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.
The town of Cheyenne was platted on Jul 10, 1867 by General Grenville Dodge of Iowa in what was then Laramie County, Dakota Territory (1). Laramie County was created to provide local administration for new residents coming to the area, which was quickly being settled because of the construction of the Union Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad which was rapidly advancing westward (2).
Figure 1. View of Cheyenne, Dakota Territory in 1867 (Wyoming State Museum).
This “Magic City” of the plains, as it was referred to, grew quickly with wooden structures replacing the original tents in the first months of the town’s existence (see Figure 1). The residents almost immediately began calling for separation from Dakota Territory, whose capital was in Yankton, some 700 miles to the east. The Cheyenne Leader published an editorial on Oct 22, 1867 calling for the formation of a new territory to be called Wyoming or Lincoln, with Cheyenne (of course) as its capital (3). The Nov 14, 1867 issue of the Leader announced the arrival of the Union Pacific railroad to the city from the east, further fueling the separatist movement. However, it was not until Jul 29, 1868 that Laramie County and Cheyenne were officially transferred to the newly formed Wyoming Territory.
The post office at Cheyenne was established Aug 22, 1867 with Thomas E. McLeland as postmaster (2). As with most newly established post offices, McLeland initially manuscript cancelled outgoing mail (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Cheyenne, DT manuscript cancel from Nov 26 (1867) with Union Pacific Rail Road corner card. This letter was cancelled less than two weeks after the arrival of the railroad into Cheyenne (from the author’s collection).
The earliest reported handstamp cancel from Cheyenne, Dakota is Jan 10, 1868. And, from that time forward, it appears as though postmaster McLeland used different fancy cancels (killers) at times on an almost-weekly basis, as summarized in Table I.
Table I. Summary of Cheyenne, Dakota Cancels and Killers
My records indicate the Jan 10, 1868 cancel with “Star” killer was last sold in the May, 1988 Henry Spelman III auction. I don’t own the cover, nor do I have a decent scan; however, the illustration in the 1988 auction catalog clearly shows a solid star type killer. The next two killers listed in Table I are “Sunburst” killers and are most certainly different, as can be seen from the examples illustrated in Figures 3 and 4. The other fancy cancel varieties listed in Table I are shown in the subsequent Figures 5 through 12.
Figure 3. Feb 10 (1868) Cheyenne, Dak cancel with first type of “Sunburst” killer, in blue ink (from the author’s collection).
Figure 4. Feb 19 (1868) Cheyenne, Dak cancel with second type of “Sunburst” killer, also in blue ink (scan courtesy of Tom Hayes).
Figure 5. One of the longest-lived fancy cancels from Cheyenne, Dak is shown here, the “Crossroads” killer, which was used from Feb 20 to Mar 16, 1868. This strike is on a cover front with advertising corner card from S. F. Nuckolls, an early merchant. I suspect S. F. Nuckolls was related to Heath Nuckolls, who was an early merchant of Nebraska City, Nebraska Territory.
Figure 6. Cheyenne, Dak Apr 18 (1868) in greenish ink. Postmaster McLeland’s creative juices must have been running low when he came up with this simple square killer which was used from Mar 23 to Apr 18, 1868. The reverse of this cover, shown in Figure 7, provides a nice overview of the businesses of early Cheyenne (from the author’s collection).
Figure 7. Cheyenne Dak, Apr 18, 1868. Reverse of cover shown in Figure 6, showing the “Principal Business Houses of Cheyenne, D.T.”
Figure 8. Cheyenne Dak, May 20 (1868) with cancels in green ink. Again, postmaster McLeland used a simple (and common) format for the killer a quartered circle. This type killer was used from May 13 to May 24, 1868 (from the author’s collection).
Figure 9. Cheyenne, Dak Jun 16 (1868) cancel and killer, which the author has called a “Circular Smudge”, for lack of a better term. I don’t know what postmaster McLeland was trying to come up with in this design. But, whatever his attempt, it appears he failed. Cancels in blue ink are known from Jun 1 to Jun 16, 1868 (scan on file by the author).
Figure 10. Cheyenne, Dak. Jun 30 (1868) cancel with 3-bar “US” killer (cancels in black ink). Postmaster McLeland was either showing his patriotism with this cancel, or was trying to match the Union Pacific Rail Road emblem, which is similar. This cancel is known to have been used from Jun 25 to Jun 30, 1868 (scan on file by the author).
Figure 11. Cheyenne, Dak Jul 18 (1868) with 5-bar shield killer (in blue ink). Postmaster McLeland was probably trying to replicate the Union Pacific Rail Road emblem, as that railroad had come into town eight months earlier. This cancel is known to have been used from Jul 10 to Jul 23, 1868 (scan on file by the author).
Figure 12. Cheyenne Dak Aug 10 (1868) with fancy “Leaf” killer. I have one reference to this cancel from Oct 17, 1868; however, it is unlikely that the same canceling device was used for over two months. No other Cheyenne fancy cancel was used any longer than one month. Any help from LaPosta subscribers would be appreciated.
The earliest known Cheyenne Wyoming (Territory) cancel I’m aware of is from Nov 16, 1868. Therefore, in the course of ten months (from Jan to Oct, 1868) Cheyenne Dakota is known to have used ten different fancy cancels. Again, the author would appreciate knowing about any other Cheyenne Dakota fancy cancels from the LaPosta readership.
In the following years, Cheyenne continued to grow at a blistering pace. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory in Aug, 1874 by Custer’s expedition. As a result, Cheyenne became the primary jumping off point for miners heading into the Black Hills to seek their fortune (or lose their scalps, as the case may be). Merchants, settlers and other businessmen also flocked into the Hills to take advantage of the new-found riches of the region. Enterprising businessmen in Cheyenne were quick to seize upon the opportunity of transporting would-be miners into the Hills. The first “regular stage” from Cheyenne to the Black Hills departed the Great Western Corral on Mar 8, 1875 carrying three gold prospectors (4). Less than a year later, the maiden trip for the famous “Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express” started out for the Black Hills on Feb 3, 1876 (5). The postal history of that stage line will be the theme for a future LaPosta article.
Again, the author would appreciate any additional information on the cancels of Cheyenne Dakota. Please e-mail the author Ken Stach. Thanks.
- Williams, John Hoyt, A Great and Shining Road, Times Books, 1988, p.170.
- Patera, Alan H.; Gallagher, John S., and Stach, Kenneth W., South Dakota Post Offices, The Depot, 1990, p.385.
- The Cheyenne Leader, Oct 22, 1867.
- Spring Wright, Agnes, The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes, University of Nebraska Press, 1948, p. 55.
- Ibid, p.81.