crossing the Missouri River from Nebraska Territory shortly after the Indians accepted and ratified the “Treaty of 1858” on July 10, 1859. The town was named for the Yankton tribe of the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians.
Virtually every postal history collector is familiar with the famous Waterbury, Connecticut fancy cancels of the 19th century. Many articles have been written about them, and they bring great attention in auctions, commanding many thousands of dollars for some examples. Little known, in comparison, are the fancy cancels of Cheyenne Dakota, which are the focus of this article.