Western Expresses | Mail Routes

Western Expresses | Mail Routes 2017-07-03T13:36:24+00:00

Western Expresses | Mail Routes

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Mail Routes

 

Butterfield Overland Mail – Sep 15, 1858 to Mar 1, 1861

Stage line entrepreneur John Butterfield received the contract to carry the mail after Congress authorized Postmaster General Aaron Brown to find a way to move mail overland to California on a regular basis. Brown was told to select a route that would ensure that the mail was carried from end-to-end in 25 days or less. A Kentuckian by birth, Brown selected a route that ran approximately 2,800 miles through the southern portion of the nation. The eastern terminus of the route began in Tipton, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee, with the lines converging at Ft. Smith, Arkansas for the trip to the western terminus in San Francisco. The shape of the tortuous route gave it the moniker “The Oxbow Route”.

The six-horse coach variety of printed overland envelope is considerably more scarce than the four-horse type.

Marysville Cal. Apr 17 postmark with matching grid on 10¢ 1857 issue adhesive to Indiana carried Overland via Los Angeles on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. The six-horse coach variety of printed overland envelope is considerably more scarce than the four-horse type.

Map of the Butterfield Overland Mail route

Mail Routes

 

Butterfield Overland Mail – Sep 15, 1858 to Mar 1, 1861

The Butterfield Southern Overland mail route was a Post Office contract service officially designated as route #12,578. The route was from St. Louis, Missouri, and Memphis, Tennessee converging at Fort Smith, Arkansas, to San Francisco, California twice a week. The contract was let to John Butterfield and Company with service commencing on September 15, 1858 at $600,000 per annum. Service was to be performed in four horse coaches or spring wagons in 25 days.

Butterfield soon joined forces with other parties to form the Overland Mail Company to fulfill the contract and by March 1860 the Overland Mail Company was effectively under the control of Wells Fargo directors. Following Indian depredations on the route in early 1861, and the looming Civil War, the Post Office awarded the Overland Mail Company a contract on March 12, 1861 for daily mail service over the central route from July 1, 1861.

The last eastbound mail successfully carried on the southern route departed San Francisco on March 27 and arrived at St. Louis on May 1, 1861. The last westbound bounds left St. Louis on March 21 and arrived San Francisco on April 13, 1861. By May 17 the Mesilla, New Mexico Territory newspaper reported that the Overland Mail Company stock of 10 men, 21 coaches, some 200 animals and other vehicles had passed through the town as the company moved resources to the central route.

Covers intended to be carried on the Butterfield Southern Overland mail route were to be bear an endorsement or designation to indicate the sender’s preference for the route. On mail originating in California these typically included words such as “Via Los Angeles” or similar. Several different stagecoach illustrated envelopes were produced with route directives which served the same function. A special “Overland” handstamp was also used by some towns and is primarily found on mail received in transit.

Mail Routes

 

Chorpenning Route – May, 1851 to May 11, 1860

In 1851, Absalom Woodward and George Chorpenning were awarded the contract for a monthly mail service connecting California and Salt Lake City as route #12,801. Woodward was killed by Indians later that same year, and Chorpenning carried out the remaining mail contract without a partner. Due to winter mail delays in 1851-1852, permission was received to send the mails by steamer to San Pedro (port for Los Angeles). Summer mails of 1852-1853 were again via the Placerville and Genoa route; with winter via San Pedro.

Chorpenning secured a new four-year contract in Jul, 1854 that allowed a route change for summer and winter mails, with new termini of Salt Lake City and San Diego. A new Chorpenning contract went into effect Jul 1, 1858, re-establishing the Salt Lake City to Placerville route. The new Butterfield route between Memphis/St. Louis and San Francisco was inaugurated Sep 15, 1858 and the bulk of the transcontinental mail began over this route immediately.

Because the Chorpenning route with plagued with mail delays from the start, very little mail was carried. Most of the few surviving covers are uses between California and Salt Lake City.

Yankee Jim's Cal Mar 26 with sender's notation
Yankee Jim’s Cal Mar 26 with sender’s notation “over land via Placerville, Salt Lake and St. Joseph” (the Chorpenning Route to Salt Lake City) to Missouri. Postmark used beginning Apr 3, 1856, per Williams.
Map of Chorpenning Route to Salt Lake City

Mail Routes

 

Chorpenning Route – May, 1851 to May 11, 1860

In 1851 Absalom Woodward and George Chorpenning were awarded the contract for a monthly mail service connecting California and Salt Lake City as route #12,801. The service was intended to connect at Salt Lake City with the monthly Missouri mails. The eastbound service commenced from Sacramento on May 1, 1851 and arrived at Salt Lake City on June 5, 1851. The first westbound trip left Salt Lake City on July 1, 1851. Later that same year Woodward was killed by Indians and Chorpenning carried out the remaining mail contract without a partner.

The 1851-1852 winter mails were delayed by snow and only the February trip made it to Salt Lake City. After this, Chorpenning received permission from the San Francisco postmaster to send the March mails by steamer to San Pedro (the port for Los Angeles) and thence by the Old Spanish Trail to Salt Lake City. Summer mails of 1852 and 1853 were again carried on the original route via Placerville and Genoa while winter mails were carried on the winter route via San Pedro.

In July 1854 Chorpenning secured a new four year contract that allowed a route change for both summer and winter mails. The new termini were Salt Lake City and San Diego. On July 1, 1858 a new Chorpenning contract with the Post Office Department went into effect. The contract re-established the Salt Lake City to Placerville route and required weekly trips until it was reduced to semi-monthly trips from July 1, 1859. In the interim, on September 15, 1858, the new Butterfield route between Memphis/St. Louis and San Francisco was inaugurated. This service, over a southern route, was semi weekly and the bulk of the transcontinental mails began this route immediately. On May 11, 1860 the contract was transferred to the Central Overland and Pike’s Peak Express with semimonthly service.

Because this route with plagued with mail delays from the start, very little mail was carried. Most of the few surviving covers are uses between California and Salt Lake City.

Mail Routes

 

Chorpenning Route – May, 1851 to May 11, 1860
Carried by Snowshoe Thompson over the Sierras

Carson Valley, U.T. Feb 25 (1858) to Middletown, R. I.

Carson Valley, U.T. Feb 25 (1858) to Middletown, R. I. This cover was carried over the Chorpenning Route from Genoa (Carson Valley) to Placerville and on to San Francisco. From San Francisco, it would have gone overland via the Butterfield Route to the east. The cover is rated DUE 10, as a double-weight cover containing two lengthy letters. A full transcription of the enclosed letters (now separated from the cover) datelined Trucky Valley Feb 15th 1858 and Feb 16th 1858 is included on the following two pages and transcribed, in part, below (sic).

Dateline: Trucky Valley Feb 16th 1858

Trucky Valley Feb 15th 1858… there was about 4 weak ago some four or five mormans came from the Salt Lake one of them stoped here in the valley some expect that he is here as an spy but I think that he run away from the Lake his wife is here in the valley she did not go to the lake last fall…I have an idea that the mormans will indever to do all the dammage to the troop that is now station at Fourt Bridger earley the spring before government can get troops to the Lake and birn there cities and then flea to some of the English dominions but it is hard to tell what they will do the onely dainger that I fear from them is that Brygam Young will send his destroying angels (as he call them) to run of cattle but if they do they will be pretty apt to be overtake before thay can get many hundred miles…Peleg Brown
P S if you do not get letters regular you must wait the mail is so irregular over the mountains, direct to Carson Valley Cale…
Trucky Valley Feb 16th 1858…what I can learn the mormans intend to keep the troops from Salt lake city as long as they can and then fire the place and flea to the mountains likewise plunder and kill all small part yes which they can fall upon both of troops and emigrants which are comeing to this country I think sometimes that Uncle Sam will stop the trains if he suffers them to venture he is bound to protect them… Peleg Brown

Mail Routes

 

Chorpenning Route – May, 1851 to May 11, 1860
Carried by Snowshoe Thompson over the Sierras

Trucky Valley Feb 15th 1858
Dear Parents
Yesterday I had the pleasure of getting some letters one from George and Maryan also one from Pardon one from Lydia as well as one from you both I am well and hope the few line will find you in good helth also hope that fatal disease which is now rageing on the Island so fatal has ear this come to its end I was very sowry to here the deth of my young aquaintes …. I have not had but one letter from Joshua sinse he left home I am some what uneasy about him comeing acrossed the plains both himself and family also the stock will most asshurdley be run off if Uncle sam does not do any thing for the emigration. I sometimes think that the government suffer emigration to cross that he most assurdley protect them but Joshua has better chances to know about thes things beter than I do there was about 4 weak ago some four or five mormans came from the Salt Lake one of them stoped here in the valley some expect that he is here as an spy but I think that he run away from the Lake his wife is here in the valley she did not go to the lake last fall I herd her say that she would not fool her time away to go with them The mormans all left here last fall that is all that be1ived strong enough in the faith there is several half mormans here in the valleys it was reported that there was several mormans comeing back here to live in the spring but is in my opinion that it is all goss I have an idea that the mormans will indever to do all the dammage to the troop that is now station at Fourt Bridger earley the spring before government can get troops to the Lake and birn there cities and then flea to some of the English dominions but it is hard to tell what they will do the onely dainger that I fear from them is that Brygam Young will send his destroying angels (as he call them) to run of cattle but if they do they will be pretty apt to be overtake before thay can get many hundred miles the Indians that are here are very friendly they come around my house evry day I sometimes get some dear meat from them I have one liveing with me he does any thing that I tell him to do In about 3 or 4 weaks the Indians will begin to cetch fish in the river of this valley they are what is called salmon trout as good fish as I ever eat I then will have as many fish as I can eat which will not cost but very lytle. My cattle are doing fine I lost too calves last weak wee have 19 young calves in all I do not make but lytle butter as yet Abraham has left me he got tired of the business and has gorn to mineing I have to young men with me they are to make butter at halves Butter is worth 50 cents per Ib I have bought about 70 bushel of wheat and Bade to soe I am now haveing an plow maid by an blacksmith we cant get any casted plows this side of the mountains and the snow is so deep that animals cant cross I expect to pay fifty dollars for it. The wether thus far this winter has been very pleasant the nights being cool and the days being mild and pleasant we have had too snow storms the snow fell about 2 1/2 inches deep not lasting but one or too days but nothing to hender cattle from geting plenty to eat the grass is all dry green grass just begins to grow …. I would like to have some tomatoes sead send by the next mail .. one of Joshua ranches has been jumped the one that is up to was saw valley I cant get him off without fighting fort if I set out I can drive him off but wee have cattle and he might take revenge out of them the ranch cost Joshua $50 there is now law here and most of the people that are here in these valleys are people that dont care for themselves nor anyone else I have tried to get the people together and make some law but with now use more than likely they will come to tirms in the course of the spring espec1ey if wee have the contesed teritory orgonized …. from your affetionate son in love and prosperity
Peleg Brown
P S if you do not get letters regular you must wait the mail is so irregular over the mountains direct to Carson Valley Cale

Mail Routes

 

Chorpenning Route – May, 1851 to May 11, 1860
Carried by Snowshoe Thompson over the Sierras

Trucky Valley Feb 16th 1858
Dear brother Pardon
With the utmost pleasure I recd yrs of the 6 and 13 of Dec I also had one from Lydia George as well as one from father and mother….about Pardon in school… I think you have been smarter than you was when I was at home by the produce you have raised And you rode Phillis to the fare and got the first premium if I had her out here she would be worth $300 I have an horse when she gets fat will be worth $250 she cost me $80 in St Louis Feb 22nd … To day it has been very windey something uncommon for this valley wee have had but too snow storms and too rainstorms never have I seen an winter that they has been so much pleasant wether the grass has just begun to start my cattle are getting fat I have eleven young calves and Joshua about the same I had one to die the other eavning after he was fed he commensed bloating in a few minets he died I do not let the cows suckle there calves at all milk and let them drink it after they are an week or ten days old I have the milk skimed and then give it to them also give them plenty of good clover hay which is better than I ever saw at home …. I have bought some 70 bushels of wheat and barley to sow which I shall have put in just as soon as I can get an plough likely commenses sometime the first of next month. You wanted to know how many men I have with me well they is too who have took the cows to milk on shares also they take my grain on shares I have nothing to do with it I am now building an house in front of the one which I now live in which wee will live in (12 by 28) and have the stone house to set milk in wee have now about 50 lbs of butter on hand. I expect to get 75 cents per lb this the first the boys have maid excepting what wee have eat Tomorrow I shell go up the valley to take this letter and buy if I can find an bull which suits me also hoping to get some news from Joshua as well as froome home. I have not herd from him sinse he left the Island from what I can learn the mormans intend to keep the troops from Salt lake city as long as they can and then fire the place and flea to the mountains likewise plunder and kill all small part yes which they can fall upon both of troops and emigrants which are comeing to this country I think sometimes that Uncle Sam will stop the trains if he suffers them to venture he is bound to protect them I wish I had some of the books which I left at home to read some of these long eavnings I cant get hardley anything to read one in an great while get an Calfonia paper but it wont be so but about too month longer by that time the mountains will be open or the snow will be pact so that animals can cross there has not been half so much snow on the Syrrenevada as there were last winter …. I dont ride any more than I am oblige to I haft to ride around my cattle evry day I do not drive them up at night as I used to I think that they do better roam he has nothing to but to watch the horses at night he sleeps in the hay beside them I told Roam that you had another dog to take his plaise he did not seem to care any thing about it… well you have done killing hogs if father had one of these hot springs which is out here you would not have the trouble to heat the watter they are as hot as I ever saw any boiling water ther are upwards of 50 of them in about 4 miles of my house. If I had one of the on the island I would not take ten thousand dollars (for) it… from your affetonate brother Peleg Brown

Mail Routes

 

Chorpenning Route – May, 1851 to May 11, 1860
Carried by Snowshoe Thompson over the Sierras

Letter Carried by Snowshoe Thompson over the Sierras

Mail Routes

 

Chorpenning Route – May, 1851 to May 11, 1860

Carson Valley, U.T. Aug 17 (1859) to Middletown, R. I.

Carson Valley, U.T. Aug 17 (1859) to Middletown, R. I. Other covers from this correspondence have a sender’s notation “via San Francisco”. This cover was carried over the Chorpenning Route from Genoa (Carson Valley) to Placerville and on to San Francisco. From San Francisco, it would have gone overland via the Butterfield Route to the east. A scan of the enclosed letter (now separated from the cover) datelined Steamboat Valley July 31/59 is included on the following page and transcribed, in part, below.

Dateline: Steamboat Valley July 31/59
…Wassaw Valley Aug 1/59
I am here to attend tryal some ox thieves they stole some cattle at the mines and drove them here and sold them for a mear tryfle…I do not know what will be done with them if found guilty. More then likely that they will be a whiped…From your affectionate Brother
Peleg Brown
Map of Old Spanish Trail Route winters and 1854-1858

Mail Routes

 

Chorpenning Route – May, 1851 to May 11, 1860

Scan of the enclosed letter (now separated from the cover) datelined Steamboat Valley July 31/59

Mail Routes

 

McLaughlin & Co. U.S. Mail Line – 1856 to 1857

Charles McLaughlin operated stage lines of Concord coaches from San Francisco to San Jose, from Oakland to San Jose, and from San Jose to Santa Cruz and Monterrey in 1856. He had a printed corner card, as shown in the only known example below.

Carson Valley, U.T. Aug 17 (1859) to Middletown, R. I.

By McLaughlin & Co. from San Jose, Cal. Jun 10 to San Francisco, and then onward to New York (all by U.S. post office, with McLaughlin carrying the mail from San Jose to San Francisco. Advertisement below from the San Francisco Herald of Dec 13, 1857.

Advertisement from the San Francisco Herald of Dec 13, 1857.

Mail Routes

 

Nicaragua Route – Sep 14, 1852 to ~August, 1855

Cornelius Vanderbilt founded his Independent Line with the intent to operate a passenger and mail route across Nicaragua in opposition to the contract mail steamers operating via Panama to California. He chose the route because it was substantially faster than the longer contract route. In 1853 he received a concession for his Accessory Transit Company from Nicaragua to cross the country. The route was by steamer from New York to San Juan del Norte on the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua, by river to Lake Nicaragua, across the lake to Rivas, by stage to San Juan del Sur and by steamer to San Francisco.

Use of the route decreased after filibuster William Walker’s incursion into Nicaragua in 1855. By August 29, 1855 Walker controlled San Juan del Sur and continued in control until 1857. Later, Vanderbilt extorted a monthly stipend from the companies that held the via Panama mail contracts and his Accessory Transit Company ceased to operate. The route was resurrected from late 1862 until the first months of 1868 but was seldom used.

From San Francisco Via Nicaragua In Advance of the Mails to New York SHIP Sep 8 (1855) and by post office on to Boston.

From San Francisco Via Nicaragua In Advance of the Mails to New York SHIP Sep 8 (1855) and by post office on to Boston.

Map of route from San Francisco Via Nicaragua In Advance of the Mails to New York

Mail Routes

 

Tehauntepec Route – Oct 27, 1858 to Oct 10, 1859

A contract for service between New Orleans and San Francisco via the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was awarded in June 1858 to the Louisiana Tehuantepec Company for the term of one year. The twice monthly service was to be performed by steamers between New Orleans and Minatitlan, Mexico by river steamers to Suchil, by spring wagons to Tehuantepec. Upon reaching the Pacific, mails were turned over to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company for carriage from Acapulco to San Francisco. The route operated from Oct 27, 1858 to Oct 10, 1859. The contract was not renewed as receipts were only $5,276 against expenses of $250,000. Letters had to be inscribed “Via Tehuantepec” for carriage over this route. There are fewer than thirty covers reported that were carried over this route.

(Via Tehuantepec) route endorsement, posted Keyesville March 6/59 to New Orleans.

(Via Tehuantepec) route endorsement, posted Keyesville March 6/59 to New Orleans. Keysville was originally in Tulare County, California when founded; later into Kern County when formed. Interesting letter enclosed headed Mammoth Mill Kern River March 3d 1859 transcribed on following page.

Map of route from San Francisco to New Orleans Via TehuantepecMap of route from San Francisco to New Orleans Via Tehuantepec

Mail Routes

 

Tehauntepec Route – Oct 27, 1858 to Oct 10, 1859

Dateline: Mammoth Mill Kern River March 3d 1859

My dear Children

…Yesterday was a beautiful day and I ventured to ride to Keysville, and a mile beyond on the River bank to visit the only lady within 20 miles of me…

I feel quite discouraged at the news from my Pension…I have often been advised by officers who knew the circumstances to apply for a Pension, and feel that I am as much entitled to it as Mrs. Leavenworth whose Husband died at the same time and West was his aid on the expedition. Jeff Davis was in Genl Dodge’s Regiment at the time and they both know the circumstances and would no doubt give their note for me, and if your friends would add their influence, perhaps it might yet pass. The only objection offered is my being married, and not supposed to need assistance (which is a great mistake)…I will give you half if you can get it carried through this Winter, and will make for a handsome present for the trouble they have had. I should like to buy Sarah for her – but you must do what you think best if Mr. Enstis after talking with Mr. Crittenden and Genl Houston, think best to postpone it, do so…

…The Don is reading the papers and the teamster ditto – I have the honor of having a Celestial kitchen, who rejoices in the euphemeus name of “Ah Thong,” he says “he no cookee Mexican belly good, but will try learn him.” He at least takes the worst part of the drudgery off of my hands, but only think we pay him $40 a month – I cannot induce an Indian to stay any length of time. They are so wild and restless. I got your letters yesterday on the top of the Mountain between this and the village, and got down on a pile of quartz and read them. I could not wait until I got to the house. I have just read them again – and also those that came last mail, which were detained a few days…

Mother

[Additional small piece of paper with some very soft tree bark enclosed:] Natural silk from a tree on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
Natural silk from a tree on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec

Mail Routes

 

Steamer Winfield Scott – 1851 to 1853

The Winfield Scott was a 1,291-ton steamer built in New York City in 1851 and put into service along the Pacific Coast route in 1852. The steamer was purchased by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company from the New York and San Francisco Line in July 1853. One round trip between San Francisco and Panama for the PMSC was completed before the Winfield Scott was stranded and lost on her second trip for the company off Anacapa Island in the Santa Barbara Channel on Dec 2, 1853. The five mail bags, passengers, crew and cargo (including gold specie) were saved. Nine examples of this two-line handstamp are recorded, of which two were carried before the Winfield Scott was commissioned into the Pacific service.

Culloma Cal Nov 28 (1853) with 10 rate marking to Aururia, Georgia.

Culloma Cal Nov 28 (1853) with 10 rate marking to Aururia, Georgia. Carried by the PMSC Steamer Winfield Scott from San Francisco on the ill-fated final voyage that ran aground off Anacapa Island Dec 2, 1853.

Sacramento Daily Union ad from Dec 1, 1853
Image of the Steamer Winfield Scott

Sacramento Daily Union ad from Dec 1, 1853 for the Steamer Winfield Scott

Mail Routes

 

Sacramento to the East Coast

Sacramento, Cal. Jul 30 (1853) to Goffs Corner,

Sacramento, Cal. Jul 30 (1853) to Goffs Corner, Maine by post office. The 6¢ rate for >3000 miles was in effect from Jul 1, 1851 to Apr 1, 1855. Due to a shortage of 3¢ adhesives in both San Francisco and Sacramento, the 6¢ rate was sometimes paid by a bisect of the 12¢ 1851 issue. One of only two known as such from Sacramento (1995 PF certificate). Interesting contents include:

July 30 – A Balloon ascension takes place today close by me and I expect to see a man ride up into the clouds. Laureate is here, one of the first men who ever went up in a balloon.

The Sacramento Daily Union carried articles on this event in the Jul 30 and Jul 31, 1853 (at right) issues. The illustration below shows a typical 1850’s balloon ascent.

The illustration shows a typical 1850's balloon ascent.
The Sacramento Daily Union carried articles on this event in the Jul 30 and Jul 31, 1853

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